Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - 'Last Saturday, something really strange happened...'
Our panel of 12th Men look ahead to Saturday's trip to Accrington...on the back of an absolutely flying start to the campaign - on and off the pitch...
For the second consecutive season, Wigan Athletic defeated Doncaster at the DW. But the two victories could not have come on more different terms. In early October of 2020, our 1-0 victory saw Latics rise to 10th in the league table after our fourth match of the young season. That would be the highest position we would reach during that campaign. We subsequently experienced a freefall in playing form for the next two months, while enduring what would be some of our most trying moments of administration. As we searched for an identity during the plights of last season, we slowly adopted a ‘David’ mindset as we battled against the ‘Goliaths’ of League One. Now, after a successful takeover, a thrilling escape from relegation, and an encouraging summer of new player recruitment, we find ourselves in a much more positive position than where we were one year ago. Last Saturday’s victory saw Latics dominate possession, create promising scoring chances, and most importantly come away with three points at the end. After the dust settled from a full day of League One action, we found ourselves second in the table. If it wasn’t made blatantly clear already, there should be no doubt now that Latics are no longer ‘Davids’ in League One. Our rivals need all of a few seconds to take a look at our squad, our spending power, and now our playing form to classify us as anything but underdogs in this league. Latics and 2,500 fans will make the short trip to Accrington this weekend in what will mark our first ‘top six’ battle of the new term. Our opponents are currently tied for sixth in the table with 12 points, while having played one extra league match than we have. But Stanley’s rise to the top six has come at a much slower pace than Latics. They experienced a 12-year stint in League Two before earning promotion to the third tier in 2018. Since then, they’ve never finished higher than 11th in League One. They play in a small ground and generate small gates. Championship football may as well be the Champions League. But Stanley have yet to lose a competitive match at the Wham Stadium this season, and are building upon a foundation that has been in place much longer than that of Latics. If we have any plans to continue our unbeaten streak in the league, we will need to be sharper in defence and more clinical in the final third. Against Doncaster, we looked like we could even give Atletico Madrid’s defence problems with our set-pieces. We must exhibit that same attacking prowess on Saturday. It’s been four weeks since someone not named Callum Lang or Will Keane has scored a first-team goal. We have a wealth of goalscoring talent that would surely benefit from getting their name on the scoresheet soon. Even if we don’t identify as a ‘Goliath’, every ‘David’ that we face this season, such as Accrington, will bring their best rock and sling in hopes of landing that perfect shot on us. Unlucky for them, we have a Jack Whatmough in defence who will block that shot, Tom Naylor in midfield who will move the rock upfield, Max Power on the flank who will cross the rock into our opponent’s box, and Will Keane who will obliterate the rock as he heads it on target. Just leave the rock at home and bring a boulder to the ground. It’s going to take a tremendous effort to take Latics down with the way we are trending.
Caddy from the 5:
The ‘Believe’ bus is still trundling along nicely at the ‘Tics at the moment. Confidence is high and there’s smiles on everyone’s faces around the ground. Well, bar me – £4.90 for a pint of lager on the concourse nearly sent me under last weekend! The game against Doncaster was a scrappy affair, but showed the belief Leam and his team have instilled, with us coming from a goal down to win comfortably in the end, well as easy as a 2-1 scoreline can be. Obviously their manager had the usual pop at what we’ve spent in this division, which to reiterate is shelling out a fee for only two players. Pick your lip up off the floor, lad, because jealousy is an awful trait and, let’s face it, that’s all it is from ALL the managers and fans from other clubs. Like they wouldn’t use any resources they were given. How dare we have the audacity to sign decent players! This weekend sees the Harlem Globetrotters make the short trip to Accrington and, with over 2,000 making the trip – a proper 2,000 as well,not a Wigan RL figure – a great atmosphere is guaranteed. And I’m sure alcohol sales in the town will also please the landlords. Next Tuesday sees the Geordies from Sunderland and their eight billion fans descend on the DW for the eagerly anticipated (by no-one) Carabao Cup game – a game I hope Charlie Wyke breaks his duck in (if he doesn’t on Saturday), because it’s only a matter of time before this fella starts scoring. His work-rate is phenomenal, and it’s not been unnoticed by the ‘Tics faithful, who showed their appreciation on Saturday with a standing ovation when he came off. He’s dragging defenders all over the place to give Keane and Lang the space to do their thing, and it’s working well. Let’s hope for three points on Saturday and a cup win (just to shut the Geordies up) and keep the smile on all our faces, because Bolton away is on the horizon. Right, I’m off to ring Talal about these ale prices and getting ‘Bow back in the ground, and hoping I can reverse the charges (one for the kids there). UP THE TICS!
