12th Man: Take it to the last day

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Eight months, eighteen games and a whole host of heartache since our last home win was put behind us on Saturday as a battling Wigan Athletic kept alive their extremely slim chances of survival with a 2-1 victory over Brighton.

It was good to see Gary Caldwell get his first win as Wigan Athletic boss at home, our home form feels like it has been a noose around our neck for too long this season and for Caldwell to start off at home with a win will do him and the side a world of good.

Realistically it’s too late for us now and it’s all about finishing the season off positively whilst building for next season but who knows what will happen over the next two weeks. The sensible money will be on either Rotherham or Millwall winning the battle to stay up even with a potential point deduction for Rotherham they’re in a much stronger position going in to the final week of the season than the Latics are but there’s a belief about this new Wigan Athletic.

That belief was shown in the video that was produced for the players ahead of the game against Brighton under instruction from Gary Caldwell and Graham Barrow, with such a new squad it’s important that they realise just what Wigan Athletic means and I couldn’t help but be inspired by that video if the players felt the same it was definitely worth doing.

Gary Caldwell along with David Sharpe has impressed in his first few weeks in the job and that was driven home by the performance on Saturday, Latics tried to play attacking passing football and you couldn’t help but make comparisons with Roberto Martinez’s Wigan Athletic. Although we’re a while away from that it was good to see us try to play football as oppose to the style of play we had been treated to in recent weeks.

Finally a word of congratulations should go to Tim Chow, if anything sums up Mackay’s time in charge of Wigan Athletic its Tim Chow. Told he was being released by Mackay he has been given a reprieve by Caldwell and shown the quality that has made him such a bright prospect over the last few years. He has grasped his chance with both hands and deserved all the plaudits he received on Saturday. Whether in League One as is likely or the Championship next season’s side will be built around the likes of Tim.

So on to Wolves it won’t be easy with Kenny Jackett’s side still chasing a play-off place but if we can get a second home win in as many weeks who knows what may happen this season.

Come on Wigan – let’s take it to the final day.

SEAN LIVESEY

12th Man: Can it get any worse?

James McCleanI feel like these articles have become the equivalent of a broken record over the last few months. Once again we as supporters hope that we’re about to turn the corner and once again the players and the management fail to live up to our expectations.

Owen Coyle said that Wigan Athletic fans had un-realistic expectations just before he relinquished his role as Wigan Athletic manager Owen probably had more of an idea what he meant than Wigan Athletic supporters but at the moment Wigan Athletic fans only expectation is of a team willing to give a 100% each time they step out on to the pitch. Sadly that is far from being the case with this current Wigan Athletic side.

Where has it gone so wrong for the Latics over the last few months? Is it really nine short months since Wigan looked on course for a second consecutive FA Cup final and a quick return to the Premier League? A series of disastrous decisions following last spring has taken us to the current situation and it really is difficult to see a route out of our current situation.

The appointment of Malky Mackay is looking more disastrous with every week – tactics are confusing, selections are baffling and certain players are being marginalised. Far more than they ever were under Uwe Rosler, if survival was the aim of the game this season we should have kept with the aforementioned Uwe as I refuse to believe he would have overseen such a disastrous spell of games. Nine games, one win, one draw and a huge seven losses – for a new manager who traditionally receive some sort of bounce it makes for sorry reading.

Malky Mackay has continually stated that he makes his selections based on the players who impress him during training. The selection of Liam Ridgewell couldn’t have been based on training alone, if Mackay had judged the centre-back in training he would have seen he was woefully short of match practice and in term playing time with his new team mates.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Liam Ridgewell had a nightmare debut at Birmingham and it isn’t fair to lay the blame at the player, his primary focus is to spend six weeks with Wigan Athletic to get fit in order to return in time for the start of the MLS season. The fact that he hadn’t played a game since October surely means that he couldn’t be thrown in at the deep end in such a high pressured game – especially when we are seemingly well stocked with defensive options. The fact that he was only withdrawn due to injury concerns me, anyone who saw our defending during that game could tell that Ridgewell was nowhere near being up to speed.

Time is fast running out for Wigan Athletic and if we don’t find some form from somewhere soon I fully expect us to be starting next season as a League One club. From the attitude of the management and some of the players I think that’s already seen as a given.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 16th January 2015

12th Man: Can we do it again?

