12th Man: Latics fans have their say
Keith Hill eh? When you hear people trot out the line that there's no characters in the game anymore, they've obviously never taken a look at Keith Hill.
The man is completely barmy. However, let’s give him credit where it’s due.
He has built a side at Rochdale on a tiny budget and low crowds capable of getting in the top half of this division and they were relatively pleasing on the eye up until the sending off as well.
Yet the art of spin is alive and well and after the game, Hill chose not to focus on the red card that his own player got for lashing out at Jason Pearce but the tackle that preceded it.
He also chose not to mention the fact that Latics could have had three penalties before that, two for blatant handballs in the box and a trip on Colclough.
From our perspective, I’m not sure that the extra man made a blind bit of difference, it was a tight game beforehand and it was always going to remain so.
We took off a centre half as there was no-one to mark and Hill countered by throwing Grant Holt on.
Ah yes, big Grant Holt!
I’m sure I was not the only one for whom this game was overshadowed by a dark cloud in the form of the return of the burly Cumbrian but it shouldn’t have been that way at all.
In some senses, I think Monday represented closure in that respect.
He came on, put himself about a bit, kind of resembled a passing impression of being a footballer; he got a bit of stick but also a bit of support.
And he didn’t score an equaliser – phew!
With any luck we can put that whole episode to bed now and (sort of) wish him well for the future.
So that scrappy 1-0 win puts us in a healthy position with seven games to go whereas Walsall are facing the pressurised “going second in a penalty shoot-out competition after the other team has just scored” position.
We now only have to match their results to stay where we are but by winning we can guarantee it.
I don’t think we can take any game for granted out of the last seven but I’ll take seven more scrappy 1-0 wins in a heartbeat right now….style would be nice but substance is miles more important at this stage!
Saturday’s victory over Rochdale was one of those games that you have to win if you are to get promoted no matter how bad or ugly it may be, and it was definitely that last weekend.
Playing just three days after our superb showing in front of the Sky cameras against Swindon was always going to take it’s toll on us, but the three points was simply all that mattered.
It seemed like another one of those days when chance after chance went by, but credit must be given to Caldwell as he threw attacking players such as McAleny and Vuckic onto the field and it proved dividends with McAleny bundling the ball over the line for possibly the worst goal we’ve scored all season, but maybe it could end up being the most important.
Six points from six is a superb effort over the Easter period, and given the results of Burton above us and Walsall not playing, it has been a successful weekend and one that has edged us closer to the end goal of promotion.
We’ve cut the gap to Burton at the top to one point
now, and our game against them in a couple of weeks is now looking like a title decider and it makes for an exciting finish now with the pre-season calls for us to win the league may now come true.
Much was made of our financial advantage when we were relegated into League One a year ago, and has been brought up by many people and managers on a number of occasions this season, Keith Hill being the latest.
Yes, money gives you an obvious advantage over your opponents, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are guaranteed success, just ask Sheffield United.
The Blades’ continuous failure in getting promoted back out of League One only emphasises the good work that Gary Caldwell has done at the club since his appointment.
The worry now is being able to keep bigger clubs away from him if he carries on impressing in the hotseat here, and if he leads us to promotion and then the League One title, his stock will be very high heading into the summer.
Well I don’t think we could have asked for a better Easter weekend, six points from six and we’ve showed people that we can win whatever it takes.
On Good Friday we put in a slick performance live in front of the Sky Sports cameras, before we battled hard past the resilient 10 men of Rochdale on Easter Monday.
Add to that the fact that league leaders Burton struggled to just one point from six over their two games – a 0-0 draw at home the relegation fighting Oldham followed by a 2-0 loss at Millwall.
The latter result shows how good of a performance our 0-0 draw at the New Den was with 10 men.
As you may know, Walsall didn’t play over the weekend because they had enough players out on international duties to postpone their fixtures.
And even though they can catch up to our points tally with their two games in hand, everyone at Wigan Athletic seems to be looking up rather than over their shoulder.
Eighteen games unbeaten and we still haven’t lost in 2016, that kind of form breathes confidence into everybody associated with the club.
Yes, of course Walsall can catch us but the pressure is on them to win their games, not on us.
And the pressure seems to be getting to Nigel Clough and co. at Burton as well.
We’re one point off the Brewers at the League One summit and there’s a growing feeling that the trophy is ours for the taking.
I don’t want to be in danger of speaking to soon, but it’s in our hands and I think we can definitely win the title and, at the very least, be automatically promoted.
So if we fail miserably in these last seven fixtures, then you know who to blame – me.
