Ifs, buts, and maybes

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Reading 3-2 Latics
Tuesday 30th January 2007

Another game, another defeat and, most disappointingly, another set of stupid errors that led to goals. Whilst anyone predicting a win ahead of this game was likely to have been laughed out of Goose Green Labour Club, the final whistle had everyone wondering what exactly we’ve done to deserve a side so adept at throwing things away.

If you came away from this game still believing that Latics are doomed and that the players we have couldn’t save their pocket money then it’s time for you to give up. Stats never tell the full story but the 60% of possession and 10 shots on target point to the truth on this one. This was a game that Latics could have, maybe should have, won and if not for the antics of Chris Kirkland, they may well have done.

Right from the kick off it was clear that the players had responded well to Jewell’s call to get the ball down and start playing as Latics really set about Steve Coppell’s men. Pretty much everything was right, and for the first 20 minutes or so they looked something like the team we had last season. By the time a shell shocked Reading started to make their way back into the game, Latics had a 1-0 lead, had it been 2 or 3, there could be no complaints.

Jewell had taken the brave move of giving new signing Caleb Folan his first game for the club and from the off it was clear that Heskey would benefit from having a genuine strike partner to play with. In the early exchanges the Reading defence was struggling to cope with the pair and chances fell from it.

First to strike a blow was Lee McCulloch, returning to his left wing berth at the expense of Kevin Kilbane, doing what he does best he had drifted in from the touch line to lash in a shot from 20 yards, unfortunately it was too wide of the goal to test Hanneman. Next up was Heskey, latching on to Skoko’s ball to lash home a volley from inside the box, the keeper stood no chance and all of a sudden, Latics could see the corner that they so desperately need to turn.

If you’ve followed the Latics’ fortunes this season then you’ll know that going a goal up so early on in a game carries a note of caution. Thirteen points have been dropped when Latics have struck first blood, many of those in games where the lead had been taken in the opening exchanges. There were no indications though that Latics were about to sit back on this lead.

Paul Jewell’s men continued to push and ask questions of Reading’s defence, there were chances, the best of them falling to Folan who was unlucky to see his thunderbolt of a volley come back off the cross bar. Other notable efforts came from McCulloch and Skoko but as the home team started to show some steel the shots came from further and further away from the goal.

As the Royals came into the game it became clear just how apt claims of them ‘doing a Wigan’ are. They defend as a team, play with energy, hunt in packs, keep constant pressure on the ball and never give up. Sidwell and Harper may be a couple of notches above Bullard and Kavanagh, but in Hunt and Little there are easy comparisons with how Jewell got the best out of his limited midfielders last term.

The constant chipping from Reading took the initiative away from Latics and from the half hour point onwards the Royals were the better team. Their pressure paid off shortly before half time when a mistake from Kirkland, chasing a ball he could never make allowed Lita to cross the ball for Ingimarsson to head home. Whilst the keeper should take most criticism for his indecisiveness the defence deserve an honourable mention for the shambles that surrounded him.

At the half time break a draw was a fair result with both sides having periods on top. Either side could have won it from this position and it would come down to who started the second half the strongest. Unfortunately for Latics, that proved to be the home team and their pressure paid off within ten minutes of the restart. Again, Kirkland was in the middle of the chaos that led to the goal, his weak punch allowing Steven Hunt to lob a cross over the defence for the impressive Long to finish off.

From that point, it never looked like Latics would make their way back into the game. With Folan tiring and Heskey and McCulloch retiring injured their possession was looking less and less incisive. On recent form all you need to judge why is to know they were replaced by Kilbane and Johansson.

So despite a manful effort it came as no surprise when late on, with Latics pushing for the equaliser Reading put the game beyond doubt. Now I know that the common perception is that the ‘new’ offside interpretation helps neither the players nor the official, but surely when a player who has just been 5 yards behind the defensive line sticks the ball in the back of the net, it has to be disallowed. Especially when the ball hasn’t had any meaningful contact from a defender in-between.

Apparently not, or at least not for the linesman who failed to flag Lita offside during the move for the final goal.
Whether Latics could have managed to level the score in those last few minutes is debatable. Given that they’d done their level best to chuck the game away up until that point there has to be some feeling that the late consolation goal only served to make the score more respectable, although will be some who let it add to their feeling of injustice over Reading’s third.

For the remainder it was just nice to see Denny Landzaat get on the score sheet. The Dutchman has looked much improved since his ‘misunderstood’ outbreak of a few weeks back and the goal could be just what it takes to push him that bit further. The manner of the goal was also pleasing. That a team who were well beaten would carry on pushing into the last seconds of a game to the extent that three or four players are following in a free kick that was always going to be a speculative shot shows a level of spirit that no one would previously have credited our midfield with.

Taylor’s free kick was a good one, low and swerved around the wall. Hahnemann could do no more than palm it away, allowing Valencia to chase the ball down and hammer a low cross to the near post where Landzaat was on hand to give the keeper no chance.

There was enough in this game to suggest that Latics still have a chance to turn their season around. As the injuries start to subside, all it will take is to cut out the silly mistakes to become a different side than the one that has got us rooted to our current position just outside the bottom three. Results elsewhere have been going our way and a win in the game in hand would put a reasonable cushion between us and 17th place. From there mid-table mediocrity isn’t beyond us.

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