Well the vultures will be swooping around the DW Stadium after this massive second half collapse but I am genuinely not too disheartened.
Quins proved tonight that they are not a bottom of the table side. They proved to be a different outfit to the side that has struggled all season. I mean the recent return of the experienced Luke Dorn and Rob Purdham have been two new signings for Brian McDermott. Dorn was making his first league appearance of the campaign, whilst Purdham has only played in two league games up to now. Then you add in the loan signing of speedster Kevin Penny from Warrington and it all adds to a brighter season ahead for the London based side, despite their lowly league position.
Wigan meanwhile went into the game without seven key players. Amos Roberts, Martin Gleeson, Thomas Leuluai, Andy Coley, Harrison Hansen, Paul Deacon and Darrell Goulding were all injured. Those absences proved too much of a hole for us to fill, especially when Stuart Fielden, Liam Farrell and Shaun Ainscough all went off, or struggled on, injured during the crucial last twenty minutes.
Those pre match injuries meant we had to recall Ainscough from Castleford and Jonny Walker came back from Blackpool to make his debut. Liam Farrell made his first career start, whilst switching from their usual positions were Phil Bailey who switched to centre, Sean O'Loughlin to Stand Off, Sam Tomkins to Scrum Half and Lee Mossop to loose forward.
The reason why I remain so upbeat is that we almost won despite the injuries and shuffling of positions. In my view we lost this to lack of luck more than anything. It wasn't a Noble type performance in which we kept making handling errors. Two crucial decisions, whilst the game in the balance, both went against us, and that is why we lost.
First Liam Farrell looked to have grounded the ball for his hatrick but was given held up. Then a nice kick from Sam Tomkins saw Kevin Penny flap at the ball and Sean O'Loughlin recover for a back to one a metre out, that a quick play the ball would have resulted in a try. But referee Phil Bentham deemed a push on Penny and Quins survived. Two crucial calls that went against us and cost us the match in my view. Now I don't blame the referee. They were fifty-fifty calls and we just needed something, but it didn't come. What you could criticise the referee for is not sin binning an Harlequins player after they had conceded five penalties in a row during one attack. Their was at least two professional fouls in that spell. Again we just needed a break, but it didn't come.
You still can't excuse the poor defence, but those that didn't come to the match will see Harlequins rip us to bits from deep when they see the video. They had nothing to lose and they just threw the ball about, which stuck every time. On another night they would have been scrumming down for handling errors time and again but tonight it just kept sticking. They just had a gold dust night. Everything went for them, but I suppose they played well enough to create that luck.
The writing though for Wigan has been on the wall for a few weeks. We have put a massive effort into the last few weeks and it came back at them tonight. 7 key squad members out and we looked tired, very tired. Quins just had more zip in them. They also benefited from a flat atmosphere. 18,600 Wiganers were opposed by about 6 opposition fans. Not good for creating noise!
Even though Wigan would build up a 24-6 half time lead, personally I smelt an upset early on. Harlequins took the lead on just 7 minutes after the superb Danny Orr had forced a drop out. Then Orr put up a kick to the corner which saw Will Sharp bat back to allow David Howell to score. Clear tactic straight away, they were going to test Shaun Ainscough and in truth he struggled. Orr converted to make it 6-0.
Quins almost increased that lead with Kevin Penny going close but Wigan managed to claw themselves into the game. Lovely try as well with Liam Farrell putting in a perfect run to score in the left corner. Richards converted 6-6.
Three minutes later, Wigan took the lead for the first time. Cameron Phelps finished off close to the sticks and Pat converted to make it 12-6.
With half time approaching Quins began to look desperate for it and Wigan scored two in the ten minutes before the break. After two penalties, Sam Tomkins was looking very dangerous probing the line and his efforts allowed Sean O'Loughlin to send Joel Tomkins over from close range. Easy conversion for Pat - 18-6.
Then with four minutes left, Farrell claimed his second. Whilst Quins chose to test Ainscough, Wigan were aiming for Kevin Penny and it was his flap at a kick from Sam that allowed Richards to bat back for Farrell to score again. Pat then converted to make it 24-6. To be fair to Penny, he isn't the first and won't be the last to fail to deal with Richards in the air.
So at half time all looked well, but I say this almost every week. First try second half is pivotal and sadly Wigan let in a weak effort very early. I was just returning from the bar to see Luke Dorn scoring in the left corner and Danny Orr converted to make it 24-12.
