Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - 'The beauty of football is that everyone thinks they are a football manager. The curse of football is that everyone thinks they are a football manager...'
Our panel of experts assess a four-game winless run for Wigan Athletic - and urge their fellow fans to look at the bigger picture...
The beauty of football is that everyone thinks they are a football manager. The curse of football is that everyone thinks they are a football manager. So the wheels have fallen off, according to form, and I must admit it does not look good. If I look at what I saw in front of me on Tuesday night, then it is hard to paint a positive picture. We didn’t deserve to lose the game based on the way the only goal came about, but I don’t really think we did enough to win it either. The game itself was a carbon copy of the reverse fixture. I’m not sure whether they had more clear chances than we did but they were strong, dominant and determined throughout, whereas we looked limp, disjointed and predictable. The penalty itself was a farce, and should never have been given. It wasn’t a bad challenge, it wasn’t even a challenge at all. That is exactly what Jack Whatmough did, he stood still, as if in a game of musical statues and put his hands up as if to say “I’m not going to challenge this player at all, ref” while their forward gleefully rolled into him and tripped over his leg. Let us not use this as an excuse though, this awful decision only cost us a point at best, because we didn’t manage to score a legitimate goal. I thought first half we showed up well, and I expected a further improvement in the second half, as has often been the way this season – but it didn’t happen. Even after the penalty, I thought we’d get our act together, fuelled by the burning injustice of it all. But nope, we carried on ambling our way through the game with no purpose or plan. Whereas Wednesday carried on what they had been doing both times we played them, attacking, chasing us down, and simply winning more ball than us. There are other things we can point to – bad challenges on McGrath and Darikwa that went unpunished, and a dreadful refereeing performance in general. But none of this detracts from the fact we were second best. Again. So we move on, and we move on with two vital home games where we need to turn up.
I am not one of those raging with anger on social media about where we are – how could we be given where we are? There are those who can’t wait to jump down the manager’s throat at every opportunity, and there are those with more measured, legitimate grievances regarding selections, formations and tactics. We’ve been down this road before, however, with nearly every manager we’ve ever had, and most recently with Paul Cook. Plenty of fans were quick to criticise him for “only” having us in the bottom half of the Championship, and an admittedly appalling away record, but I generally held my counsel. As essentially we ARE (were) a bottom half Championship club in size and stature, and I could also see that, for so many of those away games in that run, we were simply unlucky and our luck would turn. Our luck did turn, and we started playing better football, at home and away and Cook nearly pulled off a miracle to keep us in the Championship, in spite of administration. For that, he deserved a lot of credit. For the bedroom tacticians, they were keener to take the credit themselves “well, he’s come around to MY way of thinking”. I feel we are at that stage again under Leam Richardson, and I hope that for all of our sakes that it comes together. I think there are changes needed and I would fully expect them, but I’m not about to propose them. That is the (real) manager’s job. We have a lot of new players, and quite a few important ones, either out injured or struggling with knocks. It may take a while for them to settle and the team/squad to regroup. It does feel at the minute that we need to “Let Latics gel” again, as at the minute we are simply not cohesive. Every team has a bad patch, though. We are probably having ours at the minute, but we will come through it, and then other teams will have their own bad patches. Of course, I have no real logic to support this, other than pointing to our track record as a football club for finishing the season strongly in the past. Chances are this is not an accident, nor is it of the incumbent manager’s doing. It probably comes down to the training, analytics, and science that has sat in the background for a while, behind the football club from Monday to Sunday.
