Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man
Our panel of experts look forward to Wigan Athletic's third game in the space of six days on Friday night against Bristol City...which could see Paul Cook's men climb up to third place in the Championship table!
MARTIN TARBUCK: Let me state the obvious first. This season is proving to be one of the most exciting for a while, even though we aren’t winning every week. I don’t think we will get promoted, we’re unlikely to finish above Brentford, for a start. Yet we are having a go in every game, watching a team who appear to be relishing each match every bit as much as the fans are doing. As a group, they may even be able to find more as the season goes on to push further up the table but let’s not be too demanding. A long overdue season of consolidation after years of bungee jumping throughout the divisions is no disaster, and the fact it’s at Championship level means it is still potentially a level higher than we should be at. But both fans and players are setting out to prove much bigger teams wrong. So, why do I say that about the level? After all, you earn the right to play at a certain level by winning football matches. Uh oh, here comes the gripe – it’s the crowds you see. I can’t help feeling once more that Paul Cook’s side are not getting the recognition they deserve. It’s perhaps even more baffling because I know a lot of new season ticket holders, of the lads and dads variety, who have come along for the first time this year. There’s only three types of sports fans in Wigan: People who don’t watch football (ie RL fans); People who do watch football, either live or via the telly, but support another bigger, glory team from out of town (including a lot of RL fans); Latics fans. I won’t be permitted enough column inches to delve into the veritable can of worms that is the first two categories but, even among the latter category, I’m sure we could do more. I suppose £20 to watch the Tics take on Hull isn’t always the most appealing prospect for the non-season ticket holder, plus there are people who work away, do shiftwork or have young children. But then there is also the latest curse of the matchgoing supporter: The red button. The option to watch a game live without ever leaving your armchair. It seems another nail in the coffin for the increasing minority of people who turn up and watch the game, and once again it hits the club in the pocket. What the TV companies give them with one hand they take away with the other. A lower crowd diminishes the atmosphere for both home and away fans. Bristol City are only bringing a few hundred for Friday night’s game, despite it being a tenner a ticket because it is on Sky, and I wouldn’t expect any difference if it was the other way around. This debate usually descends into a number of arguments, where some fans will cite unaffordability and the club will respond by pointing out how competitively priced the tickets are, even compared to National League clubs. At this point I walk off whistling, having dropped the bomb. But I’m just saying, it is a terrible shame we can’t muster up 10,000 plus home fans for a team that sweats blood for the shirt, even in spite of all the factors involved. Unfortunately, football is no longer a spectator sport. The stat doing the rounds is that only 0.18% of all football fans watch the game live in the flesh in any particular weekend. So who is going to get preference here? Is it the 360,000 who are paying through the turnstile or the 200 million watching via a plethora of different-sized screens? The game has gone for the paying spectator, the same thing which keeps it alive is also harming it on other ways. And I suppose you can’t blame people for watching it via other means when there is such accessibility to do so and at a much cheaper price if you know what are doing. The club have certainly done what they can to counteract the impact of a live game by slashing ticket prices to £10 a head. Let us hope that fans take this offer up in good numbers: enjoy a few pre-match refreshments, bring some noise and boost that gate. Oh yes, and three points would lift us into third place, what an incentive that could be!
SEAN LIVESEY: This week didn’t begin as many would have hoped, but it’s certainly got better as it’s gone on. We’ve a pretty poor record following international breaks. Indeed, one of the few benefits of being in League One was the lack of international breaks. Being able to build a run of form without having it interrupted with your players jetting off around the world is certainly useful. But it isn’t an excuse we can use – after all, it’s the same for all the sides in the Championship. Saturday was an excellent day in West London, bar the actual football. Brentford fans are always hospitable, and Griffin Park is certainly one of the more welcoming grounds in the country. Sadly, Brentford weren’t as hospitable towards Latics on the pitch. We were given a footballing lesson, plain and simple, on Saturday and it’s a wonder we escaped with only a two-goal deficit. Brentford remind me very much of the Bournemouth side that got promoted in 2014/15. We faced Bournemouth at a similar time of the season, and they comprehensively beat us as well. The sending-off of Sam Morsy could well have been the turning point. Although Brentford looked on a different level to ourselves, we were amazingly still in the game and actually getting back in to it just before the red card. I immediately thought the referee had made the right decision and it was a clear sending off. But obviously with the benefit of TV replays, Sam was hard-done by with that straight red. Rightly it was rescinded, and it was written in the stars he would have a big part to play in Tuesday’s game against Hull, to prove his critics wrong. It was important for us to bounce back against Hull. The lads did that and more - although the scoreline didn’t suggest it, and it was a little bit nervy towards the end, Latics showed they’re certainly not here to make up the numbers. Another home win (three now for the season), and goals for Morsy and Josh Windass, was the perfect response to the disappointment of Saturday. Nick Powell may not have got on the scoresheet on Tuesday, but he once again showed his utter class. He dominated the match completely and was by far my man of the match. Powell is so important to the side and, if the takeover deal is to be completed soon, it’s good to see a new contract is top of Cook’s to-do list. Along with the returning Will Grigg and Michael Jacobs, the attacking link-up play was in stark contrast to what we saw at Griffin Park. So it’s on to the last game of a busy week, and a Bristol City side who seem to score as many as they concede. Who knows what to expect from Friday night’s match, but at least Latics should be full of confidence again. It’s been an excellent start to the season, especially at home. Let’s hope that can continue under the lights.
