Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man (a) - ‘Saturday...the homecoming we thought we might never see, and we will be watching it in as good shape as we possibly could be, given the turmoil of the summer...’

Our panel of Latics experts assess a decent start to the campaign...ahead of Saturday’s home league opener against Northampton – when the DW Stadium will be ‘turned blue’ for the afternoon...
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Martin Tarbuck:

Nothing like getting carried away after one good game is there? And there’s nothing like throwing a strop after one bad game either. So it begins again. It’s nothing other than what Shaun Maloney had promised: some weeks we’ll win, some weeks we’ll lose, some weeks we’ll draw and lose on penalties (or a ‘moral victory’ as some nugget who shall remain nameless likes to call it)... Why on earth should it be any different, when we have a newly-assembled team full of very raw talent, some of whom have barely played a professional game before the last few weeks. I worry whether the fine performance against Derby has set those expectation levels too high. You also have to view in the context that we are one game in, and Derby might not be all that, despite their heavy favourites tag. Against Wrexham, we dominated the ball without a cutting edge against a confident, gritty side, who have got used to winning games. The forward line is going to be reliant on the experience of Charlie Wyke and Josh Magennis this year, and young Chris Sze perhaps doesn’t have the same physical presence, despite battling tirelessly. We will be heavily reliant on Callum McManaman, Callum Lang and Stephen Humphrys to also chip in across the forward line. I’m not going to say Tuesday was dull, or a sparkling performance. It’s just one of those we have to get out of our system. We're not going to get champagne football every week and we have no right to expect it. And dare I say I’m not the only one to have little interest in this ridiculously named trophy. If the big clubs barely take it seriously, then why would a MASSIVE CLUB like ours bother? Saturday is the big one for me. The homecoming we thought we might never see, and we will be watching it in as good shape as we possibly could be, given the turmoil of the summer. That man, Maloney, and the team he puts on the field deserve thunderous support for hanging around and picking this club up off the floor, from every single supporter present. Of course, League One isn’t as feisty an occasion as being in the Championship, but the DW Stadium is our home and we need to make it thus.

On that subject, there do seem to be changes afoot and, whereas I am no fan of rugby league for a multitude of reasons, I broadly welcome the new era. Let us be honest and admit it is the right thing to do. I’m probably too long in the tooth to be saved, but I don’t pass on any of that animosity to my kids. The next generation will ideally develop that belonging to all the clubs’ sports teams, without prejudice. There are those on both sides who will never change their opinion, and maybe I’m one of them. Plenty are keen to point out that it is just a minority, and then claim the other lot started it (spoiler alert: it definitely WASN’T Wigan Athletic fans who started this, no matter how much the bitter element of rugby fans like to spin it that way, still maintaining the script they were spoon fed many decades ago), Nope, for most of our existence, and indeed in the present era, all most Latics fans wanted to do was exist, but even that seemed too much of a nuisance for much of the establishment in the town back then. I’m in danger of opening old wounds here, and that wasn’t the intention. It doesn’t feel like a minority at times, but I’d hope there is a big unmoved body in the middle between the warring factions who are capable of warming towards both clubs as necessary, and adopt the approach of being a proud Wiganer. It’s going to be difficult as most Latics fans I know are indifferent at best towards rugby league, whereas most rugby fans I know all support another football team as well, usually plucked from the top end of the Premier League table, all while stating 'it’s a rugby town'. Probably needs a bit more time on the psychologist’s coach to unpick the logic and irony behind that one. I’ve no idea how these attitudes will change, but they might at least soften over time, now we are all under the same umbrella. The bottom line is that, for Wigan Athletic, there wasn’t another option out there, other than Mike Danson. And from everything I’ve seen so far, there is a professional set up behind the scenes, and they are doing all the right things, even though there isn’t a formal board structure in place yet. With that in mind, it’s probably not the first time I’ve used this line, but it’s time to get living or get dying. We’ve nearly died twice now in three years so, for me, I go into the season with an eternal sense of gratitude and patience for the future. Will this be universally shared across the fanbase? Of course not! There will be someone grumbling on the concourse if we’re not 3-0 up at half time on Saturday against Northampton, from among the permanently dis-satisfied chapter of our support. When was it ever any different?

Shaun Maloney and his management team are preparing for Saturday's home league opener against NorthamptonShaun Maloney and his management team are preparing for Saturday's home league opener against Northampton
Shaun Maloney and his management team are preparing for Saturday's home league opener against Northampton
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Finally, we have got a new Mudhutter fanzine out this Saturday. It is something that is getting harder and harder to do, but we are too belligerent and stubborn to quit. I guess we face similar problems to whatever has caused the end of the matchday programme. I wouldn’t usually plug our stuff in this column, but firstly I need to say thanks to the 150 people who have paid up front for a seasonal subscription, that does really make a difference and keep us honest and committed. We also usually sell a couple of boxes on a matchday outside the ground. Personally, I have seen a big drop in the amount of cash I carry, and hiring a card reader is extortionately expensive for something we’d only need for a handful of days a year. I guess most people are the same as me in that they are finding that they are carrying less and less physical cash on their person. So basically, put two quid in your pocket before you set off if you’re planning to get a fanzine off us. And in return, you’ll get a thanks and a beaming smile. Or maybe a muffled grunt. But it’s better than nothing I suppose.

