Regaining the feel-good factor

Relegation can dampen the spirits of even the keenest football supporter. But three such occurrences in just five years, combined with a profligate waste of some £74 million of parachute payments is a real downer.

Morale had not been particularly high for Wigan Athletic fans over these recent weeks. But then came the announcement  that local lad Jordan Flores had signed a new two year contract. It came as a bit of a surprise as there had been no news about the player for weeks.

Always good to reward one of our own” were David Sharpe’s words as he announced the new contract on Twitter. In one instant it brought visions of a future where Wigan Athletic would at last have faith in home-grown talent, rather than incessantly bringing in loan players. It raised the feel-good factor, at least for a while.

But the warm feeling started to wither somewhat as the tweet above appeared on Twitter. The article went on to quote the chairman as saying:

“There’s going to be a couple of changes before the start of the season. There’ll be a couple of players hopefully coming in, and maybe a couple of players leaving.”

Those words of Sharpe caused the alarm bells to ring. Did he really mean just two of the likes of Dan Burn, Will Grigg, Sam Morsy, Max Power or Nick Powell will be going and the others staying?

A couple of years ago Latics had been relegated to League 1, but the chairman’s optimism over the summer of 2015 was uplifting. The famous quote about “smashing League 1 with 100 points” was a trifle overexuberant, but it set the tone over a summer of huge changes in the playing staff. Most of the high earners were sold off, paid off or loaned out, but the chairman played his trump card in paying up to £1 m for Will Grigg.

The end result was that the budget had been massively cut, but with the parachute money the club was still able to offer above-average salaries to attract players more than good enough for the third tier. Sharpe’s positivity continued into the season and at the midway point he paid somewhere approaching £1 m to sign Yanic Wildschut on a permanent contract. The Dutchman and Grigg proved to be crucial signings as Caldwell’s team won the division title.

Sharpe made efforts to keep the bouyant feeling obtained by winning League 1 by offering season tickets at levels well below the market rate. In the meantime Gary Caldwell started to bring in many more new players than he had previously predicted. The manager clearly did not believe the squad was good enough to survive in the Championship after all. There was no £1 m signing this time around, but ex-players Jordi Gomez and Nick Powell were brought in as marquee players on relatively high salaries.

Caldwell’s team had a poor pre-season and his tactics in the early league games were conservative. The manager had reportedly wanted Callum Patterson from Hearts to solve the problematic right back position, but Wigan’s bids had fallen far short of the Scottish club’s valuation. Midfield player Conor Hourihane of Barnsley was also apparently on Caldwell’s wanted list but nothing resulted. The woeful decision by Sharpe to replace Caldwell with Warren Joyce was to ultimately lead a demoralised squad to relegation. The possession football we had seen under Caldwell evolved into “fightball” under the ultra-defensive Joyce.

According to the Premier League website Wigan Athletic received £16,298,146 in parachute payments last season. Transfer fees paid out in summer 2016 were relatively modest. In January they jettisoned two of the highest wage earners in Jordi Gomez and Adam Le Fondre. Speedy winger Nathan Byrne was sent on loan to Charlton. The sale of Yanic Wildschut to Norwich was reputed to be in excess of £7 m including add-ons. It was rumoured that the wage bill at the start of the season was around £17 m. Joyce himself remarked on how he had reduced that wage bill by the January comings and goings. But the end-result on the field of play was the loss of a proven goal scoring centre forward, a creative midfielder who had previously proved himself to be a top Championship player and two wide players with searing pace. Some fans at the time had remarked that it looked like Latics were planning for relegation even in January.

After his disastrous appointment of Joyce, Sharpe wisely took his time in searching for the right man for the coming season. Paul Cook has a fine managerial record and his teams play the kind of good football that went out of the window under Joyce. However, after the initial hype of Cook’s appointment, including the angry reactions of Portsmouth fans, it has been surprising that we have not seen much of the new manager in the media since then. When Cook was appointed, Sharpe had said that “The squad is in very good shape; it doesn’t need major surgery but he may want to do a few bits if a couple of players leave but the core of it is very good and that was a big attraction to him.”

