The 12th Man: 'We're not there... but I'm hopeful'
Our 12th Man columnists discuss the prospects of Latics avoiding the drop with two games to go...
Well, we’re not quite there yet, but I’m still fancying our chances.
For us not to stay up, we have to take one point or fewer from our remaining games against Hull and Swindon, and either Rochdale or Northampton need to win both theirs.
If either of them lose just one game, that’s it for them and we don’t need to take another point.
I know it’s a lot of “if’s”, but the fact we can still say these things after 44 games is a position none of us thought we’d even be in.
At this moment, I’d rather be in our shoes than either Rochdale’s or Northampton’s.
Rochdale have actually been in really good form, but have only drawn their last two games.
On Saturday they scored an injury time equaliser, and on Wednesday they conceded a goal to Wimbledon in the thousandth minute of injury time to throw away what was a two goal lead half way through the second half. With a bit of luck, every bit of wind that they had in their sails has moved on, and they won’t get another point.
Our game against Hull will be interesting.
They were promoted last weekend, so either they’ve been on the cans since then, and don’t care any more, or they want to tie up the title. Hopefully it’ll be the first and we take at least a point this weekend.
That gives us a great chance going into the last game against Swindon, who have already given up and gone on holiday. Without John Sheridan.
The thing working against us a little bit is goal difference. All three teams have very similar GDs.
This means that a loss for us and a win for one of them is a real problem.
It’s where all those 5-0 losses at home might come back to haunt us a week on Sunday. Without those, we’d have had a foot in the League 1 door for next season already even if we lost both remaining games.
But this is Latics, and we never take the easy path.
We’ve always had a very masochistic approach to league tables, so none of this is a surprise.
We’ll all have eyes on at least three games on Saturday, plus Twitter, WhatsApp and every other source of updates we usually employ. It’ll be nervy, it’ll be stressful but, ultimately, we’ll do what needs doing.
We’ll do it because it’s not just in our DNA, it’s in our terms and conditions of watching Latics.
It’s literally what we all signed up for.
Last week I spoke about something being ‘so Wigan’, a chain of events being so unheard of that it could only involve Wigan.
Imagine my horror as I checked the BBC Sport app on Tuesday night to see Rochdale 3-2 Wimbledon, the very same Wimbledon who couldn’t stop winning in recent weeks.
I think I uttered something a bit stronger than ‘so Wigan’.
A Rochdale win would have still seen our future in our own hands but there would be no room for any slip ups.
As it is one more win will definitely do it, possibly less if Northampton or Rochdale fail to better our results. Whatever happens against Hull on Saturday we go in to the final day against Swindon knowing that our fate is in our own hands.
A remarkable feat considering what has happened to our great football club over the last twelve months.
Safety isn’t assured yet, we still need to complete the job but after how this side have performed since they came together (for the most part in January) it’s amazing to think that we could potentially confirm our safety with a game to go.
Of course Hull are exactly the sort of side we don’t want to be facing to do that on Saturday. Or are they?
The title chasers confirmed promotion on Saturday and enjoyed the odd tipple on Saturday night in reports are to be believed.
That’s absolutely fine, we did similar ahead of the Barnsley match back in 2016.
I hope Hull put in a similar performance as we did on that day.
What I’m trying to say in a roundabout way is that Hull’s league position shouldn’t faze us.
This side of ours have shown that in normal times and with a full season they certainly wouldn’t be fighting a relegation battle.
We’ve taken on some of the league’s leading sides in recent weeks and gone toe to toe with them, Hull don’t hold anything to fear.
How perfect would it be for Latics to get survival confirmed before the final game of the season.
A whole extra week for Leam to prepare his squad for next season.
An extra week to get the season tickets on sale and an extra week of looking back on an horrific year turned around by Leam Richardson, Gregor Rioch all the staff and everyone involved with Phoenix 2021.
We’re not there yet, but we’re tantalisingly close. Let’s go and get the job done lads.
Speaking of season tickets, with successful pilots on going at the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield, at the FA Cup semi-final last weekend and the Carabao Cup final without getting hopes up it’s looking like we could well be back in Stadiums come the start of next season.
We’ll return to a different club from the one we left back in March 2020 but the return (and it will come) will be all the sweeter knowing what we’ve been through to get there.
Aberdeen released a wonderfully produced video this week to advertise their season tickets for next year and it had me in tears watching what they had come up with. We talk about football as a religion but for a lot of people football and the routines surrounding football are the one constant in life, to have that taken away over the last fourteen months has been so difficult.
Football is indeed the most important of the least important things.
Considering I thought we may never see our beloved club again I’m not sure I’ll be able to cope if we produce a video similar to Aberdeen’s.
Alex Ferguson spoke about his squeaky bum.
Well I seem to be suffering from a complete digestive system meltdown at present.
