Time to hear the voice of the opposition, and we've got a cracker lined up for this week with Wigan Athletic.
Joining us is Martin Tarbuck, editor of the excellent Wigan site "This Northern Soul"... The website is an amalgamation of three Wigan fanzines - The Mudhutter, Ye Olde Tree & Crown as well as Not A Patch On (Harry Lyon).
Martin was the editor of Cockney Latic Fanzine, before moving to Mudhutter 6 years or so ago. Not only that, but he's written several books about the club too. So he is certainly the authority on Wigan Athletic as far as we're concerned.
You can also catch them on Twitter too @TNS_WAFC - To be honest, there's no better place for Wigan related twittering, so get on it.
Howdy Wigan! You find yourselves down the bottom, but don't worry, we're coming to keep you company. Hows the season shaping up in line with your pre-season targets?
Martin: Well, we obviously thought we were going to do better than this, no-one, not even us expect to be scrapping against relegation year after year but that’s usually the way it transpires for us. The season is still a great unknown, we started terribly, tailed off a bit in the middle but the end is shaping up to be rather good if we can just continue the form we’ve shown in the last five games into the next five games. Lack of consistency has been a recurring theme throughout the Roberto Martinez era but our last five performances have all been superb and even the one before that could have been a very different scoreline to 0-4 if Mark Clattenberg had been in possession of a pair of testicles.
Ultimately, it’s pretty black and white – stay up and it’s a successful season, go down and it’s a failure although we had previously been in the bottom three for so long that we had even kind of accepted that our time might be up.
Last time I spoke to anyone at Wigan there was a lot of animosity leveled our way over the signings of Cattermole, Bramble and of course Bruce. Have we all calmed down a bit now?
Martin: Generally, we don’t mind our players bettering themselves, Valencia and Palacios being good examples and we got £15m each for them but all Titus and Catts have done is fatten up their wage packet and have a lot more fans to play in front of. Lee Cattermole hurt the most for me, twenty years old and a colossus for us in the middle (when not banned), I had visions of him being a future England captain but I hope he turns into the next Joey Barton now. Sorry if that sounds bitter but when players, like their manager only hang around for 18 months and then leave to join a club a few places up the table, how are we ever going to feel any affection for them? I can understand perfectly why they’ve done it, but it still hurts our football club when our better players get picked off for a pittance.
I can probably be a bit more objective about Steve Bruce. In his second season at Wigan, he was building a top half side but then Palacios and Heskey were sold in January followed by Valencia in May closely followed by Bruce himself disappearing up to Sunderland and then Lee Cattermole seemingly jumping on the next train after him. With the benefit of hindsight, having seen our financial results, it is easy to see why he left us – he obviously had intentions at Wigan as any manager would have to build the best team he had and we would quite possibly been a top ten outfit if he’d kept the players we had. However, he had racked up a £17m operating loss and I think there has probably been a tipping point since then whereby our chairman has probably decided that he’s going to run out of money soon. We have to sell players and lose the top earners off the wage bill, Steve Bruce wants to buy players, Steve Bruce leaves to join club with more financial muscle. I can’t blame him for that really. I’ll stop short of offering him any sympathy mind you, and his bleating about Darren Bent’s lack of loyalty doesn’t hold much truck around these parts.
...Although I wouldn't mind a bit of N'Zogbia! Do you think you can hold off ours, and other clubs advances?
Martin: Ah yes, the Charles N’Zogbia Show, who knows? It’s a soap opera in it’s own right. On an almost daily basis some ten bob website churns out a story which either say he’s blissfully happy at the club or he’s dying to leave and sees us as nothing more than a stepping stone. Based on my previous answer, we will probably have to cash in regardless of whether we stay up or go down but having said that, for all the moaning we do about our chairman, he deserves a lot of credit for not flogging him to Newcastle at 11.59pm on transfer deadline day. You don’t need me to tell you what an important player he is for us – he’s French and opinionated but he’s also a matchwinner.
The fact he was set to sign for Birmingham in the August transfer deadline but his personal demands were too high probably answers the question for you though
Steve Bruce is feeling the heat, and I asked the same of a Birmingham City fan last week - these midseason slumps - are they 'typical' of a Bruce team?
Martin: Well my heart bleeds for him! Seriously, we were warned first time around by fans of Huddersfield and Sheffield United that he was something of an opportunist glory hunter but ignored it. To be fair, he certainly gives teams the kick up the arse they need when he takes over but he’s not really hung around long enough anywhere to justify his credentials beyond that.
