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

12th Man: Questions need to be answered

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So there you have it, a season that promised so much at the outset has finished in relegation to the third tier of English football.

This time around relegation doesn’t feel as painful as from the Premier League. Maybe it’s because it’s been on the cards for so long or maybe it’s because this is exactly what we deserve.

We had been offered a slight lifeline in the last couple of weeks thanks to Rotherham’s points deduction but the damage had already been done.

So just where did it go so wrong this season? This season was another example of Wigan
Athletic making the wrong decisions. We’ve been making the wrong decisions since we were relegated from the Premier League. Three major questions need answering in my eyes – 1) Why was Uwe Rosler given such a large transfer budget if we weren’t happy with the quality of his signings? 2) Why did we appoint the most toxic man in football 3) Why did we stick with him when results were so glaringly poor and it was clear no improvement was forthcoming?

It truly is a travesty that a club who spent so handsomely in the summer and were tipped as favourites for promotion should be relegated in such disastrous circumstances.

There is a twisted irony that in the season Dave Whelan steps down the club are heading back to the leagues he fought so hard to get us out of. I don’t link criticising Dave Whelan because without him there wouldn’t be a Wigan Athletic and certainly not a Wigan Athletic who had experienced the last decade of success but Dave sadly needs to take a lot of the blame for current situation. Catastrophic decisions have led us down this path.

One has to hope that the club have now made the right decision in appointing Gary Caldwell. Next season won’t be the walk in the park many expect, it’ll be a tough slog but already Caldwell has shown himself to be capable.

David Sharpe has said only promotion matters next season and although I agree with the sentiment it was that kind of attitude in relegation from the Premier League that has landed us in this mess. I’ll just be happy to see my team be competitive, play decent football and win a few games again.

That isn’t too much to ask is it?

Sean Livesey

12th Man: Take it to the last day

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Eight months, eighteen games and a whole host of heartache since our last home win was put behind us on Saturday as a battling Wigan Athletic kept alive their extremely slim chances of survival with a 2-1 victory over Brighton.

It was good to see Gary Caldwell get his first win as Wigan Athletic boss at home, our home form feels like it has been a noose around our neck for too long this season and for Caldwell to start off at home with a win will do him and the side a world of good.

Realistically it’s too late for us now and it’s all about finishing the season off positively whilst building for next season but who knows what will happen over the next two weeks. The sensible money will be on either Rotherham or Millwall winning the battle to stay up even with a potential point deduction for Rotherham they’re in a much stronger position going in to the final week of the season than the Latics are but there’s a belief about this new Wigan Athletic.

That belief was shown in the video that was produced for the players ahead of the game against Brighton under instruction from Gary Caldwell and Graham Barrow, with such a new squad it’s important that they realise just what Wigan Athletic means and I couldn’t help but be inspired by that video if the players felt the same it was definitely worth doing.

Gary Caldwell along with David Sharpe has impressed in his first few weeks in the job and that was driven home by the performance on Saturday, Latics tried to play attacking passing football and you couldn’t help but make comparisons with Roberto Martinez’s Wigan Athletic. Although we’re a while away from that it was good to see us try to play football as oppose to the style of play we had been treated to in recent weeks.

Finally a word of congratulations should go to Tim Chow, if anything sums up Mackay’s time in charge of Wigan Athletic its Tim Chow. Told he was being released by Mackay he has been given a reprieve by Caldwell and shown the quality that has made him such a bright prospect over the last few years. He has grasped his chance with both hands and deserved all the plaudits he received on Saturday. Whether in League One as is likely or the Championship next season’s side will be built around the likes of Tim.

So on to Wolves it won’t be easy with Kenny Jackett’s side still chasing a play-off place but if we can get a second home win in as many weeks who knows what may happen this season.

Come on Wigan – let’s take it to the final day.

SEAN LIVESEY

12th Man: Glimmer of hope

MillwallIt had been on the cards for months, I was writing about us sleep walking to League one as far back as December but when it actually comes it still hits you hard. Relegation was all but confirmed on Tuesday night. After a hard fought point against Fulham and with news of a potential points deduction for Rotherham on the horizon expectations were high before the game against Millwall.

Sadly the same Achilles heel that has affected us all season our inability to score whilst on top coupled with an aggressive game plan from Millwall combined to leave us on the precipice of relegation. It seems that our decent football was once again evident with the players controlling the game through possession and creating numerous chances. But the reason we are where we are is because we can’t score.

