The transfer window – a sign of things to come for Latics?

 

“Of course Luis wants to work and play at the top level. But unless something drastic happens, he will be staying here.”

Brendan Rodgers’ hapless quote did not go down too well with the fans. The Luis Suarez saga dragged on for so long, but the end-result was that the player got what he wanted with a move to Barcelona.  Suarez had been pivotal in Liverpool’s challenge for the Premier League title. His departure seriously weakened a team that had come so close to winning the Premier League.

Nick Powell’s departure from Wigan Athletic over the January transfer window would also have seriously weakened a team striving to win their division. The media was awash with stories telling us that other clubs were bidding for him. We had to hold our breath until the window closed on Wednesday evening.

Powell’s case is remarkable among modern day footballers. Indeed, it was so refreshing to get away from the media hype of Alexis Sanchez and Manchester United, instead hearing how a player did not want to go a higher division to earn a much bigger salary. Powell quite simply told his chairman that he wanted to stay at Wigan and consecutive bids from Brighton were turned down by the club.

January transfer windows have been depressing affairs over recent years at Wigan Athletic. The decimation of January 2015 immediately comes to mind, when Dave Whelan had Malky Mackay boot out so many household names, together with players who had only been signed in summer. It was a matter of reducing the wage bill more than anything else. Relegation was not a surprise consequence of those actions. Add to that the woeful comings and goings in 2017 under the inept Warren Joyce. None of the 13 players he signed were at the club when the current season began. But the January 2018 dealings were by no means depressing, and if anything, they were positively uplifting. So, what has changed at the club?

First and foremost is the manager. Paul Cook has shown the kind of shrewdness in hiring and moving-on of players that has been lacking at Wigan in recent years. When Lee Evans left to join Sheffield United, early in the transfer window, it looked like a case of David Sharpe not being willing to put up that extra money to keep the player. Evans had been excellent and wanted to stay at the club.

But the signing of Jamie Walker from Hearts looked like a step forward, a player who can play the number 10 role that Nick Powell currently occupies. Within a few days James Vaughan was signed from Sunderland, an experienced player who has not only played most of his football in the upper two tiers of English football but has a superb goalscoring record in League 1. The loan signing of Jay Fulton from Swansea was to follow, then on deadline day Devante Cole was signed from Fleetwood for reportedly £400,000 and Donervon Daniels brought back from Rochdale.

Cook has brought in largely younger players, together with the 29-year-old Vaughan. Walker is 24 years old, Fulton 23 and Cole 22.  Daniels is still only 24. His contract runs out in summer. Cole’s signing was a bit of a surprise, a third central striker to challenge Will Grigg and James Vaughan. However, Cole might well be used on the flanks when needed.

Only time will tell if the players brought in during January 2018 will make a success of it at Wigan. But their profiles certainly look promising and the blend seems right. What is surprising is that David Sharpe has spent more money over January when the club are heading for a financial loss for the season. It is not what we have come to expect in recent years.

Reports suggest that the current wage bill is around £10 m, which cannot even be met half way by gate receipts and EFL subsidies. Part of the funds paid out in January will be offset by a 30-40% share of the £1.5 m transfer fee of Jack Hendry from Dundee to Celtic. However, the takeover by the Asian consortium appears imminent. Has this influenced the transfer window dealings? Moreover, will David Sharpe continue when the takeover happens?

Does Sharpe’s tweet give us a clue?

 

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A Swansea City fan’s view of Jay Fulton

 

Wigan Athletic have signed 23-year-old Jay Fulton on loan from Swansea City for the remainder of the season. The 5 ft 10 in Fulton’s contract with the Swans expires in June.

Following the announcement of his latest recruit Paul Cook said that: “Jay will fit right in here. It is a good move for him and we are really looking forward to working with Jay and integrating him into our squad.”.

Following his signing, Fulton identified his style of play: “I am a central midfielder, I like to break up the opponents play and start up our play. I spoke to the manager about how he wants me to play and hopefully I can fit into that.”

Jay Fulton was born in Bolton, his father Steve having signed for the Wanderers after playing for Celtic. Steve’s stay at Bolton only lasted a year and he left to play for Falkirk. Jay was only a few months old when he moved to Scotland.

Curiously Jay joined Falkirk as a youth and made his first team debut as a 17-year-old in April 2011. He went on to make 83 appearances, scoring 5 goals, for the Bairns, before signing for Swansea in January 2014.

