12th Man: Latics fans have their say on the race promotion and who should be Player of the Year
The finish line is now in sight.
With just five games to go, we’re at least six points (dependent of Walsall’s game in hand) clear of those in the play-off places, and it means three wins should see us over the line.
It’s been a long slog and it hasn’t been pretty in some games, like the Coventry game on Saturday.
But we’re picking up points, and it’s looking more and more likely we’re going to achieve what we set out to do.
Given the fact we’re 20 games unbeaten now, I keep turning up to games recently thinking we’re overdue a defeat that will throw the promotion picture wide open once more.
But we just keep grinding out results, and hopefully it’s the same on Saturday when we go to Doncaster.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about the recent nominees for the League One Player of the Year awards, in which none of the three players (Bradley Dack, Nicky Ajose and Romaine Sawyers) were from the league’s table-toppers.
Despite the uproar on the Wigan Athletic hashtag, I am still of the opinion this was the correct decision as, despite the form of the team, I wouldn’t say anyone has stood out week in, week out.
Will Grigg has been fantastic since the start of the year and his goal return shows that, while the likes of Yanic Wildschut and Max Power have been great in spells.
But I believe it’s been more of a team effort with everyone performing consistently rather than one player standing out.
That’s why it was difficult selecting one player for the club’s Player of the Year award, and in the end I went for David Perkins.
While the likes of Grigg and Wildschut have grabbed all the headlines, Perkins has been a mainstay in the team all year, and has probably been our most important player throughout the season.
Who’d have thought that when he was our first signing last summer?!
Perkins’ role in the side allows the rest of the team to attack and grab the headlines, whereas he is happy to sweep up and clean up any potential attacks, before passing on to the more attack-minded players.
I believe Sam Morsy coming into the side has helped Perkins massively, and while he was great in the first half of the season, his form since the turn of the year has been phenomenal, as some of the workload has been shifted from a midfield two, to a three now.
Add all of that, with the endorsement of his central midfield partner Power in the Wigan matchday programme last weekend, I really hope Perkins finally gets the recognition that his performances deserve.
Author’s note: this is not a real competition – that’s just something I made up for the purposes of this article.
Just pretend what follows is true and everything will be fine.
Tickets for Latics’ potentially title-clinching encounter with Blackpool on April 30 are currently the equivalent of a tangerine voucher for a lifetime’s supply of pie barms.
And last week in 12th Man, we posed the question: “What would you do for a Blackpool client code?”
We received precisely 32.5 responses, most of which are too lewd to be printed in a family newspaper such as this. But we are now able to reveal the ones sensible enough to slip through the moral colander. “For a Blackpool client code, I would…”
– Relinquish the final crisp in the packet, which is widely accepted as the tastiest, most flavoursome of all.
– Camp outside the DW Stadium ticket office at 9pm on Friday evening with a portable stove and ukulele for impromptu choruses of ‘Kumbaya’… only to be shifted by security at 9.05pm.
– Sit on the phone from 7am on Saturday to jump the 45-minute queue and win the ticket numbered 0001… only to be cut off at 10.05 due to ‘high volume of calls’.
– Run through Bolton town centre wearing nothing but a Wigan Athletic shirt. On a Sunday morning. When they’re holding a 1,000-participant charity run. And a continental food market. And a…
– Buy a [branded candy bar deleted] Bar (other vaguely candy-like combinations of congealed floor sweepings are available).
– Plant Gary Caldwell’s 12-month anniversary custard cake right on his conk.
– Sit in the uncovered front row of the East Stand during a torrential rainstorm wearing shades, shorts and a t-shirt.
– Appear on BBC Radio Manchester and answer difficult questions about my pet bulldog and the possibility of free Jagerbombs for all season-ticket holders.
* Author’s note no. 2: I cannot be held responsible for anyone that actually goes and does any of these things, or indeed anyone that already has.
I remember the day we signed Stephen Warnock on loan from Derby County until the end of the season.
My mate told me it had been confirmed on Twitter, and my first reaction was: Why?
