November 29, 2011
We asked - we begged and pleaded - for a bit of luck, and finally we have received. After weeks upon weeks of dodgy refereeing, ill-timed injuries, missed penalties, Victor Moses' personal mission to hit the post but not score, we finally caught a break, and won a match we probably did not deserve to win.
Quite how you can play as well as Latics did away at Newcastle and lose, and then beat Sunderland as we did on Sunday, I'm not sure. Roberto tends to praise his team's performance when results go the wrong way. This was the opposite, a decidedly average if resolute performance, but an excellent result.
Latics started like wounded dogs - after the morale crushing finale against Blackburn a week prior - and it was no surprise when Sebastian Larsson put Sunderland ahead after eight minutes. Ali Al-Habsi made a rare mistake, spilling from Nicklas Bendtner's optimistic shot. The Omani keeper's subsequent block fell to the Swede, a bright light in Sunderland's poor campaign, and he made no mistake.
November 25, 2011
Steve Bruce is a name that most Wiganers will regard with respect. He kept Wigan Athletic afloat during difficult times in the Premier League on his return to the club. In his previous spell he got his team into the playoffs, where they were unluckily defeated. He left Wigan to join a club willing and able to spend much more cash, hungry for improvement. Sunderland got major cash windfalls through the sales of Kenwyne Jones and Jordan Henderson, but Bruce has also spent a lot of money, has a high wage bill and has to deal with high expectations from the fans. Poor results are putting him under increasing pressure. Bruce won 32% of his Premier League games at Wigan. At Sunderland he has won only 28% so far, despite major capital outlays. Sunderland stand 15th, two points above the drop zone. Bruce’s job is under threat: a bad result this weekend could be the final straw.
Sunderland, like the Wigan team in Bruce’s time, will not be pretty to watch. It will be fight-ball, rather than football, with the ball in the air, looking for knock-ons and deflections. Strong tacking will be the order of the day. It was a successful formula at Wigan and probably will be at Sunderland , if he is given the time to persevere. Latics have gone nine games without a win; Sunderland have won one in their last seven. Sunderland have won only two of their Premier League games against Wigan, whereas Latics have won five. Latics have taken seven points out of fifteen at Sunderland over the past five years.
November 18, 2011
For the past couple of seasons both Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers have been stuck in dog-eat-dog relegation fights. Somehow, each has prevailed - but things are not looking good for either at the moment. When you are so hungry you sometimes have to settle for any morsels you can get. Odds are the two struggling teams will share points on Saturday. A loss for either would represent another nail in its coffin.
In order to survive relegation, a team needs to average around a point per game over the course of the season, although fourth-from-bottom Wolves needed 40 to stay up last year — an exceptional year. Wigan currently sit on 5 points, while Blackburn have one more, from 11 fixture. Two consecutive wins for either team would bring them within striking distance of the point per match relegation barometer.
So what to expect on Saturday?
November 17, 2011
Technically, we're one and a half matches late for a quarter-season analysis. Like most Latics supporters, I tend to need a few days to recover from the latest loss. Fulham and Wolves took a bit longer than usual. But along came the international break, allowing me the space and time to cycle through all five stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance - and a new one, faith-based optimism. Warning: this final stage may set you up for another round of the previous. But what if it doesn't?
I'll stop short of predicting a turning point in our season this Saturday against Blackburn, as I've made that mistake before. But it certainly seems an appropriate time to look back at our disastrous start and assess the individuals involved in it. First, we've averaged each player's match performance ratings this season (which are admittedly subjective and only based on those given by Los Three Amigos writers, but serve as an interesting starting point for discussion).
There are some surprises in there, but all interesting and insightful. For instance, defying all emotion, the struggling Gary Caldwell scores the same as reliable Emmerson Boyce. But while Emmerson has been steady and Gary Caldwell poor of late, it was the latter that scored highest (8) points in matches against Swansea and Newcastle. We try to make sense of it all below...
November 8, 2011
For several weeks now, we have sat down to write our match previews with relentless optimism (#keepthefaith), operating under the assumption that at some point in the next match, during a crucial moment, we would get a slice of luck.
This week, we finally did.
One-nil down, just before the stroke of halftime, Emmerson Boyce cleverly drew a penalty by jinking through a pair of Wolves defenders. Ben Watson stepped up, a visible bundle of nerves, and kicked it right at the keeper. It bounced back for an easy tap in, and Latics were back in the match. We finally got that bit of luck.
The problem was everything else. Despite playing far better football, creating chance after chance, Latics continued to single-handedly provide footage for the 12Bet.com How-Not-to-Finish instructional video. The man posing as Hugo Rodallega was culprit-in-chief, tamely toe-poking when through on goal early in the match before missing an absolute sitter - probably the easiest chance he's had in a Wigan shirt - after chesting down a lovely Franco Di Santo pass with only the goalkeeper to beat. It visibly affected him, but he has cut a forlorn figure for quite some time now. With his agent talking up a potential move to Juventus, Latics Premier League goal-scoring record holder's stay appears to be coming to a depressing end.
November 4, 2011
If the must-win theme in our match previews of late has been getting a bit repetitive, at least its message becomes truer by the week. Latics have already lost two absolutely-must-win home fixtures, the first with a shambolic display against Bolton, the second a luckless affair against bogey team Fulham.
The next three — Wolves away, Blackburn at home, and Sunderland away — are probably as crucial to our survival as any in the season run-in. Not only because they are matches we should expect to emerge from with some points. But because we have to emerge from them with some points. If we don’t, we go into December bottom of the table with fixtures against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man United in four of the five next games.
Assuming we don’t pick up much in that Christmas deathtrap, I think we need no less than 7 out of the next 9 points. Which means beating Blackburn at home, then beating either Wolves or Sunderland away, and drawing with the other. Given Wolves’ poor form, this may be the better chance for that away win.
The good news is that Latics have a strong record at Molineux in recent times. We won 2-1 last year and 2-0 the year before. Their form has been poor, losing 7 of the last 9, although they won 3 of the 4 before that, and the most recent two losses were back-to-back exercises against Man City. They did draw at home to Swansea and lose to Newcastle, though, which should give us hope.
The bad news, of course, is that our form is worse. We are now on a staggering eight-match losing streak, although performances have not been as bad as the statistic suggests. With the exception of Man City away, Latics could have (in several cases should have) emerged with points. We live in hope that this will be the performance that delivers reward.