Another defeat by a single goal. The Darkside pessimists had suggested that Latics would get badly beaten at Watford. That was not the case, but it is another bad result for Malky Mackay. He has an unenviable record for a new manager of one point gained in four games in charge. Can Mackay turn things around or are Latics heading for League 1?
Seeing the lineup for today’s match gave many of us a sense of foreboding. Not a single recognized central striker on the field, but two on the bench. Was Mackay planning to keep things tight and maybe steal it from a set piece?
In the event Mackay chose to deploy James McClean in the lone striker role. McClean’s strengths are his energy and his pace, but finishing is not his forte. Has the manager already written off the other strikers at the club when he has not seen most of them play in the Championship during his time at the club? Andy Delort might well think that. The Frenchman was brought on in the 86th minute. It would seem rather late but at least it was two minutes earlier than his entrance against Norwich. It can hardly be good for the player’s self -confidence.
Once again Mackay relied on the old guard, shunning the Rosler signings with the exception of Don Cowie and Andrew Taylor who played for him at the two clubs he previously managed. Up to this point it is not bearing fruit and the fans’ patience is wearing thin.
Fans who had been unhappy about Uwe Rosler’s team selections and formations are now seeing a similar pattern with Mackay. Many will say that nothing seems to have changed since Mackay arrived. The team is playing in the same way as before so what was the point of dismissing Rosler? The central striker has continued to be “lone” in the true sense of the word and sloppy defence has given away games which Latics might have won.
In 2012 Wolves had come down to the Championship division after three years in the Premier League. Over the summer they had sold Steven Fletcher (£14m) and Matt Jarvis (£11m) and paid around £2.4m for Bjorn Siguroarson, £2.7m for Bakary Sakho and £2m for Tongo Doumbia. Stale Solbakken had been brought in as manager.
By early October Wolves were in third place, with promotion looking within their grasp. Keen to get rid of the culture remaining from the days of Mick McCarthy as manager, Solbakken had sought empower the players. However, over the next three months Wolves started to drop down the table. There was a lack of discipline, training had become less than stimulating and the manager was largely unprepared to read the riot act when things went wrong on the field of play. Solbakken was sacked in early January after his team got knocked out of the FA Cup by non-league Luton. Dean Saunders was appointed to become Wolves’ fourth manager in twelve months, but he was unable to stop the slide and a 23rd place finish saw them relegated.
What happened to Wolves is a sobering prospect for Wigan Athletic followers. The situations differ but there are certain parallels. Unlike Wolves being relegated in their first season back in the Championship, Latics did well. Reaching the playoffs, the FA Cup semi-final and being robbed of progress in the Europa League by a dubious refereeing decision was quite an achievement. However, the rot was setting in in the latter stages of last season and it has continued up to now. Wolves had a wage bill of £25m with lots of players seasoned in the Premier League, but could not hack it in the Championship. Changing managers did not help Wolves, as Saunders could not better Solbakken in terms of results. Latics fans will be hoping that is not going to be the case with Mackay following Rosler.
In March 2013 ex-Wolves winger and BBC pundit Steve Froggatt was quoted as saying: “The team had been on an irreversible slide for a long period of time and Deano had identified what needed changing. I think the board must have thought: ‘If we can get by to the end of this season, then we’ll rebuild for next.’ But having seen the team all year, they should have seen that it was bereft of confidence and ideas. It’s almost that they’ve now decided to bring in one or two players well after the horse has bolted.”
It is to be hoped that Dave Whelan will take note of the board’s fateful decisions at Wolves. Mackay has already talked about offloading players in the January transfer window and bringing in at least a couple of new ones. More than anything else Mackay needs to build an organizational culture upon which he can bring things forward. Each of the previous managers – Martinez, Coyle and Rosler – had their own ideas about how football should be played. There has not only been turnover at managerial level but also in coaching and support staff. Latics are once again in the midst of a culture change within the club.
The result at Watford could have been a lot worse. Moreover Latics had been the more dominant team in the second half until sloppy defence enabled the Hornets’ winner after 82 minutes. But it is yet another defeat.
Mackay has hardly impressed in his brief stay up to this point. However, changing the mentality of a group of players who have got used to not winning is not an easy matter. It is going to take time. It is to be hoped that arrivals and departures over the January transfer window will catalyse the change in culture that Mackay seeks.
In the meantime we will have to see if Mackay will continue to rely on an old guard which has largely let him down.