Waghorn’s red card made a difficult task that bit harder and the game was only going to go one way after that sending off. Rotherham couldn’t beat Fulham on Wednesday night but it’s surely only a matter of time until relegation is confirmed – points deduction or no points deduction. In that regard serious questions need to be asked and answers given as to why a season that promised so much from the outset has descended in to the farce that has led to a second relegation in as many seasons.

Amidst all the gloom there is a slight glimmer of hope, Tim Chow made his senior debut on Tuesday night despite appearing to be released last week. The captain of our youth and development sides from recent seasons and a kid who has been with us since ten. If we are to be relegated it will be both sensible and necessary for us to build our team around our own youth products.

Chow impressed in pre-season alongside Fraser Fyvie and it was mystifying that he wasn’t given a chance in the early months of the season and now it seems the club have had a change of heart since Caldwell was appointed and offered him an extended contract. The loan of Josh Murphy from Norwich has also been extended, I’ll be the first to admit he hasn’t impressed me in the few games he’s had with us so far but could that extension be with a view to next season? He’s a young lad who we’re being told has bags of potential maybe he would thrive in a promotion bid in League One?

The Championship hasn’t been kind to us second time around, perhaps a chance to regroup in League One will rejuvenate the club. We need to get it right this time around though because we’ve got so much wrong since we were relegated. There needs to be a firm long term plan in place and the club need to stick with the man handed that opportunity. Gary Caldwell has the right ideas in terms of football if he can get a squad together to implement that then relegation needn’t be the disaster it could well be.

If we don’t get it right and we return to the short termism of the last two seasons then who knows what will happen. For the clubs sake let’s hope we get it right this time around.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 17 April 2015

12th Man: Was always going to end in tears

Gary Caldwell

It was always going to end in tears, people tried to warn Dave Whelan that it was the wrong decision, the club have gained absolutely nothing from appointing Malky Mackay but have lost so much. The club that had worked so hard to build up a positive reputation both on and off the pitch had that reputation ruined in one fell swoop. Mackay brought nothing positive to the club, neither in a footballing sense or off the pitch – as the Evening Post said this week his departure was ‘ the end of an error’.

The two games across Easter summed up our play over the last five months under Mackay, it was turgid, it was defensive and it was bloody awful to watch as far away from a Wigan Athletic side as you could imagine. In two games where we should have been fighting to the death in order to gain points to help our survival bid we meekly surrendered against a nervy Middlesbrough side and a Derby team who hadn’t won for eight games.

The continued exclusion of Martyn Waghorn when we needed goals was as mystifying a decision as they come from Mackay and just summed up the safety first nature of the last few months. The atmosphere at the DW was one of the worst I could remember and he really couldn’t continue in his job when the Latics fans myself included made their feelings known. His dismissal was desperately needed and although in my mind six months too late it was the right decision from David Sharpe.

The club moved swiftly to appoint Gary Caldwell and although it may seem a mystifying decision from outside of the club it could well be an inspired choice. Love him or loathe him Gary Caldwell was a massive influence on the Roberto Martinez era and although he accepts he wasn’t the best player he gave nothing less than 100% every time he pulled on the Wigan Athletic shirt.

The club needed to recognise it had got it wrong over the 12 months, and appointing Caldwell as manager is just what we needed. Finally it’s a decision that concentrates on the long term and has somebody with Wigan Athletic’s best interests at heart. As David Sharpe said he is one of our own and knows exactly what makes us tick and his declaration that he wants to return to the attacking football of the Roberto Martinez era is music to my ears and many other Wigan Athletic supporters after the depressing football of the last few months.

I think survival is beyond us this year but if Caldwell can start building a fresh in readiness for League One next season we should be able to approach that campaign with everything focussed on the goal of promotion.

It’s been an awful season, one of the worst I can remember for many reasons but on Tuesday afternoon it felt a bit like the Wigan Athletic of old had returned. The increasingly impressive David Sharpe has stepped out of his Grandad’s shadow and made a big call that needed to be made. The club have accepted it got it wrong after Roberto’s departure and this appointment although too late to save us goes a long way to addressing that.

Whatever league we’re in next season we can look forward to with a fresh focus. Wednesday’s press conference showed a unified force as David Sharpe, Jonathan Jackson and Graham Barrow joined Gary Caldwell on the head table.  A complete contrast from the day Mackay was introduced to the press. That same unity now needs to be shown throughout the club both on and off the pitch. Caldwell is an appointment we can all get behind – with our support who knows what could happen.

