The 12th Man: Wigan Athletic fans have their say!
Our panel of Latics experts give their thoughts ahead of arguably the game of the season - in League One at least - this weekend!
How do we spin this one then? Football club goes on tremendous cup run, gets global exposure and is now just one game off an unlikely Wembley trip. Yet back in the humdrum world of league football, it feels like we are tumbling fast, despite barely playing a game.
You can’t fault Blackburn Rovers for taking their
opportunity to keep winning league matches while we go off in pursuit of cup glory, coupled with a few unfortunate weather postponements. I hate to admit it, but if I was in their position I’d probably feel quite content. They have amassed the points, and can now watch eagerly, hoping for a slip up when we eventually play our games in hand.
For us though it is much simpler, we just need to win those games in hand (plus most of the others!) and we will be top of the league when it matters. I find myself mulling over whether luck plays a part in all this as well. Sometimes it is all about timing, better to play a team on a bad run than one on a good run.
We undoubtedly bumped into Southend at a bad time. Had the hapless Phil Brown still been in charge, it might have been a different story. Plus, since we last played them, Bradford, Oxford and Bury have changed managers.
However, on the flip side to this, the later in the season that these games in hand take place, the more likely it is that other teams will have less to play for. Which should make our task easier on paper. ON PAPER. The two most dangerous words in footballing lexicography right there.
We have a very strong squad to call upon but Paul Cook likes to play a settled first team and managing that mix is a fine art in itself. Did we possibly disrespect Rochdale last week by playing a weakened side? Does it matter as long as we squeezed out a narrow 1-0 win? Making changes is absolutely vital given the fixture backlog, but not at the expense of getting the result.
I’m fine with that – a “doing just enough” approach, which is exactly what we did against Rochdale.
If there’s one game where I would expect the strongest possible side to be played, it is this Sunday. In spite of all of our games in hand, it feels like Blackburn are now in the box seat and have a great opportunity to see off a rival and put a nine point gap between us and close the goal difference gap.
Again, the other outcome is that a rare victory for us at Ewood Park would mean a three point gap with a full four games in hand which would look much more healthy. Is it better to be on top or chasing down top position? We’ve had both this season but Blackburn seem to be particularly resilient right now and Sunday will be an incredibly tough game.
It will come down to the key players on the day, ours and theirs, as to who prevails. Of course, given the strength of the two squads and the high stakes, it is also highly likely that the game could end in a draw. Is that a better result for us or better for Rovers? I suppose we’ve come full circle back to the start – it depends whether you prefer points in the bag or games in hand?
It was frustrating to see Latics’ game at Bristol Rovers called off on Tuesday night due to a frozen pitch as the backlog of fixtures is starting to mount up.
Latics are now six points behind leaders Blackburn Rovers and two points behind second placed Shrewsbury Town although they have three games in hand on Town and four in hand on Rovers.
Rotherham United are also making a push for the automatics after they moved up to fourth place by winning 11 and drawing three of their last 14 games and are now four points behind Latics.
The combination of Latics’ fantastic FA Cup run and some bad weather
has meant that they could well be playing two games per week in the final weeks of the season.
Latics will have to fulfil postponed fixtures against Bristol Rovers and Walsall and there could still be the small matter of an FA Cup semi-final around April 21 if they can get past Southampton.
Fixture congestion has always been a problem for the top teams in the top leagues if they are competing in more than one competition and Paul Cook is pragmatic enough to understand that they will have to utilise their full squad to get through their 46 league games plus cup games if they are to be successful.
This was amply demonstrated last Saturday when they defeated Rochdale 1-0, even though Cook made seven changes to the team that had knocked Manchester City out of the FA Cup.
Cook took a calculated risk, with plenty of games coming up, he recognised that some of his players needed a rest. Latics were also missing key men in the suspended captain Sam Morsy and the injured Nick Powell.
Their ability to grind out the three points without their best players has kept them in touch with both Blackburn and Shrewsbury, despite playing fewer games.
This Sunday sees Latics take on Rovers at Ewood Park in the battle of the League One title favourites.
It’s not make or break for Latics, given the games in hand, but a victory could prove invaluable in the race for the automatics.
Rovers have some big names for League One with striker Danny Graham (15 goals), creative midfielder Bradley Dack (14 goals), and the versatile Charlie Mulgrew (12 goals).
Latics probably have the most influential player in the division in the £10m rated Powell (12 goals), and many other of outstanding individuals including captain Morsy (3 goals), prolific striker Will Grigg (16 goals), and the towering centre-back Dan Burn (4 goals).
Latics and Blackburn have the strongest squads in the division and it could prove to be a tense encounter with so much riding on the game in front of the TV cameras.
Being a Latics fan is rarely dull but now is certainly a very exciting time for everyone associated with the club and we should fully appreciate the experience as the team go in search of what could be an unprecedented League One and FA Cup double.
It has been a sad week for some Latics fans in recent weeks. Not on the pitch, where Latics are in the latter stages of the FA Cup and still positioned well in the league.
But there has been sadness off it with the recent deaths of long time Latics fans, including Brian Sabin and Annette Birchall.
There has been sadness for my family too as my brother, Philip, died suddenly on February 17 aged 43.
Philip was the person who took me to my first Latics game in 1991. I’d heard of Wigan Athletic before then, but didn’t’ know anything about them. I had supported Man United until I attended that first game. We played Tranmere Rovers at Springfield Park. We lost. But I never looked back.
I realised that watching live football was for me, and Latics were the only way I could do that regularly. From that day on I was a Latics fan. All because my brother took me along with him and some of his friends. He is the reason why I support this incredible football club. A club which has given me some of the greatest highs and the most despairing lows.
