Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - 'If anybody ever thought watching Latics was straightforward, then they clearly haven’t been coming for very long...'

Our panel of Wigan Athletic experts look ahead to the most important game of the season...and do-or-die for automatic promotion...

By Paul Kendrick
Friday, 29th April 2022, 9:15 am
Updated Friday, 29th April 2022, 9:47 am

Paul Middleton:

Only in Wigan could a football team be top of the league less than a year after being in administration, be the second best performing team since Christmas, and be all but guaranteed promotion, and there still be a meltdown on Twitter. We even have people calling for the manager’s head, proclaiming certain relegation in 12 months time. Yes, it’s a little frustrating not to be celebrating promotion just yet, but a bit of perspective lads, eh? I do feel sorry for the fans who made the trip to Portsmouth, especially the manner in which we lost, but that’s football. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it, simple. If anybody ever thought watching Latics was straightforward, then they clearly haven’t been coming for very long. It is never easy, and never ordinary, it’s just something we all have to live with. The upside is we will be promoted this Saturday at Shrewsbury - barring an almost impossible goal difference turnaround between us and MK Dons. Any contributor to this column would love to be writing a celebration piece, but c’est la vie. We’ll get over the line, it’s simply a question of when and how. I’m lucky enough to have a ticket for Saturday, but I know not everybody has, and that’s a shame. The problem comes from having the final game at a ground which holds less than 10,000 fans, but it’s League One, not the Premier League, and that’s what you get. The club has been good enough to put a beamback plan in place, and made it free for all who want to go. That’s the kind of thing the club has been getting right all season. I think, all in all, we’re in safe hands with the owners and the management team. Will we ever get back to the Premier League? Who knows. That’s the plan, I’m sure, but it takes a lot of money at a time when generating it outside the Premier League is a pretty tall order. Personally, I’ll be happy with a few years of relative boredom in the middle of the Championship, but I know not everyone will feel that way. So, chin up everyone. We’ve got a great team, a great manager, a great owner and an outstanding club management team that is doing just about everything right. It could have been so much worse.

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The Latics players have one more hurdle to overcome this weekend

Matt Auffrey:

This past Tuesday night in Portsmouth marked Latics’ 60th competitive fixture of the 21/22 campaign. For reference, Watford, a likely opponent for next season, have only played 36 competitive matches up to this point. No matter what your primary takeaways were from our disappointing midweek loss, I hope all of us can agree that the sooner this season ends, the better. It could be easy to lament the fact we’ve yet to secure promotion or the League One title after multiple attempts over these past few weeks. Any team that hasn’t won in five matches is going to have a frustrated fanbase. How fortunate are Latics to be in their worst run of form for the season, and still have the highest points total and point-per-game average of all teams in the EFL, yet alone League One? We’re in a position that hoards of clubs across the country would accept without second thoughts. Perhaps it’s our fate we’re forced to deal with a final extended period of adversity in this division before our club moves on to bigger and brighter pastures next season. Maybe the football gods are doing us all a favor by tempering our expectations for how we can expect to fare in the Championship should we soon have the privilege of joining the second tier. These past few weeks could be a blessing in disguise, as they have prompted the realisation we will need to improve in several key areas and add depth if we want to be competitive at a higher level next season. I may be beating a dead horse at this point, but all talk about this summer should halt until after we beat Shrewsbury and go up as champions. That’s right. Let’s end all discussion about drawing or losing and depending on the results of others to see us over the finish line. It’s time to line up and play like a team that has the confidence and ability to end this season with the loudest of bangs. We’ve come too far as a club to put our tail between our legs now. Our new ownership group has invested in all the right people to ignite a turnaround for the ages. Our players have always made us proud of their effort and passion. Our fans have followed the lads in tremendous numbers to every corner of the country. I don’t like to speak in absolutes, but I have full confidence we will end this season on the highest of notes. The ‘Believe Bus’ has just enough petrol in the tank for this final leg of the trip. Let's enjoy the end to a ride we will never forget.

