Don’t let the February weather or those twelve remaining games convince you otherwise – today’s match was as significant as any end-of-season decider deep into April or at the beginning of May. West Ham 2011? A relatively simple task in comparison. Sheffield United 2007? Pah, the tasteless 30-second microwave meal to this afternoon’s four course chicken dinner with extra pigs in blankets!
But there is one notable difference between those matches and this season, and that’s the ongoing battle with our greatest foe. Nope, not a certain Tesco-based handball side, nor a Lancastrian powerhouse of Football League lore, but the creeping apathy that threatens to completely overwhelm this humble local club.
Sensing the genesis of a general resignation, the ever-resourceful Latics United group sought to raise spirits by instigating an afternoon-long sing song by the seaside. ‘Ninety Tunes For Ninety Minutes’, as it was dubbed, would be a veritable triple album of Latics classic hits, revisiting those seemingly forgotten chants of seasons past.
Available soon from Time Life!
As a result, Wigan Athletic commenced their season’s final push to the tune of ‘Teale Will Tear You Apart’, ‘Oh Elly Ellington’ and ‘Super Lee McCulloch’, to name but a few. It was a welcome reminder of the glory days of the mid-Noughties, a time when the seemingly invincible Wigan were riding a wave of thoroughly justified optimism all the way to the Premier League’s golden shores.
And this newfound cheerfulness seemed to work, at least initially. Though few to none of them will have been around to experience those magical years, the current on-field generation of Latics seemed suitably inspired by choruses of ‘Who Needs Mourinho? We’ve Got Paul Jewellio’ and ‘Dun Dun Dun Dun, Jason Roberts’ – at least, I think they are the official titles of those songs.
With one expertly-timed tackle, James Perch sparked a burst of Latics pressure that encompassed two successive corners and a blocked Kim Bo-Kyung effort. However, though the 2,000 travelling ‘Tics let out an exasperated sigh, it is debatable whether the ‘Shots on Target Tally’ Man even had to think about putting down his coffee to retrieve a pencil.
With that effort, the half faded into a gentle game of beach volleyball as both sides reconstructed their ailing windjammers, resulting in a general lack of shots –or chants– of note. But as the chimes of half time ice cream vans replaced swirling mini-sandstorms, Latics emerged from their statuesque slumber like one of those Charlie Chaplin mimes down on the Pleasure Beach. Hey, don’t doubt the power of that vanilla and flake aroma!
On the brink of half time, James McClean guided a hopeful shot-cross wide of Joe Lewis’ post for a goal kick… or so you thought. Catching the Tangerines unawares, a lurking Jermaine Pennant dragged the ball from the byeline to Kim’s waiting boot to reward a striker’s run with a striker’s goal (i.e. a tap-in). Although Kim is mostly a midfielder. Ahem.
Thank you for the days
Yet more chants of ‘Ole Ole Ole Boycey’ seemed to pre-empt the game’s next flashpoint some 18 minutes into the second half. In the absence of an otherwise engaged Scott Carson, Emmerson Boyce splayed his entire body across his goal line to muster up a true captain’s block of great courage. Remember his saving tackle in that *other* Man City cup tie? Well, this one was just important, especially as further goals were just minutes away.
The assertive visitors were assuming control of what had been a very open second half, and the catalyst was Harry Maguire’s header across Lewis’ goalmouth. Whether it rebounded off a head or a shoulder on its way to goal is irrelevant, because this week there was no linesman’s flag to deny Wigan Athletic. 2-0, and the hosts’ confidence was draining.
Although Carson would be forced to smartly tip an effort over his bar, this incident was quickly buried deep in the quicksand by James McClean’s killer breakaway goal. And who should provide the assist but a returning Leon Clarke, fresh from the subs’ bench?
The Second Last Resort
Not many Blackpool fans stuck around to see Gary Madine steer home an 85th minute consolation, and us Wigan supporters can certainly sympathise. Not that I would personally leave so early, but from experience, apathy can be the strongest of emotions.
And so Norwich becomes the ‘new’ last resort. That gap to safety may already be unmanageable for Wigan Athletic, but at least we have the memory of a rare win to make the season review DVD worth buying on release day. Although I’ll probably wait until it appears in the bargain bin alongside that ‘Latics Classics’ vinyl. I hope someone was recording today, because the album ‘Ninety Songs in Ninety Minutes’ by Latics Fans At Blackpool Feat. Chunk and The Drummer Boys may well make an impact on the digital downloads chart.