Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - 'It is no coincidence our home form on Tuesday night has been poor, as the atmosphere has been so flat. The two are probably intertwined and somehow, we need to change that...'

Our panel of Wigan Athletic experts assess the transfer situation midway through January - and dare to look forward to a daunting-looking fixture pile-up ahead...

Friday, 14th January 2022, 10:27 am
The Latics players celebrate Thelo Aasgaard's late winner against Blackburn

Martin Tarbuck

For the first time in what feels like forever, there hasn’t been a storm in a teacup. Yet. If that’s not just prompted one as soon as the deadline for this page hits, I don’t know what will. Let me quickly give you my take on these, for what it is worth. Which isn’t much, I should add, for I am merely a fan like your good selves reading this. First came Talal’s pens, then came the Josh Magennis signing. Next comes the inevitable writing off a player before a ball is even kicked or even signed for us. I’ve often thought about many a player “what have we signed him for” and guess what, I’ve invariably been wrong. In this case, there are murmurs of a two-and-a-half-year contract for a 31 year old, who may or may not be of Championship standard but so what? It is a means to an end. We have a big Charlie Wyke-sized hole in the middle of our forward line right now, and need to plug it. If Magennis can come in and get 10-12 goals between now and the end of the season, then great. He may also come in handy next season, whether we go up or not. At some point, we re-evaluate all our players, we’ve seen over the past year or two. Twelve months ago, we just needed to get bodies in to survive the drop. This year, we seriously need bodies in, of slightly better pedigree to help us get out of the division. But also to deal with a horrific fixture pile-up. Give the lad a chance! On the subject of fixture pile-ups, good old Talal appears to have rattled many a fanbase with his open letter (tweet) to the EFL requesting an extension of the season. The main bleating about this has come from Rotherham fans, who had a similar backlog last year and Sunderland, who are going back three years to when they had a pile up, before COVID-19 had even reared its spiky little ugly head. That’s the latter team’s whining dismissed from a comparison purpose. But in terms of Rotherham, they have had 46 league games, like us to play, but they only played one game in the FA Cup and one in the EFL Trophy last year, compared to five of each (and counting for us). Whereas the spirit of football is that you should go out and try and win every game with your strongest team in every competition you enter in the interests of fairness and integrity, why is it in our benefit to do this? You really cannot doubt the honesty and never-say-die attitude of our squad when you look at our cup results, they genuinely want to win every game. Yet what is the point when we are the ones who get punished for it? And our continued cup progression only serves to help our promotion rivals, and boost their confidence as they move up the table, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Maybe we should have just limped out of the cups early doors like they did? I should also add that the season finishes a week or two earlier than usual this year, again at the EFL and FA’s request, so they are again hitting hardest those clubs who dare to enhance their competitions the most. Let us remember we already have games on Good Friday and Easter Monday, so even two of those ‘free’ weeks, where we are supposed to slot in another game, are already pretty compressed.

It’s not a popular opinion, but our biggest aim should be to get out of this division. At the risk of making myself even more unpopular here, right now, I don’t care about a trip to Wembley this year, and I care less about the cups. If we’re winning/drawing in the next round, we should just score an own goal and stick two fingers up to the EFL, for yet again treating this football club like dirt and making their problems, our problem. Finally, on the subject of the cups, I was very pleased with the crowd on Saturday, which was coincidentally just a smidgeon under the 10,000 mark. Yet again, there was considerable chagrin amongst the home support surrounding tickets sold. There seems to be two strands to this argument. Fans upset because there are low advance sales and secondly, fans upset at other fans who don’t attend cup games. Both are thorny subjects as ever but the first problem is merely a supply and demand issue. When tickets go on sale for a tasty away game, we can shift a few thousand within the first hour. Fans know there is limited supply and they have to buy quick or risk missing out. For a home game, the opposite is true. Fans know that there are usually 12,000 empty seats to choose from, so leave it as late as possible, knowing they don’t HAVE to buy a seat early. This has also been amplified due to the number of later COVID call offs this year too. Ultimately, I have been pleasantly surprised at the home turn out for both the Blackburn cup game, and the Bolton one earlier this season. There looked to be a sparse home crowd in advance but, come kick-off time, the home fans turned out in decent numbers, so fair play. The second one is a bit more problematic and I can see both sides of the story. This is how it begins: Latics fan checks home crowd ahead of cup game. Latics fan goes on to Twitter to moan about low sales: “where are you all” etc, being a polite version. Then other Latics fan will take umbrage and come back with “I’m working”, “I’ve got COVID” (a very legitimate reason as it has been rife in Wigan throughout) or “I’ve been going 30/40/50 years, I’m not answerable to you”. Me, I just strip it back to a simple maths question: If we get 8,000 at a league home game, why don’t we get the same for a (big) cup game? There are ALWAYS fans on holiday, at work, at home ill, or lots of other valid reasons in every single league game, so it can feel a bit off that several thousand home fans can be absent from cup games, all at the same time. An observation which I’ll leave there and perhaps explain by saying that affordability is the most likely genuine factor, given this is money on top of a season ticket.

