Wigan Athletic vs. Newcastle Preview: I’m a Believer

What wonderful enthusiastic support Wigan Athletic had at Fulham last Saturday. Stuck  in the worst possible vantage point in the corner behind the goal at the Craven Cottage end they nevertheless gave it all they had. The constant chanting of “I’m a Believer” made a clear statement to the team that they had loyal support, which will be crucial in the remaining three matches.

After the elation of the wonderful displays against Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea came the disappointment of that late defeat at Fulham. On top of that, favourable results for fellow strugglers. The bottom line is that Wigan Athletic remain in the mire and the only way to get out of it is to win games. On paper, the Newcastle match looks the hardest of the three remaining. One might point out that playing away at Blackburn is no joy ride and a Wolves team with nothing to play for might be a tough nut to crack. Sometimes teams play better when the pressure is off.  The good news is that QPR and Blackburn have tough fixtures remaining and Aston Villa are now in that same mire, having won only one out of their last 11 games. And Bolton? Who knows? They seem to be able to play poorly and still get good results. They have the easiest fixture list remaining, but can they continue to get away with it?

On the team front Hugo Rodallega is likely to be back and he could appear at some time in the game. Watching the Fulham match,   I got into a conversation with a young man who is an AFC Wimbledon supporter. He was taking a break from his team’s match against Torquay to bring his little brother to Fulham to watch a Premier League encounter.  He said he liked Wigan’s style of football and their organization and hoped they stayed up. However, he said that Latics didn’t seem to have anybody upfront. I explained to him that Di Santo went off injured in the first half with Sammon replacing him. However, the young man had a point. Looking back on the match and the second half in particular, Latics looked jaded and unambitious.  The tough games prior to going to Fulham had taken their toll. More worrying – probably due to fatigue – was the lack of support for the lone centre forward. The midfield was just not going the extra mile and getting into the box. Whether it be Di Santo, Sammon or Rodallega playing there they need some support.

Let’s hope that the bruised and battered among Latics’ first choice starting eleven recover sufficiently well for the Newcastle game. Newcastle are a physically powerful team, brimming with confidence, and it is going to need a lot of running and harassing to knock them off their game. Their away record reads W7D3L6.

That said, they have been  punching above their weight all season.  They have two very dangerous central strikers in Ba and Cisse, a well balanced midfield and a very solid defence marshaled by Coloccini. However, they are definitely beatable. Alcaraz, Caldwell and Figueroa have played wonderfully well in recent games against the likes of Drogba, Rooney and Van Persie. The midfield of Boyce, the Jimmy Macs and Beausejour have competed on at least equal terms with star-studded opposition in the same matches.  Back in October, Latics played pretty well at Newcastle, being unlucky to lose to a superb effort from Cabaye. They certainly matched Newcastle that day. This Saturday, with a tiny bit of luck and fair refereeing decisions, they can certainly beat Newcastle. I’m certainly a believer!


Norwich City 1 Wigan Athletic 1 – Good, but not good enough?

Was this going to be the turning point in our season? It’s the 85th minute, all equal at 1-1, Wigan Athletic dominating and Norwich on the back foot. Mohamed Diame has just come on as a substitute. Shaun Maloney skillfully beats the right-back and plays a lovely ball across from the left, leaving an open goal for him. Diame somehow kicks it over the bar.

It was an all-too-familiar pattern. So many times this season Latics have been the better team but have not been able to kill off the opposition. The result — Latics remain in the mire, glued to the bottom, with very difficult fixtures against top teams fast approaching. Norwich continue to punch above their weight, 15 points ahead of Latics this season with a squad that is certainly no better than ours. They seem to be experts at getting goals out of the blue, as did Hoolahan in the 10th minute when he somehow got a poke of the ball ahead of Caldwell from a speculative cross. In the 68th minute, Victor Moses had leveled the score after latching on to a lovely through ball from Shaun Maloney, finishing with aplomb. A far cry from the wretched finishing we have seen from him in previous games. One of our two main strikers, he has now scored 3 goals in 28 appearances. The other striker on the day was Hugo Rodallaga, energetic and involved,  going close on several occasions. He has scored 2 in 22, although half of those appearances were made as a substitute. But goalscoring is not merely in the strikers’ domain. The midfield sadly lacked a goalscoring touch in this match, Diame the main culprit on more than one occasion, but he was not alone in his profligacy.

