12th Man: Wigan fans looking forward to a ‘Battle of the Latics’ this weekend at the DW

Wigan Athletic players celebrating at Sheffield United

Wigan Athletic players celebrating at Sheffield United

SATURDAY’S victory at Sheffield United, for me, was probably the most satisfying victory we’ve had this season.

Granted, the Blades aren’t in the best form at the minute but, going to Bramall Lane and producing a professional performance as we did last weekend, kudos must go to Gary Caldwell.

I must admit, I questioned the team when it was announced an hour before kick-off, with the omissions of the likes of Reece Wabara and such, but hearing Caldwell’s comments post-match made me realise why tactical decisions were made.

He spoke about wanting to shut down the way in which Sheffield United play, and stopping their two full-backs was paramount to our success.

And I can see why Donervon Daniels was picked at wing-back rather than Wabara, as he is more defensively solid.

Of course, our first-half performance wasn’t as free-flowing and as smooth as we probably wanted it to be.

But what it did do is set a platform for us in the second half to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and control it, which we did superbly.

Sheffield United had scored in every game at home during this season, and credit must go to our defence who kept the Blades out, and gave us a base to build from and allow the likes of Yanic Wildschut and Will Grigg to attack.

It’s easy to forget Caldwell is the youngest manager in the Football League.

But you can see by just looking at Saturday’s win that he is a quick learner and he is correcting mistakes made in previous games.

We’re now just one point away from the automatic promotion spots, we are the form team in the league at the moment, and teams around us are starting to look at us and consider us favourites to go up.

Credit must go to the team and Caldwell for that, but we need to make sure we live up to expectations now – starting with our home game with Oldham on Saturday.

If we can secure another victory this weekend, we can head into the huge game with Walsall next weekend with even more confidence that we can win this league come May.

SAM WHYTE

BACK in the summer during our mass clear-out/recruitment, the fans, Gary Caldwell and David Sharpe all highlighted the need for a goalscoring centre-forward.

We have tried and tried again to recruit quality strikers from abroad, but it has never worked.

In fact, before this season our last prolific finisher was Jason Roberts.

Yes, Hugo Rodallega grabbed a few goals at Premier League level, but he only scored 24 goals in 112 top-flight appearances.

I appreciate it was a higher standard of football than that of League One, but I firmly believe we have found our man at last in Will Grigg.

After selling the likes of Oriol Riera and Andy Delort, we couldn’t make the mistake of signing unproven foreign strikers again. It was too much of a risk.

So we captured a man who scored 20 league goals for the MK Dons and helped them get promoted out of this division into the Championship last campaign.

We even dodged a bullet before signing Grigg, by not sorting out a deal for Dundee United striker Nadir Ciftci.

Firstly, he had a six-match ban to fulfil at the start of the term after biting a player towards the back end of last season.

Secondly, he snubbed us for Celtic, but he struggled to settle in Glasgow and will spend the rest of the season on loan at Turkish Super Lig side Eskisehirspor.

It must be obvious we have used our money wisely by spending around £1million on a striker who already has 13 goals in 27 appearances in all competitions.

We have our man to lead the line and, with the service he will get from the quality attacking players around him, I’m sure he will play a pivotal part in our bid to finish in the automatic promotion places.

KIERAN MAKIN

EXPERTS claim February is the most depressing month of the year – at least for a certain sports surface outside Wigan town centre.

But while there’s still a remote chance of greeting March as league leaders, the Robin Park beach will be eternally bathed in watery sunshine.

I can already hear the chimes of ice-cream vans making their way through Standish Lower Ground and Beech (Beach?) Hill…

On Sheffield United’s luscious green carpet last Saturday, tactical decisions were straight-forward enough.

Chris McCann might have been hauled down in the left-half of the area, but Bilbo Grigg was ordered to deliberately chip his spot kick into keeper George Long’s warm and welcoming arms.

Though it pained him to squander such an opportunity, he reluctantly followed Big GC’s orders – a 3-0 lead against Sheffield United can be deadly.

…And then Lee McCulloch earned a second yellow make the final 15 minutes very nervy indeed.

Oh wait, sorry – forgot where I was for a moment there!

Back at Stade DW, surface renovation is the smart solution.

After over two hours of football at the Under-18s cup tie last week, the pitch was beginning to resemble a snooker table coated with crumbs, or maybe a compact disk caked in dust.

The question now is whether they can staple down that new shag pile in time for the Real Latics’ arrival this weekend.

I would offer my own carpet shampooer… if I didn’t live in a mud hut with a stone floor. Ooh, ahh.

Right, I’m off to retrieve my open-toed football boots and ice lolly mould from the attic. And I must remember to buy some factor 65 sun cream from the supermarket!

Oooh, I wonder if they still publish those Beano and Dandy Summer Beach Special editions…?

(Typical, eh?

The first sign of daffodils and I get all nostalgic about summer. I’ll have one heck of a shock when I step outside and slip on the frosty pavement.)

DAN FARRIMOND

LATICS are now hitting their best form as we approach the final third of the season.

The display at Sheffield United was their best so far as they dominated one of the play-off contenders, deserving the three points and moving up to third in the table.

Gary Caldwell got his tactics spot on as he changed to a flat back four with Chris McCann and Donervon Daniels occupying the full-back slots.

Caldwell’s team is getting better week-by-week, and they showed great determination and professionalism at Bramall Lane.

They now have quality all over the pitch, and importantly they have a striker in Will Grigg who can score 20-plus goals in a season.

Latics also have plenty of other attacking options with Yanic Wildschut, Michael Jacobs, Haris Vuckic and new signings Conor McAleny and Ryan Colclough all providing a goal threat.

The defence is looking more solid with two recent clean sheets against Port Vale and Sheffield United, and they are getting stronger as a unit.

Goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen has added much-needed composure to the defence, and it is no coincidence the team’s rise commenced when the former Finnish international took over in goal.

The team spirit is high and the squad has been strengthened during the transfer window.

Competition for places is now at its greatest since the Premier League days.

The flexibility of Caldwell’s formation is also proving an added bonus as Latics outwit as well as outplay their opponents.

Few teams in League One are able to cope with the improvisation and flexibility of formation he employs.

Caldwell and his team are on the verge of success.

They are playing with confidence, and the momentum is with them.

An automatic promotion place is within their reach, but they must be wary of any complacency and not take anything for granted, starting against Oldham Athletic tomorrow.

IAN ASPINALL