The 12th man '“ This could be season-defining game
Remember that sunny day in April on the Fylde Coast?
And the week after when Gary Caldwell was the toast of the club and Wigan town centre bounced to the sound of ‘Will Grigg’s On Fire’?
Those memories that last a lifetime, yet already seem so far away.
Since then, the club once again appears to have hit the self-destruct button and the feel-good factor has drained away after each passing game.
We have two away games to finish off the year with, and if we don’t get four points from the next two games, we will start the New Year facing a very tall task.
We hear about the fantastic things Warren Joyce is doing on the training ground, but then you would expect that as he is a coach.
Being a manager requires something more, something different, and I really don’t know if we’re getting that right now.
We have gone from a team that have gone from aimlessly passing about between ourselves at the back (not my opinion), to a team who seem to be unable to pass to each other at all on Saturday (my opinion), so I don’t know where it is all falling down.
But the only consistency about the last half a dozen games has been the inconsistency.
The philosophy which has served us well - the possession-based game which won us an FA Cup, nearly got us to the final of another, enabled us to beat all the big Premier League teams in the past, and win the League One title last year - has now all but been abandoned again, suggesting the club has learned no lessons from the Coyle and Mackay appointments.
Of course, we have been in far worse positions than we are now.
Albeit you have to go back a full 20 years pre-Whelan.
And like two years ago, the clamour for the January transfer window to open is overwhelming.
Hopefully we will come out of it better than we did two years ago, otherwise expect Grigg and Wildschut to be sold and replaced with a handful of kids from Premier League clubs who barely have the stomach for a relegation battle.
Perhaps I’m showing my age here, but it’s reminiscent of the old “10 to 2” last dance in a nightclub, with us desperately clambering around for someone to take home.
It’s exacerbated by the club announcing its financial figures this week, which serves both as a stark reminder of the tough financial future we face and of the wonderful things we have achieved over the past few years.
Yet we have also been guilty of scatter-gun sackings and appointments, coupled with the lack of a coherent long-term plan - very much a trait of the early Whelan days.
The short-term crumb of comfort lies in Joyce’s record at Hull, where he turned around a doomed team and led them to survival with a fantastic run of results.
It’s certainly something we’ve been capable of doing in the past under Jewell and Martinez, but are we getting that feeling it’s about to happen again?
One game at a time I guess, and the trip to Rotherham could indeed be that season defining game that will kick our season off.
“Christmas time, it’s Rotherham away;
Latics fans will be singing this Boxing Day;
With Will Grigg on fire and Yanic running free;
A time for Warren Joyce to hear our plea;
A time for giving, Luke Burke another game;
He’s our only right-sided defender who isn’t lame;
Let’s score some goals, we know we are able;
A time for a win and climbing the table;
Christmas time, it’s Rotherham away;
Latics fans will be singing this Boxing Day;
With Will Grigg on fire and Yanic running free;
A time for Warren Joyce to hear our plea;”
Apologises for the above, but desperate times need desperate measures...and these are indeed desperate times.
A massive disappointment last Saturday saw Ipswich grab all the points.
Even though the referee didn’t help the Latics cause with some dubious decisions and an outrageous penalty, we still created enough to have won the game comfortably - but couldn’t get it boxed off.
Luckily, even after another defeat, we are still in the mix.
But we need three points at Rotherham.
With just one win in their last 18 Championship games, and a -27 goal difference, having conceded a staggering 48 league goals so far this season, the Millers are definitely the Championship whipping boys.
Former Latics player Paul Warne is in temporary charge and they are in quite a bit of turmoil.
I fully expect us to go to the New York Stadium and produce a good performance, a convincing win and bring home the three points as a late Christmas present for the Latics faithful.
Anything else is totally
Up the Merry Christmas ‘Tics!
It’s difficult to describe a game the 3-2 loss to Ipswich, let alone reflect on it.
It’s been a long time since we were on the end of such a sickening defeat.
To have drawn the game after how well Latics played in spells would have been disappointing to lose it is a disaster.
Much had been made before the game about this being the start of Warren Joyce’s time in charge of us for real, that the previous six games had effectively been free hits due to the nature of the opposition and that we would show what we were really made of in the next two games against Ipswich and fellow strugglers Rotherham.
Arguably we needed a total of six points from those two games with supposed stronger sides lying in wait after the Christmas period.
Losing Saturday’s match makes Joyce’s task that bit harder.
The first-half showing from Latics was disjointed no doubt made worse thanks to the abysmal performance of referee Keith Stroud, and his decision to award a penalty for a fantastic tackle by Dan Burn outside the area.
