The financial side of keeping a nucleus for League 1

“Que sera sera…..whatever will be will be….we’re going to Shrewsbury….que sera sera

So sang a group of Wigan Athletic supporters. It certainly took the wind out of the sails of the “going down” taunts of home fans at the Madejski Stadium last Saturday.

Shrewsbury is certainly a pleasant place to visit. Its football team has competed in each of the three EFL divisions. Their New Meadow stadium holds 9,375. Shrewsbury Town met Manchester United in the FA Cup in February 2016. They lost 3-0, which is not surprising given the fact that the Shrews had a wage bill of £2.5 m compared with £210 m of United.

In fact the Shrewsbury wage bill is typical of many clubs in League 1. According to an interesting article on the Daily Mail site, the average salary of a League 1 footballer in 2014-15 was £69,500. It compared with £324,200 in the Championship. The ratio of the average salaries is 1 to 4.7.

There are strong arguments to suggest that the league positions of clubs in the Championship division correlate to their wage bills. In their first season back in the Championship Wigan Athletic finished in a playoff place. The wage bill was around £30 m. Clubs in mid-table would typically have wage bills averaging £20 m.

Latics’ reputed wage bill for the current season is around £17 m. Assuming they were to trim next year’s wage bill according to, say, that previous ratio of average salaries between the two divisions, it would give a figure of around £3.6 m. In 2015-16, still buoyed by parachute payments, Latics had a wage bill of around £6 m in League 1, reportedly second highest after that of Sheffield United.

So at what level will David Sharpe pitch the wage bill for the coming season? As in the Championship there is some degree of correlation between wage bills and success on the playing field in League 1. If the club is to break even financially next season what kind of wage bill would be realistic? Moreover will the club be able to slash its wage bill as successfully as it did in the summer of 2015, when faced with a drop down to the third tier?

In 2015-16 Latics finished top of League 1 with an average attendance of 9,467. Shrewsbury Town finished in 14th place with an average of 5,407. The average attendance for the division was 7,163. Wigan’s cheapest adult season ticket cost  £250 while Shrewsbury’s was £285.

David Sharpe took a bold step in reducing season ticket prices for the club’s return to the Championship. Renewals were pitched at £179, with a price of £199 for new purchasers. The levels were uneconomic compared with those of competitor clubs, but Sharpe was clearly hoping to not only hold on to the core support, but to attract others. With just one match to go in the Championship season Wigan’s average home attendance is 11,560 up by more than 2,000 from the previous season in League 1. However, the bigger clubs in the Championship have brought sizeably larger away support than had those in League 1.

Rumour suggests that the club will maintain the levels of season tickets prices for the coming season. If this is so the £179 price would be almost 40% less than the figure of £295 to be offered by Shrewsbury Town for the coming  season. Moreover should Latics not be as successful as they were last time in League 1 attendances will surely fall. The match day revenue differentials between Wigan and Shrewsbury could merge closer.

Put simply potential match revenues for Wigan Athletic will in no way suffice to give them a competitive advantage over most of their rivals. Some would say that under Gary Caldwell Latics had bought their way out of League 1, having a wage bill twice that of most of their rivals. That was made possible by the parachute payments they were receiving at the time. However, now that the parachute era has come to an end, how can Latics get a financial advantage over most of their competitors in League 1?

One solution is to sell off assets. The second is for the ownership to provide the necessary funding.

The saleable assets Latics have are their players. The club’s main asset, Yanic Wildschut, was sold in January for a hefty premium. Early in the season Will Grigg would have been another major asset: he was scoring goals and looking comfortable in the higher division. It was sad to see how the player later found himself either warming the bench, playing as a lone centre forward with a derisory lack of support, or being played out of position. A player who could have probably drawn a transfer fee in excess of £5 m is now not such an attraction on the transfer market. Better to keep Grigg who has a superb record of goalscoring in League 1.