STUART GLOVER: I think it is worth glossing over Saturday’s game. Not least because I wasn’t able to be there. I was, instead, having a wonderful time at a friend’s wedding – checking my phone for updates during the wedding breakfast and speeches. One of the main talking points was the sending off of captain Sam Morsy. While I have only seen the challenge from one angle, it did seem a nasty clash of heads, but looked purely accidental. One of those where it is treatment for both and cards for neither. However, as the Brentford player got to the ball first, Morsy was dismissed for it. If the referee’s comments, reported by Darron Gibson, via a well-known local journalist, are accurate (they are – Ed!), then this seems to confirm what the footage shows. The referee is reported to have said that Morsy was sent off because he got the man and not the ball. And that if it had been the other way around, with Morsy winning the ball, then the Brentford player would have been sent off. That cannot be right! On that basis, almost any head-to-head challenge could see someone sent off. Football may not be the toughest game around, but it is still physical and people will get hurt. In most challenges there will be a winner and a loser. Dismissals should really be reserved for cheating, repeated offences, disrespect and dangerous play. I didn’t see any of those in the Morsy incident. You certainly cannot make judgments on the severity of challenges from the reactions of the players involved or their team-mates. So it was reassuring to see the red card was overturned and Sam was able to play on Tuesday night against Hull. And, of course, it was he who opened the scoring with a typical surging run through the centre of the pitch. It is worth noting the excellent advantage the referee played after a foul on Will Grigg in the build-up. As good a piece of officiating, as Saturday’s sending off was a bad one. There was also a debut goal for Josh Windass. That Josh has had to wait for a run in the team shows the wealth of attacking options that Latics now possess, and if he is going to start scoring goals then he will create a big – although welcome – selection problem for Paul Cook. But most of the attention on social media after the game was for another attacker. One whom Cook cannot possibly leave out of the side – Nick Powell. The ‘back pass’ where he seemed to lay the ball off to a team-mate, during a counter-attack, with his shoulder blade, was the sort of thing that would be put down as a fluke if many players did it. But with Powell it is, rightly, seen as another example of his ‘effortless cool’. We are used to seeing this week in and week out. The big, continual, and totally pointless, debate over whether Powell or Bradley Dack is the better player, is quite simple in my view. Last season, whisper it, I’d have chosen Dack. Yes, Powell is way cooler, but Dack did put the effort in, when, at times, Powell looked to be coasting through games. Dack, in footballing terms was more productive last season and so, if you’re looking for results only, he was the man. Yet this season, so far, I would choose Powell. This season we seem to be witnessing a new improved version. One who is working harder, contributing more, and, thankfully, with the same amount of cool, attitude and swagger. I hope he never changes. He is an easy player to love. I have said for years that Nathan ‘Duke’ Ellington is the most naturally gifted footballer that I have ever seen play for Wigan. Well move over ‘Duke’, there’s a new sheriff in town. And his name is Nick Powell.
