The 12th Man Column: Only a blip, but Latics must get out of it now

Sam Morsy's booking against Blackpool means he will miss the FA Cup clash with Manchester City
Sam Morsy's booking against Blackpool means he will miss the FA Cup clash with Manchester City

Our 12th Man panel have their say on all things Wigan Athletic

Ian Aspinall

It is hard to comprehend what has happened to Latics in the last two games. The team, which was in such fine form and was unbeaten in 17 games, is now struggling to perform against average opponents.

The normally watertight defence now looks porous after conceding five goals, the midfield is now being outfought and the attack looks toothless scoring only one goal in those two games.

Southend had bounce under new manager Chris Powell and Blackpool are fighting for League One survival under Gary Bowyer but Latics have massively underachieved in these two games. Latics looked second best at Roots Hall and looked completely out of sorts at the DW on Tuesday night. They lacked energy and looked weary in comparison to their hardworking opponents.

The upcoming FA Cup tie against Manchester City may have been on the minds of the players but it was no excuse for a desperately disappointing display.

Paul Cook’s strategy of limited rotation has worked well until now, but is the high number of games played starting to catch up with the regular starting 11? The tight-knit squad has rewarded the manager with a great run of form but it now looks like it is time to make changes and start some of his new signings.

The defeat to Blackpool was further compounded by the two-match suspension of captain Sam Morsy and whoever has to take over from Morsy will have a big responsibility to protect the back four.

Tiredness, complacency and loss of form are all contributing factors in Latics’ current dip in form but whatever the reasons it is now up to Cook to manage the setbacks, give his players a confidence boost and get them to bounce back quickly.

It is not a time to panic but Cook now has a major task to revitalise his weary troops. Football fortunes can soon change but they must quickly recapture their form, or they could find themselves fighting it out in the play-off places.

Before Latics get back to league action they have a small matter of an FA Cup fifth round tie against Manchester City. It will be Latics’ hardest ever test against probably the best club side in the world. City thrashed Leicester City 5-1 on Saturday and swept aside Swiss Champions Basel 4-0 away in the Champions League while Latics were losing to Southend and Blackpool.

Pep Guardiola’s team look capable of winning an unprecedented quadruple. They are 16 points clear in the Premier League, are almost through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, are in the League Cup Final and are massive favourites to progress past Latics in the FA Cup.

Latics have an incredible recent track record against City in the FA Cup, memorably winning the final in 2013 and knocking them out in the quarter-final stage at the Etihad in 2014. But Latics are now a League One team and City have now moved up to a stratospheric level seemingly untouchable by mere mortal teams.

Martin Tarbuck

Uh oh! That wasn’t what we ordered. Do we need to start looking for wheels? Chasing those stray wheels around a deserted retail park in the early hours of Wednesday morning perhaps due to them apparently coming off.

Or maybe we’ve been found out! Guilty of the crime of winning football matches due to sleight of hand and Jedi mind tricks designed to instil fear in the opposition and hypnotise them into believing that we are a good football team when we are in fact predictable and completely useless?

Both above theories are utter rubbish I should add, but there is definitely something amiss at the minute and a need to freshen things up. It shouldn’t matter how we play: in this division nine times out of 10 we will have the better players on the field and the capability to beat the other lot.

Similarly, the desire and fight has been there in abundance all year and that combination of ability and work ethic has seen us home in many games. Yet now it has deserted us. Somehow, we need to re-start that process and maybe the distraction of the City cup game has been both a curse and a blessing.

The last two performances have been unacceptable but you can guarantee the same players will be running around like Tasmanian devils in front of the TV cameras on Monday night. Aside from the formidable opposition, it could provide a gentle buffer from our declining league fortunes and we can come out of the other side firing on all cylinders again.

Let’s face it, we need to! Blackburn and Shrewsbury fans will quite rightly have their tails up after our slip ups and look to capitalise. Our games in hand are relatively easy ones, but so were Southend and Blackpool on paper.

In some senses, it is a little unfair for any of the three of us to miss out, as indeed one of us will. If you extrapolate points achieved to date until the end of the season, Latics would have 97, Shrewsbury 95 and Blackburn 91. It’s a harsh league if any team exceeds 90 points and fails to get promoted.

