Turning the corner

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Manchester City 0-1 Latics
Saturday 3rd March 2007

Does that officially make us City’s bogey team? Four games and four victories in the top flight certainly go some way to exorcise the pain of play off defeat back in 1999. Then again we should perhaps be a little more realistic. It was a different century, no millennium, when these two teams crossed swords in the second division and whilst the play-off semi might have been a big deal back then, a massive club like city have got more important distractions these days to be bothered about Wigan Athletic, or so they might think.

The facts are a little more telling. These three points moved Latics above Stuart Pearce’s men in the table and saw the media mantle of team most likely move from the JJB down the road to Eastlands. Of course they’ve got games in hand but those are against Arsenal and Chelsea, on current form no-one is betting on City pulling themselves out of the bottom four anytime soon.

We’ve been there and bought the over priced replica shirt with a 9 month shelf life, and now we’ve seen the light we know that it’s not so bad. With West Ham looking more doomed with every game (even a first goal from Carlos Tevez is no good if it cost them points in the long run, after all if he was ineligible at the start of the season what’s changed?) and Watford and Charlton seemingly incapable of stringing any sort of form together it would be some kind of feat for anyone else to go down. Will that stop the Moss Side Millions from worrying? Probably not.

As for the game itself, it’s another three points without playing especially well. For the first half hour or so Latics were the better team and deserved to go into the break with more than Caleb Folan’s second Latics goal to their credit. The major culprit was Lee McCulloch yet again proving that for a striker, he makes a good left winger. We should also have had a penalty after Valencia was upended on the edge of the box, but the post Arsenal paranoia has all but receded and we can let that one go.

The second half was a little more disjointed. How much of that was down to Heskey’s absence, after retiring with his troublesome groin, and how much to do with how Jewell changed things is a matter for debate but it allowed City back into the game. The introduction of alleged Latics target Mpenza (imagine a side with two Emiles in it) caused Latics some problems but the home team seemed incapable of anything like a meaningful response.

In the end it should have been Latics who extended their lead, catching City on the break a couple of times, but any win is a good win at the moment and it would be harsh to be too critical.

The result is one that we would have missed out on a few weeks ago and we should be pleased with a midfield performance that put Joey Barton on the fringes of the game. We should also be delighted at finally moving up the table and in a position for further progress, a win in the next game against Fulham will put at least one more place between Latics and relegation. We can’t claim to be truly safe yet but other teams should be just as worried as ourselves.

The bad news from the game comes in the shape of further injury worries. We can only hope that two weeks rest will see Heskey recover from his problems but the bigger concern has to be over Emerson Boyce. The defender has really grown into his centre half role since being partnered with Matt Jackson and the prospect of his broken ribs keeping him out for six weeks is a blow for both player and club.

So now that we’re sat here on a nice little run of form, what’s next? Well, this being the Premier League, any chance of gaining any real momentum is scuppered by a two week break. At least it provides a break to rest bruised and weary limbs. It also provides the opportunity to drag De Zeeuw, Camara and Scharner closer to some kind of fitness.

When hostilities resume it will be Fulham’s turn to visit the JJB. Three points from the next step in Latics’ rehabilitation will guarantee at least one more club between us and relegation. The absence of Baines and McCulloch may prove to be a significant factor, and we shouldn’t go into the game with too much confidence.

The further us the table we get the more important it becomes to keep our feet on the ground. Talk of turning the corner is borne out by recent results but, as City have shown, it only takes a couple of games for things to go pear shaped and to relax now could still cause us problems in the coming weeks.

The light in front of us may be the end of the tunnel, but until we get there we’d be better off assuming that it’s just the headlights of Fitz Hall’s Aston Martin.

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