Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man
Our panel of experts look forward to Latics getting back from the international break to hopefully pick up where they left off...starting at Brentford this weekend!
STUART GLOVER: With no Latics game since the weekend before last we all have to find alternative ways to entertain ourselves. As a rule I don’t comment on England games, and certainly don’t watch friendlies – even glorified ones which seem to be what the new UEFA Nations League games are. I have only ever been to one senior England game.
It was in November 1999 at the old Wembley and it was the second leg of the play-off tie against Scotland to secure a place at Euro 2000. It was genuinely one of the worst footballing performances I have ever witnessed. Kevin Keegan’s side last 1-0 to a Don Hutchinson goal. Fortunately we we’d won the first leg 2-0, so we still went through, but it was awful. The other footballing incident of note this week was when Bolton suddenly found themselves on the verge of administration. When they went through the court process a couple of years ago, and escaped going into administration, some thought it was the end of their financial problems. Those who have followed this story knew it wan’t and that was proved the case this week. It is never nice to see clubs in this position. While it might have seemed fun for them to lose 12 points and have a minus total for the season, you also have to consider the devastating impact administration has on the ordinary club staff. Not the players, but the cleaners, office staff and others who are ordinary people trying to make a living. I personally would never like any club to go completely out of business – except possibly Carlisle. It is great to have rivals, I firmly believe rivalries are vital in sport, but if your rivals disappear, what then? Where else would our guaranteed six points come from this season? It is also worth remembering that, while we have had the benefit of a generous and benevolent owner over the last few years, who would never have done anything to hurt the club, we simply do not know what the future holds. If this takeover ever actually takes place, it is not impossible any schadenfreude felt by Wigan fans towards Bolton right now, could be reversed towards us at some point in the future. I know what incredible experience it has been for me to be a Latics fan over the years. I would hate that experience to no longer be available to me in the future, and worse, for it not to be an option for my children.
PAUL MIDDLETON: It’s usually difficult to talk about very much in an international break. This time, though, we’ve actually got a lot to feel good about. Will Grigg scored after coming on as a sub for Northern Ireland against Bosnia-Herzegovina, despite not being able to prevent a defeat for ex-Latics man Michael O’Neill’s team. Grigg then started in a 3-0 win against Israel, but didn’t get on the scoresheet. It does show, though, that all the confidence and ability hasn’t gone away with a promotion to the Championship, as many predicted it would. Grigg is perfectly capable of scoring 20 goals in the Championship, and truly cementing his position as one of the best we’ve ever had. Of course, it relies on the rest of the team doing their bit but, based on results so far, it looks like they’re doing it perfectly adequately. Antonee Robinson started the USA’s game against Brazil last Saturday, but was on the end of a 0-2 losing score. It was different on Wednesday, when he came on as a second-half sub against Mexico, and set up the winning goal. US journalists were all unanimous that Antonee changed the game, and were full of praise for him in an otherwise very mediocre USA performance. We’ve all seen what Robinson is capable of already this season, and the left-back position looks in really good shape. England’s junior teams have had a terrific 12 months in international tournaments, and this continued in an invitation Under-17 trophy competition, the Syrenka Cup, in Poland. Latics’ own Joe Gelhardt and Jensen Weir both featured in the competition, with the former scoring three times. In truth, the list of footballers who actually want to play for us probably isn’t that long, and we haven’t had too many Latics juniors come through to play for the first team in the last 20 years, but the future looks rosy. It looks especially good with Gelhardt, who turned down attention from several Premier League clubs in the summer, and committed his future to Latics. We may have takeover uncertainty off the field, but on field all is looking good. It’s really only ever the case that juniors get first-team experience when things are going well. Or, in the case of this season, for a game in which we seem to have no interest in winning, in a competition we just want out of the way. Hopefully, though, we’ll start to see Gelhardt, Weir and others pulling on a Latics shirt in the not-too-distant future.
