Points more important than entertainment – Walsall 0 Wigan Athletic 3

 

“The game was a bit bitty and the pitches are what they are at this stage of the season so it is difficult to play a certain type of game. We have been adapting a little bit more with Vaughany up top and going a bit longer, quicker, in our pursuit of trying to get points on the board.”

Paul Cook once again summed it up well. It was the dullest of games with two teams playing the long ball, on a surface that was cutting up quickly. If football were purely a form of entertainment some 4,000 or so spectators would have been within their rights to claim a refund for their admission last night.

But for Wigan Athletic supporters at this stage of the season, winning was more important than entertainment. The win puts Latics within a point of Shrewsbury and two of Blackburn, with two games in hand.

To be fair there were a few memorable moments, before the game came to resemble a training match for Latics. Nick Powell looked by far and away the most cultured player on the pitch, even before his sublime pass with the outside of his right foot was excellently converted by Michael Jacobs after 31 minutes. It was reminiscent of the memorable pass Powell made at Plymouth, but this time from the left, rather than the right.

To all intents and purposes the game was all over within the next ten minutes. Jay Fulton justified his first league start with a beautifully struck shot from the edge of the box following a goalmouth melee from Max Power’s free kick. Chey Dunkley added a third from close range after the home goalkeeper had come out to intercept a corner kick but fluffed it.

Modern football has become more about winning more than anything else. Whereas in a bygone era a team that was three goals up by half time would go out to try to add to its tally, the modern team has its eye on the next match and looks to conserve its energy.

Following on the Southampton game on Sunday we had wondered if Cook’s team would have the stomach to fight a team close to the relegation zone on a difficult pitch. But Wigan came in with a determination to get a good result, albeit sacrificing the quality of their football to get it. Strangely enough Latics had not played well in the first half, despite going into the half time break with a three-goal cushion.

The second half seemed more like a training game for Wigan, sadly lacking in entertainment. The mystery was why Cook chose not to bring on his substitutes earlier. He switched James Vaughan for Will Grigg after 70 minutes but left it until 81 minutes to introduce Gary Roberts for Fulton. He brought on Devante Cole after 89 minutes, begging the question why it had not happened when Vaughan went off.

Paul Cook has shown us before that he can be a pragmatist. Although he clearly prefers his team to play attractive, expansive football he is realistic enough to know how hard it can be on a pitch like that at the Bescot Stadium. The long-ball approach led to an important win.

Despite their new manager, Walsall could not produce the goods. They lacked not only technique, but also aggression. It was  the easiest game of the season to referee a Wigan league encounter. Nick Powell was able to stroll through the game largely unscathed, not something to which he has been accustomed over these months. The foul count read 12 fouls by Walsall, 8 by Wigan. There was just one yellow card, that being received by Max Power.

It is unlikely that Bury will respond like Walsall when Latics visit Gigg Lane on Saturday. Although the Shakers are in bottom place, with a relegation practically a certainty, we can certainly expect some fireworks from them. Some will say that it is better to face a mid-table team with little to play for at this time of the season, rather than a team in the relegation dog-fight, even if Bury look dead and buried.

Cook’s team will surely be prepared for a scrap on Saturday. They would have expected it last night, but hardly got it.

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The transfer window – a sign of things to come for Latics?

 

“Of course Luis wants to work and play at the top level. But unless something drastic happens, he will be staying here.”

Brendan Rodgers’ hapless quote did not go down too well with the fans. The Luis Suarez saga dragged on for so long, but the end-result was that the player got what he wanted with a move to Barcelona.  Suarez had been pivotal in Liverpool’s challenge for the Premier League title. His departure seriously weakened a team that had come so close to winning the Premier League.

Nick Powell’s departure from Wigan Athletic over the January transfer window would also have seriously weakened a team striving to win their division. The media was awash with stories telling us that other clubs were bidding for him. We had to hold our breath until the window closed on Wednesday evening.

Powell’s case is remarkable among modern day footballers. Indeed, it was so refreshing to get away from the media hype of Alexis Sanchez and Manchester United, instead hearing how a player did not want to go a higher division to earn a much bigger salary. Powell quite simply told his chairman that he wanted to stay at Wigan and consecutive bids from Brighton were turned down by the club.

January transfer windows have been depressing affairs over recent years at Wigan Athletic. The decimation of January 2015 immediately comes to mind, when Dave Whelan had Malky Mackay boot out so many household names, together with players who had only been signed in summer. It was a matter of reducing the wage bill more than anything else. Relegation was not a surprise consequence of those actions. Add to that the woeful comings and goings in 2017 under the inept Warren Joyce. None of the 13 players he signed were at the club when the current season began. But the January 2018 dealings were by no means depressing, and if anything, they were positively uplifting. So, what has changed at the club?

First and foremost is the manager. Paul Cook has shown the kind of shrewdness in hiring and moving-on of players that has been lacking at Wigan in recent years. When Lee Evans left to join Sheffield United, early in the transfer window, it looked like a case of David Sharpe not being willing to put up that extra money to keep the player. Evans had been excellent and wanted to stay at the club.

But the signing of Jamie Walker from Hearts looked like a step forward, a player who can play the number 10 role that Nick Powell currently occupies. Within a few days James Vaughan was signed from Sunderland, an experienced player who has not only played most of his football in the upper two tiers of English football but has a superb goalscoring record in League 1. The loan signing of Jay Fulton from Swansea was to follow, then on deadline day Devante Cole was signed from Fleetwood for reportedly £400,000 and Donervon Daniels brought back from Rochdale.

