Ready for Brentford? The challenge for Paul Cook and his squad

What a tempestuous week it has been.

A wonderful performance by the Latics team in blowing away Stoke City raised our hopes of at least a mid-table finish, with lots of optimism for the coming season. Then it was all turned upside down by that stunning announcement of the club going into administration. The Wigan Athletic community is still reeling from that news.

Brentford away is hardly the fixture that one would choose following the turbulence of the last three days. They outplayed Latics at the DW Stadium in November to the tune of a resounding 3-0 scoreline. They have won their last four games and still have a chance of automatic promotion.

Latics were on the crest of a wave following the Stoke game on Tuesday evening. Hopes were high that they could go to west London and give the Bees a run for their money. But now we learn that the players, who had deferred 30% of their salaries in the lockdown period, will only receive a fraction of their salaries today. Paul Cook must somehow lift his players to concentrate on the here and now, despite the uncertain futures at the club that they all now face.

Sam Morsy’s rallying call was admirable and we can only hope that captain, manager and coaches can maintain morale in this difficult hour.

The news and social media have been awash with stories about what has happened to the club.

The EFL’s prompt notification that there will be an automatic 12-point deduction did not go down well with Latics fans. Questions abound how their “Fit and Proper Persons” criteria allowed a shady change of ownership leading to administration within a month of Next Leader Fund taking ownership.

The reasons for NLF opting for administration remain unknown although there is no shortage of conspiracy theories being put forward.

Fans have been putting forward their views on the social media and message boards. Some fear for the very existence of the club. Others are concerned that the points deduction will lead the club back to League 1, although there are optimists who believe the team can gather some 13-14 points from the last 6 games to avoid that happening.

In the meantime, Latics must find the funding to help them complete the season, by no means an easy matter with no money coming into the club from the owners and minimal revenues available from playing behind closed doors.

Should the club manage its way to complete its fixtures and somehow gather enough points to avoid relegation it would be a big step forward. A Championship club is more attractive to a prospective buyer than one in League 1. Moreover, the broadcasting revenues and larger away supporter attendances make it financially more viable, even if the club were going to run on a shoestring budget for a period.

My concern is that the very survival of the club is at stake. After following them to places like Congleton, Winsford and Oswestry I can deal with the likes of Rochdale and Oldham should the club manage to get through this sticky period.

It is a stressful and difficult time for us all who care so much for our club. The game at Brentford tomorrow pales in comparison with the mountain the club must climb to stay in operation. However, a win could really lift our spirits and give us a little more hope for what lies ahead.

A Brentford fan’s view of Lewis Macleod

 

Wigan Athletic yesterday announced the signing of Lewis Macleod from Brentford on a one-year contract. The 5ft 10 in tall Macleod was a free agent.

Lewis Macleod was born in Wishaw, Lanarkshire. He joined Rangers as a 10-year-old, progressed through their academy and made his first team debut at 18 years of age in a Scottish Challenge Cup tie against Brechin in July 2012. He went on to make 26 appearances in the 2012-13 season when Rangers were in the Scottish League Division 3. A knee injury in January 2013 had kept him out for most of the second half of the season.

Macleod was a regular starter the 2013-14 season until a viral infection affected the muscles around his heart in January 2014. He recovered in time for the 2014-15 season and was a regular starter with Rangers now in the Scottish League 1. However, his season was once again curtailed after receiving a serious hamstring injury in a game against Alloa in December 2014. It proved to be Macleod’s last game for Rangers after making a total of 74 appearances, scoring 16 goals.

Macleod signed for Brentford on a three-and-a-half-year contract in January 2015 for a fee of around £1m. However, the hamstring went again in training keeping him out until May 2015 when he was an unused substitute in a Championship playoff game against Middlesbrough. Further hamstring problems plagued Macleod, until he made his debut as a substitute against Brighton in February 2016. However, in late February he suffered a medial ligament injury in training and did not appear in the first team squad for the remainder of the season.

Macleod returned to fitness for the start of the 2016-17 season, making 13 appearances before receiving a serious knee injury in a game at QPR at the end of October. In December 2016 he signed a one-year contract extension which would keep him with the Bees until the summer of 2019. Following the knee injury and further hamstring problems Macleod had to wait until December 2017 for his next appearance, coming on as a substitute against Fulham. He finished the 2017-18 season with 11 appearances. He was a regular starter in the 2018-19 season until suffering a hamstring injury in December 2018  during a game against West Bromwich Albion. He made only one more appearance, as a late substitute in Brentford’s 0-0 draw at the DW Stadium.

