Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - 'I hate football at the moment, but it will come good again. It’s looking grim and bleak, so I don’t blame anyone for losing heart. Just don’t lose your mind, that’s all...'
Our panel of Latics experts – with a few newbies – assess the wreckage after their side dropped into the bottom three of the Championship with a seventh defeat in eight matches...
Where do we go from here? Up, hopefully. Nobody was ever relegated in November, except Sunderland that time in the Premier League, but it isn’t looking pretty. I’m a passive sort. I never turned on Roberto Martinez. I never turned on Paul Cook. I never turned on Uwe Rosler, well, not until he lost to that lot. So I’m not about to turn on Leam Richardson now either. My over-riding principle is that if a manager has done some good for us in the past, then he is also capable of doing good for us in the future. And Leam literally saved the club, and saved a man’s life. For that, he gets a wealth of extra support and patience from me, compared to someone who has no connection or credentials towards the club. Nothing is unconditional in football of course, but we’ve been through rougher patches than this and come out of the other end smiling, so all is not lost. What if Leam wasn’t our manager? What if we had started this season with a completely new manager, and were exactly in the same position? Would I want them sacked? No, not yet anyway. You could argue they might have signed better players or got the same players playing better but they certainly wouldn’t have received more money for transfers and the wage bill. Had they been around last year they might have signed younger, less experienced players but then we might not have got out of League One and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. We always seem to assume making a change will always be for the better, even though experience tells us that it often isn't. It’s also quite plausible any decent manager worth his salt would look at the budget available to him this year and say 'no thanks'. The fact is Leam is our manager, and given the board have just given him a long term contract, they presumably have no intention of replacing him.
I will be careful what I say about off-field matters, but it should be clear now we are being run sustainability, which is a polite way of saying we are skint. 'We' being the football club. The owners hopefully aren’t haemorrhaging money like Stanley Choi is, but it is their choice whether they decide to donate their cash to Wigan Athletic, and I think most of us have detected a change of direction and a tightening of the purse strings since those heady days of March 2021. Is this translating onto the pitch? Regardless of who plays, there does seem to be a stark difference on the field from back when we were actually winning games, ooh, all of a month ago. I watched too many players fail to win the ball, or pass accurately, or put their bodies on the line on Wednesday, and Stoke’s winning goal was just way too easy. Is this related to off-field matters? Is it because the players don’t know where their next pay cheque is coming from? Have they already spoken to their agent about moving on in January? Not that I think too many will be moving up in the world on recent displays, but they all have families and mortgages to pay. Is the lack of security knowing they will get a large sum of money in their bank each month playing on their minds and affecting performances? In the cold light of day, it was a grim evening on Wednesday, but we had enough chances to win the game, Keane’s header in particular should have put us ahead, and then maybe we kick on from there. Stoke were no different to Watford, they arrived confidently, played some lovely stuff, but faded as the game went on, only to take their chance where we failed to. There are lots that could be changed player wise on our side, but it was a player who most of us were raving about who conceded possession to let Stoke in for their winner. Leam Richardson doesn’t tell Jack Whatmough to make a howler every week. We don’t really have enough centre-halves in reserve to replace more than one of them anyway and they were certainly playing well enough a few weeks ago. I have accepted where we are and accept it might be tough this season, for all the reasons above. I’ve previously commented the biggest downside of moving up a division is you end up losing more games, and boy are we losing some right now.
I also don’t necessarily buy the argument we should be where Luton or Rotherham are. I think it’s a particularly spoiled fan who demands we should have a divine right to be the best club of our size at any point in time. Nobody was complaining we weren't Luton when they got booted out of the league a few years back. Nobody was saying they wished we were Rotherham when we nicked the title off them last year. You can’t just take another club’s highlights reel and demand we should be where they are, I’m afraid. Oh, and they are only a few points ahead of us anyway, the table is so tight so who isn't to say we could be better off than them in another month or two? The same goes with managers. I’ve seen people on Facebook demand we bring in Steven Schumacher from Plymouth. Come off it, you hadn’t even heard of him 12 months ago! And what on earth makes you think anyone who has spent years working at a club who are top of League One, would leave for a club at the bottom of the Championship with the same or maybe even less resources? We are stuck with what we’ve got, whether you like it or not. The good news is it can’t get much worse, on the field at least. Which means it will start to get better at some point. We’ve had more than enough good times, and they will return. I just wish we could find a home, our natural level where we can just enjoy watching our stable football club. We move effortlessly from a state of glee to imminent disaster. If that home is in League One in our oversized ground then so be it. I hate football at the moment, but it will come good again. It’s looking grim and bleak, so I don’t blame anyone for losing heart. Just don’t lose your mind, that’s all.
