A Portsmouth fan view of Tom Naylor

Wigan Athletic recently announced the signing of 29-year-old Tom Naylor on a three-year contract. The 6ft 2in Naylor was a free agent following the completion of his contract at Portsmouth. He has signed a three-year contract.

Naylor normally plays in central midfield but can also play in the centre of defence. As Portsmouth captain he played in all 46 League 1 games last season. Although primarily a holding midfielder who protects the defence, he scored 8 goals over the course of the season. He has made almost 400 appearances in his career.

Upon signing for Latics he said: “When Wigan came calling, I spoke to the manager, and he sold the club to me. He told me the players he’d be bringing in, and the fact the aim is promotion. That’s all I want to do as well, the aim every season has to be promotion and I’ve come here to do that next season.”

Tom Naylor was born in Kirkby-in-Ashfield, near Mansfield. He was given his first professional contract with Mansfield Town is 2009. In the 2009-10 season he was loaned to Belper Town where he made 32 appearances, scoring 3 goals. Naylor joined Derby County on loan in November 2011, the move becoming permanent in January 2012. There followed further loan periods at Bradford City, Grimsby Town, Newport County, Cambridge United and Burton Albion. Naylor signed a contract at Burton in June 2015, and he was to become a key player for the Brewers in their promotion to the Championship and during their two seasons there.

Naylor signed for Portsmouth in July 2018 and went on to make 124 appearances for them in League 1 over his three seasons at Fratton Park.

To learn more about Naylor’s time at Portsmouth we contacted Jim Bonner (@FrattonFaithful) of the Fratton Faithful fan site.  

Here’s over to Jim:

Last season, Tom was clearly Pompey’s outstanding player in the first half of the campaign. He brought his usual bite to the centre of midfield and got around the pitch but added long range strikes to his game and even improved his much-maligned passing.

However, after the turn of the year he drastically declined and downed tools, making him one of the prime targets for Pompey fans to direct their anger at, especially as he was the captain. 

Why did this happen? He knew he wasn’t going to get an improved deal at Fratton Park and was also carrying an injury that nullified his tackling and mobility – two key components of his game.

Like Whatmough, signing Naylor on such a long deal is a gamble for Wigan but if he can regain the form that made him such a favourite for most of two-and-a-half seasons at Pompey then it’s another shrewd signing by Leam Richardson. However, most Pompey fans lament how far he’d fallen, bemoan his lack of leadership and believe we should be aiming to bring in a higher calibre of player if we’re to make a promotion push again next season.

A Portsmouth fan view of Jack Whatmough

Last week Wigan Athletic announced the signing of 24 year-old central defender Jack Whatmough on a free transfer from Portsmouth.

Whatmough made 136 appearances for Pompey and is among the most talented defenders in League 1. If he can stay clear of injuries, he could prove a great signing for Latics. Leam Richardson knew him from his time with Paul Cook at Portsmouth in 2015-17. After Whatmough signed for Latics he commented:

Jack has very good attributes. He is a centre half who has a good mix of the old-fashioned centre half who likes to defend, but also the modern defender where he can handle the ball. One of the most important factors is how much of a good person he is. He is fantastic in the dressing room and he brings maturity to the football club. He is a leader. I think he will show that with his performances and with how he is in the dressing room. He is a brilliant addition to Wigan Athletic.”

Jack Whatmough was born in Gosport on the western side of Portsmouth harbour, opposite Portsmouth. Up until the age of 13 he played at south coast rivals Southampton. After joining the Portsmouth Academy, he signed a two-year scholarship contract in July 2012. Just over a month later he was on the bench for the senior team in an away game at Plymouth.

In August 2013 Whatmough signed a three-year professional contract, making his debut as a 17-year-old in a home game in November 2013 in a League 2 home game against Southend United. He went on to make 12 appearances in the 2013-14 season, also playing for England U18 against Croatia in March 2014.  Whatmough made 24 appearances in the 2014-15 season before suffering a serious knee injury in March 2015. In January 2016 he made his return when playing on loan at Havant and Waterlooville.

