Joyce has gone – time to BELIEVE again

Do we BELIEVE that Latics can get out of this predicament? Table thanks to Statto.com

David Sharpe did the right thing today by dismissing Warren Joyce and his close associate Andy Welsh. Some might say the chairman deserves praise for swallowing his pride and realising he did the wrong thing in November. But Sharpe is pragmatic enough to know that if he had kept Joyce in charge, Latics would surely have been doomed to relegation.

One of the fundamental building blocks in Wigan Athletic’s rise from the fourth tier to mingle for so long with the elite clubs of English football was sheer BELIEF. It was the belief of Dave Whelan in his managers – Paul Jewell, Steve Bruce and Roberto Martinez – that led to the club to an FA Cup, a League Cup Final and eight years in the Premier League. Whelan backed them, not only with his chequebook, but with his driving ambition to hold Wigan Athletic up there.

There were certainly sticky moments along the way, but there was always the hope that things would turn out alright in the end. They did apart from that fatal night at the Emirates, just three days after Ben Watson’s unforgettable goal had won them the Cup. But Whelan had chosen his managers wisely.

Jewell’s teams were built on solid defence, but always had flair players in attack. Whelan opted for continuity when Jewell left, giving the post to his assistant, Chris Hutchings. Sadly it did not work out and Hutchings was gone after barely three months in charge. Bruce came back to the club, Whelan backed him in the transfer market and he righted a foundering ship. His teams were based on a solid defence protected by a rugged midfield, but with a good smattering of flair players to provide balance.

Martinez was brought in to keep Latics in the Premier League on a much reduced budget. He went on to produce the best results in the club’s history, away wins at Arsenal and Liverpool, the club’s one and only victory at home to Manchester United, that epic victory on cup final day. Martinez was a great ambassador for the club, through his insistence that his teams compete against star-studded opposition by sticking to the principles of skilful possession football. The FA Cup victory against Manchester City was no fluke: Wigan had played the better football on the day, with not a hint of skulduggery.

Was Whelan just lucky with his appointments of Jewell, Bruce and Martinez or did he have a vision of what they would do? If he was lucky with those three, he certainly was not with his appointment of Owen Coyle. Neither was he in appointing Malky Mackay and his grandson made a similarly woeful appointment in Warren Joyce. None of those three names – Coyle, Mackay, Joyce – became synonymous with good football at Wigan Athletic. Indeed it was quite the reverse.

But Whelan did make a good appointment in Uwe Rosler, who picked up the mess left by Coyle and got Latics to the FA Cup Semi Final and the Championship playoffs. Sadly the going got rough in Rosler’s second season, but rather than showing faith in a manager who had achieved so much, Whelan showed him the door, bringing in the hapless Mackay. Sharpe did a similar thing with Gary Caldwell, who had only months before won the League 1 title. His replacement was the inept Joyce.

Sharpe has done the right thing for the moment. The odds are that Latics will not be able to avoid relegation, but without the shackles imposed by Joyce the players can make things happen. Few of us really and truly believed that Joyce was the right man for Wigan. To BELIEVE that Joyce could save the club from relegation was asking too much, given his obsession with the defensive side of the game and the hoofball we were witnessing.

Graham Barrow has been appointed caretaker manager again. Barrow is a survivor who has seen six managers come and go since rejoining the club in 2009. Barrow is not the kind of coach who will throw caution to the wind, but we can expect him to field line ups that are more balanced that we saw under Joyce. Due attention will be paid to the offence, as well as the defence.

With Barrow in charge we at least have a hope that we can BELIEVE our team can avoid the drop.

Courtesy of Statto.com

 

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Can Joyce avoid relegation?

tablefeb2012In mid-February five years ago Wigan Athletic looked to be on a slide out of the Premier League. They had hit rock bottom in mid-January and just could not seem to climb out of the mire. A month later they were still bottom, with just two wins out of their previous ten league matches. However, a win at Bolton and a draw at home to Everton in the last two matches had provided some hope. The fans had started to “Believe” and rallied behind their manager and team.

It was to take another month for Latics to climb off the bottom, following a 1-1 home draw with West Bromwich Albion. But the defence had been tightening up, with less “soft” goals being given away. Shaun Maloney had finally got a place in the starting line-up against Albion and he was to be the catalyst to revitalise the attacking side of Wigan’s game. By the end of the season Latics were in 15th place, 7 points clear of the relegation zone. They had won five of their final six matches.

A year later Latics were to find themselves second from bottom in mid-February. By the end of the season they were to rise one place, not enough to avoid relegation. Some attributed relegation being due to the FA Cup campaign, others cited horrendous injury problems. But few would have traded an FA Cup win for a continuation in the Premier League.

