If you’d have asked the average Wigan Athletic fan – of which I consider myself one – a couple of weeks ago if we were going to stop up, I’m confident you’d have got an unequivocal YES!
Unfortunately with disappointing results since and two tricky away games to negotiate next, I suspect in many cases it has quickly turned into an unequivocal NO!
Obviously the victory over Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup was great for morale, and the trip to Old Trafford was great for the bank balance.
But I think our progress in the cup may have had the unfortunate impact of taking our eye off the ball in the league, rather than galvanising us.
I actually like the look and feel of the squad we have now.
There’s lots of names lurking around the fringes that I can’t wait to see in a Latics shirt.
The trouble is, with all the squad upheaval, it may take another six games to unearth our strongest team.
If there is one single element since last August which I could pin our failure down to, it would be lack of stability.
Same as it ever was.
The only constant around Wigan Athletic is its instability within the squad.
We’ve had more player ins and outs than any club in Europe in the past few years and, if we’re not careful, it’s going to cost us dearly.
I would quite honestly settle for being still five points adrift by the time we have played Fulham and Wolves as there is a real possibility that the gap could get bigger.
If we can then take seven points out of nine – win our two home games against Preston and Forest, and get a draw at QPR, then, maybe – just maybe – we might get to a position by the end of February where we are only three points (or less) adrift again.
By that stage, the new squad will have had time to bed in, and then the order we are facing suddenly doesn’t look taller than Dan Burn.
There’s an awful lot of ifs and maybes to even reach that scenario, and it is quite feasible that the elusive ladder to safety could continue to accumulate extra rungs over the next week or so.
We have extricated ourselves from these grim scenarios in the past, though, and I wouldn’t completely bet against us doing it again.
I’m still waiting for that sign – a sign that comes out of nowhere, a sign that turns a season around, something to cling on to.
Our whole season can turn on a single event. Yet unless that event happens soon, it may be a little too late.
We have a new hero – his name is Omar!
Two great goals against Norwich on Tuesday gave us a glimpse of just what we could be in store for.
Bogle’s thumping header from Jacobs’ driven corner was the first time we have scored direct from a corner since...well it’s that long that I can’t remember when we last did! (Callum Connolly at Burton last month -Ed)
His delicate free-kick that wrong-footed Norwich goalkeeper Ruddy for his second on the night showed Omar has a few weapons in his armoury.
And this will hopefully be just the start to a new love affair for the Latics fans.
Of course we need to support him, and by ‘we’ I mean the rest of the team.
Against Sheffield Wednesday on Friday, Will Grigg was isolated, and Joyce took him off to give Bogle a 20-minute run-out to try and salvage something.
He’d have been better leaving Grigg on and supplementing him with Bogle as nothing changed, we were awful.
Bogle got the nod to start on Tuesday, and for 45 minutes we were awful once again.
Bogle was as isolated as Grigg has been for the past five months, but in the second half Joyce decided to go for it, throwing Grigg into the mix alongside Bogle. And what a game we were then treated to!
Bogle and Grigg started to feed off each other – there is a partnership there just waiting to flourish – and before we knew it we’d turned a one-goal deficit into 2-1 in our favour.
Unfortunately we couldn’t hang on to the lead, with Norwich drawing level, but there were chances, at both ends, and the supporters left the game feeling that they’d not only been entertained, but also had some optimism for the coming three months.
We are now marooned at the bottom of the table, five points from safety.
Playing cagey for draws won’t keep us up – it’s time to throw the shackles off to some degree.
We have the personnel to get goals. Let’s give them some supply and support, and get some points on the board.
Up the Tics!
That New Year bump that had seen us clamber our way out of the relegation zone feels a hell of a long time ago now.
The previous weekend couldn’t have been any more disastrous for Latics - a lacklustre performance and defeat against Sheffield Wednesday on Friday was followed by a set of results on Saturday hat plunged Latics right back in to serious relegation trouble.
All of our relegation rivals - including Burton, Blackburn, Bristol Rovers, Nottingham Forest, Wolves and Ipswich - all managed to pick up positive results at the weekend, leaving us six points from safety, which became five after the draw with Norwich on Tuesday.
