I’m not avoiding the Bolton and Villa games, I’ve just been a little too busy and a whole lot too weary to wrap things up. Reports will be along, but for now it’s Saturday morning and there are more pressing matters at hand. Another weekend, another derby game and another relegation battle. It might not be the last chance saloon for either side, but the right result either way would do a great deal to settle the nerves.
At the third time of asking, it’s a chance for Latics to break the 30 point barrier and put more space between themselves and the relegation places. The points would be invaluable to Burnley with the added bonus of dragging another team right back into the mix.
Brian Laws has been kind enough to point out that Latics have been somewhat less than a sum of their parts this season. Presumably he thinks that he’s spotted the weak link, but as his side can tell him when Latics play to their potential it’s a little more difficult. After all, who were the first team to breach fortress Turf Moor this term? Would be cruel to re-phrase that as “the only team to breach Turf Moor whilst Owen Coyle was manager”?
I suppose it would be cruel because it highlights the point that since Coyle’s departure, or Laws’ appointment, Burnley have slumped. Four points in that period have kept them in touch with the group of teams above them but they will no doubt look to their three home defeats (including Wolves and Portsmouth) and wonder what went wrong. Especially for a side whose home form, at the turn of the year, had been declared good enough to keep them up on it’s own.
Bobby has talked, this week, about the learning experience of his, and his team’s, first season in the top flight. With any luck, they’ve taken the lesson of the Bolton game and are ready to turn it into a one off, hopefully they’ve realised that benchmark for the rest of the season has to be the intensity of the Liverpool and Villa games.
There’s no messing about now, this really is the business end of the season and that big cliché, that there are no easy games at this level really does come into play. We will have to expect Burnley to turn up with fire in their collective belly, we can’t under estimate their front line and we can’t expect Clarke Carlisle to gift us a goal (although it might help distract him if our players chuck him a few conundrums).
Thankfully Laws doesn’t particularly have a striker who hasn’t scored in a million games but Latics will still have to earn anything that they get from this game. That means turning up with the attitude they showed against Liverpool and Villa, not the one they’ve shown all too often against teams in the bottom half of the table. It means believing they can win if the do things right not that they will win regardless.
It probably also means believing that Charles N’Zogbia isn’t the limit of our creative options. It’s been fairly clear the little franglais man has been carrying a knock for a few weeks now and he’s rated as 50/50 for this one. Can we do without him? Well you can bet that James McCarthy and Victor Moses fancy their chances of proving that there is more to Latics on that front.
You’d suspect (hope?) that it’s Moses that is given the chance if N’Zogbia doesn’t make it but apart from that it’s hard to see where Bobby might want to change things. Caldwell seems to have put his Reebok nightmare behind him, Boyce has fitted into Melchiot’s shoes almost better than the Dutchman and James McCarthy strikes me as the sort of lad that is not going to let a silly own goal spoil his season.
Perhaps most importantly, Rodallega and Moreno look like something we’ve not seen all season (or last, or the one before, or the one before that), a forward partnership. You can see them developing an understanding of each other’s play, starting to look for each other with first time passes and I’m betting it’ll be sooner, rather than later that we see some benefits from that.
Will that be this afternoon? I’m not so sure. Ian Wright falling over aside, this fixture has rarely been filed under Entertaining and I suspect that we can expect another grind today. I can’t see Burnley coming to attack us and we’ve seen on more than one occasion that Latics struggle against teams that set out to hassle, stifle or otherwise restrict Latics’ attacking channels.
For one reason or another I’ve had a pretty much 0-0 kind of week and that might be affecting my judgement but both my mind and my gut are saying nil-bout and I’m sticking with it. So I’ll go for a hard fought bore draw that does us more favours than it does them but leaves plenty of work still for Latics to do over the next six or so weeks.
But, to quote every lazy journo out there, it all depends which Latics turns up…
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