Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man – ‘Negative events generate negative thoughts, which generate more negative events. I don’t care about who is right and who is wrong, I’m just glad it has been broken...’
I’ll come clean. I wasn’t exactly enthused to go to Tuesday night’s game. It’s funny what the evolution of Sky has done to the football fan psyche. When we first started to appear live on Sky (or was it ITV Digital back then?) not only did I attend the game in person, I taped the whole programme and watched every single minute again when I got home, because it was a novelty. Nowadays, the temptation can sometimes be to just stay at home and watch it there, rather than stepping out into the cold autumn evening. Especially when we’ve been so poor at home. I suspect some Wigan Athletic fans, even season ticket holders, may have taken this cause of action. I got my jacket on and headed for the door regardless. Why? Because my team needed me. Now, as per last week, I concede I’m not the most vocal supporter. I do a bit of shouting, swearing and I will praise and encourage our players and occasionally hurl abuse at the opponents or officials where I feel it is warranted, but it is hardly a burning cauldron of passion in my particular bit of the West Stand. Furthermore, I guess I had lost a bit of conviction, as many did, after two defeats on the bounce. So, it was a sense of duty, rather than a burning desire that I watched us play Blackburn. I can only be grateful Leam Richardson and the players didn’t approach the game with the same level of indifference. A gritty, accomplished performance saw us deservedly pick up our first home win of the season and move up to the dizzy heights of ninth in the table. This after the previous two games saw an outpouring of anger directed at Leam after we slipped to the apocalyptical depths of [checks notes] 16th with a game in hand. I get people can be jittery and start to get edgy about a potential decline, and somewhere deep within me, I felt it too. It can be hard to ignore or disregard the dissenting voices, and yes, if it affects me, or affects you, then you can guarantee it is capable of affecting the players and management. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Negative events generate negative thoughts, which generate more negative events. I don’t care about who is right and who is wrong, I’m just glad it has been broken. I just asked for a home win from these two games. Even if it meant a win and a loss, it is still better than two draws. Points wise and psychologically. I am sure there are those who may point out Rovers were quite poor on the night, and indeed they were. But we were uncharacteristically poor on Saturday, and thankfully they redressed that on Tuesday. I’d also say, compared to their other performances and results, that Cardiff and Hull performed uncharacteristically well against us in our two previous fixtures. To which others may say 'well, we just made them look good'. And you can tie yourself in knots all day with this. The fact is it's a very even division, where there is little between many sides and anyone can beat anyone on any particular day. If you can accept that, and go into every game with an open mind and realistic expectations, then we’ll all be fine this year.
So what to expect from Saturday? Well, we certainly owe Sunderland one. However, like us, they have adapted well to their new lofty status. Unlike us, they were expected to adapt well. Why? Simply because they are bigger than us and Rotherham combined and their resources and fanbase dictates they should be at the top of the division, or even in the Premier League. A club so MASSIVE* we can only dream of competing with them (*Can you put this word in size 160 font please Ed, to reflect their disproportionate MASSIVENESS?) It doesn’t always work like that, though, and in some cases, their massiveness can contribute to their downfall. It nearly happened last year. We went up there, quietened the crowd and took the lead in the first 20 minutes. Unfortunately, we conceded a soft penalty the minute after and they never looked back. The home crowd roared their team on and clamoured for every decision. Now, had we managed to hold our position and not concede, then suddenly their 40,000 fans can become more of a hindrance than a help and start to get on their players’ backs. We somehow have to use this to our advantage, and if we can do that, we’ll have half a chance. On a literary note, I was reading Harry Pearson’s follow up book on North East football The Farther Corner recently, and it beautifully captures the obsession the North East has with the game, from the three big clubs through to grass roots level. The intriguing thing is, despite the density of support for Sunderland and indeed Newcastle, the remoteness of the area is also perhaps a drawback to generating success. Whereas we Latics fans often moan we can’t pull in support due to the proximity to Liverpool and Manchester, it is perhaps sometimes an advantage as the North West is seen as a more desirable place to live and work for Johnny Footballer than up in the North East. Although the big clubs are huge, there are actually very few clubs up there: there are the big three (who import a lot of players from abroad like all league clubs) and then you’re looking at Hartlepool and Darlington in non-league and below. And below is often much, much lower as many North East non-league clubs cannot afford the expense of going up to the Northern Premier League due to the travel costs and time off work requirements. It’s still a hotbed of footballing talent as well as support but that talent has limited options to develop without going elsewhere, compared to the North West, where the options are endless for footballers to play and develop. A very snobbish way of looking at things I know but then, at our level, these are often very wealthy young men with a multitude of options at their feet. When you look at someone like Nathan Broadhead and his decision to come to Wigan rather than Sunderland, it might be that the desire to play in front of 40,000 fans every week isn’t as high as the desire to be based an hour or so away from his family, rather than a few hundred miles away. Other players such as James McClean and more recently Charlie Wyke, have stated that the welcoming, family feel to our club has also been a key factor in their desire to want to play their football here, rather than elsewhere. That’s not a dig at Sunderland in particular - apart from the Alex Neil debacle, they do seem to be getting their act together, and a part of me thinks and knows that they deserve to, no matter how many times some of their more idiotic element mock us. But ultimately size isn’t everything, and not something to be afraid of. Our smaller stature is something to be proud of. We’re playing bigger clubs than ourselves nearly every week now in this division, and we’re holding our own against them. Long may it continue.