Amazing, outstanding, unbelievable – how many more superlatives can you use to describe this Wigan Athletic side?

James Perch celebrates with his Wigan Athletic teammates

Each week I say the same and each week Uwe Rosler’s team manage to find new ways to astound me, following the win over Cardiff City in the FA Cup fifth round last month Latics were handed the draw nobody wanted. Manchester City, a City side that had gone on to another level since we beat them in last season’s FA Cup final.

Most people, me included expected it to be the end of our cup adventure. It had a natural symmetry to it. Here we were facing City again, what better way to go out than against the supposed best club side in Europe and the side who we beat to win the cup last season? I was expecting a valiant defeat and would have been happy to keep the score down.

Like last season’s final nobody gave Latics a chance ahead of the game, it was seen by all the press and commentators as a forgone conclusion that City would be progressing through to a semi-final against Arsenal and returning to Wembley for the second time this season.

But as with May 2013, write off Wigan Athletic at your peril, the returning hero influenced a performance that would break City hearts as Championship Wigan Athletic knocked Manchester City out of the FA Cup again. Uwe was quick to reference Roberto Martinez in his post-match press conference and the performance on Sunday was very similar to that of the league game at the Etihad last April when we only lost in the last few minutes and pushed City all the way.

Uwe said that the performance of Roberto’s team that night was near perfect and he tried to replicate that by bringing back to the 3-5-2 formation and with his own particular brand of pressing it worked. The atmosphere when Jordi put us ahead and James Perch scored the second was fantastic and we were truly in dream land. It couldn’t happen again could it? Lightening surely doesn’t strike twice and despite a nervy last half hour where City threw everything at us it did strike twice.

Epitomised once again by the fantastic performance of the ageless Emmerson Boyce Latics had beat Manchester City against the odds. We’re heading back to Wembley and I couldn’t be happier. To defend our cup with such great distinction is credit to the players and credit to the management.

 It would have been very easy for Uwe to look to concentrate on the league when he came in and although promotion is our clear priority to still be fighting on both fronts is a massive achievement and it could be argued that the cup performances are influencing our league performances.

When the dust settled on Sunday’s game thoughts turned to Wednesday and the return match with Sheffield Wednesday. With other results not going our way and no league game on the Saturday before it was essential that we got a win to keep in touch with those above us. It wasn’t the best performance and they left it late but we got that win.

To win games like Wednesday night when you aren’t at your best is a sign of the character running through this side. Be it FA Cup or be it the Championship we’re making people sit up and take notice of us again.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post Friday 14th March

12th Man: Do it for Ben

Ben Watson

Another decent week for Uwe Rosler’s every improving Wigan Athletic side was sadly tempered by the extent of Ben Watson’s leg break against Barnsley. The week had started promisingly with progress through to the FA Cup quarter finals for only the third time in our history after an assured performance in Cardiff and a comfortable victory over Barnsley on Tuesday which gave us our first league double of the season.

The shine was taken off those achievements when the club announced on Wednesday that Ben Watson had suffered a double leg break to the leg he broke last season at Anfield. As awful as this is for Ben the club move on and as Uwe mentioned when the news was confirmed the team now have the added incentive of achieving all of their aims this season “for Ben”. If there is any positivity to come out of this it will be that added incentive going forward.

The performance in Cardiff showed the sort of strength in depth we have at the moment, Uwe’s rotation policy has been clearly documented and it worked well this past week with players such as Calum McManaman, Roger Espinoza, Ivan Ramis and Jordi Gomez playing a big part in the victory over the Premier League club and then the likes of Josh McEachran, James McArthur, James McLean and Leon Barnett coming back in on Tuesday and securing a comfortable win.

The win over Cardiff was a fantastic achievement, Cardiff are in a similar position to the one we found ourselves in last season and we know how important the FA Cup can be for improving form. To get a result against a strong Cardiff side showed once again how well we are progressing under Uwe Rosler but also showed that we are taking our cup defence seriously.

The draw didn’t do us any favours and is quite possibly the most difficult draw we could have been handed, a victory over Manchester City at the Etihad will be a harder task than the FA Cup final victory last season. Manchester City have moved on to a different level since that game and we’ve lost a number of experienced Premier League players.

There is a chance of course, it may be minute but there is a chance. Uwe will be fired up about going back to the club he is most synonymous with and it will be a chance for him to show what he can do on the big stage as will a number of our players. With May 11th 2013 fresh in their minds and the thoughts of Manchester City elsewhere with Barcelona to come three days later we may just may have a chance.

This squad thrives best in the face of adversity and that’s what it is doing, let’s keep up the pressure and keep this form up.

Originally published in the Wigan Evening Post – Friday 21st February 2014

12th Man: The future is looking bright

Uwe Rosler

Two defeats from eleven games, it doesn’t sound a bad record does it? But for many it didn’t feel that way on Saturday afternoon after the defeat to Huddersfield Town. As we are quickly learning, the Championship doesn’t care about the form guide. In both the Doncaster and Huddersfield games we were facing sides that were in wretched form, struggling for both goals and performances – both clubs were victorious over us.

Turning the form guide upside down in the process, come Tuesday night and we did the same ourselves. After the abandoned game in December Sheffield Wednesday had gone on a run of form under new manager Stuart Gray that included eleven games without defeat that saw them rise from the relegation zone to mid-table security.

There had been disappointment that the original game had been called off when it had, Latics were well on top in that game when the atrocious conditions meant that the game couldn’t continue. To be able to resume that good form and get three goals from three separate strikers (depending whether you believe Waghorn or Maynard) shows that we are indeed going in the right direction under Uwe Rosler.

Speaking of Uwe Rosler, I was lucky enough to be invited along to the recent fanzine and website meeting with the man himself and along with Jonathan Jackson they outlined their vision for the future of Wigan Athletic. Everything was discussed from the training ground and academy to Uwe’s philosophy on youth development and his reasons for squad rotation. It was a fascinating two hours and left me in no doubt that the future for our club is bright.

We as supporters have to appreciate that results like the one at Doncaster and the one at Huddersfield are going to happen from time to time. The manager has only been in the job eight weeks, but the progress made in that time in terms of performances and more importantly results is clear for all to see. If we keep up this form of an average of 1.9 points per game for the rest of the season we should comfortably reach the play-offs, that’s a position all of us would have taken in December.

Looking ahead to the future we’re about to enter another key run of games, with the latest FA Cup adventure on Saturday and then a number of important league games in a short space of time which could again define our season. What would you give for a Wembley appearance in the cup or the league again this season? Both are currently within our reach, let’s grab the opportunity with both hands.

Originally published in the Wigan Evening Post – Friday 14th February 2014

12th Man: Singing in the rain

When Uwe Rosler arrived at Wigan Athletic he promised it wouldn’t be dull under his leadership and he’s been true to his word so far. As I write this it’s been seven days since Uwe took charge of his first game and the changes we’ve seen in that time have been un-mistakable.

Uwe Rosler

First of all let’s take a look at the trip to Slovenia; everyone present in Maribor knows that isn’t a game Latics deserved to lose. At the very least they were worthy a point but as the manager pointed out if the game had stayed eleven versus eleven as it should have Latics would have been victorious and through to the knockout stages of the competition.

But let’s be honest it wasn’t the Maribor game where the damage had been done, that damage was done in the home game against Zulte Waregem. But there’s no point crying over spilt milk and as difficult as it was to be knocked out on Thursday night it could well be a blessing in disguise for Uwe as he can concentrate solely on our Championship campaign.

As first home games go there aren’t many more difficult than a local derby at home to your closest rivals. To get a win and one where Latics dominated so much in the opening exchanges makes it that much better. The style of play in the game against Maribor was again evident at home to Bolton, all that’s lacking at the minute is fitness and as we’ve seen in recent weeks that lack of fitness can have serious consequences in the second half of games

In recent weeks a succession of people have come out to voice their surprise at our lack of fitness, it was something that hampered Owen Coyle’s time at Bolton and seemingly again his time with Wigan. It couldn’t have been easy balancing the amount of games with training and keeping the squad fit but to see players like Callum McManaman and Grant Holt so unfit was concerning. It’s good to see that. That will be something that Uwe and his backroom staff will have identified those issues and are looking to rectify it as soon as possible.

