I suppose I’d better get around to writing something about the City game. It’s been three days after all. But the thing is I’m still not decided on how I feel about it. Not that I’m not pleased with the result or the performance. This is the first time in the last few years that City have arrived in town as big, big favourites to win and although we got help from City’s injuries and (some would say) the referee, Latics had the desire and the game plan to do more than just keep them out.
For large parts of the game Latics took the game to the visitors and certainly had the better of the chances, although it would be unfair to City to deny that they had their own good spells and in those clearly had a bit more class than the hosts. Emotions should be mixed with both sides of the fence equally lucky to not lose and unlucky not to win.
For the first hour or so (until the sending off) this was a good game, one for the partisan and the neutral. It might not have had the scoreline of the preceding “cotton mill” derby, but the “we remember when you were crap” derby had pretty much everything else that you could ask for in a game. Both teams actually trying to win the game, both teams trying to play passing games and some pretty stuff at that but neither team afraid to stick legs and heads in when it counted.
Of course Alan Wiley spoiled it all by sending off Zabaleta, but the ref had made his bed with the unnecessary first half booking and the player should have known better than to go jumping in like that. From that point the emphasis of the game changed and Latics had to take the game to the ever retreating Sky Blues. Rather than Latics waiting foe their opportunity to break, it was now City looking to spring a trap, whilst Latics plugged away at a 9 man back line.
If I’m honest then Wiley got the other big refereeing decision wrong, Figueroa’s challenge on Wright-Phillips should have resulted in a penalty and probably a second yellow for the full-back but I’m hardly likely to be too harsh about that. It was a very close call and, for me, any doubt in those decisions has to go in favour of the defender, the cost is too great otherwise, and anyway the loss of the penalty to some extent balanced out Latics’ disallowed goal in the first half (a decision that Wiley got right, but could have easily let ride).
Déjà vu – again
There are many negatives for Latics to take away from the game. The general air of confidence masked many of the smaller errors and weaknesses. Unsurprisingly, the main reflection point would be the goal. The timing echoed Drogba’s equaliser in the last home game and there’s obviously some thinking required about concentration around the restart, but its nature was more worrying.
The simple fact is that Latics gave City the room to pass the ball on the edge of the area and Petrov the time and space to shoot. He took his goal well but, to a man, the Latics defence were still back peddling as the ball hit the back of the net. All it would have took is one of them to come and attack the ball at any stage of the move and hey presto, the whole situation changes. Have a look again, it’s not like there weren’t enough defenders to do that.
The positives were there for everyone to see. Bramble and Boyce were again solid and the starting point for the performance, Diame and Thomas continued their growth into a driving force to be reckoned with and the forward players were, well, simply threatening.
We know and have known for some time that Rodallega and N’Zogbia are, on their day, players to be reckoned with but, I think it’s fair to say that, doubts have been raised over the signing of Jason Scotland. These are probably based more on his age and footballing history than his performances, but he’s hardly grabbed the attention in the limited time he’s had on the pitch, until now.
At what a time to do it. A lot of the talk in the lead up to the game had been about Emile Heskey, “would he, should he, should we?”. In the first half against City, Scotland was everything we could expect from Heskey but with a bit more “I’ve got something to prove” edge. He played to focal point role well, holding the ball when it needed to be, bringing other players in when they were available and even turning and running at defenders when he got the chance.
I reckon that Jason has a fair bit of learning to do, but if it improves him from this performance then it can only be good for all concerned.
And to close, it’s the only subject in town (other than how wonderful the Premier League is), City’s top four aspirations. On this showing, you’d put them on par with the, very good, Vila and Spurs sides that we’ve seen in recent years but a long way from the real big boys. How much different a clean bill of health would make them, I don’t know, but that’s a massive difference from say United or Chelsea where you don’t see much of a drop, if any, in their level of performance.
But City are a big club, let’s face it, they always have been (once upon a time even bigger than their cross City rivals) and big club + big budget equals a force to be reckoned with. Their finishing position this season may be decided on the depth of their squad and fitness/injury levels but I doubt that the same will apply next year.
Well, it just wouldn’t be right to have a top four side who can’t beat little old Wigan, would it?
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