Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - 'If that happens, fire up the 'Believe' bus and get everybody on, because we’ve a trip to take...'
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It’s amazing what one win and wages being paid - not just on time, but early - can do. There’s a renewed optimism about the club that hasn’t been felt in quite some time. One swallow, and all that, but things definitely feel different. Does it mean we’ll be staying up? Probably not, in all honesty. We’d only won eight games all year before QPR on Saturday, so winning five out of the last eight (including last weekend) still seems unlikely. But at least the recovery seems to have started, and we couldn’t really see that much, as recently as a fortnight ago. Friday brings one of those three games nobody is looking at winning. Sheffield United, albeit with a couple of stutters recently, have been in excellent form, and are now looking nailed on for the second automatic promotion spot. If we get beaten, it’s okay. If we get a draw, it’s a fantastic bonus. Winning? If that happens, fire up the 'Believe' bus and get everybody on, because we’ve a trip to take. But, look, let’s be realistic. League One is still the most likely outcome. We’re much better in defence and midfield these days, but you still struggle to see us scoring more than one goal in a game. Talking about defence, Charlie Hughes has been the superstar nobody saw coming. He’s not just settled in well to a struggling defence, he’s been absolutely outstanding. The 70-yard ball he played for Danel Sinani to run on to, and which led to the penalty, against QPR was no fluke. He did something similar in the second half with a crossfield ball to James McClean. The worry is that, if we don’t stay up, bigger clubs will come calling. Let’s just slap a £30million price tag on him and have done. Back to off-field for a moment, it was made clear during the fans meeting with the board that paying wages on time would just be a small first step to restoring trust. Fair play to the club, by acknowledging the Bank Holiday falling on payday and paying wages early, it seems they’ve listened. It also implies that cash flow issues in the last 12 months aren’t there at the moment. We have to hope 'at the moment' becomes 'at all', but we’ll have to wait and see. Anyway, instead of harshing anybody’s buzz, let’s hope that bus keeps on rolling round the bend. Cos I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when. Ask your dad.
What was that warm fuzzy feeling at 5pm on Saturday? Oh yes, a home win! You could see the team gave their all and what it meant at full time. We are all but condemned, eating our final meal on relegation row, but if any club can do a Houdini act from this position, it's us. The off-field test this week came in the form of the wages date, and the owners have passed. All last week's charm offensive and promises would have meant nothing if that wasn't met. On to a busy weekend, and Good Friday couldn't be much tougher than a trip to Bramall Lane, but we go there with no fear. Nobody expects anything other than a Sheffield United win, so let's give it our best shot and see what happens. The Blackpool ticket situation was a fiasco. Personally, if I was the club, I'd have told them to stick their 1,800 tickets if they couldn't give us a decent allocation. And don't get me started on 'police advice'. A thousand or more Wiganers spread over Blackpool pubs, or have them all in the ground for two hours? Madness. Oh and this 'cricketing fool' will also be at Old Trafford this week for the start of the County Championship. Stay safe.
Football, eh? Remember that? It was great to get back in the stadium and cheer Latics on after a couple of tumultuous weeks. There was definitely a different buzz about the place and, while the football wasn’t exactly flowing, the team responded to the backing with exactly the sort of battling performance they’ll need to even come close to survival. Two more penalty wins, with barely a shot on target, would be welcome over this busy weekend and set things up very nicely for the first of a run of relegation battles to finish the season at Blackpool. A lot of people are unhappy about the allocation Blackpool have given Latics next weekend. On the face of it, it looks like we’ve been landed with the lowest allocation they’ve given any visitors this season, with a couple of hundred tickets less than Preston got not that long ago. Two local derbies, you might think, but Blackburn and Burnley had allocations nearly double the size of Latics’. The well-documented sad events of a couple of weeks ago, after the visit of Burnley, have probably featured in the decision. But with many reportedly planning to travel anyway, you have to wonder how proportionate a decision it is. A few people have asked what Independent Latics can do about this situation? While it’s something a properly set up independent fans organisation could (and maybe should?) make representations to Blackpool and Lancashire police about, it’s come too soon in our evolution for us to be taken seriously about. This is exactly why we’re keen to maintain the momentum of the last couple of weeks and start to build the democratic organisation we aspire to. More news about how we intend to do that will be sent to subscribers in the next few days. Keep the faith.