There are some who complain that we have “been rubbish since October”. Seriously. Maybe there is some logic to suggest we will drop down the table and blow all our games in hand, if you want to spend your days looking at it that way. But I personally don’t have the time or energy to waste, spending it directing anger at a smartphone or computer screen. Same goes for whatever the xG weirdos are saying this week. I’d rather be oblivious to the details and remain hopeful, as the past is gone, the future is what matters. That old phrase “Keep The Faith” is as appropriate as ever. If you want to take the attitude that everything is terrible, that we SHOULD be top of the league and we SHOULD be promoted, then you are only setting yourself up for disappointment. There’s a five-year plan, most of our players are signed up for at least another two years. It is all in Mal and Tal’s plan. So long as they don’t have the same unrealistic urgency that some fans have that we need to be perfect in six months, then I’m cool with where we are. Why the big rush? In the worst case scenario that we don’t go up this year, then we’ll go again next year with a strong, competitive squad. If and when we do get promoted over the next few years, then guess what? We will have to overhaul the squad again (maybe have to sell some players to fund it?) and with the best will in the world, we will not be a big fish in the Championship and probably have to get used to losing a few more games. I’m sure I’ll get Preston and Blackburn thrown at me at this stage but, for them, this season is the exception after many years of mediocrity. When was the last year we had any mediocrity? I’m pretty sure Oldham fans would kill for even one of our perceived terrible seasons. So yes I’m concerned, but there’s no massive drama here. I’m as emotional and invested as the next person when the game is on, but there’s no over-reaction here, and there never will be. We move on to the next game and forget about the last one. So, we’ve lost our last two, but prior to that we hadn’t lost for months. We were being mentioned alongside Bayern Munich and AC Milan up until a few weeks ago for our record. There’s a lot of fans of a lot of other clubs who would love to swap places with what our club has done. They probably need our support more than ever as we go through a sticky patch. And we’re not a bad football club to support really, are we? Cheer up!
Well after a long day at Stoke, we couldn’t really argue with the result. But the FA Cup is not top of the list this season, so we move on. On to Sheffield Wednesday, and we were never really in it. We looked slow and leggy, and the insistence of starting with a formation that needs to be changed midway through each game...maybe it’s time to change from the start for a change? We are missing Will Keane. Josh Magennis doesn’t seem match fit yet or in touch with our other attacking players. We didn’t deserve anything from the game and, if it was up to me, I’d fine Jack Whatmough a week’s wage for his defending - standing like a lamppost with arms up as he trips their man. His leg shoots back in a guilty motion – nailed on penalty. All that said, we are still in a strong position. We just need to snap out of this lull of lacklustre performances. Stay Safe.
We seem to live in an age now where moderation is something that should just be left to bygone times. Everything is either right or wrong, good or bad, black or white. Nobody accepts there are in between bits any more. When things were going well for us, we were the greatest football team on earth. Now we’re struggling a little bit (and it is a little bit), we’re not fit to even be called a football team. It’s true we haven’t won in four games, but it’s also true we’re still second. If social media is your only source of “news”, you’d be forgiven for thinking we’re being dragged into a relegation battle, such is the outrage going on at the moment. So, just to confirm, we’re second and still have games in hand over everyone around us. But we wouldn’t be Latics, would we, if we all took a balanced view on things. The fact is that two games a week will take its toll. Forget that the players had Christmas off, it makes no difference when you’re trying to play every three days. The benefits of that break were gone within a week. We have problems in certain positions at present. I’m not convinced about Darikwa at left-back, but I’m even less convinced about playing McClean there. Not so long ago, we had about 25 left-backs on the books, so the irony isn’t lost on me that it’s now a position that is causing us personnel issues. We also really miss Will Keane, and his absence is causing everything to break down once we get halfway into the opponent’s half. Take Lang out, and Keane is also clearly our best chance of a goal, so it’s a double whammy. But, look, we’ve only got 11 weeks or so of the season left, and we’re in a really good position. Take the good bits, push aside the bad bits and move on. It’d be nice to go up automatically, of course it would, but it’s not a given. It wasn’t in August, by a very long chalk, and it isn’t now. So try not to big such a big baby about us not winning every game, and everything will be okay. We’re plenty good enough to go up, but there will be bumps, and some big ones at that. Instead of hitting them hard, ride them like a rollercoaster and enjoy what we have.