A couple of years later, in mid-February 2015, Malky Mackay’s Latics were second from bottom, nine points from safety. When the manager had taken over from Uwe Rosler in early November 2014, Latics had been third from bottom, but only one point from safety. But the fire sale that followed in January, together with a lack of investment in suitable replacements, led to Latics finishing second from bottom, seven points behind Rotherham who were safe in 21st place. The quality of football during Mackay’s reign had plummeted drastically.

tablefeb2017

Once again Wigan Athletic find themselves second from bottom in mid-February. They are five points behind the 21st placed team, Burton Albion, but with a game in hand. Wigan were in  exactly the same position when Gary Caldwell was dismissed in late October and replaced by Warren Joyce.

In terms of results the records of the two managers are remarkably similar. Caldwell’s league record reads W2 D5 L7, GF 13 GA 16 Pts 11 and Joyce’s is W3 D3 L9 GF 14 GA 22 Pts 12.

So despite the change in manager, results have stayed largely the same. However, in terms of quality of football there has been a major change. The possession football that typified the Caldwell era has been replaced by a more “direct” style under Joyce, reminiscent of the Mackay era. Caldwell’s team had started the season cautiously, with the manager seemingly reluctant to push men forward to support the central striker, for fear of counterattack. The caution has become even more evident under Joyce, with frequent use of a version of 4-1-4-1, leaving the lone striker isolated and too often fighting a lost cause.

In their successful fight against relegation in 2011-12 Wigan Athletic continued to try to play good football, even when the odds were stacked against them. Their famous late season victories over Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United were gained on merit, through resolute defence and some inspired attacking. It looks unlikely to be the case this year, with Joyce in charge.

However, despite the poor quality of the football, Joyce appears to have made some progress. His insistence on a high level of fitness caused injury problems early on for players unused to the intensity he was seeking. But the players do look fitter now and willingly run themselves into the ground for the cause. There is no lack of effort.

Fans of Joyce will say that he has already improved some of the players and that he has filled gaps in the squad that needed attention. The departure of Yanic Wildschut has left the team short of pace on the wings, but nobody can argue with a transfer fee of around £7 million. The Dutchman certainly made progress under Joyce, not least in his level of fitness and being able to play the full ninety plus.

Dan Burn made a bad start in Joyce’s first game as manager, in  a 3-0 home reverse to Reading, the manager leaving him out for the next couple of games. But in recent weeks the big centre half has looked a much more assured and accomplished player. Joyce has fixed the problematic right back position with the acquisition of Callum Connolly on loan from Everton. Moreover he brought back Sam Morsy from his loan at Barnsley and the player has played consistently well since his return.

However, there remain questions over Joyce’s tactics. It can be argued that Joyce has tightened up the defence, although the goals against record does not reflect that,  albeit with three goals conceded against Reading, Fulham and Rotherham. Joyce’s critics will say that his emphasis is on trying not to lose, so often pulling back ten men in defence.

Latics were clearly unlucky not to save a point at Fulham on Saturday, going down to a last minute of stoppage time winner. But even with a 2-1 lead at half time were they really likely to come away with three points, given the way Fulham were dominating possession?

fulham-lineupOnce again Joyce operated the 4-1-4-1 formation. The stats revealed that Fulham had 73.3% of possession, Latics 26.7%. I simply cannot recall Wigan Athletic having such a small share of possession in a match.

Possession is a frequent talking point for Wigan Athletic supporters. Not everyone enjoyed the football served up by Roberto Martinez, despite his considerable accomplishments at the club. Neither was Gary Caldwell universally liked despite bringing home the League 1 title. At times the football served up by both managers could be sterile, with midfielders far too willing to pass the ball sideways or backwards. But at its best the possession football played by Martinez’s teams was enough to beat the top teams in the country in the Premier League and to win the FA Cup on merit, without resorting to over physical tactics. Caldwell built up a big squad, packed with players who had too much ability for most of the opposition in League 1. His football followed a similar style to that of his Catalan mentor.

Many long-standing supporters recall the days of 4-4-2 with Nathan Ellington and Jason Roberts, a dynamic partnership in attack. Many still yearn for the more direct, but rarely negative, football of Paul Jewell’s heyday at Wigan.

However, neither Caldwell nor Joyce, managers of the modern era, are fans of the twin striker formation. There have been so many times this season, under both managers, when the centre forward has been lone in the true sense. There has been a reluctance to attack the opposition in the way that Jewell’s teams might have done. But that said, it was Wigan’s defensive record under Jewell more than anything else that propelled them up the divisions.

There are arguments on both sides, for and against possession football. Warren Joyce has support from many fans for his teams not playing in that way. However, when David Sharpe was in his early days as chairman he talked about wanting football played the “Wigan Way”. Whether that was a reference to the days of Martinez or Jewell is open to conjecture. But whatever way we look at it, the football served up so far by Joyce has come nowhere close.

