You close your eyes for a, erm… seven weeks or so, and look what happens. The last time I wrote, Latics had just beaten West Ham but things were still more than a little ropey, certainly according to Robert Green anyway. In reality (and in hindsight) the worm had probably already started to turn and the Hammers result was Latics putting the last block in the solid foundations of their survival bid.
Not that anyone bothered to make it obvious, mind. The next result, 2-0 at Sunderland, looked like we’d wiped out the step forward we’d just taken with two giant strides in the other direction. Bizarrely though there were positives to be taken from the game, as many if not more than from the much better result that would follow.
You couldn’t ask for a better pick me up fixture this season than a visit from Derby County. As good as down, building for next season and with a team that appears as clueless as one of their manager’s substitutions make Derby’s away games the closest thing to a home banker that you can get in this game.
Their team knew it, their fans knew it, and we knew it, only everybody forgot to tell the Latics team. Performances since then suggest that there was method in this madness, but at the time, Latics’ approach to this game seemed inexplicable. Here was a chance to get some goals and we take a patient, defensive approach, it works but it felt a wee bit close at times.
The Derby result may have put Latics on the front foot, but it wasn’t convincing enough to breed any level of confidence in the fans. Then again, if this run of two wins in three games could be turned into three or four out of five, we could have been talking about another season at this level with some degree of confidence. The odds of this were slim though, with the next two games being a trip to City closely followed by a visit from Arsenal.
City’s failure to manage as much as a draw against the visitors gave Latics some hope, however their recent drop in form took little away from the overall pattern of results at Eastlands and few would have been betting on us continuing with our hoodoo over that massive team from down the road.
From the off it was clear that this was a different Latics side from the one that Steve Bruce took over last year. The approach might not be to everyone’s pallet but at least the game plan is now clear, if the other team are going to score, make them work for it. The outcome might not be pretty, but if it leads to results like these then thoughts of relegation will quickly become a thing of the past.
If we had played differently, then City could have been there for the taking, then again if we had played differently then we might not have got the chance.
It goes without saying that Arsenal presented a different problem. So much so that it was tempting to write this off from the word go. The pitch might not suit Wenger’s, oh so pretty, version of the game but the early indications were that it hardly mattered.
The whistle was still echoing around the JJB when Fabregas first unlocked the Latics’ defence and put Adebayor clean through on Kirkland. Not for the last time, Arsenal should have scored and not for the last time the lanky keeper got himself in the way. From there it could have been hard work but Latics fought their way back into the game, continued to frustrate Arsenal.
This wasn’t a purely rear guard action, mind. Latics showed themselves capable of troubling the Gunners and whilst their chances might not have been as clear cut, there were enough to present a case for this being two points lost rather than one gained.
The one thing that was clear was that this game was not going to peter out into a 0-0, meaning that the final few minutes featuring more chances than we’ve become accustomed to seeing in full games.
But a draw it was and although Arsene wasn’t happy, even he was hard pushed to find a reason that Latics didn’t deserve what they got. We might have caught the visitors on a bad day, but it’s not the first time and they’ve always managed to beat us before.
As much as the first part of Latics’ Lancashire hotpot was a cause for celebration the second was a cause for concern. Despite a decent opening and seeing Blackburn reduced to ten men, a pretty much full strength team failed to trouble the home team.
However, the loss of points and momentum was overshadowed by the loss of three players. Brown’s tenth booking of the season and Palacios’ two yellows meant that Steve Bruce would be without either of his only two effective central midfielders for at least the trip to Pompey, whilst Eric Edman’s knee injury reopened the left back debate yet again.
The Pompey game itself provided a nice précis of the previous couple of months. If you don’t take your chances then you are going to struggle. The difference on the day was Jermaine Defoe and when you consider the options that Latics have upfront it’s not hard to see why one of these teams is rallying itself for a push for Europe, the other is raising the barricades for a relegation battle.
The upshot of all this was simple, Latics were pretty much back where they’d started, despite being presented with plenty of opportunity, and the same old group of four or five teams are in that battle to avoid 17th place.
Whilst the current holders of that dubious honour, Bolton, have to be favourites, there’s still plenty of scope for that to change over the next 6 games.
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