Wigan Athletic: Mackay and Joyce could not avoid relegation. Can Kolo Toure?

The January transfer window was approaching and Wigan Athletic had just lost their fifth game out of seven under their latest manager. They were second from bottom of the Championship with 20 points from 24 games, but just three points behind the pack above the relegation zone.

That was in the 2014-15 season and the manager was Malky Mackay. A couple of seasons later they were in another precarious position in early January with 19 points from 25 games, six points behind that pack. Warren Joyce had been appointed manager on November 2, 2016. He was dismissed on March 13, 2017 after achieving 6 wins in 24 matches.

In both instances the club had appointed new managers in November following a run of poor results. They made sweeping changes in their playing staffs during the month of January, but the results did not improve, and relegation was not going to be avoided.

Kolo Toure too was also appointed in the month of November and faces an uphill task as did Mackay and Joyce.

The “fire sale” of January 2015 was a means of drastically slashing the wage bill. There was surprisingly little uproar from the fans at the time, with cup final heroes being dispatched at bargain prices. People had been so disillusioned by a perceived lack of effort from the players that many did not question that a big shake-up was required. The fans were not over-concerned about the outgoings of January 2017, many players in the squad being labelled as League 1 players, not of Championship standard.

Changes of manager during the course of a season is always a gamble. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The newcomer typically wants to bring in his own men, supposedly to fit into the style of football he prefers, but also to rid himself of players loyal to his predecessor who are not fully supportive.

A run of three 4-1 defeats has been a hammer blow following what we had seen in Toure’s first two games. A composed display at Millwall brought in a well-deserved point. Latics were not expected to get a good result against a high-flying Sheffield United side, built upon a budget dwarfing that of Wigan. But after going two goals behind after 56 minutes Latics began to show the kind of “bravery on the ball” that Toure was seeking. “Hopeful long balls” from defence were minimised and the quality of their football was of a level that we had not seen for a long time. However, the visitors’ first half goal was gifted by woeful marking from a set piece. Sadly, the marking got worse in the following three games which resulted in resounding defeats.

Toure continues to work on a transformation in style and approach that would have ideally been worked on in pre-season. However, his more immediate priority is to tighten up his defence, stopping those “soft” goals being conceded. Although he may have a clear vision of what type of football he wants his team to play, he must also be pragmatic. Expansive, aesthetically pleasing football might be a delight to watch, but with his team under threat of relegation he must put an emphasis on solid defence. This does not imply a return to the hoofball we saw too often over the past year, which would concede possession and invite the opposition to put more pressure on the Wigan defence. But the transition from long ball/hoofball to building up moves from the back must be phased in.

Toure has made it clear that he is looking towards bringing in new players who can fit into the style he wants to implement. However, before bringing in new players he must shed some from his current squad to balance the books.  There are almost certainly players in the squad who are uncomfortable with the demands of the new manager and will ask to be released this month. However, the departure of Graeme Shinnie on loan to Aberdeen was a surprise. Of all the midfielders in the squad Shinnie looked like the one who would fit best into Toure’s scheme. However, the Scot clearly did not feature in the manager’s plans. Shinnie’s departure coincided with strong rumours that Latics are interested in Conor Wickham, recently released from Forest Green Rovers by mutual consent. Wickham is a big target man, 32 years old, who has a less than impressive career strike record. Is this simply a rumour??

There will certainly be incomings and outgoings over the month of January. However, history at the club has shown that too much change can be counterproductive. The fire sale of January 2015 was followed by further upheaval in January 2017: neither led to an improvement in the playing staff or performances.

Toure recently stated that:

“If we want to sign players, then they need to improve us and make us much better than we are at the minute.”

Let’s hope the manager and the recruitment team can do a better job than was done in 2015 and 2017. Failure to do so will most likely mean that Kolo Toure will be following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Malky Mackay and Warren Joyce.

