The 12th Man Column: Reasons to keep the faith

Ian Aspinall wants to see more players follow Will Griggs example of finding the back of the net
Ian Aspinall wants to see more players follow Will Griggs example of finding the back of the net

In the early stages of this season, we were free-scoring but our defence was extremely leaky.

We were the reverse of the old cliché: ‘you score three goals we’ll score four’.

The last-minute 4-3 loss away at Nottingham Forest was a prime example of that.

However, fast forward to the present day and we’re in a completely opposite predicament than we were back then.

We’ve improved defensively, conceding just two goals in four games while keeping clean sheets in two of those matches.

But because we’ve concentrated on improving our defence so much, it seems like we’ve almost forgotten how to score goals.

The bottom line is that Wigan Athletic are unbeaten in four games.

Having said that, our recent inability to find the back of the net has prevented us from winning, climbing the table and getting away from the danger of the relegation zone.

I can understand the frustrations vented by some of our fans with the lack of victories, because when teams around us have played each other some of them have capitalised.

For example, we drew 0-0 at home to Burton Albion last Saturday (which we easily could have won), whereas Blackburn Rovers defeated Forest 2-1 at Ewood Park on Tuesday night.

BUT, I can see why our unbeaten run can be taken positively by Gary Caldwell and the players, even if the majority of it is made up of draws.

Consistency is key in this league and, after a tough start to life back in the Championship, I feel as though we’re finally getting to grips to the task that’s ahead of us.

I have no doubt that Latics’ challenge this campaign is to avoid relegation, but I also have no doubt that our squad has enough quality to create chances, score goals and, ultimately, start turning single point into a few much-needed three points.

Keep the faith!

Kieran Makin

It’s all in the name

Warning: This article contains references to Wigan Athletic’s catastrophic 2014-15 season. If you do not wish to recover heavily repressed memories – look away now. Also: do not read the previous sentence.

Gaetan Bong, you are now and forever a Wigan Athletic legend.

Not necessarily for your footballing achievements, but the fact your name bears a striking resemblance to Big Ben’s entire vocabulary.

Or maybe one of those holes the Great Cornholio from Beavis and Butthead was so obsessed with. (“I need TP for my bonghole.”)

Even now I am tempted to list off at least six and a half dozen groan worthy puns, bittersweet throwbacks to the otherwise unspeakable era of Malcolm cough–kay.

To see Bong’s name on the team sheet was a rare moment of joy in an otherwise dismal six months of torturous gazing through the stinging haze of tear-stained eyeballs.

“Bong dulls the pain of another spirit-crushing Fortune-Holt comedy show.” – Headline in an unnamed publication, March 2015.

These days, however, our old chum Gaetan must work much harder to impress his new supporters at Brighton and Hove Albion.

With team-mates such as Richie ‘Beach’ Towell, Lewis ‘The Wheat Biscuit’ Dunk, Sam ‘Baldrick’ Baldock and Bruno ‘Just Bruno’ Bruno at the club, one must rely more on pure sawker skills to seize control of local newspaper headlines.

And that’s not to mention Elvis Manu.

Nominative determinism dictates that just like Arsene Wenger was destined for Arsenal, or like Jason Scotland was destined to play for Scotland Island (New South Wales), the ‘Ghanaian Elvis’ will surely find himself scooping up horse muck on a farm one day.

…Oh sorry, I meant to say ‘scooping up muck at Manure United’ there.

Massive apologies for that oversight, which was surely a simple slip of the forked tongue!

I’d also like to point out that ‘Manure United’ and ‘Man U’ are two completely different clubs.

One is the home of buck-toothed donkeys, the other, well…

Hmm, maybe I should have actually taken the time to watch these guys play football instead of writing a crummy ‘match preview’ based solely on names listed in the Brighton Wikipedia entry.

Again.

Dan Farrimond

Turn draws into wins

Even though we currently sit in the bottom three of the Championship, performances and results seem to be heading in the right direction.