After suffering three serious knee injuries he was excellent last season, making 38 appearances for Pompey and would have surely exceeded the 40 mark if it were not for suspensions at the end of the season. Due to financial losses caused by the coronavirus  last season Portsmouth offered reduced terms to Whatmough and three other players whose contracts were expiring. Whatmough was quoted in the Portsmouth News as saying:

“Some have said I left for the money – and it’s a load of rubbish. It was nothing to do with wages at any point. It was always to do with the length of the deal. Always.

I know I can rest easy having not left Pompey for the wrong reason. It was just the length of the deal. I wanted to do it, Danny wanted to do it – the club didn’t.

That was Pompey’s decision and one I fully respect. I will never hold anything against the club, they have done so much for me. Not a bad word will come out of my mouth about what has happened.”

To learn more about Whatmough’s time at Portsmouth we contacted Jim Bonner (@FrattonFaithful) of the Fratton Faithful fan site.

Here’s over to Jim:

Jack was Pompey’s best defender based on ability. He’s good in the air and with the ball at his feet playing out from the back and was one of the few players many fans believed could have made the step up to the Championship.

However, his positional sense is lacking, he has a few own goals to his name and can be rash in the challenge, missing seven games last season due to receiving two straight red cards.

However, what makes this signing such a gamble is Jack’s injury record. Although he played most of last season following successful surgery, in previous years he hasn’t made many appearances due to a career blighted by injuries and the belief is that one more will finish him.

If he can stay fit, he knows Leam Richardson well from his days at Fratton Park and will be an astute addition to the Wigan backline. Maybe Pompey will regret letting him go rather than offering him the longer deal he wanted?

Leam’s summer shopping list

The dust has finally settled for Wigan Athletic after such a long period of uncertainty and tension.

It seems like an eternity since the club went into administration in early July 2020. But, unlike so many of its rivals the club is now practically debt-free, and it has new ownership that has been so positive and supportive over these difficult weeks. Moreover, Latics have defied the odds by holding on to their place in the third tier of English football.

Phoenix 2021 have set the goal of Latics becoming a stable Championship club, although they have set no timeline. The current priority is to build a stable platform from which the club can flourish and become more self-sustainable. Building that platform will necessarily involve a reengineering of the management and administration structures within the club.

Following a close escape from relegation Latics will be looking at strengthening their coaching and backroom as well as the first team squad. The coaching and backroom staffing was depleted during administration. It remains to be seen how many of those positions will be reinstated. We can assume that the structure and quantity of such staffing will be commensurate with the norms of League 1.

Leam Richardson will hope that an assistant manager and first team coach will be appointed to help lighten his load. The current first team squad has five players who have contracts beyond the end of this season. They are Thelo Aasgaard, Callum Lang, Adam Long, Luke Robinson and Tom Pearce. Given the momentum of the end of season revival Richardson will look at retaining the services of several of the players whose contracts expire in June. Lee Evans, Jamie Jones and Gavin Massey are the most long-serving of those.

There is lots of speculation from fans on the message boards and social media about who should be offered new contracts for the coming season. Is Richardson going to try to keep the bulk of those players who have given their all in the relegation struggle, retaining a core who could provide the backbone of the new squad?

A couple of weeks ago the club announced that Scott Smith and Sam Tickle of the U23 squad have been offered extended contracts. The U23 team had performed creditably in the first half of the season but were depleted by players leaving in the January window. Latics’ U18 continue to excel, winning the Professional Development League North and giving Everton a real scare in the FA Youth Cup. It was no surprise to hear that seven of them have been offered professional teams. They are Baba Adeeko, James Carragher, Tom Costello, Kieran Lloyd, Harry McGee, Harry McHugh and Sean McGurk.

