Latics 0-0 Reading
Saturday 26th April 2008

Well, my head is fairly battered after that one. A game that was, at best, 75 minutes too long and a good chunk of mental arithmetic, that turned out to be wasted when I finally got around to checking the fixtures and realised that it was Fulham and not Reading that Birmingham have next week. So we’re back where we started and whilst the table and the sums are on our side, the fixtures mean that we’ll be looking to other games on the last two weekends of the season, just to make sure of another year at this level.

Steve Bruce knew the job at hand when he took over at the JJB and he might have gone about it with relish, but after instilling new levels of belief in the team, bringing in a midfielder that would do well at most of the clubs in this division and turning the whole thing around, there is still the possibility that his work could be undone by finishing line nerves and the dismal records of his predecessors.

Latics might have finished this game looking desperate and (fairly) clueless, but they started it in a manner that suggested the job would be over and done with by half-time. The display in the first fifteen minutes was full of the passion, energy and no quarter given stuff that saw us take the “footballing world” by surprise a couple of years back. All it needed was a goal to put the icing on the cake (which the Perm household finally finished on Thursday by the way).

The nearest we got was a header from Marcus Bent that came back off the crossbar, but would probably have been cleared by at least one of the two men Reading had on the line had it not been that high. I mention the number of men on the line as it was one that Latics had to get used to. Reading’s plan, clearly, was to grind us down, every time one of our attacking players were on the ball, the visitors doubled up on him, stifling much of our ability to create chances.

It worked, as time went on without a goal, Latics got visibly nervous and whatever threat they had presented in the early stages dissipated, giving us a game that was there for either side to win, or lose. Unfortunately, but predictably, neither side had the quality to manage the three points. There were chances for both sides, but only one a piece that suggested that things might end up differently.

For Reading it was the recalled Leroy Lita. His burst into the box beat a handful of Latics defenders but also gave him the problem of a tightening angle. He still managed to get a shot off but as the ball rolled agonisingly across the face of the goal you might have wondered if he’d have got more out of it, if he had pulled the ball back to one of his colleagues who had space in the box.

Latics’ chance fell to Marlon King. The new messiah? Was he heck as like! A good run to break the offside trap (that his team mates had struggled with all afternoon), a handy sprint across the mud flats and, if I’m honest, a they shot from a closing angle. It was possibly the first chance we’ve had to see the real King, but in the end it was all too easy for Hanneman to deal with.

The most notable feature of the game was the loss of Mario Melchiot, not only did his departure coincide with Latics losing their grip on this game, the fact he’ll be missing for the last two makes things that bit harder.

In all, it’s difficult to call this game anything other than a disappointment. Results elsewhere did little to change things other than to waste another game and whilst time and mathematics are on our side there’s plenty that could happen to see us relegated.

In reality, there’s plenty more things (that are a damn sight more likely) to keep us up, but it’s highly unlikely that it’ll be our actions that confirm another year of this nonsense. If Spurs, Fulham or Sunderland can manage to get as much as a point then Latics will be able to relax ready to play their part in the title race. If, and it’s wholly possible, then, for the third season in four, we’ll be heading towards a lot of clenched buttocks on the final day.

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