12th Man: Time to celebrate

Wigan Athletic celebrate

The finish line is in site – the best part of nine months’ work, in fact twelve months work if we think back to the start of Gary Caldwell’s reign.

It would take a collapse of epic proportions for Wigan Athletic not to be playing in the Championship again next season, what isn’t yet confirmed is whether Latics will be promoted as Champions. Gary Caldwell and David Sharpe laid out their plans during the summer and many scoffed at those ambitions, Latics were still tainted by last season’s disaster and the subsequent relegation with all the controversy that went with it. But the young manager and chairman duo were steadfast in their belief that Latics stay in League One would be a short one and they’ve been proved right.

People will say that this Latics side have achieved nothing more than was expected of them, many opposition managers point to the club’s supposed advantages in terms of finances. All that is well and good but doesn’t stop Wigan’s achievement being any less impressive – this bar the odd one or two players is a completely different side. Made up of many younger players who hadn’t played at this level before along with seasoned pros who had. When you take a step back from the partisan grind of week to week football and think about the achievement of this season it makes it all the more impressive.

Yes Latics have had an advantage but it still needed someone to bring it all together and Gary Caldwell’s first full season in management should be viewed as an absolute success. Blackpool on Saturday can act as a party, the best part of 3000 Wiganers visiting the sea-side to toast a successful season and hopefully go some way to clinching that title that Gary Caldwell and David Sharpe so craved last summer.

Comparisons will undoubtedly be made with Paul Jewell’s side that last won promotion from this division, that’s only natural and although this side have a long way to go until they can be compared with the likes of the Duke, Bullard, Teale and McCulloch if they can carry their form from this season in to next they could yet be labelled legends as well.

Let’s celebrate, the lads have done well.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 29 April 2016

12th Man: Time to capitalise

jussi

Even though Latics failed to pick up all three points in a disappointing result against Peterborough they still managed to make up ground on their promotion rivals and once again increased the gap from 2nd to 3rd.

 A point wasn’t what we wanted but after how the side had manfully battled for a point when down to ten men at Millwall a few days earlier a below par performance was probably to be expected.

Sam Morsy was a big miss before the game as a result of his one game suspension but worse was to come with injuries to Jussi Jaskellainen and Connor Mcaleny before half time. The loss of Jussi in particular was a big blow after how influential he had been in the previous few weeks.

To compound that having to bring off Jason Pearce at half time left us with little room to freshen things up in the second half. A point was probably a fair result in the end but it makes it all the more imperative that we get the win at Colchester on Saturday.

Especially now that Burton are showing signs of faltering. I’m not convinced that Burton will be able to last the pace at the top of the league, the question is can Latics keep up the pressure on Nigel Clough and his team and capitalise. Three points on Saturday would  certainly help.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post Friday 11th March 2015.

12th Man: Time to bounce back

Barnett @ SouthendA disappointing week for the Latics was rounded off by a well earned point at Southend, and although it wasn’t a classic by any stretch we did have chances to win it.

I suppose it shows the progress of this side that we’re disappointed with a return of 4 points from 3 games in a week.

Although we didn’t manage to get that elusive goal against Southend we showed our improved defensive resilience with another clean sheet away from home.

Saturday is the perfect opportunity to get back to winning ways and get that bit closer to Wembley, although on paper everything points to a home win we shouldn’t underestimate Barnsley.

A break from fighting at the bottom of the table can do wonders for a side and we need to make sure that we go about the tie in the same manner we did Blackpool and Crewe before that.

I would expect starts for the likes of Hiwula, Murray, Kellet and Vukic who can count themselves un-lucky to miss out in recent weeks after their performances against Blackpool.

Saturday has the potential to be massive for the club and it’s good to see the game moved to a Saturday to get the best possible crowd. Both clubs should be applauded for that along with another excellent pricing initiative from the club. Let’s hope the lads make it worthwhile.

Originally published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 4th Deecember

12th Man: Key Period

wiganbradford

A return of seven points from a possible nine with two difficult away games thrown in for good measure is an excellent return for Latics and sets Gary Caldwell and the lads up nicely for a key period of games.

It has been a slow start to the season in many ways but was it ever going to be anything else? With a brand new squad of players to bed in, a drastic change in style of play and all the upheaval of relegation meant that we were never going to start the season in blistering form. Indeed many of the Latics faithful said before the start of the season that they would be happy with a season of consolidation and then a promotion push next year but as it is and with the current performances I think that would be a disappointment.

After two hard away games we get a welcome return to the home comforts of the DW on Saturday, Swindon look to be in turmoil off the pitch at the moment. Still without a replacement for Mark Cooper who was sacked by chairman Lee Power earlier this month Power himself has been in charge for the last two games and looks to carry on as caretaker manager on Saturday. Where Latics have been unbeaten in nine games Swindon have failed to win in the same number of games. Everything on paper points to Latics keeping up their impressive run of form but be wary of a wounded Swindon – they scored two goals in the last five minutes last weekend to earn a credible draw with play-off chasing Coventry so clearly aren’t the push over many would expect.

