Is it Thursday Already? West Brom Thoughts

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Latics 1-0 West Brom
Saturday 13th November 2010

What do Wigan Athletic have in common with John Sargeant, Ann Widdecombe, and that Wagner off the X-factor?  No, it’s not that we’re rubbish, it’s that we’ve developed a habit of sticking about a lot longer than the establishment want us to, it’s getting to the stage where we’re getting in the way a little bit and surely it’s only a matter of time before Andy Gray (the Len Goodman of football?) jumps on the (band) wagon with Paul Merson (Bruno Tolioni?) and starts to question what value Latics bring to their big shiny Premier League party.

You have to wonder how different the public perception of Latics would be if we’d have done the decent thing back in 2006 and got relegated straight away.  Take West Brom for example, they’ve Boing Boinged a couple of times since then and they get greeted back with smiles, get pats and plaudits for being plucky and waved off with good luck in May.  I don’t think that’s anything to do with the standing of either club it’s just that promoted clubs are like novelty toys, they only hold the interest for so long.

As this the first half of this rather drab encounter between two sides, supposedly favouring a passing game but both seemingly happy to keep their efforts on that front to the “let’s have a breather and keep the ball away from the opposition” kind rather than trying to make any real headway into opposition territory.  If Wednesday’s exertions had got the blood boiling then here was the perfect opportunity to get back on an even keel both on and off the pitch.

Which I suppose was the point, three Premier League games in a week is enough to take it out of the most good of engines, ask Ian Holloway, so if your stock isn’t made up of good British stock then how can you be expected to cope?  Even the irresistible force that is Paul Scharner could only manage lacklustre at best during 45 minutes that could most appropriately be described using the word (?) “meh!”

It was almost inevitable that Jordi Gomez would catch the brunt of Latics’ solid but uninspirational start but I’ll stick my neck out and say that Latics would have lost this (and the Liverpool) game without him.  No doubt plenty of you will have arguments to the contrary, but I’d save them for the article that I’ve got brewing all about the Spaniard, it’ll save us having to go over the same ground twice.  For now I’ll leave it that Jordi played his part in this game and didn’t deserve the reaction that his half time substitution received.

Of course, I’m peeing into the wind with that type of assertion because the second half was a lot more entertaining.  There was a bit more fluidity to Latics’ play and a greater willingess to get at West Brom’s defence.  Even so, it took a counter attack and some schoolboy defending to deliver Victor Moses the chance that has confirmed him, in some people’s minds, as the lad who will take us to the promised land. 

That’s probably a bit premature, but over the last two games Victor has shown that he’s got a role to play in Latics’ front line now as well as in the future.  He might be raw and a little naïve, but with his pace and power (and a more than tidy finish) he’s looked a little more like the young lad that ripped the Championship up ahead of his move last year.  Moses might need a little more balance to his play before he gets his “next Antonio Valencia” t-shirt but you’ll not get any complaints from me if we’re going to get to watch him get there.

The big difference between the two halves on Saturday was the formation, not the personnel.  N’Zogbia, Gomez and Cleverley look more like an attacking midfield three playing behind a single striker, swap Moses for either Gomez or Cleverley and you’ve got something that can be clearly identified as the front three that we’re told that Latics try to play. 

It worked well in creating the required momentum on Saturday, but less so on Wednesday when it surrendered some of the control we had over proceedings and let Liverpool back into the game a little.  In the end, flexibility is the key and we will require both set-ups (and perhaps the even more defensive version with Stam/Boyce interchanging on the right) on multiple occasions before the season is out.

Talking about flexibility, I wonder how Stephen Reid (a more than adequate defensive midfielder) feels watching Paul Scharner play in central midfield whilst he languishes at right back?  If only he’d thought about making demands before he stepped down a division and played his part in West Brom’s promotion, eh?  It was good to see Scharner back at the DW, but, as far as I’m concerned, only to give some closure and confirm to me that he had actually signed for someone else and wasn’t going to pop up in a Latics shirt some time soon.

Actually, to give the Austrian his dues, he managed a fairly disciplined first half, keeping his position in front of the centre backs.  Obviously he was playing midfield and not as a centre half, but he managed not to go on any of his trademark wanders until, at least the 50th minute when he got booked chasing back into position.  Most notably though, and this might be the nearest I’ve got to a compliment in five years, Latics’ goal came shortly after Scharner’s withdrawal.

Then again, it seems that I’m no longer on my own in my lack of sympathy for the Austrian, but whilst absence might not have made my heart grow fonder it’s perhaps made me realise that Scharner is just out of step with the rest of the world, on the football pitch as well as off it.  To return to where I came in, I suppose he’s a lot like Wagner except I suspect that the Mexican lion tamer has a greater sense of his place in things than Mr S.

Scharner aside, this game had plenty to offer prior to kick off, but, as it ended up, Latics edged what turned out to be a scrappy, fairly sludgy affair that will have done little to enhance the long term perception of either team.  We might have started off as Wagner, but I suspect both West Brom and Latics have a bit of the Katy Wiesel’s about them this week.  Even so, Bobby will be happy to have gone home with three points from a tricky fixture, three points that were pretty much essential seeing as a trip to Old Trafford is next up for the boys.

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