Saturday’s visit to the DW Stadium provided us with a glimpse into a dystopian future where football fans gather around a laptop to support their team from afar via a lagging Amazon stream.
An empty pie wrapper half-heartedly blowing across the pitch provided the best visual metaphor of Wigan Athletics’ fall from grace. Their Premier League legacy has been chewed up and spat out, and all that is left is a tinfoil shell of distant memories.
Whilst the ‘tics stadium was never renowned for its atmosphere, I cannot quite remember a time when the instructions from a manager drowned out the noise made by the home crowd.
I feel sorry for the hardy Wigan fans that brave the cold week-in-week-out to support their team. Watching football in near silence is difficult, it clouds your judgement and reduces the intensity of your feelings, be that jubilation or desolation.
However, that’s not going to stop me trying to make sense of some of the things that happened during Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Wigan. Here are the main talking points…
Kamil Grabara Is Okay
Josh Windass (yes really) opened the scoring for Wigan on Saturday, making the most of a mishit pass from Kamil Grabara to send the home side into a deserved half-time lead. The error from Town’s on-loan ‘keeper sparked debate online as to Grabara’s quality, with many fans questioning if he is better than Ryan Schofield.
Obviously he is. It might be nice to think of Ryan Schofield as a future England ‘keeper in waiting because of his two performances this season and the fact that he is ‘one of our own’.
However, let’s not forget that he was plying his trade at the very-bottom of League Two last season, and not exactly pulling up trees.
Schofield’s potential is undoubted and whilst he may go on to enjoy a career at the very highest level, he isn’t quite ready to be a Championship level ‘keeper. That’s not to say that the man ahead of him is brilliant though.
Kamil Grabara is a perfectly serviceable ‘keeper for this division and will usually make up for errors with good saves, as he did on Saturday. The problem for Grabara is his reputation and the fact that he has come to us on loan from the European champions.
Because of that, perhaps we are expecting too much from the young Polish shot-stopper. Which is slightly strange when you consider that Grabara was identified by the same crack team that brought us such hits as Herbert Bockhorn and Reece Brown.
To expect that team of experts to bring in the best goalkeeping talent in Europe would have been foolish. Kamil Grabara is neither excellent nor woeful, rather he is okay for this level, which isn't the worst thing in the world.
Having just criticised our recruitment team, it’s now time to discuss arguably their greatest achievement – Karlan Grant. At £2 million the former Charlton man seems like the best bit of business the club has done in some time, although I’m not quite sure if that makes up for DiaMbeKonBroBockSobhi just yet…
What is for sure though, is that Karlan Grant has contributed more to the club than all of those players combined. In an atrocious end to the season, Grant was the one shining light for Town, brightening games with his direct running, movement and explosive finishing.
This season he has been by far our most important player, scoring exactly half of our league goals thus far. On Saturday he was the scorer once again, blasting the ball into the top corner of the Wigan goal from an acute angle.
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As Karlan Grant wheeled away to celebrate I jumped up and down and roared with jubilation, but that soon subsided. After a few minutes I actually started to wish that someone else had scored the goal. This close to January, we don’t want Karlan Grant stealing the headlines with phenomenal strikes. If he is to score, let’s hope for tap-ins from two yards or at most, penalties.
Goals are the most precious commodity in the Premier League and there are a number of teams that could be tempted to bid for Grant in January. 12 league goals so far this campaign combined with his impressive showings for a poor side last season will convince many that he is well-worth a bid of £20 million.
Could we afford to turn that kind of money down? I don’t think so, especially considering that we paid 10% of that figure to buy him in the first place. Also, could we convince Karlan Grant to stay? His future clearly lies in the Premier League, somewhere we look unlikely of reaching anytime soon and you couldn't blame him for jumping ship.
Counterintuitive as it may sound, I hope Grant plays poorly for the next few weeks to put an element of doubt into the minds of Premier League scouts.
Our neighbours down the M62 affectionately refer to their team’s unique pressing and possession based football as ‘Bielsa Ball’ in tribute to their Argentine manager. The former Marseille, Lazio and Lille manager has not only transformed a team of Championship chancers into real contenders.
He has also turned them into one of the most entertaining and attractive to watch teams in the division. Whilst I don’t like writing that, I do admit to admiring it. Could anyone really have foreseen a time when Luke Ayling would look like a cultured continental defender?
Leeds United’s playing style is in stark contrast to our own under the Cowley brothers. Over the course of the past three months our results have improved immeasurably under the guidance of the former Lincoln duo, however our style has not.
It is hard to say quite which game was hardest to watch this last week, the draw at Wigan or the win at Charlton. Both were characterised by slow, negative football that was regularly interrupted by cynical fouls, dives or time wasting from the men in blue (and coral).
I understand that for many of you that I might seem churlish or even childish for me to bemoan our performances, especially in a week when we have taken four points from two away games. Perhaps even more so when you consider our current injury and unavailable for selection crises.
The results don’t detract from the fact that our recent games have been hard to watch or enjoy. I understand that we must break up the momentum of our opponents at times, but I can’t pretend to enjoy the callousness of our play-acting.
It is a wonder for example, that we can even field a team on Saturday’s considering how many of our players seem to drop to the grass with ‘serious’ injuries on match days. I mentioned on Twitter recently how my brother actually fell asleep at the Leeds game, during one particularly prolonged moment of ‘treatment’.
These antics annoy me beyond belief and make it tough to sit through a game without fiddling on my phone or following the lead of my brother and taking a quick power nap. Critics of the Cowley brothers have often claimed that their sides are cynical, negative and boring.
Although, according to Lincoln fans and some pundits in the know, they did shed that style towards the end of their reign at Sincil Bank. Jack Payne was brought in over the summer to add more finesse to the Imps side and help them play a more expansive, possession based game.
Hopefully, Danny and Nicky are merely persisting with their current spoiling tactics as a means to an end. When they arrived at the club they were greeted by a group of players used to losing week in week out. Their first task was to reinstall in them a winning mentality and perhaps this was the only way.
I’m not ready to write them off as long-ball merchants just yet, but it is something worth monitoring over the next twelve months. Hopefully we will see a gradual change in playing style after the brothers have had the chance to bring in their own players over the course of the next transfer window.
Until then I’d recommend a large cup of coffee before Town games and potentially a flask for a refill whilst our players receive ‘treatment’.
Until the next time, UTT.