TALKING SPORT - Play the bottom sides as if they’re at the top

Sean O'Loughlin lifts the Super League Trophy
Sean O'Loughlin lifts the Super League Trophy

IT was bottom against top, but for spells during last night’s match, Manchester City were on the ropes.

Sure, in the first-half, Latics were so often frustrating with their ineffective short-passes and their willingness to retreat. Poor Hugo Rodallega was left to feed off scraps, and Wigan were unlucky to only be 1-0 down at the break.

But they redeemed themselves in the second-half, attacking their cashed-up north west neighbours and repairing their reputation against the league leaders.

Sadly, they still lost. Sadly, Latics are still bottom.

And their points tally of 15 after 21 matches is the lowest since they’ve been in the Premier League. Six points less than this time last year, when they just scraped home.

Losing 1-0 to City is a credible result and, clearly, it proves that they can play well, on their day.

Trouble is, they’re doing it on the wrong days.

Games against the top clubs won’t shape their season, and in their last three home games against the best sides, Roberto Martinez’s men have lost 1-0 to City and claimed draws against Liverpool and Chelsea. All good stuff.

But contrast that to their last three home games against the sides down at the bottom with them, they’ve lost 4-1 (Sunderland), 2-0 (Fulham) and drawn with Blackburn. And before that, they lost 3-1 to Bolton.

All those games were potential six-pointers – and they have another one this weekend at QPR. If Latics really are going to stay up, they’re going to need to start playing the teams at the bottom as if they’re teams at the top.

‘Among the enterprise of Jason Smith and the finishing finesse of Brett Dallas, a reluctant star announced himself last Friday night. Sean O’Loughlin, the 19-year-old stand-off, was among Wigan’s most consistent attacking threats after coming off the bench at half-time to make his Super League debut.’

Those were my match report words in these very pages from Wigan’s 20-18 loss against Hull back in April, 2002.

Since then, of course, O’Loughlin has gone on to play so well, achieve so much and receive universal respect from fans and his peers.

But what makes his progress so satisfying is that he has done it tough, too.

Remember when Wigan were threatened with relegation? Remember that horrible feeling of going more than half the Super League season and only beating one team, Huddersfield?

And remember who felt the brunt of fans’ frustration and disappointment?

The captain. The young captain with the curly hair, who – if some were to be believed – was responsible for their plight because apparently, he didn’t yell at players.

He’s come along way since then, proving himself as a world-class performer time and again.

If ever there was a player who deserves the fans’ support for a testimonial, it’s Sean O’Loughlin.