12th Man: Old Spirit

Wigan Athletic midfielder Adam Forshaw with manager Uwe Rosler

Another international break over and done with – the last time we returned to action after an international break we were full of optimism and why not? Latics entered that break with two wins on the bounce, one a thoroughly impressive 4-0 demolition of Birmingham City and a number of exciting new signings following the closure of the transfer window.

If the defeat that followed at Blackburn had us worried worse was to come with further defeats to Ipswich and Bournemouth in the weeks following. The pressure looked to be reaching tipping point for Uwe Rosler a couple of weeks ago, and as ridiculous as it sounds many suspected the gaffers job to be on the line. Two decent performances albeit draws against sides at the top of the league seem to have helped the stop the rot and Uwe has said the season starts as of now.

And how true we need that to be, I don’t think it’s overly dramatic to suggest the next week could shape our season. We’re about to enter a run of six fixtures in the next four weeks ahead of the next international break. The target has to be six points from the next two games – that of course is easier said than done.

Brentford will be coming to the North West hoping to get one over their former manager and with the Adam Forshaw saga fresh in everyone’s minds it is the ideal scenario to give Uwe and the Latics a kick. But the Latics will be fired up as well, Uwe’s talents as a manager have been questioned over the last few weeks and how better to answer those critics with a win over his former side.

The players sound fired up with Callum McManaman and Adam Forshaw in particular looking forward to getting back to action and with a resounding friendly win over Rotherham last week fresh in the minds where the likes of the aforementioned Forshaw and McManaman along with Riera and Tavernier played 90 minutes it sounds like we’re in decent shape to finally get our season underway.

I’m looking forward to the game on Saturday,  I took part in a Brentford podcast earlier this week and it was refreshing to hear the Brentford fans talk about their climb up the leagues and how exciting it is to see their side perform in the Championship. Brentford remind me of us back in 2003/2004 when we first came up to the Championship. We could do with a bit of that old fighting spirit right now, let’s hope we can see it this weekend and finally get our season underway.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post Friday October 17th 2014

12th Man: Sooner rather than later

It’s been a torrid past seven days for all Latics fans. That sounds dramatic for an away draw and a narrow home defeat but the manner of Tuesday nights game is what will cause the most concern.

Ipswich came with a clear plan to rough Uwe Rossler’s side up and it worked perfectly. There were cynical fouls galore with Callum McManaman facing the brunt of it in the first half. Ipswich showed the same sort of fight and desire that Wigan Athletic showed so many times last season. That spirit has been sadly lacking for the most part this season.
Yet for all of that Latics could and possibly should have had a point with Oriol Riera’s volley a whisker away from gaining us a point.
Once again despite having the highest share of possession Latics failed to make the most of it which is becoming a common theme throughout this season’s performances.
Uwe described the Huddersfield game as a must win. After the last two matches Bournemouth on Saturday presents probably the most important game of Uwe Rosler’s 10 months in charge. Win and the season is more than salvageable with plenty to build on in the coming months. Lose and the pressure will crank up on both the manager, chairman and this squad of players.
I still have faith in the manager and players, Uwe Rosler’s burgeoning reputation didn’t come from chance but from strong performances on the pitch. I’m sure that he will manage to turn it around at Latics but it has to start sooner rather than later, where better than Dean Court?

First published in the Wigan Evening Post Friday September 26th 2014

12th Man: The pressure is on

The Pressure is on

It may only be September but already the pressure is on Uwe Rosler and Wigan Athletic. Following the six points gained from the Blackpool and Birmingham games many people thought we had turned the corner and that the next two games away from home would see a continuation of the sort of performances we showed before the international break.

For the first 50 minutes of the game with Blackburn this was reflected in our performance, Latics fielding new signings William Kvist and Andy Delort played with pace and purpose and should have been ahead before halftime. The penalty miss from Ivan Ramis was a kick in the teeth but not as big a kick as what came in the second half. Latics deservedly took the lead through James Perch before what looked like a complete capitulation in the second half. Whether the second goal should have stood is up for debate but Latics once again fell away in the second half which must be a worry to Uwe Rosler. The result didn’t reflect the first 50 minutes of the game but Latics once again left Ewood Park with nothing for their efforts.

The good thing about the Championship is the chance to turn things around quickly and Huddersfield presented that opportunity on Tuesday night. A 0-0 draw may not sound like a way to stop the rot but it was the first away point of the season and a game which garnered 60% possession and 14 attempts on goal should have given us more than a point. On another night the side could have been celebrating a 3-0 win as it was a goalless draw is all we had to take with us back over the Pennines.

