The 12th Man: Wigan Athletic fans have their say

Gary Roberts is mobbed after scoring the opening goal against Blackburn
Gary Roberts is mobbed after scoring the opening goal against Blackburn

Our panel of Latics experts have their say on a week that’s already seen the side pick up four points from two home games...ahead of the small matter of a trip to Bolton this weekend...

MARTIN TARBUCK: What to make of Wednesday night? Well I thought our goals were very scruffy, and we treated the Blackburn players very shabbily, persistently manhandling them and fouling, while they were playing by far the better football throughout the game. Whoops, my apologies – I thought I was Tony Mowbray then for a second! Seriously, what is his problem with us? He came out with much the same bleating excuses after the game at Ewood Park last time out, and I must say, he must be watching a very different game to many of us given his refusal to give Wigan Athletic any credit after a fine performance. His only comment of note seems to be that we “bullied” them when in fact, during the early exchanges of the game, it seemed exactly the other way. Nearly every Rovers tackle saw their player leaving a bit of afters in, with their hands and feet. Once we started giving them a bit back, they started the time honoured ritual of sprawling to the floor to try and get their opponent booked.

Mowbray is a very well respected man in football, whom I have always had time for until the last couple of games, due to the utter drivel leaving his mouth afterwards and the cynical way he sets his teams up to play. Thankfully, we stood up to this and went about the business of attacking with aplomb and could have been a lot more than one goal up at half-time, in what was a very strong performance after a very patchy sequence of results.

As for the tedious Dack v Powell debate, well, there’s a young man by the name of Gary Roberts who put them both in the shade! Anyway, it was nice to convincingly put them to bed, and perhaps more of a barometer to where we are or where we could be if we hadn’t had a bad run of injuries and a difficult set of fixtures. We’ve played all of the top six recently, and even the teams who were at the bottom, such as Preston and QPR, are climbing the table rapidly. Plus losing by the odd goal to Norwich doesn’t look a bad result given the way the Canaries are suddenly flying. Sorry!

So to “that lot” on Saturday, and yes I will be going, having wrestled with my conscience and witnessed a stream of bickering from both sides of the fence over the ticket pricing. From those Bolton fans I speak to (which isn’t many!) they seem to be down and out, as opposed to being unlucky. Well, they’re unlucky as well, but you know what I mean. Yet I don’t think we can ever go there expecting anything other than a tough battle, and as per usual I’m sure I’ll have a knot in my stomach at even considering the prospect of going to that horrible place and losing. They have pulled off some great performances earlier on in the season in spite of being financially hamstrung, and we can only hope they don’t decide to play above themselves again this weekend. Having said that, I would fully hope we can put a similar team out (if young Robbo’s legs have it in them) with Josh Windass in for Powell. Much has been said about the form of Windass, but he seized the opportunity to make the number 10 shirt his own on Wednesday and I think there will be a lot more to come from him. Saturday represents a fantastic opportunity for Josh or indeed anyone else to make a name for themselves, and that’s all I’m saying on the matter.

SEAN LIVESEY: There’s getting back on it...and there’s getting back on it! And Wednesday night was definitely the latter. What an emphatic way to get your first win in six matches, and in the process rub it in against those Lancashire rivals whom we got one over last season. The signs of a turnaround in fortunes were there against Reading on Saturday. Latics were by far the better side against the Royals, and the same could be said for Wednesday. The only difference being we took our chances against Blackburn.

Cook sprung a surprise ahead of kick-off with James Vaughan named in the starting XI, alongside Nick Powell. The gaffer had clearly identified the physical battle his side would have to undertake against an industrial Blackburn side and, as a result, Vaughan was the perfect man to take up that challenge. Even Nick Powell’s departure early in the first half due to injury didn’t dampen Latics’ play. Josh Windass came on and had his best game in a Wigan shirt, linking up well with Vaughan. Windass also created two of the goals and looked a threat everytime he went forward. Vaughan, too, had his best match in a Wigan shirt, whie Kal Naismith impressed with his attacking play and delivery on crosses.