A last-gasp equaliser at Elland Road from Shaun MacDonald gained us back-to-back draws on the road, stretching our unbeaten run in the league to four games.

The never-say-die attitude is what you can say about our team.

We saw it endless times last season and yet again we’re seeing it this season.

Furthermore, one thing I’ve noticed in the first 13 games back in the Championship is you will certainly be punished for any defensive mistakes you make.

Last week, I praised the turnaround in form of Dan Burn so it was right on cue that it was his error which lead to the opening goal on Tuesday.

I still feel, we’re playing far too negatively at times, and Gary Caldwell needs to loosen the reins a little.

It’ll only be then when we’ll see the best from this team.

We started on Tuesday with Perkins, Power and MacDonald in midfield.

Do we really need to play all three?

In some ways they all do the same job on the field, sit, hold and protect the defence.

The second-half introduction of Craig Morgan in the past two games seems a little odd.

I was surprised to see Morgan come on the field on Tuesday, as we were 1-0 down and had two strikers in Le Fondre and Davies on the bench, when we were desperate for a goal.

Also I’ve seen in recent weeks a few fans getting restless at Bogdan trying to pass the ball out from the back, which sometimes always doesn’t happen, so he kicks it up the field anyway.

But I can see Caldwell’s thinking from playing out from the back.

His style of play is all about possession, plus we aren’t graced with much height in the side either.

Nevertheless, hopefully tomorrow’s home game against Brighton can be the start of turning all these draws into wins.

Joe O’Neill

Turning draws into wins

Latics are now unbeaten in four games after the 1-1 draw at Elland Road on Tuesday night. Overall they have drawn five games and three in their last four. They remain in 23rd spot in the Championship, but it is surely only a matter of time before they get the points their performances deserve and they start to climb the table.

The performances against Brentford, Burton and Leeds have been very good and with a little luck and some better finishing the points total could be so much better. Gary Caldwell will be acutely aware that if the team had accrued six more points they would now be sitting comfortably in mid-table.

The team spirit, determination and commitment of the players cannot be faulted. They have shown they are a hard team to beat but they now need to turn the draws into wins and they will be able to move out of the relegation zone.

There’s no doubting that this is a tight division were any team is capable of beating another on the day. But what are the reasons why Latics aren’t turning the draws into victories? Some would argue that it is because we don’t play with two central strikers. But we are still creating plenty of chances and yet we are not converting them.

Will Grigg is our top scorer with six goals but no other player has scored more than one goal and I think this is where the problem lies. Our midfield players haven’t scored the goals like they did last season. Latics have seven players on one goal but then that’s it. Our midfield players and wingers just aren’t contributing enough goals.

Michael Jacobs scored 10 last season and has only scored one so far, Yanic Wilsdchut scored seven and Max Power scored six and both have yet to score this season. Nick Powell probably had his best game for Latics at Leeds but he needs to be adding more goals to his repertoire. Jordi Gomez is another creative player who should be chipping in with more goals.

Midfielder Shaun MacDonald claimed an important first goal for the club at Leeds and it is time that others got in on the act. It was always going to take awhile for the team to adapt to the Championship but now is the time for the midfield players to take more responsibility and ensure that they get on the score sheet. Latics have a tough game coming up against third-placed Brighton but with more goal-scoring input from the midfielders they are capable of claiming the three points.

Ian Aspinall

Given some hope

A week in football, as the saying goes, is a long time, the mood of supporters can swing dramatically over this period. Go back seven days and we had three games on the horizon in increasing severity, a five-point return from these three games seemed at the time, to me at least, a good target to aim for. Without doubt the less difficult affair and the game I expected the win from was Burton Albion. The result against the Brewers may have been disappointing to say the least, but the performance was an absolute shocker.

