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 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:

 

 

 

 

A History Lesson

history

“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.

 

Fan views – Part 6 – Jake Buxton and Dan Burn

We  occasionally republish articles from our archives, that some may not have seen. We ask our long-established readers to bear with us on this. We will continue to put out our stream of current articles.

Our site stats have shown that our readership has been particularly interested in perspectives of Latics players from fans of their previous clubs. Thanks to contributions made by bloggers on the fan sites of those clubs for these articles.

A Derby County fan’s view of Jake Buxton

Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

 

Fan view by: Ollie Wright at the @derbycountyblog

Published: July 27, 2016

 

 

No sooner had Jake Buxton signed for Wigan Athletic but he made his debut last night at Oldham. The 31 year old central defender, who is 5 ft 11in tall, has joined Latics on a three year contract.

On acquiring Buxton’s services Gary Caldwell said that: “Jake adds great experience and competition to our defence and I am delighted to be able to bring him here, Not only will he be an asset to us on the field, but Jake will also add to the great character within our dressing room and I feel he will fit into our group perfectly. He’s a top professional with over 300 Football League games to his name and he’s chomping at the bit to add to his tally.”

Jake Buxton was born in Sutton-in-Ashfield, a Nottinghamshire market town. He started his career four miles away in Mansfield coming through the youth ranks, making his first team debut as a 17 year old in a Football League Trophy game against Crewe in October 2002. Buxton was to made captain at the age of 21 in the 2006-07 season and was to spend 6 years at Mansfield Town, making over 160 appearances.  However, on the club’s relegation to the Football Conference in 2008 he left by mutual consent.

Following a trail at Crewe, Buxton joined Burton Albion and they went on to win the Football Conference title under Nigel Clough. Buxton was voted Player of the Year for the Brewers in that 2008-09 season, after making 40 appearances.

Clough was to join Derby County the following season, taking the out-of-contract Buxton with him. Buxton went on to make 139 appearances over 7 seasons for the Rams, scoring 11 goals.

Here’s over to Ollie:

Jake Buxton arrived at Derby County from Burton Albion in 2009, following his manager Nigel Clough in transferring from the Brewers to the Rams.  Given that Derby had not long been relegated from the Premier League and Burton had only just been promoted to the Football League, the signing was met with widespread incredulity – but Clough had faith in Buxton to make the jump, based on his work ethic and character.

 Clough was big on character.  In the same way that his father would have no truck with ‘sh..houses’, Nigel prioritised and was loyal to men that he could trust.  Buxton proved to be worthy of Clough’s faith.  

 He is not tall for a centre back, nor is he particularly quick.  He is, however, rabidly competitive, blessed with a street fighter’s determination and not above using a few of the ‘dark arts’, at times. Raised in the lower leagues, he loves to fight for every ball.  It would be unfair to write him off as a rudimentary clogger, because he can pass, but it’s undeniable that his game is based on the simple core virtues of ‘heading and kicking it’, to quote Clough.  

 Buxton continued to play regularly under Steve McClaren, who also extended Buxton’s contract. He was a key member of the side which reached the play-off final in 2013/4, but that season proved to be his peak at Derby, with injuries and the arrival of Jason Shackell reducing him to the role of bit-part player in the past two seasons.  

 This is the right time for Buxton to move on from Derby, but at 31, he has plenty of time left.  And a cursory scan of Twitter will reveal the real affection most Rams fans have for ‘Bucko’, who will be missed by all of us. 

 

A Fulham fan’s view of Dan Burn

Dan_Burn

 

Fan view by: Peter Grinham through Facebook

Date: July 1, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Wigan Athletic have announced the signing of 24 year old Dan Burn. The 6 ft 7 in central defender was out of contract with Fulham.

Gary Caldwell is clearly pleased to have signed Burn and the club’s web site reports him saying that “He fits our profile exactly, young, hungry and with experience at this level and the desire to progress with us. He is a powerful defender, but he likes to play as well and adds tremendous competition to the squad.”

Dan Burn was born in Blyth but came up through the youth ranks at Darlington, making his first team debut at the age of 17.  He went on to make 14 appearances for the north east club before moving to Fulham in the summer of 2011 for a fee of around £350,000.

In September 2012 Burn went on an initial short term loan to Yeovil, but the loan period was to be extended to the end of the season. He made 41 appearances for the League 1 side, scoring three goals. Burn was to be sent off on another loan in July 2013, this time to Championship club, Birmingham City. He made 28 appearances for the Blues, scoring one goal, before being recalled to Fulham in January 2014. He made his debut for the Londoners on January 4th 2014 in an FA Cup tie at Norwich.

Burn went on to make a total of 69 appearances for Fulham scoring two goals.

Here’s over to Peter:

Your fanzine editor asked on a Fulham Supporters website about Dan Burn and a view on him. I am a Fulham supporter of many years going back to the days of our legend Johnny Haynes (Fulham and England captain) and been part of the roller coaster ride during those years, so no Johnny Come Lately! I watch every Fulham 1st team home game, a few aways and every home U21 and U18 game, so I have seen a lot of Dan Burn.

Dan is a product of the North East and came to us from Darlington. He is about 6’ 6” tall and has always played centre back for us. He is left footed and, unsurprisingly, prefers to play left centre back. He had 2 loan spells at Birmingham and Yeovil respectively. I don’t know about his Yeovil experience but the Birmingham management thought well of him and were interested in extending his loan at the time with a view to signing him.

Dan is full of enthusiasm and has admirable leadership qualities but only in respect of drive and determination. He is said to train hard. He takes the game seriously and nobody could ever accuse him of not giving 100% in every game. This alone made him popular with many Fulham supporters. He is physically strong which is what you expect in a centre back. However, some of his decision making is questionable and if players run at him his legs buckle with fast jinky players, as his reading of those situations is poor and he is often left floundering on his backside.

His aerial ability is somewhat mixed. From a defensive point of view he is strong in the air at defending crosses but often he does not get good purchase on the ball and in some situations the ball seems to loop of the top of his forehead when it needs to be powered away. This rather poor technique can be attributed to the fact that, like some tall players, he does not jump highly and has probably never had to at junior levels because of his height. This puts him at a disadvantage if a forward builds up a head of steam on the run and can either rise above him or equal his height. He should have scored more goals from set pieces but the same heading restrictions impede that part of his game too.

I always thought that Dan would benefit from better coaching because unless he is a slow learner – and I have no reason to believe that – he could improve a lot on his technique and decision making. However, Fulham have not been blessed with decent coaching since the destructive Magath arrived and decimated our club, Kit Symons followed but was not allowed experienced coaching staff, having to make do with U21 coaches (NB: A big step up without a mix of 1st team experienced coaches). We now have some decent 1st team coaches but they obviously don’t fancy Dan.

Whilst I have never met Dan, everyone Fulham fan that has likes him immensely. One thing that I do know is that when he signed the Wigan contract he will be genuinely devoted to the cause and not be false in the usual footballers speak of ‘great to be here’. If he sad that he would mean it and give all for the cause. I genuinely wish him all the best in his career and I hope that he is a late developer who will prove some people wrong.

Hope this insight helps. Good luck with the new season.

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.