Latics know the cruel nature of late goals but we also know the sheer absolute pleasure that they can bring. The two main highlights of our first top flight season hinged on them. The opening day defeat to Chelsea was heartbreaking, but may have been what drove Latics on to achieve what they did. The Carling Cup Final might be one to file under nice day, shame about the game, but the semi final at Highbury was a moment that will sit long in our collective psyche.
As perhaps will Hugo Rodallega’s 93rd minute winner yesterday. Not as the moment that Latics declared their safety, but as the point that they finally stood up and said “not with out a fight”. If victory against Liverpool wasn’t enough then it was going to take something fairly special to drag that realisation out of the Latics squad but with the emotional end to this mostly humdrum derby game there was a shared realisation that stopping in this division does mean something to us all.
It might have been different where you were sat, but for the last 25 minutes of this game there was a growing togetherness between team and crowd. This was the period when both sides awoke from their slumber, after realising that fear of losing wasn’t going to be enough to keep either of them in the division and as Latics increasingly committed themselves to attack it became less about how crap or good enough we were and more about driving them on to the goal that it looked like would never come.
If the Liverpool victory had been one for tactics and the game plan this one owed more to a good old fashioned heads down and try hard attitude. And when the goal finally came it was about release, or relief, but either way it brought an outpouring of emotion (again, at least it did in my little part of the East Stand). You’d have to feel sorry for Burnley, if they weren’t Burnley. Their game plan had almost worked. They’d forced Latics into a reckless push forwards and almost got the breakaway winner that could have turned their increasingly impossible fight into an uphill battle.
You’d feel sorry for them, as well, if it wasn’t for the fact that, as the board went up for four minutes of injury time, you were wondering how on earth that Latics weren’t three goals to the good and what the hell Jason Scotland is going to have to do to hit the back of a Premier League goal. Burnley fans might be returning to the hills feeling a bit hard done to, but only as much as Latics might had this ended goalless or worse.
You’d also be tempted to feel sorry for them if the extended injury time hadn’t, in significant part been due to one of their number playing pitch and toss against the back of Chris Kirkland’s head. There are suggestions that Latics might be called to task for this but as Roberto Martinez suggested post match, his transfer budget could be nicely swelled if we took to emptying the pockets of away fans before they entered the stadium.
For all the excitement of the closing stages, the opening was something different. Flat, boring and featureless might be the polite way to describe it but the first half of this game was just crap, error ridden, nerve wrecked football from two sides who didn’t dare lose. They were 45 minutes that suited Burnley way more than they suited Latics who, with their up and down nature, you felt would only get more nervous as the game went on.
The most positive aspect of the first half came when Caldwell struck the upright from a McCarthy corner, both players suitably recovering from recent ‘mares. But the biggest talking point was Duff’s forearm smash on Scharner, apparently missed by the referee and Duff could well be wishing he were Steven Gerrard come next week. Scharner, in for the injured N’Zogbia, had hardly been helping Latics’ cause but I don’t think even his harshest critic (possibly me) would wish this kind of departure from the game on him.
That it was Scotland, rather than Moses taking Scharner’s place was perhaps a surprise, but it had an effect. The luckless striker more effectively brought his attacking colleagues into play and in many ways led the Latics charge in the second half. He also had his chances but after missing a couple, pulling a nice air shot in the six yard box and pulling a cracking save from Brian Jensen, Jason is still no nearer to cracking his Premier League duck.
It wasn’t just Scotland in those closing 20 or so minutes. McCarthy and Rodallega should have done better than trouble the South Stand and Moreno headed back across goal twice when, from my angle, it seemed easier to go for goal. Add to that another fine save from an equally fine Diame effort, two in the box scrambles and a couple of good penalty shouts and you get the picture.
Burnley had good chances too, Nugent pulled a good save from Kirkland and Patterson’s volley rattled the crossbar and created more than the odd case of ‘squeaky bum’ amongst the home support. Even after the goal, Burnley managed a corner, entertaining in the fact that Jensen went up and proved that, whilst outfield players aren’t allowed to breath on keepers, the rules are different when it’s goalie on goalie. The corner was over hit and the whistle blown and that was that.
This wasn’t brilliant from Latics, but it was never going to be and unlike Tuesday this game was way more about the result than the performance. Still they worked hard and in the end got what they (just) deserved. Along the way proving that it’s those little things that can make all the difference in a season, mostly they’ve gone against us this year but, thankfully, not yesterday.
It’s nice to win a must win game, even more so to do it with one of those rare moments that make football what it is. Hopefully with one of those moments that will make a season and allow both the team and the fans to put the rest of it behind them and kick on for the home straight. It’s been a long drag, but better late than never, maybe this could be the start of a little run that might see us home comfortably.
After all it’s only that Man City up next.
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