12th Man: Key Period


A return of seven points from a possible nine with two difficult away games thrown in for good measure is an excellent return for Latics and sets Gary Caldwell and the lads up nicely for a key period of games.

It has been a slow start to the season in many ways but was it ever going to be anything else? With a brand new squad of players to bed in, a drastic change in style of play and all the upheaval of relegation meant that we were never going to start the season in blistering form. Indeed many of the Latics faithful said before the start of the season that they would be happy with a season of consolidation and then a promotion push next year but as it is and with the current performances I think that would be a disappointment.

After two hard away games we get a welcome return to the home comforts of the DW on Saturday, Swindon look to be in turmoil off the pitch at the moment. Still without a replacement for Mark Cooper who was sacked by chairman Lee Power earlier this month Power himself has been in charge for the last two games and looks to carry on as caretaker manager on Saturday. Where Latics have been unbeaten in nine games Swindon have failed to win in the same number of games. Everything on paper points to Latics keeping up their impressive run of form but be wary of a wounded Swindon – they scored two goals in the last five minutes last weekend to earn a credible draw with play-off chasing Coventry so clearly aren’t the push over many would expect.

It’s been over three years since our last game against Swindon, when a very different Wigan Athletic exited the FA Cup at the first hurdle following that defeat Roberto Martinez’s side went on one of the best runs of any Wigan Athletic side in history playing fast free flowing football and wiping aside some of the biggest names in world football. It would be nice if this new incarnation could follow a similar path as we look to get back to the Championship.

A note about the FA Cup – although many of us were hoping for a glamour tie against one of the many non-league sides left in the competition Bury could still be the ideal tie, David Flitcroft’s side are currently in the midst of an injury crisis. The last thing you want is an extra game against one of your nearest rivals. With what should be a large away following at Gigg Lane Gary Caldwell could have the ideal opportunity to progress to the second round of the competition.


12th Man: A forward line to rival any


Two wins in a week displays the growing maturity of this Wigan Athletic side. Those two wins now form part of an un-beaten eight game spell in all competitions and although many of those have been draws I think it’s safe to say that the Latics are finding their feet at this level.

Many of us have said the same over the last few months that this side needed time to gel, time to get to know each other and time to get used to the managers style of play and hopefully that’s now happening.

It was always going to take time and we still have a long way to go but the determination showed in the two wins this week – firstly over Colchester and then Peterborough will stand us in good stead over the next few months. Both wins were totally different but showed important parts of our play, in both games we showed the increasingly clinical nature of our attacking play which looks a world away from the early games of the season were we struggled to make an impression on the oppositions goal.

Where the Colchester game was comfortable, Peterborough was nothing but. Once again we showed our defensive frailties in conceding the two goals but as per usual there’s no giving up with this Latics side and the immediate response from Craig Davies and Max Power paid dividends.

It was pleasing to see Max Power get on the scoresheet again, he had been unfairly criticised in some quarters earlier this month and considering he’s only 22 it looks like he’s now fulfilling his potential with us.

It was good to see Craig Davies return and with Grant Holt impressing in his four recent cameo appearances we’ve now arguably the strongest forward line in the division.

Hiwula, Grigg, Davies, Holt, Wildschut and not to mention Vukic and Coulthirst still to return from injury.

All in all it points to a positive last few weeks for Gary Caldwell’s side if we can keep that up with a result at Bradford we’ll be well on our way.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 23rd October 2015

12th Man: Dividing opinion

crewe-alexandra-2-wigan-athletic-3-jordy-hiwula-goal-celebration-for-highlights-4x373-2733053_478x359Only one loss in eight games, unbeaten at home, on the periphery of the play-offs and through to the next round of the Johnstones Paint Trophy. Some would deem that a successful start to the season but still there are rumblings of discontent amongst the Latics faithful.

