As you probably know by now, League One is no place for great footballing sides. It is a place for procrastinating ball boys and the soggy, half-eaten packet of Revels they call the referee pool. It is a place where cards are cheaper than the bargain bin at Birthday Box during half price happy hour on closing down sale day.
What’s more, if your players are half decent they will most likely be summoned to sit on a wooden bench and watch their fellow countrymen play in faraway tropical lands before breaking their leg on the cramped flight home. As a result, you’re forced to borrow J. Anyolddude in a three-hour pay-per-play loan deal, and he’s back off to his fully-funded plush Harchester United hotel before the manager’s even said a word to him.
But do you know what? That’s what makes League One so great. The Premier League and Championship are far too closely scrutinised by TV audiences of over ten billion to be anything other than safe and predictable. But here, beyond the boundaries of extortionate television fees, in the comfortable anonymity of ‘lower league football’, is where the real entertainment lies.
Because just like in a game of Brucey’s Play Your Cards Right, there exists a mistigris in the form of a little red card tucked away in the referee’s back pocket. If ever things become too one-sided, he is liable to foist it high and proud to maintain a level of entertainment expected of League One.
Case in point: Bury vs Wigan.
Don’t Yanic, Captain Mainwaring!
To describe Wigan’s ‘control’ of 80 minutes of the game, I first refer you back to a point made countless times in the Roberto Martinez (FA Cup winning) era: is domination of possession true domination, or merely the illusion of domination? Like those hours at work you ‘waste’ redrafting that internal noticeboard memo for the 33rd time or making sure all the pens are tidily stacked in your organiser. It might feel like you’re doing something productive, but for some reason your boss doesn’t think so.
It could be claimed that Nathan Cameron’s 6th minute goal cancelled out any sort of possession-related moral victory for Cardwell’s (hur, see what I did there?) visitors in the first half. Personally, however, I would claim it was Bury’s defensive prowess, tempered by some tentative Latics approach play, that quite ably performed this function. Yanic ‘Attack’ Wildschut’s 42nd minute long range finger stinger excepted, of course.
But when Tom Pope doubled the Shakers’ lead before the hour mark, moral victories were quickly cast into a waste paper bin alongside the 31st and 32nd drafts of that memo and the three pen lids so heavily chewed they no longer stay attached. Reese James sacrificed, Grant Holt now joined Jordy Hiwula and support striker Wildschut at the watercooler to discuss quite how they would make up for 60 minutes of time lost to flicking elastic bands at flies.
Well, perhaps that was an exaggerated and unfair analogy, but it is true that the visitors’ productivity increased once that second goal registered.
If the Shakers want to play, we’ll play.
Then came the horrible cackle of a manic jester, the giggling Graham Salisbury’s joker in the form of a second yellow card for Chris Hussey. Disgusted faces suggested the ref might have forgotten he had already booked his man. Delighted faces sensed a further ‘Magic Roundabout’ turnaround… but there would be just 12 more minutes of regular time.
“Well, I only need to score and this game is over, baby,” thought Nathan Cameron. There was, however, one flaw in the execution of his plan – the teams swapped sides at half time. As a result of this literal and metaphorical own goal (which we shall partially credit to Comeback King Holtmaster General just because we like him), his side’s lead was halved.
And within five minutes it was gone. Moral victories and possession were retrieved from the waste paper bin and put through the instant paper recycler just in time for clocking off. In footballing terms, Captain Morgan provided a Wildschut-esque finish and the evil joker’s nefarious blueprint was almost realised.
Mercifully for the hosts, however, his effect wore off as injury time arrived. Tim Chow struck the post and Max Power cleared the bar, while Francisco Junior also had an attempt plucked from the air… yes, all this in five minutes of time added on!
Ad oh, yes!
I forgot to mention that goalkeeping coach Mike Pollitt also felt the joker’s wrath for doing impressions of That Ball Boy – he was sent to the stands for about 100 seconds. In fact I’m not sure he had time to sit down before time was called at two goals each.
That entertaining enough for ya? Well, we’ve got two thirds of a season of this to come yet! Bring,.. gasp… it… wheeze… on. (Collapses.)