The 12th Man: These are the good times - let’s enjoy them!

Paul Cook
Paul Cook
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Top of the league, five points clear. More goals scored than anyone, less goals conceded than anyone. We should be a happy camp right now, shouldn’t we?

It would appear not, given the tirade of abuse aimed at the players coming from behind me on Tuesday night.

There’s no denying we were poor. There were eight players coming in who all had the chance to stake their claim for a regular starting place.

Maybe they have clocked Paul Cook tends to keep a settled team for the league, and even playing well in the cup might not give them a shot.

They are still well-paid professionals, though, and should be willing to perform at a high standard, even in the soul-less affair that now is a home FA Cup replay.

Of course, we should have handsomely seen off a non-league team and I can understand a bit of frustration.

The mood around me was quite relaxed, however.

In fact, the main sentiment when we went 2-1 down was “oh well, at least we get to go to Bristol Rovers on a Saturday now”.

An away tie at Bournemouth might be exciting for Fylde, but for us it will be a Premier League tie in name only.

And that’s meant with no disrespect to Bournemouth...he says while completely disrespecting them.

It was only five years ago since we last met in the third round and on that occasion, they were the League One side and we were in the Premier League.

So there was no anger from me and my cohorts when we went behind...but still plenty of delight when Will Grigg stole in to win it.

I am at risk of being a serious happy clapper this season but, as per my opening paragraph, what have we got to realistically complain about?

Yet lots of people do, saying we were poor on Saturday and poor on Tuesday.

At the risk of sounding a bit like Basil Fawlty – what do you expect when you look out from the sparsely-populated West Stand on a wintry Tuesday night?

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plains?

Sorry that was actually Basil Fawlty.

What I mean to say is that, if you think this season is poor, then I’d love to know what you thought when we were really poor, or indeed what expectations are given we are top of the league with a healthy lead and goal difference.

The fabled AC Milan team of the late 80’s, Brazil’s 1970 World Cup-winning team, or perhaps the maverick Dutch entertainers of the 70’s?

There have been times in the last few years under other managers when we have been indescribably bad, and I can only repeat what I said a few weeks ago...these are the good times – the sort many teams’ fans can only dream of.

Saturday’s opponents AFC Wimbledon are a stark example of a football club whose fans have really been put through the mill.

Yet their subsequent achievements to reform after having their football club stolen from them and getting back to League One from playing in the Southern equivalent of the North West Counties is an achievement which we can all applaud.

What chance a bit of perspective?

MARTIN TARBUCK

Well that was a lot tougher than it needed to be, a match that everyone expected to be an easy passage to the third round proved undeniably tougher than Paul Cook and co expected.

Tuesday’s replay against Fylde only went ahead after a late pitch inspection following the freezing weather in the North West, and I imagine the hardy 3,000 Wiganers inside the DW were wishing the referee had indeed called it off after Fylde’s second goal went in.

A strong Latics side were in serious danger of facing an embarrassing FA Cup exit at the hand of the National League side, and it took Will Grigg to come off the bench to rescue Latics.

In fairness to Cook he had named a strong side, as he had promised to do so.

There may have been eight changes, but none of those eight would have looked out of place in the usual league side.

Despite going ahead early on Latics simply didn’t gel or settle on the night and looked like they would be the latest giant-killing in the FA Cup.

Grigg’s two goals take him to seven for the season, and slowly but surely the star striker looks like getting back to his predatory best.

For me, Latics are simply a better side when Grigg plays.

He offers so much more than just goals and if he can stay fit he’ll surely have a big say in where we end up at the end of the season.

So it’s on to Wimbledon on Saturday, a trip I’ve been looking forward to all season.

Latics go in to the game on the back of a decent run of results without ever really looking at our best so, although we’re favourites, Wimbledon won’t be a walk over.

Wimbledon have just been given permission to begin construction on a new stadium for the club back at Plough Lane, their spiritual home.

This can only be good news for a club that’s had a meteoric rise since being formed when MK Dons came in to existence, but expect a party atmosphere from their fans on Saturday.

Wimbledon marks the start of a really busy festive period for Cook’s side.

If we can get some away wins under our belts before Christmas we’ll be in an even stronger position than we are now.

SEAN LIVESEY

That’s it. I’m calling it: Congratulations to Wigan Athletic, 2017/18 EFL League One champions.

I am, of course, not the first to call this as a done deal – many on social media have been declaring our triumph from the very first game.

But perhaps I am the first to declare this: I believe Latics will not be knocked off top spot again this season.

I have been saying for a few months now that, as soon as we are top by three or more points, we will be certain to remain top until May.

And now we are top by four points. So there we have it.

There will never be a time for the remainder of the season, when Latics are not top of the league.

You heard it here first…possibly.

While I do like a bold prediction, and am certainly not scared to be wrong, there is some logic to this.

While we will certainly not win all the rest of our games this season, we are now in the luxurious position of knowing that, if we do lose or draw, we will definitely still be top.

And our slip-ups this year have usually been followed by several wins on the bounce.

So there is no reason to think that our next slip-up will ultimately result in us losing top spot.

And while our main rivals in the league go through uneven periods of form – Shrewsbury now with just one win in five, after their very impressive start – we are the team with the most consistent form as well as the best squad.

Blackburn now look to be our main challengers, if they can hold their current form.

But I do not believe they will be given the chance to take top spot from us.

Saturday was very enjoyable – not just because of the result, getting one over on a former manager (albeit one I wish no ill towards) or even because we scored two headed goals and won comfortably without playing that well.