BARRY WORTHINGTON: Friday evening’s game against Bristol City will make it three in just six days, wow, they come thick and fast in the Championship. I cannot believe that during the summer I wasn’t really looking forward to this season. I have no idea why I felt that way – perhaps a little trepidation about the step up in class – but I have been genuinely surprised by the footballing treat that has been on display so far. The games are on a knife-edge right up to the final whistle, chances galore, goals, errors, great play, goalmouth action, quality players on display from both ourselves and the opponents. What’s not to like? Brilliant stuff. One of the new players has really caught the eye, I believe we are witnessing the emergence of a future England star and someone who can go on to be a giant in the game. Reece James, what a player! It is hard to believe the Chelsea loanee is just 18 years old and has only eight senior appearances to his name. Each week his performances are improving, he is solid defensively, a real unit of a man, he has pace and a real quality delivery creating opportunities for our strikers, a stand-out performer so far this season. I wonder what the chances of striking a permanent deal would be? We can but dream. Credit for where we stand at the moment on the pitch must go to Paul Cook and his backroom staff, a manager that wears his heart on his sleeve and gets his team to play the same way. He is loyal to his players and they return that in abundance to him. These are exciting times at the Latics, the takeover edging ever closer – hopefully – and a real positivity around the club. Big away followings once again, over 1,000 to Brentford was brilliant to see, definitely a club on the up...that pre-season anxiety feels very much unfounded and silly now. Before signing off this week I cannot do so without mentioning a little piece of history that we made five years ago this week. September 19, 2013 saw us play our first game in European football with the trip to Bruges to face SV Zulte Waregem. What an adventure that was, so proud to be a Latics supporter and a Wiganer that day. The Grote Markt Square in the centre of Bruges was taken over by over 3,000 fans decked in blue and white. Fuelled by some extraordinary beer, the mood was jubilant, a proper carnival atmosphere. I bumped into the Kendricks with little Joe – our lucky mascot – in the square before the game, and it was very uplifting. The Europa League was a great adventure that our special club and supporters embraced. Can we achieve that dream again? I hope so and certainly wouldn’t discount it with the way the club is heading. Up the Tics!
KIERAN MAKIN: We’re ticking along nicely (if you excuse the pun) and I don’t think anyone can have any complaints about how we’ve started the season. I know it’s still early days. There are plenty of games to be played and changes to be made – you only have to look at how QPR have seemingly turned around their fortunes despite their terrible start to the campaign. Having said that, the table is beginning to take a little bit of shape, particularly the bottom end which we are doing really well to avoid at the moment (let’s be serious, avoiding another relegation is the priority this year). You can already see the struggles for Ipswich, Preston, Reading, Milwall, Birmingham and Hull. Rotherham have started positively but I fully expect them to be in the relegation mix come the business end of the season. That’s why Tuesday’s home win over Hull was so important, as we’re beating direct rivals to what we want to achieve – consolidation. We’re playing some magnificent stuff in patches and with new players still settling into life here we could soon move on to even greater heights. I know talking about survival may sound negative, but in our heart of hearts it’s what we all want first and foremost. Anything above and beyond is a major bonus and we know it. Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely delighted with how things are going, we look a threat to anyone we play. We’re not going to win them all, but with a magic man like Nick Powell at our disposal we could pinch more points than we lose. Can we confirm his new contract yet? I’m not ready for a world without Powell passing the ball with his back…
IAN ASPINALL: It was brilliant to see Latics win under the floodlights on Tuesday night against Hull City and move up to fourth in the Championship table. The only disappointment was the attendance of 8,848 with 418 away supporters. It was perhaps not surprising the attendance was so low given Championship games are now available to view on the clubs’ iFollow platform and the Sky red button and mobile app. Midweek attendances in the Championship will inevitably be affected as fans can pay a one-off fee of £10 per game to watch their team rather than attend the game. The number of Latics’ fans attending was certainly down and those attending from Hull was fewer than would previously have been expected. These services are good for fans who can’t make the game due to work, or other commitments or who live abroad, but it has surely deterred many fans from attending the live game as they can now watch the game cheaply from the comfort of their own homes. Sky and the EFL are financially compensating the football league clubs, but in the long run it will surely be creating a group of supporters who stop attending live games and become armchair supporters. Latics’ home game on Friday night against Bristol City is on Sky and this will no doubt have a detrimental effect on the attendance and the atmosphere. It is probably only a matter of time before the Saturday 3pm black-out time disappears for all English clubs. During the recent international weekend the EFL streamed 3pm kick offs on iFollow for League One and League Two teams to domestic customers for the first time. There is much talk of “growing the game” “increasing participation” and ensuring future generations engage with live football, but when the cheapest option is to watch from home then many will choose not to attend the live games. Supporting your local team is increasingly the harder option and it should be crucial for the clubs to try to maintain a close connection with the local community.
JOE O’NEIL: All aboard the ‘play-offs’ believe bus! Another home victory over Bristol City on Friday night and it will certainly be in full throttle. We’re only eight games into the season, so it’s difficult to get yourself carried away, as we all know a few dodgy results can take you from promotion pushers to a relegation dogfight. However, I do believe we will be hammering down the door of the top six come May, with our home form becoming ever-more crucial, after yet another home victory on Tuesday night. We’re creating chances from all angles, with numerous players involved. Josh Windass grabbed his first goal in a Latics shirt, which was pleasing to see, but playing him out on the right or left wing I don’t think suits him or his game. Also, Nick Powell’s back-touch pass to Will Grigg was extraordinary, and shows why he is probably the best player in this league and why we need to nail him down to a contract.