12th Man: Time to raise our game against rivals

Lee Evans
Lee Evans

What kind of performance on the road will be this time for Latics at Scunthorpe?

Will it be a Charlton-type accomplished smash-and-grab, or more like Shrewsbury or Peterborough, where we receive a sucker punch off a fellow promotion challenger?

Can we win a game away from home without Sam “bites yer legs” Morsy in the team?

I always liken him to Animal out of The Muppet Show for some reason, full of energy but a bit of a nutter!

If October carries on the way September ended then I’m sure we will be fine, but we do need to up our points tally against teams in the upper echelons. Scunny have for a while been a top six side in the division, Southend are fast improving, Gillingham have lost Bradley Dack and are struggling, but it’s still a fair old trek on a Tuesday night.

Yet, what about Blackpool?

Sure, we’ve had fun there in recent times but they are undoubtedly a decent side and Gary Bowyer deserves massive credit for the results he has produced under what might be considered trying circumstances at best.

They’ve just added human hobgoblin Jay Spearing to their squad as well.

Of course, we also have a home game against Blackburn Rovers at the end of the month, which is already looking massive.

I don’t think there’s been much animosity between the clubs over the years, arguably because we’ve both got Bolton to vent spleen at, or much so Burnley in the case of Rovers.

The rivalry will naturally be cranked up a bit this year I’m sure given recent history and our supposed joint mantle of title challengers.

Blackburn aren’t exactly running away with the division as some pundits were forecasting, but they are too big a club with too strong a squad to be overlooked from proceedings, and I fully expect them to be pushing a lot harder before long.

It will be interesting to look at the league table in a month’s time compared to now, and I forecast several changes as the points averages start to falter.

From our perspective, if we can pick up somewhere between 10 to 12 points out of the next 15 then that sort of pace should really stretch the rest of the chasing pack.

First we head east, and the most interesting fact about Scunthorpe (from a sad groundhopper perspective like mine) is that they are moving ground from Glanford Park in a couple of years to a new stadium.

Older fans will consider that their current ground is in itself a “new” one and recall trips to the Old Show Ground with 7-2 scorelines and Ian Botham playing up front for The Iron.

With that in mind, I’m sure that Saturday will present a stern test but here’s hoping the home team get a duck and the ‘Tics score so many that we can declare the game over before tea with a solid all-round(er) performance.

Sorry for the poor gags, this is just not cricket!

MARTIN TARBUCK

It was good to see Latics bounce back from their second defeat of the season with another six points.

Last time Latics tasted defeat they bounced back with three wins in a row after the Shrewsbury defeat, and I don’t think anyone will be complaining if we get the same reaction to that Peterborough defeat.

I saw a stat the other day that said we have one of the longest running undefeated records at home.

That record stretches back to April of last season, and Graham Barrow’s tenure in charge.

That home record is a massive plus point for us, and it seems we’re well on our way to making the David Whelan Stadium a fortress again.

Even with our current points total and unbeaten home record, it feels as though we’re not firing on all cylinders and there’s more to come from this side.

The Plymouth match, especially, could have been a cricket score.

We seem to meet defences and goalkeepers having the performances of their career at the moment, but the wins are what really matters.

Get those, and surely the goals will follow.

Will Grigg looks to be approaching full fitness again, and the two goals against Walsall will do his confidence a world of good.

What a difference a fully-firing Grigg could make to the promotion push.

So it’s on to Scunthorpe on Saturday, and it’s never an easy place to go.

Indeed, we only managed one point at Glanford Park in 2016 but, with the form we’re in, you’ll hope we can get another three points for the title push.

Sam Morsy misses out due to his involvement with the Egyptian national side, but that opens up an opportunity for another member of the squad.

Max Power is possibly favourite to get the nod, but David Perkins was excellent when he came on for the second half last Saturday, so there’s a difficult choice for Paul Cook to make.

Whoever lines up for us on Saturday, you have confidence they’ll do the job, which frankly is worrying for our opponents.

It’s reaching one of the busier times of the season, with the FA Cup beginning next month and the Checkatrade Trophy returning alongside the usual league fixtures.

If we can get through the next month with the bulk of the squad fit, and keeping in touch with the top three, we’ll be looking very good indeed.

SEAN LIVESEY

It was another pleasing home performance last Saturday as Latics comfortably outplayed Walsall.

Will Grigg was back among the goals with a brace and the fans will now be expecting him to show the form that helped them win the League One title in 2015/16.

Latics have been impressive at home this season and are undefeated having scored 12 goals and only conceded two.

However, their away form is less satisfactory with three wins and two defeats in their five away games, scoring eight and conceding four.

They have lost to league leaders Shrewsbury and fourth-placed Peterborough and they come up against seventh-placed Scunthorpe tomorrow.

Latics will know they need to up their game away from home against teams near the top of the table if they are to make automatic promotion.

They were outfought at Shrewsbury and in the second half at Peterborough and they will have to be more competitive at Scunthorpe.

The Iron are expected to be among the promotion contenders as they finished third last season, only losing out to Millwall in the play-offs.

Graham Alexander manages them and they have developed a reputation for solid defence, only conceding two goals at home and five overall.

They’ve only lost once at home this tern, 1-0 to Blackburn.

Grigg may now be on fire but Scunthorpe also have a prolific goal scorer in Paddy Madden.

The Northern Ireland international has four goals to his name this season and both Grigg and Madden have each scored a remarkable 71 goals last time in League One.