Since Cook’s appointment a couple of players have already left. Matt Gilks went to Scunthorpe who were able to offer him the kind of contract that Latics were unable or unwilling to provide. Jake Buxton was a rock in defence last season, but has already left the club by mutual consent.

The departures of Gilks and Buxton can be seen as indications of the club lowering its budget, which it clearly needs to do, given its huge potential loss in revenues. Despite what the chairman is saying it would be a surprise if only two more of the present squad leave before the season starts on August 5th.

The question is how Sharpe is going to use the remainder of the substantial revenues that came in last season? Will they be used to service the club’s debt? Or is he really planning to keep all of last season’s squad that remain, bar two?

At this stage there is not the level of optimism among the fans that one would expect with  a new manager coming in who has an impressive track record. The loss of parachute payments weighs heavily in our minds. Will Cook receive the level of financial and personal support from the chairman that is needed to get Latics back to the Championship?

Sharpe’s gesture in offering an extended contract to Jordan Flores is certainly good PR and we can only hope that it is a sign that home-grown talent will be given a better chance to succeed than we have seen in recent years. However, the chairman needs to enunciate his broader strategy.

What is his vision of what he wants for the current season and how he will achieve it? If he were to say that it was to be a period of austerity for the club, with any profits from last season used to pay off debts, few could argue with him if he is looking at the club’s long-term sustainability. If he were to say that he will have to make major cuts in the squad since the club needs to cut its cloth according to projected revenues, then once more it would be hard to argue against.

David Sharpe has a difficult task ahead of him. Like all of us he has made some good decisions and some bad ones. Perhaps his most redeeming quality as Wigan Athletic chairman is that he considers himself a fan, first and foremost. Moreover he is eloquent and very comfortable with the media.

The coming season will be the acid test for the young chairman. Should he take a gamble and back the new manager with a war chest to get the club back to the Championship? Or should he look at financial consolidation and future sustainability?

Without the parachute payments the feel-good factor has dropped alarmingly. How will the chairman deal with it?

 

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A two sided view of Warren Joyce at Latics

janus

Wigan Athletic lost at Villa Park on Saturday due to a brilliant goal in the 89th minute. Up to that point we had seen them cancel out the attacking efforts of a team loaded with players who played in the Premier League last season.

Looking at the team lineup prior to the kickoff it was clear that Warren Joyce was going to utilize the same tactics as he did at Barnsley and Huddersfield, where Latics picked up a draw and a win. The plan was simple: play a massed defence, relying on the pace of Yanic Wildschut up front. It worked until the closing minutes. Latics went close to getting a hard earned point, although they never truly looked like coming back with three.

After the game Joyce expressed his satisfaction on the effort and commitment of his team, also adding that “That’s where we’re at, we’ve got to make sure we stop the opposition from playing in the best way that we can and limit their opportunities of scoring – which we did today – and then try and come up with ways that we can score goals to win games. We will approach the game no differently on Wednesday night, we will try and win the game in what we believe is the best way that we can go and do that.”

After just five matches in charge the new manager has already polarized the Latics support. Is he playing the right tactics? Is it the right way to get out of the relegation zone?

Any argument has two sides. Let’s take a look at a couple of opposing views:

 

It is far too early to judge Joyce after just five matches in charge, most of which have been against teams either in high positions or on strong runs of form. He inherited problems left behind by Gary Caldwell and it is going to take time to put it right. Joyce has been appointed for the long term, as evidenced by the three and a half year contract he was given. Previous managers were appointed on rolling contracts.

Joyce had a great reputation at Manchester United and has demonstated his ability to develop young players. In the long term this will be necessary for our club which does not have the available resources to compete on an even keel with the bigger clubs in the division. The reality is that David Sharpe’s Latics will be the kind of club that develops players and sells one or two off each year to balance the books. In his interviews with Sharpe prior to taking the job, Joyce surely gave the young chairman a vision of how he could do that. He must have known it would be a difficult task, given this scenario, but nevertheless gave up a relatively comfortable position at Old Trafford to take on the challenge.