The vultures are circling, it seems, ready to pick enthusiastically at the corpse of Leam Richardson. In some ways, it’s easy to understand why they are after blood. A run of poor results on the back of mostly very poor performances has seen us slip from a play-off berth to a relegation spot in just a few weeks. But this is a league where just two wins on the trot can mean 10 places up the table. Of course, that also means two defeats can mean 10 places down, but my point is that it’s nowhere near over. Had we actually won against Stoke, we’d have been 17th today, and everyone (okay, most. Okay, maybe some) would be more than happy. And yes, I know if my auntie had balls she’d be my uncle, and football doesn’t run on what ifs, but my point stands. A win or two and we’re back in solid mid-table, and panic over. The stumbling block to this is that we currently look like a team with little confidence, and very little creativity. Against Stoke was as a poor a collective display as we’ve seen in a while but, let’s not forget, this is the same team that started the season really well. Based on that, we know it’s in them, it’s just a case of bringing it out. Swapping managers will solve very little. The pool of available people isn’t exactly crowded, and we’re not the draw in this league that we might have been in League One. I’d rather stick with Richardson, at least for now, and see where we are at the World Cup break. There’s every chance we’ll be out of the bottom three at that point, much as there’s every chance we’ll still be in it. Again, my point is that this is a fickle league that sees huge position shifts from week to week. I’ll also stick my neck out and say most of the teams we’ve played so far are not really any better than us. Unfortunately, there have just been too many error or lapses in concentration that have cost us not just goals, but games. Fix that problem, and we’re halfway there. So don’t panic, we’re not doomed yet.
The World Cup break can't come quick enough for the team and fans alike is probably the best thing you can say at the moment. Our play is slow and stagnant, either sideways or backwards, with players needing three or four touches to decide what to do with the ball. That's time you don't get at any level, let alone the Championship. We need crisp, confident go-forward passing, but it's not there at the moment. One player who must be bursting with frustration is Nathan Broadhead. He's making repeated great runs in and behind the defensive line, and he's either not being seen or the players are scared of trying that killer ball to him. Stay safe.
I’ve come to the conclusion, supporting Wigan for all these years is a form of self-inflicted punishment. We have some fantastic memories such as the FA Cup, which I wouldn’t trade for anything, not even staying in the Premiership that season, but this season, there has been so little to be happy about. Leam. Honestly, when he gets it right, it’s brilliant and it’s like watching a '90’s Barca take apart teams, that’s how it felt last season. But, and it's a big one, he only had one game plan. That plan is to launch the hall high into the vicinity of the box and pray either Keane or Josh’s head is somewhere around. In League One, this was fantastic for Keane, teams couldn’t stop him. But in the Championship, this just ain’t going to cut it. He doesn’t seem to have any form of back-up plan either, based on his substitutes and team selections. It’s either high balls over the top or sit back and wait for the inevitable goal. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way shape of form calling for his head. I was happy he got the extension to be honest. But someone in that backroom of staff needs to sit him down, and tell him to stop picking his favourites, stop picking based on loyalty, and start picking on merit, work ethic, talent and game plans. I have no issue with half the team he selects, but seeing the likes of Power starting every week when he looks absolutely shattered begs the question: why choose him? Why not Naylor and Shinnie (when he isn’t suspended for bookings, the rabid little Scotsman). He is picking time and time again a team of favourites and leaving out talent and pace. His substitute choices - when he makes them - never seem to make tactical sense either. 'Oh you're bringing on Aasgaard with eight minutes to go? Great, makes sense when he would have been more use 20 minutes ago'. He does not have a back-up plan at all. On another note, I’ve had an update from GMP and they can confirm Scully has been sighted on the bench finally, and the search has been called off. I honestly don’t know why he doesn’t play him, even as a super-sub, he brings pace, vision and works his backside off. It’s taken a couple months to start to see Fletcher, and we all know that’ll be short lived before Leam sacks him off again. I’m fully convinced the pair of them got brought into the team as panic buys/loans because the players he wanted never materialised. I expect the pair to disappear back in January and I can’t blame them. There is very little to be happy about recently but, on a positive note, Jamie Jones is more than earning his spot since Amos’ injury. He’s genuinely kept us in these games recently, and if it wasn’t for him we’d have a lot worse goal difference. Kerr is playing like a man possessed, Watmough and Tilt are in a rhythm with a good relationship at the back, Broadhead looks good in spells and so does Darikwa, who arguably is having his best season for us. At the end of the day, the only thing about Wigan I truly hate is the hope. The hope. It kills you inside. I’m still hopeful for Swansea, even after Stoke, because it’s Wigan, and we do this in one form or another every season. But until something changes all hope does is hurt you. Anyway, see you all on Twitter arguing over hypocrisy on Saturday (IYKYK)…
