Scenes of jubilation and feelings of despair at Brighton

Jubilant Albion fans swarm on the pitch to celebrate promotion.

Eight pm at Brighton Station on a Saturday, the place buzzing with blue and white, the boisterous chanting and cheering of the thousands milling around the pubs outside. Another train pulls in, loaded with more of them. They come out jubilant, singing, celebrating. After all 34 years is a long time.

The American Express Stadium is a superb football venue, its design not only providing unobstructed views from any seat, but its acoustics heightening the crowd noise. The sound rose to a crescendo as the teams marched on to the pitch, but we Latics fans were sadly muted. We had seen the line up and knew what to expect. The 4-5-1 formation was to be a throwback to the days when Warren Joyce would play with four holding midfielders. Graham Barrow went even further by playing a fifth one, Jamie Hanson, at right back.

Occasional chants of “I’m a Believer” from a group of younger supporters behind us served to remind us of a previous era. It is five years since Latics beat both Manchester United and Arsenal in the space of five days. It is almost unimaginable now. Gabriel Obertan was a lone centre forward in the true sense of the word, devoid of any support, chasing hopeless causes. We inferred from the formation that Barrow wanted to stifle the home side until later in the game when he could bring on his heavier artillery.

Sadly his plan did not work. Although offering almost no attacking threat to the home goal they had defended resolutely for most of the first half, despite inverted right winger Anthony Knockaert looking a class above the others on the pitch. He seemed to have the freedom of the park with no Latics player giving him a dose of “physical presence”. Despite having such protection in midfield Wigan’s full backs were unadventurous, seemingly reluctant to push up further and provide the width that was desperately lacking. Jakob Haugaard looked uneasy, fluffing a Knockaert cross on the quarter of an hour mark, being fortunate not to concede from the loose ball.

Latics looked like a strange hybrid of the Caldwell and Joyce regimes. They were building up from the back in the Caldwell style, but there was no outlet, the midfielders static, reluctant to push forward, preferring to play the ball sideways or back to the defence. But when you play with four holding midfielders that is what you are going to get. It seemed a matter of time until Albion scored. They did so after 37 minutes when Dan Burn lost the flight of a long ball, with Tomer Hamed setting up fellow twin striker Glen Murray for a shot from outside the box which beat Haugaard.

The second half began and the Haugaard  continued to look distinctly shaky, a huge worry for the defenders in front of him. The young Dane may one day become a fine keeper: he has the physical attributes. But at this moment in time his confidence was shot and he looked a liability. Haugaard’s inclusion at the expense of Matt Gilks remained a talking point among the fans. During the week a thread had appeared on the Latics Speyk forum, entitled “Do Sharpe and Jackson Believe?” The writer, Studz, had suggested that Latics would have to pay Stoke a considerable amount if Haugaard did not play. The implication was that the two at the top did not want to shell out more money as they had already accepted relegation.

The allegations may be true or completely unfounded, but the bottom line was that Latics went into a crucial relegation game with a shaky goalkeeper, leaving a more solid one on the bench. Some would say that Haugaard should have saved Murray’s shot, although it might have taken a deflection. He should certainly have stopped Solly March’s 65th minute shot which went straight through him.

Being 2-0 down Barrow had to bring on Nick Powell a little earlier than he had possibly planned. He came on for Obertan after 60 minutes, with the hapless Ryan Tunnicliffe being replaced by Ryan Colclough. Powell’s arrival did provide more spark for Latics as he strived to take on the home defence almost single-handedly. He scored with an opportunist header in the 84th minute from a superb cross from Jamie Hanson, who for once had pushed forward into a more attacking position.

Powell continued to do his best to unsettle the home defence, but it was to no avail as his teammates found it hard to keep the ball in the closing minutes. The stadium erupted on the final whistle, thousands of spectators swarming on to the pitch. For me it provided an opportunity for a quick getaway. The Falmer train station is usually swamped just after a match has finished. It was not bad at all yesterday as so many home fans stayed and celebrated. Albion keep their stadium bars open after the game, so it had been no big surprise to see the trainloads boisterously arriving at Brighton station some three hours after the game finished.

The last time I went to the Amex was in November 2014 when I saw Uwe Rosler’s team lose 1-0 to a very poor Albion team in the relegation zone at the time. It was a memorably insipid performance, as was the one yesterday. A month later Albion appointed Chris Hughton who has since built them into a solid, organised team who very much rely on the flair of Knockaert, who might well be poached by big clubs before Albion set foot in the Premier League. He and Powell looked, head and shoulders, the classiest players on the park yesterday.