Caldwell had made far too many mistakes this season and if he had stayed Latics would have been in a constant struggle against relegation. His summer signings were uninspiring, with the players brought in no better than those who were there already. Moreover he broke up the solid central defensive partnership of Craig Morgan and Jason Pearce, the former being stripped of the captaincy, the latter offloaded to Charlton. The pre-season was a mess and the players have not been fit enough. Joyce has increased the intensity of training and is getting real commitment from his players. It may not be pretty to watch at this stage, but these are early days. Joyce’s teams at Old Trafford had a reputation for playing entertaining football and this will surely come at Wigan, given time.

The first thing to put right in a team struggling against relegation is the defence. Joyce is on his way to making Latics a team that others do not want to play. Nottingham Forest had a team studded with Premier League players, with £20 million worth on the bench, but they did not look like getting past Wigan’s defence until that spectacular goal a minute from the end of normal time.

Joyce’s team selections have been criticised but he oversees training on a daily basis. If a player is not making the effort in training should he leapfrog over others into the starting lineup? Joyce is sending a clear message to his squad that their full commitment is required.

His immediate goal will to be to get towards the January transfer window, picking up enough points here and there to keep Latics within reach of the teams immediately above them in the table. He will keep things tight, not risking heavy defeats that can demoralize his players. He has inherited a weak squad and will need to bring in fresh blood in January. Much will depend on Sharpe’s willingness to back him in the transfer market. If the chairman does not provide the funds then Joyce will have to scour the loan market. His connections with Manchester United will surely help.

With time we can expect to see a team which effectively defends and attacks as a unit, with genuine pace up front and at the back. The days of the painfully slow build ups of Caldwell’s teams are gone and we can expect a more direct and high tempo approach from Joyce.

 

Since Joyce arrived Latics have gone backwards, rather than forwards. He started with a 3-0 home defeat and his only win was a steal at Huddersfield. The football has been horrible to watch. Even that served up by Owen Coyle was better. Players who were able to retain possession by stringing a series of passes together under Caldwell now seem unable to do so. Moreover if the defence or midfield wins the ball there is nobody to hold it up.

Joyce thinks a winger can be a centre forward, as did Malky Mackay with James McClean, which proved sadly misguided. Like McClean, Wildschut does not know how to hold up the ball or to head it. Moreover even as a winger he can be so inconsistent. I cannot recall a previous situation in English football when a manager has played a winger in the middle, with three centre forwards on the bench. Proven strikers are the most likely to win games for you.

On Saturday Joyce started with Luke Garbutt in wide right midfield and Michael Jacobs on the left. Most of their efforts were taken up by defending, with Wildschut looking solitary up front. Joyce’s game plans seem to have been based more on damage limitation rather than actually trying to win the three points.

Latics squad is far from the best in the division, but neither is it the worst. The problem is that he is not getting the best out of the squad at his disposal. With the right tactics and the right team selections there is already enough talent there to get the club out of the relegation zone.

The treatment of Will Grigg is baffling. The excuse that the player needs a rest because of being in the European Championship over summer wears thin. It appears that Joyce wants a central striker with more pace than Grigg (or Davies or Le Fondre), so he puts Wildschut there. Rather than adjust the tactics to suit the squad he has, Joyce chooses to leave out players who can win matches by scoring goals out of the blue. Is he so inflexible that he cannot see this? Common sense needs to prevail.

The right full back position remains problematic. Joyce’s preference has been Reece Burke, a central defender who lacks finesse in attack. His next choice is Garbutt, who is left footed and who had been left out of the team by Caldwell. Despite Joyce’s reputation of developing young players, Luke Burke continues to languish in the development squad, despite promising performances early in the season. Moreover Joyce also has another specialist right back in Kyle Knoyle who has disappeared from view.