Nick Powell will surely be on his way. After months out through injury he roared back with spectacular performances as a super sub. In doing so, Powell put himself in the shop window. Dan Burn is another player who has caught the eye and will surely be of interest to Championship clubs. Burn was already an experienced Championship level player when arriving on a free transfer from Fulham. He has since developed a level of self-confidence  previously lacking. Between the two, Latics could possibly raise around £5 m on the market.

Omar Bogle was the most exciting of the January signings. Having scored a lot of goals for Grimsby he arrived brimming with confidence and style. But after a promising start Bogle was to wilt under  a horrible burden put on him by Joyce: that of being the lone striker in a 4-5-1 formation. Injury too was to hold him back. Like Grigg, his potential transfer value has plummeted. But the likelihood is that either Grigg or Bogle will be sold, albeit at a discounted price.

Max Power was almost sold to Birmingham City in January. Although he did not have the season he would have liked, Power remains one of the more saleable assets. Sam Morsy too is a player who could be sought by Championship clubs.

Last weekend Jonathan Jackson stated that “There will be some changes in the squad, but we want to keep the core there.”

Goalkeeper Matt Gilks and ex-captain Craig Morgan will be two of those core members who continue. Gilks was only signed in January on an 18 month contract and Morgan recently signed a two year extension to his contract. The long-term injured players – Donervon Daniels, Reece James, Andy Kellett and Shaun MacDonald – will also be staying. Alex Gilbey is another who has not been able to play in recent games after coming back from long-term injury. Latics will be hoping at least some of those players will be available for the beginning of next season.

It is difficult to predict who else will stay to provide a core for the coming season. The club is going to have to slash its wage bill some 60-70% to be financially viable. Put simply more than half of the players currently under contract are likely to depart over summer, many on free transfers. Others will be sent off on loan.

The players currently under contract for the coming season are:

Goalkeepers: Matt Gilks, Dan Lavercombe

Full Backs – Luke Burke, Reece James.

Centre backs: Dan Burn, Jake Buxton, Donervon Daniels, Jack Hendry, Craig Morgan.

Midfielders: Jack Byrne, Alex Gilbey, Andy Kellett, Josh Laurent, Shaun MacDonald, Sam Morsy, Max Power, Danny Whitehead.

Forwards: Nathan Byrne, Omar Bogle, Ryan Colclough, Will Grigg, Michael Jacobs, Mikael Mandron, Sanmi Odelusi, Nick Powell, Kaiyne Woolery.

The amount of turnover at the end of the 2015 season was remarkable, with 31 incomings and 44 outgoings, including loan players.

Latics currently have seven whose contracts are due to expire – Jordan Flores, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Billy Mckay, Gabriel Obertan, David Perkins, Andrew Taylor and Stephen Warnock. There are another eight players whose loans are coming to an end.

In 2015 Gary Caldwell had already been installed as manager to oversee the massive turnover that took place over the summer.

At this stage we do not know who the next manager is going to be and there have been mutterings about taking the time to choose the right man for the job.

But given a mountain of a task ahead we might well see an appointment made sooner rather than later.
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A murky future for Latics – a Chinese buyout or Mike Phelan?

A murky time for Wigan Athletic.

 

These are unsettled times at Wigan Athletic. A team that has relegation staring in its face unable or unwilling to show the urgency needed to stave it off. The departure of the Head of Football Operations with barely a murmur from the fans. A new contract for a player who has hardly made an impact this season. The Sun newspaper telling us that another of Alex Ferguson’s men could be taking over as manager. Then the blockbuster rumour that Dave Whelan is looking to sell up, with a Chinese consortium visiting the facilities at Christopher Park, Euxton and the DW Stadium.

The players are surely caught up in this too. It has been an awful season with so many of last year’s squad finding the step up to the Championship division tough.

