If anyone knows the formula for closing games down when you go in front, away from home, could they please forward answers on a postcard to Paul Jewell, c/o Wigan Athletic Football Club, Christopher Park, Wigan? First prize is the golden chalice of a victory against one of last season’s top five.
Should Latics expect more than a defeat when they travel to places like White Hart Lane? The simple answer is probably no, with games like this the starting point should be ‘how do we avoid losing?’ Then again you’ll get a different answer when on top of bagging an early goal, you’ve got the home team well on the back foot.
Spurs’ three goals may not have come on the break as such but each caught Latics out by moving the ball quickly from defence to attack. That pretty much tells you all you need to know about the pattern of play. If you’ve seen Latics more than once this season, it won’t take much imagination to picture them naively plugging away, without creating too much in the way of real chances. Hardly surprising when you consider that for much of this game, the away team played with a right footer on the left and a left footer on the right.
Any claim that losing Gary Teale to injury was behind us losing a match is likely to be met with derision, but in this case it was true. Before his departure on the half hour Latics looked balanced and were using ties width well. Following Heskey’s introduction and, more tellingly, Kilbane’s move to the right the game became scrappy as both wide men consistently looked to come inside on their favoured foot.
The effect of this on a side that has based its successes on organisation cannot be underestimated. Whether a more balanced midfield could have offered more protection to the makeshift defence is another matter.
Latics started with a back four featuring three full backs, one of whom is two weeks away from fitness, another who was surplus to requirements last season and has played next to no football since joining the club. Throw in a 36 year old centre half and they were always likely to struggle against a tricky and mobile spurs attack.
That said Latics did well until close to half time when they were undone by two clever turns, first from Defoe then by Berbatov that put the strikers in for a quick fire double of two goals in a minute.
Paul Jewell’s take was that these were defensive lapses, and to some extent that is true, but better defences than ours will be done by these two before the season is out. On this display it won’t be too long before Defoe adds to his England caps either.
Until that point Latics had looked reasonably comfortable. They’d certainly carried more threat and Camara’s well taken fourth goal in six games was deserved and looked to have Latics set to continue their unbeaten run.
It wasn’t to be, and Latics never really recovered from the manner in which they went behind. The second half saw plenty of possession but the lack of real quality meant that it was easily soaked up by the England second string defensive pairing of King and Dawson. As the game went on, Latics became more stretched and although a draw wasn’t out of the question, Lennon’s late goal came as no surprise and merely served to confirm Spurs’ superiority.
Over the piece, neither side could really lay claim to dominance. In the end Spurs had too much class for a patched up Latics side. It’s hard to imagine that a full strength side would have coped much better.
As we head into the busiest month of the season, things are looking remarkably familiar. The sequence of games may not be quite as daunting as those from last year, but all the top sides are tucked in between now and the end of the year.
If we are looking for an improvement on last year’s showings 3-1 against Spurs is not a good start. Regardless of who is available for next Saturday there’s plenty to be done. Liverpool will be looking to change their fortunes on the road, and Latics won’t want to carry on their history of obliging in such circumstances.
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