Unsworth error leaves Latics red faced

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Latics 0-2 Everton
Sunday 21st January 2007

As sixteen games turns into fifteen and the search for forty points becomes more and more forlorn, Paul Jewell must be pulling what little hair he’s got left out of his increasingly scarlet head. Only he knows if yesterday’s flush was due to frustration or embarrassment, but with his side, yet again, proving adept at finding the self destruct button you can be assured that it wasn’t down to the warm glow of pride.

Last term, Latics started every game as if they were a goal behind. That may have caused problems in the latter stages of the season but it’s what have us the home start that we relied upon. It seemed that a more measured approach was required to get through the full nine months, and that appears to be behind Jewell’s summer shopping.

For whatever reason it clearly hasn’t worked. Too many times this season, Latics have had to give teams a head start before they’ve picked things up and it happened again yesterday.

For much of the game, Latics dominated possession and territory. This showed up the lack of quality in midfield and confidence in front of goal as time and again the final ball fell short. On the rare occasion an opportunity arose the recipient was unable to make anything of it.

At the other end Everton were presenting little threat. Unsurprisingly Andy Johnson looked most likely, but was in the main, well marshaled by Hall and Unsworth. His injury shortly after half time should have been a boost for Latics, and as he was stretchered off the game looked set for a 0-0 draw, barring any stupid mistakes of course.

Before you could shout “stay on your feet” Johnson’s replacement, Victor Anichebe, had Unsworth on his backside in the penalty area, one short lunge later Howard Webb was pointing to the spot and Arteta was dispatching the ball away from 12 yards. No one should have been too surprised by that. The way Latics have been playing of late means that the opposition don’t need to pose that much of a threat to take the points.

Struggling to break the defence down? Don’t worry here’s a through ball disguised as a back pass. Running into dead ends in the area? Take this penalty.

Whether it was going a goal behind, or the introduction of Ryan Taylor, it took a good hour before Latics developed any sort of urgency to their play. Ironically that urgency also saw them drop the long balls and start to play through midfield. For the last half hour of the game we looked as good as we have for a long time, working hard to get possession and actually doing something with it when we had.

In the end it just provided a different sort of frustration, Skoko’s shot against the bar and Cotterill break into the area were fine on their own, but the failure to capitalise on the fall out from either of those situations just went to highlight what we are missing. Of course all the pressure lead to the other Latics cliché of the moment. As Latics chase the game into injury time the opposition will score to kill off our chances.

This time though it wasn’t so much on the break as the defence were unable to deal with some, to be honest, lethargic Everton possession on the left. They eventually worked the ball to the right wing, where the other Neville brother was waiting to lash in an excellent cross right onto Arteta’s boot.

If we’d been working on the assumption that the season started in earnest with this game, the absence of Haestad and Granqvist changed that. Jewell’s insistence that they are 2/3 weeks of match fitness means that they will only be really ready to take their places for the Reading game. By that stage we will hopefully have what new faces Jewell wants on board and it really will be a case of all or bust.

Rather than a new start, this game ended up being a last chance for the lads who have muddled Latics into this situation to sort it out. Instead they proceeded to prove that they weren’t the men for the job. Yes, they worked harder. Yes, they had the better of possession. Yes, they looked like they deserved at least a point from the game. However, when it came down to it, the side lacked the quality and pace that you need to win games at this level.

There were some positives in the game. At least McCulloch seemed unaffected by his rejected transfer request. Better still was the return of Valencia and the continued progress of Ryan Taylor. With not having played much of a part in our downfall, both looked willing and able to go forward with intent. They may have been short on match fitness but both proved willing runners and at least provided some element of creativity. In fact Taylor seemed the main driving force behind the football we played for the last half hour.

You just have to hope that the team’s form can change for the better before these two get dragged into the dirge of mediocrity that has beset their team mates.

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