Wigan Athletic: the 12th Man - ‘I think that’s half of the problem, the expectation. The expectation we should always be doing better than what we are, despite all the metrics suggesting we have consistently over-performed...’
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I write these notes with a warm fuzzy glow coming from my newly expanded stomach, but that is mainly due to over-consumption of mince pies and spiced rum I’m afraid. As far as football is concerned, it is quite the opposite on the eve of a game against a team who seem to wallop us every time we play them. You can only admire the sense of revenge and burning injustice amongst their team and fanbase that occurs due to Wigan Athletic having the audacity to pip them to the league title last year and win a major trophy this millennia, despite not having their millions of fans. We could also mention their obsession with us signing their ex-players, most of whom were actually our ex-players and who couldn’t wait to come back. Either way, I’ve not a lot of hope for this one, but sometimes miracles do happen. Indeed, we used to be quite good at them. I think that’s half of the problem, the expectation. The expectation we should always be doing better than what we are, despite all the metrics suggesting we have consistently over-performed. It has been really unfortunate for Kolo Toure that he now appears to have Jack Whatmough and Rarmani Edmonds-Green missing along with long-term absentee, Jason Kerr. It is going to be very difficult to organise a defence, when half of your defence is laid up with hot water bottles, eating Quality Street and watching Mrs Brown’s Boys (not for me, but you know footballers and their dubious tastes). We’re coming up against a team who have spent well and strengthened ridiculously, whereas we are injury riddled and trying to hold things together till January. To quote a man who’s name I’d rather not mention, for fear of spoiling everyone’s Christmas, it looks like in the short-term at least, we are going to have to take our medicine. Urggh, I feel sick now. Yet stranger things have happened, and the last time I felt this sense of impending gloom was before we played Blackburn, and that turned out very nicely.
I see the Hull game which follows on Monday as a more winnable prospect, but they are another team who have been well backed in the transfer market, they just seem a bit more hit and miss. So it’s not a ‘based on all the statistics, such as style of play, recent form, xG, head v heads and the colour of the coach driver’s blazer, we will definitely beat them 2-1, Aasgaard and Broadhead’. No, it’s a ‘we’ve got to catch someone on an off day soon, and might sneak a win because Hull might forget what day it is and send their under 23’s’ type of gut feeling. The chatter elsewhere is the style that Toure is implementing is the right one, once we get the right players in. These players presumably being young, quick, comfortable on the ball and playing a simple pass but also capable of beating a man, and of course, with an eye for goal. Anyone know who that Mbappe plays for, who was at the World Cup’ and whether his contract is nearly due up? Of course, I’m being facetious, but the players we are after are the players who everyone will be after and we aren’t the most attractive proposition, what with us being second from bottom of the Championship unfortunately. In addition, the wages thing will not help matters. When you are looking for a new employee, receiving your wages on time isn't usually much of a factor and is well down the list of what any potential employee/footballer looks for. Why? Because you expect to be paid on time every month, it is a fundamental condition of your contract of employment. NOT getting paid on time, raises a massive red flag and is going to put players off from signing permanently. I hope and pray this continual ‘administrative oversight’ is resolved for the sake of our club, because it is going to hurt us in future. Not because it happened once, but because it happened multiple times. What can we do though, eh? Get our heads down and hope for the best. These are tough times, but we’ve been through tougher and came out the end stronger and...you’d like to think wiser, though I’m not so sure. As we head into the New Year, and as I’ve alluded to above, I’m quite happy to sit through turgid performances and heavy reversals, I didn’t get into Wigan Athletic demanding success. There’s a particular type of modern football fan who loves to deconstruct the game and tell everyone how they could do better because it gives them a short-lived sense of importance, and that’s not me. The off-field stuff is where my focus lies and the sort of club we are building for the future, and we are firmly in the corridor of uncertainty right now. I like what Kolo is trying to do, but it still remains a massive gamble, which even with backing in January may or may not pay off. We’ve just got to believe it will, there’s no alternative, is there?