It’s been over three years since our last game against Swindon, when a very different Wigan Athletic exited the FA Cup at the first hurdle following that defeat Roberto Martinez’s side went on one of the best runs of any Wigan Athletic side in history playing fast free flowing football and wiping aside some of the biggest names in world football. It would be nice if this new incarnation could follow a similar path as we look to get back to the Championship.

A note about the FA Cup – although many of us were hoping for a glamour tie against one of the many non-league sides left in the competition Bury could still be the ideal tie, David Flitcroft’s side are currently in the midst of an injury crisis. The last thing you want is an extra game against one of your nearest rivals. With what should be a large away following at Gigg Lane Gary Caldwell could have the ideal opportunity to progress to the second round of the competition.

 

12th Man: A forward line to rival any

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Two wins in a week displays the growing maturity of this Wigan Athletic side. Those two wins now form part of an un-beaten eight game spell in all competitions and although many of those have been draws I think it’s safe to say that the Latics are finding their feet at this level.

Many of us have said the same over the last few months that this side needed time to gel, time to get to know each other and time to get used to the managers style of play and hopefully that’s now happening.

It was always going to take time and we still have a long way to go but the determination showed in the two wins this week – firstly over Colchester and then Peterborough will stand us in good stead over the next few months. Both wins were totally different but showed important parts of our play, in both games we showed the increasingly clinical nature of our attacking play which looks a world away from the early games of the season were we struggled to make an impression on the oppositions goal.

Where the Colchester game was comfortable, Peterborough was nothing but. Once again we showed our defensive frailties in conceding the two goals but as per usual there’s no giving up with this Latics side and the immediate response from Craig Davies and Max Power paid dividends.

It was pleasing to see Max Power get on the scoresheet again, he had been unfairly criticised in some quarters earlier this month and considering he’s only 22 it looks like he’s now fulfilling his potential with us.

It was good to see Craig Davies return and with Grant Holt impressing in his four recent cameo appearances we’ve now arguably the strongest forward line in the division.

Hiwula, Grigg, Davies, Holt, Wildschut and not to mention Vukic and Coulthirst still to return from injury.

All in all it points to a positive last few weeks for Gary Caldwell’s side if we can keep that up with a result at Bradford we’ll be well on our way.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 23rd October 2015

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: Taking the positives

Will Grigg

I thought there was a lot to be pleased about after Tuesday’s match with Millwall, admittedly it wasn’t a great performance. Some would even argue it was a bad performance which is understandable but if we take a step back and look at things subjectively there are a lot of positives to take from Tuesday’s game.

Millwall came in to the game on the back of four games unbeaten away from home with three of those being wins – away form in stark contrast to our own. We were still missing a number of key players from our starting line-up including Jason Pearce, Craig Morgan, Will Grigg, Craig Davies, Haris Vukic and Francisco Junior.

We dominated the first half and it wasn’t a surprise when we went ahead through Jacobs but as too often this season we couldn’t capitalise on our lead, we looked nervy at the back when Millwall pushed forward and it was only a matter of time until they equalised. A bigger disappointment was to see Millwall go ahead in a game which we had dominated their physical tactics had us struggling – we quickly need to learn to close teams out and to be more clinical in the games that we dominate. I go back to my original point with all of those players missing and a patched up defence a draw against a team with one of the best away records in the football league shouldn’t be looked on as all doom and gloom.

Despite the continued absence of Jason Pearce there was brighter news as Will Grigg made a goal scoring return to earn us a point whilst the return to midfield of the on-loan Francissco Junior made a massive difference to our attacking play in the second half. It isn’t perfect at the moment – not by a long stretch but it also isn’t as terrible as some would believe, unbeaten at home and only two points away from a play-off place at this stage of the season with all of the changes we made in the summer is a promising position to be in. The key now is to build on that – starting with second placed Walsall on Saturday – it won’t be easy but if we can do that we’ll be flying again.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 2nd October 2015

12th Man: Positivity

Jordan Flores

I’ve been quite surprised by the reaction from some quarters to our win over Fleetwood – many saying we were hanging on at the end, some even saying we were lucky others arguing that we don’t deserve to be where we are in the League. Or even that we should be doing a lot better than we are.

I know that football in its very nature sometimes generates views that are polar opposites and we can’t always agree but the reaction still surprises me. If someone had said at the start of August that we would be in touch with the play-off places, unbeaten at home and only four points off an automatic promotion place I think I would have snapped your hand off.
This doesn’t mean that the side shouldn’t be criticised but at the moment I can only see positives.

To make as many changes as we have in terms of the players representing us and the style of play we’re asking them to play there was always going to be a bedding in period and for us to be challenging in the top half of the table is tribute to Gary Caldwell, Graham Barrow, David Sharpe and all of the players.

Wins like those over Crewe, Fleetwood and even Chesterfield may be seen as lucky by some but for myself it shows something that was missing throughout the majority of last season and that’s a determination to see the job out.
As we head over to Oldham on Saturday we’re in a great position and we aren’t even firing on all cylinders yet. If we can sort out our away form, imagine what could happen to us this season.

It was encouraging to see that we still had goals in the side on Saturday despite missing both Will Grigg and Craig Davies, it looks like they’ll both be unavailable for Oldham so it gives Jordy Hiwula another chance to make that number nine position he’s own.

