12th Man – Enjoy the rollercoaster ride!

Wembley Stadium

Wembley beckons

It’s been another gripping week in the life of Wigan Athletic as they go in search of what would be an unprecedented League One and FA Cup double.

Latics looked likely to be on the end of a surprise defeat at home to Scunthorpe United on Saturday but they rescued a vital point with a late Gary Roberts equaliser to keep them in the hunt for automatic promotion. The players showed their grit and determination to keep going even when they weren’t at their best.

Latics players then had to deal with a difficult away fixture at Bradford City. Their character and promotion credentials were once again tested on a terrible pitch and in blustery conditions.

Due to the adverse conditions they had to ditch their normal passing game and resort to some long ball tactics. The omens weren’t good but they still managed to be the dominant team and created plenty of chances.

As time ticked away the match looked to be heading towards a draw but the players once again demonstrated their never-say-die attitude.

In added time Will Grigg played a neat pass to Michael Jacobs just inside the area and the winger produced a superb finish to give Latics a huge boost in the race for automatic promotion. It was a great moment for the players and fans as they celebrated what could be a crucial three points.

It’s likely to be a rollercoaster of emotions before the end of the season but we should all embrace the experience rather than be fearful of it.

In recent times we’ve been very lucky to have eventful seasons. No dull mid-table finishes for Latics; it’s promotion races or relegation battles, incredible FA Cup wins or near misses.

But there are still some Latics fans that will never be satisfied. Unfortunately we seem to have a significant element that will always look for the negative, I call them the doom-mongers, and they always seem to expect the worst to happen.

The boos at the end of the game with Scunthorpe are symptomatic of some fans’ expectation that every single game is going to be won and that draws and defeats are not part of football.

This is the modern malaise. In our modern consumer society we demand instant gratification, we are being conditioned to expect instant sporting success and losing cannot be understood as part and parcel of the game.

That is why it is so much easier to follow the Big Six teams at the top of the Premier League. They have seemingly limitless amounts of money, they have the most expensive players from around the world and they play in super stadiums.

They win almost every week, and when they do lose, the fans find it very hard to cope and produce hysterical responses. ArsenalFanTV being a prime example of fans that have lost a sense of perspective.

Latics have the exciting prospect of an FA Cup quarter-final against Southampton on Sunday and we should all fully enjoy the moment.

Southampton this week sacked Mauricio Pellegrino and appointed Mark Hughes on Wednesday night. Latics will be hoping that the Saints don’t get the new manager ‘bounce’ following Hughes’ appointment.

Latics are certainly capable of causing another upset after already defeating three Premier League clubs including the Champions elect Manchester City, but whatever happens please support your team and enjoy the rollercoaster ride.

This article was first published in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 16th March 2018.

Posted in Bradford City, FA Cup, League One, Scunthorpe United, Southampton, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fantastic finale as Latics move on up – Bradford City 0 Wigan Athletic 1

Michael Jacobs2

Michael Jacobs grabbed the late winner

Michael Jacobs’ crucial 91st minute winner sent Latics’ fans into raptures at Valley Parade as they moved up to second place in the League One table.

On a terrible pitch and in blustery conditions both teams opted for the route one approach for most of the game.

But it was a moment of quality from Will Grigg that was the difference, his slide rule pass found Jacobs free in the box and the winger made no mistake with the finish.

Latics had had greater possession and fifteen shots to Bradford’s three but the game looked to be heading for a draw until Jacobs’ vital strike in added time.

Wigan move above Shrewsbury and are now five points behind leaders Blackburn with three games in hand.

Paul Cook made three changes from Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Scunthorpe United with Callum Elder, Gavin Massey and James Vaughan all starting.

Latics might have had a penalty early on when Jacobs appeared to be brought down when breaking into the area.

They then went close when Vaughan’s flicked effort came off the angle of bar and post following Nick Powell’s cross from the left.

