Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wig-whammed - again

Wigan Athletic 2 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Ah, the annual festive ritual: picking over the bones of the Christmas turkey and then picking over the bones of another miserable Boxing Day defeat. Given the catalogue of misery recorded in the history books and the four defeats we'd suffered on our four previous visits to the JJB, the fixture computer's Christmas gift of a Boxing Day trip to Wigan was about as welcome as a cold turd in a particularly garish pair of novelty socks.

It was an afternoon on which pretty much everything that could go wrong did. It began with Jose Enrique injuring himself in the warm-up, the Spaniard no doubt relieved to escape a roasting at the hands of another pacy winger, Antonio Valencia, after being tormented by Spurs' Aaron Lennon on Sunday. That meant pushing our most potent weapon from that game, Charles N'Zogbia, back into defence, with Damien Duff lining up on the left wing and JFK forced to press Mark Viduka into grudging service up front.

We didn't start too badly, in all honesty. Danny Guthrie was exerting a controlling influence in midfield and only stout defending - a goalline clearance from Mario Melchiot and a superb sliding block from Paul Scharner - denied Mark Viduka and Little Saint Mick respectively from giving us the lead.

But any optimism we may have had disappeared on the half-hour mark. Anyone foolish enough to bet that we might continue our sequence of clean sheets on our travels would have been ignoring the fact that history can repeat itself - and indeed has with remarkable regularity in this fixture. That's certainly what our defence did. Despite having conceded curling free-kick winners to Wigan in both the 2006-7 season and the 2007-8 season, we had no one on the post and the ball flew past Shay Given from 20 yards. The scorer, henceforth known only as The Wigan Player, was responsible for those two previous efforts and also his side's first in the reverse fixture at St James's Park last month - meaning that of the six times he's netted in Wigan colours, two-thirds of his strikes have come against us. Did the muted celebration hint at a degree of sympathy for the suffering he continually inflicts upon us, or was it just because scoring came as no surprise?

As our grip on the game was loosened by Wilson Palacios, and Amr Zaki and the dangerous Valencia began to see more of the ball and create opportunities, things got worse when a crunching tackle from Palacios's partner in central midfield, ex-Smoggie Lee Cattermole, saw Habib Beye limp off to be replaced by Steven Taylor. "I'll be kind and call it a reckless challenge", said JFK afterwards, no doubt mindful of the fact that Cattermole was also responsible for ASBO's current injury lay-off.

The second half continued in much the same vein: short of ideas and commitment, we ceded control to a spirited but very average side far too easily. But the finger of blame for Wigan's second goal can only pointed in referee Mike Dean's direction. Fair enough Sebastien Bassong needed to be punished for taking a shine to Emile Heskey's shirt, but the offence first took place nearer the halfway line than the penalty box. Quite why Dean waited until the pair had made their way into the area and Heskey's legs had conveniently buckled beneath him to blow his whistle is a complete mystery. Bassong received the inevitable red card and Zaki buried the spot-kick.

The decision to withdraw Little Saint Mick for a defender, David Edgar, was curious - even though he'd hardly been at his most effective, this was tantamount to waving the white flag to the Wigan dug-out. But credit where it's due - we could and very nearly did snatch an undeserved point.

There were only two minutes left on the clock when we finally got our first goal at the JJB. Andy Carroll, on for the lumbering Viduka who'd been barracked off the pitch, was clattered by Chris Kirkland. Naturally the 'keeper stayed on the pitch to face the penalty, but was powerless to prevent Guthrie from notching his second goal in successive away matches.

Perhaps drawing inspiration from our hosts' last-gasp equaliser at St James's Park, the 10 men sensed the possibility of grabbing an unlikely draw. That they didn't was partly down to Duff, who fluffed a glorious chance to reprise his late, late show against Spurs, and to that man Dean, who rewarded a clumsy challenge in the area with a yellow card for the floored Carroll rather than the penalty it merited. Old Cauliflower Face conceded: "I thought their second shout for a penalty at the end was more of a penalty than the first one". JFK, meanwhile, said: "I can't find words to express his [Dean's] performance". Somehow I doubt that, though the words in question probably wouldn't be fit for a family website such as this. Words like "an absolute fucking disgrace", for instance.

So, 2-1 it finished, we get to be patronised by Brucie and his gobshite chairman Dave Whelan for another year, and league leaders Liverpool are looming large on the horizon. Joy of joys.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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