I left the stadium on Saturday surprised and a little disappointed at the reaction to the draw with Walsall. Admittedly it was a game we should have won, but the fact we came out of the game with a draw after going down to ten men whilst on top is testament to this team and it’s ethos.

If we’re being truthful a draw against one of the top sides in the division shouldn’t require a reaction like that anyway. I understand that the style of football we’re playing under Caldwell will always divide opinion amongst Latics fans. As it did under Roberto Martinez before him but we need to get used to it – because it isn’t going anywhere. After last season and the disastrous reign of Malky Mackay the club will stick with this for as long as it takes.

In all the games I’ve seen so far this season I’ve been entertained and that was the case in point again on Tuesday as Latics progressed to the quarter finals of the Johnstones Paint Trophy.

I said at the time it was one of the most enjoyable nights I’ve had watching Latics in a long while. It’s a competition that’s often derided but I think most Latics fans would be happy with the value they got for their ten pound ticket. With the draw coming up on Saturday let’s hope it’s a favourable one as Latics aim to return to Wembley.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 9th October 2015

12th Man: Taking the positives

Will Grigg

I thought there was a lot to be pleased about after Tuesday’s match with Millwall, admittedly it wasn’t a great performance. Some would even argue it was a bad performance which is understandable but if we take a step back and look at things subjectively there are a lot of positives to take from Tuesday’s game.

Millwall came in to the game on the back of four games unbeaten away from home with three of those being wins – away form in stark contrast to our own. We were still missing a number of key players from our starting line-up including Jason Pearce, Craig Morgan, Will Grigg, Craig Davies, Haris Vukic and Francisco Junior.

We dominated the first half and it wasn’t a surprise when we went ahead through Jacobs but as too often this season we couldn’t capitalise on our lead, we looked nervy at the back when Millwall pushed forward and it was only a matter of time until they equalised. A bigger disappointment was to see Millwall go ahead in a game which we had dominated their physical tactics had us struggling – we quickly need to learn to close teams out and to be more clinical in the games that we dominate. I go back to my original point with all of those players missing and a patched up defence a draw against a team with one of the best away records in the football league shouldn’t be looked on as all doom and gloom.

Despite the continued absence of Jason Pearce there was brighter news as Will Grigg made a goal scoring return to earn us a point whilst the return to midfield of the on-loan Francissco Junior made a massive difference to our attacking play in the second half. It isn’t perfect at the moment – not by a long stretch but it also isn’t as terrible as some would believe, unbeaten at home and only two points away from a play-off place at this stage of the season with all of the changes we made in the summer is a promising position to be in. The key now is to build on that – starting with second placed Walsall on Saturday – it won’t be easy but if we can do that we’ll be flying again.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 2nd October 2015

12th Man: Positivity

Jordan Flores

I’ve been quite surprised by the reaction from some quarters to our win over Fleetwood – many saying we were hanging on at the end, some even saying we were lucky others arguing that we don’t deserve to be where we are in the League. Or even that we should be doing a lot better than we are.

I know that football in its very nature sometimes generates views that are polar opposites and we can’t always agree but the reaction still surprises me. If someone had said at the start of August that we would be in touch with the play-off places, unbeaten at home and only four points off an automatic promotion place I think I would have snapped your hand off.
This doesn’t mean that the side shouldn’t be criticised but at the moment I can only see positives.

To make as many changes as we have in terms of the players representing us and the style of play we’re asking them to play there was always going to be a bedding in period and for us to be challenging in the top half of the table is tribute to Gary Caldwell, Graham Barrow, David Sharpe and all of the players.

Wins like those over Crewe, Fleetwood and even Chesterfield may be seen as lucky by some but for myself it shows something that was missing throughout the majority of last season and that’s a determination to see the job out.
As we head over to Oldham on Saturday we’re in a great position and we aren’t even firing on all cylinders yet. If we can sort out our away form, imagine what could happen to us this season.

