12th Man: Worried Yet?

Worried yet?

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The curse of the BBC struck at the DW on Saturday afternoon, for the fourth time this season Latics were the featured game on the Football League show and for the fourth time we suffered defeat. This time meaning the end of our un-beaten home record, there were some other interesting stats that came out of this loss. We have now lost three league games ahead of our Europa League commitments, only once have we picked up a win before the European games and that win over Huddersfield was followed by a loss to Rubin Kazan.

Europe comes in to sharp focus on Thursday night after what was a wholly disappointing performance on Saturday afternoon, the first half had started well for Owen Coyle’s side as a number of chances were created but once again an inability to finish meant that we were always susceptible to a Brighton attack that had scored six goals in their previous two games.

As it happened Wigan could and should have gone ahead, Grant Holt will be kicking himself after missing a gilt edged chance to put the Latics ahead which surely would have meant that another three points were heading our way. Grant hasn’t had an easy time of it since joining Wigan, injuries and a lack of fitness have contributed to a poor return on the £2.5million investment. Owen Coyle remains convinced he will score goals at this level, which is admirable but I have a nagging doubt about the Burly Cumbrian, he has all the pedigree to succeed with us and will hopefully be given time to make an impression.

It isn’t all doom and gloom at the DW, this season was always going to be an up-hill battle and the management have definitely put together a squad capable of doing well on both fronts, which makes the recent performances that touch more disappointing. Of course all of that will be forgotten on Thursday night if Latics can manage to get their second win in European competition and overcome Belgian league leaders Zulte Waregem. With Maribor facing Kazan earlier that evening we could have qualified for the knock-out stages of the Europa League by the end of play on Thursday evening.

Owen will no doubt shuffle his pack and I would hope to see the likes of Jean Beausejour and Roger Espinoza come in to freshen up a side that looked out on their feet on Saturday afternoon. With Marc Albrighton ineligible this would be the perfect time for Beausejour to come back in to the side and show the same sort of class he did against England at Wembley earlier this month.

Whatever happens on Thursday let’s get behind the lads and make it a night to remember.

Originally published in the Wigan Evening Post – Wednesday 27 – November

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12th Man: Defining Times

Each week in this column it feels that I’m speaking about the next defining game for Latics, but the week ahead could definitely define our season. We come out of the international break with two league wins out of our previous two, both hard fought results over Huddersfield and Yeovil that have pushed us to within touching distance of the play-offs.

If we can continue that good form against Oscar Garcia’s Brighton this Saturday we’ll be in a good position as we enter a ridiculously busy December with nine fixtures including both league and European commitments. Brighton will be a tough prospect; Garcia comes from the same school of thought as Roberto Martinez, Pep Guardiola and the ilk. Schooled by his mentor Johan Cruyff, Garcia had three successful years managing Barcelona’s youth academy before moving to Israel and winning the Israeli Premier League with Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Oscar Garcia

After a difficult start to his Brighton managerial career the former Barcelona midfielder has taken Brighton up to 11th place, sitting one point and one place behind the Latics. Unbeaten in four games and scoring six goals in their last two games our defensive unit will have to stand firm against Brighton’s attacking threat.

It isn’t outlandish to imagine Oscar Garcia stood in the home dugout this Saturday, his philosophy matches that of Roberto and he would have been a natural successor to his fellow Catalan, but perhaps philosophy isn’t what we need now. If we want to return to the Premier League as soon as possible and more pragmatic approach may be needed, Owen Coyle represents that. We won’t know whether that has been the right decision until later in the season.

Following on from Brighton on Saturday attention’s turn to the crucial Europa League game against Zulte Waregem, a favourable result against the Belgium side will see Owen Coyle’s side qualify for the latter stages of the Europa League with some glamour sides to drop in to the Europa League in readiness for the knock out stages it would be an apt reward for the club. But to achieve that they need to keep up their outstanding home form, where away games have been laboured and arguably too defensive our home form has little that we can complain about.

If we keep up the performance levels from Huddersfield and Yeovil in the next two games we could be looking at a successful week for the Latics.

The international break reminded us of the qualities of Jean Beausejour, often maligned by the DW faithful (unfairly in my eyes) put in man of the match performance as Chile put England to the sword. Playing a quality pressing and passing game Chile totally out classed England at Wembley and Beausejour was central to that.