Match statistics show that Wigan enjoyed 55% of the possession and committed 8 fouls to Norwich’s 12. Although it was not a rough match, each team ended the match with four yellow cards. Wigan had 20 shots (7 on goal) to Norwich’s 14 (2 on goal). Ruddy made 6 saves, Al Habsi just one, thought it was a brilliant one, keeping out a goal-bound header from Morison in the last minute.

The Good

Latics did not lose and played with some degree of confidence. They were clearly trying to win, rather than not to lose. They showed commitment and played some good football in an entertaining match.

The substitution of an ineffective Gomez for Maloney brought forth a much more creative midfield. Maloney was a risky signing over the summer, given his previous injury record. In this match he looked classy and for once Wigan had a midfield player who could put forward a defence splitting pass. The question is whether he can stay fit long enough to make a real impact on the end of the season.

The Bad

This was a point gained, but in reality two points lost. You have to be able to beat lower mid table teams like Norwich if you want to maintain your Premier League status. Three points were needed. Perhaps if we had beaten Everton, Swansea or Blackburn at home, this result could have been viewed as a success. But our poor home form has meant we need maximum points from all fixtures against teams mid-table or lower.

The lack of finishing tarnished an otherwise good performance. Rodallega continues to struggle with his finishing and none of the big clubs is going to want him on current form, even as a free agent. If Diame was a better finisher a top tier club would have paid serious money for him several transfer windows ago. He has huge potential, but is out of contract at the end of the season. Much though I admire his skill and technique he has repeatedly wasted goalscoring opportunities in his stay at Wigan and rarely puts through the killer pass for his strikers. The irony is that he is only 24 and we will probably only see him at his best when he goes to another team and matures there.

Much of the Wigan fans’ frustration continues to be vented at Jordi Gomez. For several matches now he has been below par, but has still made the starting lineup. Roberto Martinez’s shows a lot of faith in players, Gomez in particular. However, there comes a point at which you need to make some changes. Given current form Gomez does not merit a place in the starting lineup.

Our best wing back, Ronnie Stam, has been noticeably absent from recent lineups. Playing Emmerson Boyce at right wing back gives us more defensive strength and this could be key in the matches coming up against the top teams. However, against mid range teams Stam’s attacking skills should be used to effect. Why was he not brought on against Norwich?

Player Ratings

Ali Al Habsi: 7 – An outstanding save in the last minute saved a point. Otherwise solid.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 – Solid in defence but limited going forward.

Antolin Alcaraz: 8 – Back to form, looks a good player again.

Gary Caldwell: 7 – Playing well at the moment, although shares some blame for Norwich’s goal.

Maynor Figueroa: 8 – A good performance. Seems to play better as a third centre back than as a left full back where his distribution can let him down.

Jean Beausejour: 5 – Not his usual self. Apparently he was carrying a slight injury, sustained during the warm-up.

James McCarthy: 7 – Worked hard in front of the defence, but still not showing the kind of attacking flair we need. It is time he got on the scoresheet. Taken off after 85 minutes.

James McArthur: 7 – Worked hard as usual in closing the opposition down and putting through passes.

Jordi Gomez: 4 – Poor, justifiably taken off after 56 minutes for Shaun Maloney.

Victor Moses: 8 –. Played well, taking his goal beautifully and causing headaches for the Norwich defence.

Hugo Rodallega: 6 – Energetic enough but let down once again by poor finishing.


Shaun Maloney: 9 – Provided the kind of midfield creativity that has been sadly lacking previously this season. His passes should have led to more goals.

Mohamed Diame: – Came on after 85 minutes for McCarthy and immediately involved. Went on a fantastic mazy run only to trickle his shot into the keeper’s hands. Then had an empty net to tap into, but put the ball over the bar. Should have won the match for Wigan.

