MATCH REPORT – City 0 Wigan 5

The Premier League – Saturday 30th August 2008

Chastening. Ruthless. Scary.

Pick your word, choose your phrase, but there’s no getting away with the fact that City were given a bit of a battering in this one. I don’t want to write this; you don’t want to read this. But needs must, so let’s crack on, because my grandma always used to say that unpleasant tasks are better off being tackled swiftly, so we can all have jelly and ice cream once it’s done:

Shorn of the services of Gardner, Boateng and King – the spine of the side, as would become apparent, newly moustachioed City manager Phil Brown opted for an XI of: Myhill; Ricketts, TurnerBrown, Dawson; Garcia, Ashbee (c), Marney, Fagan; Geovanni,  Folan.

Still no start for Deano, benched despite scoring in the midweek League Cup defeat at Swansea – last season’s TurnerBrown axis of ace was restored with Gardner’s injury, King was loan-tied by being unable to feature against his parent club, and we set off briskly attacking the North Stand.

We nearly scored in the first minute too – Geovanni found Fagan loitering in space, but he badly pulled his shot wide from twenty yards. City were looking quite vigorous in the opening stages…but disaster was to strike.

A badly-struck corner by Kilbane bobbled low towards the near post, where Sam Ricketts rather ill-advisedly swished at it and sliced it past Myhill. The Wigan fans, 120 yards distant, took a moment to react to this numbing moment of (mis)fortune – such comedic defending would humble a Fourth Division team, and looked dismally embarrassing at this level.

Back came City, forcing a corner – and we were suddenly, horribly, two goals down. The ball was cleared, Zaki fed Valencia, who motored past Brown with distressing ease – Myhill dithered and the ball was calmly swept into the net.

As simple as that. And we began to feel that there really was no way back. The game evened out as a contest after this. Indeed, City’s general play wasn’t too bad – adequately combative, attempting to construct attacks with the same thoughtful attention as usual, but it just wasn’t happening. Wigan were muscular and disciplined, and half-a-second quicker in possession. We only really had one chance to halve the deficit before the interval, when Ashbee swiped clumsily at a loose ball following a Dawson corner, the ball going well wide.

“Ouch”, we reflected at the interval. City were in the game in terms of its ebb and flow, and the creation of opportunities was approximately equal, but there was little doubting Wigan’s superiority at both ends of the pitch.

Still, the players appeared to have rolled up their sleeves at the break, and we fashioned the first chance of the second forty-five when Turner bludgeoned a header over from a corner. Geovanni slashed a shot at Kirkland, but he adeptly batted it away.

As the half wore on, Phil Brown – now positioned into the posh seats near to the chairman – introduced Deano for his first taste of top flight football with City, withdrawing the luckless Geovanni. He was quickly involved, drawing a foul on the goal-line for which Bramble was inexplicably not cautioned, and while Turner met the cross it was repelled by the stout Wigan defence.

Nick Barmby came on for Garcia, shifting Fagan onto the right wing as City attempted to get more bodies forward, and while we salute the manager’s attacking intentions, unfortunately it backfired as City began to look even more porous at the back.

Valencia gathered the ball in space on the right, he transferred it inside to Zaki, who expertly side-footed it past Myhill. As chillingly straightforward as that.

The game was dead now, but still Wigan came, and they made it 0-4 five minutes later. Wayne Brown was having a horrible afternoon, and when he attempted a back-header to Myhill it only fell to Emile Heskey, who pounced on the ball in a flash, rounded Myhill and slotted the ball home easily.

Deflating stuff – and while the crowd creditably stayed with the team, this was becoming a trifle embarrassing. Phil Brown attempted to raise our spirits with the introduction of Bernard Mendy, who has presumably only been signed for comedy value. Wigan scored again, Zaki walloping a shot that flew past Myhill, thudded into the crossbar and bounced over the line – for some reason the linesman waited a good five seconds before signalling a goal, although the ball was clearly in.

Mendy, who is so enthusiastically awful he reminds you of your little brother eagerly joining in your playtime kickabouts and being unutterably terrible yet endearingly keen, should have given us the minor thrill of pulling one back when Folan teed him up – he flailed a leg in the rough direction of the ball and sent of zooming miles over.

And that was that. The players were afforded sympathetic applause at the end, which was a nice touch of class, and we trust it was appreciated by the players. Not a single boo was heard, despite this being our heaviest ever defeat at the Circle. I guess we all reason we’re in this together.

Enough. Your correspondent makes no apologies for the brevity of this – Grandma never said an unpleasant task had to be done to a soaring level of excellence, after all. While we all expected a few canings this season, we didn’t really anticipate Wigan at home to be among the chief candidates. Yet caned we were – unluckily in some regards, with three key players absent and a fluke opener. And the score didn’t really reflect the overall direction of the game.

Yet credit to Wigan, whose efficiency and ruthlessness was an object lesson in the art of winning games at this level. We have a couple of weeks to recuperate before the trip to Newcastle – lets hope they’re used to bolster our exposed squad, mend a few sore limbs and raise some of the lowered spirits evident at 5pm yesterday. We still have four points from three games, we’ve played generally rather well so far, and we shall simply have to put this one behind us. (AD)

Myhill 5.5; Ricketts 4.5; Turner 6; Brown 5; Dawson 6.5; Garcia 5.5; Ashbee 5.5; Marney 5.5; Fagan 6; Barmby 5; Mendy 5.5; Windass 5.5