Birmingham 0-0 Latics
Saturday 25th September 2010
It’s 0-0, you’re entering the closing stages of the game, the opposition have one of the best crossers of a ball in the division in their side and they’re just about to bring on a seven foot centre forward. Of course it makes for a nervy few minutes. As much as you’d have taken a draw, or even a hard fought defeat, before kick off, no one likes to lose to a scrappy free kick in the last ten minutes, not after all that hard work.
In the end, it didn’t come, the game remained in its deserved balance and both sides’ internet mobs went home confused about whether to stay on their own boards and act all indignant or to get on the other one and give it the old “who’s the bigger club now” shtick. In the end I guess they mostly left things alone and satisfied themselves with a couple of alchopops and the chance to make cutting comments about Simon Cowell and drool over a pussycat doll whilst waiting for their mum to put their tea out.
The rest of us were probably enjoying the irony that the Premier League’s Mr Unpredictable chose one of the most mixed up weekends you’ll ever see in the division to pick out one of the most predictable results you could imagine. Birmingham’s year long unbeaten home run is as impressive in its number of draws as it is its length and Latics aren’t quite ready to get into any kind of scoring groove, just yet. I might have gone for a home win for a prediction league but if someone was forcing me to put money on the outcome then, if it was the smart kind, it would have been on nil-bout all the way.
So what did anyone have to get indignant about? Well for Latics it was that they had the best of the closing exchanges. Ten minutes is a long time to keep attention these days so obviously the previous 80 don’t matter and we deserved to win the game. Birmingham? Well they had the referee.
You’ll have seen both incidents and formed your own opinion but the proof of the pudding these days is nearly always in the TV treatment and as far as the sending off goes that was a fairly universal run through the phrases “did he get the ball?”, “looks a bit harsh”, “you can’t do that these days” and “ooof, definitely” as the picture flicked through the different angled replays. Those Brummies who are inevitably not convinced should check out Alex McLeish’s words, when a manager can’t bring himself to mumble “we’ll have to review the tapes before deciding whether to appeal” you know that the red was deserved.
At the other end, you had the handbags between Rodallega and Johnson. The silence in post match interviews and analysis is pretty damning in terms of how much real controversy there was, but if you’re still looking for proof the check out the BBC commentary which exclaimed in a high pitch squeal that Rodallega had put his face near Roger Johnson, a commentator hoping he’d found the incident to save his vocal talents from being last on Match of the Day, if ever I heard one. The incident that triggered the whole thing was something and nothing, although Johnson caught an elbow Hugo’s arm wasn’t particularly lifted and whilst it was a free kick all day long, the centre half’s reaction was spectacularly mard.
The game itself was better than a reduction of those two incidents and a bunch of ‘we can’t believe you didn’t want to sign for us’ chants aimed at Charles N’Zogbia. Belligerent might have been the keyword for both sides but chances fell both ways and neither side could have complained about going behind. It was far from end to end stuff and got scrappy at times but the game had an ebb and flow that saw both sides fail to make the most from decent periods of pressure. Overall, there’s no arguing that the result was a Saturday well spent and whilst not one for the neutral, there was plenty to keep fans of both sides interested.
The biggest plus for Latics was the above mentioned belligerence. It might not what everyone wants, but at the moment pragmatism is definitely what Latics need. If it takes a few ground out results to steady the ship (as long as they are the right ones) then so be it.
I had half written a match preview claiming that Hendry Thomas’ absence through injury might have been a blessing in disguise. That was based on a purest view of how Bobby’s system might work and the need to get someone behind the centre forward (an article that I sense may see the light of day before long), but having seen him dig the midfield trenches for this one I’m not so sure that’s true right now. What he takes away from the side in creativity he adds in grit and, whilst we could have been more fluid, we did get players into attacking positions.
With an apparently ‘simple’ month to come it would be folly to get too far ahead of ourselves. You can call it fearful if you like, but I like the idea of Latics walking their way into the season rather than trying to run too soon. I’m not saying that it’s perfect or that Latics should stick to this line up all season, but this game was a baby step in the right direction and it would do no harm to stick with what’s worked for now. But it’s only Wolves? I think we said that last season too, didn’t we?
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