From Congleton to Swansea – A history of despair and elation

It is the early sixties and Latics have returned to the Cheshire League, where they first started in 1932. The Cheshire League is a now a superior league to the one they left, the Lancashire Combination, which has a reputation for the ‘big boot’ and ‘kick and rush’. Wigan Athletic, aristocrats of the northern non-league, away at Congleton. My Dad books the tickets on Eavesway coaches and away we go to South Cheshire. Congleton Town are a small club, even by Cheshire League standards. They made their way up through the Mid Cheshire League and their team is mainly amateur — some of their better players had previously distinguished themselves in the Wigan Athletic reserve team. Their ground is rustic to say the least, with an awesome slope from goal to goal, the pitch rutted and churned up. Their crowds are usually less than 200, but with Latics being the visitors they have their season high attendance of over 1,000. Latics’ visiting support can usually be relied on to give the home teams their best crowds of the season. Latics are in the top four at the time, while Congleton are pretty close to the bottom.

Opportunity for a Latics goal fest? No. A lenient referee allows Congleton to get away with dubious tackles and Latics fall apart, losing 2-1. Bobby Murdoch must have missed at least five goalscoring opportunities. The traveling Latics supporters are incensed with their team. How can a team of well paid semi professionals lose to a team of amateurs? Where is the pride in playing for your club? “A bunch of overpaid prima donnas!” say the enlightened. A senior citizen in the type of cloth cap so traditional among the men of his time, is so upset and incensed that at the end of the match he goes on to the pitch and accosts the referee. Crowd violence in an earlier era.

The next season Wigan Athletic won the Cheshire League. Congleton finished bottom and were relegated to the Manchester League. These days, they compete in the North West Counties League and their average attendance is around 150. Their Booth Street stadium has a capacity of 1,300. Meanwhile, Wigan Athletic are in their seventh season in the Premier League with an average attendance this season of 17,898.

So what happened to professional pride and why do we put up with the prima donnas playing for Latics? Beam us back to modern day. Swansea City were a better team on the day than Latics last Saturday. Dave Whelan is quoted as saying it is their worst performance for 5 years. Much as though I love what he has done for Latics, I can’t agree. There have been far worse performances. Swansea are not world beaters but they are a pretty decent team and play good football.

So why are Latics’ supporters so emotional after this match? For me, both Aston Villa and Everton were beatable, but many of us seemed to be satisfied with draws against them. I suppose we expected – or at least hoped – to beat Swansea, but it was not to be due to two spectacular strikes from Sigurdsson, playing a similar role to Jordi Gomez, behind the central striker.

Roberto Martinez has reached an all time low in the Latics opinion polls. If he were a Republican Party candidate at this time he’d be out of the race. Were his tactics poor against Swansea? They were certainly confused. Martinez had seemingly bowed to public pressure and started with two big central strikers, but Di Santo in particular did not seem to know where he was playing and Sammon was out of touch. (Ed– it has since emerged that Victor Moses was rested, having arrived back from international duty at 7pm the night before the match). In theory, it could have worked with two wing backs supplying crosses for the central strikers. Unfortunately, neither Sammon nor Di Santo is a good header of the ball. Rodallega, who can head the ball, was on the bench. Beausejour put in a fantastic cross in the 37th minute that Di Santo should have finished. The Chilean had a good first half, but faded out. This is not the first game in which he has put over mesmerising crosses which have not been attacked by the central strikers. Boyce is a solid fullback, but not a wing back, and when he goes forward it shows. The switch back to a four man defence achieved nothing. The manager’s insistence on playing an extra central midfield player meant that Gomez played there, leaving nobody wide on the right. We saw that before against QPR, and it did not work then. Tottenham have used a similar tactic at times this season, but Kyle Walker’s energy and attacking skills get closer to compensating for the absence of a wide player on their right flank. It was frustrating to once again see Boyce put in that role. Solid defender he is, but let’s play to his strengths, not expect him to play like Walker.

