Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man!

Nick Powell and Will Grigg
Nick Powell and Will Grigg

The 12th Man: Wigan Athletic fans have their say ahead of a derby-day trip to Preston

STUART GLOVER: Two wrongs don’t make a right. However, the referee at Carrow Road seemed to forget this fact last Saturday. The penalty he gave, from which Norwich scored the winner, was very soft. I have looked at clips of it several times and, unless there is the slightest tug of a shirt somewhere, it is hard to see why it was deemed to be a foul. Obviously we don’t know what went through the officials mind at the time, but it is difficult to see it as anything but a thinly-veiled apology for the blatant penalty he didn’t give the Canaries in the first half. To be fair, Chey Dunkley’s first-half challenge was perfectly timed. When I say that, I don’t mean it was a good challenge – it was as clear a foul as you’ll see. But Dunkley, a man well-known for being proficient in the tackle, timed the foul so perfectly that the referee had a poor view of it. Whether on purpose or, more realistically entirely by chance, he left the official with a decision to make. And when you force them to make a decision, there is always that chance the decision might go your way. The old football cliche is that these sort of refereeing errors even themselves out over the course of a season. And while this referee seemed to even his errors out over the course of one game, it cannot be right for officials to give incorrect decisions, simply to try and atone for earlier errors they feel that they may have made. The other thing that caught my attention this week is that it’s amazing how quick expectations change. At the start of the season, most Latics fans were predicting that, come May, we would finish the campaign a few places above the relegation zone. And that they would be happy with that. That would, of course, mean losing most of our games. However, having been in the play-offs already this season – and indeed just two points off the top of the league – expectations have changed and we are now seemingly expected to win every single game! Obviously there is nothing wrong with ambition. We have had a great start to the season, and I have also revised my expectations. But we need to remember which league we are playing in. This is a very competitive league – probably the most competitive league in the world. These are all good teams we are competing with. Steve Bruce, the manager of a very good Aston Villa side when they beat us earlier in the season, has just been sacked as manager of an apparently poor Aston Villa side. Even though they themselves are only two points below us. Things can change quickly. No games are easy. Even those teams who are below you in the table can still give you a good tough game. That even includes bottom-of-the-table Preston, who many thought would have another good season. They have really struggled so far this term, while we have really attacked this division and had a good return for doing so. But we should expect a very tough competitive game in this eagerly awaited “minor derby”. Who am I kidding? We’re going to absolutely take them apart and destroy them! And it’s going to be a fantastic day on Saturday.

SEAN LIVESEY: Fine margins is an often overused phrase. It’s also one that often irks me. Probably due to its overuse by certain Wigan Athletic managers that should be left firmly in the past – I’m looking at you Malky, Warren and Owen. But for this week at least, fine margins is most definitely a suitable phrase. After the two consecutive home wins over Hull and Bristol City Latics made the long trip south to Norwich with confidence of making it three wins in a row. Our relatively terrible record should have made the Latics faithful think again. But with the form we’ve been in lately, anything is possible. In a generally cagey game with few chances for either side, Wigan could and should have won it with a number of chances towards the end of the second half. Nonetheless as the clock ticked down to 85 minutes, Latics would have been heartened by a valuable point and another clean sheet from a constantly improving defence. I’ve yet to find a suitable explanation for why a penalty was awarded so late in the game. The only feasible explanation is that the referee felt he needed to make amends after incorrectly not awarding a penalty against Latics in the first half. There felt a real sense of injustice after Saturday’s game that a refereeing decision had robbed Latics of a point they should have gained – regardless of how well they played. It was good to see the lads follow up that disappointment with another positive result at home against one of the better sides we’ve faced this season. Swansea are a team still full of Premier League class with attacking talent all over the pitch. Any side that can bring on three substitutes like Martin Olsson, Wayne Routledge and Leroy Fer are a side to be reckoned with. And Latics once again showed their defensive resolve with Chey Dunkley and the improving Cedric Kipre making numerous match-saving interceptions. A word of credit should also go to Reece James. At 18 years of age, the lad looks like he’s been playing at this level for years, and will surely go on to much bigger and better things. Nick Powell made his first start as captain, and once again was absolutely central to everything good about our play. One can only hope a new contract is just around the corner for the mercurial talent. Will Grigg stepped up his return from injury and immediately we looked a far stronger attacking threat. As hard as Joe Garner works, Grigg adds that extra bit of class to our link-up play. He could and probably should have sealed a win when he was played through, but an excellent save from Swansea prevented another home win for Paul Cook’s men. Still a point against Swansea is not to be sniffed at and, with close to 4000 Wiganers travelling to Deepdale on Saturday, confidence is high. Undefeated at home and only a point away from a play-off place is a very good return so far. Let’s hope the lads can keep it up as we head in to the autumn – and who knows where this season could take us.

PAUL MIDDLETON: It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that we’re a bigger threat going forward with Will Grigg in the team than we are without. Yes, he missed a great chance on Tuesday, but the fact is he was in that position in the first place. That’s what natural centre-forwards do. They read the game and understand what might happen. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t, but you still have to be there when it does. The worry is it looks we’ve no natural replacement should Grigg get injured or just even need a break. As good as Grigg is, and as prolific as he has been for Latics during his time here, he’s not indestructible. If he does get injured, our options, whether short or long term are very limited. There’s also no easy fix. Good strikers cost money, which we haven’t got. Good strikers also don’t generally sign for Latics just to come on after 80 minutes. Fortunately, it’s also not my job to fix it. Instead, I’m lucky enough to get to moan about it without ever offering any kind of solutions. That’s really how writing on any topic works now. We don’t need answers, we just need to throw burning questions into a bucket of petrol and then moan about how warm it’s getting. In other news, it appears the long-time fawning by Wigan Council over our local rugby team shows no signs of abating. For years, the council refused to let Latics use the whole ground for matches, and made everything as difficult as possible for our club. Recently they have as good as gifted Robin Park to the Warriors AND given the money for £6million of improvements to be made. In effect the council have simply handed over to the current lease of a publicly-owned facility to a private company, and then paid them for the privilege. The council say the community will still have access to all the facilities of Robin Park. Except, presumably, the ones in use by the rugby on a daily basis. It would be nice to think Wigan Council would at least try to be neutral in their approach to the town’s various sporting organisations. Yes, I know...sorry. Who knows, if we ever get back to the Premier League, we might see the mayor on a barge on the canal again, claiming to be a lifelong fan.

