Manchester United 4-0 Latics
Saturday 6th October 2007

I spent most of the last week telling people that this game didn’t matter, that there was no chance of Latics getting anything, and that the international break might as well have started a week early for us.  I did believe it, but that was before Chris Kirkland had four goals shoved past him, before Latics stood by, unable to do anything to stop Rooney, Ronaldo and Giggs taking the Mick.  I might have spent the past week telling people that this game didn’t matter, but a four-bout defeat is going to sting, no matter which way you approach it.  

Whether you try to do it through having two banks of four sat right on top of each other or by shoving an extra man in midfield, there’s no point in going to Old Trafford, Anfield, Stamford Bridge or Ashburton Grove trying to stop the opposition scoring.  If you go to defend you’re essentially just playing a waiting game, because nine times out of ten they will score.  Surely if you’re just going to lose anyway, you’re better off having a little fun doing it.

Of course we’ve seen this tactic plenty of times before, practically every visitor to the JJB tried it in the three or four years prior to life in the Premier League.  Did it work for them?  Then why would it work for us?

You might want to talk about damage limitation but United are currently averaging more than 3 goals in their home games against Latics.  The one time we really had a go at them, they needed a last minute o.g. to get the points.  Not that I’m suggesting that we should go hell for leather at the top teams, but why not try playing our normal game?  Why not test our team against theirs in a game of football, isn’t that what it’s supposed to be about?

Yes we might get thrashed, but on yesterday’s evidence that’s going to happen, whether or not, and you know what?  I’ve a suspicion that it wouldn’t be as bad.

Latics clearly have a better side this season than last; they’ve been playing football and managing to keep hold of possession.  Things have gone a bit awry in recent games, where they’ve clearly missed, the now settled in and much improved, Denny Landzaat and Louis Antonio Valencia.  Both were available yesterday and both made it as far as the bench.

Whether that’s a decision that Chris Hutchings will regret is something that only he knows, but for the first 45 minutes he could have been excused for thinking that he’d got it right.  Latics may have not posed anything like a threat but they were doing a good job of containing the champions.  The loss of Melchiot, early in the second half, changed all that and as soon as the mini Lou Ferrigno scored the opener it was a case of Latics holding on for dear life.

It would be all too easy to blame the introduction of Fitz Hall for the down turn in fortunes, when in truth it was more down to what we lost than what we got instead.  Then again, with Granqvist and Taylor fit for selection and Melchiot, Boyce and Scharner in the starting line up there should have been no need for Hall to be anywhere near the sixteen.

If you had any doubts about the game plan, Hutchings’ reaction to going behind, and then going further and further behind, told it all.  Latics finished the game with the same 4-5-1 formation that they started with and although the introduction of Valencia may have given a bit more attacking impetus at no stage did they go all out to get back into the game.

More than anyone, the manager has some lessons to learn from this game, and he’ll have plenty of time to ponder on them over the next fortnight.  With games against Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs just around the corner he should be asking himself about both his best eleven and his tactical approach, there may be better ways to salvage some pride and protect our goal difference than this one.

But Hutchings isn’t the only one who needs to learn from this defeat and some fans need to take a good hard look at themselves.  You always expect a certain amount of pessimism from Wiganers, but the number who were ready to declare time of death on our Premiership life come Sunday morning was ridiculous.

I’m not saying that our prospects look great, at this moment in time, but to take this game as any indication about the rest of the season is just silly.  For starters we didn’t have (in my opinion) the strongest side we could have out and on top of that we played in a way that is totally alien to us, finally we were playing a side that could have beaten the vast majority of the division in a similar fashion.

Whilst it may not all be doom and gloom, there aren’t that many positives to take from the game.  Despite Hutchings’ insistence that we can take something from the first half, performances like that only mean something over a full ninety minutes.  If there is a positive then it can only be that, surely this time, we’ve seen the last of One Size in a Latics shirt.

At least it’s another game against a top side out of the way, and the international break gives the lads a chance to regroup and forget about the last two weeks.  They’ll need to get their heads in gear ahead of the next two games, which present a fair chance to get the season something like on track.

Four points from the Portsmouth and Birmingham games should be good enough to give us some amount of respectability and would probably keep us out of the panic zone until the next time we can come up for air (in mid November, after the Spurs game).  Anything less than that and who knows where we’ll be come Christmas. 

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