Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man -'...basically a pound shop Steve Evans, which is remarkable since we’ve all assumed for years that Steve Evans is the pound shop Steve Evans...'

The DW StadiumThe DW Stadium
The DW Stadium
Our panel of 12th Men don't let a fine start to the season stop them getting stuck in to Wigan Athletic's last - and next - opponents...

Paul Middleton:

It’s really not easy being a Latics fan, sometimes. Buying players, winning games, and a chairman who is absolutely involved right down to making sure everyone knows who owns the stadium all make it very difficult to be miserable. Oh, and we beat them men from down the road, even if they ‘didn’t lose’ and won a 'moral victory'. Whatever either of those things might mean when a) they did lose and b) didn’t actually win anything. Our new best friend, Talal, has been fantastic. It’s easier, of course, when the team is playing well and in a good position in the table, albeit a very early season one. But the feeling from top to bottom just seems to be one of enthusiasm and being at the start of building something new and exceptional. I’m still not sure we’ll even make the play-offs, given we don’t have a huge amount of squad depth, but I do know we’re not going down – and that’s fine for now. The players are obviously on board with what’s going on, given their attitudes on and off the pitch, and the signing of James McClean is a very clear signal that we mean business. James won’t have come cheap, that’s for sure, but everything he and his wife said before re-signing was fantastic. They are clearly thrilled to come back to a club they regard as home.

But back to beating Bolton.

Ian Evatt is basically a pound shop Steve Evans, which is remarkable since we’ve all assumed for years that Steve Evans is the pound shop Steve Evans. Every interview Evatt’s given since getting knocked out of the Carabao Cup by not losing has been about them being better than us, when they clearly weren’t. Evatt will be able to console himself with the flags above Radio Manchester being flown at half mast in a show of support for their moral victory. I didn’t care who we got in the next round, to be honest, and Sunderland will do. It would have been nice to have pulled out one of the really big boys, but it really doesn’t matter. The fact is we’d have all surrendered even a first-round win just to have a decent and settled league season. That approach hasn’t changed for me. I’m not really bothered about getting any further in the Carabao Cup, which is basically a reserves competition for the PL teams until the quarter finals. I want a good league season in which we win more than we lose, and at least threaten the play-offs from time to time. Next season is when it all gets a bit more serious. Next season is when we’ll see what a team who will have been together for a full year can do. Next season is when we’ll win the league. And Ian Evatt will still be Ian Evatt.

Caddy from the 5:

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‘Wigan Athletic will play Sunderland in the third round of the Carabao Cup’. I’m still waiting to see who Bolton got, seeing as Ian Evatt believes they didn’t lose the game on Tuesday! I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that, Ian, just as bringing a big following doesn’t get you in the next round either. Hopefully the Horwich lot will move on now they lost – because they did lose – a more tiresome bunch of fans I’ve yet to encounter this season. Oh hang on, we’ve got Sunderland, another set of nauseous fans giving it the big one for a week before the game to come then. On the pitch, the game at Charlton was a joy to watch. We were outstanding, I thought, from the first minute to the last, and surely someone is going to get a good hiding sooner rather than later when the chances we’re making get converted to goals. A mention to the ‘Tics fans who made the trip, who were also superb – a very good following and were in great voice. The players are definitely starting to gel and, whether you like or loathe him, I’ve no doubt James McClean’s presence in the dressing room will only help the other lads. Again, I’ve no concerns with Charlie Wyke not getting on the scoresheet just yet. His work-rate and bringing players into the game is outstanding and the goals will definitely come for him.

This weekend sees Portsmouth and that bell ringing scruff visit the DW, and another hard game is guaranteed. I don’t mind their fans (mostly), who have shown great loyalty to their club after their own troubles a few years back. They always travel in good numbers – just don’t sit next to ‘Mr Portsmouth’, though, as I found out to my huge cost on a trip with England once...

The feel-good factor is well and truly bubbling around the club at the moment, and long may it continue. It’s certainly a great time to be supporting us, and seeing a lot of old faces returning again is no bad thing. Let’s keep the ‘Believe’ bus ticking along nicely. UP THE TICS!