When Latics were struggling to maintain their place in the Premier League in 2011-12 “Believe” was the theme. It happened. But at the moment it is hard to believe and it is not surprising that support in recent home games has been muted.

How can people believe in a manager who writes off a defeat at Aston Villa by saying that “Single points add up over the course of a season, but the reality is it’s just one point. It’s not all doom and gloom, it’s one point, in a tough game, against a massive club.” Prior to Saturday Latics had lost in just one of their previous eight visits to Villa Park.

Playing ugly football with just one forward is not the way to pick up points.

 

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Rekindling Grigg’s fire

 

Windsor Park erupted into song in the 62nd minute of a World Cup qualifying match on Friday. The chorus reverberated around the old Belfast stadium. The irony is that some Northern Ireland supporters may have been more familiar with the song than the player who came off the bench at that moment

Will Grigg went to the European Championships in France in summer, but never got the chance to play. He found himself the third choice centre forward behind  Kyle Lafferty of Norwich and Conor Washington of Queens Park Rangers. Lafferty has a fine goalscoring record for his country – one in every three games. He opened the scoring against Azerbaijan in the 24th minute, before going off with around half an hour to play. But Washington was not in the squad and Grigg was the replacement.

Will Grigg was born in Solihull and qualifies for Northern Ireland through an Irish grandparent. He made his debut for them in a 6-0 defeat to Italy in June 2012, going on to make five more appearances over the next 12 months, but over the past three years his appearances have become infrequent.

The experience in France will have been desperately disappointing for Grigg. He scored 27 goals last season, the third time in his career when he has exceeded the 20 mark. Given Lafferty’s goalscoring record at international level it was always going to be difficult to claim a place ahead of him. But Grigg’s fans will seriously question why he was not favoured over Washington, who had a good goalscoring ratio at Peterborough, but failed to score for QPR last season after his January transfer.

But despite the knockbacks of France and critics wondering if Grigg was up to the level of the Championship, the player started the season with a flourish. Despite his team’s poor start to the season Grigg not only managed to score 4 goals in the first 5 games, but also to look comfortable playing in the second tier. It looked like Grigg could be on fire in the Championship as he had been in League 1.

At the start of the season Grigg was Wigan’s most marketable player. Were he to make a success of himself in the Championship his potential transfer value would sky-rocket. The figure Latics paid Brentford – rumoured to be around £900,000 – looked like chicken feed compared with the possibilities of a valuation moving up towards the £10 million mark. In a cash-strapped situation the club could not afford to miss out on a big cash-in at a later date.

But since early September Grigg has not so much been on fire, but more like smouldering. With his first child due to be born he opted out of the Northern Ireland squad at the end of August, the arrival of Adam Le Fondre near the end of the transfer window also complicating Grigg’s position. At the end of September in the home game against Wolves Gary Caldwell chose Le Fondre to start ahead of Grigg. The manager could say his move paid off as Le Fondre scored after 5 minutes, with Grigg coming off the bench to score the winner in the 88th minute. In fact that has been Grigg’s only goal in his last 7 matches for Wigan.

Le Fondre was again preferred to Grigg in the goalless draw with Burton in mid-October, but Grigg was to regain his place for the next three matches. However, the arrival of new manager Warren Joyce was to see Le Fondre start in the ill-fated 3-0 defeat to Reading.

One wonders if Joyce will continue to favour Le Fondre over Grigg. The 29 year old Le Fondre arrived on loan from Cardiff with an impressive career strike record, having scored 164 goals in 287 league starts and 152 appearances off the bench. He has played in the lower divisions, but also in the Premier League with Reading. He joined Cardiff City in May 2014 but managed only 4 goals in 19 starts and 4 substitute appearances before being sent off on loan to Bolton then Wolves.