Rock bottom. We’ve been quite familiar with the term since the summer of 2020. It’s been relevant to the club in many capacities. Having lost five on the bounce and seven of our last eight matches, we’re unfortunately in the middle of a plunge that brings about a vast array of negative feelings and memories. We’re approaching the two-year anniversary of an on-field moment that could’ve represented a recent ‘rock bottom’ point for the club: our 3-2 loss to Chorley in the FA Cup. We missed out on a critical opportunity to breathe life into a depleted team that was sitting at the bottom of the League One table. The defeat was embarrassing. Fortunately for Latics, John Sheridan left the club on his own accord days after the Chorley defeat. We then slowly started to make strides towards turning around our playing form, strengthening our squad, and achieving our primary goal for the season: survival. So have Latics hit ‘rock bottom’ for the 22-23 season? There are certainly lower depths we can go than where we are right now. However, it would be nice to think that our worst football is behind us and that the gaffer can make the necessary changes to provide a spark that results in three points. Four of our last five losses have been competitive performances. In some of those performances (QPR away and Watford at home) we absolutely deserved a result against very good sides. Yet, even the most ‘glass half-full’ pundits within our fanbase can’t deny our shortcomings have far exceeded our accomplishments during this recent run. Our current set-up and style of play creates very few scoring chances. We’re approaching 250 consecutive minutes of play without scoring a goal. If we can’t score in this division, we’re not going to stay in this division. Wednesday night’s performance was particularly discouraging because Stoke looked as vulnerable as any other side we’ve faced this season. They were coming off a three-match losing streak where they only scored once and conceded two more times than Latics. The match looked destined to end in a scoreless draw after the first hour, but it was Latics who lost grip of the match just for a long enough sequence to break the deadlock in their opponents' favour. Not even a late disallowed goal for the home side could flip the narrative of the match into anything resembling a positive tone. We simply were not good enough, again. Recent history shows how hard it is for us to keep our bearings in this division. There should be little doubt that our next 28 league matches will be an all-out scrap, and if we come out of it sitting in 21st position then we did well. Swansea away provides the next opportunity to take a step in the right direction and, for the first time this season, I’m not optimistic about our chances of snagging a result. Our weekend opponents have won their last four home matches and are likely salivating at the chance to dismantle a side like ours that is in such poor form. For all we know, a trip to South Wales could be all it takes to get the team to snap out of their funk. If we come out as our better selves, we'll certainly give ourselves a chance. It’s not time to give up on the lads, yet.
The simple thing is Leam Richardson has lost the confidence of the players. No attacking threat and looks like a split in the squad. Leam's favourites Keane and Power not playing good enough for selection. Why Scully and Fletcher not had a run starting games is a joke complete awful recruitment policy otherwise.
Following a promising start to the season, seemingly every little bit of quality and competitiveness has been lost from Latics’ game. Five losses on the trot now makes for a grim reading. The Stoke game was painful to watch in all honesty. We started with Broadhead and Keane up front, and it’s clear both of these players are better off being used elsewhere. When Latics pass the ball to Keane’s feet and he starts at No.10, he’s a massive creative spark. But when the ball is being hoofed up the pitch towards him, it becomes pretty evident, despite his height, he just isn’t a physical target man in a Josh Magennis or Charlie Wyke sense. Perhaps Fletcher may be a decent target man too, if he ever plays for more than seven minutes off the bench! As for Broadhead, well, it’s very obvious we miss Callum Lang being on the wing carrying the ball and taking on defenders - just being a little more direct than the rest of the side. I think Broadhead would be the perfect Lang replacement as he seems to have that flair about him, and willingness to take opponents on, but when he plays more centrally that side of his game seems to be lacking. I just don’t understand why if we’re going to play hoof-ball we don’t simply start target men in the first place. Wyke and Magennis seemed to make an impact when they came on and actually won a few flick-ons that Keane and Broadhead weren’t ever winning. But we shouldn’t be playing hoof ball in the first place. There should be someone in the midfield who the defenders can pass the ball to, and that midfielder should then be able to turn on the ball and find a team-mate in a more advanced position. Surely we’re the easiest side in the league to read if it’s literally just a case of centre-halves lumping it forwards, and to no real effect. I think Graeme Shinnie could well be that man in the midfield, and we missed him against Stoke. But I do think in January we do need to sign a box-to-box midfielder who can make things happen in the final third. I quite liked the James McClean/Thelo Aasgaard combination down the left-hand side earlier on in the season, as Aasgaard is a player who can pick the lock, so to speak, and I don’t get why he hasn’t featured in the starting XI more frequently. It’s imperative we get around four-six points from the final two games before the World Cup-inflicted hiatus and, despite our form, it is do-able to beat both Coventry and Blackpool. I’d personally count Swansea away as somewhat of a write off though unfortunately. But it is the Championship…