But mainly because I had the pleasure of enjoying an afternoon in one of the club’s hospitality lounges.

A very pleasant afternoon, made all the better when, a friend of mine noticed Graham Barrow nearby.

For some reason, Graham is not as popular among some supporters as he should be.

He is a true Latics legend, having served us as player, manager, coach, assistant manager and caretaker manager over many years.

He has given his all for the club and always made himself available to help out whenever called upon.

So eager were we to chat to him, and so interesting was what he was saying about his experiences at Latics across his whole career, we missed the third quarter of the game.

Apparently we didn’t miss much.

On Tuesday Latics managed to finally get past AFC Fylde and into the third round of the FA Cup.

While Fylde did well to compete with us, it seemed clear that bringing on someone of the quality of Will Grigg made the difference and Latics were able to do what they needed to do to get through.

When we won the cup in 2013, not every team was dispatched in the manner we thought they should be.

These games are difficult and, especially in cup football, getting through to the next round is all that matters

In neither game this week have Latics played very well.

But on Saturday it felt comfortable and the win never really seemed in doubt, while on Tuesday it was anything but comfortable and we were lucky to get through.

That’s football and it is one of the reasons why we love it.

Hopefully this Saturday we will play well and get a comfortable and deserved victory at Wimbledon, which will be another step on our now inevitable march to the title.

STUART GLOVER

Latics go into the hectic Christmas period of games knowing they must maintain their consistency if they are to gain automatic promotion.

Paul Cook’s team will have to navigate through five league games with three away and two at home the next 17 days.

The Christmas period is a time when squad players will inevitably come into contention as the games come in quick succession.

Cook made eight changes to Latics’ line-up as they struggled to beat AFC Fylde in the FA Cup on Tuesday and some of those squad players did not cover themselves in glory.

It was only the intervention of substitute Will Grigg that saved Latics from an embarrassing home defeat.

Latics looked disjointed and lacked creativity throughout the game despite having some experienced players on the pitch.

Fylde were probably surprised by Latics’ lack of a cutting edge and they noticeably grew in confidence as the game progressed.

The experienced David Perkins had one of his poorest games for the club uncharacteristically giving the ball away too often.

Max Power and Gary Roberts were also subdued and offered little going forward.

Latics’ offensive players were also disappointing on the night, with Ryan Colclough and Ivan Toney failing to impress against National League opposition.

Gavin Massey is having a torrid time at the moment and is struggling to show any kind of form.

The winger had such a promising opening to the season both creating and scoring goals, but he is now finding it hard to go past defenders and is low on confidence.

Reserve keeper Matija Sarkic did not instill confidence when his judgement was called into question in added time.

He nearly gifted Fylde an equaliser when he inexplicably held on to the ball for far too long and conceded an indirect free kick inside the penalty area.

Fortunately for Latics the resulting free kick flicked off the defensive wall and flew narrowly wide of the target – a big let-off and symptomatic of Latics’ squad players poor performance on the night.

Latics are lucky to have a big squad compared to some other clubs in League One, but it is essential these squad players pull their weight when they are called upon to come into the team.

Paul Cook’s squad have made a tremendous start to the season and lead the table by four points, having scored the most goals and conceded the least in the division.

But they must now maintain their high standards and avoid any complacency creeping into their game in the second half of the season.

IAN ASPINALL

It’s been a good week, as you cannot possibly dispute back-to-back wins.

Wigan made a winning return to League One action, after Nick Powell and Dan Burn’s headed goals saw Latics run comfortable winners against Uwe Rosler’s Fleetwood.

With Shrewsbury equalising late against MK Dons, Wigan extended their lead at the top of the table by four points, ahead of their visit on Boxing Day.

Fleetwood disappointed me in many ways, as I thought we’d be in for a really tough game against the Cod Army.

However, Wigan looked comfortable throughout, and didn’t get out of first gear.

Fleetwood have been transformed by Rosler over the last 18 months, and the fact they only missed out on automatic promotion last season speaks volumes of what he has achieved, especially considering they only survived on the final day of the 2015-16 season.

Undoubtedly Fleetwood are a good side. However, they didn’t really challenge us, with their only bright spark being ex-Manchester City starlet Devante Cole.

I’ve got to say, Lee Evans has been nothing short from sensational since returning to the starting-line up against Doncaster.

The Welsh international has been superb, and was a stand-out performer against Fleetwood, with his set-piece delivery creating both of the Latics goals.

In the previous league clash, Evans also created Will Grigg’s opener from a wide free-kick, showcasing his skill from dead-ball situations.

Evans is currently on loan at the club from Wolves, and it will be interesting in January to see what happens.

I personally feel it’s a no-brainer, and we should make the move permanent, especially considering Evans is still very young.

Wigan are also into the third round of the FA Cup, but only just!

Substitute Grigg scored a late brace to save the Latics’ blushes, and avoid a shock upset at the DW Stadium to non-league minnows AFC Fylde.

Wigan were very lucky on the night, and I’d have had no complaints with being knocked out.

Ivan Toney opened the scoring for the hosts, followed by an interesting celebration, maybe to prove a point to his doubters at the club.

Toney has been a victim of criticism of late from the Latics fans, and there is nothing I disagree with more than slating your own players.

You can see, with players like Toney and Gavin Massey, that it maybe has hit their confidence, and fans have to remember, both lads are still young players, so criticisms in a disrespectful manner will really affect them.

I’m not saying the two lads are world-beaters, but you know yourself, even in normal day to day jobs, if somebody is constantly criticising on what you do, it will affect your confidence levels and you won’t perform in the same way.

JAY WHITTLE