All the good we saw at the start of January, prior to the Manchester United game, seemed to have disappeared again against Sheffield Wednesday.
It was a display that felt ponderous and all too defensive again.
It feels like we’re beginning to run out of time again – defensive football is all well and good.
Indeed we look a lot stronger defensively under Warren Joyce, and the best sides are always said to build from the back.
But equally you need to combine that with decent attacking play.
Playing the percentages can only get you so far, especially when you still concede poor goals as we did on Friday night.
So it was heartening to see a much better attacking display on Tuesday against Norwich.
There was a feeling of here we go again after Norwich went ahead, but a brilliant double from new-boy Omar Bogle seemed to set us on our way to three points.
It was a shame we failed to hold on for a much-needed three points, but a point is still better than none.
And if we can go to Craven Cottage on Saturday and get an unexpected win, it will be an even better point.
Having said that, a failure to start picking up wins again soon may see us cut off from the rest.
The much-heralded return of Yanic Wildshcut was less of an event than many would have expected.
It seems Yanic hasn’t got off to the most impressive of starts down in Norfolk.
With a £7million price tag on his head, a lot will be expected from him.
As it was, Bogle quite rightly stole all the headlines and, if he can pick up a few more goals between now and May 7, he may well be the difference between us playing in the Championship or League One next season.
The second-half display against Norwich on Tuesday was in complete contrast to the woeful first-half, and proved Latics must be more attack-minded if we are to avoid the drop.
Warren Joyce has mainly adopted a 4-5- 1 formation since his appointment.
The emphasis has been on packing the midfield to both keep possession and make it hard for opponents to pass the ball through the team.
The 4-5-1 has essentially been used to avoid defeat.
However, it has not delivered the points to get the club out of the relegation zone.
The team are currently the lowest scorers in the Championship and, unless there is a change of system, they are likely to be relegated.
An alternative is the 4-4-2, which may not be fashionable, but Leicester employed it to great effect last year to win the Premier League.
Having two dedicated strikers means the midfield and defence needn’t delay their attempts to get the ball forward.
Unlike Joyce’s formation with only one striker, 4-4- 2 allows the two-pronged attack to drive forward without having to wait for support from the midfielders.
Will Grigg is a striker with good all-round ability and an excellent scoring record, but he has been expected to do too much on his own this season.
He has been asked to lead the line, provide link-up play, track back and score the limited opportunities he gets.
It has been a thankless task. However, with the signing of Omar Bogle and Mikael Mandron, Latics now have an opportunity to pair Grigg with another striker.
Bogle made an impressive start to his Latics career with two goals against Norwich.
But it was only when Joyce changed from a 4-5- 1 to 4-4- 2 at half-time and pushed Grigg up alongside Bogle that Latics became an attacking force.
It’s been suggested Grigg cannot play alongside another striker, but the evidence on Tuesday was that he can.
The best strikers are adaptable and can contend with minimal midfield support.
Latics lacked width in the first half against Norwich, and it was only in the second half with two wide midfielders and two wide full-backs that they put more crosses into the box.
By forcing Norwich to stretch their defensive line to counter the threat down the wings, this left defensive gaps through the centre for Grigg and Bogle to exploit.
The double act of Grigg and Bogle have two great role models in Nathan ‘Duke’ Ellington and Jason Roberts.
If they can go some way to emulating that dynamic duo they have great careers ahead.
Latics success is, of course, not just dependent on the formation, but unless they can get more players in the final third they will not score enough goals to survive.
The time has come for the combination of Grigg and Bogle to be given their chance.
In recent weeks, many fans have urged Warren Joyce to play two strikers up front.
Joyce has himself said he is going to be stubborn in his ways and keep playing the same way ever since day one.
Under Roberto Martinez and Gary Caldwell, both refrained from changing formation just because that’s what the supporters wanted.
There is no doubting we have two very decent strikers in Omar Bogle and Will Grigg.
