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

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