The circumstances faced by management this season led to younger players being brought into the senior squad. However, in January some of those youngsters were shed in order to bring in more senior professionals. The arrival of eight new senior pros plus the return of Curtis Tilt on loan meant that fewer opportunities were afforded to the youngsters who remained. When Latics played Crewe recently they had two “homegrown” players in their starting eleven: Lang and Robinson. Crewe had six.

It took a considerable time for those new players to gel, but in the end Richardson’s move was justified as the team pulled away out of the bottom four. Richardson richly deserves his new three-year contract as manager through his efforts in keeping things together in a most difficult season. However, Phoenix 2021 have made it clear that they see the Academy as a key factor in the future of the club. Crewe have relied on their Academy for so long to constantly provide players for their first team squad. Although Latics have given youth a chance this season what can we expect for the coming one? Ideally the squad will have a backbone of senior pros but will continue to nurture homegrown talent.

Now that Latics know which division they are playing in next season they can begin the work of negotiating contracts with players they wish to retain. High on the list will be the 19-year-old Kyle Joseph who made a big impression before suffering a long-term injury.

Five talking points following a crucial win at Doncaster

Doncaster Rovers 1 Wigan Athletic 4

It was arguably their best performance of the season as Wigan Athletic took a crucial three points in style. A rocket shot by Joe Dodoo had put Latics ahead after just three minutes, with Thelo Aasgaard rifling the ball home twelve minutes later. Wigan continued to attack with the home defence looking in disarray and skilful interplay between Dodoo and Will Keane saw the latter break forward and lay the ball on a plate for Viv Solomon-Otabor to slide the ball home on the 33-minute mark.

Wigan’s play up to that point had been a revelation, but Taylor Richards got one back for the home team after finding himself outside the penalty box, scoring with aplomb. Latics went into half time with a 3-1 lead. One wondered how they would approach the second half, having too often seen them drop back into massed defence on previous occasions, inviting pressure and squandering their lead.

However, thanks to the defence and Jamie Jones they managed to keep Rovers at bay, meanwhile continuing to threaten at the other end. Keane got on the end of a cross from Dodoo after 80 minutes and eventually came away with an impressive 4-1 victory.

After the game Leam Richardson commented:

“I thought every player was outstanding; the energy levels, the endeavour and certainly the front two epitomised the game and the result. The subs coming off the bench gave us good impact and helped us to see the game through; when you have a group of people trying to run in the same direction, you haven’t half got a chance.

A goal just before half-time from Taylor Richards made the second-half a fraction less comfortable for Latics but Leam was pleased with the way his side saw the game through after an excellent start.

“It was important to manage the game in the second-half because we seem to like to make a game of it, with the goal just before half-time for them. We had some good noises at half-time and we knew we had to meet them head on again. Doncaster have some really good players and play a good brand of football, so I felt we had to go on and score again. We could have scored more possibly but we’ll certainly take the hard work and result.”

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

Dodoo was a revelation

Although he is still only 25-years-old Joe Dodoo has played for 8 clubs scoring 13 goals in 100 league appearances. In 2019-20 he made 24 appearances for Bolton Wanderers, scoring 4. Despite these stats he looked a fine player yesterday, leading the line with energy and pace. His third minute finish was hit with stunning power. He linked up beautifully with Will Keane for the third goal and showed lightning acceleration in leaving Rovers’ captain Tom Anderson in his wake before putting in a great cross for Keane to score the fourth.

Dodoo was born in Ghana and moved to England when he was 8 years old. In 2013 he represented England U18 against Belgium. Dodoo is a product of the Leicester City youth system and made his first team debut in a League Cup game at Bury in August 2013. Latics signed him in January after he had been released by Ankara Keciorengucu where he had scored one goal in fourteen appearances in the second tier of Turkish football. Until yesterday he had made 5 starts with 8 appearances off the bench, scoring one goal.

The Dodoo we saw at Doncaster was a revelation compared with what we had seen before. Can he repeat yesterday’s form in the games that remain?

