Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - 'We have made a career out of upsetting the odds in football, so we can’t get too upset when it happens to us...'

Our panel of 12th Men look back on a roller-coaster week for Wigan Athletic - ahead of Saturday's eagerly-awaited trip to AFC Wimbledon...

Friday, 22nd October 2021, 3:10 pm
Latics are aiming to get back to winning ways this weekend at AFC Wimbledon

MARTIN TARBUCK:

The main positive of writing this column is that it can be reasonably topical. On Sunday, I gleefully put together my editorial for the next issue of the Mudhutter fanzine, basking in the glory of a drubbing over that lot. I eulogised about what a transformation we were witnessing in front of our eyes at such an impressive pace, and showered the players and management with lots of plaudits, including three men behind the scenes who have given us our club back better than ever. Unfortunately, by 10pm on Tuesday night, much of the praise felt like last night’s chip paper, as a disappointing home performance against MK Dons saw us lose at home on a Tuesday night AGAIN and slip further down the table. Thing is, our fanzine often takes 7-10 days to turn around and Latics will play three or four games before it hits the streets on October 31, thus making any opinion potentially redundant. Fed up, and faced with continually re-editing my own work, I may as well let it ride. Because even if we go on and lose our next four or five games –yes, it would be awful and perhaps a bit surprising too – we’d still probably not be in a disastrous place. However, the quality in the squad and the performances they have shown themselves to be capable of at times mean that fans are expecting so much more, myself included. At the minute, I am hoping the same bouncebackability applies to the MK Dons game, as it did following the Sheffield Wednesday home defeat, but the Wombles are no mugs, so it will be another tough game. That response is why I am still firmly of the belief that Leam Richardson is such a good manager. He didn’t get carried away when we beat Bolton and didn’t panic when we lost to Sheffield Wednesday. He has the players playing for him and will expect a big response from them on Saturday. A lot of fans were questioning why we didn’t start the game on Tuesday the way we finished it on Saturday, with Max Power shifted into the middle and Tom Pearce at left-back. I think it is something we would all like an explanation on, but there is every chance there are reasons we are not aware of as to why Tom Bayliss was thrown in. I wasn’t mad about Jordan Cousins initially (see what I did there) but he is genuinely one of those players you notice more when he isn’t there. Either way, we should have the resources to plug that gap regardless. In some senses, his absence afforded an opportunity to put a few square pegs back into square holes: a left-back put in at left-back, with the right-back moved across and Power moved back into the middle. But for some reason it never happened. I’m not going to labour the point and nor am I particularly angry about it. There is possibly more to this than meets the eye. Indeed, the whole performance was lacklustre on our part, whereas MK Dons looked really impressive on the night, take nothing away from them for that. Losing is part of football, so we need to accept it and not get carried away with any particular result. Off the field, let us consider the role Talal has played in giving us our football club back and buying into every bit of it. Also, Mal Brannigan has really made inroads into making the club much more commercially viable and is not afraid to ruffle a few feathers in doing so. The bottom line is that thanks to these two, plus Leam, we are enjoying watching our football club again, after a period of time when we nearly lost it. We have no right to expect an easy ride from any team in this division. We have made a career out of upsetting the odds in football, so we can’t get too upset when it happens to us. I suppose part of the problem is that so many other teams have started so strongly that it naturally puts more pressure on us. Whether you consider the murmurs of discontent to be valid concerns or ungrateful nitpicking probably depends on your outlook. We all sit on a spectrum of opinion from the ‘at least we have a club’ mob (true) to the ‘we should win every game with our resources’ (again, maybe a little true on paper but there would be no point in playing at all if everything was decided on paper). Personally, I’d like to don the Swiss hat of neutrality and state the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. There are some Latics fans who are never happy and will claim they only want the best for the club. I’m sure we all do, but then there is undoubtedly a limit to what we can achieve and we’ve already surpassed it once. So, why the big rush? Can’t we just enjoy being back and watching this football club at a vibrant and an exciting time? So long as Phoenix 2021 are backing up their plan that promotion isn’t essential this year, then I’m cool with that. Though if you’d asked me at 5pm on Saturday, I’d probably be telling you how many points we’d win the league by. After Tuesday, that changes to figuring who we are going to get beaten by in the play-offs. So, yes, I need to chill out. We all do. It’s not even November yet! Let’s do our best to enjoy each game and I am certainly going to enjoy Saturday, with a new ground to tick off for a starter.

CADDY FROM THE 5:

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An indifferent week for the ’Tics saw us start by making the best team in the division look like the Sunday League outfit they are before a very good MK Dons team made us look like them from Horwich. Saturday was a great day from start to finish, a packed away end roaring from the get go and the team were visibly up for the fight – unlike the Horwich lot, who just couldn’t cope with us on the day. An easier derby day win we couldn’t have wished for, even the allegedly intimidating ‘Crazy Corner’ and their Primark-dressed ultras were subdued and resorted to throwing their fruit shoots at our players at one stage. I bet Galatasaray were taking notes. Their manager had his usual moan that the game wasn’t a 4-0 one. Well, I think you’ll find it was! Surely their fans’ belief in him must be wearing thin. He talks like Jose Mourinho but his results are more like John Sheridan’s. On to Tuesday and, with the ’Tics on a high, I couldn’t see anything but a win. Well, that’s football for you because MK were by far the better side all night. Despite Charlie Wyke getting the opener, they were all over us, especially in the middle where we badly missed Jordan Cousins. This isn’t a pop at Tom Bayliss because it must be difficult coming in for your league debut in a well-established side. He certainly wasn’t the only one who had a bad night. Indeed, not many could come off the pitch and say they did okay. The main thing now is how we react. There’s definitely no need to press the panic button at all. We know exactly what we’re capable of on any given day, and bumps and blips will happen. Remember, this squad isn’t even six months old and look how far we’ve come. There seems to be a good few decent sides in this division who’ll be fancying their own chances of going up. Are we one of them? Of course we are! Results show that, not your manager telling everyone how you’re the best team in the league while losing your last three games 8-0 on aggregate. Look at the table in May, that’s when we’ll know if we were good enough. I’ve no doubt at all that Leam will have the lads fired up again for Saturday’s trip to Wimbledon, where another sell-out away end will be waiting for them. The London trips are always among the first you look for and Wimbledon looks a cracker. It’s also well-known ’Tics fella John Sharples’ birthday and plenty are going down to help him celebrate it. Let’s hope the team get John the three points to take home with him. As our great leader Talal says: BELIEVE. We’ve a long way to go this season and the club needs us all together if we’re going to challenge for promotion. The team are doing their job, let’s do ours. Right, I’m off packing my bag full of ’Bow for Saturday. UP THE TICS!

MATT AUFFREY:

We’re a quarter of the way through the season and it’s become evident our greatest opponent so far is not any one of the 23 clubs above or below us in the League One table, but rather the midweek fixture itself. Latics have lost five times (and drawn once) in all competitions on Tuesdays through the first two-and-a-half months of the season. Contrarily, Latics have won eight consecutive Saturday fixtures after losing their first league match of the season at Sunderland. The most notable of those Saturday victories occurred just one week ago in Horwich, as Latics put on their finest display of the season in front of over 20,000 fans. It was a performance that saw us dominate in every part of the pitch and reward our travelling fan contingent with four beautiful goals, a clean sheet and three points to celebrate at full-time. The result tipped the scales even more in Latics’ favour for bragging rights in the local rivalry. This coming January will mark seven years since we last lost to Bolton. Our League One winning streak was much shorter lived, however, as MK Dons came to the DW on Tuesday and delivered a frustrating 2-1 loss. Latics were missing a starting midfielder, a referee who could properly call fouls and ultimately a key goal or two that would’ve delivered a positive result. If we left the stadium with anything that evening, it was with a slice of humble pie. The games in hand Latics have on many of their league rivals are no longer a luxury to flaunt from their back pocket. Jordan Cousins’ absence on Tuesday was felt greatly. I don’t blame Leam Richardson for trying a new player in his position but the outcome was clearly not successful. I have confidence the gaffer will right the ship for Wimbledon. There will be many more situations like Tuesday’s to come this season. Key players will get hurt and possibly be out for long lengths of time. Other players may require the occasional rest. In some cases, there will be strong replacements on hand and at other times players may be asked to provide cover in less familiar positions. We certainly saw quite a bit of the latter during last season. If we are going to compete for, let alone achieve, promotion this season, we will have to become adept at overcoming adversity within the playing squad. Our second trip of the season to London sets up a prime opportunity for more ‘Saturday success’, with a sold-out away section and a Wimbledon squad in so-so form awaiting us. Latics have impressively responded to every non-winning result so far this season with an immediate victory. It’s time for the lads to bounce back again.