What Latics fans want more than anything else at this moment is to avoid relegation. Joyce will be largely forgiven for serving up “ugly” football if he can keep the club in the Championship division. His followers will say that he has been working on tightening up the defence and the players’ fitness, that better football will follow once he has players he has signed himself, who can play the style he wants. His signing of no less than fourteen new players over the January transfer window suggests that this is what he is seeking.

Joyce’s problem with the new players is that so many have arrived short of match fitness due to lack of competitive football since the start of the season. Wildschut’s pace has been badly missed. Gabriel Obertan is a different kind of player, but has genuine pace. However, he lacks match fitness, his last appearance in Russia being on December 1. Moreover he had only made 6 starts and 2 appearances off the bench for Anzhi Makhachkala since August. James Weir too lacks match sharpness after not making any appearances for Hull City since his move from Manchester United in summer. Joyce appears reluctant to include Ryan Colclough, who was called back from loan at Milton Keynes Dons after scoring 5 goals in 18 appearances.

But then again, it is not so much the amount of attacking talents Joyce has on hand. It is more a matter of not withdrawing his midfielders into largely  defensive roles and fielding a lineup with more attacking intent.

Should Joyce wish to adopt a more attacking posture he will need a more creative player in advanced midfield. Josh Laurent made the bench on Saturday, but did not appear. Joyce also has at his disposal the 20 year old Jack Byrne, signed from Manchester City. Byrne was signed as a player for the future, but could play an important creative role this season.

The jury remains out regarding Warren Joyce’s abilities as a Championship manager. However, most fans feel he deserves more time in the job. Given the length of contract he has this is most likely. In the meantime we can only hope that he can focus on playing to win, rather than not to lose.

Wigan Athletic fans like to “Believe”. They will support Joyce in his fight against relegation.

But wouldn’t it be something if we did not go into games focusing not only on stopping the other team playing, but also stressing the importance of attack?

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

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.

 

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Getting it right against Burton – match preview

In late November, 2015, we saw a dull, scrappy game at the DW Stadium.

It offered little in the way of entertainment and seemed to be heading for a goalless draw until Abdenasser El Khayati scored for the visitors from a breakaway in the 74th minute. An ugly, but well organised Burton Albion side, who had looked like they had come for a draw, went on to inflict on Wigan their first league home defeat of the season.

Following a difficult start to the season, Latics had been on an unbeaten run of 11 matches, moving up to 4th place, Burton being just a point behind them in 5th. Burton’s victory helped them leapfrog over Latics and it was to be the case for four more months, with the Brewers looking like potential champions until Wigan overtook them late in the season.

Latics entertain Burton once again on Saturday, four points behind the Brewers in the Championship division. In the corresponding game last season Gary Caldwell was outmaneuvered by his opposite number, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. On a day when so many players were below par it was hard to come up with positives. Caldwell had clearly been preaching patience to his players, as they struggled to break down the Burton defence.

Sadly the patience was there, but the dynamism that was lacking.Yanic Wildschut was heavily marked. Michael Jacobs was ineffective on the right and Alex Revell, favoured ahead of Will Grigg, was a lonely figure up front. So can Caldwell get it right this time around?

Even though Hasselbaink left the Brewers for QPR last December, Nigel Clough was to gain promotion on his return to the club. Like his predecessor Clough is tactically astute and his Burton team will pose a challenge. He will have done his homework and will be ready to cancel out Wigan’s attacking players.

Following a home win against Wolves and a draw at Brentford after a dismal set of results, Caldwell will be keen to get a good result on Saturday.

Last season he played a modified 3-4-3, which Burton managed to stifle. Given the improvements in performances since aborting playing three at the back Caldwell can be expected to adopt a 4-3-3 formation.

However, the manager is never predictable. The return from injury of Reece Burke gives him the option of playing the talented West Ham loanee on the right of a back three, with Nathan Byrne in his natural position as right wing back. The alternative is to play Burke at right back, with Byrne as a winger.

Latics are certainly good enough to beat Burton, but a home win is by no means a foregone conclusion. The visitors will be a hard nut to crack. Caldwell’s approach to the game last year was cautious, but at the time Wigan had ground out previous results playing like that. It just did not work out against another team which played the same way.

But then again, can Latics surprise us and press Burton from the start, getting an early goal, setting up a comfortable victory?

Lifting the gloom and doom against Wolves

A win against Wolves can dispel the doom and gloom among Latics fans.

A win against Wolves can dispel the doom and gloom among Latics fans.

Who would have thought that Wigan Athletic would be bottom of the Championship table by the end of September? The League 1 title had given the club back the momentum it had lost in the dark days of Malky’s reign. But now, once again, that prevailing atmosphere of doom and gloom has returned. Is there any light at the end of the tunnel?

