Our panel of Latics experts have their say on this weekend’s visit of Frank Lampard’s Derby County - and a chance for Paul Cook’s men to extend their unbeaten sequence to four matches...
The anticipation is often better than the reality.
That was true for Latics fans twice in the last week. Firstly, in the big derby game against Bolton.
Derby games like this are always highly anticipated. I was talking to a friend of mine the day after the game and he couldn’t see the attraction of Bolton versus Wigan. But he did also agree with me that whatever your derby game is, it is the biggest game of the season for you. If we were to only win two games in a season, and they were both against Bolton, while it couldn’t be described as a successful season, there would still be certain level of satisfaction!
Tragically, we didn’t beat Bolton. But fortunately we didn’t lose either.
Anticipation for the game might have been high, we perhaps should have been more realistic over the likely performance level. Experience tells us that derbies are usually tight, tense and hard fought games. Both the result and performance on Saturday were disappointing, but it sounded like we were the better side for much of the game, especially in the second half.
The balloon of anticipation for the game, which started to take in air when Bolton avoided relegation last season, inflated rapidly when the fixtures came out and then got punctured when the ticket prices were announced! While there was a decent turnout of Latics fans, if the admission prices had been more realistic, it surely would have been many more.
The home side’s goal came from the some poor defending from the currently universally popular Reece James (the sequel). As the deep cross came over he jumped, allowing attacker to turn inside and get the shot away. Added to that Walton was beaten at his near post. That should never happen to a goalkeeper. We know that mistakes will happen. We’ve seen enough of them this season already and they have often been costly. It is just unusual to see mistakes from young Reece. He is a remarkable player for an 18-year-old. He has a huge future in the game. The truth is that his mistake on Saturday might have hurt us, as it led to a goal from our biggest rivals, but when he is representing his country in the World Cup in years to come, neither he, nor us, will remember that it happened.
Our goal came from a Will Grigg penalty. It was very debatable to say the least. It did look as though their player got to the ball first – but a case can be made that actually Grigg did. But what is absolutely certain is that the idea that if it isn’t a penalty, then it must be a dive, needs to stop. It is possible for it to be neither.
But in reality the most important point is not whether it was or it wasn’t a penalty. The most important point for Wigan fans is that Bolton fans are certain that it wasn’t. If there is one thing better than scoring a goal against your biggest rival, it is scoring a goal against them that they really feel is unjust!
The second time that anticipation was better that reality this week was on Monday evening during the FA Cup third round draw. For Latics, I think that a good cup draw is either a lower division team, a good away trip, or Manchester City. With all due respect to West Brom, they don’t fall into any of those categories.
Next up for Latics is a tough game against Frank Lampard’s Derby County as they are now officially known. It will be a tough game against a good side, but we are very good at home. Then again FLDC are pretty good away. Though we should be confident, especially with Grigg returning to fitness. Though we should note that Reece James will not be the most talented 18-year-old on the pitch. He turns 19 on Saturday.
A draw at Bolton isn’t perhaps the most satisfying result, given their league placing and position of perpetual turmoil. Yet the prospect of going there and losing would be absolutely unthinkable, so in that respect, I was happy with a draw. I thought we had the majority of the play and should have gone on to batter them at 1-0 but it wasn’t to be. Given there appear have been some doubts about our penalty, mostly from Bolton fans, and the fact both sides had second half chances, from what I can remember, then there’s no disgruntlement here. I genuinely feel so nauseous when watching a game there, nothing to do with the pre-match pints of Moretti, that I was just pleased to get out with a point intact.
It still leaves us in lower mid-table limbo somewhat, in spite of a decent haul of five points from the last nine. So we need to look forward to the next few games and try and ascertain how they might pad out. Frank Lampard appears to have transitioned seamlessly into the Derby County manager’s role. They’re currently in seventh and probably going to miss out or lose in the play offs again, so he’s well on track to follow the “McClaren Model”.
I know very little about them other than they are henceforth always going to be eternally prefixed with the words “Frank Lampard’s Derby County” in the style first popularised by Phil Brown’s Hull City a few years back. I also know that the food in the player’s canteen can’t be up to much seeing as Bradley Johnson got so hungry last week that he started eating Joe Allon’s shirt. Never trust a footballer called Bradley. So he won’t be playing, but they will still be blessed with an abundance of attacking riches including former Peterborough starlet, Jack Mariott, some chap called Waghorn and the permanently annoying David Nugent. They also have a pair of starlets on loan from Liverpool and Chelsea in the form of Harry Wilson and Mason Mount, who might sound like an exclusive golf club but is actually a fairly exciting future England prospect.
