12th Man: Our panel of Latics experts have their say
There is a discussion which keeps doing the rounds this year involving comparisons to the 2002/03 season '“ the year when we really did 'smash it'.
Even though it’s an inevitable thing to bring up, I must admit I cringe a little bit every time I read it. Mainly because many football clubs do not encounter a season like that once in their lifetime, let alone twice, and we should recognise that what we did that year under Paul Jewell was in all likelihood without parallel before or ever again.
Yet in any successful team, there are certain ingredients and indeed players who bring out those ingredients as the season progresses.
Players like Max Power and Yanic Wildschut have passion in abundance and have made a real connection with the fans that simply hasn’t been there for a few years – Emmerson Boyce being the exception.
Michael Jacobs is another such example – a player with impressive guile and talent but also one who would run through a brick wall.
And the defensive pairing of Jason Pearce and Craig Morgan has really come to the fore in the past couple of months, when early-season injury prevented this.
I’ve singled out a few there, which seems a little unfair, but we are in a position now where we have this type of player throughout the club – players who are hungry and want to succeed.
Aside some of the obvious words like desire and resilience, it’s hard to put a finger on exactly what “character” is, but boy are we going to need them to show some in the last 14 games.
Staying in the top two is going to be the next big challenge but, now we can taste it, let’s hope those hungry players will battle just as hard to maintain this position over the coming weeks as they have done to get there.
The away day at Walsall was a trip to remember.
Super goals, great football, a last-minute winner, a fantastic atmosphere in the away end, a pre-game Balti Pie at the home of the Balti Pie, and three points to lift us into second spot in the league table.
I have always felt this season would be one that we would grow into.
The quality in the squad was evident from the start.
It was just a matter of getting the new players settled in, getting them familiar with the system that we’d be playing, and tweaking it a little as the games came thick and fast.
They say pride comes before a fall.
And while I am really proud of what the Latics have achieved so far this campaign, with this in mind we must be wary of bogey team Bury, who roll up at the DW Stadium on Saturday.
Two defeats and a draw speak volumes about how we have struggled against our Lancashire neighbours this season.
However, I am backing us to bust the Bury hoodoo firmly into the ground come 5pm on Saturday.
With no Balti Pies available at the DW, I am hoping the Latics will deliver the feast on the pitch and play with spice and full-on flavour to really earn their crust...and send us home satisfied with another three points. Up the ‘Tics!
‘If Carlsberg did weekends...’, is the famous line used by the lager company in advertisements, and that was definitely applicable to Wigan Athletic last weekend.
We nicked a last-minute winner over promotion rival Walsall, Gillingham lost at Oldham, and then Burton were beaten on Monday which resulted in us closing the gap on the top and pushing us into second place.
All in all it was a perfect weekend, and the belief is now as strong as it has ever been that we can now go and push for the league title.
Just five defeats from 32 in the league, and unbeaten in 11 games, and you can’t help but praise Gary Caldwell for the job he is doing at the minute.
But even then, there is still part of me that watches us and thinks: “We can be so much better than this”, given the quality of the squad.
There’s still times I believe we’re too defensive, and we could be winning games 3/4-0. But I that might just be me being overly critical, as we’re still getting results and showing how good of a team we are.
We’re the form team in the division now, and the teams around us are probably seeing us as the main team in the promotion picture, and we need to ensure we play like it.
Teams will probably see us as more of a scalp now, and if it wasn’t the case as much before, it is now, and that starts with Bury on Saturday.
Walsall and Burton play each other, and it gives us the perfect opportunity to close the gap on Burton at the top.
Who knows, next week we could be talking about going top of the table for the first time this season. Fingers crossed!
There should be no understating just how important Saturday’s win at Walsall could be.
For us to go there and win – and actually leapfrog them in the league table – could do wonders for the confidence in the next few weeks.
Gary Caldwell kept everyone guessing with his line-up with Yanic Wildschut, who had by his own standards been quiet in recent weeks, back on the bench in favour of a first start for young Ryan Colclough.
It’s a testament to our recruitment policy that we can leave players of the standard of Craig Davies, Haris Vuckic and the aforementioned Wildschut on the bench.
When Walsall’s equaliser went in, I feared the worst. But as we keep saying every week, this Latics side doesn’t know when it’s beaten.
And thanks to some fantastic saves from veteran Jussi Jaskellainen, we stayed in the game to the last possible moment.
With Burton slipping up against Southend on Monday night, it shows this league still has a number of twists and turns ahead.
Perhaps, just perhaps, that automatic promotion dream is a bit more realistic than a few months ago.
