Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - ‘The relegation zone not only knows our name but also knows our preferred drink of choice along with how we like our steak to be cooked...but there’s no better time to be optimistic than right now...’

Our panel of Latics experts draw great encouragement from Shaun Maloney’s first game in charge ahead of his home debut against Huddersfield this weekend...
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Matt Auffrey:

On paper, the beginning of the Shaun Maloney era at Wigan Athletic provided few discernable differences compared to how life started in the Championship for his predecessors. Maloney and Leam Richardson’s teams both produced scoreless draws on their Championship managerial debuts, while Maloney and Kolo Toure both secured away draws in their first match in charge this season. Latics still sit at rock bottom of the Championship table, but the most important thing to come from Monday’s match at Blackburn was a renewed belief we can turn this season around and obtain survival. Several regular starters who have had underwhelming performances over the last few months emerged as key contributors under Maloney. The loanees that featured looked lively as well - especially Christ Tiehi in midfield. The potentially serious injury to debutante, Martin Kelly, was devastating. He had put in a man-of-the-match performance up until his exit and demonstrated many abilities of someone who we’d want to hold down a position in central defence for the remainder of the season. Fortunately, we have a lot of depth in central defence, and it is now on Maloney to organise this group in a more effective manner than how Kolo did. Looking ahead to Saturday, Huddersfield’s visit to the DW represents as much of a must-win as any other fixture this season. Like Latics, they have yet to win their first match of 2023, but could show up inspired having just sacked their manager. Yet, if the opening minutes of the Blackburn match are any indication of how we’ll approach the start of this Saturday’s match, our home crowd should expect to be thoroughly entertained. If we don’t grab three points on Saturday, it will mean we will have gone over three months without winning a football match. Ten competitive matches, along with an entire World Cup, separate us from our last win in mid-November. The relegation zone not only knows our name but also knows our preferred drink of choice along with how we like our steak to be cooked. However, we were given a lifeline to safety with Tuesday’s result between Blackpool and Huddersfield. The thrilling 2-2 draw at Bloomfield Road featuring our closest relegation rivals means we could possibly jump both in the league table with a win this weekend. With a game in hand on Cardiff in 21st position, the three-point gap between Latics and the Bluebirds seems smaller than ever. Latics will need to take a big step forward in every area of the pitch to find victory on Saturday. With Tom Pearce and Charlie Wyke finally healthy and gaining fitness, Maloney will have potentially game-changing talents available to him who were unable to contribute significantly under previous managers. There’s no better time to be optimistic than right now. For every reason that the Huddersfield match could bring disappointment, I can name two reasons for why it’ll bring success. Let’s continue the boisterous support this weekend and do our part to propel the lads to three points.

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Shaun Maloney steered Latics to a draw at Blackburn in his first match in chargeShaun Maloney steered Latics to a draw at Blackburn in his first match in charge
Shaun Maloney steered Latics to a draw at Blackburn in his first match in charge


One draw doesn't make a season, but there's a feel-good factor around Wigan Athletic this week that's been missing since very early in the season. Shaun Maloney has spoken very clearly and sensibly since he's taken over, he said we need to be stronger in both boxes, and a clean sheet at Blackburn is nothing to be sniffed at. While we have never questioned the effort or desire to be successful in the team, there was a lift in performance, and a sign of confidence back in the team. As Maloney said, it's about getting results over style, and I'd take that. As is normal with us, there's a downside, and the two best defenders on the pitch going off injured, with Martin Kelly looking particularly bad one. I wish them both well in recovery. On to the classic six-pointer against Huddersfield on Saturday and, if we can hit the levels of Monday night and sharpen up in the final third, we should be okay.

Emma Peters:

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Maloney ball is well underway at Wigan Athletic as he led his side out at Ewood Park on Monday night to face play-off contenders Blackburn Rovers in front of 2,700-plus travelling ‘Tics! Big debuts from Omar Rekik, Martin Kelly and Danel Sinani looked to immediately strengthen the side, with welcome returns for forward Charlie Wyke and left back Tom Pearce adding some much needed momentum in the second half. Ben Amos pulled off several very good saves to keep a clean sheet, incidentally, the first since we last played Blackburn at the DW back in October. With a Latics goal chalked off for a foul on the keeper by Callum Lang, and a big let off in the opposition box when the home side appealed for a penalty after Jack Whatmough appeared to hinder a Rovers player while mid-trip, the game ended in a stalemate. The big dampener on the game was obviously Kelly being helped off the field with a knee injury after putting on a man of the match performance, and unfortunately it doesn’t look good. Hoping for a speedy recovery for Martin and several more games in a ‘Tics shirt. Overall, though, lots of positives to take from that game. The boys looked miles more confident when on the ball, actually passing it to men in the same shirts as themselves, and an apparent desire to win the game, which is more than we’ve been gifted with in recent times. I’m reasonably confident at this stage that Maloney might just be exactly what we need to keep us in this division. Still bottom of the table, still three points adrift from safety, but still lots of football left to play. I’ve been doing this dance long enough now to know this club is full of surprises. We’ve looked all but relegated since September, which means we’ll probably find ourselves in the play-offs come May. The metaphorical fat lady isn’t singing just yet, so let’s not write us off too soon, eh?