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The other factor, is perhaps a little more subtle – home games aren’t as exciting as away days for many Latics fans. There are no sacred cows here, we sometimes turn up to home games out of duty, in our massive oversized stadium. If anyone is still with me here though, I think we need to focus on that home effort every bit as much as our away support from here till the end of April. We’ve had Saturday games taken off us and moved to midweek, and I know it’s not easy, even for season ticket holders, who work away or have young children to make these games. For those who do, they’re rushing around after work and have to go back to work the next morning. It is no coincidence our home form on Tuesday night has been poor, as the atmosphere has been so flat. The two are probably intertwined and somehow, we need to change that. As fans, we need to try and bring a friend, and it would be nice to see the club to do a few promotions. And if you’re a lively sort of supporter, maybe force yourself to have an extra beer or two to liven up your vocal chords, or whatever it takes to get you in the mood. It’s OK, I’ve spoken to your boss and he/she doesn’t mind. These are exciting times, challenging times but they don’t come around very often, so we need to really push ourselves along with this magnificent football club of ours.

Paul Middleton

It’s been an odd few weeks. Somehow, after hardly playing a league game in weeks, we are still in fourth place, with as many as five games in hand on those around us. The problem will be, as we have realised to our cost in years gone by, that we have to win a lot of games in an increasingly short period of time. With a smallish squad, this won’t be easy. All it will take is injuries to a couple of key players, and we’ll be in the midst of scrambling desperately just to stay in touch. But, y’know, fourth place in January is okay. After setting my sights on mid-table consolidation, I’d probably now be disappointed if we didn’t at least make the play-offs. You won’t even get decent odds on automatic promotion at this stage, but points in the bag are always better than games in hand. If we carry on in the two cup competitions as well, we might have more trouble than we need, trying to catch up the number of games played. We definitely need new players in this window, budget allowing, if only to cover us in the event of injuries when we inevitably end up playing 10 games in 16 days on the back of our run to the FA Cup final. I’ve said here, and elsewhere, that I believe Thelo Aasgaard will be the player from this squad that we sell for £20million. There was some debate about whether his goal against Blackburn was intentional, or whether he overhit a cross. Anybody who’s seen him play in the last 12 months knows the answer to that. His range of abilities on the ball is exceptional and, out of all the young players we had last year, he will end up as good – and as valuable – as any. The only nagging doubt I have is how a Norwegian Under-21 international can sound like a young Lily Savage. So get ready for a very busy four months, and one which has every chance of ending very well indeed. Despite what we read, I’m not sure the owners banked absolutely everything on getting promoted this year, but it would be nice if we could. Let’s face it, the Championship is where we belong on merit. In fact, let’s win this league, so the EFL have to send someone to present the trophy, and we can show them our full appreciation for everything they did.

Statto

Well a wonderful FA Cup comeback win over Blackburn, what a great start to the new year. Now we come on to more worrying developments – a free Tuesday passed with no game that we could have done with to catch up on fixtures. The EFL should be more strict on when teams have to play postponed games. I’ve no doubt all teams have played about with this to their own advantage in the past, including ourselves. Now we are five games behind some teams and still in two cup competitions. We need to play at every opportunity to catch up and avoid April fixture madness that could derail our season. We now look to have plenty of irons in the fire regarding new signings. If we get in much needed extra bodies of the right qualities, 2022 could be a very good year for the ‘Tics. Stay Safe.

