The 12th Man: '˜Cautious thumbs-up' after '˜turning point' moment

There's more than one way to skin a cat.

Friday, 2nd December 2016, 6:45 am
Updated Saturday, 17th December 2016, 10:05 am

Not that this is a practice I have ever performed, nor would I recommend any readers do so unless they happen to be employed as a taxidermist.

Yet this old adage is a useful parallel to the fact that there is more than one way to win a football match.

So it’s a cautious thumbs-up for me after Monday’s cockle-warming performance at the frozen tundra of the John Smiths Stadium.

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If you follow the path through our last seven managers, we have flipped flopped our playing style every single time, which cannot be good for a club’s stability but it feels like a case of needs must right now.

I say this not because I wanted Gary Caldwell gone.

Experience tells us that Caldwell’s teams just like Roberto Martinez’s teams, start seasons slowly and finish with a crescendo and that patience is generally rewarded.

However, he’s gone now and I feel there is nothing wrong at all with the way Warren Joyce is approaching games either.

We’re in the relegation zone and need to grind out results via whatever means possible.

Joyce has quickly decided that shoring up the defence is the most important priority (after about five minutes of his tenure actually!) and counter-attacking was to be the preferred method of attack rather than the luxury of expansive football.

I am a firm advocate of passing football.

Martinez, Caldwell and Uwe Rosler have given us some of the greatest football results of our lives in the past 10 years.

The fact is the team who has the most possession generally wins the game.

You will get these freak results occasionally, whereby Northern Ireland can beat Germany in Euro qualifiers with nine per cent possession, or something ridiculous.

Indeed, Leicester won a Premier League title by focusing on countering.

But I have concerns a more direct style of play will only ever result in moderate improvement.

It was the passing style that enabled us to make real exponential gains, for example, playing Manchester City off the park to win the FA Cup.

A few years before silly fools like me were brainwashed by Martinez, we had Paul Jewell as manager, whose style was much more direct but again yielded once-in-a-lifetime results.

However, we once again find ourselves as a small club with poor gates and a low wage bill, and maybe we just need to go for the backs-to-the-wall approach to get ourselves out of this mess.

When we changed style in the past under Coyle and Mackay, it was something of a disaster in both cases.

However Joyce seems to be a much more progressive manager, who comes with high accolade and a very good pedigree.

What we are seeing at present is a sensible “walk before run” strategy, and a stripping back of the luxury elements of the team.

Dropping popular players such as Will Grigg and Jordi Gomez may not curry favour, especially when Nick Powell – the very definition of a luxury player – has been getting regular game-time this year.

But they are all very well-paid footballers, so there’s no tears here.

In essence, I won’t be losing any sleep over who is playing or how we are playing in the coming weeks, so long as the new Wigan Athletic keep clocking up the points to haul us up the table.


I’ve spoken so much about turning points that we must have done a nine-point turn over the course of the opening months of the season.

Was Monday a turning point? It certainly felt like it.

Warren Joyce’s first victory as Latics manager wasn’t pretty, but my was it needed.

If we had failed to win on Monday night it would have heaped the pressure on a fragile side already under the cosh along with pressure on a manager only a month in to the job.

There was a lot of criticism when Joyce once again failed to start a striker, but Joyce proved his doubters wrong as Yanic Wildschut put in arguably his best performance of the season as he was involved in both goals.

I’m still not convinced Yanic is a long-term solution as a striker, but Joyce seems to think that’s his best position and so far the stats bear that out.

It’s a very different style of football under Joyce so far, certainly a lot more pragmatic if that is the right term than we’ve seen in the past.

The possession-based style that had become the norm again under Gary Caldwell seems to have gone out of the window – initially at least.

But if this new style gets the required results to see Latics stay up this season, you won’t find many people – myself included –complaining.

How we set up away from home is very different to how I would expect us to set up at home and, with a Derby side on a high arriving on Saturday, it will be interesting to see how Joyce approaches the game.

Will Grigg was once again absent from Monday night’s squad with Adam Le Fondre and Craig Davies named amongst the substitutes.

It will be interesting to see if Grigg manages to make it back to the squad this weekend, or indeed the starting line-up.

Joyce seems to have steadied the ship defensively, certainly after the horror show of his first game in charge against Reading.

Now is the time to build on the win over Huddersfield and start to climb the table.


Last week I said improvement was needed and there was certainly improvement in the win at Huddersfield on Monday.

Just like our performance at Barnsley, we were happy to let the home side have the lion’s share of possession while we remained compact defensively.

The difference between why we got one point at Barnsley and three points at Huddersfield is we started to counter-attack proactively by using Yanic Wildschut’s pace.

And the beauty is Yanic can only improve the more he plays in his new-found role as a centre-forward.

Having said that, a goal and an assist in his first two games playing in an unfamiliar position isn’t a bad return.

Except for the win, the best thing to come out of the game was seeing Warren Joyce finally getting his ideas across.

Call it negative, call it risky, call it what you want, but you can’t deny we’re probably going to have a better chance of getting results playing this style of football than any other.

Monday showed us that possession statistics can more often than not mean nothing.

We had 30 per cent against the Terriers and won 2-1.

It’s what you can do with the ball, not how many times you can pass it – something I think we were guilty of under Gary Caldwell.

The realistic long-term ambition for this club has to be consolidating as a stable Championship club, so avoiding relegation back to League One is the priority this season.

