The 12th Man: Cracking start - and the buzz is back!
It's been a hard watch over the last three matches for myself.
That’s partly due to the fact I haven’t actually seen the matches!
It’s always hard to miss games, the buzz of going to a match on a Saturday afternoon, the bond you build with your mates and others on the terraces.
It’s less of a wrench to miss games when it’s not going right, as was the case for the majority of last season, but it still hurts.
It hurts to miss watching this Latics side – there’s a buzz around us that I haven’t felt for a while.
Certainly not since that Spring period under Gary Caldwell in 2016.
It’s that feeling that a win is always just round the corner, and Paul Cook and the staff have worked wonders to build the kind of atmosphere they have after the disastrous sequence of events last season.
Even Cook himself admits to be surprised by how well we’ve done.
The Southport game was referenced by Cook this week.
It was only our second pre-season friendly, but it was a poor match, as many often are in pre-season.
It’s good to see how far we’ve progressed from that July evening.
It could be argued it’s been a tricky few games since the defeat to Shrewsbury, we’ve negotiated it without too much trouble though.
Seven goals scored, zero conceded.
That’s an impressive record by anyone’s standards.
It’s easy to forget it’s only September, and there’s another eight months of the season to go.
We won’t win anything in September but, if we can keep meeting the high standards we’ve set ourselves in these opening weeks, we’ll be well placed to capitalise at the business end of the season.
It’s another two games in quick succession this week, with a long trip to Peterborough followed up by another home match against Plymouth.
If we can get keep picking up points ahead of a busy Autumn we’ll be right on target.
Latics hit the news this week when Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino used us to illustrate the importance of focusing on the league rather than on cup competitions.
We shouldn’t blame Mauricio really.
Let’s be honest, we are all prioritising the league this season.
We’d love Latics to have a successful, promotion-winning season.
If that is the case, then even if we go out early in every cup competition, we’d be happy.
But at a deeper level, we shouldn’t blame him, because this is what we are all supposed to think these days!
The prevailing view in UK football now, is that if you aren’t in the Premier League, then you might as well not exist.
Teams in the Championship are to be pitied.
Those in even lower leagues paid only lip service. We see this all the time.
We expect the commercial broadcasters to do it as they chase ratings and protect their investment, but we also see it from the BBC, not least in the way they choose FA Cup games to show live from the third round onwards.
This view also is seen among many football fans.
Many still believe Latics fans would give back the FA Cup win in exchange for still being in the top flight.
We know that the vast, vast majority of us wouldn’t give it back for anything.
Two years ago, we had that fantastic comeback win at Chesterfield.
Fans of some other clubs couldn’t believe how a club who had won the FA Cup just a couple of years earlier, and done exactly the same thing to Arsenal in the Premier League, could celebrate beating Chesterfield in such a way.
But a lower-league club, which Latics have historically been, will celebrate any goal or any win at any club, just the same.
It is this sort of view of lower league clubs which has created the Checkatrade Trophy.
A great competition which, of course, we have won two times, has now been reduced to supporting the academies of ‘larger’ clubs who stockpile young talent to the detriment of ‘smaller’ clubs.
So Pochettino is only really reflecting the way football is.
Plus you would expect him to talk up the higher leagues.
Professionally that is where he wants to work.
The same is true of Max Power.
I can understand the booing he received when he came on at Charlton’ and then again against Bristol Rovers.
He made it clear he wasn’t fully committed to Latics and didn’t really want to play in League One.
That came just after a season in which he played most of the games and resulted in our relegation.
It is similar to the situation two years ago with Emyr Huws.
At least Huws had the excuse that he’d been injured for a lot of the previous season, and so he couldn’t really be blamed for it.
But if we want to have a successful season, and with three wins in a row now moving us up to second in the league, it is time to get behind all of the players.
A point has been made – plus Max must be a little embarrassed that, having made his availability known, seemingly no-one at a higher level came in for him.
Let’s judge him on his actions from now on.
Having mentioned Chesterfield earlier, we should spare a though for Gary Caldwell, who was sacked at the weekend after a terrible time as their manager.
Whatever you think of him, we owe him thanks for the 2015-16 season.
To get a new squad to gel so quickly, to play some good exciting football, to score lots of goals and to win the league is not easy.
I hope he gets back into management and is a success soon.
It is interesting to look at the demise of Chesterfield actually.
In 2014-15 they finished sixth in League One.
They started the 2015-16 season with 3 wins in five games.
It was after the next match that they started to go on a poor run.
One win in five, four wins in 10. Only six in 25.
They ended up 18th that season, and the following year were relegated with only nine wins.
This season has seen them win only one in eight.
What happened in that sixth game of the 2015-16 season which seemed to start their decline?
That comeback win by the Latics!
Latics are now in a rich vein of form after winning their last three games in convincing fashion.
They have confidently moved up to second in the League One table, and are rapidly reinforcing the bookmakers’ view that they are favourites for promotion.