In December 2013 Fulton had been highlighted by the Tell Him He’s Pele website as one of the top 25 superstars in the lower leagues of Scotland. The writer commented:

Jay Fulton is the best footballer at the club. With the vision and ability to execute through-balls like no other in the lower leagues, Fulton marries these with expert balance and an uncanny ability to slalom past players in tight spaces, making him a player who could seamlessly fit into any role in midfield.

Where exactly his best position is can sometimes be difficult to judge: should his ability to see the game unfold in front of him (and play audacious through balls like this) mean that he operates as a deep playmaker as part of a double-pivot? Or ought his willingness to take the ball in compressed space and play wall-passes dictate that he should be used behind a forward? It could be that he would be most effective further forward at this stage in his career and then eventually fall back, but he is equally capable of playing on the flanks.

Fulton made his Swansea debut in April 2014, coming on as a substitute in a Premier League game against Aston Villa. In June 2014 he signed a new four-year contract with the Swans. However, Fulton’s first team appearances at Swansea were to be limited and he went on loan to Oldham Athletic in the first half of the 2015-16 season. He made 11 appearances for the Oldham Latics, including one against Gary Caldwell’s Wigan side at Boundary Park in September 2015.

He has represented Scotland at U18, U19 and U21 levels.

In order to learn more about Fulton’s time at Swansea we contacted Phil Sumbler of the Planet Swans fan site https://www.fansnetwork.co.uk/football/swanseacity).

Here’s over to Phil:

Jay Fulton has barely had a look in at Swansea but from when I have seen him play he is a composed midfielder who certainly knows what the game is about.

 His lack of first team opportunities at Swansea should be put down more to maybe not being ready for the Premier League rather than a reflection of general ability.

 For me this loan move will be exactly what he needs and we will be watching his progress at Wigan keenly and willing him to succeed.

I’m not sure the fans have much of a view to be honest – his chances were limited although there were often calls for him to be given a chance (given how bad we have been for a few years)

He’s always looks strong in the challenge and composed on the ball but without the regular flow of competitive football then he has struggled.

For me I don’t think he is a Premier League player (and not sure he would be).

 

We gathered further insight on Swans fans’ views on Fulton through postings on the Planet Swans Forum.

In November Magidaps10 revealed Fulton’s Premier League record:

8 STARTS

5 WINS

1 DRAW

2 DEFEATS

 Not too shabby!

In late December TheKirkyLife  commented that:

Back from loan at Oldham. I must say whenever he played last year he was a really solid and confident addition to the squad. Good to have him back and actually would love to see him in Britton’s role a bit. Almost let Leon take him under his wing. Fantastic prospect from everything I’ve seen.

SwanfortheMoney recently added:

I’ve always liked Fulton when I’ve seen him. Big lad, tackles, gets headers, decent on the ball. A much cheaper version of Clucas.

The Manager sees more of him than we do, so we have to assume he’s surplus to requirements. Good luck to him.

JFSWAN  said:

Never let us down when he’s played. Always snappy into tackles. Southampton away comes to mind with a midfield 3 of Fulton, Carroll and Shelvey where he performed exceptionally.

 

An Amigo View – Plymouth 1 Wigan Athletic 3 – talking points

 

The trip to Home Park to meet a Plymouth side unbeaten in their last eight matches was not going to be easy. Moreover, the home support had come out in numbers for the Pilgrims’ best crowd of the season of 11,942. But Wigan’s clinical finishing was to enable them to come away with a valuable win that puts them five points ahead of Shrewsbury, who could only draw at home to Doncaster Rovers. In truth, Latics had not played particularly well and the home side’s approach work surely merited a better scoreline than the 1-3 result.

Will Grigg had a good opportunity as early as the 6th minute, but could not show the sharpness needed to put the ball away. Chey Dunkley’s ill-judged tackle Plymouth’s on Graham Carey on 27 minutes led to a home team penalty that the same player converted. But Latics equalised a couple of minutes later when Grigg this time showed the sharpness required to deflect home Nick Powell’s sublime cross. A superb counterattack saw Gavin Massey grab the second on 45 minutes. Although Plymouth continued to threaten Dan Burn’s header was deflected into his own net by a Plymouth defender on 69 minutes. Wigan’s two goal lead was to prove a mountain that the home side could not overcome.

