Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - ‘That lack of confidence then appears to drain all the effort, experience and quality out of the team as well, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who is sick of it...’
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Welcome to the Wigan Athletic gift shop, where we provide struggling teams with an instant pick me up to rejuvenate your league season. Feel free to read our testimonials from previous customers such as Hull, Cardiff and Sunderland. We’ve also recently provided a sublime gift wrapped service to a clueless, managerless Middlesbrough, putting a smile on their face and making them feel world beating. Look, I know what I said about the Championship: that we’ll be happy winning one, losing one, drawing one week after week. Indeed, we should expect it. But is there any chance we can make these defeats any less horrifying please? I’m not about to defend Wednesday night. If I did, I could probably do a better job singlehandedly than our back four – because you can’t defend the indefensible. A home reversal of 4-1 cannot be excused. I can handle being undone by superior quality, and most teams in this division do have superior quality whereas we are still essentially a League One side, with a few additions. Dare I say, more of our players are closer to the end of their career than the start, so they aren’t going to get any better. However, they’ve earned the right to play at this level for me, and given the limited investment which we have had (which is fine, by the way) we don’t have too many other options. But can we honestly say they are matching the opposition wholeheartedly in terms of effort on the pitch? I don’t think so. It seems we are more than capable of taking the lead in any particular game against any particular opposition but holding on to that advantage seems to be proving impossible. Not only that, if Wednesday is anything to go by, it seems to activate a full on collapse. I’m sure there are more erudite tacticians than me out there who are keen to point out errors in formation, team selection, and substitutions and point the finger firmly at the manager but for me, the problem is one of confidence. We lack confidence and what little, fragile confidence we possess seems to be handed directly to our opponents at some point during the game. That lack of confidence then appears to drain all the effort, experience and quality out of the team as well, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who is sick of it. Confidence isn’t even about being the better players, or the better team. It is about walking onto and off the pitch knowing that you are giving it your all, and I don’t think a single player in that team could stand tall and say that on Wednesday night. I’m happy (ish) to lose if we fight and lose but giving up without a whimper is unacceptable.
The pragmatist in me perhaps knows deep down that there might be injuries galore and tired legs throughout the squad, which is impacting performance and team selection but then every team in this league plays the same number of games, so that only holds true so far. The truth is I don’t know the answer. I'm not sure those far more angry than myself do either. I was listening to Radio Manchester on the way back from the game and they were reading out tweets from people calling for the manager’s head and they then had a caller on, a gentleman known to most of you by the name of 'Worbo', who gave a brilliant, emotional, spirited defence of Leam Richardson. I echoed every word he said, and there’s a huge difference between these two responses. One person can go on the radio and give a passionate, convincing argument and all the angry, faceless individuals who spew forth anger from their phones and keyboards can’t, they are just expending vitriol. It makes me glad I am on the side of the fence I am. Of course, I am as disappointed and as dejected as the next person, but is sacking the manager the answer? No. Not yet anyway. And if my tolerance drops to a level so much that my answer to that question would change, then it probably will be time to go. We're just not at that point yet, and there's every chance we never will be. This isn’t the voice or voices of superfans, as the dissenters may have it, or an expert, as the header of this article frequently states. I do modestly claim to be a voice of reasonableness however, and I’m glad I am where I am. If anything I've said is unreasonable, then I'm happy to have a debate as to why it is.
Everyone can see there are problems and limitations, but nobody has the solution, short of 'sack the manager'. And then what? Who comes here? I’ve laughably seen Steve Bruce mentioned. Why stop there? Maybe see what Paul Jewell is up to or whether Larry Lloyd fancies it. All three were brilliant managers for us but they were all of their time and, for Steve Bruce in particular, his time has come and gone. I’m not saying we couldn’t get a better manager in, of course we could but recent history tells us we invariably end up making a worse decision. There was speculation we were heading to the relegation zone only a week ago and then suddenly we were back in ninth. The trajectory again at this current moment isn’t good, but the beauty of football is it can turn in an instant. Given we are clearly operating under a tight budget, what manager would come here anyway, who could we afford and what makes you think they would suddenly get a pot of money to spend on new players? And if you think we don’t need new players, then what happens if the next manager doesn’t play that player you think you should be in the team either? Do you then admit the problem might be the player or the player’s fitness or is the new manager the problem as well? Or if it is the player then maybe you owe Leam Richardson an apology. I jest of course: these angry types never apologise, they are like broken clocks and simply wait for an occasion like Wednesday night and revel in being right, for once. So yes it is dismal and distressing getting pumped 4-1 at home and we are all angry right now. Our expectations have been reset and, yes, we may well end up in a Championship relegation fight this year. That isn’t something we expected a year or two, but only because it would have seemed wildly optimistic. If that’s what it is, then we need to roll up our sleeves and get on with it. Yet having said all that, we have seen there is nothing to fear in this division and that our outlook can shift massively with just one result. I’m not convinced we will get anything at Loftus Road this Saturday, it is hardly a happy hunting ground. So it may get worse before it gets better but it will get better, it always does. Don’t dwell on the awful days and nights because we’ve had plenty good ones over the years and we will do again. Up them 'Tics.