Andy Delort and William Kvist have impressed in their first couple of games despite the negativity surrounding both games. Kvist looks a very classy midfielder even if he doesn’t have the same attacking impetus as James McArthur did in that position whilst Delort is reminiscent of a former Latics favourite in Amr Zaki the way he threw himself about on Tuesday at Huddersfield was a glimpse in to what we could expect if he and Oriel Riera can get amongst the goals this season we’ll be ok.

Our record so far this season has been frustrating, the squad we have now should and could be performing to higher level than it has so far but I still have faith in Uwe and the side to turn things around and see us climbing the table before long. People have already begun comparing Uwe’s record to Owen Coyle’s and despite what many say the manager isn’t above the criticism that comes his way. The buck stops with the manager but I have seen enough this season and since he arrived at the club to tell me Uwe Rosler is the right man to lead our club.

With the losses of Jordi Gomez, Jean Beausejour and James McArthur and up to nine new signings to bed in to our way of thinking and style of play it was always going to be difficult to hit the ground running. Consistency is the name of the game this season and as we prepare for our next home game on Monday evening it’s important that we keep up our relatively strong home record. A win would once again see us back in the mix and we know this side are capable of providing that.

Come on Latics.

12th Man: Strength in depth

The international break is always a strange time for a club our size. Especially now we’re back in the Championship, with only a handful of call ups and less emphasis on the heavy travelling of players from the Roberto Martinez and Steve Bruce era it should have had a beneficial impact over the last ten days. With plenty of time for new signings Adam Forshaw and Andy Delort to bed in with the rest of those players who haven’t gone on international duty.

Uwe Rosler can reflect on an improving if not sparkling start to the season. 2 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses isn’t promotion form but we also have to remember we’re only in September.

A glimpse of things to come was shown in the Birmingham game, Callum McManaman was unplayable and looks back to his best now he’s got over the injury problems that dogged him during last season.
Add to the performance of the players already here the signings of international class players like William Kvist who captained Denmark recently along with the permanent capture of Emyr Huws the future is looking bright for Uwe’s Latics. The strength of the squad is one of our strongest assets and where Uwe’s squad rotation policy will come in to play.

Blackburn represents one of the toughest tests of the season so far. Despite the issues surrounding the club Gary Bowyer has built a strong squad and with the ever prolific Jordan Rhodes heading their strike force they’ll be a dangerous side to face.

A largely second string Latics went to Ewood Park in May in what was virtually a dead rubber ahead of the play-offs. With a full strength side coming off the back of two resounding victories Latics will go in to the game full of confidence. Hopefully that confidence will be well founded on Saturday.

 

12th Man: What a difference

What a difference seven days makes, when I penned my last column we were coming off the back of our first win of the season and despite getting three points there was still an air of negativity around Robin Park as the club and managers ambition was questioned.Callum Mcmanaman and Martyn Waghorn

The overreaction was put in to stark contrast as Wigan Athletic swept aside Birmingham City with a fantastic performance and followed that up by having one of the strongest transfer deadline days in recent memory announcing four permanent arrivals. The lack of ambition and calls of derision towards the management of the club were quelled when the Latics secured their two main transfer targets of the summer.

Uwe described League One player of the season Adam Forshaw as his number one target to replace Jordi Gomez as our creative midfielder, there were rumours abound why the deal was being held up so I’m sure it was a relief for all involved when the deal was finally agreed. French striker Andy Delort had been paraded on the pitch at the DW Stadium ahead of the Birmingham game yet his club insisted a deal hadn’t been finalised, luckily that was just bravado from FC Tours as Delort completed his move on Monday afternoon.

Many of us me included thought that would be the end of our transfer business but as the departure of James McArthur was confirmed to Crystal Palace two more signings were announced.  Danish international William Kvist joined from Stuttgart and even more surprising the confirmation Emyr Huws on a permanent contract after impressing in his first month with the Latics. This softened the blow of losing James McArthur and gives the squad an extremely strong look about it. With Chris McCann and Ben Watson to return from injury Latics are flooded with quality options in central midfield.

Things are looking a lot more positive than they were just over a week ago and there’s certainly a feel good factor around the club at the moment. The signings on Monday showed the club’s ambition and the hunger to return to the Premier League. Performances have picked up over the last couple of weeks and with improving results and Uwe Rosler building a squad that would be the envy of many in the league it makes for an interesting season ahead.

Could we defy the odds again? Don’t bet against it.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post Friday 5th September 2014

12th Man: It’s never dull

James McArthur

If there’s one certainty in life it’s that there’s never a dull moment when following Wigan Athletic. A well-earned win over Blackpool was quickly followed by the news that a deal had been agreed for Brentford’s Adam Forshaw though the announcement that a bid from Leicester had been accepted for James McArthur tempered the news somewhat. Add in mysterious links to French strikers and it’s just another week in the company of Wigan Athletic.