Cook has brought in largely younger players, together with the 29-year-old Vaughan. Walker is 24 years old, Fulton 23 and Cole 22.  Daniels is still only 24. His contract runs out in summer. Cole’s signing was a bit of a surprise, a third central striker to challenge Will Grigg and James Vaughan. However, Cole might well be used on the flanks when needed.

Only time will tell if the players brought in during January 2018 will make a success of it at Wigan. But their profiles certainly look promising and the blend seems right. What is surprising is that David Sharpe has spent more money over January when the club are heading for a financial loss for the season. It is not what we have come to expect in recent years.

Reports suggest that the current wage bill is around £10 m, which cannot even be met half way by gate receipts and EFL subsidies. Part of the funds paid out in January will be offset by a 30-40% share of the £1.5 m transfer fee of Jack Hendry from Dundee to Celtic. However, the takeover by the Asian consortium appears imminent. Has this influenced the transfer window dealings? Moreover, will David Sharpe continue when the takeover happens?

Does Sharpe’s tweet give us a clue?

 

A Swansea City fan’s view of Jay Fulton

 

Wigan Athletic have signed 23-year-old Jay Fulton on loan from Swansea City for the remainder of the season. The 5 ft 10 in Fulton’s contract with the Swans expires in June.

Following the announcement of his latest recruit Paul Cook said that: “Jay will fit right in here. It is a good move for him and we are really looking forward to working with Jay and integrating him into our squad.”.

Following his signing, Fulton identified his style of play: “I am a central midfielder, I like to break up the opponents play and start up our play. I spoke to the manager about how he wants me to play and hopefully I can fit into that.”

Jay Fulton was born in Bolton, his father Steve having signed for the Wanderers after playing for Celtic. Steve’s stay at Bolton only lasted a year and he left to play for Falkirk. Jay was only a few months old when he moved to Scotland.

Curiously Jay joined Falkirk as a youth and made his first team debut as a 17-year-old in April 2011. He went on to make 83 appearances, scoring 5 goals, for the Bairns, before signing for Swansea in January 2014.

In December 2013 Fulton had been highlighted by the Tell Him He’s Pele website as one of the top 25 superstars in the lower leagues of Scotland. The writer commented:

Jay Fulton is the best footballer at the club. With the vision and ability to execute through-balls like no other in the lower leagues, Fulton marries these with expert balance and an uncanny ability to slalom past players in tight spaces, making him a player who could seamlessly fit into any role in midfield.

Where exactly his best position is can sometimes be difficult to judge: should his ability to see the game unfold in front of him (and play audacious through balls like this) mean that he operates as a deep playmaker as part of a double-pivot? Or ought his willingness to take the ball in compressed space and play wall-passes dictate that he should be used behind a forward? It could be that he would be most effective further forward at this stage in his career and then eventually fall back, but he is equally capable of playing on the flanks.

Fulton made his Swansea debut in April 2014, coming on as a substitute in a Premier League game against Aston Villa. In June 2014 he signed a new four-year contract with the Swans. However, Fulton’s first team appearances at Swansea were to be limited and he went on loan to Oldham Athletic in the first half of the 2015-16 season. He made 11 appearances for the Oldham Latics, including one against Gary Caldwell’s Wigan side at Boundary Park in September 2015.

He has represented Scotland at U18, U19 and U21 levels.

In order to learn more about Fulton’s time at Swansea we contacted Phil Sumbler of the Planet Swans fan site https://www.fansnetwork.co.uk/football/swanseacity).

Here’s over to Phil:

Jay Fulton has barely had a look in at Swansea but from when I have seen him play he is a composed midfielder who certainly knows what the game is about.

 His lack of first team opportunities at Swansea should be put down more to maybe not being ready for the Premier League rather than a reflection of general ability.

 For me this loan move will be exactly what he needs and we will be watching his progress at Wigan keenly and willing him to succeed.

I’m not sure the fans have much of a view to be honest – his chances were limited although there were often calls for him to be given a chance (given how bad we have been for a few years)

He’s always looks strong in the challenge and composed on the ball but without the regular flow of competitive football then he has struggled.

For me I don’t think he is a Premier League player (and not sure he would be).

 

We gathered further insight on Swans fans’ views on Fulton through postings on the Planet Swans Forum.

In November Magidaps10 revealed Fulton’s Premier League record:

8 STARTS

5 WINS

1 DRAW

2 DEFEATS

 Not too shabby!

In late December TheKirkyLife  commented that:

Back from loan at Oldham. I must say whenever he played last year he was a really solid and confident addition to the squad. Good to have him back and actually would love to see him in Britton’s role a bit. Almost let Leon take him under his wing. Fantastic prospect from everything I’ve seen.

SwanfortheMoney recently added:

I’ve always liked Fulton when I’ve seen him. Big lad, tackles, gets headers, decent on the ball. A much cheaper version of Clucas.

The Manager sees more of him than we do, so we have to assume he’s surplus to requirements. Good luck to him.

JFSWAN  said:

Never let us down when he’s played. Always snappy into tackles. Southampton away comes to mind with a midfield 3 of Fulton, Carroll and Shelvey where he performed exceptionally.