KIERAN MAKIN: I have to start by saying Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Norwich was the first time I have been disappointed with us this season. Yes we had lost previously, especially on the road, but that visit to Carrow Road was the first time we didn’t perform this season. For example, we were defeated late on at Aston Villa, but our performance meant we could take confidence into our next games. I know we lost to the Canaries because of a soft penalty, but Chey Dunkley did get away with one in the first half. Our lack of at least one shot on target in the whole game meant a draw couldn’t really be justified in my eyes. However, it was a quick turnaround, as it always is in the Championship, for our home game with Swansea on Tuesday night. Now, if you understand your football then you know that was a very good point against a top side who should be right in the promotion mix come the end of the season. They passed the ball crisply with attacking intent and during one spell they threatened to blow us away. Our lads dug in, adapted extremely well and almost stole all three points. It’s easy to get carried away with the euphoria of our start to this campaign, but criticising the performance against the Swans is madness, absolute madness. We’re currently sat ninth in the league! Just sit back and really digest that for a moment. Paul Cook and his staff are working wonders. If someone offered you 10 points clear of the relegation zone, and just five points off the automatic promotion places after 11 games, you would have snapped their hand off.

JOE O’NEIL: It’s now 13 matches unbeaten in the league at fortress DW after a draw against Swansea on Tuesday evening. The Swans, are without doubt the best footballing side I have seen in the Championship thus far this season, which speaks volumes at just how far we have come under the management of Paul Cook. If we had played that fixture under the tenure of Warren Joyce, it most probably would have ended in defeat. But on Tuesday night, it was another gutsy defensive display with last-ditch challenges, and Christian Walton producing a string of fine saves. Reece James is also becoming a fine footballer. Every match he seems to just rise to the occasion, and it’s still surprising just how well he’s playing at the age of 18. Without doubt the Chelsea loanee has a very bright future ahead of him. Plus, we could have and should have taken all three points if Will Grigg had been on fire! Nevertheless, a small matter of Preston away awaits the blue-and-white army tomorrow, with over 3,500 Wiganers making the short journey up the M6. It is also my birthday, so all I want is three points as we head into the international break!

MARTIN TARBUCK: Yep I’m talking crowds again! Mine host of this column, Mr Kendrick, recently did a poll on Twitter regarding how people watched or listened to the Swansea game. Twenty four hours later and we find 63 per cent of people were at the DW but another 23 per cent chose to watch the game view the Sky red button, and 10 per cent via the Latics’ own iFollow platform. If we are to assume Kendo’s followers are representative of Latics followers as a whole, this is indeed a worrying trend. It suggests one out of every four fans, or even one out of every three including iFollow subscribers, chooses to watch midweek games online rather than in the flesh. We all know we get it in the neck more so than any other club about our support, and there’s no point combing over the many contributing factors again but this red button malarkey is once again hitting clubs in the pockets. Of course, the above poll excludes people who didn’t watch the match at all, due to working shifts or whatever and of course, we are assuming everyone who did watch the game online has done so via legitimate sources. You have undoubtedly got people who live too remotely to attend a midweek game and, for them, streaming the game is a godsend. But putting a figure on the ones who do live locally and can feed football to a family of four for a tenner is critical to understanding why our crowds are lower this time around in the Championship. Do the maths and you can’t really blame people to a certain extent for parting with a tenner rather than spending £50 or £60 in this scenario. The red button generates lots of revenue but that revenue does not flow through to the home club and, even if it did, the club would still end up out of pocket. The club could drop prices, matching or even going lower than the magic button, but are there even any guarantees there? Probably not given the marginally better attendance at home against Bristol City. Then there’s the Saturday pricing, not many home fans will be splashing out at £30 a head to watch us take on West Brom I’d imagine. But most sensible fans know why we do so in these games, because the club can guarantee 5,000 tickets sold by away fans at that price. Essentially, dropping the price guarantees nothing but all points to lower revenue after all. What a pickle! Coverage of football has come a long way since that three-hour end of season VHS video with grainy goal footage I used to pick up from Micron on Gidlow Lane and take home to devour over and over again in the Eighties. Is it for the better? Well, I’ll leave that for you to decide. Yet, the old taunt of “our ground’s too big for us” is going to be exacerbated even further as other forms of media become more prevalent in sports coverage. I uncovered a marvellous stat a while ago, which is also incredibly frightening – of the 200 million (across the world) who watch English football each week, only 0.16 per cent (around 350,000) actually attend in person. So if you’re wondering why the TV companies and the FA/EFL don’t care about matc- going fans, well why should they? Who gears a business plan up to satisfy such a tiny minority? Of course, we can provide a short-term remedy to this on Saturday as close to 4,000 Latics fans head to Deepdale. Now I know some clubs will take more there, and indeed here. Yet I doubt many clubs will take nearly 50 per cent of their home support to an away game this year, so full credit to every one of us who is going. Hopefully we can make a right racket and get a performance to match.