Nathan Byrne had a speculative cross come shot which nearly deceived Colin Doyle but at the last moment the keeper managed to palm it away for a corner.

Latics were having the majority of the play and Massey’s deep cross found Powell at the back post but the midfielder couldn’t get his header on target.

The visitors had been on top for most of the first half, but in the difficult conditions there was always a feeling that a lapse in concentration or a mistake could let Bradford into the game.

Early in the second-half the Bantams Shay McCartan had a rare attempt on the Latics’ goal but he headed well off target from Tony McMahon’s cross.

Latics continued to press forward but they were not at their fluid best and many attacks broke down due to a poor final pass or cross.

They did have a good opportunity when Jacobs forced his way into the area but his shot at the near post only found the side netting.

Time was running out for the visitors but they kept pressing forward with substitute Grigg joined by debutant Devante Cole for the final minutes. Both Cole and Grigg looked dangerous as Latics started to play some controlled football in the final third.

As the match moved into added time, the vital breakthrough came when Grigg played a neat pass to Jacobs just inside the area and the winger produced a superb finish to give Latics a huge boost in the race for automatic promotion.

Posted in Bradford City, League One, Michael Jacobs, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Just an off day or something more serious? Wigan Athletic 3 Scunthorpe United 3


Gary Roberts scored an important first goal for Latics

A late Gary Roberts equaliser saved Latics from what could have been a damaging defeat in an high scoring encounter against Scunthorpe United at the DW Stadium.

Former Wigan loanee striker Ivan Toney’s neat finish on 53 minutes looked to have secured the visitors an unexpected three points until Roberts’ 87th minute equaliser.

Latics Chey Dunkley opened the scoring when he headed home from a Max Power corner but they were quickly pegged back by Tom Hopper’s header.

They regained the lead when Will Grigg scored his 18th goal of the season but the Iron were once again quickly back on level terms when Hopper added his second goal with a fine header just on half time.

Latics remain in third place in the table three points behind Shrewsbury Town and eight behind Blackburn Rovers but with four games in hand on Rovers and two on Town.

Paul Cook made two changes to the team which had drawn at Blackburn last time out with Reece James and David Perkins coming in for Callum Elder and Gavin Massey.

Latics’ first chance fell to Grigg but the striker fired wide of the target from a tight angle.

Michael Jacobs then headed over the crossbar from Nathan Byrne’s cross from the right.

The opening goal came after 13 minutes when Scunthorpe keeper Matt Gilks seemed to misjudge Power’s corner and Dunkley headed home from inside the six yard box.

But Scunthorpe were soon back on level terms as Latics failed to clear their lines and Hooper got between Burn and Walton to head in from close range.

Dunkley might have got a second goal with another header from a corner which went just over.

Grigg then restored Latics’ lead when his shot from inside the area was deflected off a defender with Gilks stranded.

But just when it looked as though the home team would go into the half time with a lead they once again allowed the visitors to draw level almost immediately with Hooper producing a fine header at the back post.

Early in the second half Latics were on top with Jacobs’ header being cleared off the line, Nick Powell firing just wide and Dan Burn heading over.

But despite the pressure it was the visitors who went ahead in the 53rd minute as Toney fired home from eight yards out after Ryan Yates’ header came back off the crossbar.

James Vaughan replaced David Perkins as Latics changed their formation but they couldn’t make the breakthrough until Roberts’ late equaliser.

Centre back Dan Burn surged forward and set up Roberts inside the box and the veteran midfielder scored his first goal of the season to gain Latics what could prove to be a vital point.

It had been a disappointing display by Latics with several players not at their best. But it is not a time for panic and there is no need for wholesale changes.

Paul Cook knows his players very well and I expect there will be one or two tweaks to the line-up for the trip to Bradford City on Wednesday night. Fortunately Latics do have strength in depth and I would expect Elder and Vaughan to come into the team as they look to get back to winning ways at Valley Parade.

