Another point for Latics as takeover looms

It was another of those games when Wigan Athletic had their chances, but just could not put the ball into the back of the net. Although not at their best, Wigan played some quality football at times against a Peterborough side keen to get a result. The visitors gave a good account of themselves, looking better than their current 9th position placing in League 1.

A third consecutive goalless draw at the DW Stadium is hardly the kind of thing that will attract the “floating” fan. Saturday’s attendance was 8,602 which included 399 from Peterborough. The average for the season so far is 9,084.

But despite the goalless draws, Latics have collected 21 points over the past 10 matches.  Although they have scored just one goal in their last four league matches, they have not conceded a goal in the last seven. However, they will be keeping a close eye on Blackburn Rovers, undefeated in 15 league matches. Over the last ten they have gathered 24 points to Wigan’s 21. They had an important 3-1 win over Shrewsbury on Saturday, bringing them to within 5 points of Latics, 2 points behind the Shrews.

When Aston Villa won the First Division title in the 1980/81 season they used only 14 players in a 42-game season. In contrast, Chelsea employed 24 to win last season’s Premier League in a season of 38 matches. In modern day the strength of the entire squad has become of increasing importance, not only in the first tier of English football. When Sheffield United won the League 1 title last season they used 28 players. When Gary Caldwell’s Latics won it the previous season they had 36 players involved.

The key to promotion from League 1 has typically been to have a nucleus of players who are regular names on the team sheet, together with quality back-up. Paul Cook’s recruitment over summer provided him with just that. That Wigan Athletic are top of the division at this stage of the season is no surprise, given the ability and experience of the core players and the quality in depth that they have. Only Blackburn Rovers have the kind of squad that can come close to Cook’s in terms of quality. They too are serious challengers for automatic promotion.

Shrewsbury Town have been the surprise team of the season. They do not have a squad with the depth of those of Latics or Blackburn, but continue to challenge for automatic promotion. Their success has largely been based on the successful chemistry between a nucleus of players largely drawn from the lower leagues. In fact, 10 of their squad have played in 23 games or more of the 26 they have played so far.

Back in 1980/81 Aston Villa employed such a small number of players during the season for several reasons. One is that teams were only allowed to use one substitute in that era. But a key factor is that their key players stayed clear of injury and suspensions. Shrewsbury are a physically competitive team, not afraid to disrupt the opposition’s game. However, they are well disciplined and have received just one red card and 33 yellows in 26 league games.  Should they manage to stay clear of injuries they could well sustain their challenge at the top of the table.

Given the impending takeover of the club by a Far East consortium, it has been hard to predict the short-term effects the potential change would have.  Despite the uncertainty of what will happen under new ownership, Cook has seemingly managed to keep the players focused, judging by the points accrued during an 11-game unbeaten run. Given the scenario, policy in the transfer market was going to be difficult to predict. Would it be driven by the current ownership or the future buyers?

Up to this point the recruitment in the January window bears the hallmark of the current ownership. Lee Evans left for Sheffield United, after they paid Wolves £750,000 for his services. Two other loan players, Matija Sarkic and Ivan Toney, have been recalled by their parent clubs, through lack of game time at Wigan. Cook will be hoping he can cling on to his other two loan players, Christian Walton and Callum Elder. The arrivals of Jamie Walker and James Vaughan will strengthen the squad, their bargain price signings being typical of the Sharpe era. But we have come to expect the club to seek incoming funds to compensate for the £500,000 or so that has been spent. It appears that Jack Byrne is going to Oldham on a permanent contract, although it is unclear how much compensation, if any, Latics will receive. Can we expect more departures?

The surprise up to this point is that there have been no rumours linking Latics to a right full back, as back-up for Nathan Byrne. Walker will effectively take Jack Byrne’s place in the squad, with Vaughan replacing Toney. Another winger would certainly strengthen the squad and Latics have been linked to Morton’s Jai Quitongo, who could be picked up at a bargain price since his contract expires in summer. Having already lost three loan players, Cook will surely also be scouring the loan market to add to his squad.

Should Alan Nixon be correct in his estimate of 10 more days, the takeover will happen before the ending of the transfer window. However, by then we can expect most of Cook’s adjustments to the squad to have been finalised. He will continue to focus on promotion back to the Championship. Should that happen, and Cook continue to be in charge, we can expect major transfer activity in summer.

We can only hope that the new ownership will invest more seriously in the squad than the current incumbents did in the summer of 2016. It remains to be seen whether the consortium would be willing to go a stage further by putting up the kind of money needed to challenge for a place back in the Premier League.

 

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A Hearts fan’s view of Jamie Walker

Reports suggest that the 24 year old midfielder Jamie Walker will sign for Wigan Athletic today for a fee of £300,000. The 5 ft 9 in tall Walker was in the final year of his contract.

Robbie Neilson, MK Dons manager, was in charge at Hearts from 2014-16. In a recent interview with The Scotsman newspaper he commented on Walker’s imminent move to Wigan:

“I’d expect him to score a few goals there and play some games, and hopefully make that step up to the Championship. The team he’s going to dominate a lot of the games so I think that will definitely help him in the way they play. They’ve got guys who are similar to Jamie and that’s the way they play, so it would be a good one for him.