Good luck Gary.

SEAN LIVESEY

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 10 April 2015

12th Man: Easter is key

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Could Easter bring about a resurrection for Wigan Athletic and their under fire manager? We couldn’t really have wished for a more difficult two games over the easter period. Middlesbrough who have struggled in the Championship in recent years look to have finally hit on a formula and manager that works for them.

Along with Bournemouth and Watford Middlesbrough look certain to be playing Premier League football next season whilst Easter Monday sees the visit of Derby County who like Middlesbrough have genuine ambitions of playing in the top flight next season.

It could well be a good thing that we’re playing the sides at the top of the division as in recent weeks we have shown that we perform better against the sides at the top of the tree as oppose to those lower down. The same can be said for our home form, away from home we look to have a chance whilst at home our form just hasn’t been good enough over the course of the season but even more so since Mackay took over.

The task ahead of Wigan Athletic is simple we need to overtake Rotherham and we can no longer afford to drop points, wins are the only thing that will get us out of this situation and that means wins both home and away. As such we can’t afford to be defensive anymore, if we lose by being bold so be it. Better than going down thinking what may have been.

Mackay is a naturally cautious manager but that caution needs to be tempered with a focus on our attackers, threatening at one end of the pitch shouldn’t mean a reduction in our defensive qualities.

Martyn Waghorn who has been cruelly ostracised over the last couple of months should be a definite starter after his heroics in the game against Bolton whilst James McClean should make a welcome return from suspension. Both of these players have the quality to create and convert chances something that both Leon Clarke and Marc Antoine Fortune have failed to do in recent weeks.

The gap is currently five points, unless we do our job it could be an insurmountable lead for Rotherham come Easter Monday. It’s down to Mackay and his team to make sure that isn’t the case.

Sean Livesey

12th Man: Too little too late

Too little too late

Martyn Waghon

Saturday was one of the better home performances of recent times – a disallowed goal and numerous goal attempts hitting the woodwork was all that prevented us taking three points in the derby against Bolton. In the end Martyn Waghorn’s wonder kick kept our chances alive but it’s only a slim chance and with the games coming up for this team I genuinely fear our days in the Championship are numbered.

The reaction from Waghorn to his goal was completely understandable, he’s endured a frustrating season after being one of the catalysts in last season’s run to the play-offs. This season for one reason or another he hasn’t had chance to show what he can do. His exclusion over the last few weeks whilst being fit is another example of the baffling selections from Malky Mackay. Waghorn is a proven Championship goal scorer to exclude him is ridiculous.

The reason we are in this position is our inability to score and the managers inability to find a solution to this is hampering our chances of survival. It is criminal the amount of proven goal scorers that have signed for Latics this season and either not been used or marginalised. We have two strikers out on loan in their respective countries scoring on a regular basis whilst Martyn Waghorn and Billy McKay who remain at the club have been marginalised and bar three or four minute appearances here and there largely haven’t been given a chance.

Instead of shipping out Oriol Riera and Andy Delort at the first opportunity why didn’t the manager try to coach them in to his style? Surely that is the job of a manager – to coach? Instead Mackay seems willing to blame everyone else bar himself for our position. Those sentiments don’t wash with me and won’t wash with the Wigan Athletic supporters.

Surely it makes more sense for us to utilise the players we already had rather than ship them out. Mackay’s comments become more outlandish by the week, when he first arrived he blamed our position on the squad being too large yet last week he said he had brought in young loan players to “give us some bodies for a bench” then commenting on Jerome Sinclair and Josh Murphy he said their arrivals were “to give them some experience”.

In our position we should not be looking to give other club’s youngsters a chance to gain experience. We should be focussing on what is best for Wigan Athletic and somehow managing to maintain our Championship status. The manager is doing neither at the moment, even with the departures we had more than enough quality in the squad to get out of this situation and if we’re looking to give youngsters ‘experience’ I would much rather see Wigan Athletic youth players given that experience than Mackay doing a favour for his old pal at Liverpool Brendan Rodgers.

Amazingly we still have a chance to get out of this but that will depend on Latics scoring goals, with Mackay in charge and the games coming up I’m not confident we
can do that.

Sean Livesey

12th Man: Still in with a chance

marc-antoine-fortune-and-kim-bo-kyung-celebration-v-norwich-city-16x973-2314971_1600x900Two wins in a week, it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to say that and yet those two wins weren’t even the biggest news of the week.