So it’s not really all going according to plan, then? There are positive signs in Kolo Toure’s approach to things, no question, but it still looks like being a country mile from where we need to be. Given actual up-the-table progress is non-existent, and results no better, do we need to start assuming it wasn’t Leam Richardson that was the problem? It’s been obvious, all season, that we have huge holes in defence and midfield that should have been plugged in the summer. For reasons we’ll probably never really know, whether lack of money or lack of will, it didn’t happen. In comes a new manager, and I know it’s only been a few weeks, but those holes are still obvious. Mal Brannigan has hinted that there will be money to spend in January, and the topic formed part of the negotiations with Toure. If that’s the case, you have to wonder why Richardson wasn’t afforded the same courtesy six months ago, assuming he wasn’t. Anybody with eyes could see where we were going to struggle at Championship level, and so here we are. It’s not the end of the season yet and Toure will need time, of course, but the early signs of recovery aren’t obvious as yet. We look a better side, it’s fair to say, but we couldn’t really have looked much worse. We still can’t defend set-pieces, and have less pace at the back than a pantomime horse, and those two things will kill you at this level. Just having players able to outscore the opposition is fine in League One, but this isn’t League One. Defences make it much harder to score, and forwards are much better at exploiting weaknesses going the other way. We still have the basis of a good team, but only at the top end. From the centre circle back, we don’t have enough to keep clean sheets regularly. I hope that’s what we’re focused on, starting next week but, if past windows are anything to go by, we’ll probably sign a 37-year-old forward who can’t play more than 70 minutes a month. But, look, it’s only December and I may just have the post-Christmas blues. We might win the two home games we have coming up, and all will be rosy. Or we might lose them both and go into full panic mode, signing 30 players on loan, none of whom offer us anything over and above what we already have. Either way, we’re in for yet another rollercoaster season as Latics fans. Whether the brakes work on this one, we’ll find out together.
After the day out at Middlesbrough, I'm struggling for positives. The team gave 100 per cent but were outclassed in every position. A League One squad struggling in the Championship, with injuries now hitting hard. Be it loans or buys, we are desperate for new bodies in January in every position. Hopefully Kolo has good connections in the game to get fresh bodies through the door. I really don't see anything getting much better otherwise.
Monday’s loss at Middlesbrough threw its hat in the ring for our most lopsided defeat of the season. A semi-competitive first-half effort was completely overshadowed by a trainwreck of a second period. Boro had no issue exposing openings within our midfield and defence and punished us accordingly. While the result was quite the letdown compared to the two more encouraging efforts that kicked off the Kolo Toure era, little of the blame for our shortcomings that afternoon fell on the gaffer. Instead, Latics' social media made a simple yet vocal declaration after the match: “Our squad is not good enough; help is needed immediately.” The fast-approaching January transfer window has become an even greater focal point for our fanbase than the even more immediate matches ahead. Hundreds of ‘wish lists’ for upgrades have already been submitted into the Twitterverse for further processing. If last summer’s business dealings were any indication of what’s to come, I would not expect wholesale changes within the playing squad. Yet, you would have to assume Kolo would not have taken the manager’s job if he was not given some assurance there would be funding available to him next month. To what degree does that funding exist? We will have to wait several more weeks before we get a complete answer. Some 20 different players have featured for Latics in one capacity or another over the past three matches. You can’t say Kolo hasn’t taken a fair look into what’s at his disposal for the second half of the season. Yet, what’s more important than individuals proving themselves to the gaffer is the team proving itself to the league. We need to start winning matches, again. Despite a disappointing Boxing Day team performance, there were still some positive individual takeaways from which to draw inspiration. Charlie Hughes marvelled on his professional debut and displayed the potential to be a cornerstone for this club in central defence for years to come. Thelo Aasgaard found the scoresheet again and reiterated the notion of how important he can be for our survival hopes with the special bit of quality he adds while on the pitch. They are two players who presumably will not be going anywhere during the January transfer window. Many others will not have the same sense of security. However, it should not matter what somebody offers to Latics over the short term or long term - if they are with the team now, they deserve our full support. We may have been far from our best against Middlesbrough, but a lot can change within a few days. There is still plenty of time to turn this season around.
Three games and a singular point into the Kolo Toure era, 23rd place in the Championship table, and life at Wigan Athletic is (still) noticeably quite bleak. However, there are glimmers of hope starting to shine through. You can see from the stands what the new gaffer is trying to do, and there have been moments in the last couple of games where on another day it might have come off much better than it has. Our downfall at the minute is squad depth. We’re desperately trying to be competitive in one of football's most difficult leagues, with a squad built to be comfortable in the one below. Add to that the ever-growing injury list, and we’re in somewhat of a pickle. Listen, it’s not necessarily their fault, you certainly can’t fault the effort for the most part. But it’s becoming painfully obvious we’re lacking some quality and, unfortunately, some of these players just aren’t good enough. With 2022 coming to a close and another transfer window about to open, we really do need some solid investment and intelligent recruitment if we’re hoping to be a Championship outfit in 6 months time. It will be interesting, if nothing else.