So many permutations have been written that you need a maths degree majoring in algorithms to be able to make any sense of it all.
Put simply, if we win either of our remaining two games we stay up.
If Northampton and Rochdale each lose a game, we stay up.
But beyond that the permutations are endless.
I suppose it goes with the territory of being a Latics’ fan that we are pessimistic, but in fact there is no reason at all why we shouldn’t beat Hull.
League leaders? Pshaw!
We eat them for dinner.
It’s the lower level teams we struggle against.
And even failing that, Swindon lies ahead and we can hopefully run as many rings round them as there are twists and turns on the Magic Roundabout.
It ain’t over by any means as our despair on Tuesday seeing Rochdale ahead (it must have been the biggest ever log-in to AFC Wimbledon’s Twitter account) in the dying seconds turn to leaping around hysterically as Joe Piggott snatched a 97th minute equaliser.
The thing to remember is that all things considered we shouldn’t be anywhere near survival.
After all that fate has thrown at us over the past year, not least in the form of John Sheridan (and having the words “form” and “John Sheridan” in one sentence is difficult), we should be well down and out by now.
But we live to fight on, and we are in the better place to be of all battling the drop.
Let’s just finish the job on Saturday.
I am 100% sure that Leam and the lads will be well focused.
A slight wobble against Burton got the heart pounding again, and Northampton pulling back from 2-0 down and Rochdale snatching a 97th minute equaliser did nothing to steady the nerves.
Fitting then that the Wombles pulled back in the 97th minute too.
I’d prefer it to be done and dusted on Saturday.
To quote SAF again: “Football, eh? Bloody hell!”
We will do it, I know we will.
But until then it’s squeaky bums - I’m just glad I stockpiled all those toilet rolls at the beginning of the first lockdown.
Almost there, not far to go
Not long left now for t’ nerves to show
We’ve run the race, just two more laps
This run-in’s giving me the cra …jitters
An’ Whodathowt we’d still be here
Wi’ all that’s happened, this awful year
Away at Hull, they’re already up
Let’s hope they’ve had too much to sup
I doubt if we’ll score eight again
(oh, what a day, it should ha’ been ten!)
But this is not the one to count,
Next week, it’s t’ “magic round-about”
Already down (thanks to our ex)
A scrawpy goal is all it takes
To save our season, keep us up,
A feat as good as winning t’ cup?
A threadbare squad, that no-one fancied,
Has turned us round from feeling rancid
The stench of being hung out to dry
Being kicked in t’ guts, and left to die
But die we didn’t, cos that’s not us,
We rose again, like Lazarus
To fight again, another day
And come back stronger, in every way
A new future ahead, it’s one to embrace
With owners who actually have a face
To dream of survival, do we dare?
Of course we do, we’re almost there.
This week has continued to prove the point that there is never a dull moment as a Wigan Athletic fan.
Last weekend’s 1-1 draw against Burton Albion produced a fair point for both sides.
Between the stable performance by Latics and an assortment of encouraging results by our relegation rivals, the weekend ended on a positive note.
Even with Latics not scheduled to play a weekday fixture for the first time in over a month, matchday anxiety steadily built throughout our fanbase in anticipation of Tuesday evening’s mega-six-pointer between Wimbledon and Rochdale - two teams that possessed a game in-hand on Wigan.
The premier ‘scoreboard watching’ event of the season did not disappoint its many viewers.
Two Rochdale goals during the middle third of the match delivered a massive hit to our previously hopeful survival chances.
Wimbledon quickly responded with two goals of their own, and within a matter of 10 minutes, Latics fans were back on the “Dons” train and ready to ride it out for the last half-hour of play. Rochdale retook the lead just a few minutes later, and a missed penalty by Wimbledon’s Joe Pigott in the 84th minute flipped Wigan’s survival prospects upside-down, once again.
Seven minutes of stoppage time proved to be just long enough for the Wimbledon striker to achieve redemption as Pigott delivered the ‘equaliser heard around the world’ in the final moments of the match.
After the final whistle blew, the news became official: Latics were officially in control of their own destiny.
One win in our final two matches will see Wigan Athletic secure all-so-desired League One survival.
The month of May is a special one for fans of the beautiful game and Wigan Athletic fans are definitely not the exception.
Latics were first promoted to the Premiership on 8 May 2005.
We persevered in our first Survival Sunday encounter on 13 May 2007 over Sheffield United.
Thrilling victories over West Ham and Stoke in May 2011 completed a ‘Great Escape’ for the ages.
11 May 2013. No further words are needed about that one.
1 May 2021 has a chance to enter the history books as another day of great achievement for the club.
The relationship between Wigan Athletic and Hull City over the past year has been an interesting one to say the least.