Some will say that the squad just has not had enough quality to compete in the higher division, but there were players of flair and high technical quality there at the start of the season. Nick Powell was always going to be a risky signing, given his horrendous problems with injury in recent years, and so it has proved. Saturday’s cameo appearance shows what a difference he could have made if he could have stayed fit. Jordi Gomez was another flair player and he had a great record in the Championship division with Latics and Swansea.  Gary Caldwell used him sparingly, Warren Joyce too, being seemingly content to shunt him off to Spain in January. Joyce also lost Latics’ most dynamic player and potential match winner, Yanic Wildschut, to Norwich City’s over-generous offer in January. Alex Gilbey too had shown flair early in the season before receiving a serious injury from which it took him months to recover.

Having had to make the massive shift from the possession football of Gary Caldwell to the hoofball of Warren Joyce the players have lost much of their ability to pass and receive the ball. Moreover with the end of the season approaching and League 1 beckoning, so many will be unsettled. Until the last couple of games a willingness to fight for the cause has rarely been lacking in the players, who have suffered so many heart-breaking defeats by fine margins. The seeming lack of urgency is surely a manifestation of a feeling of insecurity for so many of them. They know that the last time Latics were relegated there was a huge exodus of players, with 22 new players coming in.  Indeed some may have already been told to start looking for another club.

Matt Jackson’s departure was labelled as “the end of a consultancy period” on the club web site. After rejoining Latics in 2011 the ex-team captain had taken over as Head of Football Operations. Interestingly the club communique tells us that Jackson had not been involved in player recruitment for the past 18 months, although he was part of the newly formed Player Recruitment Department from the summer of 2015. Jackson was heavily involved in the Latics Academy and the switch to Euxton.

The announcement of a new two year contract for another ex-captain came as a surprise to many of us. Craig Morgan was a rock upon which League 1 was won last season, but has not had an easy time this year. Injuries and an infection have limited his availability and the 31 year old has made just 12 starts and 5 substitute appearances this season.  The contracts of Jussi Jaaskelainen, David Perkins and Stephen Warnock are also due to expire in June.

Given the results it is appears more and more unlikely that Graham Barrow will continue as manager next season. Indeed there are even rumours that a new manager may be brought in before the season finishes. Doing so would give a new incumbent the opportunity to decide on contracts and the players he would like to keep.

For weeks now we have heard rumours that ex-Hibernian and Rotherham manager and Bolton and Everton player, Alan Stubbs was a frontrunner. The rumours may have been fuelled by the fact that John Doolan, who was Stubbs’ first team coach at Hibs, has already rejoined Wigan. Moreover Stubbs will have been visible watching his son, Sam, play for Latics’ youth team and development squad. However, the assertion that ex-Manchester United assistant manager, Mike Phelan, might be taking the reins has already been met with concern by fans.  It also appears that a return for Gary Caldwell is a possibility.

To add to all of this uncertainty the alleged visit of a Chinese consortium is of even more import. The visit might well be tentative, but is this an indication that the 22 year Whelan dynasty will soon come to an end?

Much has been said and written about DW’s incredible success at the club. If he had not taken over in February 1995 what would have happened? Would another buyer have come in and made the investments that Whelan made? Not likely. The club was not an attractive proposition at the time, languishing in the fourth tier with attendances so often below 2,000. Its only real asset was Springfield Park. Whelan invested  with a mission to propel his home town club into the Premier League. Estimates vary as to how much he put into Wigan Athletic, but the figure appears to be somewhere between £90 m and £100m.

The club is surely more sellable in 2017 than it was in 1995. It has a more tangible “brand” after its successes in recent years – winning the FA Cup, reaching the final of the League Cup, eight years in the Premier League. But other than its players what assets does it have? Both the DW Stadium and the Euxton facility are owned by companies linked with the Whelan family, not the club itself.

Should the Whelan legacy continue we can expect continued financial backing for the near future at least. The club will be expected to be as financially self-sufficient as possible, although achieving that whilst maintaining success on the field of play will be a challenge. Wigan Athletic’s fan base has grown to maybe five times what it was in 1995, but still does not match those of the majority of clubs in the Championship. It is more akin to those of clubs in League 1. Moreover to maintain attendance levels the club has had to resort to cut-price season tickets. Put simply, the club will not have the revenue to seriously compete, even in League 1, unless there is backing from the ownership.