I guess you’d probably have to ask why they aren’t further up the table given this embarrassment of attacking stars but they did lose 1-0 to both Bolton and Rotherham earlier in the season, so we must take the Blackburn performance as our benchmark and continue to press on with our impressive home form. With a pair of tricky looking away games to look forward to over Christmas, we may need to get a few more points in the bag this side of the big man coming down the chimney to give us some breathing space heading into the New Year and the chaos of the transfer window.
Five points, three games and three games unbeaten. Many will think last week could have gone a lot better others will think that we’ve finally turned the corner after a poor autumn. Either way I think there’s a lot to be positive about going forward.
We can argue that we should have done better against both Reading and Bolton, who are fighting it out at the bottom of the division, but to stop the rot on the road and get a point is a start. It was positive to see Will Grigg back on the scoresheet as well.
James Vaughan can count himself unlucky not to keep his place in the side after his goal and performance against Blackburn but Grigg offers so much for this Latics side it makes sense for him to start.
All the talk pre-match ahead of our trip to Horwich was of Bolton’s ongoing financial troubles. With players not being paid yet again, there was talk that the Bolton players may well down tools. Of course that wasn’t going to happen, more likely is that those Bolton players will be in search of a move come January. It feels like Bolton have been in a permanent state of crisis since 2015.
When you look at their financial situation it’s real hand to mouth stuff, having to wait for gate receipts before you can pay your players? It’s a shame they didn’t charge a sensible price last Saturday. A couple more thousand Wiganers through the door could have helped swell Ken Anderson’s coffers.
Rivalries aside it must be soul destroying as a supporter and shows just how stable our life was under the stewardship of the Whelan family. One has to hope that stability also comes under the stewardship of Darren Royle and IEC.
As I said at the start the week could have gone better, but five points and no defeats represents a decent return to form ahead of the festive period.
Next up for Latics is the visit of Frank Lampard’s Derby County (c) to the Dave Whelan stadium. In fairness to Lampard he’s made a decent start to his career as a manager. Contrary to popular opinion I’m glad the likes of Lampard and his former midfield partner Steven Gerrard are being given chances in management. It’s certainly a better offering than Sam Allardyce, and his particular brand of ‘football’.
Derby will be hoping to get a win to push them in to the play-off places. So congested is the Championship that two wins could feasibly move them up from seventh in to the automatic promotion places. Equally we need a win to maintain our decent home form and keep away from the relegation zone.
Reading have sacked Steve Clement following a poor start to the season, and like Ipswich they have too much quality to stay rooted in that bottom three so we need to keep picking up results to prevent us slipping down. With players returning from injury and the performances of the last week I’m sure we’re more than capable of doing that.
Well the ship has been steadied, despite not beating them men last weekend. In truth, and in stark contrast to those still shouting for Paul Cook’s head, if we win one and draw two on a regular basis, we’ll be more than alright.
Latics are still struggling horribly with injuries, and have been for months. Nick Powell is the latest, of course, and we probably need to write him off for a good few weeks until his hamstring is sufficiently recovered. It’s surely better to lose him until mid-January, than to see him pulling up every time we try to rush him back. Yes, he’s a huge loss, but better a loss for the short term than long.
When I was asked, at the beginning of the season, where we’d finish I said 15th. It’s where we are at the moment, and it’s probably where we belong. Unfortunately, our great start led people to suddenly dream of a return to the big time, which then meant a run of poor results had those same people foaming at the mouth. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is probably our level.
Our eight years in the Premier League was both great, in parts and terrible most of the time. If you need any proof that football is about winning games, and not getting beaten on the telly, look how enjoyable our two years in League One were. I’m not advocating being in that league permanently, because I think we’re too good for that. I would, though, be happy in the Championship for the foreseeable future, winning more games than we lose. There will be people out there who disagree with me, but that’s okay. Just accept you’re wrong and we can all move on. Finally, as we approach a game with “Frank Lampard’s Derby Country”, as the media insist on calling them, it would be nice to do what we do best. That is to stick two fingers up to anybody – fan, media or otherwise – who think we don’t even belong at this level. Football, largely thanks to Sky, has become some sort of distorted game of Top Trumps, where average attendance has become more important than actual score lines. So what of Spurs barely reaching 33,000 for the game against Southampton? If Top Trumps is what you want, then surely the FA should be relegating them immediately.
The excuse is that their fans are fed up of watching them play at Wembley. And that, right there, is why football has almost finished eating itself.