Emma Peters

Even with a noticeable lack of league fixtures it’s been an eventful few days at Latics again. Never boring, is it? Amongst the big old pile of ‘things you love to see’ at Wigan; Talal calling out the EFL on Twitter, Thelo showing his class and proving his worth with by far and away the best goal i’ve ever seen scored live by a youngster, and Maxy P and Jimmy Mac looking as though they’re having the time of their lives and enjoying themselves far too much being back at the DW. Even the ball boys got a special mention on the bird app! From the very top to the very bottom of this club, it is clear to see that the Phoenix Group are building something very special here. Less than 12 months in. It’s incredible, really. Moving on, what a week of cup runs, eh? Leam Richardson’s decision to play seemingly full strength sides in both competitions have had their question marks, but after a 16-day rest I imagine the lads were itching to get on the grass as much as we were to be in the stands. Some absolute wonder goals from Power and Aasgaard, and a bit of iffy goalkeeping on Blackburn’s part allowing Jack Whatmough a cheeky header have put us right in the mix. Couple of potential Wembley trips on the cards if we keep this up – not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, what with the EFL failing to ensure postponed fixtures are fulfilled at the earliest opportunity and chairpeople (and medics, apparently) of certain other clubs extracting the urine about when those fixtures be fulfilled, the second half of this campaign is starting to look rather bloated. Pity not everyone has a chairman like Talal. Anyway! Nearly halfway through the month, and subsequently the transfer window and I for one, cannot wait to welcome the first of February. With whispers about the potential recalls of Curtis Tilt, Kell Watts and Tom Bayliss to their respective parent clubs from their loan spells and the possibility of a Tom Pearce departure to the Championship, I’m willing January to be out the door as quickly as possible, leaving the current squad intact and bringing in more talent if it will. I’m not sure my nerves will take another Deadline Day. I couldn’t depart without my own special mention to the Gaffer and the Good (bang average) Doctor – we are a lucky bunch to have good folk like these two involved with our little football club. Final word to wish a continued speedy recovery to Charlie Wyke. We’re all with you big man!

Matt Auffrey

The world’s problems came to a halt for two hours last Saturday at the DW Stadium. A beautiful stoppage-time goal by Thelo Aasgaard produced a cracking cup victory against our most highly-touted opponent of the season. ‘Blackburn at home’ may not go down as our most iconic result of this campaign. However, it was as good of an indicator as any that Latics can compete with and defeat quality, in-form sides when we step on the pitch with purpose and confidence. If you weren’t inspired by that Latics performance, it may be a sign that you should support a different club, or even take on a different hobby. The announcement of our next FA Cup opponent, Stoke City, did not set off any alarms last Sunday. I do believe excitement will build over the coming weeks for our trip to Staffordshire, but for now, most of us have completely turned our attention back to League One. This Saturday will mark four long weeks since we’ve last played a league match. With each passing week, our league fixture situation has gone from understandable, to frustrating, to concerning, to farcical. The (lack of) response from the EFL with respect to our situation is completely unacceptable. The season either needs to be extended or the EFL must threaten clubs to be more proactive in making up fixtures. No legitimate explanation has been given as to why Latics did not make up one of their postponed league matches during this past week. Latics are 14-games unbeaten, have a considerably healthy squad, and just defeated an automatic promotion contender in the Championship. If given the choice, would you choose to play us now? If there was any team on our fixture list who’d want to avoid playing Latics, this weekend’s opponents may be at the top of that list. Doncaster Rovers have lost eight of their last nine fixtures and sit at the bottom of the league table. We know very well not to take any team in this league lightly and I expect a strong performance by a strong team tomorrow. After our fans patiently waited through the first half of this transfer window, we’re finally starting to see some movement within the playing squad, and I’m confident our new additions will make us a better team. Even with as many as five games in hand on some of our promotion rivals, the anxiety about our ability to climb a few spots to the top of the league table has decreased recently. Teams above us have recently dropped points and the path back to the automatic promotion places seems far less daunting with a manageable point gap involved. Leaving the Keepmoat Stadium with three points will be a crucial first step in working our way back up the league table. The fixtures will pick up fast from this point forward. Fasten your seat belts and brace yourselves. The ‘Believe Bus’ is just getting into gear again – and has plenty of petrol for a w ild ride ahead for the next three or four months!

