The dust has finally settled for Wigan Athletic after such a long period of uncertainty and tension.
It seems like an eternity since the club went into administration in early July 2020. But, unlike so many of its rivals the club is now practically debt-free, and it has new ownership that has been so positive and supportive over these difficult weeks. Moreover, Latics have defied the odds by holding on to their place in the third tier of English football.
Phoenix 2021 have set the goal of Latics becoming a stable Championship club, although they have set no timeline. The current priority is to build a stable platform from which the club can flourish and become more self-sustainable. Building that platform will necessarily involve a reengineering of the management and administration structures within the club.
Following a close escape from relegation Latics will be looking at strengthening their coaching and backroom as well as the first team squad. The coaching and backroom staffing was depleted during administration. It remains to be seen how many of those positions will be reinstated. We can assume that the structure and quantity of such staffing will be commensurate with the norms of League 1.
Leam Richardson will hope that an assistant manager and first team coach will be appointed to help lighten his load. The current first team squad has five players who have contracts beyond the end of this season. They are Thelo Aasgaard, Callum Lang, Adam Long, Luke Robinson and Tom Pearce. Given the momentum of the end of season revival Richardson will look at retaining the services of several of the players whose contracts expire in June. Lee Evans, Jamie Jones and Gavin Massey are the most long-serving of those.
There is lots of speculation from fans on the message boards and social media about who should be offered new contracts for the coming season. Is Richardson going to try to keep the bulk of those players who have given their all in the relegation struggle, retaining a core who could provide the backbone of the new squad?
A couple of weeks ago the club announced that Scott Smith and Sam Tickle of the U23 squad have been offered extended contracts. The U23 team had performed creditably in the first half of the season but were depleted by players leaving in the January window. Latics’ U18 continue to excel, winning the Professional Development League North and giving Everton a real scare in the FA Youth Cup. It was no surprise to hear that seven of them have been offered professional teams. They are Baba Adeeko, James Carragher, Tom Costello, Kieran Lloyd, Harry McGee, Harry McHugh and Sean McGurk.
The circumstances faced by management this season led to younger players being brought into the senior squad. However, in January some of those youngsters were shed in order to bring in more senior professionals. The arrival of eight new senior pros plus the return of Curtis Tilt on loan meant that fewer opportunities were afforded to the youngsters who remained. When Latics played Crewe recently they had two “homegrown” players in their starting eleven: Lang and Robinson. Crewe had six.
It took a considerable time for those new players to gel, but in the end Richardson’s move was justified as the team pulled away out of the bottom four. Richardson richly deserves his new three-year contract as manager through his efforts in keeping things together in a most difficult season. However, Phoenix 2021 have made it clear that they see the Academy as a key factor in the future of the club. Crewe have relied on their Academy for so long to constantly provide players for their first team squad. Although Latics have given youth a chance this season what can we expect for the coming one? Ideally the squad will have a backbone of senior pros but will continue to nurture homegrown talent.
Now that Latics know which division they are playing in next season they can begin the work of negotiating contracts with players they wish to retain. High on the list will be the 19-year-old Kyle Joseph who made a big impression before suffering a long-term injury.
Lying fourth in the table, with three consecutive victories behind them, Portsmouth were the favourites to win this match. They did so in a clinical manner through a fine strike by substitute Andy Cannon after 46 minutes. There was no shortage of effort and commitment from Latics but despite their pressure they rarely looked like scoring. Altough they created opportunities Wigan’s final touch was severely lacking. Crosses into the box were eagerly lapped up by a tall and physical Pompey backline. Many of the crosses were speculative but there seemed to be no one in the box for Latics willing to attack the ball as it came in.
Viv Solomon-Otabor was once more played when he looked so short of fitness. Callum Lang, Wigan’s most dangerous goal-threat, was played on the right wing. Jamie Proctor was once again chosen at centre forward. The net result was a lack of penetration and goal-threat from the home team.