I’m frantically thinking of an exception whilst typing but I think I’m making a reasonable statement when I say that all the best managers are generally associated with just one club where they make a name for themselves. Bruce has had half a dozen and he’s only stayed at one of them longer than a couple of years (Birmingham) and they weren’t exactly devastated to see the back of him.
So the jury’s still out as to whether there is a good manager in there somewhere and you should stick by him and he will become a great manager or whether he’s just the sort who runs out of ideas/people to blame after a bit and will just move on elsewhere. The problem is this time that I can’t see a bigger or better club than Sunderland wanting him so the only way would be down. Mind you Alan Pardew probably thought that!
On to your man Roberto Martinez. Any pressure on him at all?
Martin: You wouldn’t think so if you go off his interviews, he’s the most positive man alive and everyone who’s met him says what a lovely chap he is.
But from the moment he came back to the club it’s been really weird, there has been a really fierce divide like no other: Internet slanging matches, ‘Martinez Out’ flags being held up, arguments and more between fellow fans in the ‘pro-Bob’ and ‘anti-Bob’ camp at home games. You’d think he’d get cut plenty of slack with him being the closest thing we’ve got to a local hero but there are quite a large section of fans who maintain that he would have been sacked months ago had he not been so well associated with the club.
For some he can do wrong, whereas for others he can do no right. For me he’s the best thing to happen to the club for a long, long time and he is the only manager we’ve had who has talked about having a long-term plan and delivering it against it rather than just taking the job with a view to enhancing his CV (see Question 4 above)
He’s taken the Reserves and Youth team to a whole new level and always speaks proudly and passionately about the club. He’s also operating under a totally different set of circumstances than Steve Bruce before him as he’s trying to get us on a firmer financial footing instead of racking up £17m operating losses year on year. (Not blaming Bruce for that by the way, as I’ve said I think it was more a change in the mentality of our owner)
The goalposts have changed, and although some of our fans refuse to accept it, many other fans - of all clubs - are much more financially savvy now and I think a lot of us have realised that even Dave Whelan is something of a pauper in today’s terms and can’t keep pumping money in so we have to gamble a bit and look to develop an exciting young squad (and manager) as we can’t afford the wages established Premier League stars command. It might cost us our Premier League place but if we’d carried on the way we were it could have cost us our football club and for some of us, that’s more important.
Last year, he ‘only kept us up due to there being three worse teams’ (yeah I know) according to his detractors. This year, it’s a lot closer so if he pulls it off, I’d like to think that some of his critics get off his back and finally give him a bit of credit.
The game itself on Staurday, what should we be expecting, and who is gonna do the damage from your side?
Martin: The usual suspects: Hugo Rodallega and Charles N’Zogbia I should imagine although the young guns Cleverley and McCarthy have gone a bit quiet recently and are due to chip in with a goal. If you’re looking for one from leftfield, this lad we’ve signed from Kilmarnock Conor Sammon certainly looks the part. Expect him to come on with twenty minutes left and charge around like a lunatic, he certainly looks like a bloke who can do a lot of damage and is quickly turning into a much needed cult hero even though he’s yet to score.
What's the one weak link in the Wigan side that we should look to exploit on Saturday? It's ok, Brucey isn't a reader here!
Martin: If you’d have asked me a few months ago, I would have asked ‘where do you want me to start?’ Traditionally, we’ve been weak defensively, failed to score enough goals or create enough chances, hopelessly lacking in confidence and we always seem to be the team where the big clubs get the decision they were moaning about the previous week reversed against. The weak link, which may come as a surprise has been down the left hand side with Maynor Figueroa as he tends to go wandering but he’s improved recently and is banned anyway. His replacement Steve Gohouri isn’t an out and out left back and is also prone to go a wandering but he had a superb game last week. We can still play well and lose but unless we revert back to the way we were playing a few months’ back (and we’re all hoping that’s behind us now) then we aren’t really a team with weaknesses any more.
What sort of game are you expecting, and what's the result gonna be?
Martin: We’ve never won two on the bounce under Bob before but confidence is high that this could be the one, given your own lack of recent form. I have doubts about our ability to go to a ground with 40,000+ on and impose ourselves on the game enough to win but performances, if not results at Anfield, City and even Chelsea suggest that we can give you a good game. I don’t know enough about the current Sunderland predicament to know why you’re losing so many at the minute but even so I wouldn’t expect your lot to just roll over and gift us three points, so I’d say 1-1 is probably more realistic.
Thanks very much mate, and looking forward to chatting again after the match!