Writer: Paul Thorp
Date:Thursday July 14 2011
Where are we now?
It will not have escaped the notice of any Latic fan that was at the DW for the last competitive game we watched there, that we were down and out at half time, and came perilously close to being all but relegated. Again at Stoke the week after we were literally minutes away from being relegated. The closest we have come to losing our premiership status.
We started the season with transfer requests from arguably our best player. What followed was probably the worst top flight record ever after 2 games. If it wasn't the worst ever, it was as closely related to it, as a Burnley fan is to his Uncle. Our new 6 million pound striker obviously had language issues, rather than striking goals, he got out his donkey jacket, brazier and went out on strike, I think he also took the defence with him. It certainly seemed like it. Injuries to key players stretched the squad to its limits.
It wasn't just Boselli that didn't agree with the cold, we picked up 2 points from 5 games in January, and one of those required a herculean effort from an ageing substitute goalkeeper. Our main goalkeeper and player of the season was a Bolton player, and therefore was going straight back to his parent club the minute the season ended.
Many fans spent chunks of the season disillusioned with the football being played, and were rightly concerned about the results. Some fans called for a change in manager and a change in formation. We all called for a change in fortunes.
Just when things were starting to look positive towards the end of the season, we had a mad 5 minutes to gift Sunderland a win, gave Everton 2 silly penalties, and threw away more points than we could afford to. The week after we sat back and allowed Villa an equaliser in a game which I'm told we completely controlled before we scored.
We spent most of the season at the bottom of the league and once again our top players are being linked with moves away from the club. I'm sure some people around the country are still asking themselves how we stayed up, as they look at their Carling their half time Pooles pie, or look out to sea from their pier.
Let`s not kid ourselves we cut it as fine as it's possible to cut it, and if anyone tells you it wasn't in doubt, run, because they are clearly an escapee from a secure institution. It will surely take a hell of a dose of the traditional pre season optimism associated with all supporters of all clubs to convince anyone that things are actually looking good at Wigan Athletic.
As with all cases when you've only heard one side of the story things look cut and dried, but here are the positives.
Where do you start looking at the positives, well at the start of the season of course. After 2 poor performances, we went to White Hart Lane and avenged the 9-1 from last season, by taking all 3 points, in what was rightly judged by Roberto as the performance of the season. Without that performance capitulation may well have been on the cards. The first points of the season were on the board courtesy of a 1-0 away win and a Hugo Rodallega goal. More importantly the squad showed they were willing to fight when it mattered most.
We then hauled ourselves away from the bottom 3, mid-table was tantalisingly close for a while, you got the impression that if they could get up there, they would gain confidence and stay there, but we never really got clear of the dogfight. Characteristic of this was the whole run up to Christmas which was peppered with mixed performances. As soon as you got the impression that the corner was about to be turned, a poor performance followed, and we were back to the same spot.
I've mentioned January above, but one thing stands out for me looking back. We delved into the market to buy a young lad from Kilmarnock 'for the future'. Roberto trusted his squad, saying that once the players were fit we'd be ok. Other managers were digging into the market, with big signings, and expensive wages. Nothing is as successful as success, and this is clearly a policy which in retrospect was spot on the money.
We may have an obstinate manager that sticks to his principles, but when he is proven to be right, he can stick to whatever he wants to.
Once you get into February, the good performances start to outweigh the bad. January, 2 points from 5 games, February 6 points from 4 games, including facing Champions to be United, where we had them on the rack until the breakaway goal. The final result flattered them. Next up was a tale of 2 cities. Manchester, where against the million and billionaires, we more than held our own, but again the result wasn't reflective of the game, again we walk away pointless, but with a great performance. Birmingham was thus billed as a must win game, especially as it was in the middle of a nightmare fixture list, fixtures which were starting to run out. The result again didn't reflect the game, but rather than come away disappointed to not get points we came away with all 3. More importantly than that we'd battered them, showing we were starting to develop a bit of class, and showing again the grit and determination to deliver when it matters most. We won by a late goal, when it would have been all too easy to accept it was 'one of those days'.
Eight games to go, and as a supporter you're counting where the points come from and how many you'll need in total, the second figure was looking uncharacteristically and worryingly high. We held Spurs to a point, and again the performance against outgoing champions Chelsea was worthy of a point, with them scoring what should have been an illegitimate goal. The next must win was at Blackpool, a noisy crowd, a great start and 3 points were the order of the day, again when it mattered, the squad delivered.
2 Points from the next 3 games was pretty much par for the course when doing the totting up. They were delivered with long spells of good play and silly mistakes. This left you going into the last games with a sense that we had it in us, but that we were still too close for comfort.
They say the darkest hour comes just before the dawn, and in a game where a draw was an absolute minimum requirement to give ourselves even half a chance, and a win needed for any reasonable chance, we found ourselves 2 goals down at half time. This was despite having battered them. This was no way to finish the last home game of the season, cue the grit and determination again, and the 2nd annual end of season fightback. This left us with a great chance of pulling the rabbit out of the hat. It was duly pulled in the potteries, to great delirium and a successful conclusion to the campaign.
In what was for the most part considered a poor season in some minds, and a topsy-turvy one in others, we actually lost our least number of games in the premiership, with only 7 clubs losing less games. Despite the massive concession of goals at the very start of the season, we finished 16th on goal difference. Our worst losing streak was only 2 games. It wasn't as bad a season as the headlines suggest, which is the tale of most of the season.
We were/are better than most people give credit for. It was widely acknowledged as being a tight finish and that more points than normal were going to be required for safety, it might have turned out that 40 points was enough in the end, but the fact that the bottom club only went down the week before the end of the season, and 5 teams were involved on the final day tells you how tight it was, and we delivered. On what was a last day of topsy-turvy tables, we steadily rose upwards never going backwards at any stage, and were even allowed a degree of comfort for the last few minutes. What did I say earlier about people thinking it was never in doubt.
Back to that close season optimism. Ali Al Habsi is now a Latic. Roberto is still a Latic. A couple of clowns are now off the wage bill completely. Roberto Martinez has still not lost a player that you'd want him to keep. Season ticket sales are up, and we generated a fantastic spirit amongst the fans and squad alike at the end of last season. You'd like to hope this affects those courted players, and they might actually want to stay at Wigan, rather than just chase extra money elsewhere, we will see.
Without the tension of the run in, hopefully the silly mistakes that almost cost us dear during the dogfight won't happen and we can pick up more points. Having started last season in the way we did, we must have learnt, and the start to this season should be much better than last time out. It seems clear that when the squad said they believed in themselves, they were right. At the end of the season, the fans believed in them as well.
The 3 promoted clubs are all first up, which is a huge opportunity to start the season well. If I`m right about our squad learning from mistakes, the spirit, and the genuine belief we now have, so long as we don't get some pillock wandering down the M6 the day before the season starts....I hope we can start well, get up there and stay there.
Roberto's Top 10 target is quite feasible, especially when you consider our form over the last month of last season, deep in the middle of a relegation scrap was 2.3 points per game, no losses in last 4 games. Form second only to Manchester City who were chasing champions league football. Is your glass half full yet ?
Thanks to Oscarbon, who posted some ESPN stats, I didn't reply, but it did inspire me to do this review.
Paul Thorp, aka Thorpyness
Latics and Proud
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Date:Thursday July 14 2011
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