Madden scored 11 in Scunthorpe’s push to the play-offs last season, but he will be hoping to improve on that this time around if they are to be serious challengers.

Latics will be without Sam Morsy, who is on international duty with Egypt, and they noticeably struggled in the second half at Peterborough without him.

David Perkins or Max Power is likely to come into the team to replace him.

Morsy provides excellent cover for the back four and it will be a big challenge for whoever replaces him to match that level of cover.

Michael Jacobs was deservedly nominated for the September League One player of the month awards after an impressive start to the campaign, but he could be missing with a thigh strain.

Question marks remain about Latics’ performances against the top teams and, without Morsy and possibly Jacobs, Scunthorpe will provide an even tougher test.

IAN ASPINALL

Will Grigg scored a brace against former club Walsall at the weekend, as Latics eased to a win at the DW Stadium against Walsall.

I’m absolutely delighted Grigg is back among the goals, as hopefully now that will give him the confidence to relight his fire from the 2015-16 League One season.

Paul Cook stated in his post-match interview that a player of Will Grigg’s qualify will always score goals, and I hope this is the case for the long term future.

I was very impressed with the performance at the weekend as, once again, the 2-0 scoreline doesn’t reflect the dominant display.

I didn’t feel Latics got out of first gear, however it wasn’t particularly needed, as we always looked comfortable in the game, with Walsall only really threatening Jamie Jones’ goal in the final 10 minutes.

Latics carried out their job to pick up another three points, however, I’m sure it would have made Cook’s Saturday night pint even better, with promotion rivals Peterborough losing 4-1 to Oxford.

Latics have now formed a five-point gap over Peterborough, and a two-point lead over third-placed Bradford.

Shrewsbury maintained their unbeaten start with a two-goal win against the Latics’ next opponents, Scunthorpe, which speaks volumes of the fantastic job Paul Hurst is doing at the New Meadow.

The only negative of this weekend, is the injury that Michael Jacobs sustained, leading to the influential winger being replaced at half-time by David Perkins.

Who, off-topic, was excellent when he came on, and who could have even guessed Perks was a set-piece specialist?

It is still unclear whether Jacobs will be fit to play at Scunthorpe, but here’s to hoping he will be back in the starting line-up as soon as possible.

Another negative is once again being without captain Sam Morsy, who is away on international duty, with Egypt preparing for a crucial couple of World Cup qualifying matches.

However, I’m more than confident whoever replaces him in the line-up will do a fantastic job.

Moving on to Saturday, and Scunthorpe at Glanford Park will be one of our toughest tests of the League One campaign.

Scunthorpe had play-off heartbreak last season against Millwall, and Graham Alexander will be making sure his players won’t have to feel the same pain again.

The Irons’ Josh Morris is the hosts’ dangerman, with the tricky winger making 35 goal contributions last season, and already supplying six (three goals, three assists) this term.

However, I still believe Latics have the quality to pick up a result.

JAY WHITTLE

Latics won again at the weekend against Walsall.

We should be careful or we will start to get used to it!

Indeed as was pointed out last Saturday, we have now won as many games at home this season as we did in the whole of last season.

This winning games thing could now be considered a habit.

I said in an earlier 12th Man that Latics should be preparing for life at a higher level already.

That isn’t because we should assume promotion, just that this work should be going on now in case we do achieve our main aim this season.

Success in League One is no guarantee of success in the Championship.

We found that out last season and Bolton are certainly finding it out this season to an even greater extent.

Paul Cook says the squad is not the finished article and he wants to strengthen in January.

Leave aside the fear this should strike into our rivals, it should also make us react in a couple of ways.

Firstly we should be reassured that the club is not taking anything for granted.

Investing further in the playing squad is a statement of intent and a sign of determination that our goals will be pursued.

But also it should raise some questions. Well one actually.

Which positions does Cook think need strengthening?

While not all our players are at the same level – Nick Powell and Michael Jacobs are our two stand-out talents– it is difficult to think which positions are considered weak.

Remember Shaun MacDonald is yet to come back into the team when he is back to full fitness.

He is an excellent player and, assuming he returns to his best form, should be in our first XI but who would drop out?

Lee Evans would seem the most likely candidate, but he could consider himself unfortunate if that was the case.

Bearing in mind Cook’s desire to have a small squad, seen in the number of players he sent out on loan this summer, if reinforcements are brought in, we should logically expect some more to leave in the next transfer window as well.

A few comments were made when so many players were allowed to leave in the summer, but Cook would not be alone in using small tight squads to bring success.

Paul Jewell did the same in his time at Latics.

A more pressing concern is this weekend’s game.

It is good the Scunthorpe game is going ahead despite our international call-ups.

Sam Morsy will be missed but he is the only first-team player missing.

It is good to keep up the recent momentum and keep the pressure on Shrewsbury, who will lose at some point…although it may well not be this weekend.

Perhaps a bigger blow will be if Jacobs is missing.

He was substituted against Walsall as a preventative measure – and this is a little concerning.

When players are out teams need to reply on the ‘next man up’ principle.

While a player like Crackers is basically irreplaceable at this level, whoever comes in for him, needs to be ready and prepared to step in and step up.

This requires a good coaching and management, especially psychologically, and also a good team ethic.

Teams will always miss their best players, but successful teams will find ways to fill those gaps wherever, or however, they arise.

STUART GLOVER