The 12th Man: A week of varying emotions!
From the despair (a bit much ?) of that insipid defeat at Shrewsbury on Saturday, to the elation of going to one of our fellow promotion challengers on Tuesday night, and comprehensively outclassing them on their own patch, in front of their own supporters.
In the process ending Charlton’s own 100 per cent record at home, and earning our first ever three points at the Valley.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what went wrong at Shrewsbury.
It had all the makings of one of those classic Latics away days.
But as is often the case, events on the pitch don’t match up to the build-up and hype surrounding the match.
We simply couldn’t get going in Shropshire.
Shrewsbury stopped our game plan, and it was worrying to see just how gutless we were in attack.
It felt like there was a hangover from the international break.
And as was so often the case in our Premier League days, we failed to perform to the level we know we can.
Admittedly, gone are the days where we would have whole squad’s worth of players called up for international duty.
Just Sam Morsy and Lee Evans from the ‘first XI’, along with Owen Evans from the bench.
I maintain postponing the Northampton game was a mistake a fortnight ago, especially as Northampton now look to be in great form under new manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
Still, we shouldn’t get too down about a performance like that.
As I said earlier, every team will have them.
We had a few last time we were in League One and still finished up as champions.
What is key is how a team responds to the disappointments, and my word did we respond on Tuesday night.
Just the 24 attempts, 12 of which were on target.
Three goals, and a performance that was the polar opposite to Saturday’s dismal defeat.
With four out of five of our next games at home, we could really set down a marker in these next few weeks.
We’ve bounced back well from a defeat, so let’s see if we can get back to winning on a regular basis.
It’s been a mixed week for Latics with a first defeat at Shrewsbury and an impressive display at Charlton.
It was a below-par performance in Shropshire, with several players not at their best.
Midfielders Sam Morsy and Lee Evans, who have been outstanding in the early games, had been away oninternational duty with Egypt and Wales respectively, and this seemed to have had a negative effect on their levels of performance.
Latics wasted some good early chances, and the longer the game went on the less they looked likely to score.
Ryan Colclough’s red card for foul and abusive language after the final whistle further compounded matters.
But credit must also be given to Shrewsbury, who worked hard, closed down and defended resolutely after taking the lead.
They are the best team Latics have faced so far this season, and it will be interesting to see if they can maintain their early momentum into the winter months.
Despite a first reversal under his stewardship, manager Paul Cook didn’t panic, and demonstrated his usual reasoned ’common sense’ approach to all football matters.
And Cook’s approach paid huge dividends on Tuesday night, when the same group of players dominated Charlton and came away with a convincing 3-0 victory at the Valley.
Charlton had won every home fixture since early April, but Latics set about them right from the kick-off.
Morsy and Evans controlled the midfield and the forward four of Will Grigg, Michael Jacobs, Gavin Massey and Nick Powell were complemented by the marauding full-backs Reece James and Nathan Byrne.
Massey grabbed a couple and Morsy got on the scoresheet, but it could so easily have been five or six.
Latics now have four home games in the next five fixtures, and are nicely placed in the League One table in sixth place, with a game in hand on most of the teams around them.
So we’re six games into the season.
Yes, I know we’ve played more than six games, but the League Cup doesn’t really count this year, and the Checkatrade Trophy is an abomination.
So what have we learned from these six games which might tell us what the rest of the season has in store?
Well, a few things.
Firstly we have reminded ourselves that League One is a lot of fun.
I have never understood football fans who only attend games in higher divisions.
While League One may not be as glamorous as the Championship, it has some great days out, and we can expect to see some exciting football and some goals…which will make a nice change from last season.
We have also seen that there are some other good teams in this division.
Anyone thinking we will be 30 points clear by Christmas are wrong.
There are other good teams, who will push us all the way.
Teams who will score goals and teams who will be very hard to beat.
We are certainly one of the best teams in this division.
In fact, we are probably the best.
We may well have the biggest budget, and that helps.
Remember two years ago when Reece James got a long-term injury, and we were able to go out and get Stephen Warnock to fill in?
That is the advantage that a bigger budget (and a well-run club) can give you.
Latics also have the best squad in this division.
Nick Powell is the best player in the league…when he wants to be.
He is certainly the most talented player in the league.
The second best player in the division, in terms of impact, is probably Michael Jacobs.
In fact, on the basis Powell is not the most consistent player, then Jacobs is our most important player.
If he stays fit, we will have a great season and might as well hand him the ‘Player of the Year’ trophy right now.
We saw on Tuesday night that talent can win you games.
We didn’t play all that well at The Valley but, in the end, we had the better players, and quality won us three points – as we will find it does a few times this season.
However, as we saw at Shrewsbury, talent alone is not a guarantee of success.
The team needs to keep working hard on the pitch and concentrating on making the right decisions, as manager Paul Cook highlighted after the game.
Talent alone can win you games, but the lesson of Shrewsbury is not to be complacent.
And if we show more professionalism for the rest of the season, then last Saturday will turn out to be a positive thing.
I remember when we played Peterborough in September 2002.
We went 2-0 up early in the second half – and then switched off.
We ended up drawing the game but a lesson was learnt.
We didn’t do that again for the rest of that season, and we finished the season top of the league.
The Latics management also need to plan for next year.
That doesn’t mean we should assume we will win a sufficient number of games, or that we’ll get promotion.
We need to remain professional, but clearly we were not ready for the Championship last year.
There is a big gulf between League One and the Championship.
If you need proof, I can offer it in two words: Michael Jacobs.
As mentioned above, he is one of the best players in this division and crucial to our season.
But he has never had that impact or success at the level above.
Neither he, nor Latics as a club, want to be a club which is too good for the third flight, but not quite good enough for the second.
We do need to be thinking about next year so that if we are at the higher level, we will be better placed to compete.