Our expert panel of 12th Men run the rule over a disappointing draw against Sheffield United, and hopefully a return to winning ways against Chesterfield this weekend.
Football is like a soap opera.
Watching the Latics is akin to Corrie or Emmerdale at the moment – lots of drama, with a bit of comedy thrown in to boot.
Indeed, over the past week, we have had quite a bit of drama, frustration and the odd comedic moment too.
Last Thursday, we came back from two goals down against an excellent Gillingham side to win the game in the dying embers.
Fast forward on your Sky Plus remote to this Tuesday, and we throw away a three-goal lead against, quite frankly, an average-to-poor Sheffield United who took a point with a goal at the end of the game.
The script writers at Granada TV just couldn’t make this stuff up.
So there is the drama, and frustration...but where is the comedy, you may ask?
Well anyone who witnessed our right-hand side of defence trying to play the ball out on Tuesday would have been rolling over in stitches.
Absolute comic genius.
Some of our defenders – well, one in particular, and I don’t need to name names – appears he can’t pass water at the moment, never mind a football.
The way we allowed the Blades back into the game wasn’t just down to one player, though.
Once we scored our third goal, the players simply switched off.
They stopped doing what they had been doing all game, what had got them in front in the first place.
No closing down the opposition, no harrassing, no (attempting to) keep possession.
The cigars and brandy were out, and they had the mindset that the game was won.
Well, it wasn’t.
This ‘relaxation’ of play also coincided with David Perkins having to leave the field with a nasty-looking foot injury. Those who have been questioning in recent weeks what Perkins actually brings to the team certainly had their answer for the final 20 minutes on Tuesday.
They say you only realise just how good a player is when they aren’t playing, and that was the case with Perkins.
When he left the field, there was no-one to close the space down, no zip, no breaking up of play.
All three of the United goals started from play in the area of the pitch that Perkins patrols so effectively.
If Perkins is going to be sidelined for any length of time, then we need to find a replacement from somewhere – and quick.
Just like a good soap, though, there are still quite a few plots to unfold.
I firmly believe we will be in the top two come the end of February. That isn’t a prediction that we will win promotion automatically.
Just that one of the top two spots in League One is obtainable over the next six weeks. Then the fun will really begin.
Six goals in a week, four points on the board and an extended unbeaten run.
Usually a week like that would be looked back on as a successful return.
Sadly the way Latics threw away a 3-0 goal lead against Sheffield United means we can’t look back on it in that way.
Immediately after the game the knives were sharpened for the manager – he and he alone had lost the game for us on Tuesday (we didn’t lose).
His substitutions were the reason we didn’t take all three points.
I would urge everyone who holds those views to take a look back at the highlights for the goals.
I’m sure Caldwell shouldn’t be blamed for three players refusing to go in to tackles.
I’m sure he shouldn’t be blamed for Leon Barnett’s inability to find a blue shirt.
And I’m pretty sure he shouldn’t be blamed for the side’s attitude after the third went in.
We were in complete control for 68 minutes, and I still can’t believe the team switched off to such an extent that we were hanging on for a point at the end.
I think Caldwell was right to point the finger of blame at the players after the game.
No matter what the tactics, substitutions and any other number of factors, a professional footballer should be able to see out a 3-0 lead with 20 minutes left.
Still, despite the doom and gloom of Tuesday, we’re actually in the middle of a decent period.
We’ve solidified our place in the play-offs and are still well poised to put pressure on the top two.
I said, before this run of home games, seven points would be a decent return and, if we can get three points against Chesterfield on Saturday, it will have been a good week.
There’s a lot of work to still be done, and Caldwell needs to eradicate the type of collapse we saw on Tuesday.
But we are still very much on target.
There’s a lot of football to be played before May.
Let’s not lose sight of what we’ve done so far this season.
Well some would say we deserved what we got against Sheffield United given our comeback against Gillingham the week before.
But at 3-0 up with half an hour to go, I should be sat here discussing the possibility of pushing into the top two in the next two weeks.
However, in my opinion, complacency added to manager Gary Caldwell’s decision-making during the game cost us a very important three points.
Fair play to Caldwell, who cannot be accused of sugar-coating it in his press conference after the 3-3 draw.
But it should never have got to that point.
We were coasting at 3-0 up at the three-quarter mark. And the system we were playing was working brilliantly.
Will Grigg and Michael Jacobs, as Caldwell pointed out after the game, were magnificent.
And it’s been great to see a relationship between those two forming over the recent weeks.
But once Haris Vuckic was taken off, and replaced by Yanic Wildschut, the game completely changed.
Because Wildschut was operating on the wing instead of in the hole, like Vuckic was, the Blades were able to play their way out with ease and finding pockets of space to play in.
Add to this David Perkins picking up an injury and being taken off for Don Cowie and, once the visitors’ first goal went in, you knew the way in which the game was going to end up.
Leon Barnett and Donervan Daniels were a disaster waiting to happen on the right-hand side of our defence, and United exploited that to the maximum.
In the end, it was absolutely two points dropped.
It’s difficult to try and not be too critical, as it just two defeats in 21 league games now. But it is just so frustrating, knowing this team is more than capable of winning the league.
The simple fact is mistakes such as Tuesday night may end up costing us in the long run.
The positive, though, is we now face a couple of games against Chesterfield on Saturday and Crewe the following weekend, from which we should be looking to take maximum points.
If we do that, we would be very much be back on track in our assault on the top two in League One.
IT was hugely disappointing to be pegged back from 3-0 up against Sheffield United on Tuesday night, but hopefully Gary Caldwell will have learned some important lessons about his players.
A number of factors contributed to Latics’ collapse against the Blades.
At 3-0 they looked confident to push on and score more goals, but they were perhaps too confident.
Committing too many men forward at a time when they risked being hit on the counter-attack was dangerous. They often had four or five players in advanced positions and the shape of the team was affected.
Latics’ right-hand side was particularly vulnerable, as Donervon Daniels pushed too far forward and neglected his defensive duties, and Leon Barnett had another out-of-sorts performance in the centre of defence.
Latics certainly became complacent after going 3-0 up.
They should have closed the game down by retaining possession and controlling the midfield.
It should not be forgotten United are a decent team who could be involved in the play-offs at the end of the season. They looked good going forward and, in Matt Done and Billy Sharp, have a strike-force with 18 goals between them.
But perhaps the most significant factor was the enforced substitution of David Perkins due to an ankle injury. The combative midfielder has been a key player in Latics’ successes this season.
He does a lot of the hard work in midfield breaking up opposition attacks, winning the ball and setting up play. It was no coincidence that Perkins’ departure and the introduction of Don Cowie led to the midfield losing its grip and the Blades’ fightback.
Caldwell will no doubt make some strategic changes to his starting line-up and he will also expect a swift response from his players.
But the manager will not panic – he knows Latics have good quality in the squad and are still within striking distance of the automatic promotion places.