Lightning doesn’t strike twice or so the saying goes, whoever wrote that clearly hasn’t visited Elland Road with Wigan Athletic. I travelled over the Pennines to Leeds on Saturday more in trepidation than expectation.
The buzz from that last minute Jamal Lowe winner against Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday was in mind as I left Manchester Victoria, not to mention the heroic performance of the ten men of Elland Road last April. The same couldn’t happen again could it?
No of course it couldn’t, we had only won one away game all season against Birmingham on New Year’s Day and despite the boost of that win over Sheffield Wednesday we looked dead and buried the previous week. Football has a funny habit of slapping you in the face though, for good and bad.
Paul Cook spring a number of surprises with his starting line-up, a back five or if you’re Roberto Martinez a back three with wing backs. In came Chey Dunkley for his first start since mid-December and Tom Pearce who came in for Antonee Robinson who’s dream move to AC Milan had collapsed just hours earlier.
Jamal Lowe dropped to the bench despite his winning goal on Tuesday with Gavin Massey the double goal hero from last season preferred to the former Portsmouth man on the right. As the game went on like last season Latics grew in confidence, Leeds are a fantastic side and have the sort of fire power to really make sides worry about facing them.
Indeed they could have been two goals to the good ahead of half-time, as it was they didn’t get that goal and a very satisfied Wigan Athletic could go in all square at the break. If Latics could keep it tight I thought – there was a real chance of a point here, which although nowhere near enough would at least have been something to build on in our current position.
Instead the lads had other thoughts, a corner fell to Joe Williams mid-way through the second half and thanks to a deflection found its way in to the back of the net. The 500 or so hardy souls in the away end screamed for delight as Latics were once again ahead at Elland Road.
But with over half an hour left to play surely there would be that usual heartbreak that has followed us around all season? Concede an equaliser with ten minutes to go, concede the winner to Leeds on the stroke of full time?
Well no – actually. Latics held firm, led by the excellent Sammy Morsy in midfield to the fantastic back three of Cedric Kipre, Chey Dunkley and Kal Naismith. Every player on that pitch on Saturday deserve all the plaudits they’ve received this week.
It wasn’t the best footballing display you’ll ever see, but they achieved the unbelievable and earned themselves all three points. It could well have been more with Kieffer Moore and former Leeds defender Tom Pearce in one on ones where on another day they could have doubled the advantage.
As the clock ticked down to the end of injury time there was time for one last bit of heroics as Cedric Kipre cleared off the line and ensure that all three points would be heading back to Lancashire. The big man has come in for some criticism this season but his performances from the turn of the year have been excellent.
He really has made that central defensive position his own and with Naismith alongside him has flourished. Dunkley slotted right in alongside both on Saturday and made the defensive line look as sold as it has for a long time.
So we’re not out of it yet, not by any stretch and no this doesn’t mask all the bad we’ve put up with this season but the last week has given us a real shot in the arm. The opportunity to drag ourselves out of the mess we find ourselves in, and how good does that feel? With Preston up next and a bumper crowd at the Dave Whelan Stadium we really have the chance to turn our season around. We need to grasp that opportunity with both hands.
Paul Cook has become a figure of ridicule this season, fairly or unfairly he and he alone has been blamed by the fan base for the situation we find ourselves in. I and others on occasion have reached the conclusion it’s time for Cook to move on but over the last week he has got his tactics and selections absolutely spot on. As important as it is to recognise he hasn’t got it right it’s important to recognise when he has.
The feel good factor continued on Wednesday night as the under eighteen side made history and reached the FA Youth Cup quarter-finals for the first time. The reward for Peter Murphy’s young side is an away tie with Manchester United in the next round.
It shows the amazing progress made by the academy and youth sides over the last decade or so, with the new Stadium Way academy base this can only improve our chances of regularly producing our own players. If they’re half as good as this crop of youngsters we’re in for some good times.