Callum McManaman capped off a fine win and performance with a brilliant goal to seal the win, just as it looked like Blackburn may snatch a point. His celebration and embrace with Cook should also put to bed any silly rumours about manager and player not getting on. The key for Latics is now to build on this.

We know our away form isn’t good enough, but we also know Bolton on Saturday will present us with the best opportunity we’ll have all season to change that record. Bolton are on a torrid run of form, the pressure is building on Phil Parkinson and, with Latics coming out on top in the first local derby of the week, they won’t want to face Latics. If we can get the win on Saturday, we’ll be flying again. Horwich hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Latics in recent seasons, certainly since we were relegated from the Premier League. But if we play like we did on Wednesday, and challenge a shaky Bolton side, I see no reason why we can’t get a positive result.

PAUL MIDDLETON: It was good to get back to winning ways with a well-deserved victory, albeit against a comically bad Blackburn side. Confidence seems to be on the up, and it was great to see that the heads never dropped after the own goal. Josh Windass had easily his best game for us. He always works hard but sometimes lacks a bit of effectiveness. His partnership with James Vaughan was outstanding, and we troubled them constantly. Windass’ diagonal run for the ball, which led to the third goal, was perfect, as was his cross for Callum McManaman’s goal.

Speaking of Macca, the fact he can’t get more than a cameo in any game has been puzzling just about everyone all season. Any fears there is some sort of conflict with the manager were dispelled both before he came on and after the game, when Cook hugged him and they had a laugh going down the tunnel. I can only assume Callum has some sort of injury issue which prevents him playing 90 minutes. We are required to have a home-grown player in every matchday squad, and Callum fits that description. If he’s happy playing a bit part, then all credit to him for not being a diva. It’s also starting to look like we keep rushing Nick Powell back into the team before he’s fully fit. He needs to get over whatever is troubling him, and if that means he’s out until Christmas, so be it. If we can get him back fully fit in January, I think everybody will be okay with that. Better that than him playing 10 minutes and then missing three games every time he comes back.

And now on to an ongoing subject in my contributions here...the new owners. Has anybody ever seen any kind of takeover where the new owners have absolutely no interaction with fans? All we’ve seen is very planned “interviews” with the local press or the official website. There has been no meaningful attempt to engage in any way whatsoever. I’d have thought a “Hello” email might have been the least of it, but the silence is disappointing and not a little suspicious. I’ve been wary of the takeover, and new owners, since day one, and their actions since the deal completed hasn’t done anything to allay that feeling. I’ve always said if I’m wrong about the takeover being more than we are being told then I’ll be happy to say so. So far, though, I’m not sure I am.

And has anybody drawn a moustache and glasses on the “art” in the South Stand yet...?

STUART GLOVER: I’ve said it before, and no doubt I will say it again...I love the passion that exists in football! Other sports have spectators, but football has fans. Fanatics, who genuinely believe they are impacting the game and affecting the result. And the passion is never stronger when things are going badly. We shouldn’t dwell on it, but if you remember the back pass Dan Burn played early in his Latics career at Nottingham Forest, you may also remember the abject anger of the fans a few metres away. Genuine frustration and disappointment. That is the passion that football generates. It is also seen when good things happen. Over the years I have been in many crowds that have suddenly exploded in celebration. The Duke’s equaliser at Stoke. Jordy Hiwula’s winner at Chesterfield. Obviously ‘that’ goal at Wembley. And my personal favourite...for the sheer exuberance of celebration...Jason Robert’s goal at Highbury.

But another way this passion manifests itself is when people question the team selection and tactics of the manager. In the modern game, it is very difficult to run an unchanged team in every game even if injuries are avoided. Unfortunately, Wigan haven’t avoided injuries and have been hit quite hard in recent weeks. We also have players who can offer different things to the team. For example, Joe Garner gives a much more physical presence up front than our other options, especially when Will Grigg is out. This can be useful in some games, even if he is struggling personally to find the net. It is very reassuring the changes Paul Cook makes, and his selection decisions are more often right than wrong.

