I was utterly depressed after watching the Wolves match. That sinking feeling that one frequently gets as a Latics fan really hit me for six. “Why don’t you support another team? You are a pain in the neck to live with when Latics lose. Come to think of it, this is the worst I can remember you being”, remarked my wife. She was right. Like Latics I was short of inspiration last weekend, downright miserable to be precise.
A couple of days later I was walking down the street when I saw a tallish dark-skinned person wearing a blue and white shirt with the name ‘Thomas’ on the back. Another Latics supporter in this far-flung part of the world? A Hendry Thomas fan? Surely not. On closer examination I determined that it was not a Wigan Athletic shirt but the outfit Honduras had worn in the World Cup, with the blue and white stripes. I should have plucked up the courage to talk to the man but I didn’t. However, I did see his face and it definitely was not Hendry himself. How could anyone fail to recognize his remarkable visage?
Did this really happen? Was somebody trying to send me a message? Fluke occurence or not, it certainly cheered me up. It got me thinking about Hendry Thomas and his predecessors in that ‘touch of steel’ role: Lee Cattermole, Wilson Palacios and Michael Brown coming to mind. Whatever happened to Hendry? I remember him giving away a bad penalty, against Tottenham I think it was. Since then he has hardly seemed to exist. Is it a case of one bad game or is there something deeper going on? When Roberto Martinez took over at Wigan both Cattermole and Brown were allowed to go, Palacios having previously been sold to Tottenham. The three had been key players in Steve Bruce’s transformation of a Wigan side that had been in complete disarray when he took over from Chris Hutchings. Bruce’s strategy was to build a solid back four with a combative midfield in front of it. Then he would rely on the ‘flair players’ to pinch a goal or two. It worked.
For the first half of his first Premier League season Hendry Thomas was very effective in that midfield destroyer role. Statistics at the time placed him in the top two players in the division for tackles won. Scott Parker was the other one. He faded out in the latter part of the season and this was to be repeated again last year. Ben Watson was to establish himself in that holding role in front of the back four, his tackling really improving and his distribution providing a touch of class.
Am I advocating for the return of the tough Honduran? I certainly am! There are some who say that this Latics team doesn’t get stuck in enough, that they are obsessed with playing pretty, pretty football. What do the statistics say? Up to this point Wigan Athletic have committed 153 fouls, second only in the fouling league to our old friends, Blackburn, who have 157. Latics have won 106 fouls, placing them in 18th place with only Everton (105) and Blackburn (104) below them. QPR have won 159 fouls . The stats are illuminating: they suggest Latics foul a lot and don’t get fouled so much themselves. How many bad Latics fouls do I remember? Any memorable ones? I can remember several of those of the opposition: professional fouling designed to stop our key players. But malicious Latics fouls are hard to recall. On the flip side: if you pass the ball sideways or back most of the time then you are unlikely to draw a foul. Oh for players with the confidence to run at the opposition and draw fouls, score goals.
Hendry Thomas is a great ball retriever. He does not commit so many more fouls than Latics’ average, but he breathes fear into the opposition. He wins tackles. His distribution is steady and he is a team player. Put him back in and the other team will not feel comfortable on the ball. We are all fed up of watching the other team play!
For goodness sake, Roberto: change your tactical system to fit the situation we are in. There is room for both Watson and Thomas, given a little tactical adjustment. The latter is something you need to think about if you want to keep our team up there. I am one of your greatest fans, but your tactical inflexibility is your Achilles’ heel. Please think of adjusting your mind-set…