But then again, it isn’t yet the end of September. The home game against Wolves is only a couple of days away. A win would not only propel them off the bottom, but could conceivably lift them out of the relegation zone too. But more than anything else it would lift the doom and gloom that is once again rearing its head. Is a win over Wolves likely to happen?

Football is a game of fine margins. The average number of goals per game in English football hovers around the 2.6 mark. It means that whichever team scores the first goal has a statistically good chance of winning the match. Sadly the authorities who run football remain staunchly conservative. Too many fine margins are determined by erroneous refereeing decisions as the sport continues to bury its head in the sand and resist the kind of video technology that has been invaluable in cricket and rugby. Those who oppose the use of video will say that the law of averages means that by the end of the season the number of dodgy decisions for and against even out.

Gary Caldwell would not necessarily agree. Sometimes those decisions just don’t balance themselves out. He was entirely right about the refereeing decision that led to Preston’s goal on Friday. He was also right about the incident at Bristol where a player who had already been booked should have been sent off a minute before he scored the match-winning goal. But such complaints from a manager tend to be looked upon as sour grapes and Caldwell needs to desist in making them if he is not to open himself up for criticism.

It could be argued that referees have not done Latics any favours so far this season. Many of us hoped that we would see better officials in the second tier than we saw last year in League 1. But if there is a difference in quality, is it so great?

But refereeing has not been the main factor in the poor results so far this season. Fitness has proved to be the overriding issue, exacerbated by the sheer number of new faces coming in. Once again the pre-season did not provide an adequate basis for the kind of physical competitiveness needed at the start of an English league season. Before the warm-up games started Caldwell already had long term injured players in Reece James and Andy Kellett, but he was soon to lose Donervon Daniels and Kyle Knoyle for several months too. For the game at Preston Caldwell was denied the services of at least seven of his squad through injury.

Given the injury situation Caldwell rightly boosted his squad size. He now had 27 players in the senior team squad. However, circumstances were to dictate that so many of the new signings he had brought in were well short of match fitness. It had taken some weeks to get the backbone of his team to a competitive level of fitness, but now he had to ease in new signings, some of whom had not had much game time in pre-season with their previous clubs.

Latics went to Preston to face a physical battle against a team whose style of play is reminiscent of the worst times of Sam Allardyce at Bolton. It was always going to be a difficult game, but the controversial, fortunate goal scored by the home team after just seven  minutes was a hammer blow to Wigan. To their credit they withstood that early onslaught and dominated possession thereafter. But a goal was not to come. The front three of Jacobs, Grigg and Wildschut all had poor games. Grigg had become a father for the first time just a couple of days before. Whether that affected his play on the day is up to debate, but the reality is that Latics need a sharp central striker when playing at places like Preston. The current North End team will never win an award for an aesthetically pleasing style of play, but their manager Simon Grayson has made them into a mean defensive unit.

Norwich City went to the top of the Championship division yesterday and with the strength of their squad they will surely be challenging for an automatic promotion place as May approaches. Despite an awful opening ten minutes at Carrow Road, Latics had gone on to match their rivals, coming so close to a result. The quality of Wigan’s play in the second half more than matched that of the Canaries. It showed that there is sufficient quality in the squad to at least consolidate in the Championship division.

Individual errors such as Dan Burn’s bad back pass at Bristol and Adam Bogdan’s howler at Norwich have been particularly frustrating. But most of the goals conceded have come from slack marking from defence and midfield. Much of it can be put down from a lack of continuity in the starting lineup, the players not “gelling”. The right back/wing back position has been a big headache for Caldwell. With Knoyle and Daniels out long term he has used no less than six players there in his starting lineup. Moreover he has yet to establish the kind of consistent pairing in the centre of defence that we saw last season with Morgan and Pearce. Burn and Buxton has been his recent preference.

So can Latics get off the bottom by beating Wolves?

Well there is one factor that has been missing this season that all teams need to be successful. Most people would call it “luck”, maybe like that goal scored by Preston. It could be said that Preston were “lucky” that the referee ignored the linesman’s flagging for a foul on MacDonald. Moreover there was a strong element of “luck” involved as McGeady’s shot was going harmlessly wide before it hit his own player, changing its direction to beat Bogdan.

Given Caldwell’s luck up to this point he would quite happily settle for not having a controversial refereeing decision against his side. Going one behind in the first half against any Championship side makes things very difficult. Caldwell will recall the Birmingham game when Donaldson was at least a yard offside when he raced ahead to gain a penalty for his team that almost won the match for them.

Put simply, Latics are not bottom because of refereeing decisions or luck being against them. But a controversial decision going their way or a scrappy goal could be enough to see off Wolves. But then maybe their key players will sparkle at the same time bringing the best performance of the season to date?

A loss on Tuesday would not be the end of the world, but would be a further disappointment in a frustrating return to the Championship.