SEAN LIVESEY: I know this international break has only been for two weeks but, for me personally, it already feels like a lifetime. I’ve not seen us in action since Nottingham Forest at home due to work. So with a clear weekend ahead I can’t wait to get to Euston and head over to West London. Brentford is definitely one of the better London away trips and, as the Bees come to the end of their Griffin Park life, this one’s an even more appealing away trip. This will be my third visit to Griffin Park and, with one loss and one draw already chalked up, I’m hoping Paul Cook can go one better than Gary Caldwell and bring three points back up the West Coast mainline – and there’s every chance they will. Although not pretty, the 1-0 win over Rotherham at the start of the month left Latics in a relatively strong position in the table. This coming week, although not being seen as truly crucial, could well have a big impact on our season. We’ve three games against sides that are arguably fairly matched with us, and with two of those games at home it’s important we capitalise and continue to build on our fantastic early-season form. This will be the first week of the season where the squad will need to be fully utilised, so expect to see starts for the likes of James Vaughan, Callum McManaman and Joe Garner at some point. Going back to Saturday, and the trip to Brentford throws up a number of interesting side stories. I was speaking to Billy Grant of the Beesotted fanzine and podcast earlier this week and Brentford are exuding confidence at the minute. Four seasons after reaching the Championship, Brentford have established themselves as a solid, exciting-to-watch young side. There’s a lot of historic similarities between our two clubs, and I would certainly take four years of Championship stability, like Brentford have had recently. Can they take that next step up and reach the Premier League? Who knows, but Latics will need to be at their best on Saturday to come away from Griffin Park with the points. Our record in the capital is as woeful as it’s ever been, and we do seem to struggle in compact grounds like Loftus Road and Griffin Park. Paul Cook knows this, though, and with most of his squad sticking together during the international break, I’m sure he’s been working on improving that London record on the training ground. At the last count over 750 of us were scheduled to travel to London on Saturday – another fantastic following that I’m sure the lads appreciate. If we could swell those numbers to four figures, it could be one of those legendary Wigan away days.
IAN ASPINALL: Latics travel to West London this weekend for what should be an exciting Championship fixture against Brentford. The former Walsall manager Dean Smith has made a big impact since taking over in November 2015, with some attractive attacking football. Latics and the Bees have had the highest number of shots in the Championship so far, and some statistics suggest they should be the top two teams in the division, so I’m expecting plenty of goalmouth action in what could be a high-scoring game. Brentford is one of the best traditional away days in the football league. Like ourselves they are a relatively small club in Championship terms and have even been referred to as a ‘tinpot’ team, but they have finished fifth, ninth and 10th in the past three Championship campaigns and are currently fifth in the table after six games. It’s usually a friendly experience at the compact Griffin Park where the fans mix well together beforehand. It is the only English football league ground where there is a pub on every corner. Standing is still available and the supporters are close to the pitch, which helps to create a good atmosphere although the ground only has a capacity of 12,763. It is going to be one of the last times Latics play at the ground before they move to the new stadium at Lionel Road in December 2019. The new all-seater stadium will have a capacity of 17,250, which should help to improve the Bees finances as they make a push towards the Premier League. Latics will definitely be without winger Gavin Massey who had an operation on a leg injury this week and Michael Jacobs is also doubtful, but Darron Gibson and Dan Burn could be available for selection after long injury lay-offs. If Brighton-bound Burn is available it will be interesting to see if he is selected, particularly after Cedric Cipre produced a Man of the match performance in the last home game against Rotherham. Burn will complete his move to the Premier League club in January, so I expect Cipre to retain his place in the starting XI. It was great to catch up with the in-demand Nick Powell before the international break and, following Latics’ win against Rotherham, he expressed his desire to stay with the club. The 24-year-old former Manchester United player is out of contract at the end of the season but the very good news is he wants to stay at Latics and is awaiting a contract offer from the new owners. Powell is an unassuming character off the pitch and quite unlike his on the pitch persona.
Quiet and softly spoken he is the opposite of the rabble-rouser some people possibly expect him to be like. He may be renowned for his on the pitch antics but he is a very different person off it. Representatives of the prospective new owners, the International Entertainment Corporation (IEC), were at the Rotherham game but their protracted takeover of the club from the Whelan family has still to be finalised. The long-running saga continues to rumble on as completion dates come and go. Further information on the takeover is due to be released on September 21, but don’t hold your breath on the deal being finalised.