The deadline has passed for any new signings to feature in the Reading game so despite the anticipation of the last two days of the transfer window it’s time to put all the speculation to one side and concentrate on that rarest of things in the Premier League, an actual bone fide football match this time around it’s one of the more familiar away trips as Latics head south to Reading. Our Scandinavians have had their two weeks to get fit and although one of the new strikers won’t make the bus the other one will and will be hoping for a start.
The thing with having played a team more than three times is that it gives you time to build up a record against them. Words like “bogey team” come into play. A couple of years back you’d have been forgiven for using that term to describe the Royals. A series of smash and grab wins, including a play off semi-final gave lie to the fact that Latics had, up until that point, had the best of the exchanges between the two sides. All in all things have been pretty even between the pair of interlopers, the 3-1 win on the last day of the 2004/05 season levelling things off at twelve wins each (with eight draws).
The game at the JJB this season was an early sign that things weren’t exactly rosy in Paul Jewell’s garden. Latics were the better side in a poor game, with Emile Heskey putting away one of the three good chances that he had that afternoon. It was a plodding performance, Latics unable to step up a gear and put away a Reading team that had come predominately to defend. From that point Reading have hardly looked back, whilst we have been travelling steadily in the other direction.
Tomorrow represents yet another fresh start for Latics and with a couple of players continuing their return from injury and new players ready to take their places in the squad if not the team, Jewell has the chance to make fairly radical changes to his line up. A side featuring at least some of Taylor, Granqvist, Valencia, Haestad and Folan would at least carry an unknown quantity that could give us an edge.
Hall’s groin strain and Cotterill’s wonky ankle almost guarantees starts for Taylor and Valencia how many of the other three make it will tell us an awful lot about how many risks Jewell is willing to take to keep his team in this division.
You’d have laughed if you’d heard this statement a couple of years back, but Reading are generally considered to be ‘doing a Wigan’ . Taking that literally you can now expect them to go on a terrible run of form culminating in a slightly disappointing but extremely comfortable final league position.
This time last season, Latics were drawing one a piece with Everton in a messy game that will remain in the memory for two of Jimmy Bullard’s most Soccer AM moments, the “are you mad” glance at a clearly crazy Duncan Ferguson and the Nadia Comaneci moment over a crowded goalmouth. Only another 3 wins followed for Latics.
Of course a draw will do tomorrow. Anything to arrest the run of defeats that threaten to bring an end to the club’s sojourn at this level. However the time has probably gone for us to take any comfort in a good performance with no end product. Either way, there’s little chance of us getting anything out of this game without Jewell instilling a completely different way of playing in his players.
It’s comforting to see him recognise that;
“We’ve gone a bit direct and one-dimensional lately, so we’ve been working on that in training. It happens when players lose confidence, so I’m trying to get them to believe in themselves again”
In the end, it probably is that simple. Reading will be favourites for this one because they are on a roll, Latics have been lacking for ideas and enthusiasm and even the long odds are unlikely to tempt many punters. in two or three weeks’ time the picture could be completely different. All we need is a spark from somewhere, something to focus the minds and make the team think that they can turn it around. A bit of belief and a bit of new blood and who knows where the season might end up.
As for tomorrow, it’s a real keep the faith moment. Can you bring yourself to say we’ll lose? Can you face the ridicule that would following predicting a win? It’s hard to see the magic ingredient revealing itself tomorrow night and realistically it will take a lot to even draw this game. If Latics get their heads right and the ball on the floor then surely they can get something out of this game, the thing is that you just cannot see them making that step. Reading are showing little sign of slowing down and Jewell doesn’t look ready to take too many risks just now, but it’s football and as both of these clubs have proved, anything could happen.
Not patch on… line up (we wish)
Kirkland, Taylor, Baines, Granqvist, Boyce; Valencia, McCulloch, Haestad, Landzaat (I know – shoot me); Heskey, Folan
Prediction: Reading 1-2 Latics
Not a patch on (the team Jewell will pick)… line up
Kirkland, Boyce, Baines, Jackson, Unsworth; Johansson, Kilbane, Landzaat, Skoko, McCulloch; Heskey
Prediction: Reading 3-0 Latics
The truth – will be somewhere between the two.