However, although Dave Whelan will surely provide a buffer for the club in the near future there appears to be no way that he will be making the scale of investment he has in the past. Given the club’s current predicament it is highly unlikely that it will reach the top tier of English football again in the foreseeable future.

Eleven of the twenty four clubs in the Championship are now owned by overseas investors. Aston Villa, Birmingham City and Wolves are Chinese owned.

In the long term it is unlikely that the Whelan family will continue to inject funds into Wigan Athletic. There will surely come a point where they will say “enough is enough”, but would anyone be tempted to buy a club that does not own its own stadium or training ground?

It is a time of uncertainty at all levels within the club. Ownership and management issues further cloud a murky near future.

 

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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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Losing a winning mentality?

Will Craig Morgan still be a Latics player three days from now?

Will Craig Morgan still be a Latics player three days from now?

Last season Wigan Athletic developed a winning mentality. After an indifferent start with one win in their first five matches, Latics went from mid-December to mid-April without losing a league game.  The losing mentality of the era of Malky Mackay that had caused relegation had been reversed into a winning mentality by Gary Caldwell.

Of course the circumstances of Mackay and Caldwell differed greatly. Mackay had been cast in the role of hatchet man, presiding over the departures of 11 senior squad players between the beginning of January and mid-February 2015. Given the lack of money available to sign new players, Mackay was to bring in loanees, free transfers or bargain basement signings. Relegation was almost an inevitable consequence.

Mackay will be remembered as one of the least successful managers the club ever had. Moreover the football his teams played resembled fight-ball more than anything else. By the time Gary Caldwell took over with just five league games to go it was too late. Not only was the squad weak, but the players had developed a losing mentality. It was not an easy start for the Scot.

The jettisoning of players was to continue over the summer with only remnants remaining when the new season opened in August 2015. But unlike Mackay, who had been hamstrung by the club’s reluctance to invest in quality new players, Caldwell was to find himself with the financial backing he needed from new young chairman, David Sharpe. Wigan’s wage bill was to dwarf most of the rest in League 1 and they invested around £1 million in centre forward Will Grigg.

However, after a disappointing start to the season the knives were out and the keyboard warriors were lively on the social media. There were those who thought Caldwell was wrong in wanting to play “the right kind of football” in League 1. How could he expect lower division players to bring the ball out of defence, playing the type of possession football that was the hallmark of Latics’ play when Caldwell had been captain? Some fans advocated a return to 4-4-2.

Caldwell was to prove them wrong. He stubbornly stuck to his beliefs, playing with a lone striker, not being afraid to switch between a back three and a back four. At times his tactics seemed to go haywire, but they mostly worked. Over the course of the season he was to use 34 players, a remarkable amount of turnover for a team that was to go on to win its division. At times it looked like there were too many players coming and going, but somehow Caldwell forged them into a cohesive unit. The bottom line was that the players all knew what the manager expected from them. He had ingrained in them a way of playing.

Once again Wigan Athletic have started a season badly. Moreover the turnover of players has continued. The departure of central defender and vice-captain Jason Pearce was a shock, if those of Tim Chow, Emyr Huws, Lee Nicholls, Billy Mckay and Andrew Taylor were not. The seemingly impending departures of captain Craig Morgan and combative midfielder Sam Morsy add to the surprises. Morsy was only signed in January, as was Ryan Colclough who might also be on his way. Just a few months ago it looked like they were the kinds of young and hungry players who would form the backbone of the team in the future.

“We’re probably looking at bringing in four or five new players” commented Caldwell in May.

He has since brought in Adam Bogdan, Jake Buxton, Dan Burn, Luke Garbutt, Alex Gilbey, Jordi Gomez, Kyle Knoyle, Shaun MacDonald and Nick Powell, in addition to signing Stephen Warnock on a permanent contract. After the Forest defeat Caldwell stated his need to further strengthen “certain areas”, bringing in the “right” players.