It’s on to Bury on Saturday, and each time we’ve played them this season they’ve arguably had the upper hand including the embarrassing 4-0 FA Cup defeat back in November.
How satisfying would it be to put the Shakers to the sword this Saturday?
Oooh, don’t they grow up so fast?
One month they’re turning out against Wigan Athletic in the FA Youth Cup, the next they’re facing Chelsea’s first team in the actual FA Ben Watson Memorial Cup.
On BBC HD TV at prime time Sunday afternoon, no less.
Without wanting to take undue credit, I like to think that marathon 120-plus minute Under-18s tie was ideal preparation for Tosin Adarabioyo and Cameron Humphreys-Grant.
Because the DW Stadium, with its partisan home support and idiosyncratic playing surface, has been termed ‘The Stamford Bridge of the North’ on at least one occasion (that occasion being just now.)
Underdog stories such as these are invariably drowned in a chip paper sea of thrice-photocopied articles (always) entitled ‘the FA Cup has lost its magic’.
Thus, it was heartening to hear Sir Ben Watson speak to FATV last week about the ‘flick on’ that won Little Latics their own FA Cup.
“I just walked into the box and no-one picked me up,” he remarked with a grin that spread from Marsh Green to Tyldesley.
As Ecclesiastes observed, one must never underestimate the value of positioning oneself in the correct place at the correct time: “The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favour to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”
I’m not sure if he’d care to adjust that statement in light of zonal marking or Pablo Zabaleta’s late sending-off, however.
I guess when it boils down to it, that Eccleston-Nasties chap was a terrible football pundit.
Thanks to a stellar month, second-placed Wigan Athletic are technically no longer the underdogs but the alpha males.
But as long as you keep convincing yourself they have no chance, the longer the ‘magic of football’ will linger, and the more you’ll enjoy it.
Sing it with me now: “Little Wigan, Football League One…”
What a weekend for Wigan Athletic!
Gillingham went down 2-1 at Oldham, while Latics scored a last-minute winner at Walsall to move into second. And if that wasn’t good enough, leaders Burton lost 3-1 at Southend on Monday.
In all honesty, it got us Wiganers a little bit excited.
Achieving a bounce-back promotion to the Championship is definitely possible, but winning the title isn’t out of the question either.
We’re unbeaten in 2016 and we have an ambitious and young chairman in David Sharpe, as well as a likewise boss in Gary Caldwell.
Everything surrounding the club is positive at the moment, the negativity of last term seems a distant memory, and that’s testament to the job that Sharpe, Caldwell, Jonathan Jackson and the rest of the hierarchy and staff have done.
In fact, we are finally looking upwards rather than looking over our shoulders.
If I was being really picky then I’d be wary of Millwall.
Apart from us they are the form team in the division, and the Lions are only six points off ourselves. But we’ll see who is the better side come next Tuesday’s meeting at the New Den.
I remember taking part in a fans’ forum back in October, when we had just salvaged a late draw away to Bury and sat in 10th position in the table.
Caldwell said he had spoke to the statistics staff and analysts at the club, and the last 20 winners of League One were in a position within the top 10 at the same stage of the campaign.
One bloke said what would the Scotsman do if we were still 10th a month later and he simply replied: “We won’t be 10th”.
We were all up for taking the play-offs at that point, but fast-forward to the present day and how wrong we could be – and how right our manager was.
Latics produced another breathtaking away victory at Walsall and sent a strong message to their promotion rivals that they are gunning for the League One title.
Gary Caldwell’s team has made a remarkable surge up the table following an inconsistent start to the season.
The manager and his recruitment team have made some excellent signings during the campaign and the squad now has greater quality in depth.
But tomorrow’s opponents Bury provide a stark reminder of how quickly things can go wrong, if the mindset is not right.
Latics were thrashed 4-0 in the FA Cup first-round tie at Gigg Lane, and Caldwell told the media it was the lowest point he’d had as a manager.
Latics will be seeking revenge for that drubbing in the FA Cup, and Caldwell and his coaching staff will be ramming home the message that they must maintain their high standards if they are to achieve top spot.
Following the Bury game, Latics will have one of their most difficult fixtures of the season when they face fifth-placed Millwall at the New Den on Tuesday night.
It is a notoriously difficult place to play with an intimidating crowd, so Latics will have to be at their best to get a good result.
Last season both clubs were relegated from the Championship, and the equivalent fixture was a bad-tempered encounter.
Millwall set out with a game plan to intimidate Latics with some tough tackling and aggravation, and the strategy paid dividends as Martyn Waghorn and Jason Pearce were sent off and the game descended into chaos.
The team’s focus must not drop, whatever the intimidation, if they are to get the results required.