It was encouraging to see that we still had goals in the side on Saturday despite missing both Will Grigg and Craig Davies, it looks like they’ll both be unavailable for Oldham so it gives Jordy Hiwula another chance to make that number nine position he’s own.

Despite being linked with a move away Samni Odelusi could well have a part to play whilst Grant Holt edged closer to a return with 90 minutes for the Under 21’s this week. With Shaq Coulthirst returning from injury it makes a weakened forward line look that bit stronger.

If we can start to be more clinical – especially away from home we’ll start to get the results expected of us.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post – Friday 25th September 2015 

12th Man: Never say die


Last Saturday was a great example of the difference between this season’s Wigan Athletic and the one that went before it last season, 2-0 down with under ten minutes of the game remaining many Wigan Athletic fans thought Saturday was heading for yet another away defeat but a crazy ten minute spell changed all of that.

If Latics had been in this position at any point last season there is no way we would have seen what we had and that’s a tribute to the skills of Gary Caldwell and his staff – to increase the confidence and attitude of this young team. Although Latics weren’t at their best on Saturday they didn’t expect or deserve to be 2-0 down coming in to the final stages of the game. Latics had their fair share of chances against a strong Chesterfield side and either side could have gone in ahead at half-time, it felt like the season was following a similar path as Latics spurned a number of chances and found themselves 2-0 down.

For us to score three goals in nine minutes and actually win the game could be a big turning point for our season, Saturday meant many things – it meant we got our first three points away from home this season, our first away goals and our first comeback of the season. A win of the like on Saturday will do wonders for a youthful and ever improving Wigan Athletic side – the substitutes on Saturday made a big difference and key amongst those was Jordy Hiwula and Andy Kellett – it needed a lot of composure for Hiwula to recover from the earlier chance where he hit the bar to score the winner and he showed some great composure to get the winner whilst Kellett made a big difference to Latics attacking chances alongside Chris McCann who showed the sort of driving runs we haven’t seen since the high point of Uwe Rosler’s time in charge.

It’s now one defeat in five games for Wigan Athletic, with three of those being wins. Gary Caldwell’s young team seem to be finding their feet and if we can keep in touch with the leading pack over the next couple of months we would certainly be in with a chance of the play-offs come the end of the season. It feels far too early to think of anything more than that.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Thursday 10 September

Slowly but surely


wigan-athletic-1-crewe-alexandra-0-michael-jacobs-celebration-4x373-2655544_478x359After the disappointment of the Gillingham game a week previously it was good to see the Latics return to winning ways at home on Saturday, the 1-0 score line doesn’t do justice to Latics dominance throughout the game. After the way we started the first half it could have been another game like Scunthorpe and it was a shame we didn’t manage to convert those chances in to goals.

But as many have pointed out the game against Crewe is the like of which we would have lost last season, Gary Caldwell stated one of his main priorities for this season was to turn the DW in to a fortress and although it’s early days our home record of two wins and one draw so far points to that.

Many people said we were lucky to get away with three points against Crewe but I would qualify that by asking were Crewe lucky to get away with only conceding one goal? We had nine shots on target to Crewe’s two and although we took our foot off the pedal in the second half the defence stood firm and we didn’t look like conceding which we have in the past couple of weeks.

Tuesday’s transfer deadline day brought its own sense of drama as three new arrivals stepped foot in to Christopher Park, as the mythical window ‘slammed shut’ at 18:00 it looked as though the Latics had failed to land any transfer targets but one after another came in three young players to strengthen our defensive and attacking options. Andy Kellett the latest player to join from our neighbours up the road along with Jack Hendry who Everton were tracking represent the latest signings that the future of Wigan Athletic can be built on. Both are young defenders with an impressive pedigree – Kellett featuring for Plymouth on loan as well as winning U21 honours with Manchester United whilst Hendry who has broken through the Dundee United youth system and impressed with first team appearances at Partick Thistle.