However, realistically speaking I think we’ve all got one eye on that League One crown; especially when Michael Jacobs is ready to make his first team comeback at such an important stage of the season.
At the beginning of the season many fans, myself included, doubted that Latics could make a quick return to the Championship.
The relegation season had been a disaster both on and off the pitch and we had the youngest chairman in the Football League and an untried manager in charge.
But the club has undergone a massive transformation and we now sit just one point behind league leaders Burton Albion.
Promotion is within our grasp and the league title a realistic proposition.
Gary Caldwell has always shown great self-belief that he would be successful and the target for him has always been the league title.
In one of his early media interviews he bravely said that having seen every team in the league, he thought Latics should win it.
Not only is the club looking a good bet for promotion, but they are also playing good football.
Caldwell has built a team, which thrives on possession, builds from the back and plays the ball on the ground.
Caldwell always prepares very well and researches the opposition, but the main priority has always been to get his own players performing at their best.
The manager has always said they would take one game at a time and yet there has always been a long-term strategy to get Latics promoted.
Player recruitment has been excellent with some expected successes in captain Craig Morgan, goalscorer Will Grigg and creative midfielder Michael Jacobs.
But also some players who could have been seen as a risk have made a big impact, in particular, midfielders David Perkins and Max Power signed from relegated clubs Blackpool and Tranmere.
Caldwell has continued to add greater quality as the season has gone on with the recruitment of winger Yanic Wildschut, striker Ryan Colclough and midfielder Sam Morsy.
Caldwell has also made great use of the loan system by bringing in Everton striker Conor McAleny and the experienced defender Stephen Warnock from Derby County.
As well as building a team strong on ability for League One, the manager has always stressed the need for belief and desire, and his team seem to have it in abundance.
The Easter fixtures showed Latics winning in some style 4-1 at Swindon Town on Good Friday, but also grinding out a hard-fought 1-0 victory over an in-form and stubborn Rochdale team on Easter Monday. Latics have come back from losing positions on numerous occasions this season.
The team’s resilience was demonstrated at Colchester, when Will Grigg produced a 90th-minute equaliser after two long distance strikes and a dubious penalty had threatened to end the unbeaten run.
Against Rochdale, Latics’ determination to succeed was typified by vice-captain Jason Pearce’s superb blocked tackle early in the first half, which denied Rochdale a great goalscoring opportunity.
Caldwell has created a group of players with a winning mentality.
Latics are now unbeaten in 18 games and with seven games to go they could well remain unbeaten until the end of the season.
With the other teams at the top now feeling the pressure, Caldwell’s belief that Latics will win the league title is likely to come to fruition.
*Names altered to protect identities.
“Even though Team ST are trailing Team WA 4-1, there is always the chance there will be a repeat of Team WA’s dramatic concession of three late goals to Team SU two months ago.
“Because things like that happen every week in this league… I think.
“This is the first League O game I have seen since Manchester City were playing in it.”
Author’s note: Oh dear, it seems Team WA have a reputation for conceding late goals now!
“Team WA are 15 games unbeaten and playing the best football in League O.
Team ST, meanwhile, have… erm… er, the league’s top scorer.
So this will certainly be a very close game.”
Author’s note: It’s much easier to climb the scoring charts when you have the enviable skill of pinching late consolation goals in heavy defeats.
Chris Mc is so good that even his mis-hit crosses are inch perfect.”
“Team ST are so bad that even Team WA’s mis-hit crosses are inch perfect.”
Author’s note: John Motson’s Guide to Commentating, Page 1: Cover all your bases… and your backside.
“With a name like Max P, you’d think he’s a character from the Simpsons or something. The Simpsons, tonight at 6pm on Cable Network One!”
Author’s note: Don’t watch, it’s a repeat. Again.
“Team B are top of the league and Team OA are fourth from bottom, therefore Team BA must be the better side. But because Team BA played out a bore draw with Team OA, we will choose never to screen a League O game during international weekend again.”
Author’s note: It seems league positions do lie after all. Well done Oldh- erm, Old Boys of Manchester!
“Listen to our exclusive audio commentary of International Team G vs. International Team E tonight from 7.45pm. Now with as-live teletext updates and a 2-minute delay!”
Author’s note: Or just watch a live feed of the game in full colour on the other channel, which apparently does not exist any more. Incidentally, I once accidentally mentioned ITV at Salford Media City and got thrown in the Ship Canal.
“Team BA will now find it difficult to prevent team WA overtaking them to win League O.”
Author’s note: Ah, wait… I can’t argue with that one!
I guess they do make sense sometimes.