The midfield was totally overrun for the first 45 minutes, we never got out of the blocks and Burton, who aren’t a top side by any stretch of the imagination, looked a class apart. We struggled to match their intensity, we looked leggy, possession was sloppy and we had no creativity or quality in the final third. The second half Burton just sat back and it was a very comfortable day out for them, we created just one clear chance in the whole game, Adam Le Fondre’s first half effort which he chipped over the bar when one on one with the Burton goalie. Powell and Jacobs had an effort apiece late on but neither troubled the keeper.

The result and performance left me fearing the worst, as a friend remarked, “we made Burton look like Barcelona in the first 45 minutes and that worries me.”

The performance at Leeds was in total contrast, much more fire, hard work, we kept the ball well and showed a spirit and togetherness to battle all the way which led to Shaun MacDonald’s late, late equaliser.

That willingness to do battle and graft for the ball may or may not be coincidental to the fact that David Perkins was back in the starting line-up at Elland Road. Oh, how we have missed Perks these past few weeks! He is a tidy enough player, sure enough, but he brings much more to the game, he never shuts up, cajoling, organising and chastising his teammates. He keeps the players around him on their toes and on top of their games.

We squared up to a form side and gave as good as we got, we showed that we are a team with spirit and a willingness and ability to fight, the result, but more particularly the performance, lifted my hopes.

Now we move onto the most difficult encounter of the three-game run, high flying Brighton at the DW Stadium on Saturday. The Seagulls have started the season off in great form, they have quality strikers in their ranks and in Anthony Knockaert they have a player that will be in the Premier League next season, whether it is with his current club or not remains to be seen.

If we can replicate Tuesday’s efforts then I am confident we can get something positive from the game, it will be a tough encounter, but we need to be at it from the off. Following last Saturday’s performance I thought this season was gone for a Burton, but what happened on Tuesday Leeds me to believe we are a United club, if we can follow this up with three points at the weekend my mood will definitely Brighton, but come what may Albion the DW cheering the lads along.

Up the tics!

Barry Worthington

It’s a struggle

I was listening to the commentary on Tuesday night when co-commentator and Latics’ head of media, Ed Jones uttered the immortal words, “well I don’t think anyone can be critical of that performance”. I hope you didn’t log on to social media on the way home Ed! Let’s make no bones about it, we’re struggling right now. There is of course a positive spin which tells us that factually we are unbeaten in our last four, but we are sufficiently far down the table that draws are of limited use and only a couple of quickfire wins will satisfy the need to haul us out of the drop zone. I struggle to reconcile and legitimise the criticism of Gary Caldwell mainly due to the inconsistency of it. Depending on which way the wind blowing, he’s either trying to reinvent the wheel by changing it every single game; or it’s his naïve stubbornness and inflexibility which is costing us dearly. See what I mean?

The bottom line is that if any football club is in the bottom three of any division, then there are going to be unhappy fans, I wouldn’t expect anything else. However, I suppose we need to understand whether this perceived demise is a short term blip or something of a more long term nature.

From my perspective, there are two key indicators. Firstly, there is the manner in which we are losing or drawing. We are lacking the quality to win games but we are not losing them badly. A small, incremental improvement can easily turn one-goal defeats into draws and draws into victories. Secondly, the players appear to be playing for the manager. The effort and application is there in most parts, albeit a certain ex-Crewe and Man United protégé could do with pulling his tripe out a bit given his unquestionable talent. Look at the reaction to our late equaliser for further evidence. Ultimately, things either get better, get worse or stay the same and at the minute I’d say our form has broadly been the same the last few games. One win will get us out of the relegation places and two wins would probably give us the breathing space to stay out of there and moving towards the promised land of mid table. If things remain the same ‘til Christmas or get worse, then I am sure the clamour for a managerial change will only heighten, especially given that clubs all around us appear to be pulling the trigger. My question would be however, what guarantees do we have that the next bloke would be any better? There are no guarantees, we know this from personal experience. These are tricky times. Fine margins are all well and good as an explanation but a couple of convincing results are what’s really needed if we are to get our season off to a belated start….

Martin Tarbuck