There’s ugly, then there’s ‘Latics at home’ ugly, and unfortunately, we all were given a front row seat to the latter on Wednesday. It seemed as if we were going to cruise into halftime with a satisfying 1-0 lead against Middlesbrough after a semi-positive start to the match. Just seconds after a missed clearance on a long ball into our defensive half, we were punished for our only genuine mistake of the first 45 minutes and went into the break tied at a goal apiece. As disappointing as it was to concede, I still had plenty of optimism the game was ours to take. What followed the restart was easily the worst half of Latics football in recent memory. I personally had flashbacks to two years ago when our administration-ravaged team struggled to perform while flailing in the depths of League One. The lads on the pitch against Boro would’ve surely lost to that administration team with how poorly they played midweek. The Latics faithful brought their pitchforks with them to social media for post-match commentary and the feelings of contempt towards the performance were higher than ever. There’s no denying our effort was inexcusable. Sometimes you are unlucky, while other times you are unfortunate, but the fact we looked so unmotivated for such a long stretch of play was very discouraging. We’ve now lost four of our last five matches. During that run, we’ve been outscored 8-2 in the second half of matches while possessing an even goal difference for the first halves. With the exception of Blackburn last week, we are falling victim to our opponents’ match-winning adjustments in the second half at an alarming rate. It would be nice if the solution to our problem was just a matter of ‘figuring out the controls’ as if this was a video game. Our squad has had a fair amount of time to gel with each other and become more familiar with the level of competition in this division. Yet, there are obviously still issues we can't clearly explain. We should be well aware of how easy it is for our newly-promoted teams to hit snags in form at this level. Some players might not be best fit to be regular starters in the Championship but our limitations in depth are keeping them in the line-up. Other players haven't been given a run yet, and the gaffer must have his reasons for why those players are not in the squad, yet alone on the pitch. We have six matches to right the ship before the extended World Cup break, and the challenges will not get any easier as we travel to top-of-the-table QPR this weekend. Hopefully, by now, we have gotten the moans out of our system and are ready to turn the support up a notch. We're farther down the table from the top six than we have been in weeks, but at the same time, we are only five points off sixth position as well. Nobody in the changing room will accept Wednesday's performance as good enough, and I expect a sharp shift in our approach for QPR. As fans we have to switch our mindset back to a positive setting as well. Keep the faith.
The Boro result was awful, but it’s not time to panic yet. However I don’t blame anyone who would look at the result, and call it pathetic as Latics were crushed 4-1 by a side who were in the bottom three prior to kick-off. Despite the positive performance and victory over Blackburn last week, our home form has gone missing, and with two consecutive away defeats that great run on the road has somewhat dried up too. Take away the fact it’s Wigan Athletic, and wouldn’t it just be so very ‘Championship’ for a side to get battered by a struggling, managerless Middlesbrough and follow it up by defeating top-of-the-league QPR at Loftus Road? And perhaps some of this Michael Beale to Wolves speculation will damage the morale of the West London outfit. Put the context of Latics back into the frame though, and it makes for grim viewing. The usually solid as a rock Jack Whatmough made a poor defensive error, allowing Boro to net their first goal of the match. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I genuinely believe that to be Whatmough’s first error which directly led to a goal in his mightily successful tenure at Latics. Furthermore, Ben Amos didn’t look his usual assertive self in goal and let in two efforts he really ought to have kept out. Not least Akpom’s penalty, which was rolled into the goal painfully slowly, into the same corner Amos dived to. I didn’t actually attend the Boro match as I was at work so I’ve only endured the highlights and, being brutally honest, I’m glad. We looked awful after taking the lead. I do believe Leam and his squad have what it takes to turn our fortunes around as they’ve dealt with much tougher scenarios in the not-too-distant past. Another thing is that we’ve actually only lost two games in a row. It’s not the end of the world if we can turn the tide sooner rather than later. However, it’s not great to see some of Paul Cook’s shortcomings being mirrored as we appear to be fairly decent at going 1-0 up and coming away with nothing at the moment.
