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Wigan Athletic 0 Watford 1 (29/10/2022) 30/10/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1-  I had a friend from Wigan. Susan. From Tyldesley, more specifically.  For reasons unclear she possessed a cigarette card produced by Wigan Borough Council advertising the locale with the slogan:  “Wigan – The Surprising Borough”.  Reasons unclear in several ways… why she had a cigarette card, since I don’t think she smoked.  Why Wigan had decided to invest some of its budget in this rather odd format, surely the smallest of placards and targeted at what in the early nineties would already have been a shrinking audience.  Also what exactly was surprising about Wigan… not to doubt the validity of the claim, after all whilst googling “Wigan surprising Borough” nowadays gets you nothing of value it has been thirty-odd years and whatever was once surprising about Wigan is perhaps no longer so.

There’s not an awful lot that’s startling about the game’s preamble.  “Crusty the Pie”, Wigan’s moon-faced mascot, unsettles daughter 2 but the presence of a pie in this part of the country is surely unsurprising.  The stewards on the turnstile might not have been expecting my brother to ask them to detain his two over-excited herberts for a bit in the name of some peace and quiet for the rest of us but having witnessed the vigorous puddle-jumping in the exposed perimeter outside the turnstile they will surely have sympathised, if not sufficiently so to acquiesce.  The herberts are released into the empty upper reaches of the DW Stadium’s north stand instead, to expend energy to their heart’s content until it sort-of filled up immediately before kick off.

The lack of anything surprising doesn’t mean the place is disagreeable.  There’s a lot to be said for an away venue that’s close to a motorway, even if that motorway has to be the M6.  The abundance of accessible car parks, including the one that we tumble out of and into the away turnstiles, is also handy and the steep, claustrophobic design means that this remains one of the better “new” grounds at which to watch football.  We’re two thirds of the back, but directly over the goalmouth – at West Ham you’d be in a different postcode.

Altogether unsurprising is the rather forlorn, helpless feel to the place.  The Latics’ relatively rapid elevation as a football club, from being the last club to enter the Football League under the old “re-election” model when replacing Southport in 1978 (at the 35th time of asking, plus one application to join the Scottish league in 1972) to an eight-year spell in the Premier League thirty years later was never going to be matched by a commensurate increase in their fanbase, nestled where they are between Liverpool and Manchester.  The 25,000 capacity stadium is unlikely to be filled regularly outside the top flight, and despite the club’s success in winning League One last season reports of unpaid salaries on top of the cruel chaos of the preceding ownership (whereby a the club were taken over and put into admin after promised funds were withheld ultimately provoking relegation thanks to a points deduction amid talk of betting on such) surely contribute to the stadium being quiet, despondent and more than half empty.

2- As for ourselves, there’s a morbid curiosity going into the game.  Will we bounce on the springboard of last Sunday’s dramatic result – and, as much as the result, the spirit that was suddenly so very evident?  Or will this be a case of  “after the lord mayor’s show”…  would we sink back onto our haunches for a less prominent fixture and muddle our way to another disappointment of the sort that we’ve seen rather often on the road – it’s not as if there isn’t precedent for such an outcome, however far away it might have felt at 2pm last Sunday.  

The answer turned out to be a bit of both and neither.  Shorn of the irresistible presence of Davis, “injured” once more if mercifully briefly, not to mention the longer term absence of Louza’s promptings you could frame this as trying to break into a safe without a key or a mallet.  Or something.  And certainly there are echoes of our erstwhile impotence here today… periods of play when we keep possession without really getting anywhere.  There are also occasions when we ignite and look all but irresistible, if only briefly.  More significant perhaps – since we’ve known since the start of the season what our forward line in particular ought to be capable of in this division – there’s a doggedness, a single-mindedness that is new, I think.  Certainly a performance well beyond Millwall or – better comparisons – Preston or Birmingham, say in terms of application.

Wigan aren’t great, and that helps.  They’re not dreadful either…  they’re a halfway reasonable team playing without much zip.  And whilst the threat that they might nick a goal never quite disappears it is infrequent…  the danger is that we’ll forget it’s there, like a pan left sizzling inconsequentially on the hob. Will Keane has one energetic if low-threat shot from distance as Wigan start brightly;  that will be their only effort on target, but Keane comes closer still with a far post header to a McClean free kick from their right, virtually a corner, which fools the local clientele in the stand to our left who saw a net billow but not the nick to the outside of the post on its way out.