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Kolo Toure’s New Year Shopping List

The dust of Leam Richardson’s shock departure has practically settled. Kolo Toure has already made a positive impact, but can he succeed in keeping Wigan Athletic in the Championship division?

Yesterday’s defeat at Middlesbrough was not a surprise against a team in a rich vein of form. What was disturbing was the manner is which the home team’s goals were conceded.

In the space of just three games Toure has revolutionised the way Latics play when they have the ball: now when a player goes forward, he has so many more attacking options. The manager was brought in to modernise the way the team plays football and he has already made rapid progress. But although they look so much better on the ball, there are concerns about closing the opposition down when they have possession.

The Wigan defence looked porous yesterday. There were big gaps in midfield in front of them, leaving the centre backs and full backs exposed. Moreover, the absence of Jack Whatmough was a blow to Toure, given that he was already short of centre backs with Jason Kerr being ruled out for the season.

Whatmough has had a tough season adjusting to the Championship, too often losing his man on opposition set pieces, guilty of launching so many hopeful long balls which the opponents would gobble up.  The arrival of Toure has required him to be braver on the ball, to search for an accurate pass rather than take the easier “going long” option. However, Whatmough has the potential to be a top player at Championship level: he is strong in the tackle and in the air, with pace to match most opposition central strikers. If he can improve on his concentration and his passing of the ball, he will be a key player in Toure’s team.

The Toure style of play certainly requires defenders who can play their way out of trouble without conceding possession. It also needs midfielders to provide adequate cover to those defenders. Tom Naylor was a key cog in Leam Richardson’s machine, playing an important protective role in front of defence. Naylor’s tackling and intercepting was excellent, as was his height and heading ability from set-pieces. However, so often he would make a simple pass sideways or backwards, with Max Power taking on the responsibility of being the more creative central midfielder. Power thrived on that in League 1, his crossing providing so many goalscoring opportunities. However, on his return to the Championship he has found it difficult to replicate the accuracy of his passing and crossing, particularly against teams playing a high defensive line.

Much has been said over the course of the season about the recruitment over the summer. The critics will say not only that the board did not back Richardson sufficiently in the transfer market, but also that too many players in the existing squad were always going to struggle in the second tier. In hindsight there has been speculation that the board already had reservations about the style of football and were reluctant to make major investment in players that would fit into Richardson’s scheme.

January is not the best time for bargains in the transfer market. Clubs are loath to lose key players for the second half of the season. However, in January 2021, with Latics under administration, Leam Richardson managed to bring in a group of seasoned professionals that would play a key role in avoiding relegation to League 2.

Given the Kerr injury at least one more central defender needs to be found. The left back position has proved problematic and will surely be a priority. Some fans will advocate for sweeping changes in the squad: goalkeeper, right back, a speedy winger, a mobile central striker, a box to box midfielder. For major changes to occur some of the existing squad would need to be shipped out.

It remains early for Toure to make instant decisions on what positions are priorities for recruitment. If he is to directly replace players, he will need to find now ones who are better than what he already has, or at the very minimum, would fit into his style of play. He will need to make decisions on possible recalls of Stephen Humphrys, Jordan Jones and Jamie McGrath, who the previous manager sent on loan to Scottish clubs. They might not have fitted into the Richardson style of football, but would they fit into the Toure version?

For the moment the new manager will continue to give opportunities to senior squad members who were starved of opportunities in the previous regime.

But whether Toure ultimately brings in a host of new players or whether he largely sticks with the hand he has been dealt; it will take time for the team to adapt to the more modern style of football that we are to see. As Mal Brannigan recently said:

“There’s an awful lot of games still to be played, including hopefully a few games in the cup. and we’ll know a lot more about where we are, maybe after the games in January.”

Leam Richardson: a much-loved but frustrating figure at Wigan Athletic

“In Leam we trust”

Few football managers are referred to by their first name by their fan base, yet at Wigan Athletic, the above phrase has become something of a mantra to be rolled out on social channels at any hint of critique of the current manager’s ability to keep the Latics on course.