The draw against Scunthorpe still leaves Latics in a strong position and a win at Bradford would set them up nicely for the FA Cup quarter-final with Southampton next Sunday.

Despite what some fans would have you believe the league and FA Cup are not mutually exclusive and Latics are capable of being successful in both competitions.

Posted in Chey Dunkley, Gary Roberts, Ivan Toney, League One, Scunthorpe United, Tom Hopper, Wigan Athletic, Will Grigg | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

12th Man – The race to the top

James Vaughan

James Vaughan. Photograph courtesy of Wigan Athletic

The battle between the League One title favourites ended all square on Sunday at Ewood Park but with Latics coming out of the game with a significant psychological advantage. They were 2-0 down at half-time and some Rovers’ fans were prematurely celebrating the League One title.

But Latics showed great grit and determination in the second-half, dominating proceedings and coming back to draw 2-2 and they could so easily have secured all three points.

A defeat would have been a setback for Latics but they are now in the best position in the race for the League One title with four games in hand and only six points behind Rovers.

Some pundits have suggested that Latics have too many games still to play, but fixture congestion has always been a problem for the teams who are successful in both league and cup and it is not an insurmountable problem.

The current positive vibe around the club and the winning mentality can only be beneficial to Latics’ chances of success as the momentum builds towards the business end of the season.

They have already shown that they have a strong squad with quality in depth, winning important games against Bournemouth in the FA Cup replay and Rochdale in the league with wholesale changes to the starting eleven.

Latics currently have available at least two capable players in every position on the field and all the players are very comfortable with the system that Paul Cook has put in place.

It is another exciting week ahead as they face fifth placed Scunthorpe United at the DW Stadium tomorrow before Bradford City away on Wednesday and then an FA Cup quarter-final at home to Premier League Southampton next Sunday.

The whole squad is focused on being successful and they will want to be in the team against Southampton when the national media will be in town.

Scunthorpe have won just twice in 2018 and have only gained three points from the last five games but they are still in the play-off places and will be desperate to get back to winning ways.

The Iron are struggling with injuries recently and former Latics loan striker Ivan Toney, who surprisingly left the club in January, may be one of the absentees due to a groin injury.

Bradford City have slipped down to ninth place in the table but they are only three points off a play-off place and will be hoping to regain their early season form. Under former manager Stuart McCall they produced one of their best performances of the season winning 2-1 at the DW Stadium in November.

New manager Simon Grayson has only been in charge for two games drawing 1-1 with Charlton and losing 1-0 to Plymouth so the Bantams will be something of an unknown quantity under the former Preston and Leeds manager.

It was interesting to see Latics adopt a two-pronged attack in the second-half against Blackburn with James Vaughan joining Will Grigg in an effective central strikeforce.

Cook is unlikely to start with both players against Scunthorpe and Bradford but the manager has the option to go more direct when the pitch or circumstances dictate it. It is an important tactical option especially at a time when the final result is more important than the performance.

This article was first published in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 9th March 2018.

Posted in Blackburn Rovers, Bradford City, James Vaughan, League One, Scunthorpe United, Southampton, Wigan Athletic, Will Grigg | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book review: What We Think About When We Think About Football

What we think about cover

In this slim volume philosopher Simon Critchley attempts to make sense of the whole football experience and how we are affected in so many different ways by a sport that is so central to our lives.

Critchley identifies that football is about so many things: memory, history, place, social class, gender, family identity, tribal identity, national identity, and the nature of groups.

It is essentially collaborative, even socialist, yet it exists in a sump of greed, corruption, capitalism and autocracy.

This is a promising premise but unfortunately the book rarely delivers the expected insights and the author has a tendency to over-intellectualise the subject.

Some of the chapter titles give a fair indication of the author’s affected approach: Senate ecstasy, De-subjectifying football, What is it like to be a ball? Repetition without origin, Theatre of identity and non-identity.