Wigan had two chances to hit straight back. Mike McIlorum knocked on with the line begging and then Bentham disallowed the effort that would have seen Farrell claimed a well deserved hatrick. It would have been a brilliant try as well. He burst towards three men but didn't ground the ball according to the ref. I said at the time "I've seen another Farrell do that! Very reminiscent of his distant cousin Andy!
Quins managed to score again after forcing a knock on by pushing at a scrum. This try conceded was terrible. From the scrum, quick shift left and Dorn ghosted in again in, you guess it, the left corner than Ainscough was defending. Not sure you can totally blame him, he's an easy scapegoat, but the damage was all down that side of the field. Orr converted to make it 24-18. You could clearly see defeat coming at this point. We looked really tired.
Wigan were now struggling for go forward but managed to dig themselves into being within a chance to win the match. Helped by about four penalties that really should have seen a sin binning. It was on the fourth attempt that we decided to go for a penalty goal. Easy in hindsight but it didn't look like a good decision at the time. 26-18 to Wigan.
The game was now into the final quarter and the next try was probably going to decide the game. Wigan should have trapped Quins on the last in their own half but they offloaded time and again to allow Danny Orr to break. Huge overlap on the left was spotted and he kicked into the space which allowed Will Sharp to collect and score. Orr then converted to make it 26-24.
Wigan needed a calm head but it was lacking. Sam had done well with his kicking game up to now but I do recall a shocking last tackle option from him in the late stages. Overall though, his kicking had been outstanding. Just a shame his night will be remembered for that one error. It was also around this point that we had that "pushing" call on Kevin Penny go against us. That was a huge decision, had it gone our way it would have been our game. Again I'm not saying it was a wrong call, but it was a crucial call.
What really didn't help Wigan was first Phelps, then Joel Tomkins throwing interceptions when half breaking near the line. Both went straight into Harlequins hands. Again these small bits of luck against us just highlight how close we were to winning this one, and this is why I'm not disheartened. We also had Stuart Fielden got off with a blood injury, the superb Farrell went off with cramp and Ainscough was limping away on the left wing. Did Feka not return late on either? It just was all working against Wigan!
Eventually these errors/bits of bad luck went punished with Quins looking to have all the fresh legs against a tired Wigan outfit. Penny broke clear up the middle and Rob Purdham was in support to score under the sticks. Orr easy conversion made it 30-26.
Wigan still pressed but this was destined to be Harlequins day and they sealed a remarkable win with a late try from Chad Randall. Again a break up the middle, with pace just being too much for Wigan. Orr converted then added a late penalty goal to leave the final score 38-26.
Now losing to the bottom of the table is disappointing but let's not forget what a beast of a month we have endured. Signs had look ominous that defeat was near back to Salford two weeks ago. The back to back wins over Leeds and St Helens, plus injuries to key men, have left us struggling. To our credit we still came close to not losing despite that! In the end it came, but it was more likely to be honest than a defeat would come when it was least expected. Who would have predicted Salford would have gone to Headingley and beaten league leaders Leeds last Easter? It happens. The key is how you bounced back to defeat. When we lost to Bradford we bounced straight back with a superb performance. It'll be a hell of a task against Huddersfield in Edinburgh, but that match gives us a big chance to re-cement our title credentials.
Conceding 74 points in two games though is very worrying. Even though I look on tonight's disappointment as a pint half full, rather than half empty, defence is a real concern at the moment. But we are still two points clear, we shouldn't forget that. We should also recall Leeds struggling when having key men injured recently. It's hard to cope with against any side!
Well done Harlequins though. Superb show. Deserved the win and that could well prove to be a win that keeps your franchise alive in truth. Different side as I said with the key personnel back. They'll quietly fancy taking on Hull FC next week after tonight's display. Just looking at the result of tonight's Sky game (Hull 12 Wakefield 8), think they made a big boo-boo missing our game. They really need to stop picking their matches so far in advance. The TV quality of games has been piss-poor!
Finally excellent effort from Wigan to get 18,605 through the door which included less than 10 away fans. Awesome effort that! Emotional tribute to the troops pre match as well. They bugled the "Last Post" before a minutes silence in respect of those that perished in Afghanistan and other wars before now. The tribute confused fans though who assumed the bugling was part of the minutes silence, when the reality was the period of silence followed after. A real shame that, but a nice tribute nethertheless.