Villa away marked a momentous occasion on Saturday, the first away game I’ve attended this season and indeed the first game of any sort since the epic battle with West Ham in May.
Since then it’s all been change, but the contrast in the Latics performance of Saturday and my last visit to Villa Park in August 2009 was much more startling.
This was all despite my optimism at the start of the day, although I didn’t expect us to win at Villa Park, especially on the basis of recent performances, away games are usually a good day out and I was looking forward to what the day might bring.
Amazingly, I managed to reach the Aston University car park and therefore Villa Park without getting lost or making a single wrong turning, I thought this might be a sign of things to come, but Latics did lack direction on the pitch.
Walking through any part of Birmingham is usually a sight for sore eyes and after mazing through dodgy looking car washes; past a group of thugs that could easily pass as the Villa firm; and finally encountering Diahatsu and Nissan bangers that looked like they were written off and driven by Asian youths with horrendous tastes in music; I reached the Doug Ellis Stand relatively unscathed.
I strolled towards the stewards and then it hit me, I’d made the ultimate rookie mistake, a real school boy error.
Anyone that follows Wigan away from home must have became used to (only after extensive moaning) the ritual of stewards taking away bottle tops so you are left with a full bottle with no lid. It’s a typical recipe for disaster.
A (probably) highly illegal procedure to avoid such troubles is to sneak some bottle tops from previous empty bottles in your wallet and screw them on after entry to the stadium.
Of course, if you got caught, you’d immediately be sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Whether it’s Class A drugs or bottle tops, illegal substances are illegal.
I forgot to sneak in such a disgraced item and therefore had to face reality of a topless bottle. I was gutted.
After the bottle top fiasco, I then proceeded to watch the Merseyside derby on the concourse screens whilst flicking through the match day programme.
It was then I noticed that Mauro Boselli had made his way onto the Wigan squad list, allocated the squad number 42. This is either because Martinez saw him not worthy of a reasonably low number; or Boselli is following the trend Yaya Toure has set of wearing 42; or the final alternative of a reserve team player also called Mauro Boselli being given a squad number as a confidence boost.
I entered the Merseyside derby action at around the hour mark at 0-0 and the match was relatively free of any real action so I decided to sneak off for a pie and watch the team warm up in the hope that would bring me more entertainment.
I popped back for the loo about ten minutes later and it was 2-0 to Liverpool. I think you can see it was feeling a bit like an unlucky day, even before kick off.
On the topic of the derby: Jack Rodwell’s red card.
If that’s a red card then Jordi Gomez is the incarnation of Jesus.
It’s a case of referees getting so paranoid about what’s ‘off the ground’ or ‘two footed’ that they assume tackles look a lot worse than their first judgement just so they don’t get criticised for not condoning such actions.
The fact of the matter is, it wasn’t a red card, it wasn’t even a foul. But with such attention on dangerous tackles, referees and bound to get them wrong and make a rash decision every so often, especially in high pressure and high intensity games like the Merseyside derby.
I know what you’re thinking, sympathy for a referee? Come off it.
But for some reason, fans expect referees to get every decision correct as if they’re some form of super humans. This obviously isn’t the case, if you hadn’t noticed, and the sooner referees are given technological support the better. How that might happen isn’t up to me, that’s Sepp Blatter’s job, because we all know how competent he is at his ‘profession’.
Anyway back to Villa, and the hardships and attractions of a good old fashioned away fixture.
Football is all about banter, any fan worth their salt will tell you that, and even banter between fans and stewards is encouraged.
I remember last season’s trip to Bolton and the slightly inappropriate ‘Sit down you lesbian’ chant directed at a butch steward at the Reebok with short hair. Maybe that was a tad out of order, but the ‘sit down’ chant was spot on from the away end.
Seriously, how can it be a health and safety hazard to have fans standing up at a match? Hillsborough was a long time ago and the introduction of all seater stadiums means there’s no possibility of a repeat as each fan is allocated a seat to stand in front of, if they wish.
I seriously don’t see the problem, why do stewards feel the need to insist fans sit down? This tends to be just a thing with away fans as ten stewards are unlikely to get tens of thousands of home fans to sit down.
Has the world gone made though? It wasn’t long ago smoking in public was legal, now you can’t even stand up in public it seems.
Moving on, I know it’s a generic fact that gets mentioned every year but, until Saturday of course, Wigan have never lost at Villa Park. In the Premier League era anyway, I’m sure a super fan will let us know that we once lost a Milk Cup semi-final there against Aston Villa Under 18s when he were a nipper.
That record was lost on Saturday without much of a fight from the away side.
I don’t want to turn this article into a moan about certain players or tactics, that’s what the message board was invented for, but it’s hard not to highlight some negatives from the action at Villa Park.
Firstly, Figueroa at centre back? A few too many errors for my liking, especially positionally, he reminds me of a black Andy Webster.
Secondly, Victor Moses’ anonymous performance on the left wing is an issue I can’t ignore.
Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s got great potential and is one of our most dangerous attacking players, but on Saturday he showed that he’s a typical winger, by that I mean inconsistent.
He can have those games where he could take on the whole opposition team (then scuff a final ball), but on Saturday he went into his shell and was insistent on walking everywhere, regardless of who had possession or where he was supposed to be in relation to this.
He seemed to not want it from the first whistle and seemed content on looking lost and missing.
Another trend I noticed, not only from Moses, was the team giving the ball away in all areas of the pitch.
This was a contributing factor to both of Villa’s goals, giving the ball away in midfield. Diame and MacArthur were the guilty players, this was evidence of sloppy play and general carelessness.
Despite this, when the ball is given away so far from goal, there’s still time for the defence to regroup and pose more of a shield to Ali’s goal than they did.
With those gripes out the way, I can safely say this was the best match I’ve attended this season. Partly because it’s the only match I’ve attended this season.
At least it’s Bolton next, they look like they couldn’t buy a win at the minute.
I left Villa Park with a surprise sense of optimism, with Wigan being typically inconsistent, maybe the next match will be a stormer.
The problem is, we may have left our inconsistent persona behind in favour of a more ‘consistently poor’ approach.
The only plus point of the day was that I managed not to spill my bottle of coke, even without it’s top.
Goal of the Weekend: Adam Johnson’s curling 20 yard effort for City looked effortless, Blackburn 0-4 Man City
Andy Liddell of the Week: Frank Lampard has taken some undeserved stick recently, but responded brilliantly with a hat trick at the Reebok, he takes this week’s award.
Andy Webster of the Week: Carlos Tevez or Titus Bramble, take your pick.
Quote of the Week: From an anonymous Wiganer: “He was three months offside ref!” Obviously units of time are a frequent measurement of length to some.
Boselli Update: In what can best be described as a publicity stunt, Boselli refuses to come off the bench and is suspended for two weeks.