Will Heyes:

Well nobody saw that one coming! What was supposed to be Latics' moment of glory, by confirming their promotion to the Championship, ended with their bubble bursting at Portsmouth. This was a hammer blow to the Latics faithful. I really felt for all those loyal diehard fans who made the journey to the south coast, as Latics somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory! I, like many others, was in a state of shock as to how this happened. Two goals up with half an hour to go, it was all going to plan. Then in that last 30 minutes, the wheels came off. Latics deserved something for their efforts, they should not have left Fratton Park empty-handed, and it would have made the long journey back to Wigan that bit shorter. Incredibly, even after the setback at Portsmouth, Latics are still top of League One! This in spite of their worst run of form all season. Five games without a win, with a measly three points out of 15 from their last five games. This run is akin to the form of relegation teams like Crewe, Doncaster and Gillingham, not Wigan Athletic, who should not only have had promotion in the bag, but should have been champions by Easter. Five games ago, it was a done deal, and yet Latics are making heavy weather of reaching the finishing line, with a tortuous run of drip-fed agony, which makes the Latics fans suffer right until the final game. In spite of the setback at Portsmouth, nothing has changed. Barring a set of freak results, Latics are mathematically already promoted. But what we all want is to go up as champions, not runners-up who scraped their way to promotion because their rivals kept dropping points when it mattered most. It is time for Latics to put Tuesday's disappointment behind them and focus on one last hurrah, for one last heave at Shrewsbury on Saturday. By far we have been the best team in League One this season, and to win the division outright would be a fitting reward for all their hard work this season. So come on, let's see a flying sprint to the title, and then Leam Richardson's class of 2022 can take their place alongside Latics' other promotion-winning sides led by Paul Jewell, Gary Caldwell and Paul Cook. It is time for Latics to write another chapter of their history. Destiny is still in their own hands!

Ethan Lowe:

What a ride this season has been. One point away from promotion and a possible League One title. Lived in Wigan and supported them my whole life, university took me to Leeds, settled in Huddersfield with my wife, and back every weekend to the DW. This isn't so much a football opinion more than a cathartic spew of emotions. Since the club went into administration, and the horrid time we endured, so much has happened. Football's always been something to look forward to, taking your mind off whatever troubles you have for 90 minutes. During our gutsy survival last season, we were expecting our first baby, a boy we named Oscar. Oscar became incredibly ill at around 27 weeks, and struggled with strokes until he passed away at 33 weeks. I've always wanted to be a parent, and part of the excitement with my first was to take him to Latics as my dad did. I'm writing this to simply say even if we bottle one point, everyone from the ground up since administration should be bursting with pride for our club. Yes, if we play badly we can give an opinion. But without a doubt those involved in the past year or so we, as a community, should be indebted to. What. A. Season. To keep Oscar's memory alive, we have been leaving positive postcards around the country. Dr Tobin was kind enough to get a couple of players with a picture for one at Bolton home in the Carabao Cup. Since then, we've been on quite the run. Not taking anything away from the staff, but I'd like to think our little Oscar has some doing in it. Well done to all the players, staff and supporters, for a memorable season I'll remember for plenty of reasons. Hope we don't bottle it now!

Tony Moon:

Some of the Tics fans, some girls and some boys,

Decided to paddy and chuck out their toys,

Not happy wi’ being up there in top spot,

Nah, they had to throw a huff, an' go an' empty their cot;

It wasn’t just kids though, no some grown men too,

Threw tantrums, got nowty, and turned the air blue,

In fact, not just men, not just daddies, but mummies,

Threw a right little wobbler, and spat out their dummies;

And all cos their football team just lost a game,

(Unless they were doin’ it for social media fame),

Aye, Twitter and Vital were full of em all,

Tellin’ t’ world that this Tics team are sugar at football;

In fact, there are some as said they’re 'gooin’ no more',

(But I’m quite fairly certain they’ve said it before),

You see, there’s no context, perspective’s all gone,

Just reaction, all knee jerk, is all they feed on;

Cos it’s easier that way, to blow off and lash out,

Than to take it on t’ chin, and resist th’ urge to spout,

Cos it’s nerves, they’re all tense, and they might lose their dream,

They forget it’s exactly the same for the team;

So pick up our bottom lips, and soothe those frayed nerves,

Cos we go again sat’day, and it’s no more hors d’oeuvres,

Nah, this is the main course, the big un that matters,

And if this un is tasteless, it might all end in tatters;

Oi, what am I doing, I’m fallin’ under their spell,

Of fearing for t’ worst, thinking 'oh bloody hell'!