If the ‘sky was falling’ after consecutive draws last week, you better believe we are on the verge of an apocalypse now that Latics have lost back-to-back matches. There are numerous reasons for our fanbase to feel down at this moment in time. It’s been over 10 months since we’ve gone four matches across all competitions without a win. Our FA Cup run concluded unceremoniously at Stoke last weekend as we limped our way to the final whistle with 10 men on the pitch. While several inspiring individual performances did give us some hope heading into a tough midweek fixture at Sheffield Wednesday, a dejecting 1-0 loss ensued. Latics failed to put away their first-half chances, and were on the wrong side of a bewildering penalty decision that took the wind out of their sails for the final 40 minutes of the match. The biggest blow to our spirits came post-match as Leam Richardson confirmed starlet Thelo Aasgaard is out for the season with a stress fracture. It was devastating news, especially for those of us who envisioned Thelo growing into a larger role as the season progressed. The injury could not have come at a more inopportune time, as we have desperately lacked a consistent goal threat since Will Keane went off with a knock at Cheltenham. Our new signings have struggled to mesh with the rest of the squad, which hasn’t been made any easier by the behemoth that is our February fixture list. Our League One title hopes have also taken a massive hit with Rotherham catapulting to the top of the table, and securing themselves with a comfortable nine-point cushion over Latics.
In spite of our recent setbacks, I’m confident we will turn things around with a win on Saturday. Last August, we conceded a crippling stoppage-time equaliser at the DW as we dropped points against Wycombe. We bounced back several days later with our first exhilarating away day of the season at Charlton that featured two late Latics goals and jubilant fan celebrations. Six months later, we must rely on a turnaround performance against Charlton again to jump start the team as we make our promotion push. Charlton have steadily improved their form over the course of the season, but are still as vulnerable to defeat as any other League One team. The fact we still sit second in the league table after not winning a league match for three weeks, and still having three to four games-in-hand on our rivals ,is flabbergasting. It’s likely we have exhausted our good fortune, though, and anything less than three points tomorrow will guarantee a fall from the automatic promotion places. We’re long overdue for a complete 90-minute performance, and there’s no better time than this weekend to put everything together. A ‘cat burglar’ tried to ‘steal the show’ at Hillsborough, but Jason Kerr’s rescue act allowed our feline friend to use another one of its nine lives en route to safety. Would it be too much to ask for that same cat to breathe some life into our squad? That would be ‘purr-fect’!
Right off the bat, we all know our performances haven't been A1 of late, and we were actually really poor against Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday night. Everyone is aware things maybe need to be looked at, but if you're one of the people on social media slating individual players and even the gaffer, hang your head. It's a joke. It's embarrassing and it's boring. Stop it. Anyway, it wasn't a penalty. It was absolutely not a penalty. The decision to give a foul against Jack Whatmough and award the Owls a penalty was possibly one of the worst officiating decisions I've seen this season, and we have seen some shockers. Probably the most shocking part of the game was when a cat (now identified as Topsey) ambled onto the field of play in the closing minutes. After the drama that followed THAT video, it was heartwarming to watch Jason Kerr handle Topsey so gently and even offer a little wave goodbye as she was passed to safety on the sidelines. Be like Jason Kerr! Last word, I have trusted the manager so far this season to make the right decisions about this club, whether it's team selection, formation, tactics, whatever. I'd say about 95 per cent of the decisions he has made have been the right ones. I will keep trusting him until the final whistle at Salop to keep making the right decisions and have faith that we will finish where we deserve to finish by the end of the season. In Leam Richardson we trust. Up The Tics!
I’d hate to watch us every week, and only see the bad,
I’d hate to go through every game, and rarely feel the glad,
To only want to moan and groan, like a paddying little boy (or girl),
To miss the glorious little things that fill our hearts with joy.
To whinge at “shots on target” stats, or whine at our formation,
To feel short changed at our current state, and resort to defamation,
To complain the tactics are just plain wrong and will likely see us down,
To single out unfavoured players, and watch ‘em with a frown.