Dave Whelan’s main complaint was that three quality players were left on the bench. Moses was the most surprising omission from the starting lineup. He had not long arrived back from a long trip to Rwanda. He looked lively for ten minutes or so when brought on in the second half, but faded out. Diame and Rodallega both looked promising when brought on as substitutes but once again did not deliver. However, despite his mediocre season and poor finishing Rodallega still looks more likely to score than either Di Santo or Sammon. Diame too can look good but tends not to deliver that final defence-splitting pass or fluffs his shots on goal. Like the poor, it seems like Gomez will always be with us. After going through a purple patch he has been mediocre as of late and has not justified the faith placed in him by Martinez. He is also once again becoming the butt of the crowd.

From my viewpoint, however, the Swansea match was no surprise. They scored two fine goals, one on the stroke of halftime, the worst time psychologically for a Latics team that was already struggling. Rather than simply look at the Swansea game as a “must win” we need to look at the previous two home matches against Everton and Aston Villa in the same category. There is little to choose between any of those three teams – Everton, Aston Villa or Swansea. All three are capable of beating Latics on their day but they are also ‘beatable’ away from home. Failing to win against Everton and Villa put added pressure on Latics to beat Swansea : drawing with each of them in bore draws was not the end result we needed.

So where do we go from here? Fortunately the other bottom five teams fared badly this weekend. Latics and Bolton remain glued on 20 points, with Blackburn, QPR and Wolves on 22. To be frank, none of the five deserve to stay up based on their performances so far this season, but two of them will. Wigan are no worse than the others. Watch the other four teams play and you see the kinds of defensive errors and lack of definition in finishing that has characterized Latics all season. All have difficult fixtures between now and the end of the season. It could well boil down to whichever team gets the luck – a scrappy goal, lucky deflection, controversial refereeing decision or playing against weakened opposition – choose from any one of these. Which of these teams has the mental toughness to hang in there and not panic when things are not going to plan and the pressure mounts?

A major factor in Latics staying up last season was the support they got from the fans when the going got rough at the season’s end. Blackburn fans turned against their manager months ago, but like Martinez he remains there. To hear the chanting against Steve Kean when Blackburn visited the DW was depressing and hardly helped their players. It is to be hoped that this is not going to happen to the same degree at Wigan — Roberto Martinez is with us for the long haul. Many of us are frustrated with his tactics and team selections at times, but things are coming to a head. Let’s hope we don’t stoop to the level of those Blackburn fans. To do so could be the final straw that sends Latics in a downward spiral to the Championship and below.

This is not the first time Wigan Athletic supporters have been frustrated by a seeming lack of effort from their players. We all want to see a player give his one hundred percent commitment whilst donning a Latics jersey. We want to see pride and commitment towards our club. Let’s not forget that the main people running the football side of our club are Latics icons. Graham Barrow was one of the most committed players you could ever see play for Wigan Athletic, a great servant of the club as ex-player and ex-manager. Graeme Jones was a totally committed centre forward who would run himself into the ground for his team. He retains our record of top scorer in a season in league football, scoring 33 league goals in 1996-97. Roberto Martinez spent six years as a player at Wigan, a real fan favourite. He turned down a lucrative offer over summer, showing his loyalty and love of Wigan Athletic football club. So can the love of Wigan Athletic and the commitment from these three people in pole positions at the club be transmitted to the players?

Are there players in the current squad who are just there for the money or are biding their time until their contracts run down to move on to something bigger and better? I read the other day that Latics have nine of their squad out of contract at the end of the season. If this is the case do they remain totally committed to Wigan Athletic for the rest of the season? The benching of both Diame and Rodallega poses questions whether Martinez believes they can show the level of commitment required. One could also argue that playing time should not be given to players who are not willing to sign on for another year. Maybe that playing time should be given to someone who has proved their loyalty and could do a job for the team? We live in a cynical and mercenary world where footballers earn tens of thousands of pounds per week for sitting on the bench, sometimes not even that. However, it would be unfair to tar Diame and Rodallega and the others who are due to be out of contract by that same brush. Who is to say that their own professional pride should not prevail and they do their utmost to keep their current club in the Premier League? The overriding concern is how we could have so many players who have not committed themselves to new contracts. Is it that Dave Whelan is unwilling to give in to unreasonable wage demands or is that the players themselves do not expect Latics to be in the Premier league next season?

