Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - 'Saturday will be our strongest test yet by a country mile, they are flying...'

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Our panel of Latics experts assess a fine start to the campaign ahead of the first real marker...the small matter of the short trip down the road for a dinnertime derby against League One leaders Bolton Wanderers...

Paul Middleton:

Two and a half games in, and we were in mid-table, despite starting the season eight points behind everyone else. Okay, so the second half at Carlisle didn’t go the same way as the first, but who wouldn’t have taken seven points from nine a fortnight ago? Best of all is what we’ve seen all over the pitch. We have a young team who can actually play football. The first half on Tuesday is one of the best 45 minutes of football we’ve seen in quite some time, even if it does expose that it all counts for nothing if the ball doesn’t end up in the back of the net enough times. I know it’s a long season, and a couple of key injuries could derail it all, but the future is pretty bright, nonetheless. Now to Saturday. Bolton are not just flying, they’re supersonic at the moment. It’ll be a tough game to get anything out of, never mind win. But I think we’re definitely good enough. Our old pal Ian Evatt got sent off on Tuesday as well, giving him yet another thing to be comically upset about, so it’s not all bad news. But if we do lose, it should be remembered that the hurt is emotional only because of who the opponents are. It’s not a devastating loss in terms of the league, and we’ll still have plenty in the tank to finish comfortably mid-table, even with a team of free transfers, loanees and whatever was left after the clear-out once we were under a new owner. It seems like we’ve said it a lot in the past few years, but this really is a season of consolidation after all the shenanigans of the Bahrainis, crypto madness, and winding-up orders. The rest is fairly incidental, even games against Bolton. It’s likely they’ll end up with more points, to go with having more fingers, by the end of the season. That’s just how this year will be.

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GALLERY: Wigan Athletic fans enjoy their midweek trip to Carlisle!.
Shaun Maloney has faced Bolton before as a player...now he's preparing to lead Latics for the first time in this fixture as a managerShaun Maloney has faced Bolton before as a player...now he's preparing to lead Latics for the first time in this fixture as a manager
Shaun Maloney has faced Bolton before as a player...now he's preparing to lead Latics for the first time in this fixture as a manager

Matt Auffrey:

We’ve dropped our first points of the season, and if you’re a reasonable fan like me, you’ve shifted your expectations from finishing the campaign with a whopping 130 points to finishing with a measly 128 points. All jokes aside, we were likely due for a result like we had at Carlisle on Tuesday night after all the good fortune we experienced over the course of our first two league matches. We converted a very high percentage of our scoring chances against Derby and Northampton, and experienced a fair bit of luck at the opposite end of the pitch, which allowed us to emerge victorious in both instances. It only seemed fair our first draw came from a match that saw us dominate for large stretches but fail to produce a critical second goal that would've put the game away. Needless to say, only the boldest of our fans would have expected us to start the season with three straight league wins, so few should be disappointed with where we stand at this point in time. With plenty of positives to fall back on from the Carlisle performance, all attention should shift sharply towards this weekend’s trip to Horwich. The early kick-off will cut into the day’s pre-match festivities and cause the mighty New York City fan contingent to watch from bed rather than the pub, but that doesn’t mean there should be any lack of spirit in the stands and on the pitch come 12.30pm. The match will provide a useful measuring stick for two sides that are unbeaten through three League One matches. Bolton have been nothing short of stellar through a very favourable opening set of fixtures. They scored nine consecutive goals to start the league campaign before conceding a 94th-minute consolation goal while finishing Tuesday’s match against Fleetwood with 10 men.

