It was 15th August 2009, a lovely Summer’s day at Villa Park when we turned up, passed the ball around with all the swagger of a monobrowed Mancunian and returned home with a 2-0 victory. It was a moment of beauty, a stunner from Rodallega; a goal from enfant terrible Jason Koumas: yes he’d even managed to get that lazy wastrel playing again and we were daring to dream. A team which recently had removed from it a Palacios, a Heskey, a Valencia and a Cattermole no less proceeded to play Birmingham’s biggest club and former League, FA Cup and European Cup winners Aston Villa off the park.
My God, our manager is good, we’d heard he was good but had no idea he was this good. Maybe we could be THAT team: the Chievo Verona, the Hoffenheim, the Auxerre, the small provincial side who somehow clicked like a thousand clog dancers and strung together the kind of results against the league super powers which would spawn a thousand articles from week to week :‘Is it time to take Wigan seriously?’ Samuel, Winter et al would write as first European football was secured and then the league title a few weeks later after a famous away win at Old Trafford.
Of course, that midweek we dipped in terrible fashion at home to Wolves and then get routed 5-0 at home by United, a highly familiar scoreline versus the Red Devils during Roberto Martinez’s tenure. Despite many quite frankly embarrassing reversals in Martinez’s inaugural season at Wigan, it was still enough for Aston Villa to come looking for our own Bob when they found themselves with a managerial vacancy in the summer, only for the young Spaniard to turn them down and stay put.
Villa have subsequently consoled themselves by nicking our star player for £9.5m but the mercurial Frenchman N’Zogbia has apparently not found the grass any greener so far. Bah! I feel a sub-text being written here and no doubt Charlie is about to break his duck against the team and manager that turned his career around. Because that’s what happens when you support Wigan Athletic.
Played 4, Scored 3, Conceded 10, Points 0. Ouch.
“Just what do Wigan Athletic bring to the table?” wrote a moron on a message board forum somewhere right at this very minute probably. Well the truth is I don’t know. We’re making up the numbers or so it seems and despite a reasonable point haul in August against the three promoted sides, the stats in September read as follows: Played 4, Scored 3, Conceded 10, Points 0. Ouch. We’re quickly reverting to type as the league’s also rans, whipping boys and rubbing rags.
However, Villa Park has been something of a happy hunting ground over the years, which more than compensates for the fact they often wallop us at our place. If we’re going to steer clear of that place where a lot of people would like to permanently see us then we need to start picking up points.
Last Saturday against Spurs was one of those horrible days where many more of our ‘lifelong fans’ (there seems to be an awful lot of these considering we had just 600 season ticket holders just 15 years ago) screamed abuse and several apparently walked off at half time as we gifted Spurs a 2-0 lead. The second half saw a much more determined performance and were it not for dipsy Mohican’d nutter Steve Gohouri scything down Gareth Bale twice we could have run the North London side very close despite all their star names.
Martinez relies heavily on youth and the ethics of expression, which can sometimes be a problem as a lot of footballers, bless them, are thick. And as we’ve seen this week more so than any other, if it wasn’t for their ability to kick a ball in a straight line many of them would be a pretty loathsome bunch or indeed even with that blessed ability, many still are. So there’s an argument which goes that the way to get results is to tell footballers exactly what to do and if they all stick to it, then ability permitting, you’ve got your super team. Not the Roberto Martinez way. Clearly, we had some kind of game plan against Spurs, but it went out of the window when our makeshift centre half Figueroa passed the ball straight to Adebayor a couple of minutes in.
Over two years on and we’re still frustratingly inconsistent and still wondering whether the system works.
We do still appear to have quite a talented young squad, but it remains to be seen whether there is the required resolve to stay up this season. When it goes right for us, it can be truly beautiful but we spend too many games fumbling around the edges like a teenage boy desperately trying to unping a bra and failing so badly that our rivals steal in and score whilst we’re dawdling.
Over two years on and we’re still frustratingly inconsistent and still wondering whether the system works. Maybe it worked so well because of that element of surprise. Many of those fans who watch week in, week out question the supposed tactical genius of the manager whilst others admire him for his unshakable beliefs in trying to play a certain way.
The positives this season have to be the form of young Argentinian Franco di Santo and his three goals in the first half dozen games, more than he scored in the previous 70 at Blackburn, Chelsea and Wigan. Have we slowly but surely unearthed a gem here? Only time will tell, it may be that he doesn’t get another all season but his confidence is rising and he is getting in good positions. Let’s not dwell on the fact that all three goals have been deflections.
It’s difficult to know what impact we can have in the Midlands at the weekend - I’ve not seen enough of Villa to comment - but I am guessing their fans are no happier with Alex McLeish now than they were when he was appointed. It’s not our problem. I just hope we don’t turn into a sacrificial lamb to kick start another club’s season as is often the case.
Oh and if anyone fancies taking a pop at our away support again feel free: ten years ago we were probably paying a tenner to get in at Walsall. For Villa to charge £37 when it’s £21 or 2 for £30 in the home end is a bit harsh. Consequently, you’ll have to forgive us if a lot of our notoriously sh*t support stays at home.
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