The bottom line is that we need to avoid that trap door of relegation first. Then we can deal with issues of players out of contract. Roberto Martinez is a beleaguered young manager with his back against the wall. The majority of Wigan Athletic fans now want him out, but Dave Whelan is not going to comply with their wishes. Wigan Athletic football club is run by a loyal management team that loves the club and wants it to grow. They are prepared to look long term, with a view towards finding stability for the club. The necessary infrastructure has been gradually put into place. Martinez has worked wonders in keeping a club with such a low operating budget in the Premier League over the past two seasons. He needs a minimum of five years to judge him a success or failure.

So what has changed from Congleton to Swansea? Most of our fans would not be old enough to have seen the teams that played in the Cheshire League in the sixties. The younger fans will only remember constant struggles to stay in the Premier League. Our club’s history has been a mixture of despair and elation. Wigan Athletic have come a long way and we don’t want to put back the clock and be spiraling down the leagues. One can only hope that the love of Wigan Athletic shown by the senior managers of the club is instilled into our players as much as it possibly can be. Let’s stick together and support the club through thick and thin. Latics are far from dead and buried and can maintain their Premier League status next year. Let’s keep the faith!


A game against Tottenham at White Hart Lane would appear a daunting task for a struggling team which has not won in its last 7 league matches. Tottenham currently stand third in the table and have lost only one of their 11 home games this season. Are this Latics team that has kept only one clean sheet in 19 games in for a thumping?

We remain in a doom and gloom period with relegation staring us in the face. Not only are we bottom of the Premier League but we have a lot of players out of contract at the end of the season. Rodallega may well go in the next 24 hours, but it would be depressing for the club to lose a player like Diame for nothing, given all the work that has been put in to developing him into the well balanced player he is today. If it were not for his presence in the African Nations Cup maybe he would have been subject to the January sales too? It sounds like he will be going at the end of the season, as also could Maynor Figueroa, Jordi Gomez, Steve Gohouri and Chris Kirkland. There is a significant amount of angry and negative stuff being banded about the internet by Latics followers – not surprising given current circumstances – but writing off particular players as being not up to par is not going to help anybody. Playing in a struggling team affects the confidence of all the players and only the goalkeeper, Ali Al Habsi, has managed to play consistently well in this underperforming team.

Let’s keep the faith! After all what have Wigan Athletic got to lose in this Tottenham match? When you are counted out by so many people and are seemingly at rock bottom where do you go? It could be that we get a performance like that of the 9-1 White Hart Lane thumping in Martinez’ first season. Or maybe the opposite – like the 1-0 win in his second? The team news is that Defoe and Lennon – both of whom have caused so much damage to us in previous seasons – are injury doubts. For Wigan the return of David Jones from injury could mean a return to the three centre halves system. In the continued absence of Alcaraz the three would most likely be Boyce, Caldwell and Figueroa. The skilful new signing Jean Beausejour could appear at some stage of the proceedings.

Sometimes when you feel you have nothing to lose then you approach things in a different way. Hopefully that will be the case tonight and Wigan Athletic will defy the bookmakers heavy odds and get a result at Tottenham. More importantly let’s defy the odds and stay in the Premier League this season – we are by no means down and out yet!


A valiant display by Wigan Athletic, but in the end not enough to share the points. It was heartening to see the amount of fight and conviction shown by the Latics against a team way beyond their league in resources and sheer footballing talent. This was certainly no capitulation: no player could be faulted for effort from my viewpoint.

Latics switched their tactical lineup to the old 4-2-1-3 system, with Albert Crusat coming in on the left wing and James McArthur brought in to play the holding midfield role with James McCarthy. Mohamed Diame was absent on Senegal duty and David Jones out injured. Manchester City played Dzeko and Aguero up front and they were to give the Latics central defenders, Caldwell and Alcaraz, a very testing afternoon.

