Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - 'All we can keep doing is throwing our opponents to the floor, try and give the other big guns a bloody nose when we play them and make sure we are one of the last two in the ring come the end of the fight...'
Our panel of Wigan Athletic experts get back into the swing after their winter break and assess the looming fixture pile-up that's threatening to derail the promotion push...
Hello and may I start by wishing all Latics fans a Happy New Year! But will it be a Happy New Year? Based on our points per game, we should be in by far the strongest position of all the promotion chasing teams in League One. In reality, though, they have accumulated more points than us, and there’s no guarantee we will catch them up, especially when we find ourselves with more games to play in a highly compressed timescale. Even though, in recent years, we overcame the likes of Burton, Shrewsbury and Blackburn Rovers to succeed in a title race, I am never confident. The first two lacked the staying power, having forced themselves up the table with a tight-knit playing squad and a somewhat primitive style of play. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, the job is to win a football match, the rest is just conjecture, even if personally I like to see passing, attacking football. We may have won the battle with Blackburn too, but now they are flying in the Championship and will come here buoyant ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup-tie. Maybe this might mean they aren’t particularly interested in the cup either? Do we have a subplot where both teams would be happy or not bothered if they lose? It is sacrilege to suggest, especially from ourselves who have had such recent fun in said competition. The bottom line is I don’t want to see us lose any game, but every extra game causes more pressure, so I wouldn’t be too gutted if we played a slightly younger side and bowed out gratefully against our illustrious higher division (ha!) opponents on the day. Let me digress a while, I forget where I read it but I was reading an old football magazine which was reviewing the international coverage of a past World Cup. It was an English piece, comparing how other nations did their punditry. Of course, up until recent times, in the UK we’d drag out any old professional for their two-penny worth, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I speak as someone who grew up fixated on Saint & Greavsie on a Saturday lunchtime. I also recall a few years later, stopping up later to watch a USA v England friendly, ahead of the 1994 tournament. The commentator was Rodney Marsh, it was 2am in the morning, and England were struggling against a country not particularly noted for football. Faced with the temptation of going to bed, Marsh’s half-time wisdom, was to “go get yourself a beer, this second half will be a cracker”. So I did. England lost 2-0. Of course, whereas the German method was still years behind what we tend to see today in a reporting panel, it was nevertheless far more professional than the English approach. Three gentlemen in suits, stood over a tactics board, discussing whether it was inconceivable that Germany might NOT win the forthcoming World Cup, exuding that ever so stereotypical Teutonic confidence and arrogance you’d expect. So back, closer to home and whereas confidence is not a bad thing, arrogance is something I’d rather leave at the door. Let us leave that to other clubs in the division. Aside from the need to strengthen in January and avoid an injury or a(nother) COVID crisis between now and May, would you fancy our chances? Certainly, based on what we’ve seen, the trouble is there are three or four other teams who also equally fancy their chances too, and two into four doesn’t go (I’m discounting us for the play-offs, we may as well finish seventh based on our track record). And with respect, unlike Burton and Shrewsbury above during their previous tilt at promotion, each of the top four have considerable pedigree. Wycombe and Rotherham are now two examples of the yo-yo syndrome, which has been in place for years in the Premier League and is now creeping into the Championship. If you can retain your squad when you get relegated, then in all likelihood, you will be up challenging the year after. Wycombe have tailed off a little but then, look who they play on Saturday... What do we want out of that one? Do we want Sunderland to move further away from us, or Wycombe to peg them back, putting themselves back into the mixer for good measure? It looks so simple on paper, win two of our games in hand and we’re top of the league. But suddenly, if we need to win three of our four games in hand, well it gets a bit more challenging, and it can be twitchy bum time for us. The four might not all hold the pace and indeed, one or two more might climb up through the pack but it really is a case of us holding our nerve while we drop down the league through no fault of our own. It shouldn’t be this way at all, all teams should have played the same number of games, and we would know whether our own result is the only one we need to worry about. But this year, above all others, has presented more challenges than any. I’ve always felt that a promotion charge is like one of those “last man standing” wrestling events. There’s quite a few players in the ring at the minute but by beating them and (especially) beating your rivals, you eventually get down to the last two. The main problem is we keep jumping out of the ring and into another one at the minute, and it is critical we don’t get distracted. For this reason, it is likely to go right to the wire but ideally, we can stand strong and win our battles. Rotherham still look very strong but Sunderland are also the one I fear. I hope this fear is the same fear I had about Bolton earlier in the season, and their arrogance will be their undoing. But for most of the next few months, all we can keep doing is throwing our opponents to the floor, try and give the other big guns a bloody nose when we play them and make sure we are one of the last two in the ring come the end of the fight.