Indeed, Leam Richardson is among the most-loved in the long line of Wigan Athletic managers since the club’s origins in 1932. When so many others fled a sinking ship, he stayed on and not only kept things afloat but did so with admirable dignity and positivity. He cut a determined figure through those gloomy times — the glue that held it all together motivating a hodge-podge of experienced journeymen and youth players week in and week out as the club literally faced an existential crisis. On the pitch, through wise recruitment in January 2021 and excellent man-management in the subsequent months, he managed to steer the club away from an immediate drop to League 2. He then oversaw a massive recruitment drive in the summer of 2021 and took the club back to the Championship. Somewhere in the middle of all of that he saved his centre forward’s life. Which to any neutrals may sound like hyperbole, but is exactly what happened, just as Simon Kjaer heroically did for Cristian Eriksen the summer prior.

Furthermore, Richardson is a terrific club ambassador – a genial presence characterised by rare decency and humility, with an unwillingness to criticise opposition or match officials. He’s the kind of manager who shakes every last player’s hand after a match, be it his own players or the opposition.  To say there is an emotional bond between Wigan Athletic and Richardson is an understatement; and the club has made appropriately meaningful gestures of gratitude in response, renaming the South Stand at the DW Stadium the Leam Richardson Stand, and extending his contract a further three years.  

Football moves fast, however. While the decision to renew Richardson’s contract was likely taken some weeks ago, in recent weeks Latics have plummeted down the league table, losing five on the bounce and mired in the relegation places. Poor form and results has a cruel way of exposing weaknesses that have been there all along but compensated for in other ways. What we’ve witnessed in recent Latics performances is reminiscent of the darkest days of Warren Joyce-led Latics in a similar Championship position several years ago – but shouldn’t come as a total surprise.

For all of Richardson’s incredible talents in man-management, his success in League 1, and his inspirational character traits as a human being and leader, his tactical approach has never been sophisticated. Even in League 1, where Latics could overpower most opposition, there were struggles against ball-playing sides who played with flair and the ball on the ground. Effort, physicality, strength from set pieces defined his team in League 1, and define his team in the Championship.

The problem of course, is that there is a large gulf in quality between League 1 and the Championship, and you either have to level up the playing talent, the tactical approach, or both – but neither has happened as yet. Whereas Latics could steamroll teams in League 1—a division in which James McClean could breeze past his fullback in the 80th minute—they get steamrolled in the Championship, with speedy ex-Premier League wingers breezing past the Irishman. Concerns over a shortage of skilful football last season were largely assuaged by positive results, but the pattern was clear. When Latics struggled, they’d hoof and hope.

An EFL season of 46 games is a long and physically draining marathon. Latics struggled near the end as the games came in thick and fast, the players looking jaded, but they eventually limped through to the title with a 3-0 win at Shrewsbury in the final encounter. Richardson had once again showed himself to be a motivational manager with the players consistently giving their all despite the fatigue and niggling injuries that made things more difficult for them. However, the manager’s reluctance to rotate the squad meant that so many players were struggling to reach their previous levels because of fatigue.

The  long ball had always been a feature of Richardson’s football, but so often it lapsed into hopeful punts upfield, resulting in loss of possession and increased pressure on the defence by the opposition. Richardson’s squad was far superior to most in the division enabling them to grind out wins even when not playing well. However, they struggled playing against teams who played skilful, possession-based football. Both Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland did the double over Latics. Milton Keynes Dons might have had a smaller budget, but their silky football made them a real challenge for Richardson’s team.

Recruitment in summer 2021 was more focused on getting Latics out of League 1, rather than building a side that could hold its own in the Championship. Most of the contracts offered were for two years, running out next summer. According to transfermarkt.co.uk Wigan have 16 players whose contracts run out at the end of this season, 3 of whom are on loan from other clubs. There are 6 whose have contracts until June 2024 and those of Callum Lang and Anthony Scully expire in June 2025.