In all those years that I’ve supported Latics, I could probably count on one hand the number of seasons when we’ve not been playing for something. I have long said that I genuinely do not think that there is a better football club to support. Phil is the reason why I do. I will always be in his debt for that.
My brother took me to my first away game (Stoke at the Victoria Ground). He got me a job stewarding at Springfield Park for a few years. Being paid to watch Latics. Truly living the dream.
Even when I started watching Latics with some other groups of friends, we’d talk about Latics and it was the one interest that we both had.
It was obvious that when we got to the FA Cup final, there was only one person that I wanted to sit with. I shunned other groups of friends and sat with my brother for that most wonderful of moments. We celebrated together at Wembley and then we stood together for hours waiting for the open top bus to arrive in Market Place.
My son is a big Latics fan. We have a season tickets in the South Stand. Even though my brother has one in the East Stand, he’d always swap his ticket and sit with us when we were there.
Saturday’s game against Rochdale was not the best game. We won, which we all agree is the most important thing, but it was not pretty. It was particularly difficult for me. I was OK during the first half, but not long into the second period, a deep sorrow fell upon me, knowing that I’d never watch Latics with my brother again.
I do hope that this tragedy does not ruin the Latics watching experience for me in the long run.
Phil lived his life like many working class men do. He didn’t eat especially healthily, he liked a drink, smoked a bit and didn’t do all that much exercise. But he didn’t do any of these things to the extreme. Still it seems that Phil died because his lifestyle caused damage to his arteries. This, along with his high blood pressure, put strain on his heart. It is likely that he was having a heart attack for most of the day on Friday 16. He called an ambulance in the early hours of Saturday morning but it was too late for him.
I am not encouraging everyone to become vegan, teetotal, non-smoking, marathon runners. But I would urge us all to do four simple things:
1) Review your lifestyle and make any changes that you feel are needed.
2) Get a health check-up when invited for one and go to the doctors if you feel unwell.
3) Become familiar with the symptoms of heart attacks.
4) Be thankful for what you have before it is gone.
We need to talk about Latics, we need to talk about this fantastic side that has been assembled this season and we sadly need to talk about the support that this side receive.
Let’s establish a few facts before we go on, Wigan Athletic do fantastically well in terms of crowd numbers and have done fantastically well over the last two decades. For a club our size, in our area with our relatively recent history our crowd numbers stand up to scrutiny but there is still so much more that could be achieved.
It’s well known that the DW Stadium, built with the Premier League in mind, is too big for us – even our chairman David Sharpe admits that, but the DW was never intended for League One. It was intended for those heady Premier League days of which we had many and what a difference a full(er) house can have to the atmosphere.
No example of that was more stark than in the past week, Monday night saw over 19,000 pack in to the DW for that momentous evening against Manchester City and what an amazing atmosphere it was. The occasion and the spectacle of course helped, but it makes such a difference to the side and the performance when the atmosphere is like that.
The same could be said for the West Ham game, although the attendance wasn’t as high as the Manchester City game the atmosphere was just as electric.
It makes a massive difference to this team and this team really do deserve your support. When people like Max Power and Will Grigg say what a difference the atmosphere makes its time we sat up and took notice.
How disappointing for them and the rest of this team that following their heroics against Manchester City the attendance against Rochdale reverted to 8,654. In contrast the game against Gillingham who you would have expected to bring less away fans than Rochdale had 8,384 there. So arguably less than 300 extra spectators stayed for our next Saturday league game.
What happened to the extra seven and odd thousand people who turned out in the home ends for that fantastic win over Manchester City? I know times are hard, I also know what a struggle it is both financially and in terms of juggling work and family commitments to get along to the DW.
But I also know there are plenty of football fans in our town and in our borough.
There are also the Wiganers who love nothing more than a good whinge about money.
Latics and primarily the Whelan family have made football ridiculously affordable for the last 20 years. Wigan were frequently the cheapest club to watch in our eight seasons in the Premier League (apart from that dodgy second season), since relegation from the Premier League we’ve had fantastic deals for season ticket holders and individual match goers.
These sadly haven’t had the sort of uptake that would have made it worthwhile the club doing it again.
One only has to scan social media to see the groans at having the prospect of paying £20 for an FA Cup quarter-final in a few weeks time. Or the person who replied to David Sharpe’s rallying call on Twitter for more people to come and support the lads at Blackburn by asking why weren’t the club laying on free travel.
I’d wager no other club offers so much and gets so little credit, with a change of ownership in the offing the good times of cheap tickets for all may well be coming to an end. It could well be a case of be careful what you wish for or rather complain about.
This article isn’t intended to criticise anyone, certainly not those loyal Latics fans who go week in week out and those who do support the lads when they can, it’s aimed at those who can go and have been but for some reason stay away.
Come back and give this team your support, they’re on the verge of something special and they deserve the support of all Wiganers old and new.
Back to matters on the pitch, Latics had a wasted trip down to Bristol on Tuesday as the continued problems with the Beast from the East ended any hope of us building on the win over Rochdale.
With Blackburn winning again on Tuesday night it makes this Sunday’s match at Ewood Park even more important in the shakeup of things.
We’re still in a decent position, even though we’ve slipped behind in recent weeks.
But with the games in hand building up what a statement of intent it would be if we could go to Ewood Park and get a result.
We’ve not the best of records over in East Lancashire, to say the least.
In fact we’ve only ever won once at Ewood Park, what a time to change that record – if yet another game isn’t snowed off that is.