Haris Vuckic who joins on loan from Newcastle is an interesting proposition, he’s impressed at League One level in previous seasons – helping Rotherham to promotion a couple of years ago whilst he also has experience of the Scottish Championship with a stint at Rangers last season. The one disappointment from Tuesday came with the collapse of the proposed transfer of James Vaughan from Huddersfield – Vaughan without doubt is a Premier League striker and despite his injury record could be just what we need to help fire us up the league – maybe that will be one we revisit when the emergency loan window re-opens next week.

Add those three to the other impressive young squad members in all positions and the future of Wigan Athletic looks a lot brighter than it did for parts of last season, if Caldwell can meld this side together and turn potential in to experience who knows what we could do over the next couple of seasons. Chesterfield is next on the horizon for this new Latics side and as impressive as we’ve been at home we’ve been poor away from home, it would be good to see if we could change our away fortunes around this weekend as that would be another gear change for us.

I’m looking forward to Chesterfield, the last time I went there was in 1997 when as a ten year old I watched us win 3-2 – the contrasting fortunes of the two clubs show just how much we’ve progressed since 1997 when we were arguably on a cusp of a wave. We return on Saturday as equals once again but I wouldn’t say no to a similar result to that game in 1997.

I’d say all in all it’s been another decent week for the good ship Wigan Athletic, let’s hope that feel good vibe continues in to September.

Sean Livesey

12th Man: That’s more like it

Donervon Daniels

I think that’s what they term a successful week, following on from another disappointing result on Sunday afternoon the New Era finally kicked in to gear on Wednesday night and how. Where in the past few games Latics looked laboured and without speed they looked pacey and direct against Scunthorpe.

There were some very good things about the first three games along with some not so good elements of our play. Against Bury in particular we looked dangerous and we should have come away with the win whilst Sunday’s game offered a strong defensive performance. So it was good to see all of that come together last night, let’s be under no illusions – Scunthorpe were a poor side. They won’t be the strongest side we face this season but as the old adage goes you can only beat what’s in front of you.

A lot had been made before the match of a need for us to play 442 as Will Grigg had looked so isolated in his first few games and although I don’t think 442 is the magic formula to all football success that many do it was pleasing to see Craig Davies finally get some game time. The management are clearly taking it slowly with Davies, his injury problems are well documented so to see him get a goal along with game time under his belt was another pleasing aspect of Wednesday’s game.

Playing two forwards won’t always work and sometimes our team selections and tactics will need to be adjusted depending on the opposition but on Wednesday it did work and it was pleasing to see both Grigg and Davies building up an understanding between each other and of course both players getting on the score sheet.

It’s still very early days and as ridiculous as the complaining over the manager, his staff and his players were after the defeats to Coventry and Bury so are the claims that we’ll walk the league after winning one game. Everything this season needs to be treated as a work in progress, we have the makings of a very good side and they need our patience both in the good times and the inevitable bad times we’ll experience this season. Let’s hope the lads can build on Wednesday night with our first away win of the season at Gillingham.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 21st August 2015.

12th Man: Give it time

Michael Jacobs1

So it wasn’t the opening week of the season anybody would have wanted but it was certainly one that many could have envisaged. As disappointing as the performance was against Coventry the performance against Bury was much better and it should have meant progress in the League Cup for the first time since 2012.

These two games have been my first serious look at Gary Caldwell’s new Wigan Athletic and although it’s very much a work in progress if we take the results out of the way – especially Tuesday you can see a lot of good things about this side. The midfield looks particularly impressive with David Perkins arguably taking man of the match for both games, whilst Tuesday allowed the likes of Max Power, Jordan Flores and Michael Jacobs to show us what they’re about.

There was a marked increase in creativity against Bury with numerous chances from across the side and you could see this is something that had improved from the weekend when Will Grigg had looked so isolated against Coventry. As impressive as the midfield looked the defenders in the side were disappointing, all four goals we’ve conceded could have been easily stopped and you’ve got to hope that with increased game time together the defensive side of our game will improve.