Leam Richardson and his staff have done a fantastic job in keeping Latics in with a possibility of avoiding relegation in extremely difficult circumstances. Reports suggest that he has been approached by the new ownership with a view to staying on next season. Richardson has a real strength in motivating players and their commitment was there again today for all to see. But he can be inflexible in his team selections and tactics.
Due to the dire circumstances faced by the club, Richardson has been dealt a poor hand in terms of the quality and depth of the squad. Moreover, he has a number of players who have had major injury problems over the past couple of seasons. The recurring injuries of several players have been no surprise given their recent history. However, fielding Solomon-Otabor, given his current state of fitness, was unlikely to work out. Putting his best available striker on the right wing was less than ideal. Like Paul Cook, Richardson constantly reverts to a favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. He has flirted with playing three central defenders and wing backs, but has not persevered.
Wingers have played a major role in Latics’ success during the Cook/Richardson era. But today Richardson persisted with his 4-2-3-1 despite the absence of two fit, specialist wingers. In the second half, with Pompey a goal up and Latics not looking like scoring he could have taken off Solomon-Otabor at an earlier stage and put Callum Lang at centre forward with Thelo Aasgaard playing in the space behind him. But he took off the creative Aasgaard after 68 minutes to bring on senior pro Will Keane who has been out of form since January. Solomon-Otabor stayed on until 79 minutes when he brought on another senior pro in Dan Gardner. The changes made things no better.
Richardson had chosen like-for-like replacements, sticking to the same shape. He had the option of bringing on Adam Long as a third centre back and to thrust his full backs further forward as wing backs. Jamie Proctor’s main role in the Richardson system is as a target man. However, Proctor has a career goalscoring record akin to that of Marc Antonio Fortune. He is by no means a goal-machine. Switching to three at the back the manager could have employed Proctor as a twin striker with Lang close-by to latch on to his flicks and any deflections.
Despite the result Latics are by no means dead and buried. They can still avoid relegation. However, to do so will depend not only on the commitment of the players but also getting the best out of what is available. The defence has become more solid and that is a welcome sign. But blind faith in 4-2-3-1 and senior pros is unlikely to get Latics over the hurdles to come. The lack of creativity and the sterile passing across the pitch and back to the goalkeeper has become too repetitive. Richardson will need to open his mind to alternative approaches as needs arise.
After the game Richardson said:
“In the first half, in my opinion, we possibly let a game go. We got into some great areas, could have gone in one or two goals up but we didn’t work them enough and our quality has to be better.
We’re playing against an in-form Portsmouth side and our lads matched the fight and we took the game to them. Unfortunately, we dropped on the wrong side of the result. We are in a routine where people are saying ‘unlucky’ & ‘you’re the best team’, but we’ve fallen on the wrong side of the result and we need results.
At the minute, we’re getting the performance but not the results, but we will. I’ve got to give credit to the lads with the effort levels. They don’t leave a breath out there; they may be misguided in certain areas but they’re giving everything and that’s all we can ask.”
Let’s take a look at how fans reacted to the match through the message boards and social media. Our thanks go to the Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum and Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen. Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below:
I’ll be honest, I’m thankful for Leam and for all he is done but I really hope he decides to go to Ipswich under cook, fresh start for him and back in a role he is good at.
He is sadly not a manager, we need a great start with a new manager and team who has no bias to any players. And just a different chapter for us.
This frontline is awful, only Lang is decent at this level.
Victor Moses wrote:
12 shots vs 5, with zero on target for us. Can’t fault the effort again today, just wasteful in the final third. Played much of the game in their half, just the players didn’t put the ball in the net.
Need to find better openings in the next game and work on hitting the ball cleanly. So many scuffed crosses and shots.
I’m increasingly of the view that we will go down and I genuinely think it’s better if we start over with a new manager in situ ASAP to effectively recruit a new squad.
