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Obstacle 1 - Wigan Away Report


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A rearranged game at Springfield park, sorry the JJB, no I mean the DW Stadium. A chance to try and make up some of the gap between us and 3 others chasing 4th place - games in hand being all very well, but you've got to win the beggars for them to have any weight or meaning.

The original game having been postponed when Wigan's undersoil heating broke down in depths of January's cold, the game took place last night in the relative warmth of an early spring evening, and on a newly laid pitch blanketing the delicate pipes below from any more of that nasty coldness you get round these parts.

You know the routine by now - train, (excellent) pub, a few pre match scoops and a chat. This time to see whether fellow travellers had thawed out from Saturday's game at Stoke and to be impressed by Bickster’s diligent preparation for a family flight to Singapore/Australia - Beers, pie, football (loved ones guarding the luggage in a hotel). Happy hols, you lucky sod.

We times it well, leaving the pub at just the right moment, so that the walk to the ground was followed seamlessly by a pie and then taking our seats just in time to see the team come out. Despite talk of rotation and such like, we all know that such things are not Martin's way, so the team was barely changed from the one before and the one before that and....dot dot dot.

Gabby coming in for Emile was the only difference, and one that was welcomed universally.

In contrast to Saturday, the game started brightly and continued that way all through. Initially Wigan looked the sharpest and more of the play was in front of us, than down at the far end we were attacking. Soon though Villa started making positive moves, more than matching Wigan's endeavour - with Gabby and Ashley Young causing trouble down the channels and

out wide and Milner looking determined to make sure none of the many new blades of grass would remain untouched by his boots. Both keepers had to make sprawling saves and players all over the field were involved in the game, trying to make things happen, or thwart opposition thrusts. James Collins was looking particularly good defensively, winning just about everything, and Richard Dunne was almost equally in control.

The first goal was a bit of a strange one. We got it, but I'm not quite sure how. From what I could see a cross was put in by Ash, there was a bit of to and from in the box, and then it seemed that a Wigan defender volleyed the ball into his own net, with Kirkland desperately trying to keep it out. I don't think anyone else in the Villa end had any better idea than I did what had happened.

Unfortunately we let them straight back into it. A free kick was given against Warnock for being clumped into by a Wigan player, and the delivery was excellent. Again, I'm not sure exactly what happened - whether the ball went straight in, or whether a Wigan player got a slight touch on it. It wasn't great defending or goalkeeping either way - if it went straight in, I wonder whether Brad might have got it, and if it was touched by the Wigan player, why was he unmarked?

Back to square 1.

Ashley Young had a good chance but missed, and when I say missed I mean he managed to kick the ball right out of the ground, which shows a) he hit it really hard, and B) it was somewhat misdirected. The environs of Springfield park no the JJB, sorry the DW Stadium were unimpressed and spat the ball back into the stadium, allowing the game to continue to half time.

The second half pretty much followed the pattern of the first - the game was even and open - the teams taking it in turns to attack, or have spells of pressure. It was enlivened even further by the involvement of the ref. He'd been having a fairly decent game, letting it flow where as much as possible, but it was like he started to think he had an audience - presumably he'd noticed after one set of fans or the other had disagreed with a decision, and he then gave the impression of starting to play up to the gallery. It may all have begun when he gave a ridiculous decision against James Milner in their box. He was penalised for jumping up in the air in an attempt to block a clearance. The Wigan defender did clear the ball, and in following through, lightly hit Milner. Milner went mildly Ape, Bennett thought about booking him for dissent, probably realised that either a) Milner was entirely innocent of any offence, or B) That Milner is (at the moment at least) like a better version of Steven Gerrard, and as it's against the law to penalise Gerrard, it must be so for Milner, too.

Just to prove point B) above, Milner lashed one in from 20 yards - a corner flapped at by Kirkland. a defender nodding not very clear, and James Milner's right boot tonked the ball back past the unsighted keeper and into the net. 2-1, half an hour or so left.

Wigan pressed, Villa pressed back but I don't recall either of the keeper's being forced into major saves, mostly moves either broke down, or shots were wide or straight at the ‘keepers.

Gabby and Big John were taken off, Sidwell and Emile were brought on. Sidwell did well, getting involved immediately and the extra body in midfield helped. Emile was less involved and to be honest less of a threat than either Carew or Gabby. Maybe this was the rotation that MO'N was on about. Whatever, it worked in that we saw the game out - Sidwell almost scoring right at the death from the same place he tonked one in last season. Stan was going potty at him for not holding on to the ball, but it mattered not and Carew and Gabby got an extra 10 minutes rest.

At the end, the players were clearly chuffed and clearly knackered - forced into their efforts by Wigan, who are lower in the table than they perhaps should be.

With a lift home from LV, with AJ and Jack (lucky charm) it was a fine evening out.

Some marks

Brad - 7 - Dependably cool and solid

Carlos - very good tonight - 8

James Collins - also very good - 8

Richard Dune - it's on the tin. 7

Stephen Warnock - tremendous effort, not at his best - 6

Ashley - 7

Stan - 7

James Milner - 8

Stewart Downing - 6 - he sometimes needs to be braver, not necessarily physically, but in terms of making things happen.

Carew - 6 (Sidwell 6)

Gabby - 6 (Emile 5)

The whole team worked really hard, defended well and though Wigan may feel hard done by, Villa just wanted it that bit more, and had a tad more quality.

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