Our 12th man columnists discuss Latics’ FA Cup tie and last week’s draw with Blackburn...
Latics’ forwards had a rare off day on Saturday as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Blackburn Rovers.
Ivan Toney, Michael Jacobs, Gavin Massey and Nick Powell were not at their best in the blustery conditions, but it was the first time Latics had failed to score since the 1-0 reverse at Shrewsbury on September 9.
Blackburn will be amongst the promotion challengers and they defended in numbers throughout. But some fans were still quick to be critical of our failure to score. They believe that given Grigg’s injury problems and Toney’s lack of goals that Latics need to bring in another forward.
But it is hardly a crisis and a little patience is required by the fans as Latics have netted 29 times so far this season and are the highest scorers, along with Rotherham, in League One.
There is still plenty of time to assess Grigg’s fitness and see if Toney can start to get amongst the goals before the transfer window opens on January 1. Don’t forget Grigg netted 25 times in 2015/16 in League One and many of those goals came in the second half of the season.
Latics may feel they have a short-term problem but Saturday’s opponents Crawley Town have much bigger problems having netted only 12 times in their 16 league games.
The FA Cup is no respecter of league form but a home tie against League Two opposition gives Latics’ players a good opportunity to get back into scoring form. Crawley, in 19th, are in a poor run of form and have failed to win or score in their last four league games. Grigg is likely to return after injury against Crawley and you would expect him to be back amongst the goals if he is given the right service.
The FA Cup brings back fantastic memories of the biggest day in Latics’ history,
May 11, 2013, when they lifted the trophy. It would be great to see Latics have another long cup run and pit themselves against some of the top teams in the country.
I think manager Paul Cook will be giving the competition a high priority and I’m expecting him to field a strong team tomorrow. Cook is, of course, a former Latics player and he enjoyed some special cup games during his time on the pitch.
The young midfielder was a member of the squad which reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup in 1987 when they narrowly lost to Leeds United at Springfield Park. Cook understands the special place that the FA Cup holds in Latics’ history and I’m sure he will want to go as far as possible in the competition this season.
Disappointed? After seeing Latics win games and score goals this season, it would be natural to be a little disappointed after a nil all draw last Saturday.
Especially with Latics playing with an extra man for over half an hour. But Latics were no more going to win every game for the rest of the season, than Shrewsbury were going to go through the whole campaign unbeaten.
However this is not a bad result. Blackburn had a poor start to the season but they are not a bad team. They have a good defence (albeit not as good as ours) conceding only one more goal this season than we have (albeit fewer games). And while their attack is not brilliant (certainly not as good as ours), they do have some good players. Their recent form is also good (albeit not as good as ours) with three wins and a draw in the last five leading up to Saturday’s game.
So the result is not bad. The performance was not too bad either. Certainly not amongst the best of the season, but not bad. OK, the first half was poor but the second half had a lot more to keep us interested.
It did seem very windy – I think it would have been one of the worst days to be chosen to take part in the halftime ‘Shoot’ competition – but to be honest we cannot blame the conditions for a below-par performance or result after the previous week at Blackpool when we managed to score three goals and win during a monsoon.
On Saturday we had plenty of possession, went forward with purpose but seemed to lack the creativity required to create a clear cut chance or two. Towards the end of the game, we were piling on the pressure, but never really looked like unlocking their defence – especially when they had plenty of men back. I expected Gary Roberts to come on make the difference, but even he was unable to do it. Indeed Blackburn looked a little more dangerous on the break – it might have been better for Latics to give up some possession in order to get some more chances on the counter attack which could have stretched their defence and been more fruitful.
This was the first time that Latics have failed to score at home this season.
While drawing a blank is always disappointing, we should remember that last season we’d failed to trouble the scorers four times by the end of October. But the main difference between this and last season is the fact that we are now more entertaining to watch. Mind you that is not a huge boast when you remember just how boring we were in the early stages of last season. But on Saturday there was enough hope and enough action to keep the fans interested and to get us off our seats occasionally.
If Saturday was different to what we’ve seen, and enjoyed, so far this season, it was an even bigger contrast to what we saw, and endured, last term. The first blasts of winter weather made themselves know last weekend, but the second half, at least, was entertaining enough to keep out the worst of it. The games we didn’t score in usually felt a lot colder last season.
I’ve got to say although it wasn’t the three points that we all wanted on Saturday, I was relatively satisfied with the performance against Blackburn Rovers.
Blackburn are by far the best side I’ve seen Wigan face this season, and they caused us multiple problems going forward, which our defence did very well to deal with. I imagine Blackburn will be up there, possibly challenging us for the automatic promotion spots in May, as you only need to look at the calibre of players they have within their squad.
I sensed some form of disappointment that we weren’t able to take advantage of the sending off and capitalise on having an extra man. However, in situations like that, although there is a numerical advantage it is often tougher to win the game as teams are more than happy to sit back and take what they’ve got from the game. It proved to be the case as Blackburn put men behind the ball and looked to hit us with pace on the counter, which to be fair, could have been effective if it wasn’t for excellent defending.
I’m delighted that at this stage of the season Wigan are still unbeaten at home in all competitions, as it speaks volumes of us wanting to make the DW Stadium a fortress. Only Blackburn and Portsmouth have left the DW Stadium with something, and only a point when so. Wigan have only conceded twice at home in league action, which in November is remarkable. If Wigan want to gain promotion we must make the DW a fortress like we did under Caldwell in 2015-16, and we are certainly going about it in the right way if this season’s form has anything to do with it. With two home games coming up in the FA Cup and Checkatrade Trophy, it is a perfect chance to keep the run going, and building confidence at home.
