So what were you hoping for around about this time last week? (this time being 8:25 on a Wednesday morning). A bacon butty? A bit of ‘exercise’ to lift the spirits for whatever comes when you get out of bed? or a good win against Portsmouth to set Latics up for the trip to the East End that would follow the next, inevitable defeat to Arsenal? No, all three isn’t an option because who wouldn’t take an almost perfect Wednesday?
Well, in the Perm household, it was a bowl of Fruit and Fibre, a quick peck on the way out of the door and a big dollop of hope that Latics could manage, just this once, to get the result they were supposed to, rather than throwing away our next best chance to get out of ‘predicament’. I say hope, rather than expect because I really am certain that there is some kind of conspiracy to ensure that this season is as hard as it can be, but that’s probably just the feeling you get after watching too many episodes of Dream Team on Sky.
As it was, my hope was hopeless, instead of a fine, flowing performance to put, what turned out to be, Pompey’s reserve side to bed (an appropriate turn of phrase given the age of some of the opposition) we got 90 minutes of banging heads against brick walls as Latics yet again failed to find the imagination or cutting edge to get what they deserved from a game that they dominated in terms of possession and chances.
Maybe Latics would have had more joy if Pompey had come to play in some way, shape or form, but with the proverbial bus parked, and only the most occasional sortie into the opposition half on the books, it was going to be a frustrating evening for the home team even if the visitors had the air of eleven pressed men from the pubs of Southsea. of course that frustration spilled over into the inevitable boos that seemingly greet any side that does go to the break at 2-0 up these days.
More unexpectedly it spilled over with the players too, Scharner and McCarthy having a bit of a todo at the break which, along with his decidedly lackadaisical performance, saw his later substitution literally cheered, in the East Stand at least. For all his faults, and all my criticism of the Austrian in the past, I never suspected it would come down to this and it now seems that the fans are all-but ready to sign his release papers.
The same probably carried for many after this performance, if there’s credit to be handed out then I supposed it would go to Pompey but at the end of the day it was a crap game, played by two crap teams, only one of whom had the excuse of fielding a significantly weakened side. Still, Latics managed to drag themselves another point further upwards, there’s enough evidence to support the suggestions that this could easily have been a game where they succumbed to late pressure and collapsed to defeat.
So with a point in our pocket and a four point advantage over 18th place, Latics had a game against Arsenal to get out of the way before they could write the closing chapter to their Premier League season. With the Gunners being given a slight glimpse of a possible title tilt by Chelsea’s defeat on Sunday the result was a foregone conclusion. Latics had been taught lessons by Arsenal in the past and with Martinez still painted as Wenger’s padawan learner, another one was surely in the pipe line.
Your view of the Arsenal game will depend on where you saw it, whether you listened to commentary or post match analysis and which paper you read. Do you want it to be a disaster for the gunners or a miracle for the Latics, a brilliant comeback or a woeful attempt to hold onto a lead, did Latics deserve everything they got or did Arsenal hand it to them on a plate?
It’s ended up as an all things to all men game, but in the end, the simple fact is that Bobby’s boys did something that no-one would have thought they could manage against Accrington let alone Arsenal and came back from a 2-0 deficit to win the game. That’s something that doesn’t happen very often, no matter who you support so we’re right to wallow in what glory we can find afterall, we’ve (the fans) earned a bit of respite this season, surely?
I suppose it would be completely wrong to ignore the first 80 minutes of the game. The bit that Arsenal won 2-0. The bit that was like so many other games this season. The bit that saw Latics have their share of possession and opportunity but be outdone by a team with a more clinical edge. I’ve said for a while that Latics would have more edge if they had some confidence and that showed here, situations that would have seen players having a punt earlier in the season were spoiled by the desire for an extra touch or another pass.
You can take the theory of “winning games with your head, not your heart” too far afterall, sometimes it’s better to just put your foot through the ball.
Still, it was clear throughout that first period that Arsenal could be there for the taking, if Latics could just grab one of their chances. A goal, courtesy of Walcott’s pace, just before halftime made that look most unlikely and then, within five minutes of the restart, a penalty claim (for Latics) followed shortly by Arsenal’s second effectively closed the afternoon’s proceedings.
On another afternoon, that would have triggered a mass exodus, but less so on Sunday. Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was a ”let’s enjoy our final moments spirit” maybe people sensed something in the air, but all but a few stuck around. Bizarrely it was ten minutes before the end, after mounting Latics pressure had finally resulted in a Ben Watson goal that the “need to get off the car park quickly” brigade still got up and still walked out.
Of course, at that point, you didn’t think that Latics were going to do what they did, but it was clear that what followed would be, interesting, exciting even and you don’t often get the chance to see a top four side squirm, in the flesh at least. As they say, it only takes a second to score a goal and anything can happen in football because after all it’s a funny old game (and all that).
Surely that’s why you go to the game, because it’s worth it. All the drab, boring games are worth it for moments like the shock and amusement as Fabianski dropped the ball onto Bramble’s head and the sheer brilliance of watching the net ripple after N’Zogbia’s perfectly placed 91st minute shot here. My son has seen three league games, the previous one was Burnley, how do I convince him that it’s not always like this. That we’re just as likely to find ourselves walking off the ground waiting for the pavement to swallow us up than we are to be gliding an inch above it.
Yes it was only a game, yes you can sit at home and be pragmatic about it, you can look at the game as a whole and say that we were lucky, say that the blame lies with Arsenal rather than the credit sitting with Latics. But if you do, then I guess you’ve never done your dues on the terraces or you’ve forgotten what it’s like. There’s not a genuine football fan in the country would begrudge us our moment, allow us to forget the subtleties of the game, even allow us to put the rest of the season to one side (for a day or two), not after that.
But that day or two are up now and the significance of the game is not in it’s “Performance of the Week” award or it’s Keysesy anointed place as “one of the greatest comebacks in Premier League history”, its in the three points that added to Latics’ tally. It’s in the four points from two games where at best we expected three. It’s in the eight points difference between us and Burnley and seven from Hull. It’s
in the all but mathematical safety that it’s brought for us.
Perhaps more significantly, its biggest significance will be in the belief and confidence that it gives the team. We’ve said that before after beating Chelsea and Liverpool, and been proved wrong, but this felt different. This felt like a corner turned, not at a gentle ambling pace, but with the force and noise of a handbrake turn. Although Bobby might tell us difference, that one fell swoop of a Frenchman’s boot took the pressure off turned what could have been the two most important games of the season into almost interesting asides. Ironically, at the same time increasing our chances of winning them.
But then again, I’m probably still drunk, so what do I know?
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