A step in the right direction

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Latics 4-0 Manchester City
Saturday 21st October 2006

You’d be excused for believing that Latics didn’t show up for the game yesterday, that City merely came to the JJB, flapped about a bit and, just to really upset the travelling faithful, put 4 goals in their own net. However understandable City’s failure being a bigger story than Latics’s success maybe, the media’s take on the game will have caused much choking on cornflakes across the borough, as the royal blue army (well more of a brigade) opened the papers and switched on their PCs this morning.

Okay, so the opposition weren’t much cop, but neither were Watford and they managed a one all draw. At the end of the day, no matter how much help they got from City, Paul Jewell’s men deserved this victory and whilst a four goal margin may have flattered them, anything less than three would have either have been wasteful on their part or unfair.

The preview for this one (that only got three quarters written) would have gone like this. Two sides struggling for form. Neither will want to lose this one. Both will probably be a bit cagey. Whilst it might be a good tight game you can forget scoring four goals. If Latics concede three then they’ll be the losing side.

How wrong can you be?

Heskey’s opener was an almost exact replica of his goal at Blackburn, another Boyce cross, some more clever movement and an even better finish. That there was only one minute on the clock could have been something special, but Latics’ fans are getting use to quick fire starts, nearly as much as we’re getting used to pulling defeat from the jaws of victory. What we’re not used to is scoring more than one goal, so imagine the surprise when Richard Dunne gave us the second a couple of minutes later.

From that point on it was plain sailing. For the first half City couldn’t get close to Latics and although the visitors had a purple patch at the start of the second once Latics put the pressure back on it was game over.

If the third goal had been scored by Arsenal then they’d still be talking about it this time next year. As it is the sharp passing, Baines’ break and cross and Camara’s strength and pace has been overshadowed by discussion over whether the defence should have done better. The fourth was simpler in the making but more clinical in the finish as Luis Valencia’s powerful drive got him his first goal in a Latics shirt.

Let’s get something straight, City may have been weakened by injury, this side might have been one of the youngest they’ve ever put out at this level but it still had its fair share of experience, a good dose of promise and a £12 million pound strike force. Things might have been very wrong for Stuart Pearce but Latics finally started to get things right. The ball sent most of the time on the floor, pressure was applied when the opposition had possession and the midfield wanted to (and for a good part succeeded to) keep the ball.

Whilst it was far from a perfect performance and to some extent there was room for criticism all over the pitch, this game was another step in the right direct. This team now knows that they can beat people, and by big score lines, they also know how to go about doing that. It will be interesting to see what happens next week when they won’t get the early goal (surely!). It may actually force an even better performance out of them.

Plaudits on the day go to Josip Skoko, his inclusion may have raised a few eyebrows but it was the catalyst for the good start. The Australian kept things simple, but kept the ball moving and it was a real pity when he had to go off on the half hour mark. Baines also deserves credit, with Latics playing proper football; he got the chance to show off other sides of his game. Proving that he can pass the ball and that he’s as much a threat going forward as he is solid at the back.

Man of the Match though was Emile Heskey. Anyone who still believes that Jason Roberts is the better player must be squeezing in a third pint at half time. Heskey has Roberts’ pace and power, but can head the ball, plays for the team before himself and defends as a matter of course. It’s a toss up as to who would get most goals over a season and of course it would be better to have both of them in the squad, but with England scouts at the game and Emile in this sort of form we could get an even stronger pointer to who the better player is.

In all it was a satisfying afternoon but we shouldn’t read too much into it just yet. Jewell won’t be letting the players think that they’ve now proved themselves, and us fans shouldn’t get any delusions about the job ahead. Latics are still two or three wins away from being out of the relegation battle and this game might just give them the springboard to do it.

Trips to Fulham and Villa come are up next, taking us to the quarter point of the season. Both games are winnable but defeats would be equally unsurprising. By the time Charlton visit the JJB we might be in a position to make some predictions as to how the season is going to go. If Latics can carry on improving then they should be good ones.

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