Albion and Wigan are heading in opposite directions. Albion fans told me before the game had told me that owner Tony Bloom has invested around £250m into the club, including the construction of a £93m stadium. It highlights the situation that Latics will be up against if they are to eventually maintain a status in the Championship division. It is now 4 years since Wigan were in the Premier League, which appears small compared with the 34 years Albion have had to wait to get back into the top tier. Without an owner willing to invest as Bloom has done for Albion, it seems inconceivable that Latics will ever get back to the first tier.

Sheffield United have now secured promotion back to the Championship after six seasons in League 1. This is despite having invested considerably over those years compared with other clubs in the division. Should the seemingly inevitable occur and Latics are relegated it could be very difficult to get back out of it. Without a significant in player salaries by the Whelan family they too could be stuck in League 1 for years.

Given the goalkeeper situation it appears that cash is not freely flowing at Wigan Athletic. The club will surely sell off its main player assets in summer, plus giving others the chance to leave on free transfers to drastically reduce the wage bill. Nick Powell’s recent performances have helped put him in the shop window, providing he can avoid injury until the season ends. We can expect Omar Bogle or Will Grigg to go, hopefully not both. Max Power was a shadow of his old self yesterday, but still has enough potential to interest a Championship club. Playing in a side struggling against relegation can drag a player down, as happened with Gaitan Bong under Malky Mackay. Seeing Bong looking so comfortable playing for a promotion-winning side served to highlight the situation.

It would be no surprise to see Latics appoint a new manager within the next fortnight. He will be in charge of overseeing a summer fire sale, then trying to build up a successful new team from the ashes.A tall order indeed, although much will be dependent on how much money comes in from transfers over the summer and what happens to it.

As the Albion fans continued their jubilant celebrations at Brighton Station last night my own feeling as a life-long Latics fan was closer to one of despair. But nevertheless Wigan Athletic have bounced back from adversity in the past, so hope remains.

The appointment of the “right” manager and some level of investment from the Whelan family of the funds due to come in could provide some light at the end of a gloomy tunnel.

 

 

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Wigan Athletic and the loan system

How many of the club’s most successful youth team will ever play for its senior side?
Photo courtesy of Wigan Athletic FC.

Critics of the loan system in English football say that it is there for the benefit of bigger clubs helping them to stockpile young talent. They cite the example of Chelsea as taking things to the extreme.

At the beginning of this season Chelsea had no less than 38 players out on loan. Half were sent to English clubs, half overseas.  In addition to those coming through their academy Chelsea buy up young talent from all over the world, typically sending them out on loan immediately to get experience. Some will come back and get a first team place, but for most the experience helps boost their market value and they are sold off.

But clubs in the lower divisions are so often happy to take the loanees. Using a loan player over  a relatively short period of time frees them from tying up their capital in long term contracts, which can be problematic if the club runs into financial difficulties. Moreover the clubs can use the loan market to cut wage bills by sending their own players on loans where other clubs pay their salaries. Andrew Taylor was signed for Wigan Athletic by Uwe Rosler in the summer of 2014 on a three year contract. He played 26 games for Latics in that first season, but has played no competitive games since for them. Last season was spent on loan at Reading, this season at Bolton.

The loan system also provides a lower division club with the opportunity to assess a player’s capabilities prior to making a decision on a permanent signing. In Wigan’s case it enabled them to sign Yanic Wildschut from Middlesbrough in January 2016 after a three month loan period.  It proved to be the most lucrative financial transaction the club has made in recent years, making a sizeable profit, even if critics might say it contributed to the lowly league position Latics now find themselves in. Reports suggest that Wildschut was signed for less than £1m and sold for a figure approaching £7m, although there may have been clauses in the deal made with Middlesbrough assigning them a portion of a future transfer fee. Nevertheless the club had used the loan system much to their benefit.

But Emyr Huws had been brought to Wigan on loan in the summer of 2014, resulting in Latics paying Manchester City reputed to be around £2.5m near the end of the summer transfer window. An ankle injury in the early part of the season severely hampered Huws, leading to him making only 16 appearances in 2014-15. After expressing his desire not to play in League 1, Huws went on loan to Huddersfield Town the following season, only to sign for Cardiff City last summer for a fee in the region of £1m. Latics had made a considerable loss on Huws, although we can only surmise on what would have happened if he had not suffered that ankle injury, something that has continued to dog the player.

Sometimes players are sent out on loan in the final stages of their contracts. Typically it is a way of helping them find future employment, when their contracts are not going to be renewed. Uwe Rosler signed Martyn Waghorn from Leicester City after a successful loan period in 2013-14. Stephen Warnock was given a permanent contract last summer after joining on loan from Derby County in March 2016.

But Wigan Athletic have signed 32 loan players over the past three seasons, with only Warnock and Wildschut becoming permanent signings. The majority of the loan signings were made in the January window. Faced with mass departures in the fire sale of January 2015, Malky Mackay made seven loan signings, none of whom were to stay on at the club at the end of the season.  Warren Joyce also made seven loan signings in January 2017.