In order to find out more about Macleod’s time at Brentford  we once again reached out to Billy Grant (@billythebee99) who writes and makes podcasts for the Beesotted fan site (beesotted.com)

Here’s over to Billy:

Lewis Macleod joined Brentford in the Warburton era. For £1m reputedly which was a lot of money for us back then (still is). He was a highly reputed wonder-kid. Rangers fans were devastated he left but they were skint at the time. He was their young player of the year the season they won the Div 3 title.

 Macleod was signed injured. He didn’t play all season due to injury although he was on the bench for the playoff semi v Boro in May but never made it on.  Every time he was due to come back, he got injured again. Once he tripped on a twig in training and was out for a long time. Them he fell down a hole in training. Out for a while again.

 There were rumours about Warburton signing him back for Rangers, but these were unfounded. 

 He started the 2016 season and was looking decent – playing 12 matches before being injured at QPR. A bad knee injury. 

 The club backed him. They gave him a one-year extension on his contract and sent him to Philadelphia to get treated by a specialist. He had a couple of false returns but made a full league return 18 months later – scoring his first goal of the club against Boro. He finished the season intact which was a good sign.

 Summer 2018 was his first proper pre-season training with us. He came out fit. We had a great side – having kept hold of the bulk of our players with Ryan Woods the only player not to have been replaced. This gave an opportunity for midfielders Josh McEachran and Lewis McLeod to make their marks on the side.

 Brentford started the season magnificently beating Rotherham 5-1. We looked proper world beaters. We played Wigan a month later and played you guys off the park – winning 2-0.

 Then in October it started to go horribly wrong. Opposition teams got the handle of us. Pressed us hard and started to over-run our midfield. Macleod was showing flashes of real brilliance, but we were struggling when the going got tough.

 He scored his final goal for Brentford in the final minutes of an undeserved away point at West Brom. He got injured after that goal. Decided not to renew his contract. And that was it.

 He’s one of a handful of players Brentford signed since entering the Championship that we’ve lost money on. 

 What type of player was he? Potentially skilful. Tricky. But I’m going to be honest: I don’t really know. He played so few games in his four and a half years at Brentford it’s hard to piece together a pattern.

 His best period was August and September 2019 where he was very much part of our fluid football passing game.

 Maybe he needed a much tougher central midfielder to play alongside. Unfortunately, Josh McEachran isn’t your man when the going gets tough.

 There’s no doubt he’s an intelligent, skilful footballer who has had a lot of bad luck.

 Maybe a change of scenery in Wigan is exactly what he needs now. 

 

A Peterborough United fan’s view of Callum Elder

Wigan Athletic have announced the signing of the 22-year-old Australian left back Callum Elder on a season-long loan from Leicester City. Elder has a contract with the Foxes until June 2019.

On signing for Latics Elder said “I spoke to the gaffer last week and he was really interested in bringing me in and for me to be a big part in his plans. I can’t wait to get started. I’m a left full back and an athletic player who likes to get up and down the flank and bring a real energy to the team, which is what the gaffer says he wants.”

Callum Elder was born in Sydney but went to Leicester City as a 16-year-old. In January 2015 Elder went on  a short-term loan to Mansfield Town which was to be extended until the end of the season, making 21 appearances. In August 2015 he joined Peterborough United, his loan being cut short in December due to a foot injury. He had made 18 league appearances and scored one goal.

In July 2016 Elder joined Championship side Brentford on a season-long loan. Although a regular in the opening games of the season, a knee injury was later followed by a thigh injury and he returned to Leicester in mid-December for treatment. Elder went back to Brentford in mid-January for a couple of weeks, but was recalled by Leicester, then sent to Barnsley for another loan. He had made 6 appearances for the midland club, going on to make 3 for Barnsley.

Elder has represented Australia at U20 level.

In order to learn more about Elder we reached out to Peterborough fan, John Verrall (@JohnVerrall).

Here’s over to John:

Callum Elder should be a great addition. He is the best left-back we have had a Posh since Darragh MacAnthony became owner and a stand out player at League One level.

