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

12th Man: From the sublime to not so sublime

Callum Mcmanaman and Martyn WaghornFrom the sublime to the not so sublime is a good way to sum up the last week in the life of Wigan Athletic. The performance against Reading on Good Friday put to bed any worries about a post Wembley hangover and really enforced our credentials as play-off candidates.

Uwe Rosler described it as the perfect performance and he wasn’t far wrong, it was as good as the performance against Arsenal but in a different way rather than the containment job that was required to take Arsenal to penalties the week before.

The attacking verve of the side was sublime and it really could have been 5 or 6 rather than the 3 goal haul we got. Expectations were high of us spoiling Burnley’s promotion party and it wasn’t to be. A lot was made of the changes that Uwe made for the Burnley game and of course it’s a valid argument. Why change a winning team that had won so comprehensively a couple of days before against Reading? It was probably down to that game against Reading being only a couple of days ago that those changes were made.

After a season that has so far taken in 57 games in all competitions and a number of serious injuries to key players I can completely understand Uwe’s want to change things around. Less down to fatigue but more to protect key players from injuries, some of the outstanding performers on Friday were either playing their first games after injury or were still coming back after long injury lay-offs.

Players like Shaun Maloney, Roger Espinoza and even Callum McManaman aren’t fit but could be so key to the rest of our season. To have any of those players injured now would be a massive blow.

I think Uwe knows the play-offs are within grasp and it’s a case of protecting what we have and if that means resting certain players for a couple of games so be it. The manager has made his rotation policy clear before and it’s never going to be the most popular policy. But if you had said to any of us in December we would finish the season with an FA Cup semi-final appearance and a place in the play-offs in our grasp we all would have taken that.

It’s time for us to get ready for Blackpool, a team fighting for their lives who will make it difficult on Saturday but a win and a place in the play-offs is within our grasp. Get those three points and Uwe can change and rotate the side as much as he pleases. We’ve four weeks left and they could be the biggest four weeks of the season, let’s get behind the lads.

12th Man: Make us proud

Fairytales aren’t real are they?

 Callum McManaman and Shaun Maloney
Fairy tales are for romantics, those people without a grasp on the gritty and grim reality of modern life well not exactly. We have been living a fairy tale for the last twelve months thanks to the FA Cup.
It’s hard to think ahead to Saturday’s game against Arsenal without making comparisons to last season, the FA Cup journey didn’t finish when the final had finished last season. It didn’t finish when we were relegated from the Premier League, it continued. It continued as we embarked on our first ever European campaign and it seems like the side picked up where they left off as they swept aside MK Dons, Crystal Palace, Cardiff and Manchester City on route to Wembley.
Make no bounds about it, beating Manchester City in the FA Cup final is this clubs greatest achievement, some of the biggest clubs in the land have never won the FA Cup. Wigan Athletic have. Saturday will be difficult, Arsenal despite the troubles they’re having this season are a fantastic side.
Latics will have to be at their very best to have a chance of reaching the final and many will be writing off our chances before a ball is kicked on Saturday, like they did throughout last season’s competition. To reach Wembley and an FA Cup semi-final in consecutive seasons is unbelievable for any club, let alone a club of our size who is currently in the second tier of English football.
As unbelievable as it is we have earned the right and it’s important that those players who played in last season’s final show their mettle and realise they are on an equal stage to Arsenal.
The memories will come flooding back on Saturday afternoon, the memories of Shaun Maloney and Callum Mcmanaman against Millwall and those memories of Ben Watson in the final. If the players can harness that and the spirit that we’ve shown in the FA Cup over the last twelve months who knows what could happen.
Uwe was right, we can’t lose on Saturday. We are massive underdogs, bigger than we were last season and we go to Wembley with odds completely against us. Beat Arsrenal and it will be another fantastic giant killing, lose and we’ve defended our trophy with dignity.
Fairy tales aren’t meant to be real but we’ve been living a fairy tale for a year now, I don’t want it to end just yet.
Make us proud Latics.

12th Man: Exciting times

Two points from the last three games could be seen as a dramatic loss of form, but anything after that ten game un-beaten run was going to feel like that. The facts are we are still well placed for that play-off run, talk of overtaking Leicester and Burnley was fanciful, and those sides have been consistent and have been out of reach since the turn of the year.

Our major problem isn’t the hiccups against Yeovil, QPR and Bolton it’s the fact we were left so far behind in 2013 and as such have spent the last few months playing catch up. We’ve got ourselves in to a good position and the name of the game is now consolidation, we’ve been lucky that over the last couple of weeks the results for the clubs around us have gone our way.

