Four o’clock and we set off from a sunny but somewhat chilly Sutton Coldfield, hitting our old friend the M6 Motorway, via my old stomping ground of Great Barr (Hi there Randy.Stand). We headed north to the DW Stadium, full of the joys of spring, delighted to be back on the road again, after Saturday’s short run to the potteries. This evenings destination, home of the outfit that turned us over in some style on opening day, Wigan Athletic.
Conversation came quick and fast, covering a variety of topics, such as a continued inquest into the Stoke City game, the upcoming F.A. cup semi-final, tonight’s possible team (four different preferred line-ups – no surprise there), Becks, the death of the world’s smallest man, and with thoughts of the balmy summer days ahead, the England cricket test team.
With ‘The Little River Band’ performing in concert in the car cd player, all was right with the world as the miles rolled away.
Three out of the four of us had predicted a Villa win, the other individual going for the draw, and as the rules of the car dictate regarding match predictions, no one can repeat a score selected by another, consequently someone could well win tonight’s forty quid jackpot – match outcome right, match score correct. I’d gone with 2-0 Villa, confident the money was mine. Its ten quid per punter, the money held by that days driver. All very professional and well thought out. See. We don’t mess around. We’ve been doing it for years now, we’ve got it down to a fine art.
Plenty of Villans on the road, and we bumped into a few more friendly faces when we stopped off at our favourite watering hole. I’ve said it before, and I make no excuses for saying it again, our away support this season has been top drawer, no matter who we are playing, when or where, the turn out has been superb.
No real surprises when we arrived in Wigan and first heard the team news. Gabby in for Emile Heskey is the only change from the past weekend. No sign yet then of any squad rotation, games for the so called ‘fringe’ players.
Our line up for the nights encounter was as follows, although you all no doubt know it off by heart:-
Brad Friedel in goal, Carlos, Richard, James, and Stephen at the back, a midfield of Stan the skipper, Milly, Stewart Downing and Ash, with Big JC and Gabby up front. Welcome back Gabby.
On the bench sat Baby Brad, the unsettled Habib, Sidders, Emile, young Nathan, Fabian, and the extremely unlucky Luke Young.
No place then for Marc Albrighton, which was a disappointment to all four of us. Surprise, surprise, we are all in unison for once.
Well we certainly got to witness a bright and open first half, the game a lot livelier than the weekend encounter at The Britannia, with chances at both ends, and right from the off it looked pretty obvious that we wouldn’t be witnessing another 0-0 stalemate.
As they showed at Brummagem B6 back in August, this team that Roberto Martinez is working with can certainly play football, indeed to the casual Wigan Athletic observer like myself, who has only now seen them twice in action this season, you really after wonder how or why they find themselves involved in another fight against relegation. They are very definitely pretty on the eye, and they can also muscle it with the best when the going gets tough. Without wishing to appear patronising, I for one certainly hope they retain their premiership status. The way they play the game is a credit to Martinez and his staff, and the premier league would be poorer without the likes of The Latics.
Right, enough about my love affair with the enemy, lets now revert back to the game in general, and our lot in particular.
A clever ball from Stewie Downing got the action underway, but Chris Kirkland came out of his goal quickly to deny Gabby any opportunity.
Figueroa had the first Wigan attempt on Brad’s goal from about 30 yards out, but it flew high, wide, and not very handsome.
A superb pass by James Milner, who went on to win our Man of the Match award after a truly tremendous ninety minutes plus of skill and endeavour, sent Ash in on the right, and his attempted cross went out for a corner. Gabby headed over from the resulting flag kick, our first attempt on the home sides goal.
After eleven minutes Gabby Forced the ball home from a John Carew flick-on, only to see the offside flag raised by the linesman. Going to be one of those nights we thought.
Wasn’t too long before we had the ball in the back of the Wigan net again though, Gabby’s cross from the left forced home by Ash, but he was clearly offside, so no complaints there. Actually Steve Bennett and his assistants had I thought a poor game overall, some of the decisions that failed to go our way were ridiculous, but on both occasions, fair play to them, I think they got it right.
Gabby thought he should have had a penalty, Ashley was in unison too, when he was jostled off the ball just as he was about to pull the trigger. He kept his feet, credit to him for that, but from where we sat, you had the feeling that had he gone down, we might have received the spot-kick. A chance missed though, because it looked as if Gabby had worked himself a decent opening, only for him to scuff his shot.
James Collins almost headed us into the lead from a corner, following good work by Downing. The ball took a slight deflection off a Wigan player to sail just over, with Kirkland well beaten.
Not too long to wait though for the opening goal, and what a weird one it was too. We were up the other end of the ground, and in truth, it took a few seconds before we realised that we had actually found the net.
Stewart Downing put in the cross, John Carew flicked it on, and poor McCarthy inadvertently sent the ball past his own keeper, the sort of crazy deed you normally associate with a certain Mr Titus Bramble.
Mass celebrations amongst the ranks of the traveling Villans, just to prove to one and all that we’ll joyously celebrate any Villa goal, no matter how crazy, or how unfortunate on the opposition it is.
We hadn’t returned to a state of calm however from our dancing, hugging and kissing, when the home side were back on level terms.
Wigan won a free kick out on the left when ‘our goal scorer’ McCarthy was deemed to have been fouled. The ball was whipped in, Caldwell got the slightest of touches, and we were back to square one again.
Both teams pushed forward at every opportunity, but we perhaps created the best opportunity, only for Ash to blaze over the bar from another superb Downing ball, when he should really at least have tested the Wigan keeper. A chance definitely wasted.
A great run from Ash then set up John Carew, but the big guys shot was well saved by Kirkland, and knocked out for a corner. Excellent move though, Ash at his exciting best.
James Milner volleyed just wide, and an entertaining first half came to an end with honours even. I think we’d shaded the first forty-five, but this Wigan side certainly weren’t making it easy for us, and were definitely giving as good as they got.
There was no let up in the action as the second half got underway. Moreno went close for the home side, in fact many Wigan supporters thought he’d actually scored. His shot just went wide of the post though, clipping the side netting.
Up at our end a Stewart Downing cross was very well kept in play by Stephen Warnock, who had clearly shaken off a knock that had seen him limping a few minutes back, and his cross was headed narrowly wide by Ash. Getting closer.
Sure enough, a second Villa goal arrived, and this time it was one of our own who received the plaudits. Kirkland flapped at a Villa corner, the ball wasn’t cleared, it found its way to Milly, who joyfully sent a twenty-five yarder through a ruck of players and past a possibly unsighted Kirkland. 2-1, and its party time again.
Wigan came at us in an attempt to draw level again, but in truth they never really troubled us, in fact we looked dangerous every time we came forward, and you always felt that we were more likely to get a third, than they ever were to tie things up.
Martin replaced John Carew and the hobbling Gabby Agbonlahor, with Emile Heskey and Sidders, and with the traveling hordes in great voice, you couldn’t see the home team getting back into the game.
Three points, a decent Villa performance, an enjoyable game, and four points in the bag from two somewhat tricky away games.
Now its back home to Villa Park to entertain Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sunderland. Things could be a lot worse.
Right, here are the Glensider marks out of ten. Heroes though, one and all.
Friedel – 6
Cuellar – 6
Dunne – 6
Collins – 7
Warnock – 7
Petrov – 6
Milner – 9
Downing – 7
Ashley Young – 6
Carew – 6
Gabby – 6
Not on long enough to rate
Not on long enough to rate