Having so many player contracts due to expire at the end of the season makes it by no means easy for the manager. Being uncertain as to his near future at the club is unsettling to a player. Moreover, the current squad has 16 players who are aged 28 years or over. Whether Latics manage to avoid relegation or not there will be a significant amount of recruitment to be done in summer.

Throughout his time at Wigan the manager has relied heavily on his senior professionals and those who have previously commanded a regular place in the team. Riding on the confidence afforded by their League 1 title win those players got Latics off to a good start to the season, with their form away from home being impressive. However, their displays at the DW Stadium were distinctly muted. As the games came in thick and fast the energy within that core of players diminished, with the manager stubbornly sticking to those he felt he could trust, the new signings being used sparingly.

The trio of Will Keane, James McClean, Max Power have started in all of the 18 games played so far. Jack Whatmough missed just one through injury. Stats provided by soccerway.com show that Power has spent 1620 minutes on the field, not having been substituted in any game so far. Of the new signings Nathan Broadhead has played 706 minutes, compared with Josh Magennis 794. Ryan Nyambe has played 567 minutes, Ashley Fletcher 34, Anthony Scully 16 and Ramani Edmonds-Green 16 minute

Although Richardson remains well loved by so many fans for what he has done for the club the current situation is giving them much cause for concern. Many are asking why the manager was given a new three year contract with the standard of football played by his team being so poor. On Wednesday Latics were facing a Stoke team that had lost its previous three matches and was only just above the relegation zone. Playing with three centre backs and three holding midfielders was never likely to provide entertainment value for the home fans. When the team sheet was announced before the game the inference was that Richardson was playing not to lose, hoping for a goal from a set piece or bringing on his big target men in the latter stages with the scores tied.

Following a Stoke goal that was gifted to them by an inept Wigan rear guard the manager introduced both Charlie Wyke and Josh Magennis for the last 20 minutes. The football produced during that time ranked among the worst I have seen from Latics over decades of following them. It was totally depressing.

The praise that Richardson has received from Latics fans in the past has been very much merited. He is still held in high regard on a personal level, but there have always been flaws in his tactical approach. Having a squad that was superior to most in League 1 meant that the cracks were papered over. However, they are fully exposed in a Championship division against superior players and managers with more tactical nous.

The frustration among the fans is very much influenced by a run of poor results, but it is the manager’s stubborn resistance to changing the way he sets up his team that can truly aggravate  people. Richardson must adapt his tactical approach and install a modern footballing philosophy to replace an archaic approach that is simply not going to work in the second tier.

Wigan Athletic: signing the “right type” of player as Nyambe and Broadhead arrive

“The team’s style of play is quite unique so I’m looking forward to that”

What was Ryan Nyambe really saying when he made that comment after signing a one-year contract for Wigan Athletic?

Wigan Athletic’s recruitment over this summer has contrasted so much with that of a year ago. At the beginning of last summer, the squad had been threadbare and so many new players had to be brought in. Most of them are still with the club and form the backbone of a squad charged with the task of consolidation in the Championship. Perhaps the most outstanding signing was a 24-year-old Jack Whatmough, with 136 appearances under his belt on a free from Portsmouth. Whatmough went on to be voted Player of the Year.

Recruitment this summer has been a slow process, much to the frustration of the fans.  But after weeks of waiting fans were positive about the first new senior squad acquisition over the summer. It was reminiscent of the signing of Whatmough: a young player with lots of prior experience, a free agent. Nyambe is only 24 years old but already has 150 Championship appearances under his belt, together with 29 in League 1. 

But there are questions over Nyambe’s signing. Why was he signed on a one-year deal? Moreover, reports from Blackburn fans suggest that the player excels in a defensive role but is not so proficient on the attacking side. Given Leam Richardson’s expectation for full backs to push forward is Nyambe the right kind of player to bring in?

