Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas puddings

Wigan 1 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Apparently bookies were offering odds of 15/2 on a 1-0 home win before yesterday's game. OK, so Wigan had collected all three points just once in their previous fifteen games and seem to have a pathological aversion to clean sheets - but (a) we were the opponents (b) we've lost by that very scoreline on our previous three visits to the JJB Stadium and (c) it was Boxing Day. God knows why I decided not only not to take a punt on it but also to travel and witness the shitfest in person. In the home end.

It was, quite simply, an absolutely atrocious display in which we registered a grand total of one shot, an ambitious overhead effort early in the second half from the otherwise lumbering Mark Viduka which, with Wigan 'keeper Chris Kirkland stranded, was headed off the line in front of the Newcastle fans by none other than Titus Bramble. Of course, you could also have safely bet on our old friend enjoying a good game for our opponents, and Antoine Sibierski acquitting himself well too.

Relegation-threatened Wigan were nothing better than awful, but then they didn't need to be. Ryan Taylor's goal midway through the second period, a curling right-footed free-kick following the umpteenth committed but clumsy tackle from the useless Alan Smith (named as captain), was utterly out of keeping with the game itself. It seems Taylor saves up his set-piece specials for when we roll into town, exactly the same having happened in February.

Encouraged by his goal, Taylor tried his luck from distance shortly afterwards only to be thwarted by Given, while Nigerian substitute Julius Aghahowa hit the side-netting in injury time. Other than that, the closest they came to adding to their tally came when Given, pressurised into action by a bouncing Steven Taylor backpass and the close attentions of Marcus Bent, bizarrely hooked the ball over his shoulder and narrowly wide of the post for a corner.

On the final whistle Sam Allardyce laid the blame for the performance elsewhere - "The level of form the players have dropped to is unacceptable" - while claiming to be "a top man in my field". If that's the case, Sam, then you'd better start proving it.

Dropping five players from the pre-Christmas disappointment at home to Derby is fair enough, but when two of those five (Nicky Butt and Obafemi Martins) were among the few who did themselves justice it's curious to say the least. Of the players drafted in, Geremi was a waste of space, Emre too deep and too easily knocked off the ball, and Damien Duff too frequently driven back into his own half.

Our sole tactic seemed to be the big lump forwards, greeted every time by the locals with cries of "Hoof! and giving rise to a painfully accurate rendition of "Are you Bolton in disguise?" One particularly animated bloke in front of me - dressed in a white boiler suit bearing the words "Rex Crayma - Danger Seeker" who arrived wearing a motorbike helmet - enjoyed the afternoon more than most, vociferously reminding Allardyce that it may not be long before he has to mark Giro Day on his calendar.

The away fans, meanwhile, were magnificent as ever, their vocal presence bearing no relation whatsoever to goings-on on the pitch. Martins's name rang out occasionally to indicate to Allardyce what most made of the decision to leave him out, while there was pogoing to keep warm and a chant of "You only sing at the rugby" directed at the near-silent home fans, no doubt mortified at having paid £25 for what was classified as a Category A game and (judging by those around me) more interested in keeping tabs on other Premiership scorelines than in the fortunes of their own team.

The lads at have claimed that there was a chant of "We're shit and we're sick of it" towards the end of the second half, and they were no doubt better placed to verify it than me, but what I heard - "We're shit and we're still singing" - was more cheerily stoical than impatient and angry. That's what the Wigan fans heard too, generously turning to applaud the travelling support's attempts to inject some life into a dreadful afternoon.

Perhaps inevitably, the loudest cheer of all came for the announcement at half-time that the Mackems were 3-0 down at home to Man Utd, though there was also warm appreciation for the portly Wigan fan who bared his man boobs on request. And on the subject of bare flesh on display, spare a thought for the chap dressed as Borat in the green shoulder-strapped thong for the half-time fancy dress competition. At least he got a prize for his efforts, though - the away fans had no such consolation.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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