Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man
Our panel of Latics experts use the international break to bask in the glory of a derby-day demolition of Bolton Wanderers, which opened up a three-point gap to the drop zone - with only eight matches to go...
STUART GLOVER: And relax! That all feels a bit better doesn’t it. Like taking off tight shoes. It’s amazing what a win can do for the sense of optimism and a bit of confidence. Especially a 5-2 win. Against your biggest rivals. It is also worth noting that in that ridiculous third goal, we may have witnessed one of the greatest moments in club history outside of cup competitions. OK, maybe not, but it was up there. I remember a game against Preston at Springfield Park when Tony Pennock, seeing that the linesman (for that is what they were called in those days) had flagged for offside, rolled the ball out for the free kick, only to see the Preston player lob the ball back over his head and into the goal as the referee had waved play on. The anger and sense of injustice was clear. Just as clear as the utter delight on the away fans faces. Yet that goal on Saturday was worse for them. And even better for us. Yet, of course, while it made us all feel absolutely wonderful, and the three points are very useful, that win hasn’t substantially changed much at all. Latics are still absolutely in the middle of a huge relegation scrap. So how many more points are required to secure Championship football next season? I would think two more wins would do it. I struggle to see Rotherham winning three more this season. So, if that is correct, and my predictions very rarely are, where are those wins coming from? Well the obvious answer is the DW Stadium. With such a wretched away record we will have to win our home games. Millwall looks like our most winnable home game but we do not want to leave it until the last game, so let’s look for two before then. Norwich doesn’t strike me as a main contender and so we will have to win the other two. Brentford this weekend then becomes another massive game. Virtually must win, unless we can find it within ourselves to pick up a win or a few draws on the road. And then there is Preston. They are currently in terrific form. But we owe them for Deepdale. That is another game, like last Saturday, looking like it could be unbelievably big. Another huge game against a local rival. I firmly believe that rivalries are good for football. They keep the passion levels high and make games more interesting. Even when your team is doing badly, you can get great satisfaction from your rivals doing even worse. That is why I am glad our friends from Horwich were not wound up when in the High Court. While that may not have been the most likely scenario it is never safe to assume anything when football clubs reach this stage in the legal process. Especially when they have been here several times before in recent years. While I do not want them to be successful, I certainly do not want them to be liquidated. Where would the fun be then? Not just because we’d lose four points this season (over 10 per cent of our total) if their results were removed from the records, while many of our rivals would lose fewer points, bringing us further back into the relegation mix. But also because you can’t enjoy beating your rivals 5-2 if your rivals no longer exist! Truly wonderful moments like their goalkeeper rolling the ball out to one of your players lost forever! Remember that while it is great to beat your rivals, it is even better to get points off them through goals that they think were unjust or absolute catastrophes. This season, with Grigg’s penalty at Horwich and Powell’s tap on Saturday we have taken four points off them while doing both. Perhaps it’s not been such a bad season after all! Saturday was really good fun. Imagine if it had never happened. Imagine if it could simply never happen again. That would be a shame. So with them facing a return date in court in just under two weeks’ time, I hope that there is enough of a solution so that the threat of total annihilation is removed.
MARTIN HOLDEN: Never mind the Brexit madness, what about this last week in the Championship? We have had everything, from the complete destruction of our local rivals in a derby to remember for so many reasons, to the possibility of the same local rivals being placed into administration and then liquidated meaning we would actually lose four points and be dropped right in it, to a team well away from us in Birmingham losing nine points and being drawn right in with us too. Madness! But let’s get right back to that game last weekend – if you cannot enjoy such an emphatic win against Bolton as a Latics fan then it truly is time to pack up and go and watch something else. I have written for weeks saying we were creating chances but not taking them, I wrote we should give Joe Garner more game time and I thought we had a team of scrappers – and it all came together in one 90 minutes of complete enjoyment. I was happy with the selection of the team, perhaps a raised eyebrow on Jamie Jones losing his place, but the team looked like an attacking one – and attack we did, on the front foot from the off and Garner showed why we shelled out the money for him last summer – a great forward’s performance for so many reasons. OK the opposition were terrible, absolutely shocking, even gifting us a goal in a moment of pure comedy gold with Nick Powell stroking it into an empty unguarded net – surely has to be voted Goal of Season now – I can’t stop watching it and laughing out loud. Adding to the comedy, Garner’s celebration before Michael Jacobs had even taken the shot was also just ace and something you only spotted on replays the day after. I will touch on the behavior of the fans - everyone will have seen the social media side of the coverage. Derby matches always have that edge. Sure enough it was hostile and there was fighting around the ground during and after the match, but it isn’t anything like the old days – I was on Springfield Park when Bradford City were hurling blocks of concrete and bricks over towards the home fans and wrecking First Avenue, I was stood on the terraces when Millwall invaded and a lad ran past me with a blade out … those were the bad old days and we are still a million miles away from all that. Lessons need to be learned and perhaps sheeting off ES1 might have been a good start from the matchday controllers, but I guess you can’t plan for everything. Bolton could be back in court in two weeks time unless Ken’s “mystery buyer” comes up with the goods. If they don’t get bought out and do go back to court then they will be liquidated for sure and under EFL rules we will lose our points against them this year (-4) and that will drop us right back in the mire.