Joyce might well be looking into resting Grigg over the coming weeks. Last week he stated that: “It is a real frustration. Talking to Will, he’s had a long summer, where he maybe only had 10 days off between seasons, and he almost needs a little bit of a break. I know from my experience at Manchester United, the players always had at least a four-week break (over the summer) because the body needs that. It’s something we’ll be looking at with Will, to try to give him a chance to recharge his batteries and go again for the rest of the year.”

Up to this point Grigg has started in 13 league matches, with 3 appearances off the bench. He has scored 5 goals. Le Fondre has started in 3, with 4 substitute appearances, scoring 1 goal.

Both Grigg and Le Fondre have excellent goalscoring records. There are fans who would like to see them play together as twin strikers, but Joyce is likely to take a similar stance to Gary Caldwell and most other modern day managers by playing with one central striker. The 25 year old Grigg is physically bigger than Le Fondre and has shown his ability to play the lone centre forward role with skill and application. But Le Fondre has more experience of playing in higher levels of football.

Joyce also has a fit-again Craig Davies at his disposal. Davies can play the role of an old fashioned battering ram centre forward who can make life uncomfortable for central defenders. He was afforded little playing time last season, so often brought on near the ends of games, with little time to settle in. Davies needs more consistent playing time to be at his sharpest, but with Grigg and Le Fondre ahead of him in the pecking order he will find it tough. But the prospect of a Davies-Le Fondre double act in the final quarter of a tight game could be tempting for Joyce.

It is ironic that at the same time that Joyce is talking about resting Grigg he is at last getting playing time for Northern Ireland. It is a matter which is out of the manager’s hands, but he cannot be happy with the situation.

It remains to be seen not only how much rest Joyce will afford Grigg, but whether the player wants it. He started the season well, but events have conspired to disrupt his rhythm. Many fans advocate a return for Grigg as the undisputed first choice centre forward. Joyce will have to make some difficult decisions over the coming weeks.

An on-fire Grigg could be the key to Latics moving up the Championship table, free of the threat of relegation. He remains the club’s biggest asset and the manager will need to ensure that he is sharp and at his best.

Last season Grigg had only scored 6 league goals by Christmas, but went on to notch 25. He has already scored 5 goals in the Championship this season.

Can he do it again?

Can Joyce rekindle Grigg’s fire?

A History Lesson

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“Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
Winston Churchill

Uwe Rosler was the toast of Wigan in the summer of 2014. But within three months he was gone – his prior achievements counting for nothing. Dave Whelan had sacked him, in the hope that a strong Latics squad could still get promotion back to the Premier League. Little did we know what a disaster the German’s dismissal would turn out to be.

Had Rosler not been dismissed, would Wigan Athletic have been relegated? Granted, they were not playing well and Rosler’s new signings were taking a long time to gel with their teammates. Whelan had backed his manager in the transfer market. Hopes were high when he made the signings. Despite losing three of his best in Jean Beausejour, Jordi Gomez and James McArthur, Rosler had apparently strengthened his squad, bringing in a host of players who had good reviews. Not least of those were two exciting strikers from Europe.

Andy Delort and Oriol Riera were never bad players. The former has recently joined Universidad de Nuevo Leon, known as Los Tigres (the Tigers) for a fee over £6m, of which Latics received a portion, having put a sell-on clause in his contract when he was returning to Caen. Riera returned to La Liga and continues to enjoy the top division in Spain with Pamplona side, Osasuna, after time with Deportivo La Coruna. Neither player was given an extended run at Wigan, nor were they played as twin strikers. Marc Antoine Fortune had thought his first team chances were limited when the two arrived, but he was to see them off in January. MAF went on to score just 2 league goals in 37 appearances under Rosler and his successor, Malky Mackay.

We can only speculate about the futures of other Rosler signings. Midfielder Adam Forshaw is now playing in the Premier League after a slow start at Middlesbrough. James Tavernier and Martyn Waghorn have had a wonderful time at Rangers, albeit in the lowly standards of the Scottish Championship division. Emyr Huws has gone to Cardiff, his undoubted talent overshadowed by a consistent ankle problem and questions over his commitment to the club. Aaron Taylor-Sinclair’s time at Wigan was marred by injury: he remains at League 1 Doncaster. Don Cowie and Andrew Taylor, both signed from Cardiff, were to become the scapegoats of a relegation season. They had been successful in Wales but it was not to be in Wigan. Free agent signing William Kvist was captain of his national side, but could not reckon on a place in the starting lineup, Kvist went back to Denmark, where he continues to play for FC Copenhagen.

