12th Man: Refreshing to see all-out attack
Ten games in. A useful marker.
I remember reading somewhere about the way that the Germans would cover games in the run-up to a World Cup.
Far from having Wrighty and Robbie Savage clowning around on a comfy couch, the German approach would be to stand around a table wearing suits and discussing whether it was conceivable they would not win the World Cup.
At the risk of going all Teutonic and serious on you, I’d like to attempt to a similar potted analysis of Wigan Athletic’s chances of promotion this season.
The good news is we are in second place, which is a promotion spot.
However, bad news is we have lost two games against the teams in first and third.
Let’s take a look at those teams.
There seems a general perception that one or both will fall away, probably to make way for a divisional powerhouse like Bradford, Blackburn or Charlton.
I think Shrewsbury could be here for the long haul.
They are built on a solid defence, with a narrow home pitch and, by all accounts, are rapidly turning into Burton Albion v2.0.
There is arguably a blueprint there which allows smaller clubs to achieve great results – and where’s the harm in that?
We might be a club with a bigger budget and stronger squad this year, but this approach has served us well in the past, and also may be required should we ever grace the Championship again.
Peterborough are a different prospect.
They have an abundance of attacking players, and their model historically has always involved scouting the London non-league for young, explosive talent capable of making the step up.
Keeping their key players fit will be key as they are scoring for fun.
If the goals dry up, they do not have the defensive resilience of Shrewsbury to fall back on.
Given the general animosity following last Saturday, would it be harsh to want their best players to get flogged in January, and for the Posh to miss out on the play-offs in heartbreaking fashion?
They could have another lap of honour perhaps!
The Doomsday scenario is that both teams continue at the blistering pace they have set and some of the others improve and catch us up.
Yet Shrewsbury – with 26 points and no defeats over 10 games, equating to 120 points over a full season – must surely tail off against that run rate at some point.
Even if they somehow miraculously keep this up, and effectively go on to secure one of the promotion places, we should firstly concentrate on putting as much distance between ourselves and third place, and worry about them later, in the same manner we eventually mugged the title off Burton two years ago.
In the short-term, we just need to keep winning.
We are going to have to get used to teams coming to the DW and attempting to stop us playing, which inevitably causes frustration on the pitch and in the crowd.
Yet, what a refreshing change from last season to watch a team go out with the intention to attack and score goals, rather than us being entrenched in our own half for long periods.
My final wish, if we are to have a successful season, is that the crowds start to pick up sooner than April, and some of the tens of thousands of Latics fans who have watched us over the past few decades can return to cheer on their exciting local side in greater numbers this season.
So two matches, a second defeat of the season, and another chance to bounce back.
The last time Latics experienced defeat they went on to win the next three, with seven goals for and zero goals conceded.
If STAT isn’t enough for you Paul Cook’s side have taken 22 points from their first 10 games – repeated over a season that would see the side finish on 100 points.
Yet there is still room for improvement.
I wasn’t at Peterborough on Saturday, but it sounded a microcosm of our season so far – completely dominate the opposition, lay siege to their goal, yet still not get the rewards our dominance warranted.
In this case, it wasn’t even enough to get a point, and that sucker punch of a late defeat after we had managed to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory will hurt for a while.
Tuesday’s match with Plymouth followed much the same path.
We battered Plymouth, who put up a fantastic defensive display to keep us out as long as they did.
It isn’t the wonder wins of 4-0, 5-0 etc that get you promoted at the end of the season, but the hard-fought wins over sides like Plymouth, and there was relief around Robin Park as Nick Powell’s penalty gave us all three points.
Again it should and could have been more, but I’m sure the goals to match our dominant performances are just around the corner.
Walsall on Saturday will be another difficult task, but it is the type of home game we need to be winning to keep up with our promotion rivals.
Walsall come in to the game on the back of a decent run of form.
They’ve taken five points from their last three matches without tasting defeat.
Speaking of Walsall, I’ll never forget their manager Jon Whitney saying he believed they would finish above us during our promotion season in 2015/16.
I’m as surprised as anyone that we’re back facing Jon and his Walsall team again but, with any luck, we’ll have a similar result to the last time we played them, and managed to annoy Jon so much in the process.
Our home form in particular has been excellent of late, so let’s see if the lads can keep it up on Saturday.
It was another week of contrasting results for Latics, with a disappointing away defeat at Peterborough and a narrow 1-0 victory against Plymouth at the DW Stadium.
At the Abax Stadium, Latics’ failure to convert a multitude of first-half chances proved crucial as they slipped to a narrow 3-2 defeat.
Latics went into the interval 1-0 up but they could have been five or six ahead as they dominated the home team from the kick-off.
But Latics’ profligacy in front of goal proved crucial as a reinvigorated Posh were the better team in the second half and ran out surprising winners.
It was a similar picture on Tuesday night as Latics dominated Plymouth from the outset, and should have been well ahead by half time.?
They had plenty more chances in the second-half, but were unable to break the deadlock until they were awarded a penalty on 82 minutes, which Nick Powell dispatched with aplomb.
Out of 23 shots against Plymouth, there were only seven on target, and no goal from open play.
