A Bradford City fan’s view of Lee Evans

Photo courtesy of Wigan Athletic

Wigan Athletic yesterday announced the signing of the 23-year-old Lee Evans from Wolverhampton Wanderers on a season-long loan. The 6 ft 1 in tall Welshman is a central midfield player.

On signing Evans Latics manager Paul Cook said: “Lee’s a classy player and somebody who has been playing at a good level for a number of years. We do have a number of players in midfield at the moment but I feel you can never be too strong in that department, especially over the course of a season in which we’re going to play over 50 games. I am sure once he’s settled in, Lee is the type of player the fans will really warm to.”

Lee Evans was born in Newport and made his debut for his home town club as a 17 year old in March 2012. shortly after he went on to play in the FA Trophy Final in which Newport County were beaten 2-0 by York City. The following season he had made 23 appearances in the Football Conference before being signed by Wolves in January 2013.

Evans made his Football League debut for Wolves in August 2013, going on to make 28 appearances as the midland club went on to claim the League 1 title. In  August 2015 he went to Bradford City on loan, making 41 appearances and scoring 4 goals.

Evans has made 48 league starts for Wolves with 11 appearances as a substitute. He has made 13 appearances for Wales at U21 level.

In order to learn more about Evans time at Bradford we contacted Bantams’ fan Stuart Black (@blackmeister).

Here’s over to Stuart:

Lee Evans joined Bradford City on 20th August 2015 under Phil Parkinson.  We had made a poor start to the season and were playing two defenders in central midfield in Tony McMahon and Chris Routis and quite frankly it was very weak.  We took only 1 point from the first nine with defeats away at Swindon and at home to Gillingham and it was obvious to all that Central Midfield needed strengthening badly.

When Evans joined on loan from Wolves at least we had a square peg in a square hole and immediately our fortunes turned around.

In our first match we played away at a very good (and ultimately promoted) Barnsley and got a hard fought 0-0.  We then picked up 8 points from the next 4 games to get us to 12th. Evans had a big hand in the fact that by the end of November we had risen from 22nd to 6th in the table.

Evans has a lot of ability and can certainly find a pass. He has average pace but is physically strong albeit slightly reckless but will get you occasional goals.  He is not bad in the air which you would expect at 6’1 tall and can take a good set piece.

Bradford City hit a flat spot in November and drifted back towards mid table as Evans needed better quality next to him.  That quality arrived in early February when City signed Josh Cullen on loan from West Ham.  As a midfield pair they excelled and the team rose to 3rd in the league but ultimately failed in the play-offs when beaten by Millwall.

Lee Evans scored 4 goals for us in 2015-16 from 35 appearances with 3 assists.  He was only 21 at the time so should be stronger and wiser now. He got 9 yellow cards and 1 red in that same time but looks to have improved those figures in the Championship.

I suspect most Bradford City fans would still like him in the team as we look rather weak as a squad at the moment as we look to rebuild following our late Wembley defeat once again against Millwall and the subsequent loss of some of our better players to other clubs.

Best wishes for the new season to all Wigan supporters.

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The turnover continues: will Latics have a 20-goal striker this season?

It was not Alan Nixon this time, but another journalist putting the cat among the pigeons on Twitter. Wilson Whitefield’s tweets certainly caught the imaginations of both Wigan Athletic and Queens Park Rangers fans.

Twitter comments can certainly be controversial. Sometimes their statements never come to fruition, but sometimes they can prove to be accurate. We await confirmation from the club regarding the veracity of Whitefield’s comments.

A couple of years ago Gary Caldwell signed a 20 goal per season striker in Will Grigg. Grigg had done it at both Walsall and MK Dons and he was to do it again at Wigan in 2015-16, spearheading Latics’ League 1 title triumph. Omar Bogle exceeded the 20-goal mark last season. He scored 22 goals in 44 league appearances for Grimsby Town and Latics.

The more optimistic of Wigan Athletic fans have been relishing the prospect of both Bogle and Grigg being at the club this season, together with the hugely talented Nick Powell who can play either at centre forward or in midfield. The presence of the three would surely provide the momentum to push Latics back into the Championship

But economic factors cannot be ignored and the realists will say that at least two, or possibly all three of them, will be gone over the coming weeks. Put simply, despite the PR and propaganda that emanates from the club and local press, the huge drop in revenue due to relegation and loss of parachute payments will cause continued turnover at the club.