The Charlton performance was a perfect response to the defeat at Shrewsbury, with a committed display from the team who could easily have won by five or six, but came away with a 3-0 win.
Against Bristol Rovers they kept up the excellent work and once again dominated their opponents running out 3-0 winners but it could so easily have been so many more.
Northampton proved to be stubborn opponents under new manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
They set out to defend in numbers and frustrate Latics in an attempt to gain a point.
However, Latics once again created plenty of chances and defended effectively when needed, and probably should have won by more than the 1-0 scoreline.
The last three matches have fully demonstrated Latics’ promotion credentials – they have scored seven goals with no goals conceded.
Overall they have a positive goal difference of 12, and are one of a handful of teams in the Football League to only concede three goals so far this season.
It’s all going so well, so what could possibly go wrong?
Could complacency creep into the club?
Latics won the title the last time they were in League One, and the players may start to feel they can go through the motions and easily do it again.
Over-confidence can lead to unnecessary defeats and the promotion push could falter.
Paul Cook should be aware of the risk, and his down-to-earth ‘common-sense’ approach to management will hopefully guard against any complacency.
He will be aware of the pitfalls of taking anything for granted ,and I’m sure he’ll be pushing his players to maintain their high standards.
Could they suffer significant injuries to key players?
A series of injuries could curtail their promotion aspirations.
For example, the talismanic Nick Powell constantly struggles to maintain match fitness due to a series of groin, thigh and back problems.
If he and other key players experienced long-term injuries, could the team cope with their absence?
It’s early days in the season, Latics still have to play some of the stronger teams in the division, and they have already lost away to early league leaders Shrewsbury.
Will they struggle against the other strongly-tipped teams?
Latics face a difficult trip to third-placed Peterborough tomorrow, which could prove a good indicator of how both teams’ season will pan out.
Since our defeat to Shrewsbury, Paul Cook couldn’t have asked his squad for a better response.
I’ve been very impressed with Cook so far, and I can see why he’s been such a massive hit at Chesterfield and Portsmouth previously.
Wigan fans have been treated with some fantastic performances of late, with his attacking football being something that really excites.
To beat sides like Charlton and Bristol Rovers by a three-goal margin is very promising for the t, as they are both very good sides, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see both sides in the top half come May.
More importantly, Tuesday’s recent win versus Northampton showed, although we can play attractive attacking football, we also have the capability to grind out wins.
League One football isn’t always pretty, and it was a big win considering the game lacked clear-cut chances for either side.
If Wigan want to be in the automatics at the end of the season, those are the games you need to win, by any means necessary.
There has been no reason for Wigan fans of late not to have a smile on their faces, with the club really having a good feel about the place over the last few weeks.
Our rise into the automatics speaks volumes with how well the team and Cook are coexisting, and long may it continue.
The only real negatives I can really speak about is Sam Morsy’s suspension and the Max Power situation.
Morsy’s fifth booking in eight games means the captain will be suspended for Saturday’s tough encounter at third-placed Peterborough.
I personally feel Morsy should feel very unlucky to be suspended, but I have strong confidence we have the depth in our squad to replace him and fit alongside Lee Evans.
Power may be the one to return to the starting XI, for the first time in the league since his transfer request.
I really feel Max needs us more than ever and, although you may not disagree with his reasoning and the situation, booing him is certainly not the answer.
If the players and manager can accept him back into the squad, surely the fans can do the same.
Max is a good lad, and I’m sure he’ll do whatever he can to build his bridges back with the entire fan base.
Let the situation not make you forget Max is still a talented footballer, and he can certainly do a job in League One.
Max was a fan favourite and one of our stand-out players in our 2015-16 campaign, and I’m sure he can have the same effect once his confidence returns.
Back into the football, Latics next travel to Posh for arguably one of the most toughest fixtures of the season.
Peterborough have started very well, and scoring a lot of goals, with Marcus Maddison, Jack Marriot and Junior Morias forming a formidable trio.
Our backline is set for a very difficult afternoon.
However, I’m sure we have the quality to still win the game, as our attack is as good as it gets at this level.
Hopefully the Latics can make it four wins on the bounce, and start to build a gap between ourselves and the play-offs.
Ever since the defeat to Shrewsbury, it’s fair to say we haven’t really put a foot wrong.
Three wins. Three clean sheets. Nine points. Seven goals.
I just can’t see many sides coming to the DW this season and taking maximum points.
And it’s pleasing to see we aren’t just relying on the goals of Will Grigg.
Many other players are popping up with the goals, such as Michael Jacobs’ cracker on Tuesday night that saw off Northampton.
It’s also good to see us picking up points in games when we don’t play well.
Hopefully the boos directed towards Max Power don’t return.
We don’t need negativity creeping back into the club.
He’s still a Wigan player after all, and has said he’ll fight for his place – so that’s good enough for me.
We’ll have to play at our best on Saturday when we travel to third-placed Peterborough, another team whom have made a positive start to the season. But I’m very hopeful.