Like Rosler, Gary Caldwell also felt the need to bring in a swathe of new players to meet the demands of the Championship this season. Most are struggling to adjust to their new club and their manager’s preferred style of play.  Caldwell had brought in even more last season, when it took months for the sum of the parts to approximate to the whole. But in the end the quality of the players he could bring in gave him the divisional title.

Latics currently have 5 points from 8 league games. At the same stage two years ago Rosler’s team had 8 points. However, expectations differ greatly. Rosler was looking at promotion, whereas Caldwell will surely be looking at consolidation. But is Caldwell under the kind of pressure that prevailed upon Rosler at this time a couple of years ago?

Both managers had excellent records in their previous seasons. Caldwell’s achievement of winning League 1 is more than matched by Rosler’s success in revitalising his squad into reaching the playoffs and the FA Cup semi-final. But, given Rosler’s precipitous fall from grace, could Caldwell suffer a similar fate?

Looking back on the 2014-15 season one can only reflect in what might have happened. When Rosler was dismissed we continued to think about promotion. Perhaps we were being overoptimistic, but the woeful appointment of Malky Mackay put paid to that. He oversaw a January fire sale, including elements who had undermined his predecessor, leaving the squad threadbare. Relegation was the consequence.

Much has been said about Rosler being dictatorial with his players, that he brought in too many new faces, leading to discontent. But he was faced with an old guard from the eras of both Martinez and Owen Coyle. Modern football managers recruit players who will be loyal to them, rather than those whose fealty lies with predecessors. If Rosler made a key mistake, it was that of bringing in too many of his own men, bruising the egos of the status quo. Moreover his squad got so large that he had too many discontented players starved of first team football. Is Caldwell heading the same way?

There is a viewpoint that Caldwell should have stayed loyal with the players who helped him win the League 1 title. The departures of Sam Morsy and Jason Pearce were certainly controversial, the loaning out of Ryan Colclough was a surprise, and the stripping of the captaincy from Craig Morgan, following an abortive move to Sheffield United, suggests he will struggle to claim a place in the starting lineup. Moreover goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen, another key element last season, is now playing second fiddle to Adam Bogdan. It had been the introduction of the big Finn, in place of Richard O’Donnell who was struggling to meet Caldwell’s demands of a goalkeeper, that coincided with an upturn in performances. Jaaskelainen provided an aura of confidence to his defence and his ability to distribute the ball became an important cog in Caldwell’s possession football.

However, although Pearce has gone to Charlton on a permanent transfer, Morsy and Colclough have been sent out on season-long loans. Caldwell has inferred that Colclough remains in his plans although his lips have been sealed regarding Morsy. Colclough has already made three league starts for MK Dons, whereas ex-Latics goalkeeper Lee Nicholls and Jack Hendry, on loan until January, have not made any. One of the criticisms of Colclough’s loan was that it meant he was going back to League 1, whereas Morsy was going to a Championship club in Barnsley. In fact Morsy has made just one appearance so far with the Tykes, as a 65th minute substitute.

Long term injuries have robbed Caldwell of Donervon Daniels, Reece James and Andy Kellett from last season’s squad.  Moreover both Craig Morgan and David Perkins have recently been unavailable through niggles.

As it was during the second season under Rosler, new players brought in have been under the spotlight. None more so than Dan Burn and Shaun MacDonald, seen by some as replacements for Pearce and Morsy. Burn’s fateful error at Bristol saw him warming the bench for a couple of matches, but he has performed well in the last two games since his return to the starting lineup. Moreover MacDonald, who has played little first team football over the past two seasons, inevitably started slowly, but showed his worth on Saturday with a good display against Fulham.

