A point for Latics in the Southend wind tunnel

windtunnel

I had never been to Southend before. I was looking forward to seeing the town, at the same time keeping my fingers crossed that Latics could perform against the local football team. Walking around the English seaside in the off-season was always going to be anti-climactic, but the amusement arcades were still open even if the chill gusts of moving air raged around the beach. I wondered if that wind would abate some twenty minutes’ walk away from the shore at the antediluvian Roots Hall stadium. It didn’t.

Wigan Athletic’s trip to play an in-form Southend United on their narrow pitch was never going to be easy. It was to be made increasingly harder by that cold, blustery wind that was to swirl around the pitch. It was not going to be a day for good football. Latics would have to have to slug it out with the home team to come away with any points. In the end they came away with a well -earned point, thanks to the effort they put in.

Once again Gary Caldwell surprised us with both his team selection and its shape. He decided to field a taller than usual backline of four. With Leon Barnett and Jason Pearce in the centre and Donervon Daniels and Chris McCann on the flanks, Caldwell’s team was well prepared for an aerial bombardment.  The Wigan manager is not a fan of 4-4-2, but yesterday chose to employ it with Will Grigg and Alex Revell operating as twin strikers. Don Cowie came in to play in front of the back four, with Francisco Junior in an advanced midfield role. Reece James and Max Power made up the middle of the diamond.

Good football was at a premium in the first half. Junior tried hard to provide some, but too many of his passes were sucked out of play by that swirling wind. Latics had breathed a sigh of relief after just six minutes as Ryan Leonard’s sweetly hit shot from just outside the penalty box struck their crossbar with Jussi Jaaskelainen beaten. Wigan just could not get any fluency to their game, the front two struggling to make any impact on the home defence. James had looked out of place tucked in there in midfield, but was to return to his normal role at left back after 40 minutes when McCann was withdrawn due to injury. David Perkins came on to take that left midfield role vacated by James. Southend had looked the more likely to score, but Jaaskelainen’s handling was secure and his back four solid in defence.  But Latics had almost taken the lead after 37 minutes when Barnett’s shot from a corner was cleared off the line by Will Atkinson.

Wigan came out for the second half with the look of a team wanting to be more purposeful in their football. After five minutes Barnett once again went close from a corner, this time his shot being saved by goalkeeper Dan Bentley. Although Latics were more dominant they still had to contend with a home team keen to add Wigan’s scalp to their collection. But the Wigan defence held firm after a spell of pressure by the home team. Michael Jacobs came on for Grigg after 65 minutes, adding little more life to the proceedings, although Southend still threatened in breakaways.

Craig Davies’s introduction in place of Junior after 75 minutes breathed even more life into Wigan’s play. The big man was a real handful and the Southend defence started to look vulnerable as Latics pressed forward in the final quarter. Latics almost won it in the last minute when another Barnett effort hit the crossbar, this time from point blank range.

But Southend hung on to a draw they probably deserved. That they were happy with the result was visible through the smiles on the faces of their players as they left the field to a standing ovation from a crowd that had been largely muted throughout the course of the match.

The Good

The defence was solid throughout. Barnett and Pearce formed a formidable partnership, rugged in their tackling and strong in the air. Daniels provided security at right back, although more restrained in attack. It was a surprise to see McCann start at left back, but he looked comfortable until injury forced him off. James looks better as a full back than as a wing back or midfielder and he performed well after being moved back there. Jaaskelainen was a beacon of calm at the back, oozing confidence to his defence.

Davies added an extra dimension when he came on, menacing the Southend defence. Jacobs too made a difference when he came on, his direct running adding variety.

Playing in “wind tunnel” conditions was never going to be easy. But Latics matched Southend tackle for tackle in the earlier stages until they finally got to play something resembling their normal brand of football in the final quarter. Moreover it was their second consecutive clean sheet away from home.

The Bad

The pairing of Grigg and Revell were ineffective. Grigg does not thrive at jumping for lofted passes and Revell just does not seem to threaten in the opponent’s penalty area. Caldwell’s preference of Revell over Davies was hard to fathom. Davies is not only superior in challenging for long balls, but offers so much more threat on goal.

Sadly Junior could not produce the final pass, despite his promising approach work and movement. He remains a work in progress as he continues to try to adjust to the sheer physicality of the game at League 1 level.