I then learned our most natural left-back Reece James had unfortunately suffered a more serious injury than everyone had first expected – one that has kept him out until the present day.
Chris McCann has excelled in the role during James’ absence but, at the time Warnock joined, he faced a two-match suspension due to accumulating too many bookings.
Since then, Warnock has been one of our key players in the latter stages of what has been an incredible 20-game unbeaten run for Wigan Athletic, and he is now keeping McCann out of the starting XI.
I remember in our Premier League days we played Blackburn Rovers at home, and the former England international was up against Antonio Valencia on the wing.
Stephen won’t thank me for saying this, but Valencia’s pace ripped him apart that day, and Latics won the game 3-0.
But what he lacks in pace he makes up for in energy, resilience and invaluable experience at this level of football.
First of all, he’s adapted to Gary Caldwell’s formations and philosophy with ease, whether it be filling into a back three as the left centre-back, or using his tireless energy to get up and down the pitch as the left full-back of a back four.
He’s also the type of defender who’ll put his body on the line for the team’s cause, and his experience has helped shore up our already strong defence further.
Warnock has been another exceptional signing, and the 34-year old is out of contract at the end of the campaign.
If we are to be promoted back to the Championship, he might be worth signing on a free transfer to give us vital experience that could help us to keep progressing next term.
It’s been a great team effort this season.
Many players have made major contributions to the cause: Jason Pearce, Michael Jacobs, Max Power and, latterly, Stephen Warnock and Conor McAleny have all been impressive.
But five players have really stood out for me, and my top five players of the season in reverse order are:
5. Yanic Wildschut
The flying Dutchman was the catalyst for Wigan’s surge up the table.
The early-season form had been inconsistent, but when Yanic came on loan from Middlesbrough, the team gained a powerful attacking force which opponents were unable to contain. His wonder strike from at Crewe set the tone.
He soon became a fans’ favourite and his permanent signing in January gave the club a further boost.
He has now scored seven goals including a magnificent winner at Walsall.
4. Craig Morgan
The captain came highly recommended from Championship side Rotherham, and his defensive performances gave the team stability and composure when under pressure.
He is comfortable on the ball and an excellent passer. His assuredness and organisational skills mean he is rarely flustered and this helped to galvanise a disparate new set of players into an effective team.
He chipped in with two crucial goals – a superb low strike from the edge of the area to equalise in the 90th minute at Bury, and a 96th-minute bullet header to cap an amazing comeback against Gillingham.
3. Jussi Jaaskelainen
The experienced 41-year-old goalkeeper was only signed as a back-up to Richard O’Donnell but, when he came into the team, he immediately added much-needed composure to the defence.
It is no coincidence the team’s rise up the table commenced when the former Finnish international took over in goal. His shot-stopping skills have been exemplary with many stand-out displays, most noticeably at Millwall, when he denied the Lions’ strikers almost single-handedly at times.
He now has 17 clean sheets to his name and there are likely to be more before the end of the season.
2. Will Grigg
Latics have lacked a 20-goal striker for many seasons, but Grigg has delivered these and more.
Grigg has already eclipsed the 22 goals he scored in all competitions for MK Dons last season.
He should add plenty more to his tally in the remaining five games of the campaign, and is capable of pipping Nicky Ajose to the League One Golden Boot.
He is also on the verge of a remarkable treble by making it three promotions in the last three seasons to the Championship, after helping Brentford up in 2014 and MK Dons in 2015.
1. David Perkins - ‘Mr. Consistency’
Who’d have thought that the free transfer from relegated Blackpool would have had such a positive impact on the season?
Well Graham Barrow and Gary Caldwell obviously did, and what a revelation the diminutive midfielder has been.
The tenacious terrier wins the ball consistently, runs miles for the cause, and keeps the play moving.
He has formed a great partnership with Max Power and latterly with Sam Morsy.
The 33-year-old has played 44 games so far this season and he’s still going strong.
If he achieves promotion, it will be his first promotion as a player, and if he wins the Latics Player of the Season award it will be a thoroughly deserved double.