12th Man: Latics fans have their say
Poor Millwall, you'd be tempted to feel sorry for them if they weren't Millwall.
Despite their habitual “no-one likes us” schtick, they’re none too keen on ourselves either.
It’s not that they don’t ever beat us, they do.
It’s more that we always beat them when it matters: FA Cup semi-final, Auto Windscreens final, play-off semi-finals.
Consequently, they must have been rubbing their hands when Wigan Athletic were reduced to 10 men following two clumsy challenges from Sam Morsy on Tuesday night.
Yet even then they couldn’t get past us due to some heroics from Jaaskelainen, indeed the whole Wigan Athletic team.
For Millwall, we remain a thorn in their lion’s paw, no matter how much they try and bully and intimidate us down at their place.
Course, I wouldn’t want to be too flippant about saying Tuesday night “didn’t matter” as we did drop two points but I think a draw at the New Den wouldn’t have been seen as a disaster beforehand and was swiftly upgraded to a terrific result once we went a man down.
Keeping an unbeaten run going against all the odds should galvanise the team further into wanting to carry on for as long as possible.
We must all hope that playing with 10 men for an hour hasn’t drained the energy too much and instead will make the lads want to go out on Saturday raring to go with a full complement on the field once more.
As for Tuesday’s culprit, there were two things I picked up from Chesterfield fans before we signed Sam Morsy. One was that he is a firebrand with a poor disciplinary record - the other is that he is one of the best players they’ve ever had.
Having seen sufficient evidence to substantiate both of these claims in the last two games, you’d have to say that it’s a risk we should be willing to take.
Under recent managers who have advocated a passing game, we have been crying out for that kind of combative defensive midfielder – the water carrier who wins the ball, brings it out, distributes it short and simply and gets a foot in where needed, often clumsily.
Roberto Martinez lost one of the best (and worst!) of them virtually as soon as he joined the club when Lee Cattermole jumped ship back to the North East, although he did land a more than adequate replacement in Hendry Thomas.
Stop laughing at the back! Of course, we had the McCarthy/McArthur twins after that but both were more traditional box to box types.
The closest thing we’ve had since was Danish international William Kvist.
How strange that a player with such a strong pedigree could play in a team so poor and fail to get noticed so much of the time?
That is the essence of the defensive midfielder however, to do the spade work.
Getting noticed is secondary and their influence depends on the attitude of the rest of the team.
If the team are up against it or performing poorly, they’re fire fighting at the back.
If we’re up for it, then they are a vital cog, the engine room which starts every attack.
He may not have been here long but we’ve seen enough to know that we’ll miss Morsy on Saturday that’s for sure.
It is now 12 months since David Sharpe took over the reins as chairman of Wigan Athletic and what an incredible transformation has taken place during that period.
The young chairman has had to make some big decisions during his early tenure but appointing Gary Caldwell as manager is surely his best.
Caldwell was always a good organiser on the pitch and was captain of Scotland, Celtic and Wigan, but it was a risky strategy to give the untried Caldwell the job after the disastrous appointment of Malky Mackay.
But Caldwell has learned well from his previous managers, which include Bobby Robson, Gordon Strachan and Roberto Martinez.
Caldwell had a spell as a teenage player under Bobby Robson at Newcastle.
The young Scot was impetuous and demanded to get a game in the first team but Robson believed he wasn’t ready and when Caldwell asked the question too often he was sold to Hibernian.
But it was a formative experience for the young defender and he has subsequently admitted he learned much from Robson’s advice.
Gordon Strachan was Caldwell’s manager at Celtic and he won two Scottish titles with him in charge. Strachan gave him the confidence to accept his weaknesses and to build on his strengths.
His experiences at Celtic have helped instill a winning mentality and he is now passing this onto his own players at Wigan.
Strachan was renowned for his fiery temper and Caldwell has also learned to read the riot act when necessary.
But Martinez is his biggest influence and Caldwell has adapted the Spaniard’s style of play to League One. Caldwell speaks regularly to Martinez if he needs advice.
Both managers believe in possession, building from the back and trying to play football on the ground.
Caldwell has a good team of coaches around him with ex-Latics’ players Graham Barrow, Joe Parkinson, Peter Atherton and Mike Pollitt all involved in the decision-making process.
Latics’ progress has been founded on a scientific approach to recruitment with every player targeted, thoroughly researched and watched in different conditions before signing.