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Saturday’s derby will take on a different energy than our last few fixtures. The two teams are at complete opposite ends of the league table, while one side is presumably facing much more pressure than the other to get out of this division by season’s end. Two of the rivalry’s most prominent figures from the 21/22 season - James McClean and Ian Evatt - will not be taking part on Saturday, despite the expectation both adversaries would be present as recently as two weeks ago. To our advantage, Shaun Maloney did not get sent off during our midweek fixture, which means he will get to make his managerial debut in this derby after making several appearances as a player. If we can play with the same composure and intensity that resembled the best stretches from our first three matches, while also limiting individual mistakes and big chances for our opponents, the lads can deliver a performance that will make us proud. It goes without saying just how fortunate we are to be able to enjoy a match of this calibre with the squad we have after so much of our future lingered in doubt mere months ago. However, that doesn’t mean we should strive for anything less than victory this weekend. Latics are unbeaten against Bolton over their last five matches, and haven’t lost in the rivalry since January 2015. We should carry ourselves with a confidence and belief that should manifest itself in every player no matter whether they're making their first or 100th career appearance. The name on the outside of the stadium may have changed, but our performance inside of it will hopefully resemble exactly what we saw from the lads just 22 months ago when we won 4-0. Let’s bring the battering ram with us to Horwich and give Bolton the worst 90-minute thrashing they’ve experienced in a very long time.

Caddy from the 5:

'Plus 1 baby' was the call at HT for the Carlisle game, where we rolled back the years, and produced a display not seen for a very long time. An absolute joy to watch and total domination. Fast forward 45 minutes and 'Minus 1 baby' didn't have quite the same ring. A very rare mistake from Matt Smith giving the Scots a goal on a plate. That's seven from a possible nine points for Maloney's globetrotters, and there's a lot more to be positive about than negative. Should we have killed the game off? Yes, of course. In fact, if Rocky's cornerman 'Duke' was on our bench, he'd have been screaming 'throw the towel, throw the damn towel', such was our dominance in the first half. The second half was far closer. Carlisle woke up...not a thing they're used to saying up there, it's still 1975! After their goal they came at us a lot more, but we still should've won the game. Thelo Aasgaard and Callum Lang missed very good chances, but it shows where we are when we're gutted at only having seven points from nine as we head to Horwich on Saturday for their cup final. Saturday will be our strongest test yet by a country mile, they are flying and, with their fans remembering where the Toughsheet Stadium is this season, a great crowd is expected - and only right when Wigan are in town. A healthy following of around 4,000 will hopefully see what we did to them last time we locked horns over there. The players have got themselves off the couch and are bang up for the season so, if you can, get your ticket and cheers the lads on, with the added bonus of seeing what you were wearing in 1992 in their ends. Just don't make eye contact with the 'Crazy Corner'...they're mad, don't you know... Right, I'm off moidering some random American fella on Twitter called Mike Danson to thrash out a deal with Strongbow for the DW. Of course, he's no idea what some plant pot from Wigan is going on about! Right, altogether now, '4-0 in your cup final...4-0 in your cup final'... Up the Tics!


Minus one after three games is a great start to the season and a bit disappointing on the first half showing at Carlisle. Shaun's rebuild is going well Clare & Smith have settled in well the back line while young are mostly dominant, we are a young team there will be blips along the way but we have a team and manager who now look happy to be here after the problems of last season. The statement by Mike Danson looks like he's going to be a hands-off owner but by having his son on the board will have a very strong knowledge of what's going on at the club, congratulations to Gregor Rioch on his new position what he's done for us in the academy can never be underestimated hope he has the same success in his new role. Now onto Saturday and that lot from Horwich who have had a flying start to the season Evatt being Evatt already has a red card under his belt this is the benchmark now let's go there and show them what we are made of.Stay safe.

Alan Rogers:

Saturday turned out to be an almost perfect day. True, the weather wasn’t great, but more or less everything else was pretty good. We started off by watching the Lionesses in the South Stand Bar – not a bad game and a great result (an even better game against Australia on Wednesday morning means a great final to look forward to on Sunday). That England win set us up nicely for the first home game of the season but, before we left the bar, a couple of points to note. First of all – my usual pre-match pie was, well, ordinary is the best I can come up with (it wouldn’t be right if we didn’t have a quick pie mention...). Caroline has done a wonderful job in more or less everything she has touched over the last few months, but could she maybe look at getting some Chicken Balti pies into the South Stand bar please? And my second point – well I’m almost embarrassed to bring it up really, but it concerns the Mudhutter. Everyone reading this knows it is a well-established publication, but I’m ashamed to say it is a very long time – and I mean years – since I last read it. I don’t know why. I love reading, I’m quite fond of the Latics, and I’m vaguely aware of some of the work of the contributors. I spotted a very wet fanzine salesman, snapped up a copy and I’m very glad I did. I won’t say anymore except it was like slipping on a very comfortable pair of trainers (I was going to say slippers, but that will make me seem even older than I am). Thoroughly enjoyed it, will be buying every issue from now on, and would recommend that others do the same.

