Spurring us on

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Latics 3-3 Spurs
Sunday 15th April 2007

If you’re still wondering what’s gone wrong with Latics’ season then the 90 minutes against Spurs summed it up nicely.  A game where Paul Jewell’s men showed that they can match most teams in this division going forward whilst at the same time failing to capitalise on their abilities.  As we approach the end of the season there’ll be plenty of debate about the reasons behind that that, but for now let’s concentrate on our attempts to get over the finishing line.

As a starting point it’s worth mentioning that the result of this game was that Latics were a point better off than they were on Sunday morning and a point better off than most of us expected to be.  Obvious I know, but it’s a simple fact that will no doubt get lost in the excitement over how the game panned out.

For the second weekend on the bounce, Latics managed to let a game slip away by conceding three soft goals.  That Spurs were equally slipshod at the back proved the only saving grace.  From early on it was obvious that both sides had decided that their best, or maybe only, chance of three points was to score a bagful of goals.  It may be an incredibly naive way to go about playing football but it certainly makes for better watching than most of the turgid nonsense that passes for the beautiful game in the ‘best league in the world’.

To lose the lead once is careless, to do it twice is simply stupid and again it was a lack of concentration that cost Latics.  The first goal was a mixture between brilliance and embarrassment, as first Keane and then Berbatov managed to put every one of our back four on their backside.  Next up was Leighton Baines, fresh from a moment of brilliance at the other end of the pitch.  Under hardly any pressure Baines failed to clear a through ball, allowing Jenas to run clear. 

Realising his pursuit would be in vain Baines decided to shove the advancing midfielder.  The offence was definitely worthy of a free kick and probably a sending off, as it was the referee decided to play advantage allowing Jenas the opportunity to fall over a prone John Filan for a penalty and an inexplicable booking for the Aussie.

The final mistake fell to Mr Dependable, and outside contender for player of the season, Matt Jackson inexplicably stepping up, and under a long clearance from Robinson.  Robbie Keane was on hand to lob the ball over a stranded John Filan.

Each one of those goals may have been in response to Latics taking the lead, but essentially we gave one of the better English sides a three goal start, you wouldn’t give many teams a chance in those circumstances.  Rather than dwell on our failings it maybe prudent (or maybe I’m just in a positive frame of mind) to look to the positives from the game on the assumption that most teams that Latics face between now and the end of the season aren’t blessed with a forward line as capable as Spur’s and won’t cause us the same problems.

First of all we have to take something from the return of some key figures.  It may have taken a bulk order of painkillers to achieve it, but the side looks miles better when the starting line up contains De Zeeuw, Boyce, Scharner and Camara.  They may not have been fully up to the pace here, but another 90 minutes against Liverpool and they’ll surely be as near as damn it.

Next, you can’t deny that we looked pretty good going forward.  It was so refreshing to come off the ground talking about chances that we’d missed rather than a lack of them.  Kilbane’s missed header in the first half, Scharner’s just over shot and speculative effort that caused Robinson more trouble than it should in the second alone probably equate to more chances than we’ve seen in the last three games put together let alone counting the number of crosses and half chances that were created.  If nothing else, it’s an indication that we are capable of attacking teams who have an approach other than sitting back a picking us off on the break.

If that’s not enough, then let’s rejoice in the goals.   Heskey’s was a bit messy but showed some resilience and determination, Baines’s was shear quality and Kilbane’s proof that, when they get it right, Latics can actually do set pieces.  Taylor’s delivery was bob on all second half and he was just waiting for someone to commit and make the most of it. 

That the third came from an unlikely source is also a bonus.  Kilbane has come in for some stick throughout the season and has been clearly lacking some confidence.  Without the goal his performances have picked up recently (some would say in comparison with some poor colleagues) hopefully his first goal will allow him to push on and make an impact over the closing weeks.

A little more ephemeral, but a plus point all the same is that the game was on television.  It was definitely ‘one for the neutrals’ and will hopefully act as a timely reminder to the people of Wigan that they have what could be a good thing down at the JJB.  Hell, if the unseasonable weather carries on it might even do something to drag the lazy gets out of the pub and sell some tickets for the West Ham and Boro games. 

You’ll have your own opinion, but this game has settled some of my nerves about how things will go over the last few games.  I’m even starting to come round to the possibilities of not looking over our shoulders and being able to enjoy our last day of the season.  With Liverpool up next a lot depends on other people’s results.  I’m not getting carried away, and there’s every possibility that the gloom will be back by 5 o’clock on Saturday.  In the meantime leave me in peace, if you try to bring me down I’ll ignore you anyway.

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