Monday, March 18, 2013

Pain and no gain

Wigan 2 - 1 Newcastle Utd

The answer's no.

The question, in case you're wondering, is whether my seething resentment at the manner of yesterday's defeat to Wigan would fade given a bit of time.

Lapses and misjudgements by the officials cost us at least a point, and possibly even three, the incidents sufficiently controversial - and Callum McManaman's unpunished assault on Massadio Haidara sufficiently horrific - to elevate the match highlights to first place on Match Of The Day 2. It's worth noting, though, that beneath all the cries of injustice lies a sub-par performance against the side with the worst home record in the top four divisions.

As expected, Dreamboat was sidelined, replaced by Spidermag (who also inherited the captain's armband), but the Silver Fox was at least able to call upon Goofy and Mathieu Debuchy again. That said, the latter lasted only 13 minutes, during which he arguably looked our most potent forward threat, before tweaking his hamstring.

The same Latics XI that had comprehensively destroyed Everton in the FA Cup last week had picked up where they left off at Goodison Park, and it wasn't long before they had the lead. Debuchy's replacement Massadio Haidara was outpaced on the flank by Callum McManaman and when Davide Santon, switched to right-back in the reshuffle, fluffed his attempted clearance, Jean Beausejour had a simple chance which he tucked beyond Rob Elliot and Saylor on the line.

Could things get worse? Why yes they could. Haidara had only been on the pitch ten minutes when McManaman launched into a horrendous studs-up "tackle" that could have snapped the substitute's leg clean in half. In fairness to referee Mark Halsey, he had a Newcastle player running across his line of sight, but the linesman had no such excuse. A free kick was awarded, but only for the Wigan winger's subsequent deliberate handball. Neither offence was punished with a card of any colour, and while he'll face retrospective punishment in the form of a ban, that's of no consolation whatsoever to us or Haidara's knee.

And how we could have done with the deserved man advantage. The home side were neat and inventive in their passing, Shaun Maloney forcing Elliot into a sprawling save and only a desperate Spidermag lunge foiling James McCarthy after he'd burst through a non-existent central defence.

Saylor had headed powerfully straight at 'keeper Joel Robles from a Sylvain Marveaux corner prior to Debuchy's departure, but our only other opportunity came at the end of the first half when Papiss Cisse lashed wastefully over from close range when Haidara's replacement Perchinho was better placed. The fact that our highlight of the half was arguably a tidy bit of skill in midfield from Perchinho said it all.

By the time the half-time whistle came, the visiting bench had seen replays of the McManaman challenge and had had 25 minutes to stew over it. An apoplectic John Carver vented his fury at the culprit as he walked off the pitch, precipitating an almighty fracas involving coaching staff, stewards and police, Carver being restrained by Perchinho. Both he and his Latics counterpart Graham Barrow were sentenced to watching the second half from the stands.

The raw emotion, the sense of injustice and the fact that we were attacking the end populated by the magnificently vociferous away supporters spurred us into making a much improved start to the second period, applying pressure until Moussa Sissoko curled the ball wide of the far post. Marveaux began to exert a greater influence but we still looked vulnerable to Wigan's quick, fluid football, though, not least because Mr T was so busy concentrating on surrendering possession in dangerous areas that he forgot to pick up his customary booking. McManaman's continued presence on the pitch threatened to become an even sorer point, but MYM managed a vital block and he was withdrawn soon afterwards.

The full-back injuries had forced the Silver Fox's hand, so he had to use his one remaining substitution wisely - and he did. Big Lad was introduced together with a new system which saw us switch to three at the back, Santon pushing into midfield, and the change reaped almost immediate dividends. Loose play from the Latics allowed Cisse to flick a clever pass inside the full-back for the Italian, who steadied himself before finding the far corner for his long-awaited first Toon goal and thereby making amends for that earlier cock-up.

From that point there only really looked like being one winner, and Cisse came close to grabbing the decisive goal. Big Lad advanced onto a long ball before hitting a low early cross that our #9 toe-poked goalwards. Only Robles' foot kept it out, but typically the officials missed that and awarded a goal kick.

And then, of course, for the sucker punch. MYM's attempted clearance from a dangerous right-wing cross could have gone anywhere, but flew behind. The relief was short-lived, though, as an incredible melee from the ensuing corner ended with Arouna Kone lashing into the roof of the net from a yard out. After our late, late winners in the last two matches, we should have been well aware of the need to play right to the final whistle - but it certainly didn't help when the officials again failed to spot a blatant infringement, this time a handball flick-on by Maynor Figueroa to set up the scrum from which Kone scored.

The Silver Fox somehow maintained his dignity in his post-match comments, but you suspect (hope, perhaps) that Carver took out his frustrations on the away dressing room. The result ate into the cushion between us and the relegation zone, narrowing it to six points - not what we wanted when our next fixture is away to a Man City side who'll be desperate not to allow their cross-city rivals' coronation as champions to become a mathematical certainty. As for the Latics, the DW Stadium is arguably our unhappiest hunting ground in the Premier League and so from our perspective - and despite all the plaudits they're due for their attractive football and Roberto Martinez's managerial alchemy - the sooner they're relegated the better.

A Wigan fan's perspective: Jesus Was A Wiganer

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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