I’ve been busy, that’s the be all and end all of the matter. Sometimes things have to give, and just like a hundred times before it’s the website that takes the hit. Well, I’m back, for today at least, and there’s a fair bit of catching up to do. I suppose the best place to start is on the pitch with a stab at explaining how a team condemned to relegation in some quarters are now being feted as European contenders as people start to sing the praises of our manager at a time, bizarrely, when there are no significant vacancies knocking about.
I last wrote after a defeat by the Ashburton Grove after school club eleven. After a stinky October, a win at Fratton Park had given hope of recovery before we got dragged back to division two days by a visit from our old friends from the potteries ending up with a nil-nil draw and sleep disorders all round. In that context, no matter what other possibilities existed, it was easy to see why the loss to Arsenal was taken as a harbinger of doom by some.
No matter how seven years of Paul Jewell say otherwise, Uncle Dave has a rep, and surely it wouldn’t be long before you heard the hatchet being sharpened, or Bruce hot-tailing it to his ‘dream job’ in the north-east?
Actually, everyone was off to St. James’ next to play our part in the longest running football soap opera. It must be Ryan Taylor’s favourite show, he somehow always manages to make the cast and put in a starring performance to boot. This was no different, well, his overall play might have been a bit rusty but his goal was a bit special.
Of course, established soap characters only get rum deals for so long and this time around Mr. Marriner was at hand with a decision that can only rank as ridiculous. Not for the first time this season, a sending off did a “bigger” club a favour and turned a walk in the park for Latics into a nice little comeback for the home team. The ref didn’t get the last word this time, mind, and how Titus must have loved sticking one to the fans who had seen him to of the North East with a sarky smile and a kick up the jacksy.
There are times where we should be happy with a draw at Newcastle, but this wasn’t one of them. The obvious reaction was that these were two points stolen, but Latics’ dominance before the sending off didn’t really produce anything noteworthy on the chances front and in retrospect you could just as easily look on the points as thrown away.
I guess the ‘glass is half empty’ approach reflects where we were at that stage, but how quickly things can change.
Not that quickly actually as it was a long week before the Toffees came to town on a roll and with some smug “of course we have to respect Wigan” comments from Mr. Moyes (rough translation ‘of course we’re going to beat them, but I’d be silly to say that, wouldn’t I?). The last time I remember hearing those words they came in a Welsh whisper just before City got sent back home with a flea in their ear.
Everton weren’t dispatched in such a forthright manner, but once Latics had got their foothold, and Bruce had got his team right, there was only one team deserved to win this. The lack of a second goal meant that we got our customary nervy last few minutes but once that was out of the way then the game had a fairly feel good factor to it.
Which was excellent timing, it ensured that the buzz lasted all of 12 hours, until you realised that the rock bottom baggies were up next. It’s surely common knowledge by now that the best tonic for any struggling team is a game against Latics, especially if we’ve been having any sort of form ourselves.
Everything was lined up for it to happen again when Ishmael Miller capitalised on some all-round dopey defending, putting West Brom in front and change our motives for wanting the game fogged off, from pure tedium ending novelty to getting an early pint and another chance on another day with the stuff on the pitch. It was only my second dose of Latics in the flesh all season, and yet again they were making Sky Sports Saturday look attractive.
With the goal coming so early in the second half there’d be no need for a smash and grab raid from the visitors and certainly no cries of ‘we didn’t deserve that’ from our part of the west stand. That was left for the nearly Brummies to our left when, astoundingly, Boyce popped up to grab a winner after the prodigal son had put Latics level.
If you need any proof of how things have changed around here, then it was contained in the respective post match reactions. Walking over the canal, the locals were of the view that we’d made hard work of what should have been an easy result. The baggies mixed amongst us we’re bemoaning getting “beat buoy that sheuite”. Maybe they just fancied a swim in the cut, but they did seem to believe what they were saying.
So that brought us to the end of November, and we arrived in a completely different mood than when we started our journey.
Maybe bizarrely, it wasn’t the best result of the month that put everything in context but the one game that you’d genuinely expect us to win. Not only did the West Brom game lay some old ghosts about coming from behind, it wrapped up a month unbeaten in the league and left us a little further away from the discomfort zone. Not safe by any means, but heading in the right direction.
It didn’t feel like it, for the most part, but November ended up as the perfect counter balance to the previous month and with some very win-able games to follow, gave Latics with a solid base to build on and the possibility of a best first half to the Premier League season since the first.
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