Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - 'This concludes the party political broadcast on behalf of the naively hopeful...'
The Christmas and New Year period is always one of the best times for football fans. Well, assuming it goes ahead, that is. With games being called off left, right, and centre, who knows where we’ll be not just come Boxing Day, but even by the time this weekend rolls around. It all started for us a couple of weeks ago, with Oxford having a devastating outbreak of the virus just at the same time they had a lot of players out injured. It will be just typical Latics if this weekend’s game also gets called off for similar reasons. I remember the now seemingly far-off days of teams not fancying playing a load of games over Christmas, while also having to battle an undersoil heating system breakdown, or having to sack a YTS lad for forgetting to turn on the undersoil heating system, or someone forgetting to bring the key to the undersoil heating system cupboard or…well you get the picture. Now they’re all just stocking up on Sunny D, so the YTS lad can spill a few drops onto a box of Lateral Flow Test kits. Game off, no questions asked. Well, maybe a question or two about the suspiciously sweet smell of Seville oranges from the trainer’s bag, but nothing meaningful. It actually wouldn’t be an altogether bad thing for the EFL to announce a Christmas break, at least for Latics. We need to get a few players over some niggling injuries, and let a few more have a rest. It’s a pain for the rest of us, who love our Christmas football, but we have to think big picture. Rotherham are going like a train at the moment, so putting a halt to that would also be a huge help. It’s been a strange, and often unpleasant two years for everyone, football-related or not. It’s probably why we’re all just waiting for the next calamity, real or imagined, and why we’re mostly reduced to just shrugging our shoulders and moving on. But, and I have no interest in judging anyone for having the vaccine or not – it’s entirely up to you, if you do get asked by someone at any ground to provide proof before you can get in, remember it’s not them asking. The instruction comes from the clubs, in direct response to new legislation, so don’t take it out on the people on the front line. They don’t want to ask you any more than you want to be asked. Same with shop staff or anybody in hospitality. Be kind, and try to understand it’s not their fault. This concludes the party political broadcast on behalf of the naively hopeful.
We’ve finally reached the point where we can collectively exhale. After eight consecutive weeks of midweek fixtures, our players, staff, and fans have been awarded a break that has allowed us a full seven-day rest between weekend matches. The recent fixture congestion has surely taken its toll on everybody to some degree – even on the backs of an 11-match unbeaten streak. A streak that unfortunately wasn’t broken last weekend was our nine-match winless streak against Ipswich that will likely extend beyond the eight-year mark in early 2022. Despite an early goal from Callum Lang, the subsequent events seemed to indicate that unknown forces were working tirelessly against Latics to prevent a three-point heist. There was a missed red-card offence against Ipswich. A second Latics goal was ruled offside. An Ipswich equaliser soon followed. Will Keane would then miss a header at point-blank range. The full time whistle blew and for the first time in a long time, a feeling of disappointment lingered. It had been so long since we had last dropped points that it could have been easy to forget how prevalent of an occurrence this used to be for Latics over the past few seasons. We’ve played 20 league matches this season and currently sit on 42 points. Our average points total at this same moment in the league campaign over the last three seasons has only been 20 points. We’ve now established ourselves as one of the top sides in the league. If we wish to hold our position in the automatic places of the league table, it’s important that we bounce back from an underwhelming result. This weekend’s opponents, Oxford United, are nine games unbeaten in the league – a streak that may not have extended to this point had our fixture at the DW taken place four weeks ago. Latics will now travel south to the Kassam Stadium, where Oxford have only lost twice in all competitions so far this season. Given that the two teams are only separated by three points and three places in the table, there should be good reason for both sides to bring their best showing. Latics should also have extra motivation after Oxford’s last minute Covid postponement in November created another undesirable midweek fixture for early 2022. We’ll be one midfielder short for the next four months after the news of Jordan Cousins’ long-term injury. Until we’re able to bring in January reinforcements, it’s important every player steps up all the more, regardless of whether they’re playing in their preferred position or not. For the first time since August 7, we’ve failed to win a Saturday league match. Let’s not let a small bump in the road throw us off course. It’s time to get back to our winning ways.
There was a question posed on social media this week, I’m paraphrasing but essentially it was asking what was the worst feeling after a match involving your team. There were many to choose from, even though we’ve had more highs than lows over the last couple of decades. Immediately the ones that spring to mind all came in one season. Losing to Maribor when all we needed was a point to qualify was a blow. Losing to Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-finals when we were ten minutes away from reaching a subsequent final was an even bigger blow, to then lose out to QPR in the play-offs just a month later felt an even bigger kick in the teeth. We’ve had some great days since that season of course. Covid and administration aside we’ve had more ups than downs, even if we include the disastrous spells of Mackay and Joyce in that. This season there hasn’t been much in the way of disappointment, supporters are back in stadia and apart from a few Tuesdays in the autumn Latics have been riding high at the top of the league. In complete contrast from 12 months ago, nonetheless Saturday was a day full of disappointment. Not with Leam and the lads, far from it, but from the disastrous refereeing decisions that prevented us from getting three points. Trevor Kettle, I’ll leave the puns alone, made so many poor decisions on Saturday it’s a wonder he’s allowed to referee at this level at all. First the blatant stamp on Tom Pearce by Conor Chaplain, right in front of the referee and his assistant. Followed by the same assistant disallowing a perfectly good second goal by Will Keane that would and should have handed Latics another three points. They say the decisions even themselves out over a season. Well in that case, I expect a flood of fortuous decisions coming our way in the new year. Against a poor Ipswich side we dominated and on another day should have won comfortably but we’re still in touch with top spot and have games in hand. A week in which we reached the FA Cup third round and picked up four points can’t really be sniffed at. Next up it’s Oxford, a trip I wish I was making, we had a fantastic time there in 2017, amazingly on the same weekend in the year as this week’s trip. The world has changed a lot since then and Oxford themselves are nothing like the side we faced back in 2017. Three points would still be a lovely way to begin the Christmas celebrations mind.
Drawing with Ipswich, the anguish, the shame,
How will we recover? Get back on our game?
At least we can blame it on t’ linesman (the prat!),
Keane were never offside, end of story, that’s that.
And what about Humphrys? He were past him, clean through,
Then he blows for a foul, the big dollop of (3 letters, starts with “p”, rhymes with “new)
But we still should ha’ won it, wi’ Will Keane’s free header
The defender were dead, an’ the goalie were deader. (Cringeworthy, but reet).
But still in t’ top two, played a game less than t’ others,
An’ wi’ Wigan the Falcon to come join the brothers!
The Kestrels of Barnsley, they won’t be too happy,
Let’s hope that their fans avoid soiling their nappy!
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