One player I feel I need to give a special mention to is Max Power. Power was cut from the squad during the transfer window for circumstances that I don’t need to explain, and instead of sulking, and becoming disinterested, Power has worked hard, impressed on his opportunities, and has now asserted himself as a regular in the starting line-up. Love him or hate him, you cannot deny his commitment to the cause, and his performance against Blackburn was man-of-the match worthy.
Next up for Wigan is Crawley Town at the DW Stadium. The FA Cup is a special competition for Wigan and I personally always look forward to it. I think the Latics should progress and I feel it could be another good opportunity for our young lads to showcase their talent and make their claim for a first team spot. Following on is Accrington Stanley in the Checkatrade Trophy on Tuesday, and once again, it’s another great chance for our young lads to gain experience and show Cook and co what they can do.
Hopefully Wigan can progress in both competitions, and continue our unbeaten run of form.
I’m writing these notes very quickly, as I have a tin foil FA Cup to make to take to the game on Saturday as I’ve got CUP FEVER!!
To start at the beginning, the magic of the cup is often preceded by the magic of the draw for the cup. Though sadly this appears not to be the case this time, with absolutely no disrespect to our opponents, Crawley.
I remember being in the Pagefield once, and they had moved the draw to take place after the Saturday games. When we pulled out Blackpool away the whole pub erupted in delight!
Another more recent occasion relates to the story of how the former Dutch international Edgar Davids has become a God-like deity amongst Latics fans due to being the man who pulled out the ball for the 2013 FA Cup semi final draw.
History could have turned out very, very differently had we ended up playing Chelsea or Man City. There’s not a single Latics fan out there who doesn’t worship the man due to this random, innocuous, accidental act of kindness which went into folklore. Even stranger, it must have been the only occasion in the history of football history that somebody was desperate to play Millwall!
This year, they kept us on tenterhooks until the end, with a few “oohs”, “aahs” and “no, for Liddell’s sake, please not THEMs” being hurled at the telly from the Tarbuck couch. Given the handful of tasty and exotic sounding non-league teams left, there was perhaps a shred of disappointment when we drew Crawley at home.
Essentially, the holy grail in many fans’ eyes is an away tie, preferably somewhere obscure where they can tick a new ground off.
In the olden days, before our rise and fall, the objective was always to get to the third round and draw a big club. Yet, we have played and beaten them all and even won the whole blooming thing in recent years, so without sounding ungrateful it perhaps doesn’t have quite the same appeal as it once did.
The alternative school of thought is that we’re better off just getting easy games at home (though there are no easy games in football – copyright every football manager!) to progress with the minimum of fuss.
Yet, I feel we may be getting a little presumptuous in assuming that Crawley will roll over and we’ll be eagerly awaiting that draw again come Monday night.
The FA Cup has a habit (cliché alert again!) of generating upsets and giantkillings, and we are certainly not immune to that. Yet one thing you can say about Paul Cook is that he has installed a fantastic winning mentality about the club in every game.
So it would be a shock if we didn’t get through, but would it be a disaster given our primary goal is to win promotion? I suppose it depends whether you put pragmatism before misty eyed nostalgia.
Before kick-off on Saturday all the talk was of a point against Blackburn being a decent result, and so it came to pass. The first goalless draw in the tenure of Paul Cook as Latics manager and I’m not sure it’s a game anyone will remember fondly.
Blackburn came with an intention to get a point and that’s exactly what they got, speaking to Blackburn fans in the pub before the game they mentioned the defensive attitude that Tony Mowbray had employed and that was evident early on on Saturday.
Our flair players were isolated, Nick Powell, Michael Jacobs and Ivan Toney were on all on the receiving end of niggling fouls. Designed to break up play and stop us playing.
I thought after their sending off we may have made the extra man count but if anything Blackburn just sat further back, content to let us do all the pushing whilst their two banks of four soaked up all the pressure.
Fair play to Blackburn and indeed Mowbray because that tactic obviously worked. But my lord it’s dull, as dull as Tony Mowbray himself. It’s still early days and I expect Blackburn will get their act together as the season goes on but the early season predictions of Rovers running away with the league were wrong, at least at this stage.
Despite not being at our best through the match we still should have won the game, Gavin Massey’s attempt hitting the post was as close as we got. But still a point is a point, and the unbeaten record continues.
Can that unbeaten run continue in the cup again tomorrow? I’m sure a few sighs were heard amongst the WN postcodes at that draw. Crawley away would have generated some excitement as it would have been a new ground to tick off but Crawley at home doesn’t get the juices flowing for most I imagine.
But then it’s attitudes like that, that do a disservice to our Cup as it will always be. Crawley and their fans will be thrilled to test themselves against a club higher up the chain and one that was still holders of the FA Cup just four years ago.
From Paul Cook’s point of view how high up on the priority list is a cup run? I imagine not that high but winning is a good habit to get in to, and although the league is clearly king this season a decent run in the cup would be welcome.
Saturday gives the opportunity to rest a number of first teamers and see how the likes of Victor Maffeo, Tyler Golden and Adam Long cope against league opposition. If they perform as well as they have in the EFL trophy group stages it should be a good afternoon.
It’ll be interesting to see how the management deal with the Checkatrade Cup and game against Accrington Stanley three days later. Will it be a stronger side for the FA Cup or a similar side for both? Is Will Grigg going to make his return from injury?
Whatever happens it’s another fascinating week for the Latics.