I thought he was excellent when I had him as a player. When I came in I spoke to him about his work rate and I think he’s done that, he’s looked after himself fitness-wise. He’s earned himself a move and I’m sure he’ll kick on because there is no doubting his technical ability, that’s for sure.”

Jamie Walker grew up in Edinburgh and came up through the youth ranks at Hearts.  At the age of 18 he was sent to Raith Rovers on loan to get first team experience. He went on to make 23 appearances, scoring 3 goals in the 2011-12 season. He made his first team debut for Hearts as a substitute in November 2012 against Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Tynecastle. By the end of the season he had made 24 appearances for Hearts in the SPL, scoring 2 goals, being voted the club’s “Young Player of the Year”.

Last summer Walker was the subject of two bids from Rangers, who were eventually unwilling to meet the Edinburgh club’s asking price of £1m. The club reported that Walker had asked for the move, although the player himself denied it, causing a rift between him and Hearts fans. In October The Daily Record reported on the abuse that not just the player, but also his immediate family, suffered as a result.

Walker can play on either flank, or behind the centre forward. In his five years of first team football at Hearts he has made 125 league starts and 29 appearances as a substitute, scoring 37 goals. He has represented Scotland at U15, U16, U17, U19 and U21 levels.

In order to learn more about Walker’s time at Hearts we contacted the Jambos Kickback (http://www.hmfckickback.co.uk) fan forum. The responses we got were multituidinous, but below you will find a selection of them:

Debut4 commented:

Fresh start for him. I don’t think the Cathro period helped him and became frustrated. Its been clear recently that under a proper manager (Levein for the OPs info) he’s found a little bit of his previous self again.

 A lot of Hearts supporters don’t like him because he was angling for a move to Rangers. No matter how he played he was dismissed as having lost it or not committed to Hearts latterly.

 You are getting a decent player, good brain, dangerous around the box when it falls to him but injury has plagued him which should concern you.

Davidkeye said

Overall as above really, plenty natural talent but certainly a bit inconsistent. Overall disappointed to lose him but it was inevitable and a fair chunk of Hearts fans think the same (have a read of the long thread as mentioned above on this forum).

 Will he do ok at Wigan? Who knows, he will need to get a little stronger for English football i’d say and there is also the issues of him and his family settling off the park (think he has a little kid etc now) and although its only a few hours down the road moving away from where you’ve been brought up with friends and family etc is never easy).

It has certainly ended slightly on a sour note but he has had success overall with Hearts and been here pretty much his entire playing career, he leaves us with a half decent fee as he said he would. it could have been a lot more if he was a bit more consistent imo. Good luck to him, hope he does well for you.

BigHenry added:

The boy’s got bags of ability. Likes to run with the ball. Takes players on and gets fouled regularly due to his quick feet. His finishing is decent but still needs improvement. A difficult player to fit into your team because he likes to play in behind the strikers, sniffing out openings. I don’t think he can play wide as he’s not got real pace ,although quick over the first few yards.  He’s went off the boil recently due to the nonsense surrounding the transfer saga. If you get keep him fit and fit him  into your system then you could have a bargain on your hands. A right good player at our level anyway.  

Hughsie27 said

He has been a promising prospect since he was about 15/16. Comes from a Hearts family background. He joined the first team quite young and impressed for the first couple of years in the team but suffered from a lot of injuries which seems to have hampered his development somewhat. 

On his day he is brilliant. He hasn’t really been on his day for about 18 months though. Still young enough where a fresh start might help him but I’d be willing to bet you lot will have him back up here at Rangers (on loan or otherwise) by this time next year.

Sadj commented:

Fantastic football brain , makes good choices , cracking player when his heads in it. Has had a tough 18months with injuries needs a change to move forward as has stagnated at Hearts recently. 

The Apprentice opined:

A fit and ‘at it’ Jamie Walker would no doubt be an asset for Wigan but has others have said his last couple of injuries seem to have robbed him of any pace he’s had before. Widly inconsistent, drifts in and out of games but if he plays to his full potential then he’s a match-winner on his day. IMO I reckon a change of scenery could do him the world of good. 

Jambos_1874 said

I would say the majority of comments on here are overly critical. Jamie has plenty of natural ability and early on his Hearts career that wasn’t matched with workrate and effort. However, in recent years (when injury free) this definitely improved and there is no doubt he can score goals when given the chance but that depends on the type of football Wigan play and whether he’ll suit their style. For me his lack of pace is his main negative and I think that will definitely count against him in England. Jamie was a fans favourite but this season a lot of fans appear to have tirned against him. 

 To those fans who criticise his derby peformances, I agree to an extent. But there were several recent derbies, particularly under Cathro, where I think he really was trying but there was zero effort from the players around him.

 

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Evans on his way out – what kind of legacy will the Whelan family leave behind?