If Owen Coyle can get Jean playing to that standard for Latics over the next few weeks the side will be the better for it.

Originally published in the Wigan Evening Post – Wednesday 20 – November

12th Man: The week that was

Ben Watson, Marc Antoine Fortune, Chris McCann

In the end it was a satisfying seven days for Wigan Athletic, un-lucky not to come away from Russia with a point the side made sure they got all three from a particularly tricky trip to deepest Somerset.

Looking at the historic trip to Kazan first; Owen Coyle declared himself happy with the ‘mature European’ performance. In the end a 0-1 defeat to a team unbeaten at home in European competition for so long can’t really be considered a poor result. Latics were poor in the first half, they struggled to get a foot hold in the game and Kazan’s slick passing game led to an early defensive lapse and goal for the Russian side. Maybe Coyle’s side could be accused of showing too much respect to their opponents but as the first half went on Latics showed that they could live with the Russian side.

Ultimately it was once again the poor finishing that let the side down and meant that there was to be no repeat of the score line at the DW a few weeks ago. Immediately after the game it felt like a severe blow to our hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages of the competition but thanks to the result between Zulte Waregem and Maribor we could qualify by beating Zulte Waregem at the DW. Any Wigan fan who had been offered a chance like that would surely have taken it once the group had been announced.

The heavy travelling of last week continued as Latics finally got back to winning ways on the road against Championship newcomers Yeovil. Over 600 travelled down to Yeovil quite a feat considering the lack of public transport and the distances involved, many of those present at Yeovil had also been in Russia on Thursday showing once again the commitment from our supporters.

From a personal point of view it was nice to visit Yeovil and be able to come away with all three points, once again the game started slowly for Latics. No doubt due to a combination of travelling and a number of changes to the starting line-up. But once Latics got to grips with those issues they were by far the better side. I’ve never seen so many last ditch goal line clearances from an opposing side and on another day it could have been 3 or 4.

Grant Holt’s deft turn and run in to the area was the sort of thing we had expected from the burly striker ever since his arrival from Norwich and hopefully we can keep both him and Marc Antoine Fortune fit to aid that promotion push.

So back in to the top ten and potentially one win away from qualifying for the knock out stages of the Europa League. It’s not been a bad week.

Originally published in the Wigan Evening Post – Wednesday 13 – November

12th Man: Stepping in to the unknown

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Wigan flags offer a taste of home in Eastern Russia

In a year of history making moments Thursday night represents one of the biggest steps in history for Wigan Athletic as they face Rubin Kazan.

When the draw was made Europe’s most easterly club wouldn’t have been high on the list of ‘wants’ for the Wigan Athletic faithful but in true Latics style the tie has been embraced by Latics fans and there should be a sizeable following in Russia for the game.

Just read that last line back to yourself, a sizeable following in Russia to watch Wigan Athletic a sentence that you certainly wouldn’t have thought possible when we laboured past Bournemouth in the FA Cup third round little over a year ago.

So what of Latics chances in The Republic of Tatarstan? Rubin Kazan aren’t in the best of form in their domestic league, they have only one win in their last five league games and were knocked out of the Russian cup last week.

But it’s the Europa League where Rubin truly make their mark, it was an un-expected point that Owen Coyle’s men gained at home to the Russian side little over a week ago. If the lads can get the same result this time it will be a remarkable result, Kazan are un-beaten at home in 22 European games and will be fully expecting to win this game and cement their place at the top of Group D.

This Wigan Athletic side as of those under Paul Jewell, Steve Bruce and Roberto Martinez very rarely follow the script. After a hard fought victory against Huddersfield on Saturday and a long trip to Yeovil on Sunday Coyle will no doubt shift his pack and that should see game time for the likes of Roger Espinoza, Thomas Rogne, James McClean and Jean Beasuejour. Espinoza in particular will be eager to impress.

Rubin Kazan's impeding Central Stadium.

Rubin Kazan’s impeding Central Stadium.

So another week another historic moment, get anything from this one and we could well be looking at qualification for the latter stages of the Europa League. Who would have said that last year?

Originally published in the Wigan Evening Post – Wednesday 06 – November