Paul Cook so often displays a refreshing kind of fairness and openness, rare among football managers, in his post-match comments. He was spot-on in his depiction of this match:

I thought it was a very difficult game; Plymouth were excellent in the game, they kept knocking on the door and started well. We never got into our rhythm like we normally do away from home and didn’t dominate the ball and Ryan Taylor caused us a lot of problems.

I felt the second goal came at such a crucial time because we weren’t the better team on the pitch and, makes no bones about it, Plymouth were the more aggressive team and caused us problems but for them the third goal was a hammer blow and they definitely didn’t deserve that on the day. That’s football, though, the lads had to dig in today, which they did, show a lot of character after a tough game on Wednesday and it was great to come down here and go back with the three points.”

Let’s take a look at some talking points arising from the game:

Latics showed physicality

Being unable to impose their customary midfield control, Latics had to fight for possession and to keep Plymouth out of the danger areas. The way they did this did not go down too well with the Home Park crowd, who were unhappy with their physical approach. However, the home team certainly fuelled the crowd’s anger by going down on occasions as if poleaxed, followed by teammates pressurising the referee. It was a difficult game for the official, but although he booked four Latics players to Plymouth’s none, it could have been much worse if he had buckled to the roaring of the crowd.

Latics had that extra quality

Although this was by no means a top performance from Latics, there can be no doubting the team’s willingness to work hard to get a result. But added to that were flashes of real quality that were to prove the difference between the two teams.

Nick Powell had a good game and his pass using the outside of his foot for Grigg’s goal was a pleasure to behold. He also had a hand in the second, winning a tackle around the half way line to pass inside for Max Power who ran forward to put in a slide-rule pass for Gavin Massey to neatly score.

Power is becoming a better player under Cook. Too often in the past he has looked for sideways or backwards passes, but now his play has more emphasis on going forward and he has the technique to thread through quality passes. Moreover, his crossing, from open play and set pieces, has been a joy to behold in recent weeks.

Graham Carey – worth considering

Playmaker, Graham Carey, has been inspirational in Plymouth’s rise up the table. On Saturday he caused problems for the right side of the Latics defence, with his close control and ability to dribble past the opposition. Fortunately for Latics he was moved to the rother flank in the second half where he was less effective, although he was still able to whip in some quality balls with his cultured left foot.

Carey is a 28 year old Irishman who spent four years in Scotland with St Mirren and Ross County before joining Plymouth in 2015, where he has scored 32 goals in 110 appearances. Carey’s best position is in the Nick Powell role, behind the centre forward, but he is often played out wide. Saturday’s goal put him on a total of 11 for the season, the same as Nick Powell.

Paul Cook recognised Carey’s performance by saying: “Credit to Graham Carey, though, he is an excellent player, he is a constant threat and he will cause problems.”

Would Cook consider an approach for the player in the transfer market?

Reverting to three central defenders

Alex Bruce was brought on for Nick Powell after 78  minutes, Cook once again opting for a back line of three central defenders plus wing backs. It could be argued that it was primarily a defensive tactic, but the presence of a third central defender gives the full backs more scope to attack, as we saw in the days of Roberto Martinez.

The manager has been criticised in the past for a lack of tactical flexibility, but this is a  very viable option that he has decided to employ. Bruce might lack the pace of his younger days, but in the centre of a back line of three central defenders, he has the kind of positional sense and reading of the game that can make him a major asset.

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Another point for Latics as takeover looms

It was another of those games when Wigan Athletic had their chances, but just could not put the ball into the back of the net. Although not at their best, Wigan played some quality football at times against a Peterborough side keen to get a result. The visitors gave a good account of themselves, looking better than their current 9th position placing in League 1.

A third consecutive goalless draw at the DW Stadium is hardly the kind of thing that will attract the “floating” fan. Saturday’s attendance was 8,602 which included 399 from Peterborough. The average for the season so far is 9,084.

But despite the goalless draws, Latics have collected 21 points over the past 10 matches.  Although they have scored just one goal in their last four league matches, they have not conceded a goal in the last seven. However, they will be keeping a close eye on Blackburn Rovers, undefeated in 15 league matches. Over the last ten they have gathered 24 points to Wigan’s 21. They had an important 3-1 win over Shrewsbury on Saturday, bringing them to within 5 points of Latics, 2 points behind the Shrews.

When Aston Villa won the First Division title in the 1980/81 season they used only 14 players in a 42-game season. In contrast, Chelsea employed 24 to win last season’s Premier League in a season of 38 matches. In modern day the strength of the entire squad has become of increasing importance, not only in the first tier of English football. When Sheffield United won the League 1 title last season they used 28 players. When Gary Caldwell’s Latics won it the previous season they had 36 players involved.