The definition of insanity is doing the exact same thing over and over, expecting different results. I'm as insane and guilty of this as the next person when I enter the DW every game with my four-year-old, expecting him to sit there and enjoy watching a full 90 minutes of football instead of watching the utter dross he manages to find on his tablet from the dark recesses of YouTube. When it comes to Wigan Athletic, I see an all-too familiar teamsheet come out and become fully convinced I'm going to see that team suddenly flick a switch and start playing like a prime Brazil team. The Stoke game was my breaking point. Changes need to happen, and there is no better time than right now. There are three games before the World Cup break, and it could help or hinder us. We may come back in mid-December as the second-half-of-a-season-Wigan-team we have all come to love, or we continue with the same performances we have unfortunately had to endure in the past eight or so games. Either way, why not just go all-out for these next three games? 'We could end up further adrift'? There are more than enough games to save the season, as long as Leam finds the team that works. Putting the same 11 out game in, game out will not suddenly start working. Give the fans something to get excited about, because I'm pretty sure we would all love to see the team go hell for leather in these final games before the break. Play those players that can take a man on, create a bit of excitement, show that bit of confidence that has clearly been lacking in recent games. As one of the older phrases goes, attack is the best form of defence. If we are going to play more cautiously and limit our attacks, then you have to be clinical, which I'm afraid we are not. I don't particularly think any of the teams we have lost to have shown any real quality or been miles better than us. They are just clinical, which you have to be in this league. Not only are they clinical, they also do the basics. Small triangles working the ball between each other, opening up those little pockets of spaces, which for us would be for players like Broadhead, who thrive on trying to exploit these with a bit of pace. I lost count of how many times we aimlessly hooked it down the line for a Stoke player to instantly play it back into our own half. It's even got to a point where we don't even really know what to do from a throw-in! Three games before the break, let's make a statement, lads, and not send #wafc twitter into absolute meltdown for the whole of the World Cup. Watching England crash out at some point is going to be bad enough, I don't want the added misery of the Wigan twitter doomsday brigade as well.
It's been a weird few weeks hasn't it? Another late payment of wages, the way Leam Richardsons contract extension was announced, and the run of results. In July, HMRC updated its list of high-risk countries, adding Gibraltar, requiring extra information to be requested by banks when payments are made to stop them being held up. Given Gibraltar is where EPIC (Mr Al Jasmi's company) is based, could this be the reason for the recent delays? Maybe. It could also just be that someone forgot to press a button or a system didn't work as it should. It is clear that, whatever it is, it's not good enough, and things need to be resolved asap to avoid the issue rearing its head again and causing unnecessary off-field distractions, when we've enough on-field issues to be dealing with! The contract extension wasn't announced in the normal way and rang alarm bells in some quarters given the timing, shortly after the release of the Daily Mail article on late wages. It could be the plan all along was to announce the extension that week, the article release caught them on the hop, and the chairman simply wanted to get some good news out to distract from the concerns. Who knows? For me, I'm glad the manager has had his contract extended after everything he's done for the club. It isn't clear when the contract runs to, but it is clear the ownership group believes in the manager. The results haven't been good enough recently, especially at home, where we've had more Prime Ministers (three) than home wins (one) this season! We came into the season with the bounce of a title-winning campaign, although not in the best form. The players deserved their chance to prove themselves given their efforts last season, and early on it worked well, with an unbeaten away record and some draws and narrow defeats at home. The momentum has come to a shuddering halt in the last few weeks, and we're looking like a team with no confidence, especially when we go a goal behind. We've had difficult runs in the Championship in recent memory (the terrible away form over two years that became a running joke, and repeatedly conceding late goals before the break due to the pandemic?) We didn't change the manager then, it turned around, and I believe he'll turn this run around. A big miss for me is Callum Lang, who's been a big part of our success since coming back from loan. He may not have scored as many goals this season as the same point last season but his presence, and connection with the fans, is something that lifts the team and the crowd when he's there. Hopefully we can keep in touch with teams above us going into the World Cup break, get the players a much-needed opportunity to rest, recover and reset before a busy Christmas period, and get us through to January when it's a must we get some quality reinforcements into the club.