The sheer number of loan players signed by Latics over the past three seasons has led to fans questioning the policy. Why have so many loan players been signed, when such a tiny proportion have gone on to sign permanent contracts? Moreover if the club is serious about its Academy why has it brought in so many youngsters on loan from other clubs? Put simply, has the club been helping other clubs in developing their young players at the expense of home grown talent?

The stats are damning. In the past three seasons only four graduates of the Wigan Athletic Academy/youth system have played in league matches for the club. They have made a combined total of 15 starts, with 12 substitute  appearances. The most appearances were made by Tim Chow (6 starts, 9 sub), Luke Burke (4 starts, 1 sub) and Jordan Flores (3 starts, 2 sub), with Lee Nicholls making two end of season starts against Brentford and Barnsley.

The case of Luke Burke this season is one seems to typify what has been happening. As an 18 year old Burke made a promising debut in the opening game of the season at Bristol City. He had come in seemingly full of confidence from a good pre-season and his success as captain of Wigan Athletic’s most successful ever youth team. However, as the season progressed Burke was to be marginalised, then sent on loan to Barrow. The right back position has continued to be problematic this season, with either midfield players put in there or young loan players brought in. They include Reece Burke (20), ostensibly a central defender, Callum Connolly (19) and Jamie Hanson (21).

Wigan Athletic are by no means the only EFL club to use the loan system in such a way. It has become commonplace throughout the three divisions. However, given the focus on building a strong academy, bringing in such quantities of young loan players is surely detrimental to the development of the club’s own home-grown talent.

Given the fact that Latics have been struggling against relegation since day 1 this season it is perhaps understandable why home grown talent has been so sparsely used. The irony is that last season’s youth team reached the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup for the first time, only losing in extra time to Manchester City. The club has arguably its brightest cohort of academy graduates. Will they continue to find their paths blocked by the presence of young loanees from other clubs?

Another thorny issue faced by clubs bringing in loan players involves stipulations from parent clubs regarding game-time. In certain cases clubs will only lend out their players if they have a commitment that they will be given opportunities in the first team.  Loans can involve fees and penalties based on appearances made. The omission of Matt Gilks in favour of Jakob Haugaard against Rotherham was  a surprise. Moreover Graham Barrow was reluctant to discuss it at his post-match interview. Was it because of pressure from Stoke City to play the Danish goalkeeper now he is fit again? Or is there a game-time clause in the loan agreement that involves financial penalties if not met?

With relegation beckoning many of Wigan Athletic’s squad will be looking at their futures. The last time Latics were heading for League 1 there was a huge clear-out of players over the summer, followed by Gary Caldwell signing fourteen new players, with another six coming in on loan.

The same will surely happen this summer. Most of the current squad will most likely be gone, with lots of new signings and loan players brought in. But what kinds of opportunities will be given to the club’s home grown talent?

The EFL Futures initiative has been set up to encourage clubs to develop young players through their academies. A sum of £750,000 per season will be shared out to clubs who field players under the age of 21 who are eligible to play for England (or Wales for Cardiff, Newport or Swansea).  The cash rewards will be shared out pro rata, depending on the number of qualified players and appearances made.

One wonders in what position  Wigan Athletic will appear in the list of recipients at the end of next season?

 

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Latics fans react on social media to win over Forest

griggfire

Will Grigg scored his first goal in thirteen games yesterday to put Wigan Athletic ahead against Nottingham Forest as the half time whistle approached. After being written off by too many fans as a League 1 striker, Grigg showed the kind of opportunism that we had come to expect from him in the past. Providing he is not sold off in the transfer window we can expect more goals from a centre forward keen to show that he has the qualities to become a force in the Championship.

Warren Joyce commented after the game that:“I think Will has been great in general play and he works hard for the side. His all-round commitment has been good and he is doing a job for the team. It’s the hardest thing in football to score, that’s why strikers get paid the most money and he did his job very well today.”

Yanic Wildschut continued his impressive recent form, scoring his fifth goal of the season in the 57th minute. Danish goalkeeper, Jakob Haugaard,  made an eventful debut, saving an 80th minute penalty, Joyce commenting that:“I’m really pleased for Jakob. He didn’t have a lot to do thoughout the game but he had to keep his concentration and be there to save the penalty. Great for him, good confidence booster.”

However, the Man of the Match award went to Sam Morsy on his return from a loan spell at Barnsley. His performance was impressive enough to have fans lobbying for a permanent return to the club for Morsy, although the Yorkshire club have the option of signing the player providing they pay Wigan the agreed transfer fee and can agree personal terms with the player. Joyce commented that:“I’m delighted for Sam. I met him for the first time this week after talking to him on the phone and he’s impressed me, I’ve told him he’s my type of player. The situation is out of our control slightly so we’ll see how that develops.”

