The 12th Man: Our panel of Latics experts have their say

Dan Burn

Dan Burn

Goalless draws aren’t usually the most inspiring of football results.

And Wigan-Fulham has certainly seen its fair share of insipid matches.

Saturday’s stalemate against the Cottagers was the third 0-0 draw since the 2006/2007 season.

Incidentally this was also the last year we managed to get all three points against them.

As dull as a goalless draw against Fulham may seem, it could be seen as somewhat of a turning point in an underwhelming start to Wigan Athletic’s season.

For the first time since the game against Blackburn in the middle of August, Latics kept a clean sheet against one of the more potent Championship strikeforces.

We managed to stop a run of straight defeats, and the defence looked more of a settled unit.

Dan Burn, who had received most of the fury from the Latics faithful in the first few weeks of the season, put in a strong, competent display at the heart of the defence.

All we failed to do was score.

Gary Caldwell has been steadfast in the support of his side and his belief that a run of decent results is just around the corner.

The weak point throughout the season has been our defence and, despite that, our goal difference is only minus 2.

That compares favourably to Rotherham directly above us, who have a goal difference of minus 11, and Blackburn directly below us with a goal difference of minus 7.

Friday night already has the feel of a season-defining game to it. And although I’m not one for the more dramatic and theatrical reactions to our results, this one could go one of two ways.

It’s the first time we’ve played Preston in 11 years and, although the rivalry has never been as fierce as that with the club up the road in Horwich, we had our fair share of battles in the 90’s and early 00’s.

Preston sit three places – but, crucially, only a point – in front of us. And a win under the floodlights on Sky could give tus the boost and the spark we’ve been looking for.

Similar to the Gillingham game in January last year, but for very different reasons, it could beseason-defining.

Lose, and the pressure on Gary and the side could be telling.

So it’s off to Deepdale again, with memories of Jason Roberts and Stuart Barlow still fresh in the mind.

How nice it would be to see one of the present day’s line-up write themselves in to Wigan folklore like those two did.

SEAN LIVESEY

Nathan Byrne made his home debut against Fulham.

He came on after 31 minutes, replacing the stricken Alex Gilbey, the latest player to fall foul of the right back/wing back curse.

Donervon Daniels, Kyle Knoyle, Reece Burke, Luke Burke and now Gilbey all suffering injuries while playing in that position, and we are just eight games into the season.

You could forgive Byrne for demonstrating loudly that he is NOT a right back/wing back, not a number 2.

I swear I heard him scream on Saturday that he is anything but and wants to be considered a right-sided player, sometimes defending other times attacking.

Who can blame him!

It is becoming known as the Wabara effect, in recognition of our last ‘continuous’ player in that position, Reece Wabara - despite being fully fit, despite being just 24 and having bags of experience playing right back - is still without a club following his release from the Latics at the end of last season.

Hopefully, Byrne can bring some stability there.

We don’t want to see Yanic or Max Power thrust back in and looking totally lost.

The defence against Fulham looked far more competent than of late.

Dan Burn and Jake Buxton had solid games in the centre, and they were ably assisted by Shaun MacDonald, who was outstanding in his defensive midfield role.

The physicality of Chris Martin and then Matt Smith was dealt with admirably, and looks a good platform for the rest of the season.

Byrne brought balance, and he also had the Fulham left side pushed back when he ventured up field.

He has pace to Byrne –pardon the pun – and gives us another edge offensively.

With Preston coming up this evening at Deepdale, pace on the counter could be a viable weapon in our armoury.

Back in 2004, when we had the resounding 4-2 victory, we started the game with a classic counter-attacking goal from Jason Roberts.

With Byrne down the right and Yanic down the left, who’d bet against us terrorising the North End defence into submission?

Hopefully the ‘Wabara’ effect will settle down now, and we can slot Byrne in to become a long-term fixture in the right-wing back position.

He looks a great acquisition and on first glimpse promises to be a vital cog in our system.

Up the Tics!

BARRY WORTHINGTON

First of all, I’m glad Gary Caldwell saw the light and changed from five at the back to a flat back four.

His consistency with the 4-3- 3 formation over the last couple of games has improved our performances, even if we are still waiting for just our second win of the season.

It has also brought the best out of certain individuals who had previously been the victims of some criticism, namely Dan Burn and Shaun MacDonald, who both look more comfortable playing in the 4-3- 3 system Caldwell implements.

The 0-0 draw at home to Fulham was neither good or bad, but it was better.

Importantly, it stopped the rot of four consecutive defeats and we actually kept a clean sheet – something we have really struggled to do so far.

Now I’m looking ahead to Friday, and it doesn’t really get any bigger than this.

Away at Preston for the first time in 11 years, tied in with the potential early threat of relegation for both sides mean it’s quite the game on paper.

They may have won down at Bournemouth in the EFL Cup on Tuesday, but that’s a long way to travel in midweek.