However, although Nyambe’s preferred position is right back he has also played in the centre of defence and at left back.

Today the club announced the signing 24-year-old Nathan Broadhead on loan from Everton.

The 5ft 10 in tall Welshman played off target man centre forward Ross Stewart  when on loan at Sunderland last season, scoring 10 goals in 15 League 1 starts and 10 appearances off the bench. He had a previous loan spell with Burton Albion in 2019-20 making 10 league starts and 2 appearances as a substitute, scoring 2 goals. Although his specialist position is as a striker he can play in wide positions. But how will Broadhead primarily be used in Wigan’s system?

Nyambe and Broadhead are welcome additions. But with the squad still in need of reinforcement fans are hoping that more new players will be coming in sooner rather than later, having seen what has happened in the past.

In their last season in the Championship, 2019-20, they signed multiple players around the start of the season, with more arriving later during August. Prior to the first game against Cardiff City on August 3 they had picked up four new players in July with Jamal Lowe and Dujon Sterling signing on August 1. Kieffer Moore signed on August 5, Tom Pearce on August 8 and Charlie Mulgrew a day later. The starting line up in the last game of August against Barnsley included five players who had not played against Cardiff.

Paul Cook’s team got off to a poor start in 2019-20 winning just one and drawing two of their first seven league games. With so many changes in playing staff it was going to take the team a long time to gel.

However, it is an entirely different situation this time around. The massive recruitment drive of last summer was aimed at not only putting together a squad good enough to get the club out of League 1, but to provide a nucleus that would serve in the Championship. A handful of new signings, several of whom will be loanees, are expected to come in to complement a settled squad.

Leam Richardson’s team has made by no means a bad start to the season. A cautious 0-0 draw at home to Preston was followed by a courageous performance in drawing 1-1 at title favourites Norwich. As expected, Richardson stuck with his trusted senior pros and his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, building on the momentum of last season’s successes.

 James McClean summed it up in a post-match interview “We have a mindset in that dressing room where we know what quality we have and we are not going into every game to survive or settle for a draw. We are going out to win every game because we know the quality we have. The lads will fight to the death for each other and that shows, we have a positive mindset every time we step onto the pitch.”

Keeping up that morale among the squad is crucial to Latics’ consolidation as a Championship club. That high morale is surely down to Richardson and his staff. Last season it was maintained throughout despite the manager’s loyalty to certain players at the expense of others. Many managers will regularly rotate the starting line-ups, not hesitating to make substitutions if things are not going to plan. It is quite the opposite with Richardson, but perhaps through personal charisma, he has managed to minimise any disgruntlement of players regularly left out of the starting eleven.

Bringing in “the right kind” of new players will be key to Wigan’s fortunes this season. It is not only the attitudes of incoming players and the way they react to the status quo, but it is also how they will fit into what Nyambe referred to as a “unique style of play”. The current team is physically strong and resilient. It typically involves playing with a big target man up front, with the full backs pushing well forward. At its best it produces results. At its worst it can revert to a route one approach.

The physicality of Richardson’s team served them well in League 1 but needs moderation in a higher division. Even in League 1 there were teams whose players went to ground easily against Wigan’s muscular approach. This is likely to happen much more in a division sandwiched between the combative League 1 and the Premier League where skilful players are protected from over-physical challenges by strict – some would say overstrict – refereeing.

Last season Richardson varied his formation, switching between 4-2-3-1 and what can loosely be described as 3-4-3. The latter formation not only helped provide tactical variation but allowed some players flexibility in their roles. In 3-4-3 Callum Lang was not so confined to the right wing, but able to move into the space around the central striker. It might well prove to be his best role. It can also be adapted to playing twin strikers: Josh Magennis and Stephen Humphries were employed during Lang’s absence through injury. Has Broadhead has been signed largely to play in that front three? Will he be played in a wide position in 4-2-3-1?