Both Grigg and Michael Jacobs are in the final years of their contracts. Latics could conceivably offer them contract extensions, but that could prove tricky not knowing which division the club will be in a year from now. An alternative is to cash in on their value in the transfer market this summer or in the January transfer window. Another option is to allow them to run their contracts down and decide on whether to offer them extensions later in the season. Being a proven goal scoring centre forward Grigg will continue to attract a considerable transfer fee, despite his disappointing season at Championship level. The likelihood is that he will be leaving in the coming weeks.

Powell is reputably the highest paid of the current squad and that added to his injury record would prove a very expensive luxury for a club looking to cut its budget by 60-70%. His inspiring cameo appearances at the end of last season certainly whetted our appetites, but his departure seems almost inevitable, providing he is fit.

So, given a scenario where Bogle, Grigg and Powell all leave, can we expect a centre forward of such qualities to come in and propel the promotion push?

The media rumours continue to link manager Cook to ex-players of his at Portsmouth. It seems that the signing of 34-year-old free agent Noel Hunt appears imminent. Hunt has scored 8 goals in 70 appearances over the past four years for Portsmouth, Ipswich and Leeds United. The names of Eion Doyle, Gary Roberts and Michael Smith have also been mentioned, together with Whitefield’s tweet about Chaplin.

In the meantime the turnover appears to be continuing with not only the speculation on Bogle, but the message below from Max Power that was tweeted in the last hour.

Despite the utterings of keeping the nucleus of the squad together on Paul Cook’s arrival it appears that this will hardly be the case.

5 talking points arising from the win over Notts County

What a pleasant day it was in Nottingham when Wigan Athletic stepped on to a pristine pitch in a stadium that must rank among the best in League 2. After dealing with a less than perfect surface at Southport, Latics would have no excuse for the quality of their football at Meadow Lane.

They had lined up with Paul Cook’s favoured 4-2-3-1 configuration, making a brisk start, immediately imposing their passing game upon County. The home team just could not get the ball as Wigan dominated possession. But possession in itself is not enough to win  football matches and shot-shy Latics hardly troubled the home keeper. It was to be a grim reminder of last season when County broke away and Lewis Alessandra got the better of Nathan Byrne to hammer home a cross from Wigan’s left flank. When the half time whistle went we were left pondering on the lack of cutting edge in Latics’ attacks.

It continued into the second half until around the two thirds mark when Cook made multiple substitutions. The youth of the bench had been supplemented with the experience of the 34-year-old Noel Hunt, who was played as a striker, together with the promising Callum Lang. Lang’s pace took him past the home defence and his cross that was heading for Michael Jacobs was deflected into his own goal by home captain Richard Duffy. Another quick counterattack by Latics was to see Lang put away a close range chance from Hunt’s cross.

In the end Latics managed to cling on to a lead that had hardly seemed likely at half time. But what conclusions can be drawn from the performance?

1. Too many Latics players are still in the hangover phase of last season’s happenings. Cook acknowledged this after the game saying that  “I just didn’t feel our lads felt they were going to win.” The lack of self-belief among the attacking players was plain to see. So often the moves broke down as Latics reached the opposition penalty box, with a sideways pass being the preferred option to a direct shot on goal.

2. Latics need specialist full backs. In the absence of alternative choices Nathan Byrne and Jordan Flores occupied those roles. Byrne himself has made it apparent that he does not want to be regarded as a right back, preferring to be employed as a wing back or winger. Flores has played in the position before and never convinced. He is a midfield player by nature.

Cook was upbeat about the returns of Donervon Daniels, Will Grigg, Andy Kellett and Nick Powell in a friendly game against Llandudno. Daniels would indeed be a contender for the right back position if he were to regain full fitness after a long absence. Luke Burke was absent from the proceedings yesterday and one wonders what chances he will be given under Cook. County’s Matt Tootle was arguably the best man on the pitch yesterday at right back and his display might have sparked interest from Wigan manager Cook.

The left back position will surely be occupied by Reece James, if fit. But he remains in the  recuperation phase from a long absence through injury. Kellett too could offer options at left back, although he is more effectively employed in midfield. But he too has been dogged by injury. David Perkins played the midfield holding role yesterday, but might well be pressed into service on the left of defence during the course of the season.

3. The turnover of goalkeepers looks to have stopped. Christian Walton is an excellent signing for League 1 and he is already providing reassurance for his defenders. Walton once again looked composed and confident, making some fine saves yesterday. Owen Evans too has impressed in pre-season. The question remains whether Cook will settle for him as back-up to Walton or if he will look for an experienced keeper as second choice.

4. The centre forward position is up for grabs. Omar Bogle looks low on confidence and so often is left isolated by his teammates. Will Cook stick with Bogle, who still has the potential to score lots of goals at League 1 level? Will Grigg is still recovering from injury, but is in the final year of his contract and there has already been speculation that he will be sold over summer. Nick Powell would surely be an excellent option, if fit, but the likelihood is that he will be allowed to leave for financial reasons.