It was bad news for Caldwell to see Alex Gilbey stretchered off the field on Saturday, after being an ever-present in league games up to that point. The ex-Colchester player has already made the transition from League 1 to the Championship, his fine technique providing him with a solid foundation. Jordi Gomez, back after a two year stint at Sunderland, has already showed what class he can bring to the team in three appearances to date.

Jake Buxton’s sending off in the League Cup led to a three match suspension and he has made just three appearances in the league so far. However, by naming him vice-captain Caldwell clearly expects Buxton to be a mainstay in the centre of defence. Reece Burke, arriving with the highest of recommendations following last season’s loan at Bradford, will most likely compete with Burn for a central defensive position, although he was employed in the troublesome right back position at Norwich. Nathan Byrne has looked lively in his two appearances off the bench so far, although there are questions about his defending skills as an orthodox right back. Byrne will best employed as a wing back in 3-5-2 or a winger in 4-3-3.

Nick Powell’s signing was a gamble by Caldwell, following a couple of seasons bereft of first team football and niggling injuries. Powell showed his exciting capabilities as a midfielder in the 3-0 defeat of Blackburn, but fitness concerns continue to dog him. At his best, Powell is a top player in this division, but he clearly has a long way to go in terms of achieving match fitness.

Adam Bogdan was an excellent goalkeeper at Bolton, but his difficult experiences at Liverpool will surely have damaged his confidence. At times this season he has looked dominant in his box and has made fine saves that kept his team in the game. However, his fatal error at Norwich shows that he is still coming to terms with Caldwell’s requirement for a goalkeeper to use his feet to build up moves from defence.

Luke Garbutt has not shown his best form yet. He had an indifferent loan spell at Fulham last season, not being helped by an injury early on. Garbutt’s loan is up to January, when he will most likely return to Everton where expectations were that he would be the successor to Leighton Baines. Caldwell will be hoping Reece James will regain fitness by the time that Garbutt’s loan is due to end.

On Saturday, Caldwell withdrew Will Grigg after 71 minutes, bringing on Adam Le Fondre. The manager’s dilemma will be in giving Le Fondre sufficient game time to keep him sharp. His preference for a lone central striker means that he is unlikely to play the two together, except near the end of games where his team needs to pull a goal back. Craig Davies already knows what it is like to be the backup striker, having had to be content with late appearances off the bench.

Caldwell’s starting lineup against Fulham contained six players signed over the summer. Moreover three more made appearances off the bench. Caldwell is familiar with the challenges of bringing in new players and weaning them into playing his style of football. He did it successfully in the past, but at this stage last season his team had 13 points, having won half the league games they had played. Caldwell’s current team has a solitary victory so far.

It is to be hoped that David Sharpe will heed Winston Churchill’s warning. His grandfather’s decision to dispense of Uwe Rosler’s services in November 2014 was compounded by the jettisoning of so many newly recruited players a couple of months later. The result was horrendous.

As with Rosler’s new recruits, Caldwell’s latest signings need time to adjust and to gel with their teammates. Caldwell himself will need time to get his squad up to speed. Sharpe needs to back the manager, who in turn needs to back his players. New players need time to adjust and to buy into Caldwell’s style of play.

There are testing times ahead. Latics are currently in the relegation zone, but as the new players gel results will surely improve. The question is when this will happen.

It could be later, rather than sooner.

 

A Cardiff and a Bolton fan’s view of Adam Le Fondre

 

 

Wigan Athletic yesterday announced the loan signing of 29 year old striker Adam Le Fondre from Cardiff City. The loan is until the end of the season, when the player’s contract at Cardiff is due to expire.

The 5 ft 9 in tall Le Fondre is a proven goalscorer with a tally of 175 in his professional career, including 14 for Reading in the Premier League in the 2012-13 season. Although he has been through some lean times in the last couple of seasons he is eager to get back to his best. On signing for Latics he said:

“This move is going to give me a platform to perform again and consistently play football. There is a lot of hard work in front of me and a lot of goals to score, but that’s what I am here to do.