My seat in ES7 was empty on Wednesday night. I have Covid and was forced to watch the game on TV. The most pleasurable part of that was having Covid. It was dire, wasn't it? I think even Roberto would have struggled to find positives from that. So dire that Leam resorted to 'unforgiving league' in his post-match comments, in a voice that altered pitch in a Paul Cook-esque style. The inevitable social media meltdown ensued, but sitting back now I can reflect. 'We are a League One team with League One players,' say some. That would be true if we were sat at the foot of the table with no points on the board. But we've turned in some bright performances and, with a few more points on the board, we could be much further up the table, such are the vagaries of this league. 'We'll be reet', as they say. We're nowhere near title contenders, but hopefully we will learn from that horror show. But we need a few of our bigger-name, senior players to step up and start to take control of the game and of the team when heads drop. They were sadly missing in action on Wednesday, and need to have a good hard look at themselves. Meanwhile sloppy passes, fluffed clearances, missed tackles, failure to cover runners all need addressing across the board. The only person who had a worse day at the office was Liz Truss. The difference though is that Latics can turn this around.
Just watched that disaster vs Boro, main points: Why does Jason Kerr have to be in a five? He's our second best defender aside from that blonde Nesta, and yet he cannot get a game? Seemingly because he is right-footed? Vidic and Ferdinand/Terry and Carvahlo probably the best centre-back partnerships in the Premier League of my generation, all four right-footed. Kerr and Whatmough are the partnership to keep us up! Also, Graeme Shinnie and Jordan Cousins are head and shoulders above the other centre midfielders. Not a diss to the others but they aren't this level. If Leam can get those four as the spine to this team, I believe we will be fine. 'Leam out' shouts at the moment are a joke by the way. Would only be applicable if we were bottom three and producing those kinds of performances every week. Also, 'Rings of Power' is awful, not Wigan related but while I'm ranting.
The Boro game was bad, let’s not pretend otherwise. The fairly solid team we saw in the first few games seems to have been replaced with one lacking ideas and always likely to concede a couple of goals (Blackburn aside). However, and I realise this may be difficult for some of our fans who appear to be expecting a Championship-winning team, if we all take a step back and look at our previous numbers in this league, by this point in 2016, we had 11 points, eight fewer than we have now; in 2018, we had 20 points, one more than we have now; and in 2019, we had 14 points, five fewer than we have now. In the 2019/20 season, we didn’t win at all from October 23, 2019 until January 1, 2020 (13 games). In both the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons, we stuck by our manager and eventually earned enough points come the end of the season to stay up (ignoring administration and our points deduction in 2020, of course). Now, here comes my main point and my big plea to Talal, Mal Brannigan, and the Board: Don’t panic, and don’t make any rash decisions, because we’ve been here before (I don't think they will, by the way, but you never know). There is a clamour among some of our fans to see the back of Leam Richardson (after all, any decent manager would have this team and these players performing like 2008/09 Barcelona, apparently...) but need I provide anything more than our decision to relieve Gary Caldwell of his duties in 2016, and replacing him with Warren Joyce as evidence as to why Richardson needs stay? I’m not even saying we’d have stayed up in that 2016/17 season by sticking by Caldwell. But we’d have made a better job of competing, I’m sure, and wouldn’t have changed the entire squad midway through the season. Football fans have short memories and quite often the grass isn’t always greener. Some of the performances in recent games have been poor but let’s stick by our man. And if the aim is to finish the season in 21st place at worst, we’re not doing too badly, are we?
No smiles, just a frown, see we’re as good as down; cos we’ve now lost two games on the run. Some 'Tics girls and boys have chucked their nice toys right out of their cot, and they’re done! That pessimistic collective (with zero perspective) will demand that some changes be made. For some, it’s the players, who’ve now lost their way as the rest scream that t’ manager’s o’erstayed (his welcome). But t'was ever thus, some get chucked under t’ bus, if it’s not going all hunky dory. Though it could be worse, we could be under t’ curse, we could all be an MP who’s Tory...