Wigan Athletic 0 Sunderland 1
Tuesday 5th April 2005
Organised, quick, strong, direct, and powerful. Up until last weekend they were how people were describing our team. After the last four days you’d have to say that there are at least two teams in the division who deserve those plaudits more than our lads. Where as West Ham’s win was as much to do with our falling apart as anything else, Sunderland gave an almost flawless lesson in how to win a game like this. Get an early goal, stay organised and play on the break may be more cliche than tactic but after last night you would hard pushed to say it didn’t work.
Yes there was some luck about how the Mackems took the lead. An ‘anywhere’ clearance following an attack that should have resulted in a Latics free kick; a ball chased down and dragged back from over the touchline (maybe); the centre forward offside as the cross came in? To be honest the only one of those that can be claimed with any certainty was the free kick. Lawrence chased down the ball with more desire than Mahon and deserved to keep it in, Mahon then failed to support Baines and the marking on Stewart was nothing less than scandalous.
So from 3 minutes onwards any chance we had of winning this division had disappeared. Sunderland’s central midfield sat on top of their defence and said ‘go on then, get through that’. You only have to have watched us a couple of times this season to know that wasn’t going to happen. Weak through balls and punts up field to two swamped defenders aren’t enough to break down top teams in this division, they’re probably not enough to break down any organised team, but that’s all we had to offer. We’ve come to rely too much on getting around the back of teams and when you’ve 7 or 8 men ahead of you the chances for that are pretty much gone.
It’s not so much that we played badly, but that we don’t know how to play in front of a crowd this size, against a team that knows how to stop you scoring and has the desire to keep doing it for as long as they need to. We looked tired, but that was in comparison to the immense energy of Sunderland. They were first to every second ball, pounced on every bit of shoddy control (and there was plenty of it) and harassed the man with the ball constantly. There were bright spots but no real threats and at the end of the day it looked very much like we didn’t have the bottle to mix it with these ‘big boys’.
The deficiencies of almost every Latics player was exposed at some point last night, from Eaden’s pace and poor distribution through Teale’s lack of football intelligence to Bainesy’s lack of experience and Bullard’s lack of product.
Even Jason Roberts looked more like the striker that didn’t produce in the premier league than the one that has given championship defenders sleepless nights all season. Jewell’s management was at best mystifying. You get the feeling that Mahon’s disappearance at half time was more to do with the goal than his overall performance. Then again he did have a poor few minutes leading up to the break, when he swapped wings with Teale (???). If there was a possibility of having to switch to 4-3-3 (which by leaving both strikers on but introducing Omerod Jewell must have been admitting) Teale would have been the more obvious candidate. Given a choice of Bullard, Jarrett and Kavanagh or Bullard, Kavanagh and Mahon I know which I would choose. Ellington/left-wing, do I need to say more?
Maybe I’m being unfair, but after the last two performances, I’d excuse people for feeling glad that it’s looking less and less likely that we’ll make it this year. Jewell doesn’t strike me as a manager that would overhaul the team that got him promoted and this bunch of players are either not good enough or not ready for the challenges that would face them, or maybe that’s what they think. Going to Cardiff once a season is enough for anyone. We’ve got to rely on a lot of hard work and no little bit of luck if we want to get promoted without visiting the land of daffodils and male voice choirs twice.
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