Ed Bazeley:

Blackburn away on Monday night was about as good as it could have possibly been without the fixture actually yielding a Latics win. To the neutrals who watched the game on Sky Sports, it would have seemed like a pretty dull 0-0. But as a Latics fan, it saw the return of some genuine attacking intent and defensive organisation. From what we’ve all seen from content shared by our official social media channels and a couple of TV interviews, the general consensus is that Maloney has spoken words which have been absolutely spot on every single time he has been behind the mic so far, and as a Latics legend he gets the club. He backed that up with a performance on Monday night, too. He promised he’d make us harder to beat, and we were a proper tough side. We did not play like a team at the foot of the table. There was also positivity from the terraces and the connection between the away end, the players on the pitch as well as the manager in the dug-out was back. Petrol in the 'Believe' bus as we say. One of the reasons why Latics’ defence was so strong was because of debutants Omar Rekik and Martin Kelly. Therefore it is absolutely gutting to hear Maloney 'fears the worst’ for Kelly after he was injured. The worst in this case presumably means the rest of the season. Rekik looked a major asset, too, so hopefully his injury isn’t severe enough to keep him out of the starting XI for too long. The dramatic draw between Huddersfield and Blackpool on Tuesday was also a positive result as neither side who occupy the relegation zone with us picked up three points. We can now go into the Huddersfield game on Saturday with a bit of confidence and belief. They sit just two points above us, one from safety, whereas we are three from safety. It’s an archetypal relegation six-pointer - a must win. If our approach play against Huddersfield is similar to that on display at Ewood, then three points on Saturday isn’t a far-fetched ambition at all. Let’s stick together, and get right behind Shaun and the boys. It’s not over by any means now we have a manager who is seemingly humming the correct tune.

Tony Moon:

You put Darikwa back in. You leave Curtis out. You stick with most of t’ others, but you shake it all about. You add a bit of passion and a touch of self belief, And that’s what it’s all about.

Woah, we love you Shaun Maloney. Woah, you’re not a one-trick pony. Woah, you don’t talk much baloney. The Tics are staying up, sing Ra Ra Ra.

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You put Callum Lang in. You still leave Scully out. That lad must ha’ done summat to never get a run out. You tell ‘em all how good they are, a title-winning team. And that’s what it’s all about.

Woah, we love you our Shauny. Woah, that United goal was porny. Woah, you make us all feel horny. The Tics are staying up, sing Ra Ra Ra.

Sean Livesey:

Is this the start? The start of the turnaround? It just has to be. It's been so refreshing over the last manic couple of weeks to listen to Shaun Maloney, his knowledge and passion for the club has shone through, and I think has led to the strange situation that the team bottom of the league have now got a bit of confidence, which is remarkable considering how dire things looked under Kolo Toure. Words are of course cheap as commodities go, but Maloney's clarity contrasts massively with the previous regime where there seemed to be no clarity. Either among the players or from the management. We still face the battle of our lives to get out of this, a point no matter how well earned doesn't mean the hard work is done. In fact it's only just beginning but what we saw on Monday night must be a springboard to consistency in both results and performances. Let's look at Monday, six changes from that torrid game against Luton at the end of last month, and we managed to look every part the Championship team. Players who have struggled badly in recent months put in very good performances - Max Power, James McClean and Tendayi Darwika to name three. The defence looked calm and composed while the forward play was much better. Gone was the hapless approach of lumping it forward, instead players searched out team-mates and for the most part didn't waste possession. As said earlier this is no quick fix, we're absolutely in the mire, but it felt a bit more like us on Monday. In fact it felt a lot more like us. We simply have to follow that up with a win at home to Huddersfield on Saturday, There's no getting away from the fact it's a game that lives up to its 'must win' billing. It looks like we'll have to do that without Martin Kelly, who was imperious in his debut before heading off the pitch with a serious looking injury. The injury to Kelly and Omar Rekik soured an otherwise decent first match in charge for Maloney. The difference those two made in a defensive three alongside Jack Whatmough can't be understated, but at least we've now got strength in depth within those positions, with Charlie Hughes and Curtis Tilt not even making the squad on Monday. So now we're back to looking a little bit like the Wigan Athletic we all know and love, let's get that Dave Whelan Stadium filled (relatively speaking) on Saturday. Give those lads and the new manager the support they deserve and they need. If we pull this off, it could be the biggest greatest escape (c) we've ever had. Let's get that escape underway with three points against Huddersfield.