It must be my upbringing in a staunch Wigan Athletic household- I still have a problem with the naming of the East Stand of the DW Stadium. The Boston Stand. My son could pretend that the name is derived from the city where he lives, but the reality is it is a rugby thing. I never had anything against Billy Boston – he was a fantastic rugby league player and a fine host in his pub in Standishgate – but it still rankles.
So here was I packed in like a sardine in the central section of the Boston Stand. Great view though. Wigan Athletic were losing 2-0 to Chelsea after 7 minutes. Both mistakes down to a new defender, in his first game for the club. Hats off to the crowd – nobody got on Ivan Ramis’ back and jeered him. There were comments about the referee, giving the penalty, since Mike Jones was the same arbiter who let Chelsea get two offside goals to beat Latics last year. To be honest, from where we were sat it was hard to see if Ramis deserved the penalty award given against him.
We were a bit numbed by those opening goals, so early in the game. In previous years our teams would have collapsed. Not this team though. They got back into the game playing controlled football, having more possession than their more illustrious and disproportionately more expensive opponents, giving as good as they got. However, as half time approached the dark side reared its ugly head. In this case the dark side was represented by two very friendly, warm Wiganers who complained that Latics weren’t really going at Chelsea. There was some truth in their argument. When Latics were attacking the midfield players were not getting into the box sufficiently. One or two forwards against six or seven defenders makes it unlikely that you will score. But then again Chelsea had players with lightning pace who could break away and kill the game completely if you totally committed yourself forward.
In the second half the Darksiders got more and more frustrated. I had one of two intellectually stimulating verbal exchanges with them, until it came to the point where the more eloquent of the two made a thought- provoking comment: “We show these teams too much respect”. Given the counter-attacking threat of the opponents I thought Latics were using the right approach and I told him that. But, on reflection, I have to agree with him that in some matches in the past Martinez’s teams have been over cautious and let the other team take the initiative. Let’s not talk up the other team and say how capable they are. There is a lot of psychology in Premier League football and we need to get this right. We need to shed the little, humble Wigan tag and get a bit of swagger. However, at the same time let’s have the tactical nous not to shoot ourselves in the foot and not commit ten men forward against a team likely to destroy us if we do.
All football clubs live with darkside supporters – those who don’t like the manager and victimize certain players. However, I thought the Latics’ fans were generally very supportive on Sunday. So many fans have now become appreciative of the good football that Roberto Martinez demands of his team. At one stage the more plain spoken, if less eloquent, of the two Darksiders said that he wanted Martinez gone. I replied that it was not the opinion of the majority of Wigan Athletic supporters. He then suggested I was a rugby man. That ultimate insult made my blood boil, but I managed to keep my head and reply politely that I was not.
Last season we saw something very special – Wigan Athletic beating the elite, not through luck but on merit. Which previous manager prior to Martinez could have had a team playing such great football with such aplomb?
Let’s hang in there with Bob and Dave. Latics are way ahead of where they were. Their plan to take the club forward is unraveling, but it will take time and patience. Apart from the opening minutes it was a fine performance against Chelsea. Let’s look forward to a good performance at Southampton. Believe and keep the faith!