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And so, on to the main event. And from start to finish it was absolutely classic Latics. It was almost an emotional roller-coaster. Started well and beginning to show promise, we went behind to a decent free-kick, halfway through the first half. The goal seemed to unsettle them slightly, and we were looking for a half-time conversation with the manager to gee them up for the second half. Whatever Shaun said must have had the desired effect, because the intensity moved up a level when the teams did come back out. And although Northampton were dangerous on the break, Charlie Hughes scored a great header to level things up. And then came a moment of pure magic. Callum McManaman’s goal will have been described much more eloquently by others. But let me just say it was magnificent and leave it at that. Three more points and everyone was happy. Well, apart from obviously the Northampton contingent, and in particular their manager. I didn’t know his name before the game and I couldn’t be bothered to check it out afterwards (that’s why I don’t earn the big bucks like Mr. Kendrick...!). But I have to say the gentleman in question kept us well entertained all afternoon. At one point, he sank to his knees with his face to the sky, screaming 'Noooo!' But for the most part, whenever he complained to the fourth official, he would flap his arms alarmingly as if he was trying to fly. Strange behaviour. All we needed was Keith Harris (maybe ask your parents….). Something else made me more than happy during the game. The people who sit behind me brought their very young son/grandson to the game – probably for only the second or third time. It was obvious that, during the close season, he had been doing his homework because, although he was very young, he knew all about Shaun Maloney and the team. For most of the game, he shouted and cheered, and it was a pleasure to listen to a very young fan just enjoying himself. In fact, it was great to see everyone happy, and long may it last. Well, we’ll see….

Having said that, Tuesday evening apparently brought some people down to earth with a bump. Remarkably, a fantastic first half meant nothing in some quarters because we only earned a point away from home. Thankfully, the majority of fans seemed to react more realistically. Seven points from nine, a young team still getting to know each other etc. etc. But as expected, the less than silent minority had to grouse. We truly have a weird fanbase - but maybe it’s the same all over? I said at the start that Saturday was almost a perfect day. However, there was a bit of a downside to it for me. It was exactly 12 months since my younger brother Andrew’s funeral, and we all still miss him enormously. The Latics games are even more poignant because we sat next to each other, in the same seats, since the stadium opened, and I just can’t get used to him not being there. A great team performance, the antics of the Northampton manager, and the enthusiasm of the young lad behind me were a welcome distraction on a very sad day. And the following day would have been Andrew’sbirthday. He was a bit of a grumpy sod at times, but I’m sure he would have been happy on Saturday!

George Chilvers:

Let's briefly look at how these few days have highlighted Shaun's pre-season plan: the plan where he has a broad spread of ages and experience to pick from him to give him the best options. On Saturday, it was the old (well, compared to most footballers – not to me!) and experienced Callum McManaman who provide a moment of magic, in what we all have now seen as a deja vue run of Shaun Maloney's goal against Manchester United all those years ago. We had huffed and puffed a bit, but Callum produced the goods, and considers it his best moment in football. The man who tore Manchester City apart in 2013, who scored in the semi-final and sixth and fifth rounds, quite rightly puts his family and his own mental self-being so much more to the forefront. And I don't think there is a Tic who would disagree with his viewpoint. And then on Tuesday, we were treated to a first start from Baba Adeeko, and what a revelation he was. He dominated the field, his passing was pinpoint accurate, his timing of challenges immaculate, his running with the ball as solid as any older heads, and he capped it off with a superb run actually attacking the defence, producing a ball to Charlie Wyke to give him a one-on-one with the keeper. And he doesn't miss those. At the end of last season, Shaun was critical of our record on all one-on-one situations, but he had obviously got the team to work on them. Baba is another to watch for the future, along with Charlie Hughes, Sam Tickle and Thelo Aasgaard in particular. Hats off to Shaun for the way he is building this team.