Callum Lang has already shown that he is a viable option, although young and inexperienced. How he would cope against robust League 1 central defenders remains to be seen, but he is an exciting addition to the squad.

5. The current crop of youngsters must be given opportunities at the expense of loan players. The introduction of a handful of youngsters in the second half energised Latics’ play. But not only are these players energetic but they have good technical qualities and fit comfortably into the possession football that Cook practices. The impressive Sam Stubbs and Owen Evans were absent yesterday but Luke Burgess, Callum Lang, Chris  Merrie and Terrell Thomas impressed. So often in the past loan players have been brought in at the expense of younger players already at the club. The time has come for a change in that policy or practice.

Reflections on an excellent display against Liverpool

 

On the face of it a Wigan Athletic shorn of so many players through injury or “unavailability” could not have been expected to draw a friendly match against Liverpool. But they did it in the kind of style that we have not seen at the DW Stadium for a long time.

Can it be that Paul Cook has already changed the mindset of his squad, despite being in charge for such a limited amount of time? More than anything else it was the sheer composure of the players that impressed, whether they were experienced pros or academy graduates in there for the biggest game of their lives.

Latics had played with composure, determination and energy as their more experienced players managed to take the lead against the Merseyside giants, holding it until shortly before half time. There had been the type of cohesion between the players that had been notably lacking last season, even if that final pass remains an area to work upon.

Cook had put out a balanced line up in his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. Nathan Byrne was played at right back, which is hardly his favourite position, but he equipped himself well. Perhaps the absence of an orthodox left winger in the Liverpool side helped, but nevertheless a player who was out of favour and shunted out on loan in January, was back in contention. Cook had started all his more experienced pros, apart from David Perkins and new signing, Gavin Massey, who were to appear immediately after the half time break. But none of them were likely to last beyond the hour mark and Cook would surely have to put in a handful of academy players sooner rather than later in the second period.

Cook’s hand had been forced to a large degree by the absence of so many other senior pros. We knew that Donervon Daniels, Andy Kellett and Shaun MacDonald were long-term absentees and that new signing Chey Dunkley too was injured. Moreover, the absence of Will Grigg was no surprise as he too is presumably still recovering from injury. Given his constant problems with fitness it was no surprise either to see Nick Powell not available. Sam Morsy was apparently rested following his time with Egypt over the summer so far.

But there were senior squad players who were not mentioned by the local press who were noticeably absent on Friday evening. Jack Byrne is one who could have a major impact in League 1, but he too has suffered fitness issues. Mikael Mandron too was absent, as Kaiyne Woolery and Callum Lang made the team in his place. Added to those are the players whose futures at the club are in doubt, having been sent out on loan last season. They are Dan Lavercombe, Sanmi Odelusi and Danny Whitehead.

In the event, the lack of available senior pros forced Cook’s hand and he had no choice but to bring on half a dozen youngsters who have come up through the Latics academy. Of those academy graduates Luke Burke was the one with prior first team experience having made an impact early last season before drifting out of favour. But his tenacious performance will have surely given Cook the message that he is a valid option at right back.

Neither the “home grown” youngsters, nor the imported young players Josh Laurent, Terell Thomas and Kaiyne Woolery, were overawed by the occasion and Latics continued to hold their own as the second half progressed. The 18-year-old Sam Stubbs looked calm and composed in the centre of defence, as did the 20-year-old Owen Evans who had come on for the excellent Christian Walton after 61 minutes. The 18-year-old Luke Burgess came on in the 63rd minute for Michael Jacobs and looked an accomplished player. Callum Lang linked up well with Woolery. Chris Merrie was lively.

It remains to be seen how much faith Cook will have in the young players in the coming season and how many loan players will be brought in. Moreover he will surely lose some of the senior pros over the coming weeks as David Sharpe and Jonathan Jackson chop down the wage bill. But what does look clear is that the manager will stamp his style of football on the players at his disposal.

The realist might say that this was only a pre-season friendly match and that conclusions cannot be drawn at this stage. However, it has been a long time since we have seen a Latics side play with such a degree of organisation and composure.

Let’s hope it continues at Southport on Tuesday.

A Luton Town fan’s view of Christian Walton

Wigan Athletic have announced the signing of Christian Walton from Brighton and Hove Albion on a season-long loan. The 6 ft 5 in tall goalkeeper is 21 years old and has represented England at U18, U19, U20 and U21 levels. He has recently signed a four year contract with the south coast club.