By comparison, Luton in League Two are on 67 points after 33 games, are 10 points clear of the play offs and are only on course to hit 93 points. Last year in League One, Sheffield United smashed it with the much-fabled 100 points but Bolton squeezed into second with a mere 86 points.

Essentially, in any other season, any one of the three top teams would be clear by a distance already and it’s unfortunate that there are three strong sides scrapping it out. None of this help us though, especially given we have failed to stretch this with the last two results and a few disappointing 0-0 draws over Christmas and early January.

Even so, if we’d played and won the two games in hand, we’d be running towards a 99 points total now and be five points clear on 69 points. In any other year, we’d still be at least well clear of the play offs.

As it stands, we are the team in decline out of the top three, and far from suggesting that Shrewsbury or Blackburn might have a wobble, it seems to be our turn to give a passable impression of a plate of jelly going down Parbold Hill on a skateboard.

Let us hope that it is just a minor wobble, and an inspiring cup display on Monday can return our team’s form to its previous rock solid status. Otherwise, if we can’t finish in the top two, we may as well finish seventh given our record in the play-offs.

Jack Unsworth

As we have hit our first real blip of this season, losing two games in four days to League One strugglers Southend United and Blackpool, Manchester City have continued with their near perfect season.

After putting five past Leicester at home in the Premier League, which almost feels like the norm, they then went away to FC Basel in the Champions League, a ground where English teams have notoriously struggled at in recent years. However, Switzerland’s most famous team were no match for Pep’s Man City as the Blues were in complete control and cruising after 25 minutes. The game finished 4-0 and the tie is almost completely over at the midway point because of four away goals thanks to Bernardo Silva, Sergio Agüero and a double from İlkay Gündoğan. With City showing no signs of slowing down, Monday could be a difficult watch for Latics supporters, especially without captain Samy Morsy, but who knows? If anyone can beat them, then it’s probably us.

With their next game after Latics being a domestic cup final against Arsenal, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Mr Guardiola to field a SLIGHTLY weakened team (despite it still costing hundreds of millions of pounds).

Claudio Bravo will probably be in between the sticks, and Latics fans will be praying he is too. The Chilean stopper has always had a mistake in him. City could also field an entire second-string defence consisting of: Danilo, John Stones, Aymeric Laporte and Fabian Delph – it would still set you back £140 million.

The midfield trio of Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne and İlkay Gündoğan have dominated matches in the Premier League for weeks on end now and you’d imagine two of them may be rested. Our old friend Yaya Touré will probably get a run out along with arguably City’s greatest ever player in David Silva. Good luck Max Power!

They also have an array of attacking options. It is unlikely Pep will risk either Leroy Sané or Gabriel Jesus after both of them only recently returned to training from long-term injuries, so sadly for him he’s probably stuck with just Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Agüero.

As far as we’re concerned, there are three notable players missing for our glamour tie under the lights at the DW. Morsy is suspended after his needless yellow card on Tuesday night, and forwards James Vaughan and Devante Cole are both cup tied.

Jay Fulton is the man most likely to replace Morsy in front of the back four, and with wingers Gavin Massey and Michael Jacobs both starting to tire, we could maybe expect to see a change out wide.

Former Hearts wide man Jamie Walker will be itching to make his first start and Ryan Colclough will probably feel frustrated at his lack of minutes lately.

No realistic Wiganer will be expecting a win on Monday night, but 100 per cent from every player is the minimum we ask for, and then we’ll take it from there. It’s not like we’ve done it twice before or anything…

Sean Livesey

What a difference a week makes. This time last week I was waxing lyrical about Latics’ performance against Gillingham and how easy they made it look.

Then came not one but two poor defeats which led to Latics falling away from top spot and surrendering an unbeaten record, that stretched back all the way to November.

The disappointing thing with the last week isn’t the defeats, getting beaten is the nature of the game - we weren’t going to go through the rest of the season undefeated.

What is certainly disappointing is the nature of both defeats. Southend had picked up recently under Chris Powell and gave as good as they got but there was an air of Latics simply turning up on Saturday.

Tuesday picked up where Saturday left off and any hope of that attitude disappearing on Tuesday was gone by half time.