It used to be “less o’ t’ tippy tappy, let’s play more direct”,
“Let’s get forward, be more adventurous and much less circumspect”,
Now it’s “less of the flipping hoofball , let’s try and pass it about”,
Sometimes I think that some are fickle, but others just know nowt.
“These tactics just aren’t working” cry some of ‘em from their screens,
But 20 games in a row unbeaten is a feat of quite some means,
But does it matter anyway? Whoever said that it has to be pretty?
However, they come, I’ll take the points, no matter whether pretty or sh...bitty.
But Tuesday, against Wednesday, well, it all came crashing down,
A loss. Nil pwan. No last ditch winner, have they dislodged our crown?
The season’s now as good as ended, and we’re not going up,
So say the twitter sages, in the “Miserable Basket” Cup.
Suddenly, we’re canon fodder and bound to miss promotion,
The knives are out for t’ manager, for causing this implosion,
It seems it’s all his fault, his inexperience is there to see,
Say all the FIFA experts (well, in their mind they are, that’s key!)
Why on earth would anyone react in such a way?
Finicky and overly critical, and curmudgeonly having their say,
But it’s not perfect though, you see, so they tell us with delight,
Their twaddle on team selection, and their assessment of our “plight”.
Cos Leam, he ain’t good enough, after all, he learned from Cook,
His Plan A’s a form of hoofball, and Plan B can go to … heck!
The “informed” views of Tics fans can be quite pant wettingly funny,
And to top it all, they think that their sage thoughts are on the money.
But each to their own, they’re quite entitled to hold such miserable views
But to hold ‘em when we’re doing well, and not just when we lose,
Well, it seems to me to be a waste, to have such a negative fix,
But I still salute them anyway, so “Up the Miserable ‘Tics”.
Well that last week felt like the proverbial kick in the unmentionables. Was it a kick up the backside we needed though? Time will tell. Let’s not dress up the Sheffield Wednesday performance. Despite shading the first half, hitting the post and Tom Naylor spurning a golden chance, we hadn’t looked anything like our best at Hillsborough. Even when Josh Magennnis looked like he’d given us the lead with his second goal chalked off for offside in as many weeks, it would have been against the run of play. Sadly, unlike in previous weeks, Latics didn’t grow in to the game in the second half. A completely unwarranted penalty dispatched by Barry Banan saw Leam Richardson’s side sit further back and play with even less invention than they had in the first half. Latics weren’t outclassed against Wednesday, but it’s fair to say Darren Moore’s side did a job on us. Add the defeat at Wednesday to the draws against Cheltenham and Oxford, plus the FA Cup exit to Stoke, and it feels like we’re in a worrying run of form at the moment. There’s been many hot takes on the internet over the last few days that would have you believe we’re in terminal decline. It’s never a good idea to dive in to twitter post-match, especially after a defeat. There’s too much that is seen as black and white, where context and subtext are stripped out in favour of anger, frustration and emotion – and who can blame people? Sometimes it’s the only opportunity to vent. All I will say is that this side, these players, those staff have given us too much to enjoy this season, too much to be proud of for me to get too frustrated with them just yet. The loss of Will Keane and Tom Pearce, coupled with the continued absence of Charlie Wyke and Jordan Cousins, is clearly hampering us. I would argue Keane in particular is as key to our play, as Nick Powell was back in 2017/18. Without him we struggle, but we’re not a one-man team. Far from it. We just need to find a way to create without Will. Speaking of the ‘17/18 season, it was this week where we lost to Southend and Blackpool in consecutive league matches that left us second in the league and feeling as though we may struggle. Back then we had two games in hand on those around us, but we also had another two FA Cup matches to navigate. We all know how that season ended. Although Rotherham look uncatchable at the top, a promotion spot is ours to give away, we just need to get back to winning ways as soon as possible. Charlton and Crewe over the next week represent our best opportunity to do that. Win those two and the last week will soon be forgotten.
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