Despite all of that, Latics had managed to get back on level terms and went in at the break as the side in ascendancy.
The game continued to swing that way in the second half, and it felt inevitable that Latics would take the lead and go on to win the game.
The bigger worry for myself was whether the match would be abandoned before we did so.
Everything was going to plan as the fantastic Yanic Wildschut got that second goal.
At that point, I thought Latics would go on to get a third, rather than concede another two.
The fog that enveloped the DW didn’t help matters, but Latics somehow managed to lose a game that they should have been winning every day of the week.
However, there were many promising signs from the game against Ipswich.
The attacking play and link ups between our forward players - primarily Yanic, Jordi Gomez and Will Grigg - were a wonder to see.
We looked like we could score with every attack, and indeed we should have done just that.
But there were also worrying signs.
Stephen Warnock struggled in an unfamiliar right back position, while David Perkins looks to be out for a while – adding to an already busy treatment room.
The calls for Joyce’s head aren’t surprising - ironically by many who also called for Gary Caldwell to be sacked.
But they are foolish.
If the last decade should have taught Latics fans anything, it’s that stability is the way forward.
Not constant chopping and changing.
Warren Joyce has a three-and-a-half year contract.
Unless something drastic happens, he isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
It’s up to him and the squad to turn this around.
Despite everything going against us, there is more than enough quality in that squad to turn it around.
They need to show that at Rotherham.
Anything less is unthinkable.
I think I speak for everyone when I say the 3-2 home defeat to Ipswich was a bitter pill to swallow.
The referee didn’t help us with an extremely dubious penalty decision, but, as I said on the day, it’s how you react to those decisions.
You either feel sorry for yourselves or it gives you the kick up the backside you need, and it was definitely the latter for our players.
For the majority of the second half we were excellent, and we fully deserved at least one point from the game, even though we desperately needed three.
At 2-1 up we had chances to extend our lead, chances you have to take at Championship level or else you get punished.
There was one particular moment, when Yanic Wildschut beat his man and rolled the ball perfectly across the six-yard box, but nobody was there to tap it home.
I’m a huge Will Grigg fan but, for me, he has to be on the end of those if he wants to prove himself in this division once and for all.
For me, we have two major problems.
The first being that it takes us at least four or five clear attempts on goal before we actually find the back of the net.
The second being that there’s too many mistakes from individuals who play week in week out when we have better quality players out on loan, ie David Perkins has struggled so far this season.
Meanwhile, Sam Morsy is earning plaudits at fellow Championship club Barnsley while on loan from us.
Okay, Morsy might have wanted to leave in the summer, we just don’t know what happened behind the scenes.
Having said that, it’s definitely a strange one from the outside looking in.
For me, that means we have to trim down our squad in January before bringing in the right players to strengthen the positions everyone knows we need to strengthen (maybe even look at potential recall clauses).
Too many of our summer signings have failed to make an impact, and we can’t make the same mistake in the New Year by signing players for the sake of it.
But that’s easier said than done, and I’m not part of the recruitment process.
However, before we get ahead of ourselves and look at the winter transfer window, we have an absolutely must-win game away to rock-bottom Rotherham on Boxing Day.
Nothing less than a victory will be good enough considering we’re already four points from safety.
Latics are now entering a critical period of games, which could determine which division they are in next season.
After a sequence of four defeats they need to start picking up points quickly or they will become detached from the teams above them.
Latics have the proverbial ‘six-pointer’ against bottom club Rotherham on Boxing Day and another defeat could prove catastrophic, particularly as this is followed by difficult fixtures against high flyers Derby and Huddersfield.
Latics’ situation hasn’t been helped by the current injury crisis.
Nearly half the squad has been affected at some point during the season, with recent injuries to Reece Burke, Craig Morgan, Luke Garbutt, Shaun MacDonald and David Perkins.
Add to these the long-term injured Adam Bogdan, Reece James, Donervon Daniels and Alex Gilbey and the word ‘crisis’ does not really do it justice.
Manager Warren Joyce has worked the players very hard in training since taking over in November and this may be contributing to the high number of injuries the club is experiencing.
The change in playing style may also have contributed to the injury list, but whatever the reasons the new manager’s choices will need to be very effective in the upcoming transfer window if Latics are to escape the drop.
Adam Bogdan’s long-term injury means that Joyce is in need of a back-up goalkeeper for first-choice Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Jussi has been in excellent form since taking over from Bogdan but, with reserve Dan Lavercombe untried at Championship level, the manager will be looking to bring in another experienced keeper as cover.