Some of their key first-team players were involved in the full 90 minutes plus extra-time down at Dean Court, so they might be slightly jaded.

However, I don’t want to be relying on exterior factors such as tiredness.

I’d love us to put in a cracking performance which gets us the result on our own terms.

Maybe we might even scrape a win at Deepdale to spark our season into life.

Who knows?

KIERAN MAKIN

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the future of televised soccerball in the United States of Kingdom: Friday Nite Footbawwwl™!

(Portable smoke machines kick into ‘Super Pink Floyd’ mode. Cut to studio exterior for commencement of a minute-long firework display complete with double dubstep and chip [s]hop soundtrack.)

The way forward is clearly the past – the 1980s, to be precise.

Two presenters of a certain teatime word puzzle show screaming across the studio at a third, who is fiddling endlessly with their interactive game board.

Here, the latter is Mr. Scouse Neville-Wannabe with a tabletop Ms. Pacman game he procured from the antique shop at a ‘reduced rate’.

Over in ‘Dick Advocaat Corner’, bearded researchers thumb 40 years of archived Ceefax pages, inserting their pointy camera-on- a-stick into places never before seen on British television.

It’s enough to make Carol Vorderman’s eyes water.

Meanwhile, in air-conditioned living quarters from Penistone to Cockermouth, observers spew the footballing equivalent of non-standard words comprising eight consonants and no vowels.

And with clicktivist neologisms being added to the Oxford English Dictionary on a yearly basis, who’s to say any of them are incorrect?

But of course, I wouldn’t know about any of this because I don’t even have a television – something I must prove to beef-bound TV license goons on a daily basis.

As far as I’m concerned, ‘Countdown’ is one third of a hair metal song with a distinctly 80s keytar hook line.

And of course, you won’t be subjected to any of the above as you’ll be watching live in real life definition at Deepdale, which thankfully remains outside the jurisdiction of archaic broadcast standards.

…As of now, that is. But those ‘improvements’ will one day arrive at every Football League ground – this is, after all, the future of English Footsoccer.

The man on the TV told me so, Jeff.

DAN FARRIMOND

As far as football matches go, last weekend’s goalless draw with Fulham won’t live long in the memory. However, it does stop the rot after four defeats on the bounce.

Last week, I stated we’ve only failed to score on one occasion so far in the league.

So the inevitable happened and we drew a blank in front of goal for the second time this season.

There weren’t many clear-cut chances throughout the 90 minutes for either side, as we only mustered one shot on target which came late into the second half.

Looking ahead towards tonight’s Lancashire derby against Preston, this was a fixture I certainly looked at first when they were announced.

It’s been 11 years since we’ve played a competitive game at Deepdale, so hopefully it’ll be worth the wait.

I feel the game tonight will be huge for both teams as neither team has set the Championship alight as of yet. Also, Preston will certainly have a point to prove after they shipped five goals away to Brentford last Saturday.

Usually there’s goals whenever these two teams meet, so it’s definitely got the making to be a match to remember.

JOE O’NEILL

Latics will be looking to move above local rivals Preston and out of the bottom three with a victory tonight at Deepdale.

Both teams are struggling for a run of consistent form, with Latics having only gained one point in their last five league games, and the Lilywhites having won two in five.

Preston were hammered 5-0 at Brentford last Saturday although they defeated Bournemouth after extra time in the League Cup on Tuesday.

Manager Simon Grayson lamented his players’ for their ‘kamikaze performance’ at Griffin Park and a similar display would certainly ease Latics’ task at Deepdale.

There were plenty of signs of improvement for Latics against Fulham last Saturday.

They were more solid in defence with none of the individual errors that have blighted the team’s early-season results.

Going forward they created plenty of chances and with a better final cross/pass and a little luck they would have taken all three points.

Shaun MacDonald had his best game in Wigan colours, and is starting to show why he was signed as a replacement for Sam Morsy.

The Wales international midfielder won important tackles, passed the ball effectively and provided good protection for the back four.

Latics will be looking to exploit Preston’s defensive vulnerabilities and, with Will Grigg in the team, they are always capable of getting a good result.

Service to the prolific marksman will be a crucial aspect if they are to be successful.

Latics have the players who can provide the ammunition for Grigg with Jordi Gomez, Michael Jacobs and Yanic Wildschut all prominent creators.

Jacobs has had a good start to the season but there is a feeling he is still capable of more in the final third.

Wildschut can sometimes be a frustrating player, as he can more often than not beat his marker but his final cross or shot can let him down.

The Dutchman has great pace and, if he can just be more consistent with his final ball, he will be a top player in the Championship.

Jordi Gomez was in great form against Fulham and his quality passing set up some excellent chances for Latics.

In a tight game when space can be at a premium every team needs a player who can play the pass that nobody else can see.

Jordi’s ability to find the killer pass and his delivery from set-pieces could have a big say on the final result at Deepdale.

IAN ASPINALL

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