Wigan Athletic fans on a wonderful week - and what lies ahead
Well it has been another fun week in the Championship.
Not a sentence that Wigan Athletic fans have been able to use honestly for a few years.
It was great to see Ben Watson at the DW on Saturday. A very unassuming man, he seemed surprised that any Latics supporters would be interested in speaking to him let alone getting autographs or photos.
Yet it is rare to meet an FA Cup winner, let alone someone who has achieved the school boy dream of scoring the winning goal.
I’ve always wondered whether Callum McManaman’s failure to progress his career and to make the most of his talent was, in part, because having been man of the match in the cup final, he knew that at such a young age the pinnacle of his career was almost certainly behind him.
Watson, in a similar situation, doesn’t seem to have let that affect him. While he hasn’t had the career that Roberto Martinez expected him to have, no doubt due to his serious injuries, he has been an important and influential player at the clubs he’s played at since leaving Latics.
While the Forest game was another highly entertaining one, it was another heart-breaker. Yet it clearly was a penalty and so again Latics only have themselves to blame for not taking all three points.
We have attacked the Championship this season with real confidence and intent, but it is still a learning curve for a lot of our players.
If there is no gain without pain, then there has been much to learn from the Villa and Forest games.
The Stoke game on Wedneday night was another terrific occasion. A decent away following and a fantastic performance.
After around half an hour of being nearly continually under the cosh and with the Stoke fans in boisterous mood, Latics seemingly found themselves accidentally 2-0 up.
We showed the clinical killer instinct that our opponents showed in taking points off us in last two games.
You could see the confidence and belief evaporating out of the hosts. Fans started leaving, heads dropped, and while they continued to battle, the game was never the same.
Even the most ardent optimistic Latics fan would struggle to make the case that we’d deserved the two goal lead. It did feel like twilight robbery. But that is football. That is why we love the game.
I am not sure that travelling fans are ever happier than when they are winning a game that they know the opposition think they deserve to be losing.
Overall, across the whole game, Latics fully deserved to win. While Stoke was great fun, it was not the nervous nail-biter that the other games have been.
Nick Powell, a cult figure amongst Wigan fans for his laid back attitude and ability to get under the skin of opponents, leaving aside his style and ability, is a different player this season. Full of running. Chasing down opponents. Paul Cook seems to be getting the best out of him.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that on the pitch he is one of the biggest wind up merchant around.
A little bit of contact here, a few words there, going to ground a little too easily everywhere. He was at it again on Wednesday with Ashley William. Even after he got booked he continued to chat to Williams and get involved.
It says a lot about Cook’s faith in Powell’s temperament that he didn’t take him off straight away.
Despite the comfort of our victory on Wednesday, this is a tough league and we will need to earn every point. That means not losing players to silly suspensions. Especially key players who regularly impact the game. We need them playing now especially as they will inevitably draw interest from other clubs in January.
Latics have exceeded many people’s expectations by making an excellent start to the Championship campaign. On paper they had some very difficult fixtures against several of the promotion favourites but they have now won two and drawn one of their opening four games and are eighth in the table.
The performance at Stoke City was particularly pleasing as Latics demolished the high-spending Potters on their own patch.
Latics weathered some initial Stoke pressure and went on to dominate with some superb attacking play. Nick Powell was probably man of the match but there were some top performances all round with Will Grigg, Gavin Massey, Lee Evans and Reece James all outstanding.
Paul Cook sensibly isn’t getting carried away however and is keeping his players grounded. After the Stoke game, he said: “It’s gone our way on the night, the key moments went our way.
But we can be put on our bum at any time in this league.”
Cook is right to keep his players focused but if they can maintain this level of performance and iron out a few of the defensive rough edges they will surely prosper in the Championship this season.
Tomorrow Latics travel to Queens Park Rangers for their fourth Championship fixture of the season but they could have had a very different future if Rangers hadn’t deliberately breached Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules back in 2014.
Latics narrowly lost to QPR over two legs in the Championship play-off semi-final in 2014, but if Rangers hadn’t broken the FFP rules Latics might now be playing Premier League Football.