Keane back to near his best

Will Keane has certainly had ups and downs in his career. Now 28-years-old he has played for six clubs since making his debut for Manchester United in December 2011. Although many of Keane’s 131 league appearances have seen him operating as a number 9, he has played his best football in the hole behind the central striker.  

Keane signed an extension to his Wigan contract in January after some fine performances in that role. Since then, after illness and injury he had struggled to show that kind of form. But yesterday he looked back to his best, his movement and quick feet causing a headache for the Doncaster defence.

With such good performances from Dodoo and Keane, Leam Richardson will face a selection decision if Callum Lang is back from injury on Tuesday when Latics play Sunderland. Lang can play on the right wing but is much more effective in the middle. Moreover, if he were to be brought back on the right wing would there be a place for Thelo Aasgaard who was excellent at Doncaster?

Jamie Jones is back in form.

A feature of recent games has been the much-improved performances from goalkeeper and captain Jamie Jones. During the month of February things were not looking good for Jones whose keeping had been riddled with fundamental errors. Questions were being asked by fans why Jones was being chosen. However, Richardson is a manager who supports his senior professionals and he maintained faith in Jones.

The goalkeeper made some key interventions at crucial times when Doncaster looked like they might pull back another goal to bring the score to 3-2. Moreover, he has looked increasingly confident and alert in recent matches.

Latics will need Jones at his best if they are to get out of the relegation dog fight.

Goal difference could be crucial.

With Burton Albion looking all but safe in 18th position four of the six clubs below them are almost certainly going to be relegated. With those clubs so close on points the likelihood is that at least one of those relegation slots will be decided on goal difference. The +3 tally from this match certainly helped Latics in this respect.

Wigan Athletic play just one of the other five teams in the “drop zone” as the season winds down. With four home games and two on the road it would normally be a position of strength for Wigan compared with others in the relegation pack. But in these Covid-19 times home advantage is not as big a factor as it was when crowds were attending. Latics have done worse than most with a home record of W3 D5 L11 (compared with W7 D3 L11 away from home).

Latics have two games against high-flying teams, Sunderland and Hull City, three against teams in between the promotion and relegation zones, with just one against relegation-threatened Swindon.

A general rule of thumb suggests that clubs need to average a point per game to be close to avoiding the drop. Latics would need 8 points from the 18 available to reach that target. Would 9 points be enough? Is this Wigan team capable of winning 3 of their final 6 games?

When the season first started there were pundits who said that Latics’ final game of the season against Swindon could decide a relegation place. They could yet be right.

More dubious refereeing decisions?

There has been scarcely a game this season when refereeing decisions have not been a talking point among Wigan Athletic fans. So many 50-50 decisions seem to have gone against Latics over the course of the season.

Being a football referee in this day and age is not an easy job. There are players who try to deceive, and the cynicism of some teams can be sad to witness. Richardson’s Latics are a very physical side but are rarely cynical. According to footstats.co.uk Latics have committed an average of 14.5 per game against 12.2 in their favour. Only Charlton Athletic and Oxford United have conceded more fouls per game. Rochdale, currently in bottom place, have the lowest committed fouls average of only 10.5 per game.

There was an incident at Doncaster when it appeared that the home goalkeeper had handled the ball out of his area. The referee did not rule that he did so. Latics TV commentators Ashley Houghton and Tommy Gore certainly raised the point. They also questioned a number of other decisions by the referee. It has become the norm in so many commentaries.

Tommy Gore certainly deserves the title of “Latics Legend” through his 287 appearances for the club from 1974-1980. He was a very good non-league player, playing right midfield and right back, and made the big adjustment to playing at a higher level when Latics joined the fourth division in 1978. He was a real team player with a very positive attitude.