Tony Moon:

‘Ode to Talal Al Hammad’

They’re gettin’ quite bitter, some over on twitter,

Cos somebody’s winding ‘em up;

There’s seats turnin’ blue, and the language is too

It’s better than winnin’ the cup;

Cos our new owner has triggered the moaners,

The rugby lot’s whinged on for hours

The red’s on its way, and we all have to say,

That this mon Talal’s one of ours;

He’s been all over town without wearing a crown,

But there’s no doubt that he’s our new Prince;

He’s taken a selfie with poor men and wealthy,

From Springfield right up into Ince;

It’s early days yet, and there’s some as’ll bet,

That everything might still not click;

Until then, rejoice, and sing with good voice,

That Talal Al Hammad’s a Tic!

Matt Auffrey:

The time has come for a change. While many other fans may not agree with my idea, I believe an upgrade in a crucial area is needed. It will take some major investment to pull it off, but I find it to be a necessary evil. Since Latics are currently ‘flying high’, it is only right that we turn the ‘Believe Bus’ into a ‘Believe Airbus’. We would just need to erect two sturdy wings, similar in stature to James McClean and Callum Lang, and strap on two Stephen Humphrys-powered jet engines. Future sell-on funds received from upcoming Kieffer Moore or Antonee Robinson transfers may not be enough by themselves to complete the project, but they should be able to get it ‘off the ground’. All celebratory transportation-related items aside, this past week marked a fantastic time to be a Latics fan. Three matches after winning our first penalty shoot-out in over a decade, we continued the trend of breaking extended winless streaks by winning our first match in London since 2017. Our victory over Charlton was far from a perfect performance but it allowed two more players – captain Tendayi Darikwa and (second) debutant James McClean – to open their scoring accounts for the season. We also earned our first away clean sheet of the new campaign in a match that saw Charlton produce very little goal threat over the course of 90 minutes.

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The win provided tremendous momentum for Latics going into Tuesday’s most highly anticipated derby against Bolton. Regardless of whether the fixture was indeed a ‘cup final’ for one team, both teams, or neither team, there was not a single soul among the nearly 12,000 in attendance who did not want their side to win with the utmost gusto. Latics created a few more clear-cut chances over the course of the match, but Bolton held their own, and the goalless scoreline at full-time seemed fair to both sides. The penalty shoot-out produced another impressive display by the blue and white. After Jordan Jones missed his penalty to break Latics’ streak of 10 consecutive spot conversions on the season, Jamie Jones responded with a massive save to keep Wigan alive. Several kicks later, Jamie produced the most confident penalty shot of the evening, and it ended up being just enough to give Latics the win and allow them to advance in the competition. Penalty shoot-outs can often be decided by the flip of a coin. For Latics to win this competition of skill twice within a two-week span either shows luck was on our side or there is a special quality to our players that helped them prevail. I personally believe in the latter statement. We are not even a full month into the season, but the progress we’ve seen from this team over the past several weeks has led me to believe that we have the ‘it’ factor. This is not a declaration that Latics are destined to win the league or even attain promotion. I do believe we will continue to play an increasingly high standard of football and, when the match is on the line, more often than not, we will make the winning plays to secure victory. Portsmouth will enter the DW Stadium as confident as any other team we’ve faced this month, as they are undefeated in the league so far, and are one of two League One sides that have yet to concede a goal in the competition. I have no doubt that Jack Whatmough and Tom Naylor will have a strong impact on the match against their former team. It would mark a great breakthrough for Latics if we could score in the first half and second half of the match for the first time all season. I predict we will continue to trend positively on Saturday – with or without our ‘Believe Airbus’ on site.