The key to promotion from League 1 has typically been to have a nucleus of players who are regular names on the team sheet, together with quality back-up. Paul Cook’s recruitment over summer provided him with just that. That Wigan Athletic are top of the division at this stage of the season is no surprise, given the ability and experience of the core players and the quality in depth that they have. Only Blackburn Rovers have the kind of squad that can come close to Cook’s in terms of quality. They too are serious challengers for automatic promotion.

Shrewsbury Town have been the surprise team of the season. They do not have a squad with the depth of those of Latics or Blackburn, but continue to challenge for automatic promotion. Their success has largely been based on the successful chemistry between a nucleus of players largely drawn from the lower leagues. In fact, 10 of their squad have played in 23 games or more of the 26 they have played so far.

Back in 1980/81 Aston Villa employed such a small number of players during the season for several reasons. One is that teams were only allowed to use one substitute in that era. But a key factor is that their key players stayed clear of injury and suspensions. Shrewsbury are a physically competitive team, not afraid to disrupt the opposition’s game. However, they are well disciplined and have received just one red card and 33 yellows in 26 league games.  Should they manage to stay clear of injuries they could well sustain their challenge at the top of the table.

Given the impending takeover of the club by a Far East consortium, it has been hard to predict the short-term effects the potential change would have.  Despite the uncertainty of what will happen under new ownership, Cook has seemingly managed to keep the players focused, judging by the points accrued during an 11-game unbeaten run. Given the scenario, policy in the transfer market was going to be difficult to predict. Would it be driven by the current ownership or the future buyers?

Up to this point the recruitment in the January window bears the hallmark of the current ownership. Lee Evans left for Sheffield United, after they paid Wolves £750,000 for his services. Two other loan players, Matija Sarkic and Ivan Toney, have been recalled by their parent clubs, through lack of game time at Wigan. Cook will be hoping he can cling on to his other two loan players, Christian Walton and Callum Elder. The arrivals of Jamie Walker and James Vaughan will strengthen the squad, their bargain price signings being typical of the Sharpe era. But we have come to expect the club to seek incoming funds to compensate for the £500,000 or so that has been spent. It appears that Jack Byrne is going to Oldham on a permanent contract, although it is unclear how much compensation, if any, Latics will receive. Can we expect more departures?

The surprise up to this point is that there have been no rumours linking Latics to a right full back, as back-up for Nathan Byrne. Walker will effectively take Jack Byrne’s place in the squad, with Vaughan replacing Toney. Another winger would certainly strengthen the squad and Latics have been linked to Morton’s Jai Quitongo, who could be picked up at a bargain price since his contract expires in summer. Having already lost three loan players, Cook will surely also be scouring the loan market to add to his squad.

Should Alan Nixon be correct in his estimate of 10 more days, the takeover will happen before the ending of the transfer window. However, by then we can expect most of Cook’s adjustments to the squad to have been finalised. He will continue to focus on promotion back to the Championship. Should that happen, and Cook continue to be in charge, we can expect major transfer activity in summer.

We can only hope that the new ownership will invest more seriously in the squad than the current incumbents did in the summer of 2016. It remains to be seen whether the consortium would be willing to go a stage further by putting up the kind of money needed to challenge for a place back in the Premier League.

 

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A Hearts fan’s view of Jamie Walker

Reports suggest that the 24 year old midfielder Jamie Walker will sign for Wigan Athletic today for a fee of £300,000. The 5 ft 9 in tall Walker was in the final year of his contract.

Robbie Neilson, MK Dons manager, was in charge at Hearts from 2014-16. In a recent interview with The Scotsman newspaper he commented on Walker’s imminent move to Wigan:

“I’d expect him to score a few goals there and play some games, and hopefully make that step up to the Championship. The team he’s going to dominate a lot of the games so I think that will definitely help him in the way they play. They’ve got guys who are similar to Jamie and that’s the way they play, so it would be a good one for him.

I thought he was excellent when I had him as a player. When I came in I spoke to him about his work rate and I think he’s done that, he’s looked after himself fitness-wise. He’s earned himself a move and I’m sure he’ll kick on because there is no doubting his technical ability, that’s for sure.”