Critchley says he feels closest to the philosophical tradition called, Phenomenology – the description of what shows itself to us in our everyday existence – he wants us to see the beauty of football with slightly different eyes.

But unfortunately the book becomes bogged down with references to academic works and philosophers and can be heavy going in places.

There are some interesting and noteworthy points. The book starts promisingly enough with an observation from Johan Cruyff. The iconic Dutchman states

‘Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.’

Later in the book he interestingly notes that when the Republic of Ireland plays Northern Ireland at football, Ireland is in effect playing itself.

‘It is a wonderful example of the differentiation of identity. It happened for the first time on 20th September 1978 and ended with no intended dramatic irony in a goalless draw.’

The understanding of football and the issues around it will always benefit from good analysis but in this case the author applies an academic and often overly intellectual analysis of the game, which is not particularly beneficial.

As a reader I was hoping for something less pretentious but which celebrates the emotions we experience at a football match like Daniel Gray’s wonderful book ‘Saturday 3pm – 50 Eternal Delights of Modern Football.’

The author’s allegiance to Liverpool FC is probably a little too evident in the text and as he tries to shoehorn his views on Jürgen Klopp into philosophical terms by applying Martin Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time’ into the chapter ‘Klopp-Time’.

His admiration of Zinedine Zidane and the way he describes a fairly average 2006 film about Zidane was also a little too gushing for me and bordered on the pretentious.

‘As Zidane leaves the pitch, he knows that it is finished. He looks helpless. As Kleist says in the final words of his essay on the puppet theatre. “This is the final chapter in the history of the world”.

Critchley has tried to apply a philosopher’s perspective on the beautiful game but ultimately this feels like an opportunity lost as the author struggles to provide many new insights.

What We Think About When We Think About Football by Simon Critchley, published by Profile Books, Price £8.99 (hardback).

Posted in Book Reviews, Simon Critchley, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Superb fightback puts Latics in driving seat for the title – Blackburn Rovers 2 Wigan Athletic 2

Max Power

Max Power levelled with a perfectly executed free-kick

Latics produced a superb second-half performance to comeback from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 in the top of the table clash with Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park.

Adam Armstrong produced a clinical finish from the edge of the area to give Rovers an early lead and they increased their advantage in controversial fashion on 17 minutes when Bradley Dack appeared to foul Nathan Byrne and Elliott Bennett broke free to score from a tight angle.

Latics will feel hard done-by with Rovers second goal but they showed great character and determination to dominate the second-half and fightback to share the points.

Substitute James Vaughan won an important header in the box on 63 minutes and the ball fell to Michael Jacobs whose shot was deflected home via top scorer Will Grigg.

On 73 minutes Latics deservedly drew level when Max Power’s perfectly executed free-kick from the left hand side evaded everyone at the near post including Rovers keeper David Raya.

Latics dominated the latter stages but despite opportunities for Vaughan and Chey Dunkley they couldn’t quite take advantage.

The result puts Latics in prime position to win the League One title as they have four games in hand and are only six points behind leaders Blackburn.

Paul Cook made six changes from the team which had defeated Rochdale 1-0 last Saturday with captain Sam Morsy,  Nick Powell, Callum Elder, Gavin Massey, Byrne and Grigg returning to the starting eleven.

Latics started brightly, but against the run of play Rovers broke quickly and went ahead when Dack fed Armstrong, who produced an excellent finish into the corner giving Christian Walton no chance from the edge of the area.

Latics might have quickly drawn level when Grigg pulled the ball back to Massey but the winger’s tame effort spun wide of Raya’s right-hand post.

Matters got worse for Latics moments later when Rovers went controversially two up. Dack wrestled Byrne wide on the touchline and pulled him to the floor but referee Geoff Eltringham waved play on, and Dack set up Bennett who broke free and finished at the near post past Walton.

The referee struggled to cope with the fast moving encounter and his decision-making was increasingly erratic for both sides.