As a Latics fan it’s hard not to be a little bitter about the QPR owner’s decision to flout the rules and profit from promotion to the Premier League.
QPR’s manager Harry Redknapp spent massively at the time recruiting top players on big wages in a desperate attempt to achieve promotion while Latics and Derby County who subsequently lost to QPR in the play-off final, stuck to the rules and remained in the Championship because of it.
It has taken four years for the English Football League (EFL) to impose a fine of £42m on QPR. They will also be under a transfer embargo for the January 2019 transfer window.
But surely this financial penalty is not commensurate with the magnitude of the offence at the time and its implications for all the other clubs in the Championship.
Independent experts such as Kieran Maguire, a lecturer in football finance at the University of Liverpool, and Dr Rob Wilson, a sport finance specialist at Sheffield Hallam University, both said the fine could have been bigger.
“QPR have earned £148m in broadcasting fees and parachute payments since committing the offence so the fine does not act as a disincentive for clubs in the future,” said Maguire.
“The owners made the decision to go ahead with ignoring the FFP rules in the first place and they are independently wealthy to absorb the true penalty, which should have been at least twice the sum charged.”
But does a financial punishment alone really fit the crime?
Many football fans believe that the EFL’s punishment does not go far enough to put clubs off overspending in pursuit of promotion.
Surely a points reduction would have been a more appropriate penalty at the time and would stop clubs from breaking the rules in the future.
I don’t think anybody can say that Wednesday night’s emphatic result at Stoke wasn’t coming.
We’ve created numerous chances in every game so far, but failure to take these chances saw us suffer two late sucker punches that led to an underserved loss at Aston Villa and an unlucky draw with Nottingham Forest.
When you’ve missed chances in previous games and not got the points you deserved, there tends to be a hammering around the corner.
I have to say I was confident we would get a result like that sooner rather than later, yet I wouldn’t have thought it would be against the Potters. They looked more like the team who had just been promoted from League One.
That performance was all down to Paul Cook, his staff and the players.
We play an attractive and entertaining style and our recruitment has been near perfect, leaving us with a very exciting squad to support.
I now can’t wait for tomorrow.
It’s another road trip for the players but surely they’ll be licking their lips at the prospect?
QPR are struggling and I don’t feel sorry for them. Given our history with them regarding the play-offs and Financial Fair Play, I hope we go down there and really rub it in.
Cold and wet Wednesday night in Stoke? Don’t worry, Wigan have got it covered.
To sum up, just what we accomplished in our 3-0 victory over the supposed ‘favourites’ for promotion.
Baring the first 20 minutes or so of the first half were we looked a little shaky , we dominated a Stoke side who on paper and in terms of splashing the cash for the likes of Tom Ince and
James McClean, should be a lot better than how they’re at the moment.
Therefore, the players and Paul Cook deserve a lot of credit for the performance, and how they controlled the match to frustrate Stoke.
There seems a real belief within this squad that we can in fact knock on the door of the top half of the table and who knows where else. You don’t beat three Premier League clubs last season, (one being arguably the best team in the world at the time) if you’re a bad side.
As a supporter, it’s refreshing to see the way we’re performing at the moment. The contrast to the last time we played in the Championship is mind-blowing.
The ruthlessness we have in attack, with Jacobs, Powell, Grigg and Massey all playing a significant role.
Also, I am running out of words to describe Nick Powell. He’s a Rolls Royce of a player and would walk into any side in this division. I’ll be amazed if we don’t offer him a new deal. I hope he stays with us, but I assume there will be plenty of clubs wanting his signature if he carries on the way he is.
I’m also pleased Grigg is getting the accolades he deserves after there were definitely question marks about whether he could cut it in the Championship.
But we all know, if you give him the service he will score goals all day long and may it continue.
One thing you can’t have in this division is complacency and the cliché ‘there’s no easy game’ rings true. Even though QPR are struggling thus far, we can’t take our foot off the gas, as the next two matches should be ones we want to take maximum points from to keep the momentum going.