After a run of disappointing results, spirits have been lifted, the only real downer of the day being a sparse attendance of 5,163, with some 1,500 coming from Nottingham.

We took a look at the social media following yesterday’s match and came up with a wide range of views. Our thanks go to the Cockney Latic Forum, Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum, The Boulevard of Broken Dreams (Facebook) and Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen.  Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below.

Garswood_Latic on the Cockney Latic Forum commented:

Haugaard signed on loan and straight in the team. Sam Morsy back and in the team. Craig Davies off to Scunthorpe. I think it looks like Joyce is starting to forge what he wants.

Noel Wards Leg on Latics Speyk appraised Sam Morsy’s contribution:

I really enjoyed Sam Morsy’s performance today. His ability to play accurate forward passes and maintain the momentum of our play was a joy at times. Forest were very poor but still, I don’t think we’ve got anyone else who can play like that. If, as seems likely, it’s basically up to him whether he joins Barnsley now, then we can only regret whatever happened previously. However, as much as it appears on today’s performance that he would improve our current squad, it’s unlikely that he would play that well every week. Forest put him under no pressure when he had the ball and as we saw last season, he can fold very quickly when he is pressed very intensely. In the hurly-burly of an average Championship match, I fear he wouldn’t contribute as much as he did today. As to whether he will stay, Joyce said in his post-match interview that he’s told Morsy that “he’s my kind of player”. That, and a start today, may lead him to think that he will play more often for us than for them although he has played in his last six games for Barnsley. As ever it will probably come down to money. I can’t see us offering him a better contract but it may well be that he’s already earning more here than Barnsley can offer. If that’s the case, he may still be our player this time next week. He could make a difference and give the fans a lift into the bargain.

Paul Kendrick @PKendrickWIG tweeted:

May only be short-lived, but good to see Sam Morsy back in a Latics shirt. Mistake to let him go in summer. But only my two-penneth.

JamesSaintLatic  @JamesSaintLatic said:

Great, that. Midfield 3 superb. Showing what we are capable of. Morsy needs to stay if possible. Huge game next week now. Come on!

JimmyC on the Cockney Latic Forum talked about Haugaard:

This keeper from Stoke looks good jr. He didn’t have a lot to do today but looked comfortable coming for crosses, and saved a pen…

Rob G @robgibson82 praised Morsy’s performance:

I’m with the internet experts on this one. I thought Morsy was brilliant yesterday, maybe, just maybe he could have made a difference

CLatic on Latics Speyk commented:

Feel sorry for David Sharpe, he’ll take the pelters from the fans if Morsy goes when all he was doing was backing his manager at the time’s awful judgement. Having said that, I hope the young man has learnt a serious lesson regarding permanent fees inserted into loan contracts following this debacle. If Morsy decides to stay and helps keep us up, then for me he’ll become an instant cult hero at this club and deservedly so.

Phil Crompton @ptc23 tweeted:

@LaticsSpeyk#wafc    Worst PR ever. Loan Morsy out, recall him, play him in one match and sell him. Who thinks these things up ?

NuneatonLatic on the Cockney Latic Forum surmised that:

But why pick a player for one game knowing he’s off the week after. Imagine your the player stood down for him. Not gonna make for a happy squad is it? I think Joyce must rate him and I would hope he’s had a word with the lad and convinced him that he is an integral part of his plans. Sometimes that’s all is needed its what the great man managers do .

GrimReaper87 on Latics Speyk checked out a Barnsley view:

Just been looking on the Barnsley Forum and their fans don’t seem confident in signing Morsy, They’re saying that personal terms are the stumbling block they’re saying that Barnsley can’t and won’t offer the same money that we’re paying Morsy.

Murf @RobertRobmurphy added:

waiting “Grigg and Yanic only doing it for a transfer out of here”#wafc

Mark Ashurst on The Boulevard of Broken Dreams said:

Wonder how many of the folk moaning about the club spending no money will not be going today as it’s a tenner to get on and not in your season ticket …..

Tez H on the Cockney Latic Forum commented:

What a shame there was only 3500 Latics die hards there to see it. Embarrassing that so called fans can’t put their hand in their pocket for a tenner.

TrueBeliever on Latics Speyk opined that:

The problem for me Tl4e is that we are not attracting pay on the day fans. We are only bringing in the season ticket holders and hence a game that has to be paid for as an extra is not appealing. I’m not saying this is the only reason but Wigan fans are fickle and have proved that over the years, until we start playing consistent and attractive football and start moving up the league I fear we will not see the floating “fans” back. Its a sad state of affairs I know but sometimes you have to take off the blinkers and see the truth of things.

 

 

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