Spyin' Kop: Wigan Athletic (away)

Posted by and_could_he_play on February 10, 2006, 06:06:40 PM

If you would have asked people five years ago what is associated with Wigan, pies would be the answer. Pies, rugby league, an easy shag for a Scouser on a night out and that dreadful music they play at their pier which has been used in the past to drive out stubborn mice which have inhabited the local church. Oh I do like to be beside the seaside, it isn't. But I digress.

If you now ask about Wigan, then football would surely be the first thing to be mentioned ... and with good reason. Sitting 6th in the table, merely five points from a Champions League spot in their first season of top flight football, as well as a date at Cardiff against Manchester United in the Carling Cup Final - the first in their history - means that the football community is absolutely buzzing in this little town. The club has come a very long way since the days of Steve Bruce, and the large shadow he cast over the club (although his head size may attribute to that). Since Paul Jewell took charge, the club have enjoyed two promotions, including the big one last season to the Premiership.

Wigan Athletic v Liverpool
JJB Stadium, Wigan
Saturday 11th February
Live on Prem Plus.

Tipped by many to go down, Wigan have proceeded to ignore the doomsday merchants and critics, securing their first ever major cup final with a 2-2 aggregate score against Arsenal, going through on away goals. That alone shows the toughness of the side and that they will be a major test if we're to not make slump to our fifth match without a win.

League Form (Last 6 Matches):

1-1 Draw v Bolton (A)
1-1 Draw v Everton (H)
3-2 Win v Middlesbrough (A)
1-0 Loss v West Brom (H)
2-0 Loss v Birmingham (A)
3-0 Loss v Blackburn (H)

Although recent league form dictates that this match is between two sides who are not in a rich vein of form, I think we should expect a fairly open, entertaining match. Don't let the Latics form fool you... they are certainly a side with confidence and you only have to look at their league position to realise that.

Team News:

Wigan Athletic: Wigan may be facing somewhat of a crisis up-front, with David Connelly and Lee McCulloch injured, Jason Roberts suspended and Neil Mellor unable to face the club who sent him on loan. Henri Camara, a semi-finalist at the African Cup of Nations, may be rushed in to ease their striking worries. Fan favourite, Pascal Chimbonda is also suspended. Ex Redmen Stephane Henchoz and David Thompson are expected to feature.

Liverpool: Pepe Reina is suspended for committing GBH on Arjen Robben, and Peter Crouch damaged his heel against Charlton and therefore is expected to miss the match, possibly allowing Robbie Fowler to make his first start since rejoining the Reds. The biggest worry is the fitness of Steven Gerrard, who may also miss the match at the JJB, although it now appears he may be fit to play a part.

Tomorrow's referee will be Rob Styles, who has taken charge of 19 matches and sent off four players this season, including the 0-0 draw with Manchester United at our gaff earlier this season.

Spyin Kop - Questions:

In order to gain some key insight into what the Wigan's fans thought of their chances on Saturday, their own team and the season so far, I visited Ye Old Tree and Crown (http://www.yeoldetreeandcrown.34sp.com/) which is an excellent fan site with good, hand-written news tidbits and excellent match reports. Thank you to Bernard Ramsdale (who joins us for the second time), Graham Millington and David Caffrey.

SK: It's been an absolutely amazing season for all at Wigan, so perhaps this question may be a little pointless, but I'll ask anyway... how are you feeling about your season thus far, now we're 2/3rds of the way through. Surely you're safe now?

David: PJ has said all along survival was our only aim. We have achieved that with some style and the CC final is a bonus. Staying in the top 6 for so long has been a confidence booster we have sustained this position despite losing first team players.

Graham: Even Paul Jewell has just about accepted that we are safe for this season, and the fans have already started dreaming of Europe! you will probably hear "We're all going on a European Tour" on Saturday, but be assured its very tongue in cheek! It has been an utterly incredible season for us. even Roy of the Rovers didn't have story-lines like ours as it would have been too far-fetched. I think most of us expected the lads to do better than the relegation scrap predicted by many, but no-one could have hoped for a steady 6th place. We are enjoying every minute of it, (apart from the odd moaning lunatic who will declare "bloody rubbish Jewell" if we aren't 2.0 up by half time).

