Monday, January 03, 2011

Flying in the face of fate

Wigan Athletic 0 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Well, there's one New Year's resolution ticked off already. Not only did we manage to avoid defeat away to Wigan in a league match, we actually went so far as to win the game - and, it seemed, with fate stacked heavily against us.

Consider the circumstances: we'd lost on all four of our previous visits, one Ryan Taylor being a particular thorn in our side on several of those; Wigan were unbeaten in their previous six home games; we were deprived of our talismanic striker Rocky through injury; and Wigan boss Roberto Martinez not only named Gary Caldwell as captain, a player who spent three years on Tyneside without a sniff of first-team action, but also included someone with the first name Jordi... Surely another defeat awaited us?

Thankfully, though, there was good news too with the return of Jose Enrique, Kevin Nolan and Steve Harper (the latter from long-term injury), while Big Lad replaced Rocky and Peter Lovenkrands, a second striker, was preferred to Wayne Routledge. What's more, our hosts were without their own talisman, Charles N'Somnia having earned himself a timely red card against Arsenal - and, as it turned out, our reshaped side proved more than capable of nullifying what little creative threat they did muster.

We should have been in front as early as the third minute, Big Lad somehow contriving to cock up a header from Danny Simpson's sublime right-wing cross and shoulder the ball over the bar from point-blank range. While he was striving to step into Rocky's size nines, Tom Cleverley seemed to have been instructed to fill N'Somnia's boots. The Man Utd player, who excelled on loan at Watford last season and who had been asked to operate on the left, first drew a diving save from Harper and then volleyed over from six yards. The watching Taggart was probably as impressed as Alan Pardew was concerned.

Those concerns were allayed, though, when - for once - we were gifted a goal by the opposition rather than vice versa. ASBO pounced on Ivorian defender Steve Gohouri's loose control to fire in a shot that Ali Al Habsi could only parry, and when Peter Lovenkrands bundled the rebound off a post, Big Lad followed up to sweep home and make amends for that glaring early miss.

Lovenkrands has been largely off the pace this season, when involved, so it was pleasing to see him striking up a lively partnership with the goalscorer. But it was a central defender who came closest to extending our lead, ASBO's floated corner to the edge of the area met by Sideshow Bob with a spectacular header which bounced off the top of the crossbar, Al Habsi rooted to the spot.

Fate nearly intervened at the other end when Caldwell also struck the bar with a header, Hugo Rodallega unable to keep his follow-up down. That was about the extent of Wigan's threat, though, and a clearly dissatisfied Martinez made an offensive substitution at the break, replacing Hendry Thomas with the more forward-thinking James McArthur.

The switch made little difference, however, and we continued to control the game - and indeed could have doubled our advantage when Steven Taylor became the third central defender to rattle the crossbar, with Al Habsi completely beaten. Taylor endured a hairy moment when substitute Mauro Boselli's shot struck his arm in the penalty box, but referee Howard Webb ignored the Argentinian's appeals. Whether that decision had anything to do with our man's comically disingenuous reaction - clutching his side and contorting his face in agony in a manner that recalled the infamous sniper assassination fall of that calamitous Villa game in 2005 - was unclear...

Wigan pushed up in search of an undeserved equaliser, but without conviction or cutting edge, and the acres of space left were exploited by Spidermag and substitutes Routledge and Leon Best. The latter, making his first appearance of the season, should have scored when through on Al Habsi but lost his footing and fluffed his shot, and Spidermag too squandered a good opportunity. Enrique came closer than both, whistling a venomous right-footed drive inches over the bar.

The only real negative of a disciplined, effective and resolute display was that Taylor's wasn't the only bit of play-acting. Cheik Tiote - otherwise excellent at the hub of a fine team performance - pulled out some shameful amateur dramatics towards the end, reacting to a flick in the face like he'd been given a napalm facial. A quiet but firm word in the ear from Pardew to follow, I hope.

While Jabba will be rejoicing in having at last got one over on his old foe Dave Whelan, the win was doubly valuable as it was recorded against one of our relegation rivals. Another, West Ham, come to St James' on Wednesday, and on a decent run of form too. With the league as tight as it is, three points will once again be crucial.

A Wigan fan's perspective: Jesus Was A Wiganer

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Anonymous Gaz said...

You boys could have been there cheering on a man with a black and white colly and still come away with all three points. We had the cutting edge of boiled cabbage in the second half.

11:10 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

First half wasn't much better! Much the same story as for our last 1-0 away win, at Arsenal - we play well but are helped out by our hosts having a serious off-day. Despite your league position I genuinely wasn't expecting to get anything out of the game - the trip to the DW is one we look forward to with dread, as a result of bitter experience...

Think you'll stay up? You definitely look short in attack (as good as Rodallega is). Definitely missed N'Zogbia. I thought Stam, Alcaraz and Boselli were all good signings but the latter just hasn't clicked yet - worth a few more starts?

12:42 am  

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