Jamie Walker grew up in Edinburgh and came up through the youth ranks at Hearts.  At the age of 18 he was sent to Raith Rovers on loan to get first team experience. He went on to make 23 appearances, scoring 3 goals in the 2011-12 season. He made his first team debut for Hearts as a substitute in November 2012 against Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Tynecastle. By the end of the season he had made 24 appearances for Hearts in the SPL, scoring 2 goals, being voted the club’s “Young Player of the Year”.

Last summer Walker was the subject of two bids from Rangers, who were eventually unwilling to meet the Edinburgh club’s asking price of £1m. The club reported that Walker had asked for the move, although the player himself denied it, causing a rift between him and Hearts fans. In October The Daily Record reported on the abuse that not just the player, but also his immediate family, suffered as a result.

Walker can play on either flank, or behind the centre forward. In his five years of first team football at Hearts he has made 125 league starts and 29 appearances as a substitute, scoring 37 goals. He has represented Scotland at U15, U16, U17, U19 and U21 levels.

In order to learn more about Walker’s time at Hearts we contacted the Jambos Kickback (http://www.hmfckickback.co.uk) fan forum. The responses we got were multituidinous, but below you will find a selection of them:

Debut4 commented:

Fresh start for him. I don’t think the Cathro period helped him and became frustrated. Its been clear recently that under a proper manager (Levein for the OPs info) he’s found a little bit of his previous self again.

 A lot of Hearts supporters don’t like him because he was angling for a move to Rangers. No matter how he played he was dismissed as having lost it or not committed to Hearts latterly.

 You are getting a decent player, good brain, dangerous around the box when it falls to him but injury has plagued him which should concern you.

Davidkeye said

Overall as above really, plenty natural talent but certainly a bit inconsistent. Overall disappointed to lose him but it was inevitable and a fair chunk of Hearts fans think the same (have a read of the long thread as mentioned above on this forum).

 Will he do ok at Wigan? Who knows, he will need to get a little stronger for English football i’d say and there is also the issues of him and his family settling off the park (think he has a little kid etc now) and although its only a few hours down the road moving away from where you’ve been brought up with friends and family etc is never easy).

It has certainly ended slightly on a sour note but he has had success overall with Hearts and been here pretty much his entire playing career, he leaves us with a half decent fee as he said he would. it could have been a lot more if he was a bit more consistent imo. Good luck to him, hope he does well for you.

BigHenry added:

The boy’s got bags of ability. Likes to run with the ball. Takes players on and gets fouled regularly due to his quick feet. His finishing is decent but still needs improvement. A difficult player to fit into your team because he likes to play in behind the strikers, sniffing out openings. I don’t think he can play wide as he’s not got real pace ,although quick over the first few yards.  He’s went off the boil recently due to the nonsense surrounding the transfer saga. If you get keep him fit and fit him  into your system then you could have a bargain on your hands. A right good player at our level anyway.  

Hughsie27 said

He has been a promising prospect since he was about 15/16. Comes from a Hearts family background. He joined the first team quite young and impressed for the first couple of years in the team but suffered from a lot of injuries which seems to have hampered his development somewhat. 

On his day he is brilliant. He hasn’t really been on his day for about 18 months though. Still young enough where a fresh start might help him but I’d be willing to bet you lot will have him back up here at Rangers (on loan or otherwise) by this time next year.

Sadj commented:

Fantastic football brain , makes good choices , cracking player when his heads in it. Has had a tough 18months with injuries needs a change to move forward as has stagnated at Hearts recently. 

The Apprentice opined:

A fit and ‘at it’ Jamie Walker would no doubt be an asset for Wigan but has others have said his last couple of injuries seem to have robbed him of any pace he’s had before. Widly inconsistent, drifts in and out of games but if he plays to his full potential then he’s a match-winner on his day. IMO I reckon a change of scenery could do him the world of good. 

Jambos_1874 said

I would say the majority of comments on here are overly critical. Jamie has plenty of natural ability and early on his Hearts career that wasn’t matched with workrate and effort. However, in recent years (when injury free) this definitely improved and there is no doubt he can score goals when given the chance but that depends on the type of football Wigan play and whether he’ll suit their style. For me his lack of pace is his main negative and I think that will definitely count against him in England. Jamie was a fans favourite but this season a lot of fans appear to have tirned against him. 

 To those fans who criticise his derby peformances, I agree to an extent. But there were several recent derbies, particularly under Cathro, where I think he really was trying but there was zero effort from the players around him.

 

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