Bogle seems the type of striker who likes to make runs in behind the defensive.
However, Grigg prefers to come short for the ball and link other people into play.
Under Joyce, Grigg has to do more defensive work than what he’s been used to.
You can also tell he’s a striker low on confidence.
He needs a goal, then I am sure will see him rekindle the form he showed last season.
The burning question remains, does playing two up front mean you’re guaranteed to score more goals?
If the 2-2 draw with Norwich is anything to go by, you’ve got to say yes.
The game on Tuesday against Norwich just proves when we attack teams we can cause them a lot of problems.
Other than Reading, every team I have seen this season hasn’t blown us away, and I wonder why we sit back against the so called ‘bigger teams’.
Joyce changed it at half-time – and it worked.
Bogle and Grigg showed they could form a decent partnership together if they get given the chance to play alongside one another.
So I wonder against Fulham whether Joyce will go for two up front or revert back to one striker leading the line.
Omar God! We’ve found our saviour!
Omar Bogle has certainly made his mark upon his arrival.
After a promising debut in the second half of the Sheffield Wednesday game, Bogle was given his first start in Wigan colours.
Warren Joyce boasted upon his signing that Bogle scored all types of goals – from tap-ins to headers to worldies – and Omar certainly backed up that statement.
Omar’s the perfect striker we’ve been looking for, and the most important thing is he’s a very hard-working player, who’s put a massive shift in on both of his appearances, to the extent when he was struggling to stand after the Norwich game.
Speaking of Norwich, Yanic Wildschut came back apparently.
You have to check if he actually played – it would be best to ask Callum Connolly, who probably still has him in his back pocket.
We need to take the positives with our result against Norwich, as they will be near the top end come May.
We’re showing we can compete with the best of the division, and we can stay up.
Joyce has got the respect of the players, and everyone is willing to work hard for the club which is refreshing to see.
The spirit is warming, and it’s great to see, as we need the unity to achieve survival.
The mysterious disappearance of Phoenix and Blue.
Upon reading that title, I would guess you immediately thought, “er… oh yeah! I don’t recall seeing them help people cheat at that mildly mirthsome half-time game lately”.
The moment 12th Man noticed Latics’ effervescent mascots were missing, we immediately yanked our chewing gum-stained rotary dial telephone out of the draw.
There was only one man cheap enough to take this case – the private investigator keeping Lancashire’s final remaining zoot suit company in business, Mr Nosey Barstool.
Here is what our favourite film noir throwback had to say on Wigan Athletic’s erstwhile entertainers:
Initially, the outlook appeared bleak for the bluesome twosome.
Research led me to believe that previous mascot JJ (birth name Jimmy Jimmyson Jr.) was forced into early retirement when his successor, Stripey the Laticat, made him scarf home-cooked hairball dumplings.
In turn, Stripey was ‘accidentally’ handed in to Leigh Dogs’ Home after being found asleep in the Wigan Wallgate station waiting room.
But just as I was about to take my hourly nap, a telephone call.
This was odd, since I hadn’t yet publicised my new phone number following that reputation-soiling gunfight with the Caldwell Brothers.
It cost me a week’s worth of smokes, did that caper.
I begrudgingly reached for the receiver.
“I have some information,” came a sullen voice, “on how to get a cheaper car insurance deal”. Finally, a lead!
From this conversation, I ascertained Phoenix and Blue were possibly being held captive at a call centre in Mumbai.
To find out more, I only needed to hand over my full bank account details, house keys and left lung to their captors...which I did, naturally.
Total destitution was a small price to pay for the safety of our beloved mascots.
By the way, please send money and a doctor.
-- Nosey Barstool, 6 February 2017
At this juncture we should point out that Mr. Barstool is a trained private investigator, and you should never try any of this at home.
Since your parents will never let you, do it at school instead (For legal reasons, we have to recommend you don’t do this either -Ed).
Also, dear reader: never hand over credit card details without the owner’s permission.
This has been an unintended public safety announcement courtesy of 12th Man.
But while Phoenix and Blue’s whereabouts remains a mystery, the case rolls on…