Bernard: The season has been nothing short of an absolute dream.  We have more than held our own and we are now in the Premiership for the long haul.  The most pleasing thing about the season though is the fact that no team has really turned us over.  Liverpool gave us a lesson in football at Anfield as did the Mancs at the Glazer Bowl but both these clubs have beaten bigger teams than Latics by a lot bigger margins in the not too distant past.

To put things into perspective.  At the start of this season I put a fiver on Latics to win the Premiership. I did this because I was in a position to do so.  Iíve kept the betting slip to show to my grand kids to prove that Latics were once in the Premiership!  As things stand now, I donít think weíll ever be relegated from it!

SK: Champions League, you're havin' a laugh? Or will you still settle for a nice mid-table finish? How have your expectations now changed from the probable relegation battle predicted by many, if not all, in August?

David: I must admit I think we will fall a couple of places, no Europe next year unless we beat MUFC at Cardiff.

Graham: I think most of us would be happy with mid-table. As I said, long term Latics fans knew how good this team was as we went up, and we had an idea they wouldn't be going straight back down. The first game against Chelsea confirmed that suspicion. European football would be incredible, but I have an abiding fear that we could end up doing an Ipswich. The squad isn't very big, and we have been lucky to get away with it up till now. I would hate to see us struggle and even lose everything we have waited for just for the sake of a couple of pointless Euro games next year. Anything above 10th would be satisfying, as long as we beat the Mancs for the cup!

Bernard: Iíll admit that the Champions League spots may be just a little out of our reach.  But for Latics fans to even be in a position to think about it is unbelievable.  However, the fifth and sixth spots are up for grabs.  Looking at the teams around us I can honestly say that none are any better than us.  And that includes Arsenal.  The other teams vying for a Uefa Cup place may have proud Ďhistoriesí, but itís the Ďhere and nowí that matters.  And here and now stand Wigan Athletic, proud among footballís elite and, it is no fluke.

SK: Congratulations in getting to the Carling Cup Final. Can you try and sum up exactly how that feels?

David: Incredible!! Its icing on the cake time, and just so long as we compete I can take losing it. However if we win it, it will represent one of the biggest giant killing feats of all time.

Graham: No I don't think I can!

Its surreal. My little Wigan in a major Cup Final? After all those years of scrapping it out at the likes of Rochdale, Northampton and Doncaster? (no disrespect intended). Little, sneered at Latics taking to the Millennium Stadium to face the Mancs with a realistic chance of winning a big trophy? Bloody brilliant!

We are still getting used to not being in the Auto-Windshields competitions, never mind having the attention of the world focused upon us in the League Cup final. I keep thinking its sunk in, but it wont seem real until we take our seats on the 26th. I find it hard to reconcile that this is the same final I sat and watched as a kid, all the build up and the pomp on TV as the Big clubs fought it out each year, and I imagined how great it would be to see my club being there one day. There will be many a teary eye on that day no matter what the score is.

Bernard: Latics?  Carling Cup Final?  Are you sure about that, because I still canít comprehend it! Sure, weíve been to Wembley before and won numerous cup competitions, but this is, as they say, the dogsí danglers!  I was at Highbury on the night we got into the final.  The way Arsenal disrespected us on the pitch during the game was despicable and Iím glad to say that the arrogant cockney wide boys got just what they deserved. 

SK: With the striking crisis that seemingly faces you (Roberts suspended, Mellor cannot play etc)... who will pose the biggest threat to us?

David: The TEAM, our team spirit and never say die attitude is our strength !!! If you do not want it 110% we will find a goal from somewhere.