Their biggest issue is a lack of any pace at all in attacking positions, which makes a high line both pretty successful and the Obvious Thing To Do;  you imagine they see it as often as we see opposing defences sit deep and chase down possession in front of them.

3- The home side’s early impertinence is arrested as soon as we ignite for the first time;  João Pedro floats to the left and releases Sarr who cuts inside onto his right foot and plays a 1-2 with Vakoun Bayo whose deft backheel is nonetheless perhaps just a foot or so further away from Sarr than he’d have liked.  Consequently he’s reaching for it under attention rather than placing it past Jones, who makes a good instinctive save but it’s a pretty devastating move that really wasn’t very far away from being decisive.  

Vakoun Bayo, sensibly, isn’t trying to be Keinan Davis but what he offers in his place for all his willingness isn’t a whole lot.  He releases Sema on the other flank with another clever backheel – the Swede rumbles inside but drags a shot disappointingly wide – but this trademark is picked up on and two of his backheels are anticipated and intercepted during the second half.  Otherwise he’s trying to be a focal point in his own way, attacking the near post when balls are put into the box, but he obviously doesn’t have Davis’ physicality and other assets aren’t sharp enough to be relevant against a well-organised back three lead by Jack Whatmough, the game’s outstanding player for much of the afternoon.

So we end the half irrelevantly on top.  Sarr wants a penalty as he drives in again from the left but it looks soft;  replays reveal that any contact was well outside the box anyway.  Edo Kayembe surges into an inviting crevice in Wigan’s defence, but trips over the ball.  Will Keane pops up again, spinning in the penalty area after a set piece – these being the home side’s most obvious threat – but firing high and wide.  We look purposeful… but are hardly banging the door down.

4- Half time sees resumption of the herberts’ pre-match Watford quiz.  “OK, for goodness’ sake… give me five Watford players who are from Africa – think about it here while I go to the loo”.  “Is Brazil in Africa?”.  “No.”.

There is a stench of nil-nilness about the place which is commented on by more than one voice in the concourse.  Despite this, perhaps fuelled by the greater vim in the performance and particularly by last week the mood in the away end is far more positive than it has been, and never drops below gallows humour in tone.  There are, unsurprisingly, plenty references to them up the road, quite what has just happened again, and what happens to them everywhere they go.  Daughter 2 rolls her eyes but in a tolerant way, like a teacher indulging exuberant kids on the last day of school. 

Hamza Choudhury is also getting a lot of love, and quite right too as he once again stomps all over the midfield.  Nonetheless the second half is proceeding in much the same way as the first…  we’re inconsequentially the better side.  You do feel that if there’s a breakthrough, JP’s going to be involved somewhere along the line.. he pops up on the left and carves a beautiful cross onto Kenzema’s head.  “Ngonge is the decoy” mumbles my brother (one for the kids there) as Sema heads the ball straight down into the ground, a waste of a good chance.

As Bilić was later to comment the subs made all the difference.  In particular, the much maligned Samuel Kalu ignited a threat from our right flank that hadn’t really been there before, for all of Ken’s reliable industry.  His first involvement echoed most of his cameos last season… his debut, an 89th minute entrance two minutes after pulling Arsenal back to 3-2, saw him scream onto a loose ball, advance aggressively towards the penalty area as the crowd rose and then punt the ball inconsequentially into the keeper’s arms.  Here he made a bee-line for goal, surging past challenges before applying a heavy touch and seeing the ball run out to scorn from the home stands.

But his belligerence prevailed.  The next run, just as single-minded, saw the ball slipped to Sarr – now playing centrally following Bayo’s removal, whose snapshot was denied by an inhuman block from Whatmough.  Asprilla had replaced Bayo and had a more credible penalty shout having appeared to fool his marker with a step inside, this was waved away.  Then Kalu embarked on an extraordinary run, which brought to mind my co-editor’s account of Tommy Mooney’s goal against Bristol Rovers 25-odd years ago… “like the winner of an egg-and-spoon race through the Amazon jungle“.  He ducked around, over, through and under challenges and still emerged with the ball… had he smashed it top corner cult status would surely have been assured.  Instead he got a corner and collapsed holding his ankle.  We hadn’t seen a foul, perhaps his body was as fooled by his movement as everyone else had been.