Craig Morgan was the lynchpin of the defence last season, his calmness under pressure and ability to play the ball out of defence being real assets to Caldwell’s side. Together with Pearce he formed a partnership that had an impressive record. Latics had just one defeat, that on the last day of the season, when the two started together. Although there were concerns about a lack of pace which could be exposed at Championship level it appeared that Caldwell would keep faith in the pair, at least in the interim period until new central defenders could be weaned in.

Despite being in negotiation with Sheffield United over his transfer prior to the QPR match, Morgan was included in the starting lineup. Not surprisingly he was not at his best. It remains to be seen whether he can come to agreement with the Yorkshire club, but what is clear is that he is no longer in Caldwell’s plans.

Although he has help from a recruitment team much of Caldwell’s time has surely been taken up by the incomings and outgoings. Critics will say that his team selections and use of substitutes so far this season have been unimpressive, that opposing team managers have out-thought him.

Caldwell has been blessed by the emergence of a bright young talent in the 18 year old Luke Burke, but in the last two games he has left him on the bench, starting with players at right wing back who do not have the requisite skills or motivation to play in that position. Last season Caldwell would adjust the shape of the team to match the situation of the game, alternating between three at the back and a conventional back four. He has somehow been reluctant to do it so far this season.

Once again it has been a time of turnover, even though five league games have passed by as the ins and outs have been worked upon. The club has been through so much turmoil over the past couple of years. Caldwell works within financial constraints: in order to bring in new players the manager has to persuade others to leave. It has to be an unsettling time at the club for the members of last season’s squad that remain, who might well be wondering if they will be next.

Caldwell clearly changed his mind over the summer. Instead of bringing in 4 or 5 new players he has brought in 10. With the incomings are the outgoings, as the manager seeks to balance his wage bill. He acknowledged the difficulties he now faces entering the market for players in the Championship.

There’s key areas we need to strengthen, and we’re working extremely hard to do that. “It is difficult to do that, with salary demands and agents’ demands, it is a difficult process. We have to make sure that, even at this late stage, we don’t panic and get the wrong player. But I’m pretty sure we’ll have a few new faces come Wednesday.”

But is Caldwell doing the right thing by ditching players who had played key roles in a title winning side? Were those players not hungry enough, or not good enough, to play in the Championship?

His supporters will tell us that he knows exactly what he is doing and we need to be patient. Caldwell came to a realisation that the squad he had at the beginning of summer training did not have the wherewithal to be successful in a higher division. The new players he has brought in will take time to adjust to the roles Caldwell has in mind for them. Last season saw lots of players come and go, but the team was ultimately successful.

Caldwell will surely be relieved that the international break is coming up. It will give him a breathing space in which to finalise his staffing changes, with an opportunity to calm down any disturbed waters before the next match at Sheffield Wednesday on September 10.

It is to be hoped that he can inculcate in his players the type of winning mentality that will be necessary to be successful in the Championship.

Tightening up the defence

Craig Morgan - has three yellow cards in four league games.

Craig Morgan – has three yellow cards in four league games.

Will Grigg sent another message to his doubters on Saturday. His two opportunist goals at Nottingham had hauled his team back into a game where they had clearly been second best. What a shame his efforts were wasted by abysmal defending giving Forest a win in time added on.

In fact neither team’s defence looked solid. Witnessing the quality of Forest’s midfield play and the movement of their forwards one could have got the impression that they will challenge for promotion. So often they sliced through the Wigan defence like a knife. They scored four, and could conceivably have doubled that tally. But they have defensive problems. Grigg’s two goals were prime examples of opportunism as the centre forward punished the home team defence for their sloppiness.

Wigan too played some attractive football. Alex Gilbey and Michael Jacobs supported Grigg from midfield and Shaun MacDonald gave a promising first half display sitting in front of the back four. But the defence looked shaky from the start.

Gary Caldwell had decided to continue with the experiment of playing Yanic Wildschut as a wing back, as he had in the second half against Birmingham in midweek. It proved to be an ill-judged move.