Elder possesses great attacking ability, and he tirelessly creates an option down the left-side. In offensive positions, he has an excellent delivery and also showed enough trickery to get past a player.

Defensively, too, he is strong and he rarely was beaten by an opposition winger.

I believe he struggled on loan at Barnsley last term, but in League One he will be one of the best left-backs in the division. 

 

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A rainbow shines at Brentford

rainbow

Brentford is not a particularly attractive place. Neither is Griffin Park football ground, at first glance. The Bees fans still have three more years to wait before their new stadium is built. But for all its faults the old stadium is well maintained, with a superb playing surface and we had a great view from the away supporters end. Moreover it was a rare pleasure to mingle with home fans before the match started, with no hint of the kind of insularity and hostility that can prevail in the vicinity of some English football stadia.

The home supporters were optimistic before the match, their team having scored nine goals in their last two home games. But they were to be disappointed as a resolute Latics side spoiled their afternoon by coming away with a point. One home fan went so far as to say that the only entertainment of his afternoon was provided by the stunning double rainbow which hovered above the stadium in the second half.

On the other hand the Wigan fans were appreciative of what they had seen. Their team had shown the kind of defensive strength that had been missing since the start of the season. That, together with the rainbow, will stick in many of our memories over the weeks to come.

Gary Caldwell’s tactics certainly worked. He packed his midfield, denying the home team of space. Will Grigg cut a lonely figure for most of the first half, the midfielders holding back rather pushing forward to support him. Wigan’s attack was muted, but so was that of the home team as the Latics defence held firm, shielded by a combative midfield. The home crowd had seemed muted too, their hopes of another goal-fest diminishing by the minute.

When the second half started it looked like a goalless draw was the most likely outcome. Could the Wigan defence hold out or was all the good work going to be ruined by sloppiness as the final whistle would approach? Caldwell was likely to bring Yanic Wildschut off the bench at some stage, but it seemed more likely to happen later rather than sooner.

Strangely enough Caldwell made a double substitution in the 57th minute, bringing on Wildschut and Nick Powell for Nathan Byrne and an ineffective Jordi Gomez. Caldwell was opening up the game with the substitutions. On one hand Latics were to increase their attacking intent. On the other Brentford were to enjoy more space. Powell and Wildschut did enliven the Wigan attack, while an under pressure defence still continued to hold firm. The 0-0 score at the end was a fair result for both sides.

The central defensive pairing of Jake Buxton and Dan Burn was strong in this game. They are clearly developing a mutual understanding. After a shaky start at the club Burn has shown his mettle in recent weeks. He was arguably the Man of the Match yesterday, towering above the Brentford forwards, his positioning sound and tackles firm. However, it could be argued that Buxton was just as good. He does not catch the eye as much as Burn can. Buxton just seems to get on with his job, nothing flashy, but solid and reliable. It was noticeable from an early stage in the game that the two had been given licence to clear their lines when under pressure. The inter-passing between defenders that had been problematic in previous matches had taken the back seat to a more pragmatic approach of safety first.

There has been much talk about the merits of 4-3-3 over 3-5-2. Although seemingly playing with a back four yesterday the presence of Shaun MacDonald so close to the central defenders reminded one of the role Ben Watson could play in the Martinez era. After getting so little playing time over the last two years the Welshman is getting back his match fitness and sharpness. He played a key role yesterday.

The point yesterday puts Latics out of the relegation zone. The cohesion is gradually developing and it is starting to look much more like a team rather than a collection of individuals. There will be ups and downs ahead, but the squad has sufficient quality to at least hold its own in the Championship division.

After the game I met up again with Billy Grant of Brentford fan site Beesotted. Billy has provided us with fascinating articles in the past and his podcasts are always worth a listen. His post-match podcast is to be found below. My contribution from a Wigan perspective starts at 8:00 minutes:

 

 

 

 

How good is Will Grigg?

Grigg

In the past 20 years just four players have scored 20 goals in a season for Wigan Athletic. Nathan Ellington scored 24 and Jason Roberts got 21 when Latics were promoted from the Championship in 2004-05. Graeme Jones scored 31 when they gained promotion by winning Division 3 in 1996-97.

Will Grigg has scored 23 goals already this season, 20 in league games and 3 in cup competitions. His team is already practically odds-on for promotion. The goals of Ellington, Roberts and and Jones were key to their team’s promotion successes. It looks like those of Grigg could prove to be the same.