The injury to Jack Whatmough in the Preston game gave Jason Kerr the chance to play his first league game as a centre half in a back four. He was outstanding at Norwich, arguably Latics’ Man of the Match. In his previous games he had been used only on the right-hand side of a back three, a position he had excelled in at St Johnstone.

Richardson prefers a left footer in the left of central defence. Despite having no prior experience in the second tier and now 31 years old, Curtis Tilt has performed well in the first two games in that position. Tilt’s positional sense, physicality and heading ability could play an important part. It was rumoured that Latics wanted Kell Watts back on loan to compete for that left central position, but injury has put paid to that possibility. Should no additions be made to the squad Richardson will have to employ a right footer, perhaps Kerr or Nyambe, in that position.

Bristol City visit the DW Stadium on Saturday on the back of defeats to Hull City and Sunderland. In the financial year ending 2021 they made a loss of £38.4m. To avoid falling foul of the EFL’s Profit and Sustainability rules they have been trimming their budget, releasing high earners and seeking transfer revenue. Their owner, Steve Lansdown, is seeking outside investment for the club, having put a huge amount of money into it over two decades. In June he once again wrote off £15m of club debt by converting it into shares. Over the previous two years he had written off a sum of £81m in the same manner. The club remains £79m in debt. City are not the only Championship club that has massively overspent to get into the Premier League. It has been such a common occurrence.

The weekend encounter will most likely involve ex-Latics favourites Kal Naismith and Joe Williams. One wonders if Richardson will accommodate a returning Jack Whatmough and show faith in Jason Kerr by switching to a back three. It will be a fascinating encounter between two clubs in very differing situations. Perhaps Latics will have more new signings announced by then?

Wigan Athletic: a quiet and measured approach to surviving in the Championship

Mal Brannigan: “I think we’ll be quiet, I think we’ll be measured…and I think it comes back to making sure this football club is a Championship club this time next year…”

The fans have been getting anxious. The Daily Mail’s sensationalist headline about the club being late in paying their staff twice in recent weeks certainly caused ripples, even if many put it down to a journalist with a gripe. There was anxiety too about the announcement of the new kit, but the club came out of it well, not only by displaying an attractive new uniform, but gathering praise for the appearance of the Big Help Project on the front of the shirts.  

But the biggest issue: no new signings announcements for the senior squad with the season starting in just over two weeks’ time. When will it happen? Will Latics be able to afford to bring in the quality players who can make a difference in the Championship? Some fans ask why there has been so little recent communication about the matter.

However, Mal Brannigan’s comment was consistent with the approach he has taken since being recruited as CEO in April 2021. Many fans had clamoured for the much-loved Jonathan Jackson to continue in that position, but the new ownership opted for a new face in that position.

Together with chairman Talal Al Hammad, Brannigan has done a wonderful job in lifting the spirits of Wigan Athletic supporters whilst keeping a firm hand on the reins. The League 1 title was won with a minimal amount spent on transfer fees, with real eye towards recruitment bargains.

In the current economic climate EFL clubs are primarily looking at the free agent market. However, although making a very significant saving in transfer costs Latics’ signing of players on free transfers has come at a price. Last summer they were able to make top acquisitions for League 1 by being competitive in the market. However, to attract such players, it was necessary to offer better terms than competitors. It is not only a higher salary that will be attractive to a player: the length of the contract can so often be key in the negotiations, especially for players in the later stages of their careers.

Of the current squad Latics have nine players aged 30 or over. Ben Amos, Joe Bennett, Tendayi Darikwa, Jamie Jones, James McClean and Curtis Tilt have one more year remaining on their contract. The contracts of Josh Magennis, Tom Naylor and Graeme Shinnie expire in 2024.

Four players from last seasons squad have now left. Gavin Massey departed at the end of his contract and loan players Tom Bayliss. Glen Rea and Kell Watts have returned to their former clubs.