Perkins had been left on the bench, following recent displays which were disappointing by his previous standards. The man from Heysham had been playing out of his skin for so long and it was perhaps inevitable that he could not keep it going. Caldwell will be hoping that the player can rekindle that flame that made so much difference to the team before.

Without Jacobs or Wildschut, the starting lineup looked short on creativity. James looked out of place in midfield and one wondered if Jordan Flores or Andy Kellett would have been more effective in that position on the left of the midfield diamond.

Player ratings

Jussi Jaaskelainen: 8 – a calm, reliable presence at the back. Excellent in his handling, sensible in his distribution.

Donervon Daniels: 7.5 – a much better performance than what we saw against Burton.

Leon Barnett: 8.5 – a rock in defence and unlucky not to score on three occasions.

Jason Pearce: 8 – a quality central defender at league 1 level. Inspirational in his role of captain for the day.

Chris McCann: – looked comfortable at left back until being substituted after 40 minutes.

Don Cowie: 5- solid and hardworking, but uninspiring in his passing.

Max Power: 7 – worked hard to wrestle midfield control from Southend.

Reece James: 7 – solid in defence and enterprising in attack when moved to left back. Had a good shot saved in the second half.

Francisco Junior: 5 – promised so much but delivered so little.

Alex Revell: 5 – ineffective.

Will Grigg: 5 – ineffective, withdrawn after 65 minutes.

Substitutes

David Perkins: 6 – worked hard.

Michael Jacobs: – his willingness to run at the opposition defence adds an extra dimension to Latics’ play.

Craig Davies: – a threat to the Southend defence.

 

 

 

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Latics on the road to promotion – Rochdale (A) match reaction

 

What a difference a week can make. An abject defeat at Bury, followed by a 4-0 trouncing of Blackpool, then this 2-0 win at Rochdale. Gary Caldwell’s “new era” squad shows the kind of resilience that can surely send Latics on the road to promotion.

Caldwell had read the riot act to his players following the Bury fiasco, then made ten changes for the Blackpool game. Granted, the Seasiders were poor opposition on Tuesday night, but the performance nevertheless highlighted the strength in depth that Latics now have. Yesterday Caldwell fielded what must be pretty close to his first choice starting lineup, but still had players of the quality of Will Grigg, Francisco Junior and Chris McCann on the bench.

We have seen various tactical formations from Caldwell this season and one is never quite sure what he will do next. In the event he put out a 4-2-3-1 lineup, meaning that he had four specialist attack-minded players on the field. Jason Pearce and Craig Morgan formed an experienced partnership at the centre of defence, with the young Donervan Daniels and Reece James at full back. David Perkins and Max Power have now established themselves in the holding midfield positions and they played behind an advanced midfield trio. New signing Alex Revell started wide on the right, Yanic Wildschut on the left, Michael Jacobs in the centre. Craig Davies played the lone centre forward role. The 40 year old Jussi Jaaskelainen was once again preferred to Richard O’Donnell in goal.

Latics totally dominated the first half, the home team not managing a single shot on target. The running of Jacobs and Wildschut in particular was causing constant problems for Rochdale. Wigan’s tackling was crisp and they really took the game to the opposition. Pearce’s header from Jacobs’ free kick after 16 minutes had put Wigan in the driving seat, but they were unable to add another goal before half time, despite their dominance. Moreover James went off injured after 37 minutes to be replaced by Chris McCann.

One wondered at half time if Latics could continue to subdue the home team in that same way. Surely Keith Hill would make some changes at some stage in an attempt to wrest back some of the initiative for his team. If Rochdale were to get an early goal it would change the whole complexion of the match.

It almost happened early on in the second half when Jaaskelainen made a mess of a cross, the ball falling to Rochdale centre forward Joe Bunney, who spooned the ball over the bar to Wigan’s relief. Rochdale had pushed Wigan back deeper and were enjoying more possession. However, Latics’ pace was a threat on the counterattack. On 61 minutes a long pass from Daniels found Wildschut on the left. The Dutchman used his electrifying pace to get past the full back to the by line. His pull back found Jacobs who steered the ball home expertly. Rochdale then brought on two substitutes, with Latics introducing Don Cowie for Davies, Revell moving to centre forward.

