Can Latics get the best out of Charlie Wyke?

In the summer of 2019 Wigan Athletic signed big centre forward, Kieffer Moore, from Barnsley. Despite having a decent strike record at Barnsley and Rotherham before that, Moore had a lean time in front of goal for months. His first goal came in early November after not being able to find the net in his previous 12 appearances. By Christmas he had only added one more to his total.

Moore was playing in the Championship for the first time, against better defenders. There were serious questions about whether this player with successful experience in the lower divisions could reach the standards required in the second tier of English football.

Moore had become a struggling player in a team unable to consistently maintain a standard of football that would keep them out of the lower reaches of the division. Even though there were flashes of quality their performances were riddled with “soft” goals due to defensive errors and an inability to hold on to a lead. Too often defenders under pressure would apply the hoof to clear their lines. The lone centre forward had to feed on morsels, so often chasing wayward long balls with big defenders closely marshalling him.

Moore eventually went on to score 12 goals that season, several of which were of very high quality. It could be argued that he had got used to playing in the Championship and had looked more self-assured. But more than that it was the improvement in the football played by the team as a unit that enabled Moore to showcase his skills. As the season had progressed the hoofball had lessened. Midfielders were dropping back to receive the ball, even if space was tight. Moves were being built up from the back and the defenders were taking more responsibility in retaining the ball. With better ball retention the opposition were less able to constantly pressurise the Wigan defence. Put simply, Moore began to flourish as the team began to play football that had more of an emphasis on possession.

Since the Phoenix 2021 takeover in March the mood at the club and among its supporters has had a major lift. The positivity of the chairman, Talal Al Hammad, has been a major factor. He is relatively young and is adept with the social media, which he regularly employs to communicate with fans. The escape from relegation was a major achievement for a club that was on its knees during the period of administration. With the backing of new owner Abdulrahman Al-Jasmi and the direction provided by new Chief Executive Malachy Brannigan the club has new direction.

On his arrival Brannigan stated:

“The past 12 months have been extremely unfortunate for everybody. Our role and my job is to make sure this football club becomes a stable Championship club. From a business perspective, the assets that are here and the value we are getting for it. Then there is the medium to long-term vision of how we can rebuild the club, put it back on solid foundations and look to grow thereafter. We are not an ownership group that is going to be in and out”.

Since the end of last season there has been a lot of flux in playing staff. Most of those who helped the club avoid relegation have departed and the club has brought in players of proven ability at League 1 level. Most had been out of contract at their previous clubs, but it was uplifting for the supporters to see Latics enticing players from supposedly bigger clubs like Ipswich, Portsmouth, and Sunderland to Wigan.

The signing of Charlie Wyke in early July went down particularly well with the fans. Here was a centre forward who scored 31 goals in 51 appearances last season deciding to move to Wigan at the end of his contract rather than stay at Sunderland, where had recently been voted “Player of the Year”.

The 28-year-old, 6ft 2in striker was born in Middlesbrough and came through the town’s football club’s academy. After signing a 3-year professional contract as an 18-year-old in May 2011 he was sent off on loan spells at Kettering, Hartlepool, and Wimbledon. He left for Carlisle United in January 2015 without making an appearance for Middlesbrough. Wyke went on to score 32 goals in 64 starts and 13 substitute appearances for Carlisle in League 2. In January 2017 he signed for Bradford City for an undisclosed fee. During a season and a half with the Bantams, Wyke scored 22 goals in League 1 from 54 starts and two appearances off the bench.

Wyke signed for Sunderland for a fee around £400,000 in the summer of 2018. In his first two seasons he struggled, scoring only 9 goals in a total of 51 appearances. However, in the 2020-21 season he notched a total of 31 goals including 5 in 6 games in the EFL Trophy.

Wyke made his league debut for Latics last Saturday, at Sunderland of all places. He did not have a particularly good game, but neither did the rest of his teammates. Wigan had started off the game in style. Despite having only three players who were starters in the last game of the previous season the newly assembled team had appeared to gel remarkably quickly. When Gwion Edwards put Wigan ahead after 17 minutes following a flowing move they looked well in control of the game. But it was not to continue.

Just two minutes later Sunderland had scored through a soft penalty conceded by Tendayi Darikwa. They went on to win the game through another “soft” goal from their centre forward who had risen to head home without sufficient challenge from the Wigan defence. The smooth, fast-flowing football of the first quarter of the game had dissipated, with the long ball rearing its head.

Watching Charlie Wyke in the second half of the game brought back images to the mind of Kieffer Moore struggling in the first part of the 2019-20 season. He was receiving poor service as the midfield was being by-passed with hopeful long balls from defenders.  The pattern of the game provided parallels with what we saw happen too frequently in the first half of the 2019-20 season.

Unlike Moore who was playing in the second tier for the first time Wyke has ample prior experience at the level he is playing at. Given the right service from the wings he will score goals. But, like Moore, he will struggle if the ball is simply “lumped” to him from the back. But who will provide the kinds of crosses he needs?

This season’s team can pose a major threat to opposition defences with crosses from set-pieces. There is a potential threat from the aerial abilities of not only the central defenders and centre forward, but also the likes of Callum Lang, Tom Naylor, and Will Keane. However, much depends on the quality of the delivery from the player taking the free kick or corner.