Last Saturday, something really strange happened. We went one down, and I turned to my mate and said ‘We’ll still win this’. That’s something I haven’t felt able to say for, well, I don’t know how long. This season was never really about anything other than stabilising both on and off-field goings on, and looking somewhere about mid-table as a finishing position, ready to sweep allcomers aside next year. It hasn’t really worked out that way, though, if we’re honest. I know it’s still very early, but we look like a really good team who will do really good damage this season. We have a very solid defence, a midfield that is also reliable but might need just a touch more creativity about it, and a front line that can – and will – score goals. It hasn’t quite happened for Charlie Wyke yet, but you don’t go from scoring 31 goals one year to not being able to score at all the next. We play a different way to Sunderland, so I dare say the adjustment he is having to make is substantial. He’ll start scoring, it’s what good strikers do. At that point, we might just be all-but unstoppable. In a team full of people stepping up and showing what they can do, the biggest feeling of satisfaction comes from how Will Keane is doing. Between 2011 and 2020, he played only 105 first-team games. For someone who was capped by England in four different age-groups, that is both a puzzle and a concern. When we signed him for the second time, there were a lot of very raised eyebrows, including mine.
Oh how wrong we were. In the way we have done with other players, notably Nick Powell, we’ve taken in players who were starting to look a little like lost causes, and ended up with players who have been outstanding and clearly as class above most at this level. Keane is one of those players. Labelled by some as ‘lazy’ or ‘disinterested’, he has come alive for us, especially this season. Long may it continue. So there it is, boundless optimism about the season, some great football being played and goals from several positions. I’m not going to allow myself to even start to think it’s all going to go wrong. It might. But, then again, it might not.
In the past, there’s always been somewhat of an international hangover with Latics, and I don’t mean the kind brought on by those naughty Belgian ales (looking at you Neil Myers). No, I mean that traditionally following an international break, Latics have taken a little while to get back in to the swing of things. None of that was evident against Doncaster last Saturday, though. Despite Doncaster going ahead, Leam Richardson’s side never looked in any real danger of losing the match. Indeed, thanks to Will Keane, Latics got another three points without ever really getting out of second gear. It’s now three wins in a row for the always-gelling ‘Tics, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks we’ve not really hit our best form yet. The fact we’re sitting second in the league tells you just how good we’ve been in the early part of the season. It’s a well trotted out line, but nothing is won in September. The key for us is consistency across the course of the season. There will be bumps in the road over the next few months – key is how we navigate those. Mal Branigan himself said we’re ahead of where they expected us to be at this early stage of the Latics rebirth. The aforementioned Keane (inset) received all the plaudits again on Saturday, and rightly so. Keane, over the last six months, is reminiscent of a certain Nick Powell Esq. Not just in his looks or playing style, but a former Manchester United youth starlet who had probably lost his way. Dropping down a couple of divisions before finding his home, and indeed his form, at the Wigan Athletic respite home for waifs and strays (c: The Pie At Night). Keane was a huge part of what we achieved last season, and has taken that form in to this year. Keep him fit, and he’ll have a major hand in our future. We should be thankful he took a punt on us at our lowest ebb, as he could end up being part of one of the best comeback stories ever told. So it’s off to East Lancashire on Saturday, with 2,500 Wiganers travelling by train, plane, bus and car to get to the Wham Arena. It’s my first away day since Leeds back in February 2020. So much has changed since then, but one thing that remains is the anticipation of a day on the beer, and seeing new places with your mates while watching the lads in blue and white. I’ve only visited Accrington once previously and, in the style of Bob Mortimer on ‘Would I Lie To You’ that was while I was being chased by a huge imaginary Holland’s meat and potato pie for an advertising campaign they were running at the time. I’m presuming this Saturday’s trip will be just as eventful. But if I’m chased by a giant pie again I know I’ll have drank too much – either that or Crusty fancies a chat.
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