The 12th Man: A big win at Birmingham and a pivotal clash against Bristol City
A tale of two away games.
I can safely say I’ve never seen anything as dismal as that performance at Blackburn on Saturday.
The only matches that even come close were a few of those that immediately preceded it.
I am just one voice, some bloke who has done quite a bit of writing about the club he loves over the past 30 years.
I get accused online quite a lot indirectly of a lot of things, the only printable one being “having an agenda” – whatever that means.
Yet the fact is I quickly become irrelevant when my sole penned thoughts become far outweighed by the scenes off mass discontent at both Blackburn and Forest at home, when it felt like the whole crowd was turning on the manager and his ultra-cautious tactics.
It has not been a happy camp in recent weeks but, somehow, we are still fighting following a gritty display at Birmingham and an (accidentally?) more attacking line-up.
To try and capture up the mood of the wider fanbase is difficult to understand the malaise given the many contrary opinions out there.
But I don’t think that significant majority are demanding that much.
We want to see a team that is set up to go for it and at least attempts to get in the opposition half and score goals, as we are fighting for our lives and draws are no use whatsoever.
If we assume Birmingham are safe then the two six-pointers either side against Forest and Blackburn have yielded just one point and ceded four to our relegation rivals.
With Bristol City also now sucked into the quicksand, we really need to win this game and win it well for once.
It’s perhaps not over-dramatic to suggest that the whole future of the club is at stake over the next few games at home.
Just like two years ago, mainly due to the way we set up, home wins have been non-existent.
There is no doubt we will see a significant drop in season-ticket holders next year who feel somewhat cheated by the complete absence of goals and wins on offers, which will ultimately affect budget in future years and the general appetite of the Whelan family to put money in to keep us going.
By all means let’s go away to Newcastle and Brighton and look to keep it tight, but to do the same at home is inexcusable and a recipe for trouble.
Wigan nil is no use.
A draw is no use, it will only maintain the status quo, which is we’re going down.
Given we have to play the aforementioned two, plus I doubt Reading or Leeds will be in forgiving mood unless they are safely in the play-offs, then the bottom-half battles are absolutely critical.
And because we are currently in the weakest position of the strugglers, then we really are at the do-or-die stage.
So for Liddell’s sake, let’s play like it!
This week’s article has a distinctly more positive feel to it than I originally had planned.
The reason for that?
Well after seemingly being dead and buried on Saturday evening, Latics in typical Latics fashion got a crucial win at Birmingham on Tuesday to throw themselves right back in to the survival mix.
Let’s not kid ourselves, one swallow does not make a summer, and Latics still have serious problems that need addressing. But that Dan Burn-inspired win can be the catalyst to something more.
The game against Blackburn reflected everything bad about Warren Joyce’s time in charge so far.
Ponderous in possession, balls hit long to no-one in particular, and so little attacking intent it may have well as been a training game.
Not what was needed in one of the more crucial matches of the season against your nearest rivals.
Joyce made a surprise appearance in the stands and, despite the club saying Graham Barrow and Andy Welsh would be in charge, it was clearly still a Joyce-managed side. Even if he wasn’t on the touchline.
Although I respect the manager’s commitment to the cause, Saturday should have been left to his assistants.
Especially when you look at the confusion and mixed messages over the second-half substitutions.
Graham Barrow said in the post-match interview that Latics sill simply have to gamble more to achieve their aims of staying up this season.
An honest assessment of our problems? Or a coded message to Warren Joyce?
Whatever it was, there were indeed changes made on Tuesday.
Gabriel Obertan made his first start for the club – as a winger – Alex Gilbey was back in an attacking midfield role and Max Power came in for Ryan Tunnicliffe.
It was ironic then that, with all that extra attacking talent on the pitch, it was once again a defender who got the goal.
Burn, so maligned when he first arrived, must be a shoo-in for player of the season.
His performances, under both Gary Caldwell and Joyce, have been fantastic.
The three points did nothing in terms of position, but it has those sides above us looking over their shoulders.
We need to follow Tuesday up with a win against Bristol City on Saturday.
Nothing less will do now, because we arguably need another five wins to reach the required points total.
We’ve 10 games left so we need play-off form to reach that. It’s not impossible, but it is difficult.
Let’s make it easy on ourselves and get that home win on Saturday.
The ‘Believe’ bus isn’t back yet, but it’s having a service and oil change in readiness.
Of the two games this past week, if we were to choose just one to win, then it would surely have been the Blackburn game.
But in true Wigan Athletic fashion, we do it the opposite way around.
An absolute dreadful display at Ewood Park, coupled with the shambolic substitution fiasco that was more akin to a Chuckle Brothers sketch than a professional football game, left the Latics fans rightly venting their anger.
Another game when, needing the three points, we set up to gain just the one and inevitably ended up with nothing.
The players in the local press and on their social media accounts talk about the need to get at teams and have a go.
We need wins, yet we set up in the most defensive an unimaginative way that just encourages sides on to us.
Have the coaching staff not grasped the concept that three teams will be relegated at the end of the season?
On to Tuesday, and we go and get a win, away at Birmingham, who are having problems of their own.
But take nothing away from the effort that the players put in to keep a clean sheet.
It was definitely a smash-and-grab but, at this stage, three points is three points.
Just don’t allow it to mask the serious deficiencies in our set-up and tactics.
Once again we invited a team on to us, we scored a goal through a set-piece and then defended like Trojans for the rest of the game.
There was a slight change in set-up, though it appears to have been forced upon us with injuries to MacDonald and Tunnicliffe, and suspension for Morsy.
Obertan and Gilbey got starts and they brought a little more attacking intent in the early stages of the game.
