As the mummy tomato said to her son…

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If it’s been a while since the Fulham game then it feels like an absolute age.  Football and all that goes with it has taken a back seat to the chaos that is Christmas with two young kids leaving us with a fair bit of action, on and off the pitch, to catch up on.  Any promise to get match reports up for the games that you’ve missed out on is likely to be a false one, so instead you’ll have to make do with a run through of what I can remember has happened over the last fortnight or so.

A good point

The biggest surprise for this one is that Laurie Sanchez got the boot before not beating us.  Unfortunately for Fulham, the ‘new manager effect’ didn’t quite do the job and Latics walked away from Craven Cottage with a 1-1 result.
A draw, away from home, against one of the teams you are up against in the relegation battle, has to be a good result.  You would have taken it before kick off, so why not be happy with it at the final whistle.  Ok, we had taken the lead and perhaps should have held onto it, but hey ho, it’s not the end of the world and you certainly shouldn’t have let it spoil your turkey.

Old friends

Big Sam brought his new boys to town and managed to make them look remarkably similar to his old set of heifers.  Newcastle may never have been all that, but their fans seem to hold a sense of pride in the way that they’ve always played football.  Well maybe not always, but they enjoyed the Keegan years and would quite like those back please.  Allardyce’s style is a little bit different from what the fans expect and it’s probably going to take a while before they find their feet with each other.
That said, not many people expected Latics to despatch the Geordies back home with yet another 1-0 defeat on their record.  Despite being able to field Damien Duff and James Milner in support of Mark Viduka, Sam’s men had almost nothing in this game and it was left to the man whose right foot loves the back of Shay Given’s net to take the three points for Latics.

Speaking of which…

Ryan Taylor

Comparisons with David Beckham aside, Latics’ resurgence has coincided with Ryan Taylor’s return to the side.  Of course the quality of his set piece delivery has something to fm with that, but there’s so much more beside.

In the latter stages of Chris Hutchings’ tenure as manager he was crying out for a player who would show an ounce of commitment and passion for the cause and yet all the time he had one messing about in the reserves.  Of course there’s always the chance that Ryan wasn’t fit enough to play his part, but the grapevine suggests otherwise.

Taylor may have been given his chance by injury to the more mercurial Jason Koumas but he’s taken it with both feet.  Steve Bruce will be hoping that he can keep him off the treatment table for long enough for Taylor to start turning his plentiful promise into real results.

Paul Sharner

Whilst we’re on the subject of players who’ve come to the fore under Steve Bruce we should take a minute to think of Paul Scharner.  His time in midfield, both this season and last, has hardly been a fruitful one for both player and club and the attitude he displayed at the start of Bruce’s reign was enough to see him dropped, but needs be as offer must and all that and instead he got moved to centre half instead.

The move prompted an upturn in fortunes, but my gut feeling remains that this is as much to do with Scharner not being in midfield as it is to do with him being in defence.  His pace, energy and aerial ability have proved useful back there, but I still wonder whether he has the discipline to make the position his own.  Watch him and wonder as he turns up in some bizarre positions on the pitch and try not to panic as he makes a surging run into the opposition half as the rest of the team are trying to keep things steady in the closing stages of a tight game.

Thieves and Villains

That Latics fans will have felt robbed of victory in this game says plenty in itself about how the team has progressed in recent weeks, back track a month and there would have been a feeling of inevitability, if not about the equaliser then definitely that the draw would be turned into defeat.

Similarly to the Fulham game, the result against Aston Villa caused consternation in some quarters of Latics’ support, but again there were plenty of positives in the game.  Villa are a much better side than they were given credit for and alongside Man City could be real contenders to become the ‘next Spurs’.  On the day, Latics looked the better side for two thirds of the game and that they eventually lost their 1-0 lead owed as much to Villa’s resilience as anything else.

Well that and the ability of two lads that are tipped to play big roles for England under the new manager.

Could I interest you in some new windows sir?

Yes it’s that time of year again.  It’s not fair on the clubs (well some of them at least) but most of all it’s not fair from the fans.  Within moments of 2007 ending it seemed that we were flooded with rumour and speculation, most of which was simply recycled from this summer’s unsuccessful bids/stories.  Depending on how you want to view it, that could very well be good news (i.e. the press don’t really know who we’re after signing) or bad (we’re not after signing anyone) but with obvious deficiencies in the squad I’m holding out for it being the first.

As always it’s the new links that seem to have most legs.  Bruce’s previous dealings with Arsene Wenger have pointed eyes in the direction of loan deals for a couple of Arsenal’s youngsters (probably not Bendtner or Eduardo, which is a pity), there’s two Hondurans that Bruce brought into Birmingham and Latics (along with every other Premier League club outside of the top six or so) are being linked with Hibs’ David Murphy.

All in all not that much to get excited about, but the January transfer window is more about getting extra points on the table than it is getting bums on seats and our new manager’s record in that regard is pretty good and I think we’ll leave him to it for the time being.

Plodding along

Somewhere in the middle of all this Latics, sort of, lost the long running battle over police costs at the JJB.  The judgement itself, that Latics should pay some of the £300k they withheld from games played between 2003 and 2005, sounded more like a clip around the ear for two silly little boys who should have sorted this whole thing out before it happened.

It now falls to the club to agree with the Police on exactly how much of the money they are going to repay, with a clear steer that police costs in future should be agreed before the season starts.  Which, from what we were told back when this was a hot potato, was what the club had believed to have happened, only for the police to move the goalposts.

The silence following the judgement suggests that both parties will go meekly away to sort this out, but it may not be the last we have heard of the situation.

At last…

No, I’m not referring to this being the last part of the article, although you may be glad to know that it is.

Latics’ problems playing against the top four clubs have been more than sufficiently covered in the three years that we’ve been in this division, so it was with as much a sense of relief as jubilation that we finally managed to a) get a goal against Liverpool and b) take a point of one of the big boys into the bargain.  How did we manage it?  Was it a tactical masterstroke and a cleverly

defensive formation?  Was it heck.  Latics went to Anfield, kept things simple and played to their strengths.

Despite what Rafa, and most Reds, will tell you, there was a period at the start of the match where the home team struggled to handle Heskey and Bent and Latics looked as if they could get more than the point from the game.  The longer we went without a goal, the more Liverpool found their feet and of course they will be disappointed that they lost the game after taking the lead.

But that is where Latics should take most pride, so often in the past they have capitulated when better teams have taken the lead against them, but not this time.  They kept their heads up, battled on and took their (half) chance when it came to them.  Because of this Latics should take as much pride from the way the result was achieved than who it was against and perhaps it is this result as much as any of the others over the past month or so that should provide the hope for the outcome of this season.

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