However, that second goal had knocked the wind out of Rochdale’s sails. Although Jaaskelainen was forced to make a fine save from Bunney’s shot, Latics proved worthy winners in the end.

It had been a hard fought game with some full blooded physical confrontations. But unlike some of their near neighbours in League 1 Rochdale are a footballing side, as are Wigan. The foul count was to read 10 against the Dale, 6 against Latics. Having a Premier League referee, Neil Swarbrick, officiating helped keep things under control and the football flowing.

The Good

Despite yet another change in shape Latics looked well organised, particularly in defence where Pearce and Morgan were formidable.  At the beginning of the season it looked like the two were going to be the bastions of the Latics defence.  But injuries to both players, Pearce in particular, have meant they have played together less than a handful of times. Pearce had a typical all-action performance and showed how much he has been missed. Daniels once more showed that he can do a good job at full back, not only strong defensively, but showing a considerable amount of skill for a big man more used to playing in the centre of defence.

Latics appeared a well-oiled unit with all the players showing their commitment, a far cry from the dark days of last season. Power and Perkins have become the lynchpins of the midfield, full of energy and enterprise.

Wildschut’s direct running and lightning speed continues to be a constant threat to opposition defences. In the past he has been criticised for a lack of vision, in not delivering an end-product. However, his pass for Jacobs’ goal after skinning his full back revealed a maturity that belies such criticism. Will Caldwell be able to hang on to this dynamic player when his loan runs out in January?

Jacobs returned to form yesterday. Since Wildschut’s arrival he has seemed out of sorts. Some have questioned whether the two could both play effectively in the same team, given their need for a significant share of the ball. However, Jacobs reveled yesterday in the role just behind the centre forward, with Wildschut wide on the left. With an assist and a goal Jacobs stood out.

The Bad

It is to be hoped that the injury to James is not serious. McCann did a good job coming on at left back, but he was fortunate in not having a speedy winger on his side. Andy Kellett had a fine game against Blackpool in midweek at wing back, but there are question marks about his defensive abilities as a full back. Should James not be fit for the next match Caldwell will have to decide between the two.

Player Ratings

Jussi Jaaskelainen:  7 – good distribution and a fine save from Bunney, but his error in making a hash of a cross could have led to an equalizer.

Donervon Daniels: 7 – solid in defence and bright in attack. Had a good shot parried by the goalkeeper early on.

Craig Morgan: 7.5 – looks a good player at this level. He has had to play with a lot of different partners at centre back this year, but his partnership with Pearce seems the best option.

Jason Pearce: 8.5 – a well taken goals and a towering defensive performance.

Reece James:  – injured. Went off after 37 minutes.

David Perkins: 7.5 – as industrious and determined as ever. Also put in some good passes and had a rasping drive saved near the end.

Max Power: 7.5 – has matured rapidly over the past weeks. He always had the skill and technique, but now he has learned how to graft and tackle. Looks like a top player for the future.

Alex Revell: 6 – worked hard in his first appearance.

Michael Jacobs: 9 – an excellent all round performance from an accomplished footballer.

Yanic Wildschut: 8.5 – a constant threat to Rochdale. Also worked hard in his defensive duties.

Craig Davies: 7 – worked hard in the lone centre forward role. Unlucky with a run in the first half, his shot with the outside of his right foot going narrowly wide. Went off after 62 minutes.

Substitutes

Chris McCann: – did a good job at left back.

Don Cowie: – came on for Davies after 62 minutes.

Tim Chow: – came on for Power after 82 minutes.

An important pre-season

 

Jason Pearce

Jason Pearce

“He wants us to train hard and well in order to be ready to take that onto the pitch in matches. Clubs I’ve been at before haven’t got the footballs out so quickly and there has been lots of running but I’ve enjoyed the balance this year and it’s been really beneficial because you get your touch back quicker.”

Jason Pearce was commenting on the pre-season preparations up to this point. It will be the 27 year old Pearce’s eighth pre-season as a first team squad player with 356 first team appearances under his belt for Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Leeds United and Latics. Given his wealth of prior experience, Pearce’s comments surely carry some weight.

