Latics 1-0 Newcastle
Sunday 25th February 2007
Referees, eh? Don’t they have a hard job? The way things are going, it looks doubly hard to deal with a game featuring Latics. If our players aren’t falling over in the box then they’re using karate instead of tackling and if it’s not that then they’re just pushing people over when they feel like it. Playing Newcastle was never going to be easy but what hope do you have when the man in charge does his level best to be the third on the bounce whose decisions completely overshadow anything else that happened on the pitch?
The guilty party this time was Alan Wiley and the decision in question followed a 5.5 fall from Antoine Sibierski in the Latics penalty area. There are ironic parallels with the penalty that never was at Arsenal but even if you feel that Heskey could have stayed on his feet the two decisions are universes apart.
You can’t blame Glen Roeder for insisting that it was a nailed on penalty. It would have been if the contact from Taylor had been enough to ruffle the Frenchman’s shirt. Instead he went down as soon as he felt the full back’s breath on his neck. There’s 15 year old lads the world over dying to find someone who’ll go down so easily.
In any case whether it was a dive or not isn’t the real point. You have to accept that even the best referees will be mugged from time to time. The question that people should be asking is if this was so clearly a penalty, then why wasn’t the other?
In any case, it only took a matter of minutes for the decision to not matter any more. Just like against Arsenal and Watford the decision became the defining moment of the game. Unlike those games, it fell in our favour.
John Filan’s performance against Watford left a lot to be desired, to avoid any further criticism he had gone back to concentrating on what he does best, stopping the ball hitting the back of the net.
His approach to the penalty was a clear message to the aforementioned 15 year olds, he’d done his homework. When Solano stepped up to take the spot kick he read his run up and made the save look easy. Justice was probably done and the crowd celebrated like we’d just seen the goal that would keep us up.
Up until that point it had looked like the first goal would win the game. To be honest Newcastle had looked most likely, despite some good pressure from Latics. Martins is always going to be a threat and the solidity of Butt and Parker in the middle of the park is a base that many clubs would like to start from.
Latics were just about coping with this, Boyce having possibly his best game in a blue shirt and Denny Landzaat’s new found steel proving more than useful. Skoko was looking less effective, which, with Scharner on the verge of a return may be bad news for the Australian.
The penalty changed things, the crowd were woken from their Sunday morning slumbers and the players responded. This paid off as half time approached, Baines’ driving run was rewarded by being hacked down on the left hand corner of the 18 yard box and Ryan Taylor was given the chance to loft the ball into the area.
Or so you’d think. The angle was tight and the wall and keeper both well placed. As Taylor lined it up you’d never have thought that the shot was on. Thankfully he thought differently and smashed a curling, dipping ball around the wall and over the keeper leaving Given with no chance.
Even before that, the game had been a scrappy affair and the goal did nothing to change it. Latics were working hard to nullify the Newcastle threat and, with Heskey leaving the piece early, with a groin strain, they were unable to capitalise on what they were able to create.
The introduction of Henri Camara on the hour mark gave further cause for celebration. Even if the striker was clearly short of fitness and a couple of yards short of top pace he did enough to suggest that he’s ready to cause teams more than a few problems.
The reaction at the final whistle was cathartic. Winning a game that we would have easily lost a few weeks back created a real feeling that we may have finally broke the back of our bad run. Results elsewhere over the weekend meant that we are still only 6 points ahead of the relegation spots but defeats for West Ham and Watford see them slip further behind, another weekend like that and maybe the fans’ nervousness can start to slip away.
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