I’m not going to stand here and pretend that a draw. at home, against Stoke doesn’t feel like a bad result. I’m not going to pretend that it doesn’t feel like we should be beating them. I won’t for exactly them same reason I won’t pretend that I’m not gutted that I didn’t get back to Wigan in time for kick off. Put simply, there’s no point even putting a brave face on things when you can’t even make yourself believe the lie. We’ll see it in your eyes.
There’s a fairly big but to all that though, because football doesn’t care about how you or I feel. It cares about goals, and form and confidence; about strength and pace and skill. And, for those that are precious about such things, it cares about formations, tactics and substitutions. It’s a complex equation and, away from Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge, god given rights to three points are in short supply.
Whilst we’re in an honest mood, we might as well admit that Stoke are a good side, they’re not pretty on the eye, but they’re effective. I know that there are plenty out there who would love to see Latics give up their quest to be pretty and concentrate on being effective, but that’s another debate for another day.
Of course, I’ve been sneaky. Feeling that you should beat a side is different from thinking you should. Feelings are about emotion, reaction and are often irrational. Thoughts are supposed to be measured, calculated and mostly logic. Feeling that your team should beat another is fine, fandom is hardly the most rational of conditions after all, but thinking you should, who do you think you are?
Especially when the side in question hold a higher league position and a more solid reputation. You know, like Stoke. Anyone who thinks we should be beating Stoke (especially if they stick a sneaky “sides like…” in there) should perhaps take a long hard look at themselves. If you still feel the same way in the morning then perhaps you’ve turned into one of those Premier League snobs that we’ve spent the best part of five years laughing at.
Now that’s off my chest, onto the game.
My (misinterpreted) match preview suggested that Latics would be expected to cope with Stoke, I was expecting a hammer and tongs assault in attempt to get Latics on the back foot from early on. From what I’ve seen and heard it either didn’t come or Latics coped so well that the tables were turned and the home team had almost total dominance, it’s hard to tell when you’re at the mercy of the railways and the internet but when the word is that Jason Scotland is having a good game then things must be on the up.
I rolled into the homestead just in time to see Latics lose James McCarthy and any hold they had on the game. Surely a co-incidence, him being 19 and all? Actually not as a later viewing of Sky’s highlights provided a performance of maturity and imagination that, once again, showed up Paul Scharner as something akin to a schoolyard full of seven year olds having a kick about at dinnertime.
Stoke had already started the second half knocking on the door, McCarthy’s departure gave them the cue to smash it down and go on a 20-odd minute spell where they not only got the equalizer but looked like they could get rampant, something that the controlled first half Latics performance never suggested. No one in blue and white had any answer other than to defend manfully and hope for the best, we needed someone to put their foot on the ball and calm things down, but no one had the balls to do it.
Which is the only reason I can assume that Bobby chose to give Jordi Gomez a run. I’d call him the “much maligned” Jordi Gomez but it would be beyond a joke, surely some of his critics saw Jeff Peron play? Anyway, the change didn’t work, mostly I think because it upset the whole frontline, Rodallega from the left to the centre, N’Zogbia to the left, Scotland off and Scharner doing whatever he likes because there’s no point in trying to actually get him to do a specific job (sorry, it’s bordering on obsession again).
So basically we were stuck with a defence struggling to cope, a midfield struggling to get involved and a frontline trying to work out what they’re supposed to be doing. All whilst Stoke are doing what they do best, getting the ball forward quickly, forcing you to defend deeper than you’d like and turning the screw.
Strange then that the goal came on the counter, Latics having over committed, Stoke breaking on their right, and the increasingly irritating Tuncay sneaking in for a header. If you hadn’t already noticed then it suddenly became very apparent that Latics looked tired, very tired in fact (I’d whisper unfit, but what do I know about that sort of thing?). The pattern of losing winning positions becomes even more worrying if it’s the legs and lungs that are lacking.
It’s becoming like a stuck record, but ultimately this was a game of two halves, one that both sides will think they could have won. Disappointing for Latics that they didn’t make more of their early dominance, disappointing for Stoke that they managed to keep Latics on the ropes for a good half hour, but couldn’t find the killer punch. The level that each side dominated their part of the game probably makes the draw a fair result.
The game was a very winnable one, but equally losable and no matter what your gut tells you, hindsight says that we should be treating this as a welcome point and moving on to worry about other things. Like next Wednesday, another six pointer and another game that we really should be winning. 🙂
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