The poor result against Middlesbrough on Boxing Day showed all Latics fans that, while the squad are still in this transition period from playing Richardson 'ball' to Toure 'ball', some scorelines will not go the way we want them too. Not to make excuses, but the squad are also hit with injuries at the moment, hence the inclusion of youngsters like Charlie Hughes. And Championship football is a cruel world for young players who are just finding their feet in the game. However, if we are to avoid yet another stint in the third tier, then we need to pick up positive results - and fast. If that means backing Toure more in January than we backed Richardson in the summer, then so be it. Obviously last time Latics got relegated ,it was through no fault of our own. But we may not realistically get away with being relegated again. It isn't sustainable to be a yo-yo club between League One and the Championship anymore. As we saw last season, League One is now a tough, tough division and, one way or another, something has to give. Either we stay in the Championship and become an established second-tier club, or we get relegated and end up being stuck in League One. I don't want to sound so negative, but League One is genuinely a really good quality division these days, and we were fortunate that Leam was such a good League One manager that we won the division despite its recent dramatic increase in quality. There are massive question marks as to whether we'd be able to bounce back so quickly once again, especially when you see what's happened to clubs like Sheffield Wednesday. However, the Championship table is very tight especially in the bottom half, so if we do find a couple of wins from somewhere, then we still have every chance of finishing in a decent position.
That’s it, we’re done, the knives are out, the honeymoon’s over, there’s no room for doubt. The new mon? He’s rubbish, he’s changed beggar all. Except maybe he’s got 'em chasing the ball. Nah, we’re gone, we’re done, we’re down. Why did we employ this inexperienced clown? That seems to be the general pattern of thought, on most social meeja, (where thinking is fraught). Patience is rare amongst most football fans, but here at Wigan, it seems it’s been banned. Just three games in and all hope is forlorn, because everything’s gloomy, with no chink of dawn. Or that’s what you’d think if you took any heed of the miserable beggars, the 'half empty' breed. The players have gone from being champions to trash, and the only thing to save us is potloads o’ cash. And as we go into another new year, it seems that our future comes with its own tear. Just like a bride’s nightie, we’re up and we’re down, one season, it’s Burnley, the next Fleetwood Town. So forget the next four months, they apparently don’t matter, it’s already been decided on twitter. Relegation is certain, there’s nothing more sure, that’s the sum thoughts of those who are gooin’ no moo-re…
The nightmare before after Christmas had nothing on this, a Boxing Day that had promised so much but left Latics looking in a desperate state just at the wrong time. Kolo Toure’s side had been the better side for much of the early exchanges in the first half, but were once again un-done by an early goal that quickly became an insurmountable lead to turn around. Let’s look at the main issues facing Kolo and this side at the moment. There’s clearly a big lack of belief and confidence at the moment. That is translating into us being unable to capitalise when we’re in decent positions and for the first half we often got ourselves into good positions. That lack of confidence is also evident at the other end of the pitch. Where a goal conceded earlier in the season or last season may have led to us rallying, it now points to almost certain defeat as heads drop. Throw in to the mix players being asked to play a new style of play that can leave them exposed in defensive areas due to those players either not being used to the style of play or indeed good enough to play it. For a final kick in the proverbials, we’re missing a number of players from the first XI who may have been better suited to playing Kolo ball such as Jason Kerr, Jack Whatmough and Charlie Wyke. It shouldn’t be all doom and gloom, tough. January is fast approaching and an opportunity to freshen up a squad that looks to be running on empty needs to be grasped by both the management and the board. If it is and we can start to turn this ship around, the decline of the autumn and winter need not be terminal. If we don’t sadly a swift return to League One will once again be on the cards. None of this is a criticism of our new manager, but unfortunately an honest appraisal of where we’re at and the forces that are conspiring against us. Already Kolo’s style of play is benefitting our forward play - with better finishing against both Middlesbrough and Sheffield United we could have had more than the two solitary goals we scored. We need to work more on that and hope that tightening up at the back can help us to get out of the situation we find ourselves in. After Sunderland is Hull City, arguably where the deterioration of our Championship season began back at the start of October. A minimum of four points from the next two games is an absolute must. The lads and the management will be hurting as much as all of us in that away end on Boxing Day but you can’t lose faith. Stranger things have happened, it’s hard and it’s frustrating but the Championship was always going to be like this on our return. All we can do is give them our best and hope that it’s replicated on the pitch. Come on Latics, we’re not done with yet.