Tommy certainly has a love for the club, and it shines through his commentaries. However, his constant criticism of minor refereeing decisions has become irritating. We are in an era where players go down easily to gain free kicks which would not have been awarded in the 1970s. In recent games I have resorted to muting the sound when he has repeatedly complained about fouls being given in favour of the other team.

The standard of refereeing in the division leaves much to be desired. Perhaps over the course of the season more 50-50 decisions have gone against Latics than have gone for them. Watching a game one can make one’s own decisions as to whether the referee is right or wrong in a particular incidence. However, a significant number of supporters are listening to audio-only commentaries.

There have been dubious refereeing decisions that have hurt Latics this season. But are the referees in collusion against Latics? I sincerely doubt it.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Amigo and Social Media reaction to losing to a clinical Portsmouth team

Wigan Athletic 0 Portsmouth 1

Lying fourth in the table, with three consecutive victories behind them, Portsmouth were the favourites to win this match. They did so in a clinical manner through a fine strike by substitute Andy Cannon after 46 minutes. There was no shortage of effort and commitment from Latics but despite their pressure they rarely looked like scoring. Altough they created opportunities Wigan’s final touch was severely lacking. Crosses into the box were eagerly lapped up by a tall and physical Pompey backline. Many of the crosses were speculative but there seemed to be no one in the box for Latics willing to attack the ball as it came in.

Viv Solomon-Otabor was once more played when he looked so short of fitness. Callum Lang, Wigan’s most dangerous goal-threat, was played on the right wing. Jamie Proctor was once again chosen at centre forward. The net result was a lack of penetration and goal-threat from the home team.

Leam Richardson and his staff have done a fantastic job in keeping Latics in with a possibility of avoiding relegation in extremely difficult circumstances. Reports suggest that he has been approached by the new ownership with a view to staying on next season. Richardson has a real strength in motivating players and their commitment was there again today for all to see. But he can be inflexible in his team selections and tactics.

Due to the dire circumstances faced by the club, Richardson has been dealt a poor hand in terms of the quality and depth of the squad. Moreover, he has a number of players who have had major injury problems  over the past couple of seasons. The recurring injuries of several players have been no surprise given their recent history. However, fielding Solomon-Otabor, given his current state of fitness, was unlikely to work out. Putting his best available striker on the right wing was less than ideal. Like Paul Cook, Richardson constantly reverts to a favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. He has flirted with playing three central defenders and wing backs, but has not persevered.

Wingers have played a major role in Latics’ success during the Cook/Richardson era. But today Richardson persisted with his 4-2-3-1 despite the absence of two fit, specialist wingers. In the second half, with Pompey a goal up and Latics not looking like scoring he could have taken off Solomon-Otabor at an earlier stage and put Callum Lang at centre forward with Thelo Aasgaard playing in the space behind him. But he took off the creative Aasgaard after 68 minutes to bring on senior pro Will Keane who has been out of form since January. Solomon-Otabor stayed on until 79 minutes when he brought on another senior pro in Dan Gardner. The changes made things no better.

Richardson had chosen like-for-like replacements, sticking to the same shape. He had the option of bringing on Adam Long as a third centre back and to thrust his full backs further forward as wing backs. Jamie Proctor’s main role in the Richardson system is as a target man. However, Proctor has a career goalscoring record akin to that of Marc Antonio Fortune. He is by no means a goal-machine. Switching to three at the back the manager could have employed Proctor as a twin striker with Lang close-by to latch on to his flicks and any deflections.

Despite the result Latics are by no means dead and buried. They can still avoid relegation. However, to do so will depend not only on the commitment of the players but also getting the best out of what is available. The defence has become more solid and that is a welcome sign. But blind faith in 4-2-3-1 and senior pros is unlikely to get Latics over the hurdles to come. The lack of creativity and the sterile passing across the pitch and back to the goalkeeper has become too repetitive. Richardson will need to open his mind to alternative approaches as needs arise.

After the game Richardson said:

“In the first half, in my opinion, we possibly let a game go. We got into some great areas, could have gone in one or two goals up but we didn’t work them enough and our quality has to be better. 