We’re currently in ninth place as I write this. Not 19th, ninth. It might be difficult to appreciate that seeing as how, earlier this week, a lot of Latics fans wanted Richardson gone after two admittedly very poor defeats. Against Blackburn, though, we were outstanding from front to back. Easily the better team, we deserved more than just a 1-0 win. The fact is we’re in a division where two wins and a bit of luck elsewhere can take a team from the bottom third to the play-off positions. We’re not adrift and sinking, unlike teams who are in the bottom three, so let’s be happy with what we’ve got. Nathan Broadhead was a breath of fresh air in what has been a lacklustre top end in recent weeks. Great feet, good skills on the ball and seemingly endless energy meant he caused problems for the Blackburn defence all night. I’m still not sure about us just hoofing the ball to Charlie Wyke and hoping for the right nod-on, but they did work well together. It also gave Will Keane a bit more freedom, which is sorely needed. West Brom sacking Steve Bruce has caused a bit of a ripple after Leam Richardson was installed immediately as the 2/1 favourite for the job. My only concern with this is that odds like that don’t just get plucked out of the air. Usually someone, somewhere, knows something. It might just be a friendly Midlands journalist knows West Brom want Richardson rather than anything else, but we’ll see. We know they can probably up his wages considerably, so fingers crossed it is just speculation and not much else. So, anyway, ninth on the back of a great home win and a great performance. I can think of 15 other clubs who would swap places so chin up, and on we go.
Caddy from the 5:
Well we did it, we finally got a home win. It seems like the last one was when the old lady from Titanic was a kid, but it was worth the wait! A far better performance than Hull and the second half against Cardiff saw off a Blackburn team that are clearly punching above their weight in the Championship. Not even the introduction of Wigan fans' favourite Bradley Dack - yes he did come on - could inspire the chicken lovers from East Lancs *insert Kermit drinking a tea gif*... We thoroughly deserved the win and played some lovely football at times and, with the Gosport Gascoigne at the back running the show, we finally showed at home what we can we do away. And in Jack Whatmough I think, without going overboard, we'll see the world's first £1billion sale...he's that good! Tendayi Darikwa had another solid game as well, and looks to be winning the boo boys over with the East Stand singing about him even. Saturday sees us make the trip to the Stadium of Light to hear constantly about our ground being too big for us - from a team that's ground is too big for them - and how they beat us three times last season on their way to scraping promotion via the play-offs while we won the league. A finer set of more deluded fans you'll struggle to meet, unless you make the short hop to Newcastle I suppose. Let's just remember Leeds have won a major trophy since the plastic Geordies have, and you'll have to go back to glam rock, flared pants and hippies to see Sunderland lift one...or Bolton nowadays. Safe trip up to all the Tics fans going, and let's shout them three points home in the cauldron of empty seats. Right, I'm off looking for how much a 'Bow was in 1973 by going to the Sweet Green outside Bolton Station…
Well that's the monkey off our back and a long-awaited home win. I feel Leam and the staff are still feeling their way to the best line-up and formation. The set up didn't for the Cardiff game looked disjointed and didn't really work, but the Blackburn game looked a lot better and paid off really well. As for the farce with the goalposts at the Cardiff game, only Latics could have a bigger goal and still not take advantage. In all seriousness, we could end up being punished in some form, and I've even seen it suggested we could have to play the game again. But Cardiff won fair and square, let them keep the three points. Stay safe.
Some people wish it could be Christmas every day. Others wish they could be on a permanent holiday. I personally wish every Latics match could be Blackburn at home. We’d surely be playing Champions League football by now if that were the case. Leam made three changes on Tuesday night to a team that lost decisively to Cardiff just three days prior. The outcome was a complete turnaround of a performance. We were much more positive in attack, organised in defense, and most importantly, we secured the only goal of the evening by forcing a mistake and capitalising on it. It almost seemed as if we hit the ‘reset’ button on the season and came onto the pitch with a completely different team. Not only should Tuesday’s result, our first home win since early April, be celebrated, but what was arguably our most cohesive team performance of the season should be recognised as well. How could we be so dire over the weekend and so superb during the midweek? I don’t have an answer, but I also understand the stark contrast can be a byproduct of playing in an ultra competitive league week in and week out. Three years ago, when we last played in this division, we underwent a winless streak of 13 matches from late October to New Year’s Day. We ended the calendar year with a meager point tally of 20. I’d like to think that regardless of our struggles thus far, we are ‘ahead of schedule’ in many capacities and are in an optimal position going forward. Looking ahead to this weekend, there’s arguably no better place to kickstart our positive away form again than at Sunderland. Our last trip to the Stadium of Light over 14 months ago was particularly notable because it marked a disappointing start to an otherwise remarkable season. Now, we find ourselves in a much more stable position and have demonstrated there is no away day in this division that is too big for us. If the recent ties between these two clubs were strong last season, throwing Nathan Broadhead into the mix will only amplify the hype. There’s little doubt all 94,000 fans in attendance (that’s what Sunderland typically draws, correct?) will be in for a lively atmosphere. Coming off a big win on Tuesday, there’s only reason to be positive as we head to the North East. Regardless of whether we look brilliant like we did against Blackburn or clueless like we did against Cardiff, it’s important to remember this single result will not make or break our season. Let’s look forward to playing a meaningful match in front of what is expected to be the largest crowd in world football this weekend (as any Sunderland fan will tell you). May the winning energy from the midweek follow the traveling ‘Tics and propel the lads to victory.
