From left to right: Wigan, Rotherham and Millwall. Aww, why couldn’t *we* be Bond? (c)Respective owner
Just when you thought Wigan Time was over… the Football League go and put the clocks back! When mere goal difference can be the deciding factor in a relegation love (hate?) triangle, three whole Championship points become larger than Owen Coyle’s shorts cleaning bill at the launderette. The news finally filtered through on Friday afternoon, and it was good – ‘Sharpy’s miracle’ was back in full swing.
One more chance is all you hoped for, a final opportunity to prove Wigan Athletic were worthy of their place in this division of giants. “Please, mister, I promise I’ll be good! I promise I won’t hack and cheat my way to three points in any way possible.” Such an appeal was clearly a bare-faced lie, but the footballing god (Ben Watson?) couldn’t see that James McClean’s concealed fingers were firmly crossed.
And battle Wigan Athletic did, through their own deficiencies and shortcomings, for the collective cause. Never this season have supporter and player been so united, and never before has the Wigan roar been as ear-splitting. Well, at home anyway – Blackpool’s ‘90s Songs in 90 Minutes‘ springs to mind. But a refreshing ‘nothing to lose’ atmosphere hung over an expectant DW Stadium as the players entered the arena, bare fisted and with sleeves pushed up to armpits. It was that time of the year.
You’ve dropped the Ashes, mate
In typical Caldwell fashion, Latics took control in the only way they know – by holding the ball. Most notably, however, Scott Carson was the only Wigan man not to become over-familiar with the round white thing in an opening 25 minutes of solid possession. Might this have been a factor in Benik Afobe’s headed goal? Certainly, Carson looked very uneasy as Bakary Sako’s moon ball flew past him and a collection of Latics defenders on its way to the England U21 striker’s forehead. This, combined with the mistimed Boyce tackle that created the set piece, proved the most damning evidence of all.
Not that anyone was to have known at the time. Wigan were creating enough to suggest this might only be the first goal of a tense, high-scoring affair… well, one would have hoped. Earlier, hearty pressurising had resulted in Kuszczak having to tip Jermaine Pennant’s deflected effort over the bar, while McClean fired into the side netting. On balance of play, further goals seemed as certain as April is Wigan Time.
But with that goal, the balance of play changed drastically. The game fell into that oh-so-tired and borderline maddening ‘smash your head against the 11-man brick wall’ that I would love to see eradicated more than Kevin Keegan would love to beat Manchester United. Love it, I would.
Let me tell you, he went down in my estimation when he made another ‘brick wall’ analogy. (c)BSKYB
Nonetheless, with 45 minutes to play and memories of Charlie in 2011 cycling faster than the Latics media team on their annual bike ride (shoutout to the media team, wooo!), two goals seemed somehow feasible. Forget those other results, they would take care of themselves if the hosts could muster the superhuman strength to reverse this scoreline.
No defenders left behind
Promisingly, Colonel Cald’s secret half time sauce was yielding results, of a fashion. A brace of Barcelona-esque moves only ended in James McClean sidefooting wide each time, but the intent was clear. And when Fortune and McKay arrived soon after, there was no doubt – this was everything Wigan had to toss at Wolves and their seemingly impenetrable golden arches.
As Latics pressed like never before, they were granted a reprieve. Afobe was adjudged to have handled the ball as he brought it under control to beat Carson, so his second (and killer) strike mercifully did not stand. This proved a trigger for the biggest push of Wigan Athletic’s season – think seven attackers and four wingmen to back two defenders and a rush goalkeeper. Extreme as they may sound, such measures were no longer a gamble but a necessity.
Wait, did someone say ‘handball’? Any excuse to dig up this Photoshop!
Agonisingly, the hosts were also about to have a goal swiped from their sweaty palms before it was even theirs. James Perch was on hand to force home Kuszczak‘s scrambled save, but it was no use – the linesman had already thrust his flag to the sky. Your blogger thrust his hat to the ground… which reminds me, must remember to wash that later.
Jumpers for goalposts
Understandably, the match lost all fluency as a 22-man game of British Bulldog broke out in the Wolves area. Though the hosts passed around for an opening with all their might, the strongest of defensive barricades held firm, ensuring naught else would pass.
But it seemed fitting that the man who ran harder and further than any other person in blue and white, James McClean, would have the final word. Upon collecting a second yellow card, he trudged to the bench in weary, forlorn fashion. He had shouldered the fight for 94 minutes, sacrificing even his place against Brentford to keep Wigan’s drive and determination at its peak to the very last gasp. And it was not enough.
Thank you for the last chance, guys… may, er, we have another?