It's great what a good night's sleep can do. Yeah, we were poor for much of the game last night, but not all of it. Yeah, we're in the bottom three, but we're a win away from being mid-table. Yeah, Talal's a little quieter on Twitter, but isn't that what folk wanted? Yeah, the manager's amazingly been given a three-year contract, but that gives stability. Yeah, everyone's down, but lots still were even with us a win away from the play-offs. After going through admin, and really being in the mire, I refuse to let a run of bad form cloud my views. It was obvious when we didn't make any stellar signings in the summer that our team from last season - plus Cousins - was going to be given a big chance to give it a go themselves. That's fair enough, and initially, they were doing a decent job of it ... points-wise at least. Now, a few chinks are appearing ... as might have been expected. The manager on the other hand is trying to work out how to play with what he's got at this standard. Again, he's got some stuff right and some stuff wrong. We're currently playing with a back three/five, (as expounded by posters on here), but the way we play it - especially in midfield - sometimes doesn't offer the right balance. Some of the players need to dismiss the idea they'll get a nosebleed for crossing the halfway line. We could easily have won against Stoke ... but we didn't. There's little point in calling for the manager to go, cos he isn't. There's little point calling for us to bring in new players, cos we can't...yet. Other than using ones we've not played so far. Certainly it seems strange that Fletcher and Scully haven't made a starting line-up yet, and Aasgard really does need to show that he deserves to be picked, rather than leaving it to his potential. I've every confidence we'll turn this around. When you hit the bottom three, I'd imagine it changes the mindset. Good. The manager showed what he could do in a relegation scrap in League One. He'll have the January window to strengthen the squad too...which leads us on to the owner. I love the way fans talk themselves into believing their own predictions of doom. Listen, EVERY club in the whole league structure is for sale if the right offer is made. They've (the owner and Talal) given no indication whatsoever they aren't in it for the long term. They've made a massive statement (however naive) in giving the manager that contract. They're going nowhere anytime soon. So...yeah, we're all a bit cheesed off at the moment, but an injection of a little Sin Miedo, and the patient will come round soon enough. Maybe not soon enough for those expecting us to be challenging for promotion this season, but you can't please everyone all of the time. Up the staying up Tics.
At what point does this become terminal? I’m sure I wasn’t alone thinking that on Wednesday evening. After the inevitable 'L' was posted alongside Wigan 0-1 Stoke. Once again, a half-decent performance was rewarded with nothing, but perhaps it’s all we deserved? I’m not sure.All I do know is, Blackburn apart, autumn has been a horror show for Wigan Athletic. Since we somehow lost against Hull in a game we were leading, we’ve only managed to take points against Blackburn. The home performances in particular - Cardiff, Middlesbrough, Stoke - have been distressing for various different reasons. Wednesday felt like the ideal time to start righting some wrongs and getting back on track. The league’s so tight that a win would have propelled us to heady heights of mid-table despite our awful run. But instead we’re now facing going into the World Cup break rooted to the bottom three. Now that doesn’t mean certain relegation come May, but it does make it much harder for us to get to that magic point mark to ensure a second season of Championship football. We’ve lost ground to the teams around us because we’ve failed to pick up any points in the games against those sides - the only team we somehow managed to earn points against is currently sitting towards the top of the league. Football is a fickle game, and it seems many have already made up their minds about this manager and indeed this squad of players, who only a few months ago were toasted as one of the best we’ve had in a generation for what they achieved last year. I’m surprised how quickly many have turned on the manager, given what happened last season, but then again football is indeed a results and entertainment business. What happened last week goes out of the window in this case, let alone what the management achieved on and off the pitch last season. A three-year deal for the manager complicates matters, and I would be absolutely amazed if the owners were to take the plunge and get rid of him. If that did somehow happen, who could come in to improve our situation? Although I’ll defend Leam, equally we need to see some changes from him. Too often we set up in a very defensive manner, which doesn’t match the level of sides we’re playing. There’s valid question marks over his reluctance to feature some of the summer signings, and we often look like we’re playing within ourselves. Injuries as always have played a major part in this season’s dip in form, none more so than Callum Lang. I didn’t realise how much we relied on him but Luton, Huddersfield and Birmingham showed his impact, and we’ve missed that no doubt. The only point I would argue in the summing up of Wednesday is whether anybody expected anything different this season? The aim is for us to finish outside of that bottom three. If we manage that by May (as big a stretch as that may be), the season will have been a success. The frustrating thing at the minute is the league isn’t that much stronger than us, and we could and should be doing better than we are. Swansea represents an opportunity. We need a result from somewhere. Let’s hope it’s from South Wales.