That in itself will be a huge challenge, as we’ve just seen Bolton had to endure a ‘write off‘ season to reset …and ….pretty much half of this one as well, before they really started to ’motor’ .
LR has been a hero and we owe him our gratitude for everything he has withstood this season, but as others have said neither he nor we necessarily see the managers job as his role. The team could still surprise us …but yet another inadequate, pointless and goalless home performance offers little evidence that they will.
There needs to be a definitive future direction set, during this month, whilst that doesn’t have to mean a new appointment, they absolutely do need to map out the criteria and terms of their search and get it underway even if concluding it isn’t possible for a month or so yet.
Moonay gave his perspective:
I really, really can’t get worked up about today’s loss. Not too long ago, it was more than possible that we were going to be playing as a Phoenix club in the National League … or even NW Counties !!!
For me, the question is “were they trying?”, and the answer (maybe apart from Evans’s “chase” for their goal) was obviously, yes. However, there was no improvement in the quality of the shooting, and that’s what’s p..sing us all off.
In January, Richardson and Rioch had an impossible job – entice players to come to Wigan, on a contract till the summer, with very possibly, no chance of a further one. They did their best, and we got who we got … numbers being just as important as quality, given the rate we were losing people to injury.
On reflection, it may well have been better to stick with more of the kids, though that would have been a massive gamble.
But, as the saying goes, we are where we are, and for me, that’s a far better place than I was hoping for much of February. The new management team don’t sound despondent about the likelihood of League 2, so why should we?
Only difference today was a goal threat…im not going to be too harsh on them because we more than matched a play off certainty. Its the final 3rd that will undue us but let’s not throw um all out because the back 4 are showing some ability bringing the ball out.
True Believer responded:
You are right Hindley, for the first 45 we were comfortable playing the ball out from the back and both Ojo and Evans were influencing the game.
The problems came when they scored !!
Once ahead they switched to five across the middle and stifled our play, so our back four then lost the out ball to midfield and went long, Evans in particular had no influence in the second half and we struggled to break them down.
We are desperately missing a wide right player and, although he is much maligned, we looked a more balanced side with Massey on the wing. Callum Lang is wasted playing out wide and his goals have dried up since he started playing there. He needs to be more central and running the channels turning CB’s and playing to his strengths. I would try Gardner out there for a game or two, I know it’s not his preferred side but I am sure he could do it and that would free Lang up to get back to what he is good at.
The signings of Josh Clarke and Danny Fox provided Wigan Athletic fans with a fillip approaching this game. With the departure of Nathan Byrne Latics were lacking at right back and it looked like Clarke would step in. Moreover, after starting the Fleetwood game with two 19-year-old central defenders, with no senior experience, we were hoping the return of Fox would stabilise a leaky defence.
However, in the event it was not to be, neither Clarke nor Fox deemed fit to play at Portman Road. When I looked at the team selection it was clear that Kal Naismith would play at the back. I was about to congratulate the Richardson/Sheridan selections, assuming they were giving Emeka Obe and Adam Long support by playing Naismith in between them in a back line of three. Sadly, that did not happen, and the end result was Obe being played at right back where he looked like a duck out of water. Ipswich repeatedly flooded the right side of Wigan’s defence which looked not only unbalanced but short of midfield cover.
Following the game John Sheridan commented:
“I thought we started the game very well. We possibly should have been two up, we created some great opportunities. The first goal changes the outcome of games so often, and who knows what might have happened. And their first goal is very disappointing…it’s a cheap foul, people switch off and it ends up in the back of the net.
But while we were disappointed to go into half-time 1-0 down, in the second half we just never got going. I know it’s the first day of the season, it’s a boiling hot day and the pitch was sticky, but we didn’t play with any penetration at all.”
Let’s take a look at how fans reacted to the match through the message boards and social media.
Our thanks go to the Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum and Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen. Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below.