The first 20 minutes or so were really quite open with Wigan attacking with some verve and City promising, but not quite delivering. There was a warning sign after 10 minutes when a cross from Clichy found Dzeko unmarked, but luckily for Wigan he headed wide. It was therefore no surprise when he scored an opportunist header in the 22nd minute from Silva’s free kick. Neither Caldwell nor Alcaraz were close enough to challenge him in his leap. It was a pity to lose a goal like that because Latics had played some good football and had some half chances. Al Habsi made a great save from the dangerous Aguero as the first half was coming to an end.

The first part of the second half saw increasing City pressure, only the excellence of Al Habsi keeping them out. His double saves from Aguero, then from Silva, were absolutely outstanding. Not long after that Aguero skated through the Wigan defence, but somehow Dzeko got in his way and Wigan were let off the hook. Despite this pressure Wigan had still not thrown in the towel and seemed to grow in confidence. Watson and Di Santo were brought on to replace the tiring McArthur and Crusat and Wigan began to attack with some gusto. Their best effort came when a fine pass by Rodallega put McCarthy through, only for his cross shot to be blocked by Hart’s foot.

In the 88th minute Maynor Figueroa deliberately handled the ball when Aguero would have been clean through. He was fortunate to escape with a yellow card, although much has been made in the press since of Mancini’s cynical waving of the imaginary red card at the refereeing team. Mancini should have no complaints about the refereeing: practically every time City went down they got a foul whereas they were not afraid to stifle any attacking intent from Latics with tactical/professional fouling. City average over 12 fouls per game this season, significantly higher than those other clubs in the top six. The match stats read 17 fouls committed by Wigan and 15 by City, but those figures could have been easily reversed given the number of calls he made for 50-50 challenges, almost all of which went against Latics. Both teams finished with 3 yellow cards.

The Good

Martinez showed tactical flexibility in reverting to the old system and the lineup was well balanced. He played with three front players plus Jordi Gomez in the hole behind the centre forward. A bold move against such formidable opposition. Latics played some good football at times and, with luck, could have snatched a result in the last 20 minutes. There was certainly no capitulation and they were taking the game to City in that last quarter of the match. A spirited performance.

The Bad

The defence looked leaky throughout, despite really gritty efforts from the back four to hold back the floodgates. Having said that Dzeko and Aguero are two of the best strikers in the league and are going to cause problems for any defence. However, failing to challenge Dzeko in the air led to one goal and it was lucky it was not two in the first half.

Player Ratings

Ali Al Habsi: 9 – Another superb display. Kept Latics in the game with outstanding saves.

Ronnie Stam: 5 – Has been outstanding in recent games as a wing back, but in this game he had to revert to full back, where he struggles.

Antolin Alcaraz: 4 – The poorest game I have seen him play for Latics. We rely on him to win the ball in the air and he did not do it enough in this match.

Gary Caldwell: 4 – At times looked out of his depth. Tends to really struggle against the quality strikers of the top teams.

Maynor Figueroa: 5 – Not one of his best days, but as always he hung in there and tried his hardest. Lucky not to be sent off.

James McCarthy: 8 – Worked tirelessly in shielding his defence from the City onslaught, showing good skills. Good to see him getting forward, unlucky with his shot on goal in the second half.

James McArthur: 6 – The perennial substitute was given a starting role in the Premier League for only the second time this year. Given his lack of match practice he did a pretty good job. Although he misplaced some passes he did a lot of solid defensive work and put some nice balls forward. Showed his technique with a good snap-shot in the first half.

Jordi Gomez: 7 – Worked hard to try to engineer Latics attacks. Put in some nice touches and covered a lot of ground.

Victor Moses: 5 – Was too greedy in this match, too many times opting to dribble when teammates were in better positions awaiting a pass.

Hugo Rodallega: 7 – Worked tirelessly as the lone centre forward. Gradually regaining his form.

Albert Crusat: 6 – Hardly got the ball. Looked good when he had it. Showing improvement in the defensive side of his game.


Ben Watson: – Surprising to see McArthur preferred to him in the starting line-up. Did a useful job after coming on in the 68th minute.

Franco Di Santo – Tried hard but to no end result after coming on in the 68th minute.

Callum McNamaman – Only came on in the last 10 minutes and had little chance to shine.