Pearce is one of the pillars upon which Gary Caldwell will build his team. He is a player more largely defined by his physicality and commitment, hardly seeming to typify the type that Caldwell needs to build a team that can play a brand of football akin to that of the Martinez yesteryear. However, looking at the signings so far, it is clear that Caldwell’s teams will have the steel necessary to scrap it out with the more robust sides of League 1. A central defensive trio of Pearce, Craig Morgan and Donervon Daniels will pose a stern physical challenge to any opposition forwards.

Pearce’s  positive comments about Caldwell’s approach to the pre-season will be welcomed by Wigan Athletic supporters. A year ago a disaster was on its way to happen. A Latics squad that was buoyant from the reaching the Championship playoffs and the FA Cup semi-final was to be brought to its knees by its pre-season training regimen. There are those in football who will say that players cannot be “overtrained”, but whatever happened in those training camps in Germany got the season off to a disastrous start.

One game in Germany had to be postponed because Latics did not have enough fit players. By the start of the season so many players were carrying knocks or niggling injuries or were just not fit. Caldwell and his staff will have learned from that and will surely not let it happen again. A focus on ball skills and stamina conditioning is surely the right approach at this stage.

Latics started last season by going 1-0 up against Reading, only for their legs to go in the second half and having to be rescued from defeat by James McArthur’s late equalizer. It was a pattern that was to repeat itself over the weeks that followed. Being unable to physically compete on an even keel against the most moderate of Championship opposition meant the superiority in terms of skill and flair that Latics might have possessed was nullified. So many players were unable to produce their best form as the “movement” necessary for good team work just did not happen.

Caldwell will be looking at launching a frontal attack on opposing teams when the season commences, going in with guns a blazing. A good start is crucial for a new team of players who will not be weighed down by the psychological consequences of what happened last season. The pre-season is even more crucial this year with so many new players coming in. Moreover many of those players will not have been playing the Caldwell brand of football at their previous clubs.

However, a little over six years ago Roberto Martinez’s team won the opening game of the 2009-10 season with a 2-0 victory at Aston Villa. The brand of football was poles apart from that of Steve Bruce’s team the previous season. Martinez had produced that change in just a handful of weeks of training. Caldwell will clearly believe he can do the same.

Reports tell us that Latics played a friendly game against Queen of the South in La Manga, Spain, this week. Only Ryan Jennings played in both halves of the game. However, one can only speculate on how many of the 21 players who took the field that day will be at the club when the season starts. Caldwell’s challenge is to move on most of the players who are on Championship division salaries.

Owen Coyle signings Leon Barnett, Chris McCann and James Perch remain at the club, but it would appear a matter of time before players of their experience are snapped up by Championship clubs.

Of the Rosler signings there have been rumours linking Martyn Waghorn with Sheffield United and James Tavernier with Rotherham. Should both Perch and Tavernier both leave then Caldwell will be looking at least one more right back. Don Cowie still has one more year to go on his contract, but did not appear in the Queen of the South game. Andrew Taylor did appear, but rumours suggest that ex-Hull City full back Joe Dudgeon has been training with Latics with a view to signing. Given the added presence of Aaron Taylor-Sinclair it could be a sign that Taylor is going to move on. Rumours have surfaced about Burnley wanting to sign Emyr Huws, but Latics need the kind of midfield creativity he can provide.

In order to recruit new players Caldwell has to move others on. Up to this point five under contract  senior players have left the club –Andy Delort, Scott Carson, Rob Kiernan, James McClean, Oriol Riera – and seven have been signed – Donervon Daniels, Craig Davies, Craig Morgan, Sanmi Odelusi, Richard O’Donnell , David Perkins and Max Power.

Caldwell has been trying hard to get the 20 goal per season striker that David Sharpe has talked about. They made a £1 m bid for Nadir Ciftci, which was accepted by Dundee United, but the player declined the offer to come to Wigan. Latics are currently bidding for Brentford’s Will Grigg, underused by Uwe Rosler in his time at Griffin Park, but scored 20 goals in 43 appearances for MK Dons last season. Latics have offered slightly less than the £700,000 being reported, but with add-ons. Brentford are asking £1m.

Reports tell us that ex-Fleetwood Town forward David Ball has been training with Latics in Spain. The ex-Manchester City youth player is now 25 years old and has made 98 appearances, scoring 26 goals, for Fleetwood.

