A bit of a slog

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Latics 1-1 Watford
Saturday 23rd September 2006

You’ve not had a home game for a month, it’s three weeks to go until the next one so what you don’t want is an over fussy referee, a pair of linesmen with a bet on who can flag for offside the most and two teams that aren’t interested in getting the ball down and playing. The rugby season ticket holders who took up Mr Whelan’s kind offer will have felt right at home. Well there certainly wasn’t much football on show, and some of the kicks for touch were beautifully placed.

Unlike other games this season there was nothing positive in this one. The defence was slow and mechanical, the midfield didn’t get involved and the forward line was at best wasteful. In an almost dictionary definition of the phrase “playing into the opposition’s hands” almost every ball was a long one and those that weren’t, were probably headers.

Comparisons to the Wimbledon of old last season were about passion and team spirit. If the reliance on the long ball continues then the wrong sort of comparisons will come. It would be nice to think that the [cough] direct style of play was down to an inability to cope with an opposition that played that way, unfortunately we’ve seen too much of it this season to be the case.

That Chris Hutchings dealt with the press after this performance suggests that the manager was busy telling the players just that.

Criticisms of the style of play aside, the first half saw enough chances for Latics, and Henri Camara in particular, to be out of sight. Time and again the offside trap denied the striker the opportunity to make get off the mark, on the two occasions that the flag stayed down Henri first snatched his shot wide and then played the ball weakly into the keeper’s arms.

The flag was also up for the goal.

A clearance from Kirkland, bounced from head to head on the edge of the Watford area only to end at Camara’s feet, clearly in an offside position. A quick turn and shoot and the ball’s in the back of the net. There were muted celebrations from Latics but no one seemed really convinced that the goal would stand, but the referee had spotted that the ball for Camara had been played by Watford captain, Malcky McKay and after a quick chat with his assistant it was 1-0.

Watford are apparently making a habit of coming back into games in the second half. This was no exception, and their half time team talk had the desired effect. They may have come worse off in the first half battle of two bad sides but they edged the opening exchanges of the second half. The goal was almost an inevitability with the only question being which defender would make the mistake that would let them in.

To be fair to Paul Scharner, his silly push on Gavin Mahon let Watford with quite a bit to do. The resulting free kick resulting in a shot back across goal from Bouazza that Kirkland really didn’t stand a chance with, and gave the watching ‘throngs’ their first glimpse of imagination all afternoon.

Neither side really seemed to know what to do from that point, although both made some effort to get a winner. Heskey’s header from Landzaat’s cross went just over, but should have been on target, Scharner also had a chance to atone for the free kick with a replica chance to his second at Everton. In the end it wasn’t to be. Latics could probably claim to be the better side over 90 minutes but there wouldn’t be a great deal of pride in those claims and neither side did enough to justify a win.

After some indifferent form at the start of the season, this was Latics’ opportunity to put in a convincing performance and get a convincing result. After this game, the only thing most fans are convinced of is that it’s going to be a long hard season.

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