Kendal Blue commented:
We saw last time at this level that there will be many more mistakes and you’ve got to be there to take advantage. Obi’s clearly nervous (2 foul throws, owch), but it’s to be expected. He has Naismith with him and Solomon-Otabor just in front now and they will settle him. Alternatively, Adam Long looks a natural and is ready for this chance. Definitely the right move to put Kal in the back 4 and Fox will also allow him to develop. Tired legs will factor today but we’ve put up enough to show we’re a decent bet at this level from a football side of things.
Obi, Long, Merrie. None of them have any significant experience in the league. It’s easy to forget that Tom Pearce has played less than 20 competitive games as well, since we know him already. I’ll take Solomon-Otabor on the chin. I didn’t realise he’d played as many games as he had before joining us; now I’ve looked him up then fair enough, he shouldn’t be overly nervy.
Obi is having a total mare, but to be fair to him, he wasn’t ready yet and we already knew that. Hopefully throwing him in the deep end as we’ve had to do will make him learn faster.
Obi was seen as a great prospect, and with more first team action, he may improve very quickly. Hope he does… Will need some of the older lads to put their arm round his shoulders and pick him up, because this performance can’t have done his confidence any good. I’ll reserve judgement until we’ve seen another ten games or so. Like I said, Dan Burn was embarrassingly bad in his first few games, then it suddenly clicked for him and we know the story after that. I hope Obi can do something similar.
Long looks ready. He’s played well today all things considered and he’ll only get better with more game time. Merrie is no cause for concern either.
I think we’ll be ok this year. No title run, but we’re good enough to stay afloat in this league from what I’ve seen. There are definitely enough worse teams in League One that we shouldn’t be in a relegation scrap. If new owners come on board in the next few weeks and put in a bit of cash, who knows? Honestly, I’d say we only need 3-4 players to be very comfortable at this level. It’s not a strong division.
Skem Tic commented:
I think without Naismith it could have been much worse, however we do look decent going forward, we just need much more time playing as a team. We have to remember that although a fair few players have had plenty of experience it’s only Naismith who would have been a first choice player last season. It’s going to be an up hill struggle for next few months but we have to stick behind them and sadly social media is the only way we can do this at the moment. It’s certainly not all doom and gloom!
Obi just lacked Fox bo…cking him and keeping him focused, something young players with lack of experience has. Think if he is in the centre next to Fox, he will grow into a decent player, he has the physique for it. He had a howler, a terrible performance, that is reality, and everyone needs to accept that, he will only get strong from it when you learn from mistakes and bad games. Takes shocking performances to learn.
I’m mentally prepared to give all the young un’s a lot of leaway this season. Thought Long looked great today with Naismith at the side of him.
It’s very difficult to judge Obi IMO, out of position and stranded. As others have said, I’ll reserve judgment until he’s had an extended run in his natural position with seasoned pro’s around him.
My original score prediction was 5:0, I’m slightly less pessimistic for the season after today, but we need to pick some (probably scrappy) points up fairly soon just to give everyone a lift and that bit of belief that can work wonders.
As expected, the announcement came yesterday of the appointment of Paul Cook as manager of Wigan Athletic. He joins the list of ex-Latics players who have managed the club in recent years along with Gary Caldwell, Paul Jewell and Roberto Martinez, together with Graham Barrow in short term stints.
Cook’s impressive track record as a manager is reflected in his stats:
Courtesy of Wikipedia
Following Cook’s appointment, chairman David Sharpe commented on the club’s official site that:
“Paul was the man that I felt was best to take this club forwards after looking at the jobs he has done at Chesterfield and Portsmouth in the last four seasons.He has won two promotions, has never been outside of the top six, has a 50% win ratio and also plays the brand of football that I think is the best for this football club. Moving forwards, I’ll be delighted to see Paul’s work in progress and I have a good feeling about it.”
“The man I met, in terms of his character and how lively and energetic he is, makes me believe he will be a lift for the whole place and I think we need that sort of character.He’s very bubbly, will have the boys playing with a smile on their faces and I am looking forward to what he will bring it.”