It is the third time that Grigg has exceeded the 20 goal per season mark with a League 1 club. He first did it for Walsall in 2012-13, leading him on to win their player of the Season and Players’ Player of the Season awards. However, rather than build on his successes in the midlands Grigg moved on to Brentford, who at the time were then in League 1 under the management of Uwe Rosler.

The move from Walsall had been acrimonious. The player had been out of contract, but since he was under 24 a Football League tribunal required Brentford to pay a £325,000 fee plus add-ons. The Walsall manager Dean Smith said at the time that “If he were leaving to go to a better side I would have thought he would have done better than Brentford.” Ironically Smith now finds himself  manager at the West London club.

Given his success in League 1 it had seemed that Grigg would be moving up a level, to the Championship at least. His move to Brentford did not work out as he would have hoped and in the 2014-15 season he was sent off on loan to the MK Dons, an eventful move which put him in the limelight when he scored a brace to knock Manchester United out of the League Cup, scoring 20 goals in the league.

In June 2015 David Sharpe’s gave his guarantee that Wigan would have a 20 goal striker in their lineup this season.  In mid-July he got his man, paying Brentford  £900,000 for Grigg. It was a huge fee for a club in League 1 to splash out, particularly for a player who had never played at a level above League 1. Grigg was brought in to provide the firepower to get Latics out of League 1, but were Latics also looking beyond that? Were they expecting Grigg make it as a striker in the Championship?

At his best Grigg is a handful for any opposition defender. He has the ability to time his runs to create space when surrounded by the tightest of defences. His workrate cannot be faulted and he is a real team player. Grigg relies on his intelligent movement rather than sheer physical power to get past defenders. He is a genuine goal poacher, a dying breed in the modern game. Grigg also has a good temperament as evidenced by receiving just one yellow card in the season so far.  This is despite the rugged treatment he so often gets in a division where too much cynical and tactical fouling goes unpunished by referees.  Still only 24 years old his best is surely yet to come.

However, like any striker Grigg can have his off days. In the visit to Walsall in February he had at least five gilt-edged opportunities to score, but fluffed them all. Latics had to rely on a last minute winner from Yanic Wildschut to bring home the three points that their superior play had merited. But Grigg can opportunities with genuine aplomb, in the style of a “natural” goalscorer. There is finesse to Grigg’s game that suggests he can make it at a much higher level than the third tier of English football. As his confidence grows and he matures as a player he will put home an even higher proportion of the opportunities that come his way.

Grigg’s first season at Wigan did not start particularly well. In its first quarter Grigg had struggled to reach the goalscoring form that Caldwell would have hoped for. He had scored just three goals, two of which were penalties. After starting in the first six games he missed the match at Chesterfield through being on international duty for Northern Ireland. He came back as a 66th minute substitute at Port Vale, but was to pick up an elbow injury which kept him out of the next two games. He made his return as a 77th minute substitute, scoring the equalizer during added-on time against Millwall. Grigg returned to the starting lineup for the next game against Walsall, but was substituted after 70 minutes. However, international call up knocked on the door again and Grigg missed the last two matches at Crewe and Bury.

By Christmas Grigg had notched 8 goals for Latics. Since then he has scored 15 more. Grigg just does not seem to do so well in the earlier part of the season. In fact in his 20 goal season at Walsall he had only scored 5 by Christmas. At MK Dons he scored 9 by Christmas, followed by another 13 by time the season finished.

At Milton Keynes, Grigg had to play second fiddle to Benik Afobe until the latter’s 19 goals persuaded Wolves to pay serious money for him in January 2015. This and a loan move to Fleetwood of the Dons’ other main striker, Tom Hitchcock, opened up the door for Grigg to be the automatic choice as a lone centre forward. Grigg was to thrive on the consistency of having a regular first choice berth.

At 24 years of age, Will Grigg has a bright future ahead. His immediate target will be to score goals in the remaining five matches to help propel Latics back to the Championship. But the irony is that should that promotion come into effect and should Grigg continue to score goals, he will surely arouse the interests of the big clubs that dominate the English game.

Despite a slow start Will Grigg has become a key player in Wigan Athletic’s promotion push. Fans will be hoping he will continue to knock in the goals for the Latics for years to come.