I remember Paul Jewell starting Neil Roberts ahead of a returning Andy Liddell in a game in 2002. It seemed a very odd decision, even surprising Roberts himself. After failing to convert two chances, the crowd started chanting Liddell’s name. But by the time Sir Andy did come on, Roberts had already scored a spectacular winner. Good managers get the decisions right – not all the time – but more often than not. Cook is a good manager and he has shown on a number of occasions this season that, when we think he is wrong, he hasn’t lost the plot. So it was good that Gary Roberts and James Vaughan scored and performed well on Wednesday night in our excellent win over Blackburn. There may be better players than them at the club, but Michael Jacobs and Grigg are not fully available right now. We should be grateful we have players like these to call upon. Roberts is used to playing the occasional game, but Vaughan might be the sort of player who needs a run in the side to get some form going. Unfortunately that is unlikely to happen while Grigg is at the club. Josh Windass seems to be one of those players who will have some very good games and some pretty ordinary ones.

The mood in ‘Latics-world’ has changed again. It was inevitable there would be some pessimism after a pretty long run of defeats, even though most of those were against very good teams who will be challenging for promotion come the end of the season. That losing run ended on Saturday but, despite being the better side, we just couldn’t take any of our chances against Reading. If we had had a little more composure in front of goal, we could have had three before half-time, and it would have been a comfortable win.

But we didn’t, and it wasn’t. And it felt like an even more frustrating draw because we didn’t. But Wednesday changed it all. It feels a lot more positive now. A very good performance and a great result will have that effect. It is not about being fickle, it just comes from the passion of football fans – and we shouldn’t want it any other way. We love the passion when things are going well, so we have to accept the frustration and complaints when they aren’t. Passion is what makes football unique, and one of the reasons why we love being football fans. The positive vibe will continue if we can beat the old enemy on Saturday. They are in terrible form and it should be a straight-forward win. But then again, the recent game at Preston should have been straight forward as well. We can take nothing for granted, but we can be sure the supporters will be as passionate as ever and that the result will affect the mood of Latics fans in an extreme way!

KIERAN MAKIN: Isn’t it funny what a week can do in football? Or a few days, actually. The recent international break was much-needed following four defeats on the spin – the majority at the hands of some of the big boys in this league (Leeds, Sheffield United, Middlesbrough etc.) who were all very complimentary about our approach and style of play. Unfortunately, praise doesn’t win you points – and it certainly doesn’t keep you in the Championship. I know Paul Cook likes to play the ‘take each game as it comes’ card, but in his heart of hearts he will have been targeting this week for some vital results.

Admittedly, the 0-0 draw against Reading wasn’t a great performance. Equally, we created the better chances and probably should have won, but at least we stopped the rot and kept another clean sheet at home. I went into the midweek victory over Blackburn with the mindset of ‘just don’t lose’, because I didn’t want us to be under huge pressure going into the derby at Bolton this weekend. Not only did we not lose, we absolutely battered them. In truth, 3-1 flattered Blackburn and didn’t do us justice. It could and should have been five or six.

Now the complexion of the Bolton game and the season seems to have changed. Confidence has been restored and we can go to our struggling rivals with a real sense of optimism, despite our recent away form. I’d just like to finish this week’s piece by saying I’m absolutely made up for Callum McManaman. He’s had a tough time since coming back to the club, but he’s sat on the bench, been patient and now he’s started to get his chances off the bench. Scoring will not have done his chances of featuring at Bolton any harm either.

JOE O’NEIL: Football is a funny old game isn’t it? It’s also bizarre how one victory can change your entire outlook. When you look back just a few games ago, it seemed all doom and gloom, in some quarters, as we were frantically searching for a victory. However, after Wednesday night’s 3-1 win over local rivals Blackburn, the whole mood has changed. Now confidence is high as we make the short trip to Bolton. Firstly, the victory over Blackburn was as dominant as I have seen from us for a while.

The success of Wednesday should raise numerous factors for Paul Cook and co. Just how well we can play when we’re at it from the outset. Switching Nathan Byrne and Gary Roberts on opposing wings worked a treat, and equally how better our midfield balance was with Lee Evans alongside Sam Morsy – who did a stella of a job to keep Bradley Dack quiet for most if not all of the evening? With fan-favourite Callum McManaman back among the goals, it surely set supporters into a buoyant mood heading to Bolton this weekend.