Le Fondre was born in Stockport and joined his local club. He made his debut for County in September 2004 as an 18 year old, scoring a goal in a 3-1 League Cup win over Bury. He went on to make 63 appearances, scoring 18 goals in three seasons there. In January 2007 he went on loan to Rochdale, the move becoming permanent that summer. He went on to spend two more seasons at Rochdale making a total of 96 appearances and scoring 34 goals.

Rotherham United paid an undisclosed transfer fee for Le Fondre in the summer of 2009. He stayed there two seasons with a goal tally of 54 in 96 games. In late August 2011 he joined Reading, then in the Championship, for a fee of £350,000. Reading were promoted that season , with Le Fondre scoring 16 goals in 38 league appearances. The 2012-13 season saw him break the Premier League record for goals as a substitute, also being voted Reading’s Player of the Season. The 2014-15 season saw Reading back in the Championship, Le Fondre scoring back to back home hat tricks in January 2014 against Bolton Wanderers and Blackpool.

Le Fondre left Reading in the summer of 2014 having scored 42 goals in 110 appearances in all competitions, signing for Cardiff City for an undisclosed fee. In January 2015 he joined Bolton Wanderers on loan, finishing their top scorer for the 2014-15 season with 8 goals. Le Fondre spent the 2015-16 season on loan at Wolves where he made 26 appearances, scoring three goals. He had made a total of 23 appearances for Cardiff, scoring three goals.

In order to learn more about Le Fondre’s time at Cardiff we contacted Ben James of the View from the Ninian site.

Here’s over to Ben:

The signing of Adam Le Fondre promised so much and delivered very little. A shaky start under Ole meant ALF was either played out of position or not given enough game time. While fans were expecting goals, he couldn’t deliver and was quickly shipped out on loan around Christmas of that first season.

And after that, he’s never really been back. I had very high hopes for him but he’s not fulfilled any of the promise and I think it’s more the clubs fault than his.

I hope he can turn it around at Wigan because he’s talented, no doubt. It just feels like a case of right player, wrong time for Cardiff.

 

To learn more about Le Fondre’s time at Bolton we contacted Chris Mann of the Burnden Aces fan site http://www.burndenaces.co.uk (Twitter @BurndenAces ).

So, Adam Le Fondre joins the ever-growing list of former Bolton players to pitch up at the DW Stadium.

 Le Fondre – Alfie as he became to be known – has a record that speaks for itself. He’s scored goals at every level, including the Premier League, but appears to have hit a sticky patch in his career.

 Wanderers fans were first introduced to Le Fondre when he netted a first-half hat-trick in our dismal 7-1 defeat at Reading in January 2014. Luckily for you, Adam Bogdan avoids embarrassment due to being an unused substitute that day, as was Craig Davies. Sanmi Odelusi got 25 minutes though…

 He joined Cardiff City at the end of that season but struggled to hit top form for the Bluebirds, before finding success once again during a loan spell at Macron Stadium – netting eight times in 17 games and claiming the Golden Boot award, despite signing midway through the campaign.

 Le Fondre struck up a superb partnership with the emerging Zach Clough at the time and hopes were high that a permanent deal could be struck, before the full extent of our financial problems became public knowledge.

 Clearly, Le Fondre was out of our price range, as was pretty much every professional footballer on the planet, and he instead spent last season on loan at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Again, he failed to impress, but any player would struggle to score goals when restricted to the substitute role he was largely given.

 For whatever reason, his time at Cardiff hasn’t worked out. Le Fondre is too good to be rotting away in the reserves of any Championship club.

 If his time at Bolton is anything to go by, Alfie may take a couple of games to get into his stride. If so, stick with him and once that first goal arrives and the confidence begins to return, Latics should have one of the division’s top goalscorers on their books and, if you play your cards right, a man who will be available for free next summer.