Powell was in the thick of the action and was involved in a few overly aggressive challenges from Rovers players. The mercurial midfielder nearly reduced the deficit on 34 minutes when his acrobatic over-head kick from ten yards unfortunately found the grateful hands of Raya.

Latics 2-0 down at the break and Cook would need to work his special magic for the second-half.

Early in the half Walton made an important save when he tipped over Corry Evans dangerous volley from the edge of the area.

Cook introduced substitute Vaughan on the hour mark as the manager looked to give Grigg greater support up front.

Vaughan won an important header on 63 minutes and the ball fell to Michael Jacobs whose shot was deflected home via the knee of Latics top scorer Grigg.

Ten minutes later and Latics got the leveller they deserved when Power’s perfectly executed free-kick from the left hand side evaded everyone at the near post including Rovers keeper David Raya.

Latics were now in the ascendancy and they pressed for the winner but despite chances for Vaughan and Chey Dunkley they couldn’t make it count.

It had been an impressive comeback by Latics against difficult opponents. They had shown fantastic character and determination in adversity. A defeat would have been a big setback for Latics but they are now in the driving seat in the race for the League One title with four games in hand and only six points behind Rovers.

Posted in Adam Armstrong, Blackburn Rovers, Elliott Bennett, League One, Max Power, Wigan Athletic, Will Grigg | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

12th Man – Fixture frustration but it’s an exciting time to be a Latics fan

Nick Powell stays

Nick Powell

It was frustrating to see Latics game at Bristol Rovers called off on Tuesday night due to a frozen pitch as the backlog of fixtures is starting to mount up. Latics are now six points behind leaders Blackburn Rovers and two points behind second placed Shrewsbury Town although Latics have three games in hand on Town and four in hand on Rovers.

Rotherham United are also making a push for the automatics after they moved up to fourth place after winning 11 and drawing three of their last 14 games and are now four points behind Latics.

The combination of Latics’ fantastic FA Cup run and some bad weather has meant that they could well be playing two games per week in the final weeks of the season.

Latics will have to fulfil postponed fixtures against Bristol Rovers and Walsall and there could still be the small matter of an FA Cup semi-final around the 21st April if they can get past Southampton.

Fixture congestion has always been a problem for the top teams in the top leagues if they are competing in more than one competition and Paul Cook is pragmatic enough to understand that they will have to utilise their full squad to get through their 46 league games plus cup games if they are to be successful.

This was amply demonstrated last Saturday when they defeated Rochdale 1-0, even though Cook made seven changes to the team that had knocked Manchester City out of the FA Cup.

Cook took a calculated risk, with plenty of games coming up, he recognised that some of his players needed a rest. Latics were also missing key men in the suspended captain Sam Morsy and the injured Nick Powell.

Their ability to grind out the three points without their best players has kept them in touch with both Blackburn and Shrewsbury, despite playing fewer games.

This Sunday sees Latics take on Rovers at Ewood Park in the battle of the League One title favourites. It’s not make or break for Latics, given the games in hand, but a victory could prove invaluable in the race for the automatics.

Rovers have some big names for League One with striker Danny Graham (15 goals), creative midfielder Bradley Dack (14 goals), and the versatile Charlie Mulgrew (12 goals).

Latics probably have the most influential player in the division in the £10m rated Powell (12 goals), and many other of outstanding individuals including captain Morsy (3 goals), prolific striker Will Grigg (16 goals), and the towering centre-back Dan Burn (4 goals).

Latics and Blackburn have the strongest squads in the division and it could prove to be a tense encounter with so much riding on the game in front of the TV cameras.

Being a Latics fan is rarely dull but now is certainly a very exciting time for everyone associated with the club and we should fully appreciate the experience as the team go in search of what could be an unprecedented League One and FA Cup double.

This article was first published in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 2nd March 2018.

Posted in Wigan Athletic, Blackburn Rovers, Nick Powell, FA Cup, League One | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment