12th Man: Dividing opinion

crewe-alexandra-2-wigan-athletic-3-jordy-hiwula-goal-celebration-for-highlights-4x373-2733053_478x359Only one loss in eight games, unbeaten at home, on the periphery of the play-offs and through to the next round of the Johnstones Paint Trophy. Some would deem that a successful start to the season but still there are rumblings of discontent amongst the Latics faithful.

I left the stadium on Saturday surprised and a little disappointed at the reaction to the draw with Walsall. Admittedly it was a game we should have won, but the fact we came out of the game with a draw after going down to ten men whilst on top is testament to this team and it’s ethos.

If we’re being truthful a draw against one of the top sides in the division shouldn’t require a reaction like that anyway. I understand that the style of football we’re playing under Caldwell will always divide opinion amongst Latics fans. As it did under Roberto Martinez before him but we need to get used to it – because it isn’t going anywhere. After last season and the disastrous reign of Malky Mackay the club will stick with this for as long as it takes.

In all the games I’ve seen so far this season I’ve been entertained and that was the case in point again on Tuesday as Latics progressed to the quarter finals of the Johnstones Paint Trophy.

I said at the time it was one of the most enjoyable nights I’ve had watching Latics in a long while. It’s a competition that’s often derided but I think most Latics fans would be happy with the value they got for their ten pound ticket. With the draw coming up on Saturday let’s hope it’s a favourable one as Latics aim to return to Wembley.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 9th October 2015

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: 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

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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