Sometimes it can be hard to let go. Over the years, you become attached to those representing your humble home town club, those that paraded around the Wembley turf, those that orchestrated victories over the very best, those that you experienced the greatest moments in the history of Wigan Athletic FC alongside. When your heroes of yesteryear see fit to move on, there is an inevitable emptiness only eroded over time by the accumulation of points and eventual degradation of your FA Cup Final DVD.
Though they may be gone, the board is wiped for a new generation of warriors to don the blue and white. Once Big Ben chimes to consign the January transfer window to the snakepit of Latics obscurity alongside Columba K Coyle and Christopher Q Hutchings, so Richard Whiteley’s Countdown clock edges ever closer to the hour known as Wigan Time. But when will it arrive? When will someone find a chair to retrieve said timepiece from its furnishings and replace the dangerously leaking AAAs?
Bally Al Habsi
Plainly, there is only one man tall enough for such a task – the 6ft 5in Ali Al ‘Hero’ Habsi, who stood proudly between the Portman Road goalposts at 3.01pm. His presence was a timely reminder of a more successful era, a comforting, hen carrying authority figure to lead the Wigan expedition through darkest Ipswich of a wintry January afternoon. When he whispered “leave everything to me,” you somehow believed everything was right with the world once more, and that eight points to safety was nothing.
The sticksman making his first league appearance of the season was obviously a daunting presence for the Tractor Boys, who were often reduced to gibbering wrecks once the security of his penalty area was breached. An audible Ali growl may well be the reason Jay Tabb steered Paul Anderson’s unerring ball into the advertising hoardings, and is most definitely why self-same sometime Ireland U21 striker flashed wide some 7 minutes later.
In actuality, the first fifteen minutes were as packed as the king size packet of branded corn snacks causing a suspicious bulge in your coat pocket. But the hosts weren’t the only ones qailing – Marc-Antoine Fortune also suffered Grobbelaar-style jelly legs when jumping to head James Perch’s high cross, sending the ball somewhere towards Ipswich town centre.
From then until half time, however, Latics suffered from an offside disease which conspired to stub out chances before they’d even started. Still, at least Al Habsi’s comically large palms were only warmed by the occasional gentle poke towards him, and as such, the onion bags remained untouched by the presence of pig’s bladder.
(Skip forward past forty minutes of radio silence)
The next match action was the other side of the hour mark – AKA the aforementioned Wigan Time… or at least, what passes for it these days. Earning a succession of corners, the visitors sought to take advantage of defender-boosted firepower in the form of Brazilian legend Jameson Perchinho. But since he, Fortune and McClean could only stab wide from set pieces, Ipswich easily survived to launch their own victory charge.
Mercifully, that horrendous offside affliction was contagious, and the hosts were as stymied by the linesman’s flag as they were by snow-induced visibility issues and the Latics defensive five. Or maybe seven. Moreover, lucky charm Al Habsi was claiming each half effort with great relish, much to the chagrin of an obviously irked David ‘Don’t Call Me Eddie’ McGoldrick and part time US department store owner Freddie Sears.
When Martyn Waghorn made way for next-gen Billy McKay, there were 12 whole minutes to manufacture a sneaky goal. Along with McClean, the former ICT professional (heh) helped set up Fortune with his first touch, but an alert defender swept across just in time to prevent an effort of any sort. “Ya gotta play by the rules – no goals allowed here!”
But before you knew it, the fourth official’s hi tech Game Boy-powered electronic board was flashing for three minutes of injury time. Supporters rubbed their eyes, not in disbelief but to clear the discharge from their weary faces, resolving to wander towards the exits as soon as they could safely stand without stumbling over their sleepy legs. It hadn’t been a spectacle in anybody’s eyes (or indeed spectacles), but much like Shakira’s hips, that point certainly don’t lie. Beating a top four side mightn’t have been realistic under the current circumstances, but a draw paves the way for the true arrival of Wigan Time.