It could well have been two wins in a row for Uwe and if we’re being totally honest Latics were well in control at Hillsborough on Wednesday night. The first half was as impressive a performance I’ve seen this season and that includes the 4-0 demolition of Barnsley. James McClean and Nick Powell were in fantastic form whilst the midfield three of Ben Watson, James McArthur and Jordi Gomez revelled in the new style of play they’ve been asked to play.

As the rain continued to pour at Hillsborough I wondered how much longer the referee would allow play to continue and I think all of the stadium knew that the game couldn’t continue once Nick Powell’s one on one rolled wide due to the amount of water on the pitch.

It will be doubly disappointing for the management that the side had put so much effort in to a game which ultimately left us with nothing. The hope has to be that the side can recover in enough time to go again against Reading on Saturday.

As the games come thick and fast over the Festive period we need to make the most of this run of games and get points on the board, although we left Yorkshire without any points the performance has once again convinced me that Uwe Rosler is the right man to leader us forward.

Let’s hope we can do the same in the coming weeks.

 Originally published in the Wigan Evening Post – Friday 20 – December

12th Man: Seven days later …

Owen CoyleWhat an eventful seven days it’s been down at Robin Park, and not all for the better. Owen Coyle’s short and ultimately un-successful reign came to an end in acrimonious circumstances after the third home defeat in one very long week.

I wrote in last week’s column about the chance for a history making week, despite my misgivings over the performance against Brighton I didn’t expect us to be looking for a new manager so soon in to the season. People will point to the three losses against Brighton, Zulte Waregem and Derby County to being Coyle’s downfall but the reasons for his departure seem to go deeper than just losing three home games in a week.

Coyle was always going to be a controversial option when Dave Whelan and Jonathan Jackson decided he was to be the man to take over from Roberto Martinez. Being the man in charge when local rivals Bolton were relegated was one reason, but the issue with Coyle went deeper than Bolton and their relegation.

After four years of being sold by club and manager a way to play and philosophy that the club could continue to implement Owen Coyle when appointed was considered to be at the opposite end of the spectrum from Roberto.

Gone was the stylish attacking football in favour of a defence first approach, results in the first two months of the season masked what were generally poor performances but I and many Wigan fans accepted this new pragmatic approach as we were told it would ultimately lead to promotion back to the Premier League.

As autumn came the prospect of promotion became less likely as each game went by, a run of just two wins in ten games came to a head on Sunday evening when Coyle departed the DW Stadium ‘by mutual consent’.

Many people will be thinking that Roberto Martinez received a lot more support from the chairman but when you scratch below the surface you can see this is an issue that has manifested itself in more than just results. Dave Whelan revealed in his press conference on Monday evening that Owen Coyle hadn’t only alienated the fans but also the players and the man who counts most the chairman and directors.

In the four years where Roberto was manager we were treated to some of the best and some of the worst times, but there was always an ultimate goal for the club to aim towards; a footballing philosophy that would eventually give us results and allow the club to build for the future.

The club decided that a different approach was needed to return to the Premier League, ultimately it hasn’t worked.

So where do the club go now? Ian Holloway has been mentioned and although it didn’t end well for him at Crystal Palace he is a manager that could get the squad back to the expansive football we were used to.

This is probably the most important decision the club will ever have to make, the Coyle experiment has backfired spectacularly but there remains at Wigan Athletic a strong core of FA Cup winners and a strong squad of players assembled by Owen Coyle even if in the end he couldn’t get the best out of them. We need to get a man in who can blend the best of new and old and make sure that the previous four years were not a waste.

One final word on Owen Coyle, it hasn’t all been a disaster under his stewardship. He built a squad that SHOULD have been strong enough to compete on both fronts, regardless of his ability to get them playing to the standard required there is a decent base for a new manager to start from. This season may not be a write off just yet.

Originally published in the Wigan Evening Post – Wednesday 4 – December

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: 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

Ray Mathias in conversation

Wigan celebrate

I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with former Wigan Athletic manager Ray Mathias on Tuesday night. Ray was back in Wigan as guest of honour at The Joseph’s Goal ‘Party Like It’s 1999′ event commemorating the last time Wigan Athletic faced Millwall at Wembley in the final of the Football League Trophy.

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Ray was as ever an absolute gentlemen and had some interesting observations about the current Wigan Athletic side. Simply click on the link to listen.

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