If they hadn’t we could well have slipped out of the play-off positions, with the amount of extra games we’ve had this season in Europe and the FA Cup any play-off place would be a massive achievement for Uwe and the squad.

The performance against Leicester was one of the best I’ve seen this season and it was heartening to see the lads have still got some reserve in the tank following the poor performance at Bolton a few days previously. Special mentions have to go to two of our longest serving players, namely James McArthur and Jordi Gomez. They have been virtual ever presents under Uwe in the last few weeks and both covered an unbelievable amount of ground in the Leicester game.

 

In particular it’s good to see the much maligned Jordi Gomez excelling under Uwe and finally getting the respect he deserves from the DW crowd. It would be a crying shame if he were to depart in the summer, maybe this run of form and the push for promotion could convince him to stay?

So it’s on to Leeds on Saturday, it really is a game we need to win ahead of that return date to Wembley where we’ll be out of league action for the week. So in seven days we face two massive home games and a return to Wembley for our second FA Cup semi-final in as many years. It’s never dull when you support Wigan Athletic

 

12th Man: Reaction time

The end of the run was going to come at one point, losing to QPR on Tuesday night shouldn’t take away from the magnificent results of the last two months. The key for Uwe Rosler and his side are how they bounce back from Tuesday night’s disappointing result.

There was nothing wrong with the performance on Tuesday night, in terms of chances created it was similar to many of our recent games. The difference being this time that Latics couldn’t convert their dominance in to goals as the lads came up against a Robert Green in inspired form in the QPR goal. If the side can put in a similar performance on Saturday at the Reebok Stadium they have a great chance of securing another three points.

Results went in our favour on Tuesday and all of our rivals for play-off places also slipped up so there’s no need for Tuesday to be seen as a disaster as long as the side bounce back against our rivals. The reaction from previous defeats under Uwe has been outstanding and more of the same will be needed on Saturday.

Bolton have been poor this season, for a side with so much money spent on it their performances haven’t been up to standard but they are still a dangerous side on their day as was shown with their emphatic wins over Blackburn and Leeds earlier this month.

An injury damaged Latics side will have to be at their best to come away from Horwich with a win. Speaking of injuries it was heartening to see Gary Caldwell back on the bench on Tuesday night, the Scotland captain has endured a torrid time with injuries over the past eighteen months and to have him and his fellow country man Shaun Maloney back in the fold is a massive boost to our push for the play-offs.

A final word should go to the hardy souls walking to the Reebok Stadium from Wigan on Saturday afternoon, the walk 4 Joseph aims to raise much needed funds for our FA Cup winning mascot Joseph Kendrick and the Joseph’s Goal fund. This follows on from the success of the walk 4 Emma appeal that took place the last time we played in Horwich.

If you’re heading over the hill on Saturday get behind the lads and of course offer your support to those making the walk to Horwich. With any luck we’ll have a similar result to the one we had in February 2012 both on and off the pitch..

 

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: Seaside delights

Saturday was as satisfying an away day as they come, a first visit to Brighton for myself and a first visit to the Amex for the vast majority of Wigan fans that made the long journey down to the South Coast.

Credit at this point should go to Brighton, the Amex is a mightily impressive new stadium and the set-up there is amongst the best I have experienced in both the Premier League and Championship. From the real ale and gourmet pies to the free travel from the city centre to the stadium the whole experience was faultless.

On a bitterly cold day Uwe Rosler’s side ground out a hard fought win despite having only two attempts on target and being outplayed for long periods of time. As I said last week this side is made of stern stuff and copes well with adversity and with their third game in seven days the Latics had just enough left to get over the line. To get three wins in one weekand make it four wins in a row shows just how much the side have progressed since Uwe Rosler took over.

Uwe now has a full seven days to work with his no doubt tired squad and hopefully those who have played so much football in recent weeks will have the chance to get some much needed rest as well as time on the training ground.

Although Latics were under the cosh for much of the game on Saturday the backline once again was extremely strong,Emmerson Boyce put in yet another ageless performance andis thriving in that familiar full back position for Uwe as he did for Roberto.

Considering he is now 34 it’s a great achievement for Laticslongest serving outfield player, whilst Jean Beausejour was impressive again providing both defensive and attacking support. Leon Barnett showed once again why he has only been absent for two games all season such is his reliability and Ivan Ramis was a rock throughout adding both class and strength to the backline.

The fixture list for the coming weeks looks as daunting as any we have faced in recent times but this side don’t seem to fear anybody at the moment, if we can keep this sort of form up who knows where we could finish this season.

 

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