Caddy from the 5:
First things first, let’s get the housekeeping out of the way...Happy New Year! Well, “New Year, New Me” has already gone out the window, and we’re all back at work counting down to the next holiday, and more importantly the next game. Right, on to the main event. And it’s 12 months ago this week that the light at the end of the tunnel regarding administration was turned off again as the Spanish tyre-kickers pulled out of a deal to buy us, after seeing their bid they’d HALVED rejected by Gerald and his pals. We were back to square one, and the future wasn’t so much looking bleak it was downright pitch black. And everyone associated with our great club was fearing the worst. Little did we know we were only eight weeks away from a tweet that would change us forever (hopefully). A simple blue Latics cap in the sun, with the words “You Are My Sunshine #wafc”, was posted by some wind-up merchant pretending to be a Bahraini-businessman leading a consortium to buy the ‘Tics. Yeah all right lad. “So who’s behind it?” was the firestorm. “Be some bulb from Bolton” or “an egg, innit” was the general feeling among the fans. But as momentum gathered, it began looking more and more like a serious bid. Still plenty (myself included) remained very sceptical, and not without reason. We’d had the sliding roof and the monorail fiasco with Mr Frampton and his mob, Mr Wigan and his “two teams one town” bid being exposed as just lip service to get the ground, and Mr Smurthwaite throwing his hat into the ring “as a last resort”...yes, his own words! Just get it over the line mysterious Talal...(if that’s even your real name!)...our nerves are shot to pieces! Slide forward to March 15, and on his own Twitter page, the news we’d all been dying to hear: “I am pleased to announce we have finally signed the Purchase Agreement for Wigan Athletic Football Club, between Phoenix 2021 and the Joint Administrators.” Cue absolute mayhem, it was over. We’d been at rock bottom, under rock bottom, lower than a snake’s belly. But WE – as fans, players, staff and everyone associated with the biggest little club in the world – could breathe again. We’d all done it, the wait was over. Of course, the thanks went to Mr Al Jasmi and our new cult leader Talal, along with the rest of the Phoenix 2021 Limited team, Mr Gottman, Mr Markham and Mr Brannigan. They’d seen enough to take the gamble on a club they knew little to nothing about and make it theirs – and boy have they made it theirs! Fast forward 10 months – yes just 10 months – and look where we are. Crowds are up, fans are in buoyant mood, the stadium’s clean, new seats are going in, a squad assembled by Leam and his team to rival anything in this division, third in the league with three games in hand, third round of the FA Cup and the quarter-final of the Pizza Trophy, only two games from Wemberlee! Oh, and smashing Bolton 4-0 in their own pit to top it all off! It’s been one hell of a year for a ‘Tics fan, from definitely the worst we’ve ever been to possibly being in the best position we’ve ever been. Talal and his gang couldn’t, and most likely won’t, ever know what they’ve done for our club, but we’ll never get tired of telling them simply: “Thank you”. The next five months will be a typical Latics roller-coaster, I’ve no doubt, hopefully ending up with promotion back to the Championship. That’s the ultimate aim for this season, no doubt about it. And with Talal and Leam, who’s gonna stop us, eh? A big push from us the fans to get the lads over the line is needed. If you can get down the stadium, get down, the players love it when we’re taking plenty to aways and making all the noise. Let’s be that 12th man and help them all we can. My final word is to wish Charlie Wyke a continued recovery and hopefully seeing him in a ‘Tics shirt again some day would put the icing on the cake. Right, I’m off getting Talal a crate of ‘Bow for when he’s next over (be well gone)...UP THE TICS!
Well what a roller coaster 12 months - the Spanish bid collapse, and Begbies not only selling anything that wasn't nailed down, they went and sold the nails as well. We shall be ever grateful to the squad of players who performed a minor miracle to help us stay up they go down in history with the FA Cup and promotion squads. We now have steady hands in Phoenix 21 in control, and a team entering 2022 at the top end of the table. With all the recent Covid-19 postponed games, Oldham had a full-strength 'Tics to contend with in midweek, where otherwise they would have had a second string facing them nice run out. I wish OAFC all the best in their fight with the owner - we know only to well how it feels. Stay safe.