Looking across the Latics forums and social media after Tuesday’s defeat I was surprised at the negativity surrounding the side once again. Did anyone think we would be unbeatable after a few weeks together? This is a completely new squad, in footballing terms they are still strangers. With each game together they will get stronger and Gary Caldwell’s plans and philosophy will be more clear and that will be reflected on the pitch.

To write off the manager and side after two games must be a record, even for the ever impatient Latics fanbase.

This is a long term project, we’ve had two years of upheaval that resulted in relegation to the third tier – if we want any chance of returning to a higher stage we need to give the manager, his players and the chairman as much time as possible. Otherwise we’ll be back to square one.

Doncaster will be no easy task on Sunday, like Bury they’re a club that are now are equals. We have to realise that but at the same
time make sure that our quality shines through.

Let’s get that first home win under our belts.

Sean Livesey

Originally published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 14th August 2015

12th Man: Let’s learn the lessons of last season

David Sharpe and Gary Caldwell

12 months ago, many people myself included expected to be writing about our triumphant return to the Premier League in August 2015. That wasn’t the case and although there’s no need to go over old ground as to why we were relegated Gary Caldwell and David Sharpe will do well to heed the lessons of last season, we’re in a similar predicament to last season although we may be in a new league. Once again we have been made favourites for promotion by most of the press and pundits and as with last year we’ve made a number of high profile signings who have had very little time to gel.

You have to hope the difference this time will be those players want to play for the club where in the case of last season that same desire wasn’t there. The squad has been completely re-shaped and at the time of writing only Leon Barnett remains from the squad that started the season last August and with his lack of game time in pre-season there is no guarantee he’ll make an appearance.

With the expectation comes added pressure and the playing staff weren’t able to deal with that last season, whatever the reason was for that. This time players talk about buying in to the vision of David Sharpe and Gary Caldwell two relatively young men who know our football club as well as anybody and will be eager to help us return to our previous lofty position.

Where last season’s squad featured a lot of un-proven talent this squad has heaps of League One and Championship experience and you can only be impressed by how the club have recruited this summer. The stand out players are clearly Welsh internationals Craig Morgan and Craig Davies whilst Will Grigg will be relied on to become the goal scoring striker we sorely need. Reece James joins from Manchester United again spurning supposed interest from Championship clubs while Everton youngsters Francissco Junior and JonJoe Kenny represent potential. Across the pitch we look strong and many may agree that on paper this team is stronger than the one that ended last season.

Despite this as I keep reiterating we need to proceed with caution, although David Sharpe’s comments at the Fans Forum about smashing the league were well intended and clearly the comments of an enthusiastic supporter they could be a stone around our neck. With so many changes and upheaval in the club this side will take time to gel and learn each other’s style of play – you can see that from the under whelming pre-season we’ve just witnessed.

The club needs to show patience but at the same time the supporters do as well, we’ve had two years of complete upheaval at the club since we won the FA Cup and this ‘New Era’ represents our best chance of returning to stability. Mistakes will be made along the way – Gary Caldwell and David Sharpe are both novices we need to give them as much support as possible.

Away from ourselves our rivals will be lining up to knock us down, make no bounds about it we’ll be a scalp for most of League One. Even if we feel more comfortable amongst the likes of Bury, Rochdale and Oldham it’s been over a decade since we were at the same level as these clubs. In that time we’ve been on a journey that they could only dream of and they’ll be eager to bring us back to earth.

Relegation really shouldn’t have happened last season, it was scandalous that a club who had invested so much and had so many resources on the pitch could be relegated alongside the likes of Blackpool and Millwall but relegated we were, relegation needn’t be the disaster it could have been if we can use this opportunity to get back to the Championship we’ll only do that if we use the club’s motto and progress with unity.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 7th August 2015