It wasn’t meant to work out this way, but an over-riding period of lethargy sandwiched between a bout of manflu and another of lurgy mean that it’s been almost a month since we talked football. Yes, we’ve pretty much missed all of October, a month which (co-incidentally) I wrote about in the current issue of the Mudhutter fanzine. To précis, I identified October as a key month in each of our Premier League seasons and concluded that the fixtures this time around meant that we might get (another) pretty good idea about how this one would pan out.
Our starting point was the Wolves game. Either a pragmatic, patient approach to a game against ten men or a bloody frustrating exercise in not hitting long balls and crosses onto heads of two well drilled centre backs – depending on your outlook. I’ve made my views clear already, so we’ll leave that there, apart from a reminder that we’ve only had two better starts to a Premier League season, one of those being last season.
Next up were Newcastle, despite a mixed start to the season were surely a shoo-in to beat “the likes of” us. Of course, after 6 years, we should be used to the prevailing attitude towards our team but it rankles when you read comments like those from MarcusToon4life at the bottom of this Blog article
“I always feel pig sick when I think of games against Wigan. I mean, why a big club like Newcastle should struggle against a small club rugby town like Wigan beats me. It’s like David and Goliath here. This sequence of results MUST end, it’s time to put these pie eaters where they belong.”
Imagine what the lad’s face must have been like at 3:45, not only were the small club rugby town 2-0 up, that last French ne’er do well Charles Insomnia had got both goals. If he hadn’t turned his computer off by then, he might have been marginally happier watch Latics play tortoise and slowly turn the uncertainty of how to play with a two goal lead into a decision to totally withdraw into their shells.
I suppose it’s easy for me to sit here and say the two Newcastle goals were inevitable but everyone who has seen Latics knows they don’t respond well to pressure, and there they were inviting Newcastle to put them under the cosh. As much as that’s true, it probably doesn’t give Newcastle deserved credit, just as a suggestion that Mark Halsey seemed hell bent on playing until they bagged their second makes them sound luckier than they were.
In the end, a draw away at Newcastle has to be a good result. In fact I’d go as far as saying that if all you had was the final score, then you might have done a little jig. The manner of defeat is another matter though and, as much as Latics can be proud of their first half performance they need to think long and hard about how to deal with situations where they take the lead with plenty of time to go.
Sometimes that pressure builds up over a period and waits for you to drop your concentration, at other times it comes right back at you and catches you whilst you’re still celebrating. Against Bolton, it was the latter, Latics taking a deserved lead in a good derby and then being put straight on the back foot and falling over each other in the 18-yard box.
Another draw, another two points thrown away, but with the bonus of getting a proper look at the ‘new’ Bolton, and what a sight! Or not as the case may be.
We’re seeing first hand how hard and painful it can be to really change the ethos of a club and hopefully we’ll reap the benefits. On this showing, Bolton’s revolution is little more than skin deep. No matter how tanned, smug or smiley your manager is a side that has relied on strength, niggles and percentages for so long does not change his spots overnight.
Bolton may have done a good PR job on selling Coyle’s but one look at Kevin Davies in action or how they’ve turned Elmander from a creative forward into a bulldozer tells a different story. It’s easy to see how Bolton’s physical approach might have upset us 12 months ago, so it was good to see Latics stand up to them and probably deserve to come out on top. That said, the stand out player on the day was probably Stuart Holden, a proper midfielder who would definitely been wasted had Allardyce or Megson still been in charge.
So three games into the month and 10 points into the season. Slightly ahead of the average required for a 40-point finish and improving all along the way. The final game of the month would ultimately decide how October will sit in the memory come the end of the season. A win would give us a good month, a draw a solid one, defeat would no doubt get the knocker crawling from under their rocks, regardless of how we went down.
As always seems to be the way with games at Craven Cottage the feedback seems to be that it was a good day out spoiled by a dull 90 minutes on the pitch. There’s been a great deal of honesty from within the club about the team’s reaction to going 2-0 down. Words like weak, flat and insipid are being thrown about, and from what I could tell represent a fair description of events.
The significance of where that leaves us in the season is another matter. The club’s history suggests that ten points is a reasonable base to build on and (peeking at the November fixture lists) it’s probably best to leave it there for now. It’s best to remember that one away game doesn’t make a season and the month as a whole should still be marked up as a satisfactory if uninspiring exercise.
Which, ironically, probably describes the end to this article as well…
Until next time…
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