Not only was the Dutchman lost in the role, but Craig Morgan was left exposed. With so little protection from not only the wing back, but also the midfield, the captain looked a shadow of the player he was last season.  Morgan struggled for pace against speedy attackers flooding his zone.

Given his contribution to last season’s title winning team few fans will openly criticise Morgan. Granted he never was the quickest of defenders, but he was able to use his experience to get into the right positions and make the best decisions. Some doubt that the captain is the right man to lead a defence in the Championship, but acknowledge that he is not alone in lacking pace in the Latics back line. The assertion is that a slow moving defence will have constant problems against the speedy forwards that so many Championship sides possess.

However, rarely will Morgan be as exposed as he was on Saturday. The failure of the midfield to protect the defence was a feature of the team’s performance. The absence of David Perkins was fully felt. Last season he was invaluable in covering his defence in deep positions, together with Max Power, whose defensive performance was found lacking at Nottingham. Moreover Morgan has been moved from his preferred position in the centre of the back three, where speed is an asset but an ability to read the game is paramount. Last season Morgan received one red card and seven yellows  in 38 league appearances. He has picked up three yellows  in the first four league games so far.

Having conceded four goals, despite another fine performance by keeper Adam Bogdan, the defence will inevitably take most of the blame. The decision to jettison Jason Pearce, who formed a formidable central defensive partnership with Morgan last season, continues to be questioned by the pundits. Should that partnership have been maintained, albeit in a higher division of football, where they would have been more tested by the pace and skills of Championship level forwards?

The use of Wildschut as a wing back was a speculative attacking ploy by Caldwell.  Against a stubborn Birmingham defence defending their one goal lead Caldwell had withdrawn his wing backs and placed Michael Jacobs and Wildschut in those positions. It was a bold move, typical of what we have come to expect from the manager over the past year. There were times last season when Caldwell threw caution to the wind and risked his defence being badly exposed. On occasions he got caught out, with the opposition scoring from rapid counterattacks, but there were times when games were won as a result.

There are fans who prefer to see Latics play with a conventional back four, rather than with three centre backs and wing backs. The 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 played by Caldwell’s teams last year saw the wing backs pushed high up the field, almost like wingers. An inherent danger in any type of 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation is wing backs being caught far forward and centre backs having to deal with pacy wide players on the break.

It is a far cry from the days in the Premier League when Latics had two excellent wing backs in Emmerson Boyce and Jean Beausejour who were not pushed so far forward. The two were so good at stretching the play by hugging the touchline and making themselves available to receive the ball from defence and support attacks. However, both played key defensive roles , the back three becoming a back five as they dropped back. On Saturday Wildschut looked lost when Forest attacked and Luke Garbutt made more of an impression in attack than in defence.

The three game suspension suffered by the experienced Jake Buxton, together with a long term injury for Donervon Daniels, has reduced Caldwell’s options in the centre of defence.  Following Buxton’s suspension Dan Burn was moved to the centre of the back line of three, with Morgan moving to the right.

With Buxton due to be available again for the match against QPR on Saturday, Caldwell might well opt for his experience on the right, with Morgan in the centre and Dan Burn on the left.  Although the manager did not include the 18 year old Luke Burke from the start at Nottingham, when the young player came on he once again looked the part. Despite his tender years he is the complete wing back. Buxton’s return could also enable Stephen Warnock to return to his more familiar position of left wing back. A return to 4-3-3 is also a possibility with a back four of Burke, Buxton, Morgan and Warnock.

A settled defence is key to Wigan’s chances of success in the Championship. Up to this point they have a record of W1 D1 L2, with a total of 4 points. Last year’s League 1 winning team had exactly the same record this time last year, as did Uwe Rosler’s team the year before which got relegated. It is simply too early in the season to predict what will happen later. Moreover both league defeats up to this point have come through goals in time added on.

In the meantime Caldwell will look at establishing a settled defence with a midfield in front of it that takes its fair share of defensive responsibilities.