A fascinating article on footballeagueworld.co.uk compares Ball with Eric Cantona quoting that “the crucial parallels are: flair, unpredictability, magic from out of nothing, unique running style, goals from all over the pitch and a hatful of assists” . Ball has left Fleetwood because of their inability to meet his contact demands. He is clearly a flair player and could prove a key asset for Latics if they can secure his services.

 

Gary Caldwell and his recruitment team have done a fine job up to this stage in recruiting useful players through the bargain basement. They have not yet been successful in their quest for a potential 20 goal per year striker. That could well prove to be Will Grigg.i

But it is not so much the ability of each player in a striking partnership to score goals on his own, but more the ability to complement each other in style and approach. David Ball can offer the kind of unpredictability and spontaneity that Latics have lacked upfront over the past couple of years. Moreover his style of play could fit in very well into the brand of football that Caldwell seeks.

Latics’ first league match is at Coventry on August 8th, four weeks from today. Caldwell has already made good progress in reshaping his squad, but there remains much more to be done. The sooner he can do it the better.

In the meantime he will work on getting his players fit and inducting them into the style of play he seeks.

A good start of the season is something that Latics have struggled with over these past years. Given the turnover in playing staff it is going to pose a tough challenge to Caldwell, but it is surely something he will be up for.

A lifeline for Malky? Reading 0 Wigan Athletic 1

Jason Pearce celebrates hsi goal with james Perch.  Photo courtsey of Daily Mail.

Jason Pearce celebrates his goal with James Perch. Photo courtesy of Daily Mail.

‘It’s a brand new group over the last three weeks. It closes the gap. There are a lot of points to play for. It’s about personality and character and we’re beginning to show that”.

So said Malky Mackay after his team of scrappers had thrown him a lifeline, with the reemergence of Dave Whelan breathing down his neck. The beleaguered Wigan Athletic manager was delighted – not just with the 1-0 win, but with the fight that his players showed.

After seven games without a win it had looked like Latics were going to be marooned in that relegation zone, with little indication that a lifeline would appear. They are now six points behind Brighton in 21st place and the Seagulls are due to visit the DW on April 18th. Will that be a crunch match or will things have changed significantly by then?

There are now 15 games remaining. They include four away ties for Wigan against clubs hovering close to them in the relegation zone – Blackpool, Fulham, Millwall and Rotherham.

Once again Mackay did not include new striker Billy McKay in the starting lineup, the goal-shy Marco Fortune being preferred. Another hamstring injury to Leon Barnett and the departure of Liam Ridgewell led him to introduce a new central defensive pairing in the combative Harry Maguire and Jason Pearce. They are the types of uncompromising defenders that bless so many Championship clubs. At 6 ft 4 in the 21 year old Maguire is not surprisingly good in the air and he was given lots of practice last night. For once the centre of defence looked solid.

Ironically Latics’ other 6 ft 4 in central defender, Thomas Rogne, has not played in a single league game this season. Rogne might not be as physically imposing as Maguire, but he is certainly good in the air and his presence might have prevented some of the “soft” goals that Latics have given away to high crosses. One wonders what the Norwegian has done to upset the powers that be at the club. He continues to languish in the development squad

Maguire and Pearce are not going to allow burly opposition strikers to dictate play, as has been too often the case for Latics this year. One wonders if Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson would have been able to run round them in the way he did at the DW ten days prior. The test for the partnership will come when they play the more skillful teams and Latics have a home encounter with Derby County and an away game at Middlesbrough to negotiate still.

McKay was once again brought on in the second half, this time in the 81st minute. What is it at the club that has them treat their strikers this way? Fortune has his attributes and plays his part as a tireless worker. However, goal scorer he is not and never has been. However, he has already seen off the challenges of Andy Delort and Oriol Riera. Will McKay be the latest in the line of Wigan Athletic strikers who have been badly handled? He has come into the club in good goalscoring form in the SPL, as did Delort and Riera in France and Spain, so why not put him in the starting lineup?

The victory at Reading still leaves Latics a steep hill to climb. A win against Charlton at the DW on Friday night would give cause for genuine hope of avoiding relegation. Last time Latics won a game – a 2-0 win at Leeds on Boxing Day – they followed it up with an abject 1-0 home defeat by Sheffield Wednesday.