The reactions at full-time last Saturday told us everything we needed to know about how important this win was for the club. The players and the gaffer made no effort to hide their elation on the DW pitch after beating QPR. After enduring a turbulent month of March full of stress, uncertainty, blame, and no winning results, starting April with three deserved points was more than a breath of fresh air. It gave us a lifeline and a reason to believe for at least a few more matches at minimum. For one moment, it was easy to forget we were still bottom of the league with a mountain to climb to escape the bottom three. The QPR match took on many common themes of recent Latics matches. We struggled to create consistent attacking chances, and failed to put the game away in the second half as our opponents pushed hard for a late equaliser. Yet, our defence rose to the challenge and, through excellent determination and organization, earned themselves their first clean sheet in six weeks. Ben Amos also had what was arguably his best performance of the season between the sticks. Shaun Maloney made impactful substitutions and shifted players around the pitch to counteract QPR’s second-half adjustments. There was great reason to believe the winning result was the byproduct of a gelling squad turning a corner as a unit. Our reward for victory is a trip to Bramall Lane this Friday to take on one of the division’s juggernauts. Sheffield United will enter the match having won three consecutive fixtures against top-half Championship sides, and will see Latics as another stepping stone in their trek to automatic promotion. Friday’s fixture convincingly stands out on paper as the toughest remaining fixture of our last seven. Even while being in a better position to battle relegation than we were a week ago, there are still quite mixed opinions on our prospects ahead. Some fans are adamant Latics have a fighting chance at survival with a palatable final run featuring several beatable opponents. Other fans have already convinced themselves our fate is decided, and it is only a matter of time before relegation is confirmed. In between both sides is the outcome where our three-point deduction is the sole culprit that cements our status in the third tier by season’s end. It would be a devastating, infuriating, and for some, unforgivable position for the club to find itself in come May. However, with Reading recently receiving a points deduction as well, one more club has been dragged into the seven-team scrap at the bottom of the table. There are numerous possibilities where Latics emerge above three of those clubs when the dust settles. A point on Friday could give the team a huge jolt of confidence, while a shock victory could ignite a fire within the squad like we’ve never seen before. Regardless of this week’s result, Swansea at home next Monday still remains a must-win. The journey hasn’t been pretty up to this point, and the road ahead looks as treacherous as ever. Lucky for us, there is no level of pandemonium we aren’t equipped to withstand. No obstacle has proven too daunting for this club to get around. Bring on Friday.
I’ve been quiet on these pages recently. Mainly because I don’t know what to think, or what to say. We can all offer opinions but none of us are in the position to offer solutions - only those people who own and control our club. Without going all zen like on you, I think in these situations, it is best to just ‘be’ and try not to lose your mind about scenarios. I mean, it stills looks like we will be relegated, but we are Wigan Athletic, the team who carries out impossible feats. The 'Great Escape' is, and always has been in our locker. If I’m particularly honest (or brutal), it feels right now we don’t have it in our locker to escape the drop. Shaun Maloney has made us a lot more rigid, a lot harder to beat, but all while being hamstrung with limited attacking options, and you can read between the lines and see that this might also be a problem next season as well. He’s trying to win a Formula One race in a bashed up Ford Focus. So it is no slight on Maloney, he really is working miracles with a bad hand, and had he been in situ all season, we’d probably be nowhere near the drop. Or at the very least a good few points clear of it. I’m fairly confident that, had we still got the manager we started the season with, we wouldn't be so far adrift either. And regardless of who the manager is, we don’t help ourselves by surrendering a further three points without even kicking a ball.
The whole season has been something of a sorry mess, but there’s no point looking back. We have a great manager in post now. I think even the most demanding of fans’ expectations have been reset, in no uncertain terms, and we need to just get back to the most basic of principles of enjoying/suffering watching our football team. We don’t know what the future holds off the field, and these days it is inextricably linked to what will subsequently happen on the field. On the one hand, we have no choice but to take Talal’s words at face value, and hope any financial issues are behind us. But when something happens on four occasions, we’d be daft not to retain an element of suspicion and distrust. There is also the debate around what level of football would serve us best now. If the key goal, regardless of whatever happens on the field, is to reduce the wage bill, then undoubtedly League One is the best place for us to be. Why? Because even without any player movements, all the existing squad will get a pay cut. Yeah, they’re not going to be happy with that, which is another challenge to deal with. At this point, someone will pipe up that we get more TV or prize money in the Championship (yes, you even get prize money for finishing bottom!). This is true, but it is all priced into player wage contracts. I’ll not name names, but if a player is in League One and on £10k per week, how much contractual pay rise do you think he automatically gets if we get promoted a level? I highly doubt it’s the annual two or three per cent that us token proles receive from our employer each year, if we are lucky. Nope, it could possibly mean 30, 50 or even 100 per cent. It will broadly correlate with the increase in income the club receives. That’s what agents do, they price it in any move or contract. They’d be doing their players a disservice if they didn’t. So any extra money earned goes straight into the players’ wage packets. There is no chance of making any money or recovering any losses, and that’s before you consider the other aspect of getting promoted, which is that you get rid of your lesser players (usually on low wages) and bring in better players on higher wages. The losses only go one way when you climb the divisions, if you want to be successful on the field.