Red Ned:

Another good week for the Latics. Still unbeaten and playing good football, with a team largely made up of Academy graduates, is what we all wanted to see at the seasons start. Seven points from nine is a good haul, and hopefully if we can take a point at Bolton, it will help the squad grown in confidence, for the rest of the campaign. The team showed character to come from behind and beat Northampton, with a marvellous goal from Callum McManaman topping it off. First half at Carlisle, we were superb, but then got a bit bullied for the first quarter of the second half. But hopefully we will grow in experience and game nous as well. Stand-outs so far for me are Charlie Wyke, Sam Tickle, Charlie Hughes and Baba Adeeko. Up the Latics.

Tony Moon:

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There’s only one team that I have ever loved, it started oh, so many years ago. And though I know I’ll never get ‘em out of my heart, they sometimes give me heartache, ooh I know. Well I remember how they made me feel in admin, twice, oh I thought that we were all but done. But every time I thought that we had played our last game, they just bounce back and refuse to die. And they keep on telling me, they keep on telling me, they keep on showing me, we want you, we need you, and there’s just no way eight points were ever going to make us blue, so don’t be sad…cos seven outta nine ain’t bad…

Sean Livesey:

Seven points from nine, with two away matches in the first three. It’s been a magnificent return considering the turmoil we were in as recently as June. I think Latics may well be in danger of creating expectations they aren’t always able to live up to. Saturday’s match against Northampton saw a dominant Latics display capped off with a wonderful goal by Callum McManaman, who changed the game when he was introduced midway through the second half. It felt a poignant moment for a number of reasons. Back celebrating a win at home after the turmoil of the last few months, the whole 'Turn It Blue' campaign and, on a personal front, for McManaman. A more exciting player you would struggle to find than McManaman in his peak during that FA Cup season. Injuries and bad luck saw his career on a downward trajectory, but the way he’s grabbed his chance of a return with us has been fantastic to see. What followed after the game was one of the most revealing ‘footballer’ post-match interviews I’ve ever listened to. McManaman revealed to the local media that, not only was he without a club after leaving Tranmere last summer, he had firmly given up on football until Shaun Maloney got in touch. He spoke of feeling 'embarrassed' when he first came in to train, as though he wasn’t good enough and that, he was terrified about tarnishing his reputation with us. Well already in this short spell, he’s done nothing of the sort. He’s simply enhanced his reputation among Wiganers. It also says something about Maloney and Graham Barrow that they care about people. That’s important in any football club, but all the more one like ours. We also need to realise sometimes that footballers are human beings too.

Which brings me on to Tuesday night. The first 45 minutes at Carlisle was some of the finest football I’ve seen for many a year. It wouldn’t have flattered us if we’d gone in at half-time two or three goals to the good. Sadly we only had one goal to our name, and the old adage of 1-0 being the most dangerous scoreline came to fruition. Despite hitting the bar and the post and having yet another blatant penalty turned down, we failed to get that all-important second goal and had to settle for a point. A point when you’ve played so well felt so disappointing, but we have to take it in context (yes reader, I have said this before). Our pre-season was disrupted by last season’s shenanigans, meaning we’re probably a good few weeks behind our rivals. Throw in the fact we’re currently fielding a side full of Academy graduates, loan signings and free transfers - all the while playing a difficult brand of football - it’s frankly a miracle we’ve started as we have. There was lots of anger on the terraces on Tuesday and online when we failed to get those three points. I understand people need to vent, but we also need to understand this is a young side. They’ll make mistakes, but they’ll produce moments of pure joy, like the second goal against Northampton, and the opener at Carlisle. It'll take time and we won’t win every week, but I feel supremely confident we’ll have a good season. If we lose on Saturday to them men, it shouldn’t be a cause for throwing the toys out of the pram. Sadly, it’s just a recognition of the very different places we’re in as clubs at the moment. They’ve had three straight seasons in this division now, while we’ve cobbled a side together out of nothing, and are hamstrung all this season by the last regime’s disastrous decision making. Don’t destroy this young side's confidence if we fail to get anything at the Toughsheet. Just 'Let Latics Gel'.