The right back position is also a priority, as a succession of injuries has prevented Latics from having a settled defence.
Reece Burke did very well during his time in the team but a reoccurring hip injury has meant he has now returned to West Ham.
Unless Alex Gilbey returns sooner than expected or Nick Powell magically regains his form, Latics will need to add more creativity in midfield.
Jordi Gomez played some great passes in the second half against Ipswich but Latics have been lacking the creative touch to unlock Championship defences.
Going forward, Latics do have options but they should use the transfer window to add another striker. Craig Davies is ineffective at this level, although Yanic Wildschut has been the best player and Will Grigg is very capable of going on a goalscoring run if he is given the right kind of service.
Despite the need for reinforcements, chief executive Jonathan Jackson has recently commented on the club’s financial position.
“The club will always aim to compete at the highest level possible but we must also be realistic in our ambitions and ultimately financial sustainability must continue to remain a priority”.
If Latics are to escape the bottom three, owner Dave Whelan and chairman David Sharpe will need to back the manager they recently appointed with transfer funds.
However, given the announcement of the club’s financial results for 2015/16, don’t expect a spending spree.
December has not been the best of months for the Latics – that’s the biggest understatement of 2016!
Warren Joyce’s side has faced a tough schedule in facing Derby, Aston Villa, Newcastle and Ipswich Town, which has seen the Latics go pointless.
Latics will be dying to gain some points on the board with arguably their biggest game of the season on Boxing Day, which sees us head to Rotherham.
The Millers are below us in the table but slowly picking up points, and it would be a nice time for us to break our winless sequence.
We would be lying as fans to say Latics aren’t in a relegation battle, and it’s particularly vital we leave South Yorkshire with three points.
I personally feel, despite recent concerns, we are more than capable of surviving this season, with the aim of achieving stability next year.
We’ve got a squad that has been injury-hit, and we can feel slightly hard done by with some of this season’s results.
Joyce has got the players working hard for the club, which is all we can ask, and we have to now back the boys more than ever to make sure we remain in the Championship.
Enjoy your Christmas.
Alternative Match highlights – Wigan Athletic v Ipswich Town
Latics v Ipswich was a game that defied all logic.
Why the insistence on goalscoring all of a sudden?
And why such vitriol towards an unfortunate man that misplaced his contact lenses?
Well, I think you know the answer to at least one of those supposedly rhetorical questions.
But for everything else, here are your alternative match highlights of a game that yielded so much more entertainment than a decade of Sky One Christmas specials.
Sharpey’s first signing of the window: Mr Kipling.
Well, those ‘free’ mince pies on the East Stand concourse were probably made by Mr Poundsavah, but still…
An over-eager Yanic Wildschut pelting into Ipswich’s half before the game had even started, causing the kick-off to be retaken.
This totally flummoxed the scoreboard operator, who instead of resetting the counter just left it running.
I don’t blame them – once you’ve activated the 5ft 65kg mechanical lever marked ‘start/stop scoreboard clock’, you need at least seven minutes to recover.
Ipswich keeper Bartosz ‘Bartman’ Bialkowski being physically floored by the sheer force of Max Power’s incredible strike.
He made three attempts to regain his feet before actually finding the strength to do so… after the game had kicked off again.
Dan Burn’s insistence on bashing the ball as far away from Jussi’s goal as early as possible.
After being penalised for two seemingly clean tackles, he decided to remove all element of risk… until the third Ipswich goal, that is.
When Burn reverted to centre forward for the final five minutes, he was in great danger of receiving a second booking for ‘playing out of position’.
Warren Joyce falling on his ChristmASS as he vacated his technical area to retrieve the ball.
At least he didn’t ruin his best trousers… which have been safely stored in a dark corner of his attic for almost 20 years now.
Jussi Jaaskelainen receiving a yellow card for daring to correct the referee’s obvious mistakes.
“That’ll teach you for stating the blindingly obvious, JJ,” grumbled Stroud as he flashed his card disapprovingly.
Playing a game of ‘who’s got the ball?’ through fog thicker than your mother’s turkey gravy.
Some Ipswich fans in the North Stand still believe the game finished 5-3, since they had to rely upon crowd reaction to determine whether Latics had scored at the opposite end of the pitch.
Right, I’m off to campaign for this game to be replayed on the grounds of poor visibility, a fact that was initially ignored due to the fact Latics were winning.
If I am successful, dear reader, please consider that my present to you this Christmas!