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Matt Auffrey:

The season’s first two matches left us with no shortage of talking points, after Latics produced an emphatic victory at Derby followed by a disappointing penalty shoot-out loss at Wrexham. We saw sequences of beautiful passing football intertwined with some obvious growing pains for a young squad breaking in a new style of play. We allowed more scoring chances than we created across both matches, but never trailed once thanks to poor finishing from our opponents and some impressive goalkeeping by Sam Tickle. One of the biggest takeaways should be there is a solid foundation in place for this group to learn, grow, and win together. However, we will need to be patient as players develop within their individual roles, build chemistry with each other, and gain experience in a league where points will not be given away by any means. Needless to say, the positives we can take away from this past week leave us with a lot of reason for optimism ahead of our home opener against Northampton. Charlie Wyke’s brace at Derby is evidence of how hard he has worked to start the season in prime physical shape. Charlie Hughes, Liam Morrison, and Sam Tickle form a trio whose average age is just 20 years old. Yet, the two central defenders and goalkeeper have demonstrated quality and composure well beyond their years through their first two full 90s of the young season. Matt Smith in midfield has had his hands full, to say the least, as he finds his footing in a very young and green position group. However, he has not only shown a willingness to battle in the middle of the pitch, but he has demonstrated the ability to also be the glue that has allowed our possession-based system to flourish in stretches (albeit less so against Wrexham). All negatives from our midweek match aside, our fanbase should be able to agree we are favorites to win this Saturday at the DW. We face the first of the four newly-promoted League Two sides in Northampton - who have been outscored 4-0 over their first two matches of the season. If we are able to put out the same starting XI that featured at Derby, we should feel very confident in our chances of securing a second consecutive league victory. It shouldn’t be forgotten our last fixture against Northampton gave us our first victory of the 2021 calendar year while we were still in administration, and in desperate need of wins. Nearly two-and-a-half-years later, we find ourselves in a less than ideal situation within the league table, but with a much more positive prognosis than what we had previously faced. Our first win at the DW under new ownership could set the tone for a much more enjoyable season of football, compared to what our fans endured last campaign on our home soil. For those who are able to attend on Saturday, please be loud and proud. There’s no better time to reestablish ‘Fortress DW’ than right now.

George Chilvers:

I think the phrase is 'reality check'. On Saturday, we saw the birth of a bright new future. A future where our younger lads get their chance on the bigger stage. And they took that chance and grabbed it with both hands, or feet if you prefer. Sam Tickle showed why Shaun Maloney rates him so highly, along with a belting new song for the fans. It's easy not to realise this was Liam Morrison's professional debut. Matt Smith has fitted in superbly. The old head of Callum McManaman showed his class. And Charlie Wyke was there to finish off the job in style. The rest of the team all played their part as well. Derby are a good team, and pressured us hard particularly in the second half. But, as the song says, we hung on for three points that I suspect was a coupon buster around the country. As always, of course, social media went into overdrive, and for some we have won the league by Christmas. And then we came back to earth on Tuesday. Yes, a different team. Yes, it's 'only' the League Cup. But all games are there to be won. You could tell how it was going to go when the coaches coming to pick us up at the DW got stuck in traffic by the Trafford Centre; by the fact the coaches gathered at a rendezvous at Chester Services, to await a police escort, only to find the police were at different services; and on arriving at the ground to be faced by two turnstiles...one for the upper tier, one for the lower. A huge queue gathered outside the upper tier queue, where one steward tried valiantly to do his searching duties, while the other empty turnstile was manned by five stewards who directed anyone with an upper tier ticket to join our big queue. Once through the turnstiles, yes you've guessed it, you ended up in the same place, a cramped passageway with one small window serving the food. On the park, we huffed and puffed against Sky's new wonderkids in a turgid affair. The referee obviously fancied a role in a Hollywood movie as he tried to catch the eye by ignoring a series of five dodgy tackles in 15 seconds by Wrexham, but then blow up for a minor infringement by Latics. So to penalties, and we know how they usually end for us. Tickle, our hero on Saturday, managed to guess wrong for every one of Wrexham's, while normally sound Charlie Hughes and Thelo Aasgaard had obviously practiced rugby penalty taking. As they say, though, we can now concentrate on the league and, with Northampton and Carlisle coming up, a similar performance to Saturday's could see us into positive points only three games in. Let's not get carried away. What a lot of us want is stability this year, and a solid safe finish. If we continue to perform as we did against Derby, even with the inevitable blips along the way, we will get there.