Graham: The latest news is that Henri Camara may make it back in time from the African Nations Cup to play some part in the game, and if so - thats your answer. Other than him we cant really say we have got a threat up front. Its not just Mellors and Roberts out, we are also missing McCulloch, David Thompson and David Connelly. We can hold out some hope that Johanssen can repeat his goal-scoring heroics from last week at Bolton, but the lad probably wouldn't even be on the bench were it not for the injuries, and he's a midfielder to boot.

Paul Scharner has bagged a couple when coming up from the middle, and he has a deft touch in front of goal, and sooner or later Bullard and Kavanagh have got to get one of their 30 yard screamers on target, but against a side like Liverpool it would take a bit of luck too.

Bernard: This is the question on everybodyís lips.  As you know this game is being televised live and I fear we could embarrass ourselves if we donít get our tactics spot on.  Hopefully, Henri Camara will be back from African Cup of Nations duty and his most likely partner up front will be midfielder Andreas Johansson.  If Camara fails to make the game I would think Paul Jewell would pack the midfield, but our midfielders are capable of scoring themselves.  Latics will not play defensively, thatís for certain.  With the likes of Jimmy Bullard, Gary Teale and Kop old boy David Thompson running at the Liverpool defence we may still get something out of the game.

Ironically, the most pressing concern for Latics is in defence.  Pascal Chimbonda is suspended and we have no replacement right back able to step into his boots.  Ryan Taylor is injured and due to players not wanting to join relegation certainties at the start of the season, this is a legacy the club would do well to rectify in the summer.

SK: Who would you say your best player has been this season?

David: In my opinion Mike Pollit in goal he has won us as many points as anybody else.

Graham: Tough question because they have all been fantastic. Jimmy Bullard is loving every minute of it, and he keeps gathering praise from opposing managers, (though he has been a target for the hopelessly moronic know nothings who have jumped the bandwagon this season and know sod all about the game). Roberts is, in my opinion, vastly under-rated for all the hard work he does gathering, holding and feeding the ball through to others, and De Zeeuw has been as dependable as ever in defence despite his age. However, I think the most important player on so many occasions has been Mike Pollit in goal. He managed to oust a top class keeper in Filan from a spot that seemed securely his own, and has pulled off some stunning saves at vitally important moments.

Bernard: The whole bluddy team.  I love them all.  Iíd let the wife have all their babies!

SK: And the worst?

David: Josef Skoko disappointed me and now he has gone on loan to Stoke

Graham: I hate to pick a worst because they have all put so much effort in and contributed to a genuine team achievement. Most disappointing has been Francis who had a great start but has failed to live up to our expectations since then.

Bernard: I hate the term Ďworst playerí.  And I will never slag off anybody who wears the Latics shirt with pride.  Thankfully all the current players do that and our position in the Premiership reflects the fact that the team is a single, solid, hard working unit.  The moment players start thinking theyíre better than their team mates, thatís when youíll get problems. Ask Arsene!  Certain of our players may collectively have certain weaknesses but they are compensated for by hard work and the support of their team mates and all true fans who should never barrack their own.  EVER.

SK: Our meeting in December was the first in the league between the two teams. Did you enjoy playing against us and what were your initial thoughts. Oh, and remember - Crouch scored two that day!

David:  You were in the middle of our run of death games and I think we were saving ourselves for more realistic chances. We did not really compete, we will be different on Saturday.

Graham: I had a sense of impending inevitability that Crouch would break his duck against us, (and I've got the same horrible feeling about Fowler too), but I didn't think we disgraced ourselves despite the score-line. Wigan didn't play at their best that day, and the second goal just about killed us of. It was disappointing that we didn't show how good we can actually be and give Liverpool more of test.

Did we enjoy it? Well no; we lost and lost heavily and thats always hard to take. Especially so when the cliche press are itching to unleash their "bubbles burst" headlines.

There were a number of fans who saw it as a bit of a day trip, but by that stage in the season our expectations had risen, and we hoped for at least a draw, and maybe a scrappy 1.0 win. We aren't happy just playing at the likes of Liverpool, we want to win!