Despite being linked with a move away Samni Odelusi could well have a part to play whilst Grant Holt edged closer to a return with 90 minutes for the Under 21’s this week. With Shaq Coulthirst returning from injury it makes a weakened forward line look that bit stronger.

If we can start to be more clinical – especially away from home we’ll start to get the results expected of us.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post – Friday 25th September 2015 

12th Man: Never say die

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Last Saturday was a great example of the difference between this season’s Wigan Athletic and the one that went before it last season, 2-0 down with under ten minutes of the game remaining many Wigan Athletic fans thought Saturday was heading for yet another away defeat but a crazy ten minute spell changed all of that.

If Latics had been in this position at any point last season there is no way we would have seen what we had and that’s a tribute to the skills of Gary Caldwell and his staff – to increase the confidence and attitude of this young team. Although Latics weren’t at their best on Saturday they didn’t expect or deserve to be 2-0 down coming in to the final stages of the game. Latics had their fair share of chances against a strong Chesterfield side and either side could have gone in ahead at half-time, it felt like the season was following a similar path as Latics spurned a number of chances and found themselves 2-0 down.

For us to score three goals in nine minutes and actually win the game could be a big turning point for our season, Saturday meant many things – it meant we got our first three points away from home this season, our first away goals and our first comeback of the season. A win of the like on Saturday will do wonders for a youthful and ever improving Wigan Athletic side – the substitutes on Saturday made a big difference and key amongst those was Jordy Hiwula and Andy Kellett – it needed a lot of composure for Hiwula to recover from the earlier chance where he hit the bar to score the winner and he showed some great composure to get the winner whilst Kellett made a big difference to Latics attacking chances alongside Chris McCann who showed the sort of driving runs we haven’t seen since the high point of Uwe Rosler’s time in charge.

It’s now one defeat in five games for Wigan Athletic, with three of those being wins. Gary Caldwell’s young team seem to be finding their feet and if we can keep in touch with the leading pack over the next couple of months we would certainly be in with a chance of the play-offs come the end of the season. It feels far too early to think of anything more than that.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Thursday 10 September

Slowly but surely

 

wigan-athletic-1-crewe-alexandra-0-michael-jacobs-celebration-4x373-2655544_478x359After the disappointment of the Gillingham game a week previously it was good to see the Latics return to winning ways at home on Saturday, the 1-0 score line doesn’t do justice to Latics dominance throughout the game. After the way we started the first half it could have been another game like Scunthorpe and it was a shame we didn’t manage to convert those chances in to goals.

But as many have pointed out the game against Crewe is the like of which we would have lost last season, Gary Caldwell stated one of his main priorities for this season was to turn the DW in to a fortress and although it’s early days our home record of two wins and one draw so far points to that.

Many people said we were lucky to get away with three points against Crewe but I would qualify that by asking were Crewe lucky to get away with only conceding one goal? We had nine shots on target to Crewe’s two and although we took our foot off the pedal in the second half the defence stood firm and we didn’t look like conceding which we have in the past couple of weeks.

Tuesday’s transfer deadline day brought its own sense of drama as three new arrivals stepped foot in to Christopher Park, as the mythical window ‘slammed shut’ at 18:00 it looked as though the Latics had failed to land any transfer targets but one after another came in three young players to strengthen our defensive and attacking options. Andy Kellett the latest player to join from our neighbours up the road along with Jack Hendry who Everton were tracking represent the latest signings that the future of Wigan Athletic can be built on. Both are young defenders with an impressive pedigree – Kellett featuring for Plymouth on loan as well as winning U21 honours with Manchester United whilst Hendry who has broken through the Dundee United youth system and impressed with first team appearances at Partick Thistle.

Haris Vuckic who joins on loan from Newcastle is an interesting proposition, he’s impressed at League One level in previous seasons – helping Rotherham to promotion a couple of years ago whilst he also has experience of the Scottish Championship with a stint at Rangers last season. The one disappointment from Tuesday came with the collapse of the proposed transfer of James Vaughan from Huddersfield – Vaughan without doubt is a Premier League striker and despite his injury record could be just what we need to help fire us up the league – maybe that will be one we revisit when the emergency loan window re-opens next week.

Add those three to the other impressive young squad members in all positions and the future of Wigan Athletic looks a lot brighter than it did for parts of last season, if Caldwell can meld this side together and turn potential in to experience who knows what we could do over the next couple of seasons. Chesterfield is next on the horizon for this new Latics side and as impressive as we’ve been at home we’ve been poor away from home, it would be good to see if we could change our away fortunes around this weekend as that would be another gear change for us.

I’m looking forward to Chesterfield, the last time I went there was in 1997 when as a ten year old I watched us win 3-2 – the contrasting fortunes of the two clubs show just how much we’ve progressed since 1997 when we were arguably on a cusp of a wave. We return on Saturday as equals once again but I wouldn’t say no to a similar result to that game in 1997.

I’d say all in all it’s been another decent week for the good ship Wigan Athletic, let’s hope that feel good vibe continues in to September.

Sean Livesey