‘The pitch was a great leveller’ is basically one of those great football come phrases. It translates roughly into ‘the away team, full of fancy Dans and prima donnas are looking for an excuse to explain their poor performance against a team they should be beating easily’.
Surprisingly, despite the difference in league position between these two sides, it didn’t get rolled out even the once this weekend. Worryingly that probably means that the pundits are still backing us to stay up.
The pitch may have converted what would have probably been a full blooded affair into a all-out battle, dominated by the home team, but the simple facts are that Latics struggled as much with the surface as West Ham and the visitors never even hinted at a higher level of anything that would have given them an advantage had they arrived to find the JJB turfed like a village green in… somewhere that cares about such things.
Yes, Alan Curbishly saw fit to criticise the ’embarrassing’ surface, but his excuses lay elsewhere, in the energy sapping victory at Anfield to be precise. Steve Bruce was equally, if not more, scathing about the bit of grass he’s been given to show off his and his players’, talents.
In the end, neither pointed at the pitch for any other reason than to say that the game was never going to be one of those total football affairs that the media would have you believe happen every week in the land of plenty.
Anyone who has spent any time watching Premier League teams slugging things out of a lunch/tea/any other time apart from 3 oâ€™clock, will tell you how much of a lie that is. Instead â€˜the most exciting league in the worldâ€™ is one of occasional brilliance, punctuated by mistakes and set pieces.
Latics shouldnâ€™t argue too much about that mind, not when weâ€™ve got a player like Ryan Taylor in the team.
Taylor may have a lot of hard work to do, before he finds his feet as a, top-flight, outfield player, but his delivery of a dead ball is already up there with the best this league has to offer and it came as no surprise that much of what was good for Latics in the first hour of this one came from his right boot, including the goal.
Earlier in the piece Taylor had demonstrated just how awkward a free kick from 40-50 yards out can be, when placed centrally, his attempt to find a Laticsâ€™ head ending up right down the keeperâ€™s throat. Presented with an identical effort, with half time looming, the temptation must have been there to try the same again, but something cleverer was called for.
As Kilbane peeled out of the pack towards the West stand, his run was duly noted. Lofting the ball in, with pinpoint accuracy, Taylor left our current â€˜best left backâ€™ with a reasonably easy job to get the ball into the box from an angle that the Hammersâ€™ defence werenâ€™t expecting.
Kilbane didnâ€™t quite manage to control his header and could only watch as it lobbed over Green and into the net. We might not have had much luck so far this season, but you take it where it comes. Especially when itâ€™s deserved and whilst the goal may have had fluke written all over it, the result was the only one that would have been fair.
You canâ€™t see many of our games between now and the end of the season being â€˜one for the neutralsâ€™ but the tenacity on show here should provide a blueprint for the way forward. Who cares whether Lineaker purrs at our play, as long as we fight for our place it will be enough to get past most teams and certainly enough to get the fans going.
And so it proved on Saturday, for the first time in a while there was a buzz amongst the home fans, bolstered by events on the pitch and spurred on by a noisy North Stand there was something approaching an atmosphere.
The best moment of which came during a first half break in play when Robert Greenâ€™s over eager response to the away fansâ€™ declaration that he was â€œEnglandâ€™s number oneâ€ was pounced on by an East Stand, eager to point out that the gentleman in question hadnâ€™t even been selected. After a brief snigger to himself the stopper turned to his tormentors and indicated his opinion that their side was going down.
Fair play to the fellow, but a few more performances like this one and he may have to reassess his views.
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