Well, I got it wrong again. After writing off any possibility of Latics deciding their own destiny they returned from Villa Park not only with safety confirmed but with three points, enough to take them to the magical forty point mark, and a performance that, notwithstanding next week, could rank up there as the best of the season.
Let’s get a few things straight. Villa aren’t a bad side, in fact I still have them as one of the best we’ve seen at the JJB this term. Before Saturday they’d been, arguably, the form team in the division, scoring goals for fun and breathing heavily on the necks of Everton for 5th place.Martin O’Neil has been quick to point out that his side never got going, that they didn’t take the chances that they created and that, all in, it was a little disappointing to get beat by Latics. He’s probably right, but, if you can muster the bothered-ness, he shouldn’t be blaming his players for the defeat.This was a great away performance by Latics, with the defence and keeper in fine form; they waited for their chances, and took them. That’s not to say this was a completely rear guard action, as well as smothering everything that was thrown at them, Latics played the game, and at times better than Villa.
Overall there were two men that clearly shone. At one end, Chris Kirkland took everything that was thrown at him, putting in a performance that should see him jump the queue of keepers that are waiting for a pop at displacing David James.
If you’ve any doubts what effect good coaching can have on your team then just consider the improvement we’ve seen between the sticks since Nigel Spink was drafted in to fill the gap left by Gary Walsh’s defection to the Derby ‘revolution’. It would be easy to focus on the number of great saves that Kirkland made, but when you’ve seen him go through the crisis of confidence that he experienced earlier in the season then it’s a whole lot more pleasing to see him coming off his line, and through players, to take crosses and distributing the ball without simply booting things up for Heskey to have a go at.
At the other end, and with the strikers struggling to get anything out of the Villa back line, it was left to, man of the moment, Antonio Valencia to set things on their way.
If there’s been a valid criticism of Valencia over the past nine months then it’s been his lack of end product. He can still improve on that front and a summer practising crossing will do whoever he plays for next season a whole host of favours. I’m not sure that he needs to practise his shooting quite so much; on this showing (and to be fair previous ones as well) he just needs to do it more.
His first goal was a prime example of what can happen if you just ‘have a poke’. Positioned on the edge of the box, but with the close attention of a couple of defenders, Valencia let fly. His shot deflecting off Bouma and up and over Scott Carson.
The keeper stood equally little chance for the second goal. Valencia this time playing the part of Fox in the Box, responding to a Heskey flick on to beat a group of Villa players to the ball and hammer home with the outside of his right boot.
You’ll not get any claims from me that Latics were the better team here, but it’s hard to argue that they didn’t deserve the win. To sum things up, Latics “did ’em good and proper”. The manager got his tactics bob on and the team put them into practice perfectly with a disciplined performance, and how often have we been able to say that in recent times?
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