The general feeling among Paul Cook and his coaching staff is that, as long as they are creating chances, they will be okay.
However, Latics have already lost to Shrewsbury and Peterborough, and they still have to play many of the stronger teams in the division.
If they are to overcome these teams, they are going to have to improve their goals to chances ratio.
Unfortunately for Latics, top striker Will Grigg doesn’t appear to be back to full fitness, and hasn’t yet returned to being the prolific marksman of the 2015/16 season.
Ivan Toney works hard, but he doesn’t look like a 20-goal striker and, though Michael Jacobs and Gavin Massey are excellent players, they are not yet converting enough of their opportunities.
Similarly Powell is Latics’ top scorer with five goals, but he should be scoring more at this level.
Latics may currently be sitting in second place in the League One table, but they must improve their finishing and convert more of their chances if they are to finish in the automatic promotion places.
How will this season be defined?
That is not an easy question to answer at this early stage.
But even now a couple of patterns have started to emerge.
Wigan are winning games, creating plenty of chances, scoring goals and not conceding many.
This, or course, is all very encouraging and explains why we are currently second in the league.
But the patterns I am referring to are less encouraging.
The first one is when we dominate periods of the game but cannot score goals.
All teams suffer from this and often the game results in a win anyway.
But we have seen this a couple of time already this season when it has cost us points.
Last Saturday at Peterborough was one of those games.
The dominance in the first half was clear.
Those associated with both clubs were clear Latics had most of the possession, created the most chances and deserved to be ahead.
In fact the game should have been won by half-time.
The most extreme occurrence of this I can remember was the game earlier in the season was against Portsmouth.
At half time Latics could have been 6-0 up, or to be fair to Portsmouth – although I don’t feel like being fair to them after all the fouls they committed – it could have been 6-1 or 6-2.
The point is Latics were so dominant in the first half, there is no way they should have been able to get a point.
Nor should Latics have come away from the game at Peterborough with anything other than three points.
Tuesday night against Plymouth was another occasion when we didn’t turn our chances into goals.
While we were certainly not at our best, we were definitely the better team, and at least we laboured to a 1-0 victory so it didn’t cost us points.
The second of the patterns, albeit at a fledgling stage of the season, is losing to our rivals.
Latics’ two defeats have come against teams towards the top of the table, namely Shrewsbury and Peterborough.
While it has to be remembered we did beat Charlton when they were above us, we want this pattern to end as soon as possible so we can beat the teams around us.
That gives a big advantage in terms of points and also boosts confidence.
That said, it is quite possible to win promotion if you lose to your nearest rivals, but beat the rest of the league.
The positive thing for Latics here is both the games lost were away from home.
Both Shrewsbury and Peterborough still have to come to the DW Stadium.
Plus, despite the thoughts of Charlton manager Karl Robinson, after we beat them at The Valley, we haven’t actually played at our best yet.
Let’s hope Latics can have some games this year when we play at our best and are able to turn our dominance into plenty of goals.
Within the squad, we certainly have a lot of talent.
But do we have the heart and the professionalism to see games through?
It is early days and it certainly isn’t too late for Latics to redefine their season.
It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions for the Latics fans over the past week, with last-minute heartbreak at Peterborough at the weekend.
However, late joy with Nick Powell’s penalty in midweek against Plymouth has since lifted morale, with the Tics moving back into the automatic promotion places.
Saturday was a tough loss to take, especially considering how dominant Wigan were in the first half.
As Paul Cook would say, “that’s football”, and if you don’t score your chances, you ultimately can’t moan of being punished for them.
In my last piece, I did warn the threat of Peterborough’s front trio, and danger man Junior Morias scored a brace with strike partner Jack Marriott scoring the winner late on.
It was interesting to see how Wigan would respond to the defeat, in particular to the manner of the loss, and although it was a frustrating one to watch, Wigan managed to grind out the victory.
I want to send a special mention to the Plymouth fans, as their support was outstanding, and they can be proud of their side’s performance.
I was really impressed Wigan still managed to find a way to win the game, as Plymouth proved very tricky opposition, with their defence looking unbreakable for the majority of the game.
Debutant goalkeeper Kyle Letheren made some outstanding saves, with Yann Songo’o also operating as a brick wall at the back.
Every time I watch Wigan, I more believe a hiding is coming soon.
If Wigan finish all the chances we create, and everything clicks, we can only apologise to our opposition for the damage we will cause.
Hopefully our opponents will not need to release a club statement, like we saw with Chorley FC in pre-season.
Moving away from Wigan, I want to share how well Jack Byrne is doing at Oldham.
Byrne has been Oldham’s standout player, and he’s already becoming a cult hero at Boundary Park.
Unfortunately nobody has told them he’ll be back at the DW in January!
I personally hope Byrne has a future at the club, as he’s a very good player, and all I think he needs is a run of games (which he’s currently getting) to overcome his injury problems and find his best form.
Walsall are the next team who travel to the DW Stadium for the club’s last fixture in September, which has been a successful month.
Walsall should be a tough test, with Erhun Oztumer being the player to keep an eye on.
However, I’m more than confident Wigan can continue our winning ways, and start to build our place in the automatic promotion places.