PAUL MIDDLETON: One swallow, as they say, does not a summer make. Yes, last Saturday was one of the best days we’ve had in ages. Probably the best this season, if we’re all honest. But, despite the great win, and an atmosphere we haven’t had at home since the last Manchester City game, I fear much of it was papering over the cracks. Bolton, let’s be honest, were awful and yet they still scored two against us. Our inability to stay cohesive in defence is going to be the single biggest factor in our relegation, should that happen. Even though we should have cruised home, for long periods of the second half, we were hanging on against a team who could be forgiven for really not being bothered. Paul Cook’s substitutions, yet again, proved mystifying. Taking Nick Powell and Joe Garner off when Gavin Massey was clearly out of legs was a bizarre move from Cook. He brought Massey off a little later, but how could he not see what was blindingly obvious to everyone else in the stadium? Also, by bringing Powell and Garner off, Bolton knew there was no longer much of an attacking threat. Had they not been having to push for goals themselves, we wouldn’t have ended up with five. Why even bring Powell off? He has a fortnight’s break now, thanks to the international break, so let him go for as long as he physically can. A player will never get match fit by never actually playing a full match. Oh, and taking Powell and Garner off for Darron Gibson and Leon Clarke. It’s like Cook was deliberately trying to lose. So yes, it was a good day but no, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Against a good team, things would not have turned out as they did. And should the circus from over Westhoughton way manage to shut the doors before the end of the season, by the way, we will lose all the four points we’ve taken off them this year. As much as it would give us all a big laugh, we need them to stick around until May. Darren Royle and Jonathan Jackson appeared on BBC Radio Manchester on Wednesday night, to answer questions from fans. To say they answered with a straight bat every single time would be an understatement. I wouldn’t expect much in the way of candid answers, to be honest, but the sum total of any kind of relevant news or information from the club over the last five months has been less than nothing. Still, all this time after the takeover was completed, we still don’t really know what the plan if, even if there is one. We get vague comments about the academy and, well, that’s about it. I’ve been through more than one crisis in my 42 years of watching Latics, but few periods have been as frustrating as the last year or two. A string of managers of dubious talent, and now owners who seem to want to do everything other than actually run a football club. Latics used to be a club which was wholly attached to the fanbase. Now, it seems that we are no more than a necessary evil, such is the reluctance by the club to engage in any meaningful way. At least the rugby men are giving us all a chuckle, so that’s something. Joint bottom of the league and a Central Park legend saying he wants nothing to do with them, even after previously agreeing to be the coach next season. We can be thankful for that bit of light relief, at least.
SEAN LIVESEY: If ever a victory was needed Saturday was it, relegation wouldn’t have been confirmed if we had failed to beat Bolton but the damage wrought by a defeat to our nearest rivals could well have been terminal. Terminal for our survival prospects and rightly or wrongly terminal for Paul Cook’s future as Wigan Athletic manager. Tension had been bubbling away for the best part of a week. The heavy defeat to Blackburn had made this match do or die. Cook’s pre match press conference - usually good natured was a tetchy affair. It’s clear the situation was getting to even the coolest heads in the room. Luckily for us Latics turned in one of their best performances in recent weeks to put Bolton to the sword. Gone was the defensive style employed against both Middlesbrough and Ipswich in recent home games, instead Latics showed a return to their early season form. The impressive Joe Garner gave Latics the perfect start, heading in the first goal within four minutes. An early goal will always settle the nerves and the relief from all around the DW was clear to see. If not for the torrential downpours and horrific conditions coupled with some last ditch Bolton defending Cook’s side could have been further ahead. As it transpired a narrow 1-0 lead was all we took in to half time. No worries though as Latucs turned it up a notch in the second half. The impressive Gavin Massey made it 2-0 with a fantastic run and goal. The afternoon took another bizarre twist as Michael Jacobs, jogging back in to position spied his chance - dispossessing Bolton’s hapless goalkeeper Remi Matthews before squaring to Nick Powell for one of the funniest goals you’ll see this season. I say funny, I’m not sure our friends from over the hill thought as much. Despite pulling one back, Latics would soon get further ahead with the impressive Michael Jacobs being denied twice in two minutes before scoring a stunning goal to restore Latics’ three goal advantage. Leon Clarke would complete the scoring as an impressive Latics side scored five goals for the first time this season. In the process they seem to have all but relegated Bolton Wanderers in the process. As Latics fans sang in the rain at full time you would be forgiven for wondering ‘pressure – what pressure’? But that pressure on Paul Cook and his side was there for a reason. It was there because despite Latics often dominating games they had failed to be as clinical as they were on Saturday afternoon. The pressure was there because despite Latics formidable home record, away from home Cook’s side simply haven’t been good enough. All of these things of course can be worked on, and although survival is by no means secured yet Latics made a huge stride towards safety on Saturday afternoon. With Ipswich and Bolton seemingly down we are looking at one relegation spot for four teams – Reading, Rotherham, Millwall and ourselves. Whatever we do we have to make sure we’re not included in that four. With a week off it gives Cook a great chance to get those players not on international duty recovered and fighting fit for the final eight matches of the season. We’re nearly over the line – if we can replicate Saturday’s performance over the next six weeks we’ll be looking at another season of Championship football in 2019/20. Which is what everyone wanted at the start of the season.