Does luck even itself off over the, course of a season? If it does then you don’t get out what you put in. If you did then we could expect some cracking refereeing decisions over the next five games courtesy of Stuart Atwell and the little Argentinean that has nearly cost Latics their place at the top table once already. Ok, it’s unfair to say that Tevez somehow cheated us out of a point, but I’ve never taken to the bloke and passing some of the blame on somehow lessens the implausibility of a man who’s not even allowed to kick the ball having such an influence on the outcome of a full ninety minutes.
Whilst luck should rarely settle the outcome of a season, decisions can, and will. Faced with the Caldwell/Tevez challenge the referee pretty much had a clean sweep of options open to him. Who knows what would have happened if he’d left Latics’ most vocal leader on the pitch, possibly sending off City’s “hat trick hero” for good measure. What if Atwell had perceived City’s first half rolling around as ‘simulation’? What if he’d deemed Adebayor’s waist high, studs up challenge in the incident that gifted the home team their opener a foul?
Fans will often look at refereeing decisions as key milestones, forgetting that players’ decisions can be just as key. City’s first goal being a prime example. As the rest of the world wonders in the sort of goalkeeping that you’d usually only see on home video, blurry pictures from some far flung land or, Scotland, we’re happy blaming the referee. It’s part denial, part natural bias and I suppose the conclusion has to be that the foul wouldn’t matter if Stojkovic had done his job properly in the first place.
And that’s what we need at this stage of the season. We need people to do their jobs, simply and properly, if you’re trying to clear the ball and it’s easier to put it in the stand, put it into the stand, if you’ve got a centre forward in the box, make sure you get to the ball before him. Call them lapses of concentration if you like, but they were both, purely and simply, bad decisions.
Do you want to argue the toss over whose decisions were more costly for Latics? Wind back ten days or so and what do you reckon? I’d have seen City as an ‘anything is a bonus’ game with the game against Fulham, with their eyes elsewhere, being one where Latics could look to get something. Assuming strong selections from the home teams, I’d have said that. A point from the two games was a good return; anything more would really push us towards safety.
Of course, pre-match predictions are meaningless once things kick off and the ultimate outcome of the City game was made so much more disappointing by Latics’ first half performance. They might lack too much of a cutting edge to truly dominate anyone, but the visitors definitely had the upper hand. Leading up to the sending off, City had a spell of pressure and were appealing for penalties like a left arm spinner on the hunt for an LBW. For what it’s worth, I reckon it was only a matter of time before Latics cracked, but, as City pushed on, their hosts looked susceptible to the break (even against ten men) and it was still extremely likely that the spoils would go to the side that drew first blood.
Fulham was a different matter. Latics started off against a side that looked every bit like it had been playing three games a week since, like, forever. They looked livelier, they looked most likely and they would have been value for better than the 1-0 lead they took into the break. A goal lead that was remarkable in a lot of ways but most of all because it marked Jason Scotland’s entry onto the Premier League goalscorers’ list.
We’ve expected for so long that his first would be the proverbial “one off the backside” but no, it was in keeping with so many of the chances that he’s missed so far, a shot taken early from the edge of the box, only this time it evaded the woodwork and didn’t nestle safely in the keeper’s hands. Schwarzer may feel that he should have done better with it but then he owes us plenty from the game at our place so we’ll put that to one side.
The rest of the half was pretty much standard fayre. Latics had plenty of the play and decent pressure but failed to take advantage of it. We keep returning to their lack of cutting edge, which seemingly contradicts the concept of Liverpool and Arsenal’s supposed interest in our players, and does nothing to help us win games but at least we had a decent referee so they wouldn’t be any bad decisions getting in the way of the result, eh? Eh?
Paul Scharner, Paul-bloody-Scharner, back in the back line covering for Caldwell’s absence and back to his flaky best. There hadn’t been too much of a problem in the first half, but within two minutes of the restart he was playing Franz Beckenbauer on the edge of his own area instead of hammering the ball into the stand, and before you know it, Titus has switched off in the area and Fulham are level.
Just over ten minutes later, it’s everyone asleep at a corner and Latics are behind. From that point on it’s reasonably plain sailing for Fulham as they allow Latics as much of the possession as they want without ever really getting anything out of it. A better team, European experience or back to that lack of cutting edge again? It didn’t matter in the end as the visitors slowly ran out of options, ideas and lost one more chance to push closer to the safety line.
So there you go, the real proof that it’s not only the referee’s decisions that decide games. Two calls by Latics players that turned a game on its head and cost their team three points. So why can I still not stop myself blaming Stuart Atwell? Perhaps it’s because that both goals were examples of things that Latics had apparently wiped out of their game since the turn of the year, or to be more precise since they signed Gary Caldwell.
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