For three hours this afternoon, the entire country came to a total standstill. Nah, it wasn’t in honour of Wigan’s latest Most Important Game of the Season, but because the BBC website crashed under the weight of ‘heavy traffic’. This was surely the work of a crazed Jeremy Clarkson and, if the above image is to be believed, his army of pyromaniac clowns! I somehow sensed Top Gear was inherently evil…
For a frantic 180-minute period, Britain was plunged back into the dark (screen) ages of waiting for your team’s teletext score page to scroll round… 2009, to be precise. At least, I think that’s what MMIX stands for – I couldn’t get a mobile phone reception to call Ancient Rome and confirm this. Which is stupid, because I can see the Winter Hill phone mast from my window.
Thankfully, BBC Sport’s modern equivalent of the Ceefax videprinter was switched to Colin McIntyre’s backyard backup server just in time for the 3:00pm rush. Though Clarkie is still at large, possibly somewhere on his 3million acre Yorkshire council estate, a shred of normality resumed as CRTs were gratefully flung back into the darkest recesses of coal sheds and outdoor toilets. But let this be a warning, dear reader – the techpocalypse will soon arrive, so save your teletext remotes for that fateful day.
For a game of such relevance (if only to one of the two parties), the first 25 minutes were largely restrained. Assorted Rotherham pot shots did not concern a returning Ali Al Habsi, the cherished chicken chaser chalking up his 150th appearance in the luminous Latics goalkeeper shirt.
But the McFortune partnership, which isn’t quite a list of the top 500 most popular US fast food restaurants, was developing an appetite for goals. Most notably, the Jimmy Mac half of this particularly profitable team was keen on poking the odd eye to unsettle any unsuspecting defender within haymaker range. Having won a free kick just centimetres from the opposition area, he tore his way into James Linington’s little yellow book with a carefully selected expletive or two. We shall skim over the fact it earned him a two-match ban for ten bookings, as there were more pressing matters to attend to.
I’m talking, of course, about the desperate need for goals. Luckily (skilfully?) enough, they were about to arrive.
Since the departure of ‘Whoa’ Shaun MaloneyIntoWatson, Latics have been searching for an accomplished placekicker to convert free kicks to those vital points-paying goals. In just five minutes of football, Jermaine Pennant established himself as just the man for the job, crashing two such set pieces into either corner of Adam Collin’s net with considerable style. The first narrowly evaded both wall and outstretched palm, while, er… the second narrowly evaded both wall and outstretched palm in a somewhat perturbing spot of déjà vu. Well, I suppose it saves me having to offer two different sets of descriptions.
Let’s Hang On
Disappointingly, a perfect first half was blighted at the last moment when Matt Derbyshire comfortably foreheaded Ben Pringle’s unchallenged cross beyond an as-yet unworked Al Habsi. In fact, every shot on target in 45 minutes of football had defeated the goalkeeper – not a bad conversion rate by any statto’s stretch.
With Fortune beginning to struggle at the hands of the offside flag, Rotherham eyed their opportunity to squash the visitors flatter than a three-times ironed back four… or in this case, six. In a switch of tactics, Jordan Bowery replaced Conor Sammon (remember him?) to try and outrun, rather than outmuscle, the battling Latics as this game dragged into its final fifteen excruciating minutes.
Thus far, the hosts’ aim was as inaccurate as a drunken match report writer with his topic selection dartboard. Not that I would even consider drinking on a Saturday afternoon. But there was one more moment for Latics to survive… step forward Ali ‘Don’t Call Me Chicken’ Al Habsi. It wasn’t just another trademark double save, but a double save of potentially season-saving significance, as instrumental as any of those fancy Dan ‘goals’ those strikers and pundits keep harping on about. Dare I say, it was better than a goal? The irritated Bowes, so cruelly denied, may well agree.
One life, no continues
And so Wigan Athletic’s season rolls on with the final credit flashing and a caretaker poking them with the pointy end of his broom as closing time arrives. Unwavered and unflustered, the underdog remains in the game, but there are many end-of-level bosses to face yet. Ask me for a reassessment on Thursday morning, but your contract is saved from the shredder pending the appraisals of Drs Fulham and Rotherham, Mr Athletic.
*Pretends to look busy by shuffling some papers around*