However, both clearly aren’t fit enough for 90 minutes at the moment.
We have 10 games left, starting with Bristol City on Saturday, and we need 16 points from those final 10 games to secure the magical 50 points that most people agree is the minimum target for safety.
To put that into context, our last 10 games have yielded 11 points.
With trips to Newcastle, Ipswich, Brighton and Reading to come, the pressure is on to improve our home form.
This has been a big downfall this campaign, and those final six home games need to see winning performances.
Again to contextualise, we have won just once in the league at the DW since beating Wolves back in September, and failed to score in nine of the following 12 games.
We won’t turn that around starting games with eight defenders on the pitch.
Up the Tics!
Dan Burn secured an essential three points for Latics at Birmingham on Tuesday, and the result keeps them in touch with the teams above them.
It was a hard-fought if unspectacular victory which will relieve some of the pressure on Warren Joyce.
Poor displays against Nottingham Forest and Blackburn made Joyce’s position tenuous, but the midweek win was a lifeline for the beleaguered boss. However, Saturday’s must-win againstBristol City could decide his fate.
The Robins are just one point ahead of Latics with 10 games to play, and have lost 14 of their last 21 matches.
Latics’ last six games have yielded two wins, two draws and two defeats, and those games have generally been against teams around them.
But they will have to face some tough fixtures against teams in the top half in the run-in.
The most worrying statistic about the last six games has been the lack of goals from open play.
Latics have only scored three goals in those six games, and they have all come from set-pieces, with Dan Burn and Jake Buxton scoring from corners at Birmingham and Wolves, and Omar Bogle from the penalty spot at QPR.
If this trend continues it’s likely to cost Latics their Championship status.
It is beneficial that they have started to score goals from set-pieces but they also need to create more opportunities from open play.
Joyce has a defensive mindset and is preoccupied with stopping the opposition rather than attacking.
This fear factor means his teams are unlikely to be successful in the long-term.
Unless the manager is prepared to select more players in attacking positions and encourage them to get into the penalty area, then they are unlikely to score enough goals to win enough games.
The manager once again used Bogle as the lone striker against Birmingham, and he was isolated for long periods.
Bogle needs support through the middle and either Will Grigg, if fit, or Mikael Mandron should play alongside him against Bristol City.
Latics also need width, and they need to select players who can go past defenders.
There is no point in selecting players in wide positions if they cannot go past their opponent.
Both Obertan and Jacobs can fulfil the wide roles, and get crosses into the box – if the manager gives them the license to do so.
What a difference a victory makes. What a difference a few days make.
It’s safe to say the 1-0 loss at Blackburn last Saturday seemed as though it signalled an end to the season.
I thought there was no way we’d be able to get out of trouble after that.
But the 1-0 victory against Birmingham on Tuesday means it’s game on again!
It was a complete contrast of performance as to what we saw against Blackburn.
We actually attacked, at times causing Birmingham some real problems.
Alex Gilbey and Gabriel Obertan made a massive difference in our attack.
I’m not sure who’s picking the team at the moment, whether it’s Warren Joyce or Graham Barrow, but long may it continue.
The unlikely hero of ‘Superman’ Dan Burn secured all three points.
It’s amazing the turnaround from Burn in the past few months.
He used to make mistake after mistake, and it was a case of wondering when he was going to make his next one.
But suddenly he’s gone from scapegoat to a player-of-the-season contender.
If we thought the game against Blackburn was a season-defining moment then the game against Bristol City is yet another one of those.
With only one point separating us and City, it’s vital we secure all three points.
If results go our way, by 5pm Saturday we could be out of the bottom three.
Change will do you bad: a true footballing paradox.
There shall be no stupid teletext quiz this week.
No longer shall I fiddle while Robin Park burns, because I live in fear, dear reader.
For the second time in six months, I’m going to break the statistician’s code and cite the most tooth-grindingly awful season of my Latics supporting lifetime.
This week in 2015, Wigan win 1-0 at Norwich – a rare chunk of choc in the barren Rich Tea wasteland of senseless draws and buttock-beating heavy losses. Yeah, it’s all right if you forgot about that game, because I did too.
The scorer that day was Kim Bo-kyung, yet another ‘one-season wonder’ that passed through the DW’s fast-revolving turnstile of ill-fate.
Yet another moderately competent footballer wheedled out by the criminally unwinnable ring toss game that was Wigan Athletic FC.
The glorified game of quoits continues to this very day, only now it takes place on a conveyor belt so fast not even Omar Bogle could keep his footing.
Wigan’s squad list has been scrunched up and rewritten so many times they switched from pen to pencil. And even then it was erased so many times the weakened paper simply ripped clean in half.
Shamed as I am to admit it, I do find myself asking exactly who the ‘new’ man on the wing might be.
Is that Ryan Tunnicliffe or Jamie Hanson? Or did Michael Jacobs get a new haircut?
Small-time internet webloggers are forced to actually do some research and Google Image Search exactly who the latest hired hands might be.
Goodness knows what the casual supporter ‘dipping in for a quick look’ might think before he trundles off for his train at 8:54pm.
These issues are symptomatic of a constant search for answers.
That’s not to say the club’s primary tool in times of crisis is an Internet search engine or indeed the latest football management video game… unlike a certain blogger. Because when something doesn’t work, you try something else.
But this runs contrary to the model for a settled squad, which requires time… you do not have. And herein lies the modern footballing paradox.
In the current climate of constant change, one has to wonder whether a successful manager is actually any good or just a jammy so-and- so.
In the end, dear reader, you can only have conviction in your choices and trust fate - certain things you simply cannot control.