After the final international break of 2018, our panel of Latics experts can’t wait to get back to the action - and a first home game in charge for IEC and new executive chairman Darren Royle...
It’s been a welcome respite from the stress and strain of the league over the last couple of weeks. Normally I would be perplexed at the thought of an international break interrupting our season but if a break could come at the right time I think this was it.
Come Saturday afternoon I’ll be desperate to get back to it. Saturday is a huge match for Wigan Athletic, there’s no denying that. Our home form has been excellent so far this season, apart from the last match against Leeds.
Reading on paper at least offer the best opportunity for us to get back to winning ways. Reading haven’t reached the heights of their 2016/17 high where they narrowly missed out on promotion. Last season was a season of struggle, where they were lucky to retain their Championship status. This season looks to be following a similar pattern.
But it isn’t only about the opposition, Latics have been struggling badly recently. After 12 months of undisputed success under Paul Cook we’ve hit our first extended bit of bad form.
If Latics had hung on and indeed capitalised when ahead against Millwall the outlook of the last few weeks could be very different. Instead it’s been a cold hard introduction to the winter for Wigan Athletic.
Defeat against Middlesbrough last time out was expected but disappointing all the same. Latics need wins, but we also need a decent performance.
Injuries are hitting us hard, it’s no surprise that our downturn has coincided with the loss of Jacobs, Massey, Grigg and countless others.
If we can dig deep I’m sure we’ll come out of this bad spell the other side. Certainly with the spell of games we have ahead of us it would be the perfect time to turn our fortunes around.
With the uncertainty surrounding the takeover now finished with let’s hope deals for the likes of Nick Powell are just around the corner. Darren Royle certainly alluded to such earlier this week.
So it’s the international break again. And there is no Latics football once again. So it’s time to reflect upon the state of the modern game!
As competitions change and footballing philosophy evolves, one thing seems to remain the same. The love – hate relationship between fans and officials.
My 10-year-old son, who is still by definition, in the infancy of his football watching life, is already fully aware that there don’t seem to be many good referees out there.
Some seem to want to be the star of the game and some seem unable to keep up with play.
For years many people have demanded that technology be brought into the game. It has been promised that it will clear up all these problems and that we’ll hardly notice it being used.
The footballing authorities started lightly by introducing goal line technology. And now the new Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system which was used in the World Cup, is used on the continent and was used in some FA Cup games last season, is the chosen way to solve these eternal problems. It is here to make the world’s greatest game even better!
The problem is it won’t work.
I have never been a fan of the idea of technology in football. I am happy to admit that I am a purist. When I can’t watch Latics on a Saturday afternoon, I like to go to watch the local non-league team close to where I live. They play on a glorified park in front of less than 100 people. I like the idea that the game is essentially the same right from the lower leagues, up to the top level.
Obviously technology cannot be used throughout the football pyramid, so introducing it at the top takes the elite game further away from the grassroots. But the main problem is that it won’t actually fix the issues it tries to and that it will disrupt the game.
No game on this planet makes video decisions quickly. It simply cannot be done. The NFL has been using video replays for years. They cut to commercial breaks during these referrals. Decisions made using technology take minutes to conclude in rugby union. The same is true in cricket. This is because there are always numerous camera angles and they all have to be checked as they all show something different. In fact because technology “enhanced” decisions take time to make, most games only use them in certain circumstances or only allow a certain number of challenges. This makes it more of a tactical tool rather than about getting the decisions right.
And you didn’t have to watch the World Cup for long before you saw clearly incorrect decisions being made even using the VAR system. This happens in every sport.
I know that Twitter is not representative of football fans but every time there is a big game that uses VAR, it is awash with a tidal wave of negative comments about its use. Comments highlighting the effect it had on the atmosphere in the ground and that it interrupts the flow of the game.
The uniqueness of football is the passion that the game arouses within the fan. I have never seen anything like it in any other sport. There is no way that 22 people kicking a ball around should create such emotions and reactions, but it does. The big threat to football currently is the fact that the passion is being taken out of the game and a lot is being done to sedate matches and the supporters. All seater stadiums, unnecessarily over-the-top stewarding and odd kick-off times have all had their effect amongst many other factors.
It is unwise to start to kill the flow of games and further undermine the atmosphere.
However, too many pundits and others have called for the introduction of video technology for so long, despite the fact that there has been a bigger than expected backlash against it so soon, they won’t want to give up on it easily. Sadly it looks like we’re stuck with it for the foreseeable future. The recent decision of the Premier League to adopt VAR gives me more reason to wonder whether I really want Wigan to get promotion.
Back in Latics world, we return to action tomorrow afternoon, following the seemingly very long international break. We’re back with an eminently winnable home game against Reading. Can we end a run of four defeats in a row? Can we get some positivity back into the fans? Let’s hope so. Otherwise we could be looking at a very long end to the season.
It is a new era this weekend but I fully expect events to unfold gradually rather than a big bang approach. There’s some different blokes in the boardroom but I expect that just like the last lot, they will be hoping for a home win. There’s no shame in losing a long unbeaten home record against a Leeds side who looked very, very strong against our patched up team.
But with two home games in five days, we can ideally build another home run of form. Well, we have to basically, else we’re going to be in trouble by Christmas.
Reading have never really recovered from losing the play off finals two years ago but they will still represent a tough proposition, and let’s face it, our record against teams lower than ourselves in the table has been woeful this year.
Blackburn are comparatively flying at the minute and seem to have adapted to the Championship somewhat better than ourselves, though they still seem very over-reliant on the poor man’s Nick Powell up front. Still, at least Tony Mowbray has stopped whining for a bit.
As it stands, we are now closer to the relegation zone than the play off places so some positive results will be necessary to keep our heads above water. Mid table for us would be a great outcome this season but without being greedy, it’s better to be top half mid table than lower mid-table, as lower mid-table makes any team susceptible to a slump in form. From our perspective, we have slumped from the fringes of the play offs to 16th which is no great disaster, so long as this downturn in form can be arrested and thrown in the back of the van.
It looks like some of the first choice forward players are slowly being nursed back to full fitness, which should in turn lead to stronger performances and more consistency. Let us hope the two weeks off has also been used to address some of the defensive frailties and inconsistencies that has turned wins and draws into defeats before the international break as well.
Finally, full marks to the club for knocking ticket prices down to £15 this weekend.
I’m not sure that a game against Reading is ever going to be the most mouth-watering prospect for floating fans but the new management are at least acknowledging that competitive pricing is needed to build the club in the way they have proposed to.