The startling rise through the Divisions. The ascent to the Premier League and the surprisingly impressive ability to compete once in it. The journey to Wembley and the Cup Final. The European campaign. The slither back out of the Premier League and the stark prospect of decline. The revival, the heartening resurgence back to prosperity and to success.
That’s Wigan Athletic.
And it’s Hull City too – excluding the last bit.
Wigan have halted their slide and are on the progressive march forward. Hull City? Ach, well you know the grim tale as well as I do. The slide’s greased, and we are hurtling recklessly down it. Last night’s match was a contest between two football clubs that are currently heading in very different directions. And that was visible too on the pitch, as the limited home side took a deserved win from even more limited visitors.
Off we go on a mild mizzly evening in front of the sparsely populated DW stadium, and we card:
Lichaj Elphick De Wijs Kingsley
Bowen Henriksen Stewart Irvine
Which has an expansive, ambitious feel to it. When we have the ball Bowen and Irvine are on the front foot, pushing high up the pitch; they tuck in when Wigan have possession. The opening minutes are highly promising. On 4 Dicko robs a defender and bursts clear down the right, crosses, the ball is shovelled away for a corner. On 6 Stewart sets up Dicko deftly, Dicko powers a shot over the crossbar. On 13 Bowen bustles through, and is blocked at the expense of a corner.
This is appealing slick football from our team. No prizes for guessing what happens next.
Sam Morsy advances from midfield with the ball, gets to within sight of the goal and, from outside the box, blats a low shot into Marshall’s right hand corner. The absence of any mention of Hull City outfield players is no accident. Morsy was permitted far too much freedom as he brought the ball forward.
Morsy, an Egyptian internationalist, takes his team-mates congratulations and then carefully lines himself up in a southeasterly direction, kneels and kisses the turf. It is, I suppose, roughly the right alignment for Mecca. For heaven’s sake. Seriously? During a football match? Even the Rev Allen Bagshawe didn’t inflict religion on us during the game.
Shortly afterwards Dicko scoots free behind the Wigan defence, but his effort is saved.
Nouha Dicko. I like him. You can’t not. Puppy dog enthusiasm, pace, strength, an ability most of the time to make runs that disconcert a defence. What he lacks is coldly predatory finishing ability. It is not his fault. He is what he is – a Championship striker. If he could add regular goalscoring to his other gifts, he’d not be playing for Hull City at the lower end of the Championship, he’d be playing for a middle ranking Premier League club and he’d be priced at around £30 million. And he did at least get a couple of shots away last night, which is more than poor old Chris Martin managed.
Marshall is forced to make a fine save low to his left from Jacobs, and, as we move towards the later stages of the first half, it is Wigan that look the stronger, attacking with pace and intent. Runs in the channels, movement out wide, decent interplay. On this evidence they have the makings of a solid mid-table side, which is ambition enough for most newly promoted sides. A second goal looks imminent, but when it arrives, in the 37th minute, it’s a bit of a freak. Lee Evans shoots from wide right, just inside the box, the ball deflects off Kevin Stewart, attempting to intervene, and flies across the face of the goal towards the back post, where Josh Windass, unmarked, is able to crunch a firm header into the net. Windass looks wildly offside, but presumably the fact of that touch of the ball on Stewart spared him the flag. 2-0, sad to say, is not unfair overall, and we are in some danger of being overrun.
Within five minutes it’s 2-1. This is very much a goal of the ‘up the other end from us, hard to know what happened’ variety, but it seemed as if defensive howlers gifted Bowen on the right space to advance into the box with only keeper Christian Walton to beat, and he did so courtesy of a left foot shot and a touch of the glove in vain by Walton. This goal was totally unexpected, but it sets up for a decent second half fightback.
So to the second half.
The second half is a bit rubbish.
Not much happens, but – the story in short – Wigan are generally the better side, with the languid Nick Powell the pick of their team. Powell, like Dicko, is what he is – a Championship player. What Powell lacks, what separates him from the Premier League, is aggression and pace. But he’s got a proper old-fashioned lovely touch on the ball. Reminds me a little bit of the young Steve McClaren, maybe even Garry Parker, though that’s over-generous to Powell since Parker belonged squarely in the top flight.
On 59 Martin sets up Dicko with a very good header inside the box, but Dicko shoots straight at the goalkeeper. As above, predatory instinct (lack of). Dicko is promptly removed in favour of Fraizer Campbell.
Marshall then saves well from Powell before the rebound is thumped wastefully wide by Windass, and the game settles into a period of Wigan ascendancy. They look pretty steady and opt for a shape that will protect the lead, rather than one that will look to increase it. Our best chance – near enough only chance of the final half hour – arrives on 74, when Campbell rises to meet a cross at the back post, but his header, though downwards and powerful in the approved manner, cannons into a defender.
Stewart, who has not repaid his manager’s faith and has performed largely listlessly once again, is taken off in favour of Grosicki. The ‘exciting and lavishly talented Polish World Cup star’ (as he is described in the brochures Ehab is currently hawking round midtable top flight teams in Turkey, Portugal and Russia) takes up the left wing position, while Jackson Irvine moves inside to pair with Henriksen in central midfield. And soon after, with the pattern of play level but Wigan still leading 2-1, De Wijs is hooked for Evandro, and we punt on three at the back, with Grosicki (‘a real fans’ favourite, and available at a price to suit your pocket’) switching to right wing, Bowen to left.
The most notable incidents of the closing minutes feature Fraizer Campbell’s increasingly frantic attempts to get himself sent off for wild lunges. But Wigan finish the stronger side, and they see out the added five with little anxiety.
Backed by meagre resources, leading a thin team lacking real talent or insight, faced across the table by peers with far greater power to their elbow, promises broken by the barrowload, and answerable to a boss who appears increasingly deranged, Mr Adkins might as well be in charge of Britain’s Brexit negotiations.
He might prefer it. Hull City aren’t a lot of fun to watch just at the moment, and I doubt they’re much fun to manage either.
Steve Weatherill (first posted on the Tiger-Chat mailing list)