Thanks to United’s trip to the Far East, December didn’t look the hardest of months, but before we could get into the potential point-fest there was a return to North London to get out of the way. Unsurprisingly this one was a different kettle of jellied eels than we got a month before.
It’s always difficult to tell the exact reasons your side puts a good performance in against the likes of Arsenal, but you can guarantee that the other side will have failed some aspect. Arsenal started slowly in this one, allowing Latics some early hope but once they’d got their goal you got the feeling they’d got the points in their pocket. Until the last twenty minutes that is.
I’m not quite sure how Latics managed to get back in the game (sort of) but it was clear who the fans blamed for the visitors landing a few blows that put their hosts on the back foot for a while. I’ve seen opposition players booed before and I’ve seen substitutions booed before, but I can’t remember ever seeing a player singled out by his own fans in the same way that Eboue was here.
I’m not sure if Wenger did the right thing in taking him off, but it seemed to steady their ship a little and both teams coasted to the final whistle with little else to say really.
With that out of the way it was down to the much more palatable festive fayre of visits from Blackburn and Newcastle, topped off with a hop up the road to our cousins in Horwich.
Football chairmen must really dislike Latics, either that or they are guilty of believing the media hype and not rating us on the pitch. How else would you explain the number of managers that have had a defeat against us as their last (or nearly last) game in charge in recent years? It may be one of those weird tricks of the memory, but it seems like at least a couple have gone per season over, say, the last 7 or 8 years. Maybe that’s just the average these days?
Any way, it was Paul Ince’s head hovering over the chopping block this time and, despite his midweek assurances that his team were up for the task at hand and all together, Blackburn couldn’t get anywhere near Latics. We’ve had some decent ding dongs with Rovers in recent years, but this could really have been a case of ‘how many?’ as Latics really were comfortable victors.
A pity for Mr Ince, who’s short top flight managerial career suffered as much from too much public naivety as owt else, even more so for Ray Mathias who will either have joined him on the dole or will now be working with big Sam. I’m not sure which is worse.
Boxing Day brought Newcastle, my third game of the season and, of course, a Ryan Taylor goal. I was sat in a direct line between ball and goal and it really was a pearler. Apart from that, the game wasn’t much to inspire you. The conclusion being that we had two bad teams and a bad referee, all trying to prove they were worse than each other.
In the end I think that the referee won out. His decisions weren’t particularly in favour of either team, unless the Comedy Store 11 had sneaked on without telling us. Still points is points, and although they were perhaps harder work than they should have, three of them ended up coming in the right direction.
Of course the season of goodwill brings one thing above all others, time spent with people who you normally only see at weddings, christenings and funerals. Depending on the turnover rate in your family, we probably don’t see Bolton that often, but whether at the Horwich space station or at our place a visit to the other side of Aspull is always something to look forward to.
As it happens I was at the annual gathering ‘friends that I should see more often but never do’ instead of the Reebok. I don’t think that I even got around to watching this one back so I can tell you that 2pm kick offs are confusing and that Zaki bagged a penalty in that ideal time to score ‘just before half-time’ in the game and (tenuous link warning) at just about half time in the season as well.
A season which, after looking gloomily familiar for a while, was now looking like, potentially, our best at this level. Since finishing October with a weak showing at Fulham, Latics had only been beaten once in the League and had put a run of form together that had elevated them to 7th in the table and, with only one defeat in nine, looking at going into an unenviable run of games from the top of a slope, rather than worrying about where their next point would come from.
I finished October suggesting we all needed to get a grip. Any more excitement and I’ll be wheeling that one out again. We’ve gone from talk of trips to the seaside to trip over the sea in the space of two months, if the heights get any more heady, we’ll be wheeling out the oxygen.
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