The win over Blackpool despite being closer than it should have been was an excellent three points, although Uwe surprised many when he said that the first half was one of the best in his time in charge I can see his thinking behind that comment.

How the Latics weren’t four or five up by half time is something that would astound most observers such was our domination, Callum McManaman who is quickly becoming our talisman could have had a hat-trick on his own. His link up play with Oriol Riera who bagged his first goal in Blue and White was particularly pleasing and backs up what the management had said about building new partnerships. Hopefully the lads can kick on and get another three points against Birmingham on Saturday which would stand us in good stead ahead of the international break.

On the transfer’s front Dave Whelan has again been unfairly portrayed as the pantomime villain with James McArthur on his way to Leicester, a reported £7m transfer fee for a player like James is fantastic business and shows once again the strength of Wigan Athletic’s transfer policy in recent years. Although it’s always disappointing to see good players leave if that money can be reinvested in to the club to help keep us solvent and go towards squad strengthening then it really does become a no brainer.

With the expected arrivals of Adam Forshaw and a new striker along with the return from injury of Chris McCann, Ben Watson and James McClean the squad is starting to have a more balanced look to it. Get another three points on Saturday and we could really hit the ground running come September.

12th Man: Don’t write us off just yet

In these pages last week I wrote about a mixed week for Wigan Athletic and explained that it wasn’t time for panic. Well a week later and we’ve lost another two games but in my mind it still isn’t time to panic. Some of our supporters have taken to social media in recent days to berate everyone at the club from manager to chairman, chief executive to tea lady. It seems everyone is to blame for our less than glittering start to the season.

But it’s August and the transfer window hasn’t even closed yet. Once again it’s been a summer of upheaval at the DW Stadium. Players who would have been guaranteed a start last season such as Jordi Gomez and Jean Beausejour have left. Loan players who played a large part in our drive to the play-offs have left. Add to that a horrendous injury record which curtailed many of the players pre-season and it doesn’t take much scratching below the surface to look at why we’ve made such a sluggish start. The start is reminiscent of those under Roberto Martinez when supporters who saw us perform so admirably at the end of each season would wonder what we had done all summer. You can’t bring in 7 or 8 new players and expect them all to gel at once, football doesn’t work like that and it will take time for partnerships to develop amongst the players.

That isn’t to say that everyone is without blame, questions do have to be asked and it’s important that we get up to speed as soon as possible, as we saw last season playing catch up isn’t easy. This Wigan Athletic side like those before it strive on pressure and the pressure will certainly be on at the DW this weekend.

Latics face a Blackpool side in disarray, a club with a real crisis unlike our supposed crisis which involves losing a few games. Jose Riga has somehow fashioned together a side made up of free transfers and trialists and despite not being able to name a full bench at the start of the season now has a squad to choose from.

Despite Blackpool now having a full quota of players Saturday presents the perfect opportunity to get our season up and running. Players like Don Cowie, Andrew Taylor, James McArthur and Shaun Maloney who have had a stop start pre-season will be getting up to full speed and Saturday is the time to show it.

Our main problem for as long as I can remember is a lack of service to our strikers and as a result a lack of goals from said strikers. We need to hope that Uwe has been working on the side creating chances for the strikers. On Tuesday night we dominated the game at Cardiff but failed to convert that domination in to goals.

Begin to turn the domination in to goals and reach the high levels we set ourselves last season and there’s no need for us to write this season off just yet.

12th Man: Don’t panic

It’s fair to say it’s been a mixed opening week for Uwe Rosler’s side and when I say mixed I’m being kind. The two performances against both Reading and Burton in the League Cup on Tuesday where nothing like what we’ve come to expect from Uwe Rosler’s Wigan Athletic, why was this the case?

Burton Albion celebrate after scoring against Wigan Athletic

It’s difficult to say, for the first 45 minutes on Saturday the lads looked in control and once we went ahead it looked like we would be getting the season off to a winning start. Uwe later explained that he had made a mistake in his starting line-up, it may have been the strongest midfield available on paper but all had missed elements of pre-season. James McArthur, Don Cowie and Emyr Huws had never played together and only Huws arguably had a full pre-season albeit with Manchester City.

When you add to the fact we are still missing Ben Watson, Chris McCann and James McClean whilst Shaun Maloney and Roger Espinoza missed most of pre-season you can see where our issues lie. To get a point after being so comprehensively outplayed in the second half against Reading could be considered lucky or it could be another example of last season’s battling and never say die attitude. It may well have been better for Uwe to play less of his household names and offer game time to Fraser Fyvie, Tim Chow and James Tavernier who had been given a full pre-season and featured in most of the pre-season games.

