Behind Enemy Lines: Wigan Athletic

MILLWALL are hoping to bounce back from Saturday’s defeat against Reading, a game in which they could have taken all three points.

Wigan were 1-0 winners over high-flying West Brom as they enjoy an excellent start to their Championship campaign after promotion.

Lucas Ball spoke to The Pie at Night Podcast’s Alan Moore this week.

Why do you support Wigan?

I don’t feel like I have had much choice in the matter.  I’ll not give you any of the passed-down-the-generations shtick, but I was introduced by my family and spent a good few years living around the corner from the ground.

I know a few people who had similar experiences and came out the other side as Man United or Liverpool fans, but I don’t see why you wouldn’t support your home town team.

What’s been your favourite season following the Latics?

If I have to pick one then it would probably be 1996-97. Mainly because I had just the right mix of disposable income and lack of responsibility to make the most of it, but also because it was the proper start of the adventure that lead us to the Premier League and *that* day in May 2013 (the 1-0 FA Cup final win over Manchester City).

We had a chairman with cash in the bank, a “name” manager (John Deehan), some Spanish verve on the pitch and two lads who knew where the back of the net was.  It was all topped off with us chasing down Fulham from a seemingly unassailable 14-point lead to win the Third Division title on goals scored.

Yes, we were in the bottom division, but if we did what we did for the quality of football, there wouldn’t even be four divisions, would there?

How about the worst?

1992-93. While relegations come as second nature to us Latics fans these days, this was our first as a Football League club.  Worse, it felt like a blow that a struggling, small-town club, with a small hardcore following and a growing overdraft might struggle to recover from.

The final nail in the coffin came in a home defeat to Plymouth on the same day that the town’s rugby league side won the Challenge Cup (think the FA Cup but for people with funny shaped balls).

You might think that would make for a bitter-sweet evening around town, but, there’s not really a great deal of love lost between the two sets of fans. I saw quite a few rugby fans failing to hide their glee at our misfortune that night, which rounded things off nicely.

How impressive a job has Paul Cook done?

Although it has been mostly of the club’s own making, the years following relegation from the Premier League, and Roberto Martinez’s departure have been a bit of a sh*t storm.  Results aside, the one thing Cook has done above everything else has been to unite the fans behind him and the team.

As we’ve seen in the past, small clubs can achieve lots when they’re pulling together.

Were you expecting this good a start to the season?

Not quite this good, no, I was expecting a slower start that picked up as we settled into the division.

Still, it’s early on and I might get that quiet season of mid-table obscurity that I’ve been waiting 20-odd years for.

Then again, that wouldn’t be very Wigan, would it?

Wigan have yo-yoed between the Championship and League One in the last few years – are things different this time around?

Our last relegation was down to the mis-management of the club and team.  I’m adamant that we had the manager and players to stay up two years ago.

We’ve arguably got a better squad this time so a lot will depend on how people hold their nerve if (when) we have a wobble.  If we fall to pieces and faith in Cook starts to waiver then it could all go pear-shaped.

Millwall drew 0-0 with Wigan at The Den in League One in 2015-16.

Looking ahead to the January window, where do the Latics need to add to their squad?

My feeling in the summer was that the important business would be keeping hold of our players.  We did that, mostly, and the only pity was that we didn’t get Nick Powell to sign a contract extension.

If he goes in January then he leaves a massive hole in the team that would need plugging immediately.

Away from that, we need more back-up for Will Grigg; a left-back; and (in mostly just my opinion) a central midfielder.

Ironically, we might have to sell Powell to buy them.

Who are Wigan’s danger men?

Tonight it will be Nick Powell.

Grigg will be missing and, while Josh Windass had his best game so far for us on Saturday he’s a way off a “danger man” label.

Your bigger challenges will be at the back. Loanee Reece James has been a stand-out so far this year and the two centre-halves will make sure that your forwards know they’ve had a game.

Which Lions players will the away side be wary of?

I suppose I should be asking you that, really.

While I can’t really pick anyone out of your squad, I’m not reading too much into your league position.  As we proved against West Brom on Saturday, more often than not, it’s about how teams play as a unit, rather than how your star players perform.

What are your thoughts on Millwall boss Neil Harris?

I used to like him as a player and I remember him as an honest, old-fashioned centre-forward.  I have massive respect for the way he came back from cancer and it must be good to know you’ve got such a fighter on your side.

From experience, I know how good it is to have a clubman managing your team to success, so I guess I’d wish him well on those counts if nothing else.

If you could sign one of his players, who would it be and why?

Given Will Grigg’s injury, I might be tempted to ask him to pull his boots back on.

What’s your predicted Wigan starting XI and formation?

It’ll be 4-2-3-1 (ish).  My first thought is that we’ll be unchanged from Saturday, but I doubt Gary Roberts can manage two starts in a few days at his age, so maybe one change.

It would be good to see Callum McManaman get a start.

Walton; James, Kipre, Dunkley, Burn; Evans, Morsy; Byrne, Windass, McManaman; Powell.

Will you be heading down to The Den on Tuesday night?

No, midweek trips to the smoke are beyond me these days, unless I’m there with work. Unfortunately I’m on a course in Manchester tomorrow.

Finally, what’s your score prediction?

My gut is telling me it will be a draw. But if you push for a win then it might open things up for us to sneak the three points.

Image: Millwall FC