Latics 2-0 Birmingham
Saturday 5th April 2008

I’ve spent most of the last week trying to piece together a catch up of events over the last two months, but as the conclusion that it was leading to was that, after the Blackburn and Portsmouth games, nothing had changed, this weekend seems the right time to draw a line in the loose top soil of the JJB pitch and start a fresh.

 

After the thumping at Ewood and Latics’ inability to make the most of their chances at Fratton Park you, like me, might have been wondering whether the run of form that had threatened to take Latics into mid-table obscurity was a false dawn. Thankfully, Steve Bruce and his team were bent on proving otherwise and, from kick-off, set about ruining a Birmingham team that had, at least until Saturday afternoon, been enjoying a good run of their own.

Not that the visitors showed any indication of that here. As much as Latics showed all the good aspects that Bruce has instilled in the team’s play, the visitors showed that, even when you’ve shown yourselves capable of better things, there is always a season why a team is in the relegation battle come this time of the season.

I’ve been fairly cynical all season when the likes of Lawrenson and Thompson have claimed that Latics’ were the best team in the bottom six, but, in the first half at least, watching them get the ball down, play through midfield and keep a steady amount of pressure on the opposition, I started to believe. Not that we would survive, I’ve allowed myself that suspicion since January or so, but that we might actually get to a point, for the first time since the Carling Cup final where we can actually start to enjoy our football a little bit.

It may take us until the Reading game to confirm the mathematics, but Latics look safe now and with Chelsea, Spurs and Villa to come before then, the 8 point gap is a great comfort.

Until then, let’s return to what was a real team performance from Latics. The only player that could be singled out was Josip Skoko, proving for the umpteenth time that he might be an alright player, just not in this division. Even so, if played his part in Latics dominance, and doesn’t deserve too much criticism.

The best indicator of how weak Latics made Birmingham look is that their captain, Damien Johnson, saw running around kicking people for five minutes before jumping into a two footed lunge on Kevin Kilbane as the best way to motivate his team-mates. Not that it worked, if the visitors had been out of the contest before his red-card, then after it there was no contest at all.

This time last season, Latics put in two home performances, against Bolton and West Ham, that confirmed just how much they deserved their league position. Twelve months on and the last two home games have proved that if either of those visiting teams finish close to Latics it will be a miracle, let alone an injustice.

The final word, and going against my earlier comment about singling players out, has to go to Ryan Taylor. His reaction to his disappointment at Portsmouth last weekend was well and truly put behind him and his overall performance as impressive as his two goal return.

The lad still has a fair way to go before he can be called the finished article, but his attitude and performances over the course of the season have certainly showed up some players who joined the club with bigger names (and for bigger fees).

So, in all, a satisfying afternoon’s work and one that should, despite the big games to come, put enough of a stake in the Premier League ground to see us back here discussing yet another relegation battle next year.

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