A Blackpool side in a wretched run of form managed to get themselves two goals to the good and frankly Latics never looked like getting back into the game.

Now there’s two ways of looking at this, the positive version is that we’ve hardly had a blip all season and maybe this is that blip now. Even so, we’ve still a good number of games in hand on those sides around us and are in the FA Cup fifth round. Not much to complain about when you look at it like that.

An alternative view is that we’re struggling to break down defensive sides, our league form at home is poor and a number of players look out on their feet.

I tend to agree that a lot of the players look tired and I’ve been surprised that we haven’t made more of the squad at our disposal. Perhaps it’s time for a couple of changes to freshen up the side.

The key is bouncing back, and bouncing back quickly. Unfortunately we’re about to face the best team in the country if not the world.

So on to Monday night’s game, in the aftermath of last night’s defeat there was a lot of anger aimed towards the players and management, accusing them of taking their eye of the ball in relation to the league.

There may be some truth to that but equally even if it has become a distraction Monday’s game is one of the biggest we’ve had in a long while.

Paul Cook, the management team and all of the players have earned the right to go out and enjoy Monday night. For many of our younger players it will be the biggest match of their careers.

Realistically we aren’t going to get the win, realistically we will be outclassed and realistically we’re probably looking at three defeats in a row. But and here’s the but, football doesn’t always go to plan. Look at our matches with Monday’s opponents in 2013 and 2014 for evidence of that.

There’s a lot of anger, and a lot of disappointment around at the minute. So is the nature of football, but let’s not forget what a fantastic season we’ve had so far and how well the club and Paul Cook have done since he joined in the summer.

Let’s go out on Monday night and show the country what we’re about. Yes we may get beaten, we may even get battered but if we play at the best of our abilities and don’t leave anything on the pitch we could have a chance. However slim it is, it’s a chance nonetheless.

And what better way to bounce back than putting in a positive performance against Pep Guardiola’s side?

Paul Middleton

It seems that every upbeat contribution I make to this column is cursed. I whisper that we might still have a chance at 100 points, and we draw the next three home games 0-0. I mention that these are good times to be a Latics fan, and we lost two on the trot. I’m thinking of going back to my old, miserable self, just so we start winning again.

The takeover chatter has all gone quiet, so we’re really no better informed than we were this time last week. Ticket sales for the City game seem to have gone reasonably well. A very quick glance shows there are probably about 1,500 tickets left in the South Stand, but only a couple of hundred each in the West and East. No doubt the pubs of Wigan will be full of fans of other clubs come Monday night, all laughing at little Latics and our rubbish support. Each one of them too stupid or too ignorant to realise the irony in what they’re saying.

Many of them, of course, will be Wigan rugby fans, despising Latics like they would soap and water. They’ll be proclaiming their absolute commitment and adoration for their town, whilst cheering on United in the Brocket every week.

Dave Whelan always had the dream of two teams, one town but he was miles off the mark. So many people in Wigan support so many football clubs other than Latics, that it’s a battle that he can never win.

Wigan is a football town, of that there’s no doubt. It doesn’t matter what rugby fans tell you, or lazy journalists in the national press, there are many times more football fans than the rugby men can dream of.

Unfortunately, as mentioned, their allegiance isn’t always towards their home town club. The saddest thing is that I really don’t know what else Latics can do to get more people in.

Tickets are cheap, corporate deals are such a bargain that it’s a wonder any money can be made on the price, especially to season ticket holders. The club do try just about everything possible to get more Wiganers to watch Latics, often with little appreciation. If they promised to give people a fiver just for turning up, social media would probably be full of people asking why it’s not a tenner.

Why are Wiganers like that? I have no idea.

We are, it seems, a naturally cynical people but there must surely be more to it than that.

Despite recent results, we’re winning a lot more games than not, we’re playing flowing, high-scoring football and we seem to have a manager and set of players who actually want to play for Latics. Believe it or not, playing for Wigan Athletic isn’t generally the dream for most young footballers. And yet Nick Powell, possibly the most naturally gifted player we’ve ever had, chose to stick around.

The club are doing most things right, the team are doing most things right, but still it’s a battle within our own town just to recognised. It just wouldn’t happen anywhere else.