An 8-0 thrashing of Hull at the DW Stadium last summer was one of the lone ‘highlights’ of Wigan Athletic’s time in administration. Both sides were relegated to League One just a week later but on very different terms. The first half of the 20/21 season saw Hull City emerge as a promotion contender and Wigan remain submerged in the relegation zone.
Our initial face-off in League One saw Hull dominate for 90 minutes en route to a 5-0 win at the DW Stadium in February.
Even with that last match still fresh in everyone’s minds, both sides will enter tomorrow’s match with much to play for and full of confidence.
Wigan Athletic are no strangers to slaying the giant. We did it as a Championship squad over the last two seasons.
Before that, we did it as a League One squad in the FA Cup.
We did it many times as one of the smallest clubs in England’s top division over eight consecutive seasons.
Hull City are a much different giant than many of our prior foes who soared above us in stature.
The future Championship side has not lost a match since February 23rd and will have their hopes set on celebrating a League One title in their home stadium at the conclusion of Saturday’s match.
However, their celebration would pale in comparison to the festivities that would follow a Wigan Athletic victory that day.
Not even the Champions League winner this season will have as much as reason to celebrate as Wigan Athletic celebrating a triumphant survival.
It’s time for Wigan Athletic to defy the odds one more time this season.
Let’s do some pros and cons. Or if you prefer, some worst case planning.
Personally, I don’t believe we will get anything at Hull. They have too much at stake, they are a better side than us (in stark contrast to 12 months ago!) and they aren’t going to let a little bit of alcohol chugging around their system, prevent them going all out to secure the title.
Mind you, Wigan Athletic have done a lot of things that many people have not believed possible over their existence, so you can never completely rule us out.
There is also the somewhat unlikely probability that we lose but Rochdale and Northampton also lose, thus meaning that they are four points behind us, with one game to go.
Even Josh Windass can work out that mathematical outcome.
Yet again, it is an unlikely outcome.
Unless he’s been watching Numberblocks on CBeebies.
The most likely scenario is that we have to wait another week to determine our fate, taking it to the wire, like we always do.
In this case, the most likely scenario is that we should beat Swindon to retain our status.
But, again, we don’t always do what we should and it is also possible that they could beat us.
They might have got hammered last week, but they did beat Pompey the week before and Agent Sheridan has now left the building.
And again, there is also the points differential elsewhere: if the two teams below us also lose, then we win, even if we lose. Still with me?
We can go through the permutations as much as we like.
The bottom line is that we cannot control them, so let us move on from worrying about them and try and enjoy our football, if that is humanly possible.
As the goals rained in at Plough Lane on Tuesday, I was having a Whatsapp conversation with a few of my cronies, and as Rochdale twice took the lead, thoughts briefly turned to acceptance of how League Two (takes a deep breath) wouldn’t be so bad.
Don’t get me wrong, I always want my team to play at the highest level possible but it is going to be a lot harder and more costly to rebuild in League One.
We will be more likely to retain our better players but there will still be a lot of work to do.
Much like when Gary Caldwell signed a whole new team following our relegation in 2015/16 and some fans were straight onto him because we weren’t winning, unaware then of the Let Latics gel mantra, that it might take a month or two for them all to know each others’ names. And when they did start playing, the old “bigger budget” argument came out, which doesn’t necessarily guarantee success either, as clubs like Sheffield United found that year, or Sunderland and Portsmouth have continued to struggle with.
In any case, it is something we probably won’t have this time in League One.
I, for one, hope not, otherwise we will be besieged by the financial moral crusaders from Barnsley once more, who seem to have this remarkable ability to be completely oblivious to all of football’s financial ills within the game in general and at 90 other clubs and continue to take the sort of unhealthy interest in us that would make an auditor blush, purely because it makes them feel better for benefitting from our plight.
If we stay up, mid table in League One will do me fine. We have a five year plan now, and only pure impatience will dictate that we need to do it in 12 months. Yet how does it look, if we do go down to League Two?
It is a setback, but there are advantages: the key one being that it would be a lot easier to rebuild in League Two.
Maybe Leam could take his lead from a certain Catalan, who picked Swansea up in the bottom tier when they were in financial difficulty and built a team to carry them back up through the divisions, playing stylish football.
Again, I’m applying pressure there, which is something we all must stop. The bottom line is that we should have the financial muscle to compete in League Two.
Yes, even whilst living within our means, you Yorkshire lurkers.
The flip side is, that we lose or fail to retain some of our better players from this season.
Or we continue to tumble all the way out of the league.
But you would think that is such an unlikely feat that even Wigan Athletic could not pull off.
Ultimately, everything is still on the table and the only thing that we, as supporters can do is SUPPORT, no matter what the outcome. Let us buy season tickets in numbers and look forward to cheering that football team of ours on next season, no matter what division we are in.
The Phoenix might need a cheeky nap after all this frantic excitement, but it will still rise again, one beautiful day soon. Up the Tics!