I’m really not sure about this game, my nerves are jangling like the cash converters’ gold on a family of scrotes and, worst of all I’m not completely sure why. Yes, we’re getting to the business end of the relegation ‘battle’ but, regardless of this result, Latics will wake up tomorrow with their destiny firmly in their own grasp. So, if there’s still no need to panic, why have I become obsessed with not talking about the potential outcomes to this one game of football?
Well, it’s probably got more to do with what happens if we win, than how crappy I’ll feel if we don’t. Three points would put just enough space between Latics and the bottom three for the fans to sit back, reflect on a difficult nine months and start to panic about how many of the present team will need replacing before the start of Latics’ sixth season of top flight football. There, I’ve said it, a win tonight and I’ll look you in the eye and tell you we’re safe and I’ll promise to try and not be smug about it.
So that was quite easy to say, but you’ll find it a damn sight harder to get me to finish that off and reach the conclusion that we will win tonight. Taking three points from Pompey won’t be anywhere as easy as beating an already relegated side might appear. First off, the pressure is off, they’re down and all that’s left is to make the most of what’s left, to enjoy themselves and give the fans something to remember. Secondly, when you separate the financial circus from the football team, Portsmouth aren’t all that bad, well you’d hope not considering that their squad’s salaries were enough to play their, not insignificant, part in putting the club in the mess that they find themselves in.
Like Latics, Pompey have been guilty of woeful underperformance at times this season but also like Latics, they’ve also shown themselves capable of a lot more. Had Avram Grant been there a little longer then there would have probably been more cause to fight administration. As it is, without the points deduction, we could have been talking about what the points mean for both sides rather than just being nervous about how welcome they’ll be for Latics.
The old idea of teams having nothing to play for is pretty much dead in these days where one place in the league can be worth a million and every overpaid mercenary is playing for his next signing on fee. And then there’s the Cup.
Getting to the final is no fluke, but, as other sides have shown recently, having the gumption to do well in that situation does not necessarily equate to having a good league side. Take Millwall and their 2004 European adventure, and what followed.. Not that their story helps us mind, because we know that Pompey are capable of being at least as good (or four goals better even) as Latics on any given day.
To be clichéd, a lot will depend on which version of the two sides turns up. Will Portsmouth be buoyed or knackered from their FA cup exploits? How may of their players will be missing because of pay as they play contract clauses? Are they actually allowed to win in the league unless they forgo bonuses? It must be a mess to be involved in and Avram Grant’s task of keeping his players’ heads together makes Bobby’s job of moulding together a league of nations look a piece of piss.
Talking of Latics, which is what we were supposed to be doing, Bobby wants to see more fight from them. Which would be fine if they had anyone level headed enough to show them the way. Expecting Paul Scharner to translate that into anything other than “run about a lot and trip people up” is a bit too much and whilst it would be nice to see a bit more steel, you can’t help thinking that we’ll need Boyce back in the back four for it to happen.
As I said earlier, I don’t really want to talk about what might happen after kick off, but I am clinging to the hope that someone at Pompey remembers the leg up that we gave them back in 2006. On the final day of the season, Harry Redknapp needed his side to win to keep them up. Cruising but only one up at half-time Latics didn’t perform in the second half allowing Benjani to become a hero on the day. It might sound desperate, but surely they owe us something for that?
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