After less than satisfactory performances in defeats to both Hull and Cardiff, Tuesday night’s deserved win against local rivals Blackburn ought to restore some much-needed confidence in the squad, and Latics faithful alike. In the Blackburn game, we were thoroughly organised - much the opposite to the backline which was put to the sword against Cardiff on Saturday. We looked so resolute as a unit, and there were some outstanding individual performances in there too. I saw a Latics fan on Twitter say Tuesday evening’s performance was Tendayi Darikwa’s best game in a Latics shirt, and that’s hard to argue with, because he looked superb both defensively and offensively at times. It was certainly his best game for us in this league anyway. Perhaps the presence of competition from Ryan Nyambe is beginning to bring the best out of Darikwa. It’s difficult to disagree with the man of the match award going to Jack Whatmough, but I was equally impressed with Jason Kerr. Some of Kerr’s over-lapping runs looked genuinely threatening which reminded me a little bit of Jack O’Connell, who readers may recall was absolutely pivotal to Chris Wilder’s success at Sheffield United. In an attacking sense, Latics were utterly clinical. Will Keane wasn’t given much service but did excellently with the scraps he fed off. In the first-half he picked up a loose ball and fired an effort which was well saved. And it was Keano’s relentless pressure on Tyler Morton which ultimately created the winning goal, scored by Nathan Broadhead. The Everton loanee looked excellent too, his willingness to take on defenders was just as impressive as his close ball control. The injured Callum Lang has big shoes to fill, but Broadhead looks as though he’s the right man for a difficult job. Lastly, after winning our first home game of the season, let’s hope we can now get back to winning ways on the road as we take on Sunderland at the Stadium of Light!
Well in’t it just swell, that all is now well, and there’s little reason for whinging. Though Sat’day’s loss and playin’ like dross, brought comments that were slightly unhinging. Just five off t’ top, and eight from t’ drop, and Leam’s wanted by others. But some wanted rid, they were flipping their lid, that’s our fans, aye, our back-stabbing brothers. Cos it never fails when you read their daft tales that they write with a passion so bitter, to make you just think that he’s took us from t’ brink, to being condemned damned and written off on Twitter. So t’ monkey’s now gone, we’ve at last won at wom, and we’re poised for the push for promotion. But don’t be surprised if he’s very soon despised, as more losses soon sees more commotion.
Crisis, what crisis? No not the mind of the current vacant incumbent of No.10, but the supposed crisis Latics were facing following the defeat to Cardiff on Saturday. In the space of seven days, Leam Richardson went from hero to zero, before returning to hero again a couple of days later. Maybe it shows that post-match reactions aren’t the best way to gauge the progress of the season. A few angry voices online do not represent a whole fanbase but, in terms of toys out of the pram, there were some classics on Saturday evening. Very much out of the ‘See I t-owd ya he were no good’ camp. As bad as Cardiff was, Blackburn was in complete contrast - one of the performances of the season. A balanced side playing some fantastic football with no end of heart and enthusiasm saw us get that no-home-wins-all-season monkey off our backs. It could and should have been more too, we were by far the better side and, considering Blackburn could have gone top with a win, it shows what a fantastic result it was. The manner in how we won was important as well as, quite unfairly this season in my view, the team have been criticised for a poor style of football. The thought process being we just lump it forward without any thought for creativity. There’s elements to that that ring true, of course, but Tuesday showed we are more than capable of getting it on to the deck and playing football. That's 19 points after 13 games, which is an excellent return for our first season back in the Championship. Indeed, it puts us virtually level with where we were during the 2018/19 season when Paul Cook was in charge. There were so many stand-out performers against Blackburn, it would be unfair to single out just one. But considering there were very strong rumours Charlie Wyke would never play for us again at the start of the season, and when reflecting on everything he’s gone through in the last 11 months, he was absolutely fantastic. He dictates so much of our play and we look a better side with him in it. It’s utterly remarkable he’s managed to get back to such a high level so quickly. Speaking of Wyke, it’s a return to the Stadium of Light for him, Max Power and Nathan Broadhead on Saturday. Sunderland have started well, as they were always going to, and seem to have taken the loss of Alex Neil in their stride. I’d snatch your hand off for a point now. No matter what happens, though, we’re in a good place as a club and things look better than we ever thought they would be again. So don’t go screaming for the head of the manager who kept us in League One and helped us win the League One title if we don’t win. It’s not a good look.