5- It’s a stonking goal.  Just tremendous.  Asprilla’s corner following Kalu’s heroics is headed straight back to him meaning that his second cross from slightly further inside creates a carbon copy of Wigan’s best go in the first half;  the Colombian teenager sends in a gorgeous, arcing cross second time around,  Whatmough spoils his copybook by being beaten in the air by João Pedro at the back post and the header crashes satisfyingly in off the underside of the bar.   As an aside, it’s not impossible that we’ll score a similar goal some time soon with roles reversed – JP’s equally capable of such deliveries and Asprilla’s leap and aerial ability will surprise adversaries just as the Brazilian’s fooled Whatmough today.

There’s still time for a “for f***’s sake…” moment up the other end as we slice a clearance out for a corner, the keeper is up for it, Whatmough tries to redeem himself but crashes a header off the crossbar and that, after seven added minutes, is that.

Very far from perfect, obviously.  But you can choose your own favourite cliché here… the one about winning the scruffy matches, or winning despite not quite being on your game, or winning being a habit.  You may have your own.  Tick, tick, tick.  It’s tremendous to see not only Sierralta back in the side but Hause and TDB on the bench;  with Choudhury picking up a fifth booking, the one downer on proceedings, we may need the latter sooner (Wednesday) rather than later.

But with Davis, one hopes and presumes, back in the side also it’s not impossible that we’ll hit the World Cup break in a fortnight regretting an interruption to our momentum.  This seemed rather unlikely as recently as ten days ago.  Not dull, is it?

Yoooorns.

Bachmann 3, Gosling 3, Kamara 3, Sierralta 3, Troost-Ekong 3, Choudhury 4, Kayembe 3, *João Pedro 4*, Sarr 3, Sema 3, Bayo 2
Subs: Kalu (for Sema, 68) 4, Asprilla (for Bayo, 74) 4, Mario Gaspar (for Gosling, 79) NA, Dele-Bashiru, Hause, Morris, Okoye

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Comments»

1. Ben - 30/10/2022

Don’t think switching sides has done Ken any favours. Kalu is looking increasingly useful though and maybe worth a start soon.

Choudhury is a huge miss for Wednesday. Fingers crossed TDB can step up.

Mark S - 02/11/2022

How do you know TDB will start? Now Gaspar is back he could start at right back and Gosling could move into midfield.I agree regarding Ken though – he was playing well on the left and whilst Sarr has been good on the right I would actually switch them back.Kalu can then always come on for Ken, moving Sarr to the left

2. Hazza - 30/10/2022

All OK and interesting no doubt.

But you have got to love Gosling too. His great attitude is a beacon to the happy, clappy supporters like me. A great attitude and example to any player. “I’ll play anywhere so long as I play. I’ll pick up any player by the scruff of his neck and give him a good shake if he’s playing nonsense. I just love being here.” My favourite scruff he picked up and gave a good shaking to was Bournemouth’s Jefferson Lerma. Dan’l was a Hornet by then.

Just love his attitude. I’ve picked him out, but others come close. You know who they are. They know who they are.

Matt Rowson - 30/10/2022

😊

3. Drew (Dordogne Horn) Krisson - 30/10/2022

As a lapsed Rowsonette, I’m thrilled to be reunited with your fabulous match summaries ( a bit of brown-nosing has never helped excuse absence in the past, but worth a try) and must thank my brother for reminding me that it’s about time I did.

From what I’ve seen so far this season (all on tut telly cos I live in France) there was definitely more oomph again from the team as a whole. Agree on Chodhury and think Pedro’s confidence is growing game on game…another goal will not have done that any harm at all. As I also happily stand on the ‘happy-clappy’ terrace, I totes agree with Hazza about Gosling, he’s been impressive in many ways, ‘attitude and example’ especially. COYH!.

Matt Rowson - 30/10/2022

Cheers Drew. Flattery will get you everywhere.

4. Mike Peter - 30/10/2022

Delighted that I’m not the only one to think of “Ngonge with the decoy” after that header.

For those unfamiliar: https://youtu.be/N2b18iqPjtU?t=6748

Another highlight of a trip to Wigan is the best music playlist in the league. Few interruptions from the announcers, just back-to-back Northern Soul.

5. David - 30/10/2022

Thanks for the report, as ever. Wigan’s Max Power -surely one of the best names in the league?


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