Every summer the social media is awash with fan debates about how many new players need to be added to a squad and in what positions. There are those who are currently saying that this current squad needs a major overhaul if it is to be able to compete in the Championship. Others will say that players were recruited not only to get Latics out of League 1, but to provide the spine of a squad that can consolidate in the second tier.

Around half of the current squad have considerable experience in the Championship or the Premier League with at least 40 appearances in the past. Others have been top performers in Leagues 1 or 2 or the SPL.

Given the fact that Latics have so many players already contracted it is unlikely that we will see a big influx of new players. Last summer was certainly the exception, with the squad having been threadbare at the end of the 2019-20 season. There has been so much flux in playing staff over recent years and current management might see a need for more stability. Comments from the manager, chief executive and chairman suggest that they have confidence in the squad, with the possibility of bringing maybe half a dozen new faces.

The new faces are likely to include players with ample experience in the higher tiers of English football, almost certainly on free transfers. Young loan players from Premier League clubs have been used to effect by Championship clubs in recent years. Although it is unlikely Latics will secure a player with the impact of Reece James in 2018-19 the loan players could play a crucial role. But what of planning for the future, given a squad that is not the youngest?

Ideally the club will make progress in developing young players that will serve them for years ahead, as opposed to those brought in on a loan from other clubs.

The youngest players appearing in last season’s League 1 team were Thelo Aasgaard, (now 20), Adam Long (21) and Luke Robinson (21), all graduates of the Latics Academy. Long and Robinson started in one game apiece, Aasgaard starting in five.

Of the players in their early to mid-twenties Callum Lang (24) and Jack Whatmough (25) were regular starters. Jason Kerr (25) started only when Latics played with a back three. Stephen Humphrys (24) started in 12 games and Tom Pearce (23) in 16 games.

Leam Richardson’s success in the past two seasons has been built upon a physical style of play and a reliance on his more experienced players. In 2020-21 the club was initially forced to bring in its young players, following the decimation of the squad due to administration. However, in the January window the manager was able to bring in more experience, which went a long way to avoiding relegation. Last season with the loss of Charlie Wyke he brought in the experienced Josh Magennis (31) in January who leapfrogged ahead of Stephen Humphrys in the packing order.

We can expect incomings and outgoings in the senior squad over the next couple of weeks. It appears that Jordan Jones is close to leaving, rumour suggesting that he will go back to Scotland for another loan spell. A permanent transfer is less likely because of the inability of most SPL teams to meet the kind of salary the player will be on. Latics signed Jones from Rangers last summer for a fee reputed to be around £500,000. He still has two years to run on his contract and Latics will try to mitigate costs by the other club paying a fraction of his salary. The manager has made it clear that Jones is not in his plans. One wonders what might have happened if the club had not made a late signing of James McClean, after Jones and Gwion Edwards had joined Callum Lang and Gavin Massey to compete for the two wide forward positions. Jones can count himself unlucky in not receiving the kind of backing from the manager that the likes of Edwards and Massey received.

There has been lots of hype from the Scottish media about the possible returns up north for Jamie McGrath and Graeme Shinnie. Both were signed for bargain prices in the January transfer window and looked good additions to the squad. But McGrath was only given one start in League 1, Shinnie just six. Speculation has abounded on the social media about why the pair were not given more opportunities. As the season was nearing its close some fans were suggesting that they were signed with a view to the coming season. Others retorted that the two did not fit into the long-ball approach of the manager, the ball passing over their heads so much of the time.

It has been good to see McGrath played at right wing back in pre-season, where his pace, control and passing vision has been impressive. It remains to be seen if the manager will continue to utilise him in that role or release him to go back to Scotland.

The ultimate composition of the squad will give us a strong indication of the type of football Richardson plans to play this season. Will flair players of the likes of McGrath and Aasgaard be given the opportunities they have been denied in the past?

The pre-season schedule is less than impressive, the only whiff of real opposition being in the final game against League 1 Sheffield Wednesday. Only time will tell if it can provide a fit and raring to go Latics for that tough opening match against the old adversary, Preston.