Latics ended 2021 with a win at Oxford and started 2022 on a victorious note at Oldham. Surprisingly, it has been nearly 20 years since we’ve had consecutive victories over the turn of the new year. Tuesday’s 6-0 drubbing of our North West neighbours, who sit at the bottom of League Two, was just what the doctor ordered after a two-and-a-half week break from play due to Covid postponements. Despite our stellar midweek showing in the Papa John’s Trophy, there still remains a growing concern about our ongoing fixture congestion. Many of us would’ve been content if Leam Richardson had decided to put out a reserve team at Oldham and we somehow didn’t advance to the quarter finals of the competition. However, everything about the team selection and performance on Tuesday answered any lingering questions about our intentions going into the evening. We have now gone 13 matches without a loss dating back to late October and it’s clear our ‘win now, worry later’ mentality has carried over into 2022. We will need every bit of confidence and positive momentum gained at Oldham as we take on a Blackburn side that is nine matches unbeaten and currently sits second in the Championship. Recent history is on our side though, as Rovers have not beaten Latics at the DW since January 2007. We’ll have everything to gain and nothing to lose on Saturday. Advancing in the FA Cup would provide a nice cash influx for the club, but also create one extra fixture to work around for what’s already slated to be a chaotic second half of the season. We’re a year-and-a-half removed from regularly playing clubs with immediate Premier League aspirations. This cup-tie will serve as a measuring stick for where we stack up against such clubs as we aspire to get one division closer to the Premier League ourselves. As the third round of the FA Cup kicks off, various League One matches will also take place throughout the country. Latics could have as many as FIVE games in hand on some of our promotion rivals by the time we resume league play at Doncaster next Saturday. Unless the league season is extended into May, completing our remaining fixtures will bring a tremendous burden on the squad. There’s no guarantee we’ll be able to secure squad reinforcements that will adequately meet the demand of our upcoming fixture list. As you also consider the possibility of more injuries and new Covid cases, it’s easy to view the next four months of the season through a negative lens. One only needs to be reminded that exactly one year ago, our club was in a much different place having just learned the Spanish takeover of Latics had fallen through. The uncertainties we faced at this same time last year painted a much bleeker picture than the challenges that lay ahead of us now. 2021 reinvigorated our club in ways we could only dream of during the later stages of 2020. There is no reason to believe our upward trajectory should change course any time soon. Bring on Blackburn. Bring on our next Papa John’s opponents. Bring on 25 more League One matches. Anybody who doubted the capabilities of Wigan Athletic going into 2022 is in for quite the rude awakening.
Crewe was the first of the games to fall foul
Of this blasted pandemic. We threw in the towel,
Cos apparently, our players were full of the lurgy
(And lager, and sherry, and cake, and yes, turkey).
Cod Army were next, but this time it was them
Who couldn’t raise a team, (they were all full o’ phlegm).
Then beggar me, Accy, they messed up the New Year
That brought a small curse, and yes, nearly a tear.
Three done for games, when will we next see a crowd?
At Ice Station Owdham? That’ll be cowd!!!
And yes, cowd it was, but well worth the wait,
Cos though we got six, it could well have been eight (TEEN!)
I know we shouldn’t gloat, just cos we scored six,
In fact, I felt sorry for them men, t’other Tics,
Cos we feel the pain, know what they’re going through,
Cos we were right there, and yes, we felt it too.
Up the standing-together-against-naff-owners ‘Tics!
How good was it to get back out there on Tuesday night? Yes it was the much-derided Pizza Cup, and yes it was a much-changed Oldham side but to see us back out there, nearly three weeks since we last stepped out was good to see. Fair play to the over 500 hardy souls travelling over to Ice Station Zebra on a freezing cold January evening. At least they were rewarded for their efforts. I imagine we may have had even more there in the days of the competition being strictly for League One/League Two clubs. The EFL really have done such a disservice to a great competition for lower league clubs. Yes it’ll be brilliant for Latics if we reach Wembley in terms of finances and well Wembley. But there’ll always be frustration that the EFL allowed, or rather invited, Under-21 sides in to a competition that was exclusively for those lower league clubs who may never have had the chance to dream of a day out at Wembley previously. Speaking of which, Arsenal U21s or Chelsea U21s doesn’t quite have the same appeal. Nonetheless it’s an opportunity to progress. Sadly it’s yet another match to fit in to a ridiculously packed fixture list as it is, even more if we manage to beat Blackburn on Saturday. Leam Richardson spoke of his frustration that neither Fleetwood or Accrington were willing to step in and play us this coming Tuesday. Which is utterly bizarre, It’ll be over two weeks at that point since we should have played both originally, so their players hit by Covid should have required sufficiently by then. As Leam quite rightly pointed out, last season we were told we had to play on the first date available, so why that should now be different is beyond my comprehension. It’s going to be a tricky few months, trying to fit in football matches. We’re in great form at the minute and one has to hope the extended break over Christmas has been more help than hindrance. But if clubs are refusing to play us in our few free available dates left, I’m unsure what it says for the integrity of the competition.
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