Hitting the Wall – Wolves thoughts

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Latics 2-0 Wolves
Saturday 2nd October 2010

Honestly, I’m struggling with this one.  Not because I don’t know how to describe the game or how I feel about the result.  Not because I’m unhappy about the team or uninspired by the performance.  It’s not even got anything to with the Second Division standard drinking session that followed events at the DW.  I’ve just hit a brick wall, I don’t get it any more, am I peeing into the wind with all this stuff or am I really one of only a handful in Wigan who believe that football is about passing the ball to team mates and keeping it away from the opposition?

I’ve give up on reading the numerous message-board threads after pretty much dismissing them as far from reality, but the sort of crap that’s been doing my head in all season has started to creep into my real life.  Apparently I know someone who left at half-time and watched the second half in the pub, because they allegedly found the whole thing too boring.  The “two-goal rule” applied by some people is another debate all together, the best said about leaving when the game is in the balance, the better.

On top of that, I spent most of my day on Saturday with someone could shamelessly talk about all this “passing shite”, who somehow expected Latics to be able to run through the wolves defence at will and basically (I think) subscribed to the basic theory that, just because the visitors were a man down, Latics should have walked the game.  If that’s not enough then throw in another portion of boredom, a tablespoon of “to continental” and sprinkle liberally with a whole shot of “gerritforwud”.  What choice did I have but to keep drinking until 3am?

Before I go off on this week’s rant, I need to say that I do get why people like to watch football that makes them go “ooh” and “aahh”, to see people trying to run with the ball, challenging for headers and what have you.  I get why people like watching it, but I don’t get why people don’t want more for their own club.  I also don’t think that what we are seeing now is perfect and hope I’m not too snobby about ideas like “the right way” to play football.  More than anything, I don’t get how people can say that they find it boring watching their team playing.

But on to the FACTs.

For this first one, I should probably refer back to my Sunderland report in case I repeat myself but if everyone else gets to just say the same things over and again then why shouldn’t I.  It’s not easy to beat a team that goes down to ten men.  In some circumstances it makes the job more difficult.  Those circumstances are usually where a team has little or no attacking intention to start with and then they just abandon them completely.  Wolves were set up to smash and grab from kick-off and basically had to change little in terms of shape or tactics when Henry was dismissed.

In circumstances like those, it’s actually the team with eleven men that has to change tack.  Rather than drawing the other team out and trying to play into the spaces they leave they have to become patient, move the ball around and waiting for the other team’s concentration to break.  Rather than playing football, it becomes a game of chess.  Rather than two teams trying to outplay each other, it becomes one waiting for the other to make a mistake.

How boring is that?  Well, removing a player from a game rarely makes it more exciting but you can’t deny Wolves their right to react that way.  The Latics players might have been more patient than their fans but in any case they managed to (if stats are believed) to create enough chances to get 17 shots on target and whilst you can debate all day how clear cut those chances might have been, it’s hard to imagine what else they might have done.
Got it forward early?  Played for knock downs and set pieces?

If you want a clear cut comparison between what we had and what we have now, then that is probably it.  When you’re in possession, you’re not defending, you’re conserving energy and as long as you keep it, it’s highly unlikely the opposition will score.   Think back a year or so ago, or a couple of years further back to these times that we allegedly played “better” football and think about what the team spent most of their time doing.  Our style of play was typified by short periods of possession, the ball given away through long balls or head down runs and the team spending half of their time defending.

If it was exciting it was as more, if not more, for the last ditch, backs to the wall defending than it was for any great attacking flair. As I recall, a lack of goals and a dearth of genuine chances has been a constant complaint in Latics’ top flight life.  The only  exception perhaps our first season and if you really thought that there was a genuine chance of us being able to maintain that level of intensity for more than the two thirds of a season that we did, had better look at Reading or Hull for some clues.
I’m trying to be honest here.  I genuinely believe that a passing game is the right way to play football.  Not necessarily in some great aesthetic or moralistic sense but because it doesn’t put the same strains on the players, shouldn’t put your defence under the same pressure and there’s no real evidence in my eyes that playing percentages is more beneficial in terms of outcomes than playing for possession.

The 8 points Latics now have from the first seven games is beaten by only two Premier League seasons.  The first one, and the last one.  That’s right, our second best start (points wise) was under this same manage, playing this same system.  Not that it means we’re safe from relegation or even from a relegation battle.  It just means that things aren’t all that bad, that you shouldn’t be judging what’s going to happen in the rest of the season on your presumptions about the manager’s plans.

Now that I’ve been honest, will you?  Think about how you’re judging our current style of play, think about how you’re criticising it and about what style you’re asking for instead.  I don’t know the answer, only you can answer that, but all I’m seeing is people hiding behind words like direct and all I’m hearing is people praising Sam Allardyce, and I can’t think of a time or place that has happened before, not even in Bolton or Blackburn.

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