Tony Moon

And it’s no, nay never,

No nay never no more,

Will we lose to the Rovers,

Cos Thelo will score.

Ben Brereton Diaz, he did nowt all day,

Our defenders, they tamed him and didn’t let him play,

And to just rub it in, Whatmough went on to score,

(With some help from the goalie, Butterfingers I’m sure).

Arsenal Under-21s? Well, what can we say?

Why oh why could it not have been Harrogate away?

At least it weren’t Hartlepool, that would ha’ been grim,

(Though the monkeys are safe now, they’re still all a bit dim).

And as for the Mackems, well, what can we say?

Just a point from 2 games... promotion form? Nay!

When Lincoln took the mickey, ee, that were just grand,

And to top it all, t’ manager got sent to the stand!

But back to the Rovers, cos it was supreme,

It kept alive hopes of our first treble dream,

League One promotion, the Pizza Cup too,

And the cherry on top, FA Cup win number two!

And it’s no, nay never,

No nay never no more,

Will we take t’ Tics for granted?

No never, no more.

Sean Livesey

There’s drama and then there’s DRAMA, and Latics delivered the latter in spades on Saturday afternoon. After nearly three weeks without football, it was like we had never been away last week with a resounding win over Oldham followed by that win over Blackburn. ‘Mr Happy’ aka Tony Mowbray has Blackburn dreaming of a return to the Premier League after a decade away, and in the first half you could see why. Latics contained Rovers well but struggled to get a foothold in the game. As Blackburn went ahead early in the first half, I – and I’m sure many others – thought that would be this year’s adventures in the FA Cup coming to an end. But we should know better, because this side has shown consistently this season their ability to get back in to games late on, and to come from behind. In the end Blackburn could have no complaints, even though Mowbray and his upbeat demeanour would have you believe we had no chance in the game, and if not for their goalkeeper it would be Blackburn heading through. There is some truth to that, of course, as Blackburn’s keeper could have done better with the first and was certainly at fault for the second. But there was no stopping Thelo Aasgaard’s wonder goal for the winner, and what a goal it was. That lad is going to go far in the game and let’s hope it’s with us. So there’s another match for us to contend with, and a quick glance at the fixture list makes it look silly at the moment. Most sides at the top of the table now have a five-game head start on us. That’s five games to fit in somewhere – not taking in to consideration any further postponements for weather or further covid outbreaks. It’s a ridiculous situation, and one that’s been allowed to manifest itself by the EFL not being stronger. Stronger on Oxford and the ridiculous lunchtime postponement in November, and stronger on both Accrington Stanley and Fleetwood, who refused to play on the suggested date for re-arrangement last Tuesday. There’s still no dates for these games, and one has to wonder if Accrington and Fleetwood haven’t managed to gain numerous advantages in this approach. The advantage of avoiding one of the stronger sides in the division over Christmas and a second advantage by avoiding facing said team in early January. Instead, waiting for what will be a much more congested fixture list come the end of the season. Still there’s nothing we can do about it, the EFL seemingly are unable to enforce the rules they set, so that leaves us knowing what we’re facing. We’ll need to play three matches a week for more than 100 days – and that’s without progressing any further in the cups and any more matches being called off. It’s a huge task and one has to hope it won’t damage us going forward. More so than the start of the season, this is definitely going to be a squad game now. Reinforcements are expected in the coming days, including Hull’s Josh Magennis. Not necessarily a signing to set the pulses racing, he’s an effective League One striker who had a big part in Hull’s march to the title last season. But with more to come, and the influence of those coming to form at the right time of the season – such as Aasgaard, Gavin Massey and Gwion Edwards – it promises to be an exciting run-in. As we return to League One action this weekend for the first time in nearly a month, let’s hope our season isn’t derailed by outside forces. Knowing the dedication of Leam Richardson and this set of players, I can’t imagine it being.