I enjoyed the Cup game all those years ago so much more, and still have a framed pic of Don Page scoring at Anfield!

Bernard: Yes, and I also remember that I predicted he would score and this was at the time he couldnít hit a static caravan from two inches!  But Iím still not having it that he Ďscoredí the first one.  The ball deflected off Leighton Baines and then Mike Pollitt palmed the ball into his own net!

The game itself was not that enjoyable because we finally witnessed our central defenders have a bad day.  We were all expecting it to happen sooner or later but we didnít want (or need) it to happen at Anfield of all places.  Itís hard enough getting something from there with a full strength and fully focused team.

SK: What sort of team will you be playing and how will it play to our strengths and weaknesses (if you know of any)?

David: Despite missing players (particularly strikers) we will go 4 4 2 and try to win the game. We will chase you in midfield and with Gerrard missing we may just boss midfield.

Graham: God alone knows!

Normally we could predict a strong, attacking 4.4.2 with the emphasis on taking the game to the visitors, but I haven't got a clue for Saturday. With so many players out its difficult to predict how on earth Jewel is going to line them up for this one. If Camara is back, you may well see him alone up front, but supported by either Johanssen or possibly Bullard in a central role. The only weakness I can see for us to exploit is Camaras electric pace and scare your defence. Jewell may well give Teale a go down the wing, as when he is on form, he adds a threatening dimension from the right and is capable of putting in some world class crosses. When he isn't on form, he may as well not be on the pitch!

Bernard: Circumstances dictate that we will need to defend from the front and frustrate the players in the middle of the park.  Steven Gerrard will be a huge loss for Liverpool, but letís face it Luis Garcia, Harry Kewell and company are capable of frightening bigger teams than Latics, on their day.  However, I reckon there is still time for Gerrard to prove his fitness yet.  If I was Rafa I would give Steve a late fitness test rather than risk losing him for a vital Premiership game. 

Our problem, even with Camara playing, is going to be getting the better of Liverpoolís main strength (in my opinion) and that is their defence.  Without doubt Jamie Carragher is England class whilst Sami Hyppia is a perfect example of how defending your goal should be done.  Before the season started I knew very little of Jose Reina but his goal keeping record recently has been marvelous and his steadying influence on the Liverpool defence could well be missing tomorrow.

SK: Staying on the same sort of theme, Paul Jewellio. Okay so I'm not a huge fan of the song, but I digress! Jewell for England? He has rubbished it but still, if he were to leave eventually, would it be for the England job?

David: PJ is not an england candidate !! He does not have the European experience and he will know it, he is very level headed. I think he would only leave Wigan if we hit hard times or to go to one of the so called "Big" clubs.

Graham: The FA could make worse choices. In my opinion he is probably the best English manager for a decade or more. He has an incredible ability to get the best out of any player, and as a proper Liverpool lad is way too 'ard' to take any messing from overpaid superstars. You certainly wouldn't have any Fake Sheik headlines as he's too sharp to fall for it, and would probably just deck the journo anyway!

Bernard: The sense of pride Latics fans would have should Paul Jewell achieve that ultimate job is indescribable.  He has all the right attributes to manage England but I think it is still far too early to talk of England management.  His record of taking two teams into the Premiership is matched by that of ex England manager Kevin Keegan.  But look who Keegan took into the Premiership and then look at who Paul Jewell took there.  If Keegan was good enough for England, then so is the Jeweller.

SK: With Gerrard possibly out, who do you feel could do the most damage in our line up. Luckily for you, Salif Diao is on loan.

David: Morientes or Garcia we do sometimes struggle against pace. If Fowler plays he is bound to score we have a record of players breaking their duck against us.

Bernard: Luck doesnít come into it.  You make your own (whether it is good or bad) during any given game.  Youíre not already fishing for excuses should you lose are you?

SK: Europe for both teams, I feel, is almost a certainty. Where do you think both clubs will finish come May?