Lee Evans’ departure will be a blow for Paul Cook.
Photo courtesy of Wigan Athletic.

Things had been going so well for Wigan Athletic. Promotion back to the Championship had been looking a near certainty, following the club’s best-ever start to a league season. But will the impending departure of Lee Evans prove to be an indicator that the promotion will not be as inevitable as it might have seemed?

Evans will certainly be missed. He and Sam Morsy have been the most successful central midfield pairing since the halcyon days of the “Jimmy Macs”, McArthur and McCarthy. That Latics have conceded only 12 goals in 25 league matches is not only due to having a solid defence. lt should rightly be attributed as a whole team effort, but the protection provided by Evans and Morsy in front of the back four has been exceptional. However, Evans is much more than a midfield enforcer, his range of passing adding an extra dimension to Latics’ play, particularly in his delivery from set pieces. It is no coincidence that he leads the team in assists.

According to media reports, Wolves will sell Evans to Sheffield United for a fee of around £750,000. The player will join a club with aspirations of promotion to the Premier League. A couple of seasons ago Wigan paid more than that to sign Will Grigg, to help them get out of League 1. They also paid around £600,000 to secure the services of Yanic Wildschut, whose permanent signing proved to catalyse that League 1 title win. By paying out that kind of money Latics had shown ambition, albeit buoyed by the parachute payments the club was receiving at the time.

Sadly the ambition showed in 2015-16 was not to be replicated the following season, when pre-season spending of around £3 m was modest compared with the norms of the Championship. Gary Caldwell had reportedly wanted Hearts right back Callum Paterson and Barnsley midfielder Conor Hourihane, but it did not happen. The right back position was to prove problematic and the quality  of delivery that Hourihane can provide could have made a big difference to Caldwell. In the January 2017 transfer window, Sharpe found Norwich’s generous offer for Wildschut too good to refuse. The end-result was the club getting relegated, but nevertheless making a profit.

Reports suggest that the K8 consortium is poised to take over Wigan Athletic, but is awaiting EFL approval. The Whelan dynasty at Wigan therefore appears to be reaching its end.

The club had overachieved for so long, winning the FA Cup, reaching the League Cup final, with eight years in the Premier League, including luscious wins over the elite clubs that dominate the English game. Dave Whelan’s drive, vision and financial backing underpinned those successes.

However, in recent years some bad decisions have been made and, despite having received well in excess of £100m in parachute payments, the club finds itself in the third tier. The appointments of Owen Coyle, Malky Mackay and Warren Joyce were disasters waiting to happen and their lack of success was no surprise to the more discerning of fans.

The appointment of Paul Cook in summer had appeared to set Latics back on the right track. But now with the club in limbo, waiting for the change of ownership to be confirmed, what can we expect to happen over the January transfer window? Will other key players in Cook’s squad be departing over the next three weeks?

We can only surmise on what would have happened in the transfer window if the takeover had already taken place. Would the K8 consortium have given Cook the financial backing to keep Evans and to hold on to the club’s most prized assets? Would Cook have been given a treasure chest to buy players for an anticipated return to the Championship next season?

Given the reality of the situation, with an ownership change still in process, what can we expect from Sharpe and his grandfather over the window period?

We do not know whether Sharpe made a bid to Wolves to sign Evans on a permanent contract. But even if he had, would he have been willing to get into a bidding war with Sheffield United? The probability is that with Max Power and Shaun MacDonald ready to step into Evans’ shoes, the club was unwilling to seriously compete for the player’s services. Latics no longer have parachute payments and are unlikely to shell out big money over the window. Given that Sharpe appears likely to continue to hold the reins for some weeks at least, are we likely to see more player exits?

Cook and the recruitment team spent no money on transfer fees over summer. Players were picked up as free agents or on loan. However, the media reports that the £300,000 transfer of Jamie Walker from Hearts is currently going through, despite the fact that the player has a knee injury and will not be available for some time. The 24 -year-old Walker may well prove to be a good signing in the long run, but what does it tell us about Sharpe’s intentions? Will Sharpe expect funds to be coming in to compensate?

The media has been telling us that Steve Bruce wants to take Nick Powell to Aston Villa, although the player was under Bruce’s charge at Hull in the second half of the 2015-16 , but could not command a place in the starting lineup.Now the Sun complicates the situation by telling us that Powell will stay at Wigan if the Asian consortium takes over.

Cook is in an unenviable position as this transfer window unravels. He is depending on Sharpe, who is in a sitting duck position, waiting for the takeover to happen. Will Sharpe, or ultimately his grandfather, allow clubs to come in and pick off key players, with the club in limbo? In addition to Evans and possibly, Powell, is there a danger of such as Dan Burn and Sam Morsy leaving too? Has there been any discussion between Whelan/Sharpe and K8 about how the transfer window will be handled?

Whelan generally has the backing of the Wigan Athletic support, although there are critics who tell us that he is at heart a businessman. Would he sanction the selling-off of players prior to the takeover, damaging Cook’s attempts to get Latics back into the Championship?

All will be revealed in the coming weeks.

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