We’re playing against an in-form Portsmouth side and our lads matched the fight and we took the game to them. Unfortunately, we dropped on the wrong side of the result. We are in a routine where people are saying ‘unlucky’ & ‘you’re the best team’, but we’ve fallen on the wrong side of the result and we need results. 

At the minute, we’re getting the performance but not the results, but we will. I’ve got to give credit to the lads with the effort levels. They don’t leave a breath out there; they may be misguided in certain areas but they’re giving everything and that’s all we can ask.”

Let’s take a look at how fans reacted to the match through the message boards and social media. Our thanks go to the Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum and Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen. Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below:

FrancosLoveChild commented:

I’ll be honest, I’m thankful for Leam and for all he is done but I really hope he decides to go to Ipswich under cook, fresh start for him and back in a role he is good at.

He is sadly not a manager, we need a great start with a new manager and team who has no bias to any players. And just a different chapter for us.

This frontline is awful, only Lang is decent at this level.

Victor Moses wrote:

12 shots vs 5, with zero on target for us. Can’t fault the effort again today, just wasteful in the final third. Played much of the game in their half, just the players didn’t put the ball in the net.

Need to find better openings in the next game and work on hitting the ball cleanly. So many scuffed crosses and shots.

Zeb2  added:

I’m increasingly of the view that we will go down and I genuinely think it’s better if we start over with a new manager in situ ASAP to effectively recruit a new squad.

That in itself will be a huge challenge, as we’ve just seen Bolton had to endure a ‘write off‘ season to reset …and ….pretty much half of this one as well, before they really started to ’motor’ .

LR has been a hero and we owe him our gratitude for everything he has withstood this season, but as others have said neither he nor we necessarily see the managers job as his role.
The team could still surprise us …but yet another inadequate, pointless and goalless home performance offers little evidence that they will.

There needs to be a definitive future direction set, during this month, whilst that doesn’t have to mean a new appointment, they absolutely do need to map out the criteria and terms of their search and get it underway even if concluding it isn’t possible for a month or so yet.

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Moonay gave his perspective:

I really, really can’t get worked up about today’s loss. Not too long ago, it was more than possible that we were going to be playing as a Phoenix club in the National League … or even NW Counties !!!

For me, the question is “were they trying?”, and the answer (maybe apart from Evans’s “chase” for their goal) was obviously, yes. However, there was no improvement in the quality of the shooting, and that’s what’s p..sing us all off.

In January, Richardson and Rioch had an impossible job – entice players to come to Wigan, on a contract till the summer, with very possibly, no chance of a further one. They did their best, and we got who we got … numbers being just as important as quality, given the rate we were losing people to injury.

On reflection, it may well have been better to stick with more of the kids, though that would have been a massive gamble.

But, as the saying goes, we are where we are, and for me, that’s a far better place than I was hoping for much of February. The new management team don’t sound despondent about the likelihood of League 2, so why should we?

Hindleymonwafc said:

Only difference today was a goal threat…im not going to be too harsh on them because we more than matched a play off certainty. Its the final 3rd that will undue us but let’s not throw um all out because the back 4 are showing some ability bringing the ball out.

True Believer responded:

You are right Hindley, for the first 45 we were comfortable playing the ball out from the back and both Ojo and Evans were influencing the game.

The problems came when they scored !!

Once ahead they switched to five across the middle and stifled our play, so our back four then lost the out ball to midfield and went long, Evans in particular had no influence in the second half and we struggled to break them down.

We are desperately missing a wide right player and, although he is much maligned, we looked a more balanced side with Massey on the wing. Callum Lang is wasted playing out wide and his goals have dried up since he started playing there. He needs to be more central and running the channels turning CB’s and playing to his strengths. I would try Gardner out there for a game or two, I know it’s not his preferred side but I am sure he could do it and that would free Lang up to get back to what he is good at.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com