By Graham Walker
"Football is all about confidence". Was it RL who said that? Whatever, ain't it the truth. Look at the line-up on paper for Wigan and they look a reasonably balanced and talented set of football players. Which indeed they are. Watch them splutter and die at the JJB and this is not how you will (hopefully) remember any of them in years to come.
Wigan looked like an in-form side yesterday until we dragged them down to our turgid level. We looked like a side in the bottom three. They came out expecting to win, we came out still haunted by Derby's last-gasp winner on Wednesday, hoping for something but probably not expecting much. Just like the loyal few hundred up in the East Stand.
Actually I felt sorry for the players rather than angry - but my trip was an easy cross-country meander rather than a four-hundred-odd miles up and back again road trip. Nothing went right, they played like a team that had lost all three previous away games, like a team for whom everything so far this season had gone wrong for them - which, what with Jimmy Davies, the West Brom goal, the Derby / Devlin night, the HH and RL injuries, is about right. Has somebody (apart from our friends to the north at J11 ) put a curse on us?
So, up against an in-form side, all it would take was an early goal to see the heads droop even more and the self-belief drain away. And so it was; a dreadful piece of defending. It was thereafter, if not quite open season, at least one-way traffic. If Ellington had been on song, it would have been worse - much worse. However, even though the crossbar and Sir Alec kept him off the scoresheet, he still looked dangerous all game. He was strong, turned quickly, shot (hard) on sight and looked hungry. As much as I don't want to get on his case (and, inevitably, the Vic. Road crowd soon will), how unlike our own central striker!
It was a sad, horrendous display by a side lacking confidence - not effort, not commitment, but confidence. Little cameos here and there ended with misplaced passes, stumbles, miscontrols. We were eleven blokes struggling on their own to get it right, whilst Wigan were a team of eleven players helping, supporting and reading each other's game. Against a team of experienced warhorses we had Hand, Cook and Webber starting and, when Ray got desperate, he threw on three more kids. Kids!
Given the story of the season so far, it was more than a collective "bad day at the office". We desperately need a lucky break. My local side, Bradford City, are not a patch on our team, yet they won last Saturday having been outplayed by Preston and have visited both Cardiff and Palace and exploited their hosts' "bad days at the office". We get in-form sides or teams on the up having recorded a first or a rare win just before we meet them (Derby, Ipswich to come, Burnley to come).
As for the Wigan game, Sir Alec was the only one who probably got a good night's sleep. Nobody else would have got more than '2' had I been awarding the marks. The defence struggled manfully and may congratulate themselves for limiting Wigan to just the one goal, however, they could have had five and the lapse for the goal we gifted them was just awful. Gayle is not the imperious heart of the defence right now and that does worry me.
However, it is not reasonable to blame the defence when nothing is going right in front of them. Nothing came from midfield, Hand was so far off the pace that a booking was as unlikely as an on-target shot (or indeed, an off-target shot). Everyone was drawn into dinky little triangles that got nowhere fast. No variation, positions of promise squandered by players turning back towards our goal, no width - which may sound strange with Cook and Devlin in the line-up, but when the rest of the forwards are within ten yards of the ball whenever the flank players are in possession, then it hardly stretches the opposition defence. Both Cook and Devlin looked artful at times, but what can they do when nothing else is happening? Webber showed some skills too but never hurt the defence, not surprising when he is not getting any help from anywhere. Sum total; one shot, no crosses! No pace, no space.
Whilst Micah Hyde seems to be out of collective favour right now, how much do we miss an on-form Micah!
So...to another potential morale-sapper at Bristol City, then two absolutely crucial games against "poor" teams who are, right now, "winning". I can only hope that the staff can restart the season with a Henry V-type pink-shirt-man-style invigorating speech / effect that gears everyone up to go out and get 'em next Saturday. But if we go one goal down, I just know what is (not) going to happen.
Confidence has drained, the consequences of the Vic. crowd venting their frustration will make it all a hell of a lot worse, we just need a spark from somewhere to turn the season round and counteract that Junior goal which looks right now to have turned the season round the wrong way. We are not a bad team...yet! This is what is most worrying, that a not-bad side can play in such a desultory and despondent way this early in the season. If they splutter against Ipswich and the crowd get on their backs, then I fear for our future. So can we please have a little luck in the next ten days. Please?