Slump is over, but at what cost? That is another of Pete Sixsmith‘s seven-word verdicts, one he reached after reflecting on the immensely gratifying win over Wigan, three of our four goals coming after the club’s roster of fit senior strikers had finally reached zero. The injury list lengthens but the darks clouds are beginning to disperse. And where do Aston Villa come into this? Nowhere in truth; Pete just feels they need bringing down a peg or two after all the Bent-came-to-us-because-we’re-a-bigger club bragging …
I would imagine that 39,000 fans and the entire workforce at the Stadium of Light had a warm and rosy glow about them on Saturday night. I certainly did, thanks to the much needed and richly deserved 4-2 win and a couple of snifters of Baillie Nichol Jarvie, just about the finest blended Scotch I have ever come across. I wholeheartedly recommend both the win and the whisky.
The BNJ (as we Scotch aficionados call it) is a light coloured drink, with a sweet taste – but you’re not really interested in that are you? You want a rundown of the day the magic carpet ride got back on the rails don’t you. So, here goes and I promise not to mix my metaphors as crudely as in the previous sentence.
A game and a result like this makes the use of metaphors, similes and clichés very easy to fall back on. The elephant in the room (relegation) was dispatched; certain players stepped up to the plate (none more than Henderson); when the going got tough, the tough got going (Cattermole) and “Cometh the hour, cometh the man” (Sessegnon and Malbranque).
Finally, the management team showed the courage of their convictions by picking the team that had done reasonably well at Birmingham the previous week. Now was the time for all good men to come to the service of their club and all that kind of stuff. The dragon of relegation, in the guise of Wigan Athletic, needed to be slain by the Knights of St George and their various foreign helpers.
The first half gave no indication of the goal rush that was to come in the second. Phil Bardsley lasted four minutes, leaving the field borne on a stretcher after a clash of heads with Onuoha. Danny Welbeck lasted another 15 before his hamstring went, leading to the arrival of Ferdinand and Steed.
There was little else to get excited about. The man behind me berated the midfield for dropping off and not tackling. I thought they got it right – Wigan wanted to draw us out so they could get behind us and involve Rodellega, but Cattermole, Colback and Henderson were having none of it. All three are young and English – two of them from the Academy as well.
The second half started badly. From somewhere, Wigan put an attack together and Diame breezed past Turner to hit a tremendous goal. Heads were slumped in the East Stand, but we reacted positively and equalised within three minutes.
It came from a free kick taken by Henderson. Someone had said to stop hitting long balls into the box for Caldwell minor and Alacaraz to head out, so Henderson knocked it square to Colback. His first touch wasn’t great but he had the presence of mind and the confidence of youth to look up and see Steed unmarked out wide.
His cross was an absolute gem and it gave Gyan the opportunity to have a run at it instead of having to make a standing jump. He hit a great header and we were level.
The man behind thought we were lucky, Mr Horan and I disagreed and said it showed some thought. Match of the Day suggested a mix of the two, but all praise to Colback for not panicking and giving the ball away with a pointless shot.
After that Asamoah pulled a hamstring, Muntari came on and we would have settled for a point. Not a bit of it. Sessegnon and Henderson took control of the game and within 15 minutes we were 4-1 up and cruising.
Sessegnon looked a far better player when he sat behind Gyan. In a crowded midfield he tends to be squeezed out – he’s not the most physical of players. But he has skill and he must have silenced many of his critics and doubters with the two balls he gave to Henderson that put him in for his two well taken goals. He also went down well for, what looked to us in the East Stand, a soft penalty, although TV indicated that Alcaraz leaned into him – a dangerous thing to do when away from home and Lee Probert is the referee. As we found out at Stoke, he doesn’t give the visitors much.
Jordan had a great second half. His lung bursting runs opened Wigan up and he tackled, marked and cajoled as if he and he alone could get us over the 40 point line. The midfield looked competitive for the first time for ages. Cattermole got his usual booking but had an excellent game, while Colback was as neat and tidy as regular reserve watchers know him to be.
What about a few words of consolation for Bernard Ramsdale and his fellow Wigan fans? Not a great afternoon for the old pie eaters. They fell apart after we equalised and looked an absolute shambles for 20 minutes, with balls being kicked in the air and nobody getting hold of the midfield. On this performance, they look likely to slide back into the Championship. I hope not.
We have an interesting week in store. No forwards for the visit of Fulham, so do we go for an emergency loan? Can we bring in a player who is not signed up with a club? McCarthy was released by West Ham so he is available. Would it be allowed? Or do we go with Noble and Lynch in an attempt to go above the Mags and hit the top half of the Ceefax League?
Finally, as a piece of pure pettiness, I give you this:
Sunderland v Wigan Athletic 39,650, which included no more than 500 visiting fans.
Aston Villa v Stoke City 35,235 with at least 2,000 Stoke fans.
Aston Villa bigger than Sunderland; don’t make me laugh …