June 18, 2024
Christmas Truce

(c)Alan Cleaver

Christmas Truce
(c)Alan Cleaver

On Christmas Day 1914, amid the hostilities of the Great War, soldiers put down their guns and wandered across no man’s land to share gifts and a song or two with opposing forces in what would become known as the ‘Christmas Truce‘. For one day, these gentlemen set aside the differences dictated by polarised political beliefs and rampant propaganda for a simple game of football, a warm and welcome reminder of how sport unites in even the most challenging of times.

We may all pretend we hate the guys in that other stand for 90 minutes on a Saturday, but once the final whistle is blown, we suddenly remember how it was all just an elaborate game and hobble over that bridge to our normal lives. Well, except on Twitter, where the vitriol spills over into Sunday – there, the eternal battle rages seven days a week, 365 days a year. Save for during denial of service attacks, when the fight temporarily shifts to Instagram.

I daren’t visit said social networking websites, though I can probably pre-empt the general topics being ‘discussed’ in a ‘civilised manner’, and I predict that very few will be even vaguely constructive. So for once, let’s try and offer some intelligent points beyond the usual silly seasonal Digitiser-esque half-jokes about turkeys and Christmas Can. Hur hur, like Chris McCann, geddit?

9 Ladies Dancing

Nine ladies dancing
“No, Callum, you’re supposed to tie your bootlaces first.” “Oh fiddlesticks!”

Today’s game will serve as an intervention for the much loved(?) false 9, which places James McClean as a makeshift centre forward… occasionally. In case you missed last week’s questionable Wikipedia explanation, it is a ‘what the heck are we gonna do’ tactic in the absence of strikers that Mr Mackay can have any confidence in. Allegedly. Look, let me explain by way of the customary match review.

To have no strikers does work to some extent, as evidenced by the opening fifteen minutes. Callum McManaman had one shot saved and a further effort blocked, while Emmerson Boyce witnessed his usual chance roll harmlessly into the digital advert hoarding. But therein lies the issue – none of these are very likely to earn you one of those things where, er, the ball goes into the net thingy. Oh yeah, I remember now – they’re called goals!

The first half was characterised by misplaced passes from both sides, to such an extent that if one of those, er, ‘goal’ things were to come, they would be from a grave defensive error. As if to prove the point, Leon Barnett played a perfect through ball to Tom Lawrence, setting up a one-on-one fight with Scott Carson. Though no punches were thrown, the latter emerged with a cauliflower ear, for the vistors had mined that rarest of commodities – goald. Barnett skulked away to consider a future as a boxing promoter.

A Belated Epiphany

Rudolf's Barmy Army
Santas in the North Stand begin a rendition of “Rudolf the Red’s Barmy Army”

In light of further Rotherham pressure, a gradual series of changes were implemented. By the 63rd minute, the false 9 was all but abandoned in favour of… two strikers. There, all those people wanting me to ask Malky about that, you have your Christmas wish! And just seconds after Oriol Riera followed Marc Antoine-Fortune onto the field, Ben Watson was guiding home the sweetest of corners from James McClean. Punch the air.

It suddenly dawned upon me: “Wait, it all makes sense now! Play to earn the corners, have Watson and McCann convert them and you don’t need strik… oh what the heck? Rotherham have scored.”

Indeed, my epiphany moment was rudely interrupted by Alex Revell heading home just 90 seconds later. I didn’t even see what the free kick was given for, but somehow sensed it was all pointless. Eighteen minutes of toil to set up a solitary goal and it counted for naught thanks to another momentary lapse. The Championship is a harsh wasteland, and I do not envy Malky’s position.

As it happened, one of those strikers ought to have restored parity before the 96 minute mark. First, Fortune wonderfully turned the defender to set up Wigan’s best effort thus far – it’s just a pity that de facto ban on hitting the target at the DW Stadium came back into effect. If it weren’t for that, maybe Riera’s header would have crept inside the post instead of cannoning off it.

In short, abandon the nine!

But on a day such as this, you can’t help but adopt a philosophical stance. This Christmas, when Wigan Athletic are entrenched in the relegation zone with not a goalscoring striker to their name, take a minute to remember those soldiers and their plight. It’s a sad truth that many of them met grisly ends at the hands of a bullet post-Christmas 1914, while others suffered terrible injuries in the name of peace.

Things are never as bad as you believe they are.

A very merry and peaceful Christmas from everyone at JWAW. Have a teletext Christmas card.

A teletext Christmas card

Second opinion

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