To provide dangerous crosses from the flanks the full backs and wingers must build up a mutual understanding of each other’s play. If the full back advances deeply into opposition territory, there must be midfield coverage behind them to stifle counterattacks if possession is lost. Richardson has a choice as to which left full back he plays. Tom Pearce excelled in the first part of last season in a struggling side, creating chances through his runs and crosses. Luke Robinson is more conservative in attack, but stronger in defence than Pearce. On the right Tendayi Darikwa has shown that he can provide quality crosses but Latics have not yet signed another player who can challenge him in that position. The modern full back role is physically demanding and expecting Darikwa to play most of the 46 league games is a big ask.

Darikwa is well known to Richardson through their time together at Wigan and Chesterfield. The manager clearly has confidence in him through making him captain.

It was pleasing to note the captain’s post-match comment on Saturday evening: “I think we could have probably got the ball down a bit more today but we will look at it as a squad with the manager and come back next week.”

Wyke has made a quiet start at Wigan up to this point. The squad will take time to truly gel, but when it does will Wyke receive the kind of service he needs to be as successful as he was last season?

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Amigo and Social Media Reaction to a difficult contest at Sunderland

August 7, 2021: Sunderland 2 Wigan Athletic 1

It has been an uplifting summer with Wigan Athletic putting together a squad that might compete with any in the division. That rebuild is not yet complete, with more players due to arrive shortly.

But despite the upbeat mood it was always going to be difficult facing a crowd of more than 30,000 at the Stadium of Light. Moreover Bobby Madley had been assigned the match: a referee hardly known for giving favourable decisions to Latics.

Latics had opened the game in style, pushing players forward, causing headaches to the Sunderland defence. Their football was a revelation and it came as no surprise when Gwion Edwards opened the scoring following a flowing move in the 15th minute. But the clock seemed to be turned back a couple of minutes later when the home team launched a rapid counterattack, with centre forward Ross Stewart going down from a challenge by Tendayi Darikwa. The large crowd bayed and Madley obliged with a penalty decision in their favour. Aidan McGeady scored with ease.

The penalty knocked the stuffing out of an away team that had been buoyant up to that point. Sunderland went from strength to strength and the gangly Stewart scored the winner after 52 minutes, outjumping the Latics defence. Wigan’s football transformed into pumping long balls, a tactic that could raise its ugly head in the Cook/Richardson era when the team was under pressure. A disappointing end to a game that started with so much promise.

Darikwa made reference to the style of play in a post-match interview saying “It’s a new squad, we’re still working on new relationships and building on that. There is a lot more to come from us; I think we could have probably got the ball down a bit more today but we will look at it as a squad with the manager and come back next week.”

Let’s hope the captain and coaching staff can work on that with effect.

Leam Richardson commented:

 “I thought we battled well. I thought we started the game good. I thought we imposed ourselves quite quickly. We were worthy in front and then I think the penalty turns the game. I don’t think really we recovered.

Whether it’s a penalty or not, I’ve been told it’s not but I’ve not seen it, so it’s disappointing again. But it gave them momentum. I thought they built on that momentum so I thought the were worthy winners in the end. It was eight or nine debutants and I think it showed in some parts but you can see they come together quickly.

In other parts as well, they’ve been in a matter of weeks. Everybody knows that we’re a football club we’re building slowly and I think you could see that little bit today.”

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:

Problem with Cook and Leam we always end up playing hoofball to suit the striker. We have always been better actually playing football and we have the players for it.

True Believer opined:

First game of the season for players brought together in the last 6 weeks and people expect them to play like they have been together for a couple of seasons.

Whatever happened to “give them time to gel”.

We have just lost by one goal in three to a side that have played together for the past two seasons and made the play offs in both those seasons. Get real.

Definitely need to see some action in the transfer market though as this is a reality check.

Jocklatic replied:

So no criticism allowed then TB, posters will def be driven off if not allowed to have their say be it against your point of view or a certain moan of a player. Went today & imo for first 10 min we seemed like a side that knew each other & how to go down field….cue the certainly unnecessary penalty by Darikwa n we seem to fall apart not helped through the game with some bizarre refereeing decisions in favour of Sunderland. Think we …well me anyway had expectations of a decent game against Sunderland but we seemed to lose our way after the penalty n made a very mediocre Sunderland side look good, again not helped by dire ref decisions. Coming away from the ground it was easy to hear that Darikwa is already a possible whipping boy….imo shouldn’t be captain as he certainly didn’t seem to command anything on the field today…..upwards and onwards to our first home game.
On a side note didn’t rate Amos, thot Power / Lang were our best players with motm….the ref

Power was the only player that performed.


Victor Moses 🙂 added:

Darikwa cost us the game, might of went that way anyway. But you cannot foul a player that is near the byline going nowhere, at best he gets a shot off at worse a cross. We we’re getting shredded down our right all game.

Wasn’t expecting an optimal performance, but thought we would have had better composure. Lots of players bottled it, Naylor was shocking on the ball. Played great against Preston, but I wouldn’t trust him to take care of the ball after today he was panicking. Cousins looked much calmer.

Edwards did nothing apart from scoring an open goal, doesn’t deserve to start next game. Jones was very wasteful when he came on.

Long ball, after long ball from the back. Too much time and space for them when they had the ball wide.

Lots of work to do, much further away then I was hoping we would be. But we do have an excellent team that will get better game by game.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

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.