On signing Walton, Latics manager Paul Cook stated: “Following the departure of Matt Gilks it was clear we needed reinforcements in this area and Christian is one that we were keen to target. He had good experience in League Two and League One last season and has the potential to develop into a top goalkeeper.”

Christian Walton was born in Wadebridge, Cornwall, and came through the Plymouth Argyle youth system. He joined Albion as a 17 year old, going on to sign a professional contract in the summer of 2013. He made his senior debut in late October 2014 in a League Cup tie against Tottenham. Walton made his league debut against Uwe Rosler’s Latics less than a week later, to be followed by a start against Blackburn Rovers in the match following. He had to wait until the last game of the season to reappear when Albion played at Middlesbrough.

In summer 2015 Walton joined Bury on a season-long  loan, playing against Latics once more, this time at the DW Stadium in a League Cup match. However, the loan was cut short in early September, due to a groin injury. He had made 6 appearances. However, in November he was sent back to Plymouth on a short-term loan, making four appearances over a month.

Last season Walton joined Luton Town on a season-long loan, only to be recalled by Albion in January 2017. He had made 33 appearances for the Bedfordshire club, conceding the least number of goals in League 2 up to that point. In April he joined Southend United on a month-long loan, making 7 appearances.

In order to learn more about Christian we reached out on Twitter to fans of Luton Town, where he has played the majority of his first team football. Thanks to Danny B-D @dannybd85 and Andrew Kingston @treblethree for their responses to our questions that appear below.

Let’s start with Danny’s fan view:

What are his strengths and weaknesses as a keeper?

I’d say his strengths are his shot stopping, and one on one situations!

Weakness probably his distribution, his kicking was sometimes wayward from goal kicks if he went long, short was fine as we often played from the back last year! 

Sometimes he would come for a cross and either miss completely or get beaten to it in the air by an opposing player!

However I would say it was rare and I can only recall Stevenage and Portsmouth away where it cost us the game

How does he relate to the fans? Is he a team player? Does he show commitment?

He pretty much became a fans favourite very quickly! some saves he made early on went down very well with our supporters and a lot of us were gutted when Brighton activated the recall clause in his loan deal!

He was very much a team player and showed a good level of commitment whenever he played for Luton, and everybody was in agreement that he had improved massively over the 6 months or so he was with us.

We can expect possession football to return to Wigan under Paul Cook. How effective would he be building up moves from the back?

What you would need to remember is he is a young keeper and will make mistakes here and there, as mentioned above, his long kicking needs working on, and he came for crosses and didn’t always successfully catch the ball, but you will tell he’ll be a valuable asset to you.

As I said above he was used to playing out the back too, in fact we did vary the style a bit and as the season went on he certainly improved his overall game!

What kind of potential does he have? Would you have him back at Luton?

Well put simply, Brighton have just given him a 4 year contract so they clearly see a futurefor him, whether that be championship or premier league remains to be seen, I think premier league is achievable if he progresses as fast as he did with us last season.

I feel with regular game time at League One level will serve to improve him further and if he keeps moving up the divisions season by season I don’t see why he won’t be a regular in a premier league side, but there’s a longish way to go for him yet!

I would love to see him back at Luton one day, I am, like many town fans are, convinced we would’ve gone up automatically last season had he remained all season! 

No disrespect to Macey and Moore who were bought in to replace him but Walton was just a cut above both of them! 

You’ve got yourself a good young goalkeeper with bags of potential and I hope he continues to impress

Hope that helps, and good luck for the season!

 

Andrew’s fan view:

 What are his strengths and weaknesses as a keeper?

I must admit when we first got him I was worried about putting a young keeper in as our no.1 but he really surprised me at how mature his performances were, he is a good shot stopper and doesn’t let mistakes get to him, not that he made a lot of them. If I was going to be harsh I would say he could use his height better but that’s just looking for a weaknesses.

 How does he relate to the fans? Is he a team player? Does he show commitment?

He got on really well with the fans at Luton who took to him very early on, definitely a team player and was so committed to the club he even came back to watch our games after he left.

We can expect possession football to return to Wigan under Paul Cook. How effective would he be building up moves from the back ?

Nathan Jones likes to pass from the back which is one of the reasons he got Walton in at Luton, you shouldn’t have any problems with his distribution and he doesn’t tend to panic.

What kind of potential does he have? Would you have him back at Luton?

I think he has a lot of potential, to play as many games as he did and consistently perform so well is a great indication to the standard he is already at and I’m sure he will get even better. I would have loved him back at Luton and given how worried the fan base was when he left speaks volumes.

 Hope that helps, if he performs for Wigan like he did at Luton then you will love him.

 

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