Fans will therefore be wary of building up their hopes too high for Friday. However, the win at Leeds could be described as somewhat fortuitous, with a bizarre own goal putting Latics ahead. Most Latics fans who saw last night’s match would say that the victory was well earned, despite some of the reports on national media. They hope it will be the springboard for a genuine rally.

Who knows – another win on Friday might even provide the impetus for the “Believe” motto to blossom again.

But at the same time it could be another false dawn. Let’s hope not.

 

A Leeds United fan’s view of Jason Pearce

 

Photo courtesy of football365.com

Photo courtesy of football365.com

For some time now the Wigan Athletic defence has looked in need of a leader with physical presence, someone who can outmuscle those big strikers that so many Championship clubs have.

Malky Mackay obviously recognized that by initially bringing in the combative Liam Ridgewell on loan, but now he has acquired another rugged central defender, this one on a permanent contract.

The 27 year old Jason Pearce started his career as an apprentice at Portsmouth in 2004. Over his three years at Pompey he did not make a first team appearance but had loan spells at Bognor Regis and Woking. As a 20 year old he joined Bournemouth, where he was to make 162 appearances in four years. In his third season he had helped the Cherries get promotion to League 1, being named captain midway through the season. The following season Bournemouth reached the playoffs, when Pearce was sent off in a match they eventually lost on penalties to Huddersfield. Despite his expulsion in that crucial game, Pearce was named Player of the Year for that 2009-10 season.

Strangely enough Pearce was resigned by Portsmouth in June 2011. He made 43 appearances that season, taking over as captain in March and gaining the Player of the Year award. However, due to their dire financial position Portsmouth had to sell him and he joined Leeds United in May 2012. He made 41 appearances for Leeds in the Championship the following season, then 49 in 2013-14.

In order to find out more about Pearce’s time at Leeds we reached out to a couple of fan sites. We were happy to receive submissions from both Kevin of Leeds United Mad @LeedsUnited_MAD) and Adam of the Marching on Together site forum (@motforum).

Thanks to Kevin and his site for the post below:

Jason Pearce was former United manager Neil Warnock’s first long-term signing in May 2012 when he joined the club from Portsmouth. He was highly-rated at the time and it was considered a coup that he joined the Whites.

Pearce, who started his career at Fratton Park as a trainee before moving along the coast to Bournemouth, was named Portsmouth’s Player of the Year in 2011/12 and won seven of the nine supporters’ awards.

The player had gained his reputation at Bournemouth, where he spent four years, skippering the side, before returning to Pompey at the start of the 2011/12 season in a £500,000 deal.

Initially his tough-tackling no-nonsense nature was a big hit with the Elland Road support but lately his indecision at times was a frustration, even though he was made skipper at the start of the season.

Therefore, when Liam Cooper and the erratic Giuseppe Bellusci forged a partnership when Pearce was suspended, it was generally thought it was better for the United defence. The signing of Sol Bamba seemed to be a suggestion that Pearce was no longer required and a move away seemed to be the logical conclusion for a player with a year left on his contract.

In short, capable when on form and marking a bog-standard centre forward but weaknesses appear when he is up against a more skilful opponent.

Thanks to Adam and his site for this fan’s view:

Signed in 2012 from Portsmouth Pearce was at the heart of Neil Warnock’s squad rebuilding. You cannot question Jason Pearce’s commitment, there can’t be many harder working players out there prepared to but their body on the line for the cause. He will fling himself in front of any ball, foot, man, post to deny a goal with little regard for himself. He will play on bloody and bruised with his head bandaged up. As captain of both Portsmouth and Leeds he was prepared to take responsibility, go get players going, he is a leader.

For all his commitment and strength he is a limited player though. Leeds major deficiency over the past few seasons had been our defence and Pearce has been at the heart of that. His positioning has a lot to be desired and he has a habit of panicking under pressure and slicing the ball straight to an opposition player. For all the points he saved us by heroically throwing himself in front of the ball he probably cost us just as many with his mishaps.

Pearce has slipped down the order at Leeds following the signings of Giuseppe Bellusci and Liam Cooper and with Sol Bamba coming in on load this week his opportunities for the latter part of the season would have been limited. Leeds fans love Pearce for his commitment but I can’t say many will miss him for his footballing ability. Mind you we said the same about Tom Lees and he’s gone on to be one of Sheffield Wednesday’s best players this season since we sold him to them back in August.