Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - '...every bit as ridiculous as when they changed the actor who played Scott in Neighbours and hoped nobody would notice...'
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If anybody had any doubts about the character of this team, they were surely put to bed last Saturday. After a sending off that was every bit as ridiculous as when they changed the actor who played Scott in Neighbours and hoped nobody would notice, instead of shutting up shop, Leam Richardson kept the pressure on the Birmingham defence. It was a tactic that paid off handsomely - not just from the point of view of winning the game against the odds, but because it meant Charlie Wyke played his first minutes since his heart attack. The fact he went on to set up the goal was just rubbing salt in the clearly open wounds of the Tommy Shelby wannabees in the stands. Nothing pleases me more than when a clear injustice is remedied not by the perpetrator, but by the victim. It was a similar situation in 2006, when Phil Dowd refereed the Carling Cup semi-final second leg at Highbury. I swear one of the Arsenal players would have had to pull a gun on a Latics player for Dowd to even think about giving us something. Saturday wasn’t quite up there with that glorious instant - when Jason Roberts scored with 30 seconds to go, to send us to Cardiff - but it had some of the same feelings of justified revenge about it. A big dollop of credit also has to go to Jamie Jones. I’ve never been particularly sure that Jones is anything but back-up quality at this level. But his performance on Saturday was simply heroic. Aside from some very confident and accomplished actual goalkeeping, he seemed to have played most of the game on one leg after an early injury. Every time he kicked the ball, which he never once shied away from, he winced and hobbled away. It might just have put to bed the time when he was making a brew in the goal when a backpass came his way, once and for all. I know if my auntie had wotsits she’d be my uncle, and all that, but if we’d played that game against Coventry and won, we’d be second now. Think about that. The bookies had, and some still have, us down as relegation certainties. I know four games in is no indicator of a 46-game season, but I genuinely see no reason why we should fear anybody in this league. We’ve played a red-hot promotion favourite, and another who you wouldn’t bet against for the play-offs, and taken points off them. Add a win playing with 10 men for 80 minutes, and you might want to stick a tenner on us making the play-offs ourselves. I keep saying just one season of mid-table mediocrity will do, to set us up for next season after a mad couple of years, but I’m happy to surrender that wish if necessary. Anyway, whatever happened to the lad who took over as Scott in Neighbours? Any ideas?
Well what a win. Backs against the wall, fighting for each other, and big Charlie back off the bench to lay on the winner...that's some spirit this team has. The sending off, you can see how the referee was conned, travelling at pace, being so close. Unfortunately he didn't have the access to video replays to see there was no contact and a clear dive. What now with a few days left in the transfer window, I think goalkeeper cover, a centre back and a central midfielder would be nice additions. So, on to Burnley, with only three surnames covering the whole of the North Stand, let's show no fear and let's get about them early. Stay safe.
It was a foregone conclusion that our first season back in the Championship was going to challenge Latics in new ways. After only receiving two (inconsequential) red cards during our most recent two-year stint in League One, less than 300 minutes of our new Championship campaign had passed before we had to play a man down in a meaningful match. Joe Bennett’s 10th-minute red card might not be looked back on as a ‘blessing in disguise’, but it forced our team to raise its game to a level that certainly exceeded the performances from our previous few matches. At the centre of it all was Leam Richardson. Subbing off striker Josh Magennis for defender Ryan Nyambe could’ve been an indicator we were attempting to bunker down for the last 75 minutes of the match. However, the personnel change and ensuing formation switch provided the perfect adjustment for settling back into the match and keeping a semi-balanced flow of play. And the 70th-minute triple substitution, which saw Nathan Broadhead and Charlie Wyke enter the match, set the stage for one of our most emphatic goals of the calendar year to play out just 12 minutes later. If there was ever a goal that defined ‘proving the doubters wrong’, the match-winner at Birmingham has to be towards the top of the list. “Latics won’t be competitive in the Championship unless they strengthen at every position.” Check. “Latics can’t win a match in the Championship while down a man for 80-plus minutes.” Check. “Charlie Wyke won’t ever return to form again after suffering cardiac arrest last November.” Check. I’m sure I could go on for a while. It may be time for the naysayers to accept the people making big decisions for this club know what they’re doing. We are only four matches into the league campaign and there is a very long road ahead, but it seems safe to confirm none of the club’s struggles ahead will come about due to a lack of cohesiveness and effort. The special bond that carried this group to a League One title is still alive and well in the Championship. Burnley will bring a big crowd to town on Saturday and will surely see Latics as the springboard they need to start their ascent up the league table from 16th position. Their six-goal thriller against Blackpool last weekend showed they can score goals in bunches, but also illustrated a two-goal lead is not too big for their opponents to overcome - even at Turf Moor. With another full week of recovery under their belt, the ‘Tics should be as rested and confident as necessary to secure their first home victory this season. I would’ve loved to have seen the various computer models last weekend, and to have taken note of what our chances of victory were immediately after Joe Bennett’s (since rescinded) red card. I’m sure many of those same computer models will have Burnley as favourites over us solely due to the fact we played two divisions below them last season. It goes without saying Saturday’s match is another massive opportunity to prove the doubters wrong. With a healthy Charlie Wyke back in the mix, there’s no machine in the world that will be able to measure the strength of this team’s heart. Full pun intended. Up the ‘Tics.
There's some games you know, even early on, are going to be remembered fondly. As last Saturday's match went on, you felt something special was brewing. Latics had struggled to get to grips with Birmingham in the opening 10 minutes or so and, when Joe Bennett was incorrectly sent off, it felt like it was simply a case of damage limitation. But something happened after the indignation of that ridiculous red card that never was. Wigan took control of the game, despite being a man down. It was Latics who did all the running, all the pressing and, for the last 20 minutes of the first half, created all the chances. Latics looked the stronger side, yet I'm sure everyone in the ground would have happily taken the draw and a point. But Leam and the coaching staff, alongside those lads on the pitch, had a different idea. Leam, probably unfairly, has been labelled a cautious manager in his time with us...unwilling or unable to change it up or try different approaches. All nonsense, of course, but these labels tend to stick. Well good luck to anyone who tries to say he's too cautious now, after the way his substitutions changed the game and the result on Saturday. It was a pleasant surprise to see Charlie Wyke named among the substitutes on Saturday afternoon, especially as many thought he would never play again after last November's cardiac arrest. To see him come on and set up the winner was worth the ticket price alone. Alongside Wyke, we also saw Nathan Broadhead introduced and, with both substitutes impacting the result, it showed the positivity of Leam's decisions. So much was good about Saturday - another sold-out away end, the return of Wyke and the impact of Broadhead and his first goal. It's back to home comforts on Saturday with the visit of Vincent Kompany's Burnley, and probably our toughest test yet. Burnley can clearly score for fun, but they also look like they may be vulnerable in defence. Whatever happens, Latics have shown they can mix it with the big boys and indeed compete with the big boys too. Six points from four matches is a great return for our first season back in the Championship. Let's hope we can keep that run going at the weekend.