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.

12th Man: Need to push on

Rumours  were abound on Monday night that Malky Mackay would finally be relieved of his duties as Wigan Athletic manager.

12th Man: The plot thickens

Ben Watson, Shaun Maloney, Callum McManaman, FA Cup

Where do you begin to describe the last seven days in the life of Wigan Athletic, a must win game on Saturday against Huddersfield came and went with yet another defeat for the increasingly under pressure Malky Mackay. Once again we were our own worst enemy as we dominated the game but yet again failed to create any chances of note and lost to a cross come goal.

This was preceded by the departures of the two men who were central to Wigan Athletic winning the FA Cup as Ben Watson departed for Watford and Shaun Maloney headed stateside to join Chicago Fire. Later on in the week Adam Forshaw and Callum McManaman followed them out of the door signing for Middlesbrough and West Brom respectively. Malky Mackay has continually stated since he arrived he only wanted players committed to the Wigan Athletic cause at the club and I suspect the removal of players such as Maloney and Watson are central to that purpose.

There is no getting away from Malky Mackay’s record since he arrived at the club, it has been nothing short of abysmal. I and many others have been quick to call the club out on his appointment and subsequent record but is there an underlying reason to this. Have all the players who left the club this January become so disheartened with life at Wigan Athletic that they simply didn’t want to be here any longer?

If that is the case it’s a sad end to the careers of many Wigan Athletic players, especially the legendary FA Cup winning side. It was clear many players saw their future’s elsewhere but I thought it would have been in the club’s best interests to keep our most talented players together to help us win the battle against relegation. But despite that there are financial considerations to consider and as it looks more likely that we will be starting next season in League One it is understandable that the club has to plan financially for that likely occurrence.

We can blame former managers, we can blame the current incumbent, we can even blame the board but the fact is everyone needs to rally behind Wigan Athletic at the moment. The future of the club is at stake and if that means replacing our high earners and marquee signings from the summer so be it – even if we don’t agree with it.

Malky Mackay will live and die by his record with his own players, the club are giving him the opportunity to shape his own squad. The departures of Uwe Rosler and Roberto Martinez’s key players are displaying that. Perhaps we will see that upturn in form as Mackay’s signings start life at Wigan Athletic.

Whether that will be enough to keep us up remains to be seem.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Thursday 29th January 2015

12th Man: Better

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We’re still firmly rooted in the bottom three, we’re still conceding silly goals and we’re still not creating or scoring anywhere near enough. But and it’s a big but Malky Mackay may have finally stumbled on something of a coherent line up on Saturday afternoon against Blackburn. A point still wasn’t good enough in our situation but it was the first point earned where the side had fought back under Malky Mackay.

Perhaps, just perhaps some of that old belief is coming back, I’ve been critical of Mackay’s selections recently but credit is due to him for bringing William Kvist back in from the cold. The Danish captain gave a good account of himself on Saturday and the praise he received from the manager was well earned.

Saturday was Kvist’s first appearance under the manager and his first since October, only Mackay himself knows why Kvist hadn’t been worthy of a call up to the first team previously but now he has he surely must keep his place for Saturday. Ben Watson has looked a shadow of his former self since returning from injury and the introduction of Emyr Huws alongside Kvist added some much needed composure to a struggling midfield.

Also refreshing was the forward play of Martyn Waghorn and James McClean, McClean is making a decent fist of his role as a forward for Mackay and although he still looked isolated having Waghorn alongside him gave him that support that had been missing in recent weeks. Waghorn was a big miss earlier in the season and it was such a shame that his excellent form after joining us in January wasn’t continued in to the start of the 2014/15 season. It was also interesting to see Andy Delort given game time, I think it’s quite clear that Mackay doesn’t think he is the answer to our striking issues but he has a proven goal scoring pedigree and offers a different type of threat that could still be effective.

The lack of goals is our main issue at the moment and with the gap between us and safety widening with every passing game it’s imperative that the side starts scoring goals. Huddersfield come to the DW in a mixed run of form themselves, wins over Watford and Bolton have been sandwiched between defeats to Middlesbrough and Reading. If we want any chance of staying up, games like this Saturday’s are key.

The time for talking is over, by hook or by crook we have to stay up and that has to start with a win on Saturday. We’ve done it before and if we put in a 100% we can do it again – come on Wigan.

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

12th Man: Can it get any worse?

James McCleanI feel like these articles have become the equivalent of a broken record over the last few months. Once again we as supporters hope that we’re about to turn the corner and once again the players and the management fail to live up to our expectations.

Owen Coyle said that Wigan Athletic fans had un-realistic expectations just before he relinquished his role as Wigan Athletic manager Owen probably had more of an idea what he meant than Wigan Athletic supporters but at the moment Wigan Athletic fans only expectation is of a team willing to give a 100% each time they step out on to the pitch. Sadly that is far from being the case with this current Wigan Athletic side.

Where has it gone so wrong for the Latics over the last few months? Is it really nine short months since Wigan looked on course for a second consecutive FA Cup final and a quick return to the Premier League? A series of disastrous decisions following last spring has taken us to the current situation and it really is difficult to see a route out of our current situation.

The appointment of Malky Mackay is looking more disastrous with every week – tactics are confusing, selections are baffling and certain players are being marginalised. Far more than they ever were under Uwe Rosler, if survival was the aim of the game this season we should have kept with the aforementioned Uwe as I refuse to believe he would have overseen such a disastrous spell of games. Nine games, one win, one draw and a huge seven losses – for a new manager who traditionally receive some sort of bounce it makes for sorry reading.

Malky Mackay has continually stated that he makes his selections based on the players who impress him during training. The selection of Liam Ridgewell couldn’t have been based on training alone, if Mackay had judged the centre-back in training he would have seen he was woefully short of match practice and in term playing time with his new team mates.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Liam Ridgewell had a nightmare debut at Birmingham and it isn’t fair to lay the blame at the player, his primary focus is to spend six weeks with Wigan Athletic to get fit in order to return in time for the start of the MLS season. The fact that he hadn’t played a game since October surely means that he couldn’t be thrown in at the deep end in such a high pressured game – especially when we are seemingly well stocked with defensive options. The fact that he was only withdrawn due to injury concerns me, anyone who saw our defending during that game could tell that Ridgewell was nowhere near being up to speed.

Time is fast running out for Wigan Athletic and if we don’t find some form from somewhere soon I fully expect us to be starting next season as a League One club. From the attitude of the management and some of the players I think that’s already seen as a given.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 16th January 2015