I’m never quite sure whether my lackadaisical approach to deadlines is a good thing or not. As far as match reports are concerned, it often gets to the stage where I wonder whether it’s worth it at all. By the time Wednesday comes around, I’ve forgotten the finer details of the game and my mind can be more on the weekend ahead than the one just past. On the other hand, waiting a couple of days allows time for the dust to settle and I generally feel that what I’m committing to the screen is a more objective view of events.
Saturday’s game is a perfect example of that. If I’d sat down on Saturday evening or Sunday morning to write a report then I’d probably have been full of righteous indignation about penalty shouts and disallowed goals, a sense of “here we go again” about the games ahead but an overall feeling of positivity from the fact that we’d put Liverpool on the back foot, for the first time.
A few days later and things have flipped on their head a little. Then general picture of the game is one where Liverpool tried to over complicate things and could have probably stepped up a gear if Latics had made the first cut. Latics played well, but failed to make the most of some good positions. To put it simply, if you’re going to get points against the top teams then you need to take the chances you get.
The decisions that went against us were disappointing, but these were nowhere near the Dowd standard. If either of the two offsides had been let go against Latics then we’d be having a healthy debate about what exactly constitutes “active”, what a wonder the (either old or new interpretation of the) offside rule is. In any case, this isn’t as important a game at the one at Highbury, if things have gone awry come the end of the season, then it is highly unlikely that we’ll be pointing fingers at the 29th September and blaming Mark Clattenburg.
A lot of fuss was made before the game about whether or not Torres would start. He did, but his impact was largely missed. Then again you can clearly see what he gives the Scousers over some of the other strikers they’ve had recently. Compare him with his partner for the afternoon, Dirk Kuyt. The Dutchman spends most of the game fannying about in the channels and midfield whilst Torres patiently waited for his chance to come in the centre forward position.
Ok, so you might expect that from a strike partnership, to some extent, but look at Liverpool last season, with two of Kuyt, Crouch and Bellamy playing and you’ll see two forwards fannying about and no-one to stick the ball in the sort. If that sounds familiar then it’s because Latics are in exactly the same position since our wandering Lion buggered off to West Ham.
Heskey and Sibierski have proved themselves excellent team players but they do leave you wondering where the goals will come from. Both players’ absence for this one gave Bent and Aghahowa the chance to prove they were the answer. In the main it looked like they didn’t know what the question was.
The loanee has looked alright in the games he has played since Heskey’s injury, but he’s got a long way to go to prove that he’s anything other than a more assured version of Caleb Folan, give him a few more games and you never know we could be heralding him as the saving grace, but equally he could be the new Simon Haworth.
Aghahowa is a different kettle of fish. The impression I had of him was a pacey player who loved to play off the last defender, Saturday saw him play, almost entirely, with his back to goal. Whether that was a tactical approach that he struggled with, or something else, I lost count of the number of times, when the ball was played into his feet, that he inappropriately slowed the game down, played the wrong ball or simply didn’t know what to do.
Giving him the benefit of the doubt, he’s still relatively early in his ‘settling into the English game’, period, he still deserves a chance. Which is lucky as he and Bent will probably be the only forwards available to Chris Hutchings for a couple of weeks. A word of warning to the manager though, Latics success has been based on making the most of players strengths, don’t try to turn them into something they aren’t.
Elsewhere things are looking alright. We could be stronger in midfield, but with Landzaat and Valencia approaching a return things should fix themselves in that area. The defence is looking good, with Boyce’s turn in the place of Granqvist reminding all and sundry that we’ve got options in the centre.
Left back remains an area for concern though. Not that Kilbane is doing a bad job, this was another good performance from him, but surely we manage a full season with him there. Olembe has now started to appear on the bench, but until we get to see him in a real game we’ll never know how capable he is.
In all there are plenty of pluses to take from this game, but the question is whether there are enough to build on and at least managed to maintain our dignity at Old Trafford? I think that there are. This performance was based as much on solidity and possession as it was a never say die attitude and whilst a similar game might not be sufficient to take a point (or more) off the champions, it should be enough to prevent us getting another drubbing on their patch.
Finally it’s nice to see Latics achieving the full house of “should have won” performances against the big teams. Under Paul Jewell we has never quite managed to lift our game against his boyhood heroes, a coincidence surely? Or did he really sell his soul to Bill Shankley to keep Bradford up that time?
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