David: Wigan 9th and no Europe unless we win the CC Liverpool 3rd or 4th with Arsenal taking the other spot.

Graham: I think Liverpool will struggle to catch the Mancs for second spot now that you have gone off the boil a bit, but third should be a certainty. As for Wigan. Well I'd like to think that we are coming out of our sticky patch, with injured and banned players returning soon, so I see no reason why we cant finish strongly in 6th at least.

Bernard: Just prior to our last meeting, I stated that I thought Liverpool would finish fourth behind Tottenham and Arsenal (in that order).  However, the Mancs have unfortunately come good at the wrong time.  So Iíll substitute the Gooners with Glazers All Stars!  Liverpool will probably finish third behind Chelsea and Spurs.  Hopefully a nice win for yourselves over the All American Boys next week will prove me wrong.  With a bit of luck the team and the Kop can see to it that thereís no Rooney or RVN for us to worry about the week after!  For example Looney is easily wound up and will surely get a booking if your lads fancy antagonizing him for us!

Iíd like to explain the reason why I think Tottenham will finish in second place, but I canít!  Itís just a gut feeling.  Although I do think Martin Jol has the respect of his players and they do want to play for him.  As for ourselves, I will settle for that last Uefa Cup spot.  At Arsenalís expense.  AGAIN!

SK: What do you expect on Saturday in terms of atmosphere? We'll be bringing 5,000 with us... do you expect a good atmosphere? What is the consensus on our away following?

David: I expect you to be well supported and loud the Wigan support is inconsistent, sometimes very loud and going for the full 90 other times lots of quiet periods. We do tend to rise to the bigger
teams so expect a good one.

Graham: I expect a full bore screamer of an atmosphere. The JJB is a compact stadium and with a big away contingent to boost the atmosphere and goad the home fans, the place absolutely rocks - literally - you can sometimes feel the stands wobbling a little when we score! If our lads can give you a game, you will find the JJB can generate a wonderful atmosphere at times. There will be more than the odd Wigan based Liverpool fan in our ends too, so there should be lots of pantomime aggro once they are spotted!

We haven't really got an opinion on your away following as we have never met before. I just hope you are an improvement on your Everton Valley neighbours who did little to improve the reputation of the city last week, (and were appallingly quiet given their numbers)

Bernard: The game is a total sell out.  The crowd is expected to be a new stadium record and the atmosphere will be brilliant.  No doubt, the Liverpool contingent will be very vocal and will play a massive part in what will be the biggest game the stadium will have ever hosted.

SK: The question everyone has been waiting for... predict the result! Go on, we won't bite...

David: If you show signs of not wanting it or if we hold you out until the hour mark we will find a goal and possibly nick it. If you can score 2 I think it will be your game. I go 1 - 1 Wigan from behind.

Graham: I'm going for an edgy 1.0 to us, but if I was writing it on a betting slip, I'd risk a quid on 0.0 I'm afraid.

Bernard: Right now as things stand Iíd gladly take the draw.  But Iíve a feeling we can snatch all three points so Iíll go for a 1-0 win for Latics with David Thompson on the scoresheet.  If Henri Camaraís back expect the same result that you got at the Valley!

SK: Oh, and finally... being a big lad myself, any pie recommendations?

Graham: The Steak pies in the ground are unbeatable, but so they should be at that price.

Bernard: Yes, keep away from them!  Or else youíll end up bigger than a errr really big thing!

I think I'll keep away from them, given that I'm already bigger than a errr really big thing! Thanks a lot to the lads who answered the questions, absolutely brilliant responses. For us, it represents a chance to get out of this poor run we have been on. We're conceding goals and making silly mistakes - something that wasn't happening when Wigan played us in December. Hopefully we can revert to how we played during that run and get the win, keeping in touch with the Mancs in second.

I hope Wigan enjoy our visit to their ground. I PREDICT A RIOT, I PREDICT A RIOT.  ;)

Come on you Mighty Redmen.

© Kristian 2006

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