STATTO:

Well, if a certain beer company did Saturdays like its advertising slogan says, it couldn’t have done last weekend any better. From the first kick to the last, every man was outstanding – one of the most complete performances I can think of. Seeing Bolton fans streaming out of their own stadium well before full-time was a beautiful sight. Tuesday night was a bit of a letdown. We looked off the pace but fair play to MK Dons. They set up well, their number eight ran the show and they fully deserved their win. We can pick holes in our performance and team line-up on the night but let’s learn from it. Now on to Wimbledon and the new Plough Lane. Looking forward to our first visit and seeing it first hand. Stay safe.

TONY MOON:

Didn’t we have a lovely time, the day we went to Bowton,

A wonderful day, some pints on the way,

And then some more in the ground, you know,

With 4,000 or more, we went on to score,

Then again and again and a fourth time.

Singing a few of our favourite songs,

As their wheels came off.

Best team in the league? I’m not sure we agree but, hey, their manager’s muddled.

He comes out with stuff that’s generally guff,

It makes him sound ridiculous, you know,

But the Tics didn’t care that he’s full of hot air,

As they gave him a footballing lesson.

Singing a few of our favourite songs,

As their wheels came off.

It finished just four, but it could have been more as we absolutely thumped ’em,

All their fans knew and the ref knew it too,

They couldn’t take any more, you know,

So the ref, he was kind, he blew early for time,

To save ’em conceding another,

Singing a few of our favourite songs,

As their wheels came off.

So yes, we had a lovely time, the day we went to Bowton,

Our Jimmy Mac had a bit o’ the craic,

As he chatted to their fans, you know,

It isn’t a dream that this new Latics team,

Can go on and do even better,

Singing a few of our favourite songs,

As their wheels came off.

Hey up, he’s not done, Evatt’s started again, he now reckons Plymouth are t’ best team,

It favvers to me that he just cannot see,

The Tics are t’ best in the land, (we know),

Even though we got beat this last Tuesday neet,

Them men got stuffed down at Plymouth.

So we’ll keep on singing our favourite songs,

As our wheels come off.

SEAN LIVESEY:

How very Wigan, how very Wigan indeed. It was written in the stars really, wasn’t it? A performance like that at Bolton followed up by, well, that against MK Dons. I don’t actually feel the performance on Tuesday was half as bad as it was made out to be. Yes, we were poor against Franchise FC, but only in comparison to our recent high standards. It was probably a match too far for a number of the squad. It must have been a hard call for Leam to make regarding a replacement for Jordan Cousins. Having Max Power in that back four has been such a big part of our play in the opening part of the season, but perhaps now it’s the time to move Power back into midfield. Against Bolton on Saturday we scored three goals after Power went into midfield, and on Tuesday we looked much more composed with him in that position. Tom Bayliss struggled to impose himself and you can see he’s not had a lot of football in the last 18 months or so. But come on, let’s have it right, we are absolutely miles ahead of where we expected to be at this stage of the season. Tuesday was disappointing, of course it was. But as with Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland before that, I’ve full confidence we can bounce back. Away from the down notes of the week, last Saturday will quite rightly go down in history.

The biggest away win we’ve had over the hill in Horwich and a game we totally dominated. It’s a long time since I experienced an away following like that and the lads absolutely delivered when it mattered. Let’s not get away from what’s been built by Leam Richardson here. MK did a job on us on Tuesday, but it’s important for us to remember where we were and where we’re heading. Many clubs in League One would be willing to switch places with us. Chief among them could be ‘best club in the league’, Bolton. The games are coming thick and fast but, after nearly two years of nothing, I’m trying to soak up the opportunities to see our football club as much as I can. It was a chance I didn’t think would come again. So it’s off to Plough Lane and a trip to the real Dons of Wimbledon on Saturday. I can’t remember the last time I went on a London away day, so the excitement is absolutely palpable. Last time we travelled to Wimbledon, they were playing in Kingston and Christmas came early as Paul Cook’s side ran out 4-0 winners. What I’d give for a similar result on Saturday as we visit Plough Lane for the first time. Don’t get despondent, get behind the lads. There’s a hell of a long way to go yet and nothing was ever won in October. Apart from the award for the best team in the division – ain’t that right, Mr Evatt?

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