If we have to concede possession to our opponents and dig in defensively to do that, then so be it.

We certainly dug deep in West Yorkshire and, yes, we rode our luck with a couple of penalty shouts, but it’s about time we got the rub of the green.


It will be interesting to see what formation and tactics Warren Joyce employs against in-form Derby on Saturday.

Joyce has played one striker, packed the midfield and defended deep in his last two games at Barnsley and Huddersfield, and won four points.

Will he change to a more attacking formation or continue to defend in depth and hope to hit his opponents on the break? It is a dilemma.

The home fans will have expectations to see their team attack Derby, but using Yanic Wildschut as a lone striker and packing the midfield has delivered results so far.

There is no doubt Latics rode their luck at both Oakwell and the John Smith’s stadium and they could easily have lost both games.

A one-man attack will limit the number of chances created and it cannot be a strategy for long-term success unless the midfielders and wingbacks are pushed forward and support the striker on a regular basis.

If Joyce goes for a more positive approach on Saturday, Will Grigg has surely got to come into contention.

Grigg’s recent absence from the team feels peculiar given his undoubted ability as a goalscorer.

The manager said he hasn’t seen much of the striker in training due to international call-ups and illness and that the player didn’t get much rest over the summer.

Grigg’s only started 12 games for Latics but has still scored six goals this sterm, and has to be the main option for a start if Joyce wants to be more attack-minded.

Yanic Wildschut produced a man-of the-match performance at Huddersfield.

He created the first goal and scored the second in a virtuoso display of strength and power.

He had worked his socks off, but he can’t be expected to fulfill such an energy-sapping role in every game.

Yanic was a revelation at Huddersfield and, although comparisons to Marcus Rashford and Ronaldo are premature, the flying Dutchman has the potential to be a big success in the Championship.

A re-invigorated Wildschut and fully refreshed Grigg is an exciting prospect, but will the manager be brave enough to use them together?


Yet again, I’ve been proven wrong!

I stated last week, Barnsley didn’t fill me with much confidence, but Huddersfield certainly did.

Tactically Warren Joyce got it spot on.

If counter attacking football is the way we’re going to play, then there’s no complaints from me.

However, a few fans might not be too keen with this style of play.

As Gary Caldwell and Roberto Martinez were all about ‘possession’, Huddersfield reminded me of how we used to play under Martinez.

Passing the ball slowly around the back four, giving it out wide and putting aimless crosses into the box.

Early signs show we’re going to be hard to beat under Joyce, with plenty of men behind the ball, we can then attack with pace and power.

Monday night proved you can have as much possession in the world, but if you create nothing then it’s pointless.

The 30 per cent possession we had on Monday night.

A stat that would of been unthinkable under our previous manager.

It’s safe to say, we rode our luck at times with a few questionable penalty shouts, especially the lunge from Luke Garbutt.

It will be interesting to see how we’re tactically set up in tomorrow’s home game against Derby.

Hopefully, Monday’s result can kick start our season.

But it’ll be another tough test against the Rams, who’ve won their last four.


The Martinez fallacy (2009-2016):

In memoriam “Football is a simple game, complicated by idiots in newspaper articles.” – Bill Shankly (paraphrased). It’s all over, ladies and gentlemen.

When Dave-o Sharpe dispatched Gary ‘Kop Conqueror’ Caldwell with his final Rigalettos doggy bag, the Martinez line of succession officially ended.

With the remaining branches finally hacked from Roberto’s family tree, a thrilling era of exotic football came to its protracted end.

Indeed, it was the greatest of times.

Wigan Athletic outplayed the country’s elite, humbling European powerhouses and tickling the establishment with a blue-and-white feather duster.

All the while, they remained true to their sporting principles, never once resorting to anti-football tactics in the name of gold.

Yet it was also the worst of times.

Crushing eight-goal losses, inept interim potato peelers masquerading as managers, watery beer on the concourse (not that I would know about such things)…

And perhaps most significantly of all, the ‘Martinez fallacy’: long periods of intricate interplay may look pretty, but 1000+ passes per game are of little use if they do not lead to goals.

Or, in 12th Man terms: I could spend 800 words on this article, but why bother when 400 will do the job?

It must be noted that just as some teams were passed into submission by Jordi Gomez and Gaz Caldwell himself, authors are liable to abuse their word count in the name of ‘entertainment’.

Such ‘fallacies’ can occasionally be gloriously logical.

I flippin’ loved Bobberto and all those gleaming FA Cups he brought to the DW reception display case.

I flippin’ loved those steadfast defensive performances in victories over Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United.

And I just plain adored making Winston Churchill ‘victory’ signs at those narrow-minded fools that believe match-day attendance is a voucher for success.

But as Roberto’s Scottish disciple departs, so do the remnants of this oftentimes uneconomic and inflexible mentality.

“That’s enough sugar for you, kid – now prepare for a lifetime of nutritious Joyce-Brand boiled broccoli.”

…Or so it would seem.

The downhearted should know that, contrary to this article’s title, the Martinez fallacy is not completely dead.

Firstly, we’ve yet to see how Jordi G fares as Latics manager. Secondly, Our Bobby will inevitably lead England’s national team to World Cup success.

Card marked; photocopy that. Rest in peace, dear fallacy – we’ll meet again soon enough.