Now, I’m not saying we can’t stay up and perform well in the Championship next year, but that would require a second miracle, given a large chunk of the wage bill is already fixed on existing players we might struggle to move on. A good slice of that £33million property has already been sunk on future players' wages, and the only way to raise more cash is by selling a player, or a sell-on fee from a past player. In short, Maloney will have very little to play with, he would have to pull through young players, and it could be a very tough season indeed. Of course, much of the above would apply in League One as well, but playing at a lower standard would mean the existing squad can hold its own. Our younger players would stand more of a chance of performing and building more confidence against League One opponents and, even with a miserly amount of cash to play with to boost the squad, we can still improve the team a little bit and start to re-shape it as a team for the future. There’s no saying we can’t overhaul the squad and turn into a successful, competitive team over the course of a summer. But without the large cash injection we’ve had in the past, I think it’s going to take a few seasons. And please stop comparing us to other clubs, and where they are now, saying 'we should be like them' - because we’re not. We’re all on a different journey, the ones overperforming now have gone through their own years of turmoil, and then eventually a long period of stability, before they get any of the reward. There’s not a club in the world like us, good or bad. And we’re not just good, we are amazing. The best football club in the world. We just happen to be in the worst league in the world in terms of the financial mess half the clubs are in. And this year has been our turn to fall victim to it (again). Accept that, and we are in a great place. When I was out at the game and around the pubs at the weekend, I talked to loads of Latics fans. We moaned and feared about our situation, and what the future holds, but one theme rang out. We’ll watch our club, wherever, at whatever level. Because it’s what we want to do and what we've always done. That’s the message from long-standing fans, and I am sure that sentiment is shared by many younger fans who grew up in the Premier League days. We’ve had some dark days since, but this is still our club and we will always be tremendously proud of it and loyal to it. No matter what happens this season, next season, or for as long as we are alive to see it. Everything else is just noise. Up the Tics and all that…
Following a period of uncertainty, Saturday’s victory over QPR was a well-needed result for all associated with Wigan Athletic. Most importantly, with that win, Latics have regained the three points which were deducted by the EFL and have closed the gap to their relegation rivals. We can also welcome a new friend into the relegation dogfight as Reading have taken a leaf out of our book and have been docked six points by Rick Parry and Co. Reading’s deduction means they are catchable, especially since we face them during the season’s penultimate game week. However, given some of their performances this season, it is evident the Royals are not relegation fodder and are merely in the battle due to their punishment. At the same time, the situation could be extremely demoralising for a group of players who don’t have many games to pick themselves up if heads do drop. Once again, Shaun Maloney has been impressive in his recent pre and post-match press conferences. That win over QPR on the weekend has given Latics that little bit of something. To quote Adrian Chiles: 'That little bit of hope and you just can’t cope'. But the clocks changed and Latics won their next game. One of the unwritten rules of football is this club pulls off great escapes. But another of those unwritten laws is Neil Warnock doesn’t get relegated from the Championship. It’s unlikely Wigan and Huddersfield will both survive the drop this season, and it will be interesting to see how it pans out. Anything is still possible, but the injury to Danel Sinani could be damaging to any great escape efforts. The Luxembourg international was just beginning to show how good he can be. At the same time, Thelo Aasgaard and Will Keane have helped get this club out of the mud before, and they are capable of doing it again. But what Sinani has over those two is a track record of being a top-drawer Championship player. In a nutshell, we need to scrap for every single point, and the mentality is there in this squad if they can find it. Away from the relegation scrap, it’s a lovely gesture from Maloney to allow Callum McManaman to regain fitness amid his quest to find a new club. As Maloney said: ‘He’s one of our own’, so it’s nice to see we’re looking after him.
They couldn't, could they? I mean there's a chance? No. No. No. Get those thoughts out of your head immediately, it'll only be all the more painful once the inevitable happens. Reading became the latest Championship club to be deducted points this week, as the six chalked off by the EFL means Paul Ince's side are now on the periphery of the relegation zone, and not in the best of form. If we had only managed to pay salaries on time in March, I would be supremely confident of our survival chances over the next few weeks. Under Shaun Maloney, we have become hard to beat and, although we're struggling with the same infliction in terms of scoring goals as we have all season, there is at least a method to our game plan. Something we simply didn't have under the hapless Kolo Toure - method or indeed a plan. So although we can look with hope at the table, and all the permutations, the fact remains we need five wins - and sadly have only managed eight all season. A ridiculous managerial appointment, combined with a ridiculously damaging points deduction, will see us relegated. The worst bit about it all? It was all so preventable. Some seasons, the Championship is just too strong, and, although comparatively speaking we are minnows at this level, this year needn't have been one where we struggled so much. We could, and ney should, have been able to avoid relegation this season. As Rotherham seem likely to, and as QPR probably will. A word on QPR, who must be the luckiest side alive. They've barely won a game since Bonfire Night, yet will remain in the Championship due to a combination of points deductions and sides in the bottom three unable to take advantage. But as the phrase goes, we are where we are. There's nothing else we can do now, apart from give our all to those lads on the pitch, and hope it's reciprocated. Our run-in does look favourable compared to other sides, but we're going to have to put the run of all runs together to have a chance of taking advantage. Does a squad who have been messed around constantly this season have it in them to put one of those famous Wigan runs together? Does a squad who have been paid four times late have it in them to beat some of the top sides in the country, all in the name of the badge? I'm not sure. But I know this...there's no one better at motivating that side than Maloney and Graham Barrow. We saw the passion from the staff and players on Saturday. That probably won't be enough in the end but, without Maloney and that passion, we'd have already been relegated. Let's hope the Easter double header is where Jesus's allegiance to Wigan is once again proven.