Burton on Tuesday was another story, a strong side were outplayed by a side two divisions below us and Uwe was right when he said the performance was ‘unacceptable’. It’s always disappointing to lose games and even though losing to Burton with the amount of internationals in the team is embarrassing I suspect Uwe will have been happy to avoid a Tuesday night trip to West London to face QPR again. Despite that there was a strong following in Derbyshire on Tuesday night and many like myself who had booked time off work would have expected better of a Wigan Athletic side.

It’s very early days and a positive result on Saturday would set us up well for the next week or so and put thoughts of that defeat to Burton out of mind.

As  Corporal Jones would say, ‘don’t panic’. Just yet.

 

12th Man: Make or Break

Callum Mcmanaman and Martyn Waghorn

Two games left to go, hopefully three. Three games left that could make or break our season, it feels strange that we have such a clear target for the first time all season. It feels as though we’ve been playing catch up from the start of the season.

Be it Charity Shield, Europe or FA Cup there has always been something else to take our focus away from the league and that promotion bid. All of that is gone now and for the first time this season we know exactly what we have ahead of us.

It shows once again what an outstanding achievement it has been from Uwe and the squad to reach the play-offs. The time for looking back and patting ourselves on the back isn’t now though, Uwe has been clear in his belief that our season starts now.

If the lads can re-create the knock out mentality that they have built up over countless Premier League relegation battles and the two consecutive FA Cup campaigns they will have an outstanding chance in the play-offs. There are mitigating circumstances though, the defeat to Blackburn was the sides 60th game this season. The amount of games are beginning to tell, whilst the injuries to key players which has been an issue throughout the season is still affecting us.

All of that being said it’s a case of two games, we have been pretty evenly matched with QPR over the two previous games this season and I suspect that will be the case again in the play-offs.

The most important thing in the first leg will be able to go in to the second leg with a chance. If we can go to Loftus Road level we will have a great chance in the second leg.

Support will be crucial over the two legs, the lads thrive on the big time atmosphere. They did so under Roberto in the Premier League relegation battles and in the cup run and have done under Uwe so far.

I understand the difficulties in getting behind the side at the minute, be they financial or practical. Not everyone is able to get to the games on Friday or Monday but with prices from both clubs being reasonable and the club providing free travel to London on Monday we have a great opportunity to show our support to the lads and try our best to help them get over the line.

Two games, two battles and then hopefully we can be discussing a return to Wembley. We have un-finished business there.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post – Wednesday 7th May 2014

Let’s make sure we’re returning.

12th Man: We’re not finished just yet

Uwe Rosler

It’s been a nervy few weeks hasn’t it? After the FA Cup semi-final with Arsenal a lot of people expected Wigan Athletic to falter and not meet their aim of reaching the Championship play-offs. A near perfect win over Reading upped expectations and with three points needed from the final three games it was expected that Uwe Rosler’s side would achieve their aim sooner rather than later.

The two games following that with defeats against Burnley and Blackpool severely tested that theory. It’s been an incredible turn-around since Rosler took over in December, in December we were lying in fourteenth position after a run of five straight defeats. On the verge of being knocked out of Europe and looking over our shoulder hoping we weren’t about to be dragged in to a relegation battle.

The form of the side since then has been nothing short of remarkable and to find ourselves in the play-off places in early March is something I’m sure Uwe didn’t envisage. Yes he promised Dave Whelan that he would qualify for the play-offs but to reach that position as well as reaching the FA Cup semi-finals is a remarkable feat.

The performances of the last few weeks have been disappointing, a lot of enforced changes have interrupted the flow of the side and they’ve struggled to re-create the heights of February and March but still they’ve qualified for the play-offs with a game to spare. Even the ultra-confident Uwe wouldn’t have predicted this when he arrived in December.

The key now is to re-create the attitude that the Latics players have had to the FA Cup over the last two seasons. We have two extra games of the season, we want a third if the side can recreate their cup form we will be a match for any side in the play-offs. We shouldn’t fear QPR or Derby, we should relish facing them. If we can reach Wembley again who knows what will happen.

First of all though we need to concentrate on Blackburn, it may well be a game where neither side has anything to play for, there will be a number of changes. The fact is though a lot of the players coming in to the side have the chance to stake a claim for a place in the side ahead of the play-offs.

The final word should go to the much maligned Gary Caldwell who returned to the side on Tuesday night at Birmingham and marshalled the defence superbly. He will have given the manager something to think about with his first start of the season. Along with Emmerson Boyce, Shaun Maloney, Jordi Gomez and James McArthur he formed the backbone of the side. These are some of our longest serving players and if anybody can help us get back to the Premier League it’s these lads.

Let’s hope that we can get ourselves back to Wembley one last time.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post – Friday 2nd May 2014