The club has targeted mainly young up and coming players who are comfortable on the ball and capable of playing at a higher level.
Ironically Caldwell’s oldest signing has proved to be a masterstroke.
Goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen, 40, was out of contract at West Ham United and the manager was looking for cover for Richard O’Donnell, but the big Finn has become first choice and been a revelation.
Latics have only lost 2 in 27 games with Jussi between the sticks.
Latics have recruited constantly since the summer with 29 players joining.
The new players inevitably took time to gel but they have improved week by week.
The January transfer window provided a huge bonus as Caldwell was able to add strength in depth with the signings of winger Yanic Wildschut, midfielder Sam Morsy, defender Reece Wabara and forwards Ryan Colclough and Conor McAleny.
Tactics, man management, motivational skills and bringing in the right type of players have all been crucial to Caldwell’s success, but it may be his ability to make use of the best advice from his past managers which could prove to be his greatest asset.
I can barely remember what happened last week, let alone a decade ago.
But I recall vividly the events of January 2006, when Latics reached their first League Cup Final, squeaking past Arsenal over two legs.
Aye – Neill Rimmer scored a first half hat trick in the first leg, while Ian Wright repeated that feat in the return leg at Highbury.
In the end, Roberto Martinez tucked the winning penalty past David Seaman as Latics won the shootout 8-7... at 12.07am, in front of a BBC2 audience of 15 million.
Okay, maybe my memory of 2006 isn’t quite so fresh. Just give me five minutes while I trawl through the Wigan Evening Post archives...
Ah, right. Apparently, the tie was much more interesting than that!
During the first leg at the JJB Stadium, everything went black.
Someone, probably Jimmy Bullard, plugged in one too many hair dryers and tripped the floodlight fuse.
And when the lights did come back on, said owner of the bouncy barnet stood on the opposition goal line, ready to roll the ball over it!
Ref Howard Webb refused to award the goal – presumably because Bullard was not playing for Manchester United at the time.
But debutant Paul Scharner made up for it, gracefully diverting Gary Teale’s cross past Manuel Almunia with 12 minutes to play.
If it were at all possible, the second leg was even more engaging.
Phil Dowd refused to award Latics any of their three penalties, presumably because they weren’t the home side at Old Trafford.
Hence, Thierry Henry could even the aggregate score and force extra time. Robin van Persie’s 108th minute free kick changed nothing as such – Latics could still go through to the final on the away goals rule with a single strike.
And in the penultimate minute of extra time, Jason Roberts finally broke through.
Though travelling fans were jubilant when the Grenada international rolled home, nobody celebrated as exuberantly as Mike Pollitt.
The Farnworth Flyer defied a plethora of international stars for two whole hours of football, even stopping a Jose Reyes penalty kick way back in the first half of normal time.
So here’s to Michael Francis Pollitt, the unsung hero of 2006.
It was the Latics goal-keeping coach’s 11th birthday on 29 February – he’ll soon be old enough to play for the U18s.
After the excellent 3-0 win at home to Bury, there was a huge belief among Latics fans that not only could we achieve automatic promotion, but that we could actually win the League One crown.
Admittedly, I was one of those fans and I immediately began to check our remaining 13 fixtures to see if we had a good run-in.
Two fixtures stood out to me. Obviously the big one is the Tuesday night away trip to table-toppers Burton in April, but the one that worried me the most was the recent away trip to Millwall.
I said it a couple of weeks ago, apart from us Millwall are the form team in the division and are very strong at home. It was an extremely tough challenge and a potential banana skin in our promotion push.
As always, I was confident we could win.
However, once Sam Morsy was sent for two yellow cards after half an hour, I would have snapped somebody’s hand off for a draw.
To see that the team showed such resilience, character and team spirit to literally battle for a 0-0 draw is just as encouraging as watching us take teams apart with our passing ability and attacking flair.
We are made of stern stuff and the fact we couldn’t be broken down by one of the best teams in the league when our backs are firmly against the wall just shows everybody what promotion means to the players and the club.
It’s great to see a team with a backbone, in comparison to what we watched during last season - you can see that we appreciate it with our vocal support and followings up and down the country.
And let’s not be too harsh on Morsy for getting sent off, he was unplayable in all of his previous games since moving from Chesterfield and I guarantee we will miss him against Peterborough on Saturday.
Not to forget a special mention for Jussi Jaaskelainen too, for doing what he has done so well throughout his long career.