So fear not my friends, cos that’s no way to go,

Cos the Tics are gooin’ up, say with me, Sin Miedo!

Amen

Sean Livesey:

April 9 saw Wigan Athletic travel to Lincoln, where a 3-1 win over Michael Appleton’s side - coupled with defeat for Rotherham at Charlton would see - saw Latics strengthen their grip on top spot in League One. It had been a strong seven days for Leam Richardson - a hard-earned draw over the best team in the league, Bolton Wanderers, had been followed up by a routine, if not easy, win over Accrington on the Tuesday, and then the aforementioned win over Lincoln. To all intents and purposes, it looked like promotion would be sealed within the next couple of games. With favourable fixtures against Burton and Cambridge, many predicted promotion would indeed come over Easter. But this is Wigan Athletic and, in the words of Anthony H Wilson: ‘We do things differently here’. The draw at Burton (which could be the point that sees us up) was followed up by a surprising defeat to Cambridge. Still, MK slipped up that week, so three points was still all that was needed to confirm our return to the Championship. A hard-fought 2-2 draw at Ipswich - a game in which we struggled, but battled back magnificently - followed. Another point on the board saw the initiative swing back to the Latics...surely it was written in the stars for Latics to complete the job at home to Plymouth? Well, for the first hour it certainly looked like that. We dominated and, on any other given day, could have been three goals to the good at half-time. Instead, a weak free-kick saw Plymouth lead, before Latics fought back to earn another point. The fact we should have had two if not three penalties in the second half - which would have seen us gain all three points to seal promotion - is neither here nor there. So another point on the board, and once again Latics just needed one more. Tuesday’s trip to Portsmouth represented another difficult match in this run-in. Pompey may have had nothing to play for, but beware the wounded animal. Not reaching the play-offs will have hurt Danny Cowley’s team and, indeed before they did miss out on the play-offs, they’d been in excellent form during the spring. But Latics literally had one foot in the Championship at half-time thanks to virtuoso goals from Callum Lang and Will Keane. There’s no point focussing on what followed, but needless to say it was a complete collapse - and means Latics are still searching for that point to get over the line. The internet was awash with ‘they were never any good anyway’ in the aftermath, and quite understandably. What was looking like a procession has very nearly turned into a stumble over the line. Let’s not get too downhearted, though. It would still take a remarkable set of results to deny us promotion on the final day. The key now for Leam Richardson and those lads who’ve achieved so much this season is to re-group, re-focus and get that point - and very hopefully three - that will see us secure the title. If you know your history, you’ll know we’ve struggled over the line at this stage of the season previously. The Premiership promotion season of 2005-06 saw us take it to the final day, when we could have had everything sewn up long before that. And although we had promotion sewn up relatively early under Paul Cook, we still took it to the final day for the title. The great escape of 2006-07 could have seen us finish relatively comfortably, apart from the fact we failed to win another match after the trip to Manchester City at the start of March. Eight more games followed, which could have seen us get the points we needed to get out of it, but we lost all but three of those matches, leaving us to travel to Bramall Lane in a winner-takes-all shoot-out. We’re currently in a better position than all of those seasons, the lads know exactly what they need to do, and I’m sure we’ll do it. It’s been a frustrating few weeks, but let's not forget what’s gone before. Let's not forget how much this team, this club and, yes, this manager has achieved. If someone had said to you after that Hull game last season we would be top with one match remaining, needing a point to return to the Championship, and all three to win the title, you’d have thought they were mad! The time for whether this team can cope in the Championship will come, but it isn’t now. Let's get those tired and weary bodies over the line first. Whether you’re heading to Shropshire on Saturday or watching at the 'Beam Back', enjoy yourselves, because these are days we thought may never return. Cherish them and our wonderful club while it’s here. Come on you Latics!