John Parr:

Well, what an opening month to the season! Like many Latics fans, I’ve been ready to go, itching to get back to games following the rollback of COVID restrictions – not necessarily because of the restrictions, but because we almost lost our football club. It would have been unthinkable for the town to lose such an asset for the community, and thankfully our new owners have realised its importance. As a result, August has been immensely enjoyable for me – my first season was the Northern Premier League title-winning campaign in 74-75, and I don’t think I’ve been as excited since then (yes, even counting the Premier League seasons), for the reason stated above. For me, Phoenix 2021 Limited have said (and more importantly done) all the right things so far – Talal, the proverbial new kid in town, going out and understanding the community is already more than what the ‘bad boys’ of administration did.

It’s touches like these that make me quietly confident we’re on the right track under their leadership. They understand football is more than just about the game itself, but something that can make people feel lifted and a part of something bigger. I’ve even noticed the fanbase, previously spilt across a whole novel, have been on the same page throughout the first month, with the Bolton game on Tuesday empathising the spirit that is building now. The atmosphere and the reactions of the players at the end telling you all you need to know about the togetherness that has been created. On paper at least, the opening games seemed like a hazard for this new squad – getting seven points from four games against sides fancied for promotion is a good return (it could – and probably should – have been more).

The new signings have hit the ground running – Jack Whatmough looks like a smooth operator at the back, Tom Naylor looking like nothing will break his stride and Stephen Humphrys always seems like he’s sailing past defenders. With Callum Lang constantly craving goals too, we’ve got an excellent spine in place already. Oh, and a special shoutout to Tendayi Darikwa, who has been leading the team and looking like a real man in motion whether he’s down the right or left. A surprising choice to many when the news of his captaincy was announced, but he’s a real ‘lead by example’ figure – the sort of character we should be building our assent around in this new era of Wigan Athletic. I do hope this positive atmosphere continues to push us through September and beyond. We still need a few more players and time for the team to settle down and establish a rhythm. But as Latics fans, we should know that adversity is always around the corner. It’s how you react to it that counts – remember, you’re the voice up in the stands, so let’s keep this good thing going and get behind the lads because the fact we still have a football club shows we shouldn’t quit until it’s won. Up the Tics!

Sean Livesey:

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Football is most definitely back! Not content with a last-minute winner against Rotherham, Latics went two better at Charlton with late goals from Tendayi Dawrika and the returning James McClean to seal victory. A return of seven points from the first four fixtures – especially when you consider who we faced in those opening four fixtures – is a fantastic return. Leam Richardson and the lads have hit the ground running and, although we still look light in certain areas, the strength of the squad is there for all to see. McClean has picked up where he left off with the Latics faithful. A much-maligned and misunderstood player, he’ll surely be an asset this season. Don’t tell that to Bolton and Ian Evatt, of course. Those men from Horwich – who definitely DID NOT want to sign the aforementioned McClean... The same Bolton fans who will tell you they care nothing about Wigan Athletic, that their true rivals are Manchester United (stop sniggering on the Stretford End) and couldn’t care less they lost Tuesday’s League Cup encounter. Even though they sold out their away allocation, told us they would take over the home ends, and preceded to throw advertising hoardings from the back of the North Stand to the pitch when they lost the penalty shoot-out. No, they definitely aren’t interested in us. Away from our friends in Horwich, the atmosphere around Robin Park hasn’t been this positive for a long time.

The club’s official ‘Believe’ campaign was launched to great fanfare last week. Modelled on a similar scheme that Aberdeen have successfully ran for the last few seasons, the fans funder helps to raise regular money for the club by offering subscription models to supporters. The funds raised in return for perks and benefits is ploughed directly back in to the club, and in an area the fans decide on. Clearly it’s a lot of money, and Wiganers more than most during the last few years have been hit hard. A decade of austerity, followed by a pandemic, means that disposable income is in short supply in areas like ours. Obviously not everyone can sign up to something like this. But it can help those supporters not local to Wigan, yet who want to contribute but have no need for a season ticket. It also helps with the stated of aim of getting the club to become self-sustainable again. It’s something that has been spoken of for many years And now, with a strong Academy – which would be a key beneficiary of the ‘Believe’ fund – producing players, we’ve a chance to make it happen. Whichever way you look at it, Wigan Athletic are on the up once again. Quite the contrast to a year ago, where we were a matter of days away from going out of business.

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