The social media and message boards have been awash with comments from Pompey fans regarding Cook’s departure with one year still remaining on his contract. The Portsmouth FC official site stated that:
“Paul Cook has stepped down as Pompey boss to take up the vacant managerial position at Wigan Athletic. A financial compensation agreement was reached with Wigan over the weekend, resulting in permission being granted for the Latics to speak to Paul. Assistant manager Leam Richardson has also left Fratton Park. Cook arrived at Pompey in May 2015 and led the club to the League Two play-offs in his first season in charge. There was even more success at the end of last term, with the Blues earning automatic promotion and securing the title on a dramatic final day. Portsmouth Football Club would like to thank Cook and Richardson for their service to the club. “
The likelihood is therefore that Richardson will be joining Cook at Wigan as his assistant.
The 37 year old Richardson, born in Leeds, began his playing career at Blackburn Rovers as a right back. He signed for Bolton Wanderers in July 2000 for a fee of £50,000. Loan spells followed at Notts County and Blackpool before the Tangerines signed him on a permanent contract. Richardson went on to make 71 appearances for Blackpool before joining Accrington Stanley in August 2005. He was to stay there for 8 years making 133 appearances. He took over as caretaker manager in January 2012 until Paul Cook took over a month later. When Cook left Accrington in October 2012, Richardson took over as manager. However, he was to join Chesterfield in May 2013 as Cook’s assistant manager, subsequently moving on to Portsmouth with him.
In order to get an overview of Paul Cook’s time at Portsmouth we contacted Jim Bonner(@FrattonFaithful) of the Fratton Faithful fan site.
Here’s over to Jim:
There can be no disputing that Paul Cook is a good manager. After all, he won Portsmouth the League Two title by sticking to his principles and winning games in the right manner. However, it should be remembered that he delivered this league title when Pompey were favourites to win the division on goal difference from Plymouth and including an inexplicable collapse by Doncaster who lost all four of their final matches when they required just one.
Cook will have your team playing attractive, possession football and his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation means that the back four are well protected whilst the attacking midfield trio are free to attack and create chances for the lone striker. He is also an excellent motivator as rarely did Pompey lose more than a single consecutive game under his management and any bad performance was usually followed by a good one.
His record in the transfer market was mixed. He has the eye for a quality player as proved in his first season with the Blues as he virtually rebuilt a poor squad and moulded it into a good one with signings like Christian Burgess, Enda Stevens and Gareth Evans proving to be shrewd. However, his second season saw him sign many players who either couldn’t get into the team or had their stays abruptly ended by either having their contracts terminated or being shipped out on loan. Milan Lalkovic must be secretly delighted that Cook has gone.
The negatives of Cook’s management is that whilst Plan A can work extremely well, he doesn’t have a Plan B. His stubborn attitude meant he would rarely stray from his 4-2-3-1 formation and when he did, the results and performances were worse! He also struggles to work out how to break down teams that will “park the bus” and play for a draw on home turf. Thus, you should prepare yourselves for grating post-match interview soundbytes such as “All credit to Shrewsbury, they’re an excellent team and had a gameplan which stopped us scoring. We go again next week.”
Whilst he may be good enough to get a squad of Wigan’s quality back up to the Championship, there is a feeling amongst people that he isn’t tactically smart enough or indeed professional enough to succeed at a higher level.
Cook also seems to struggle under pressure as he felt the heat with 16,000 expectant Pompey fans constantly scrutinising him as he occasionally lashed out at the media whilst having indirect digs at them. The crowds at the DW Stadium may be half the size of what he was used to at Fratton Park, but the expectation will be exactly he same and he may well feel the heat if the Latics fans aren’t happy with performances next season.
In a nutshell, it should speak volumes that the reaction of Pompey fans is anger at the manner he left rather than any kind of sorrow that the event even took place. He’s a good manager but there are arguably even better bosses that Portsmouth can attract to replace him with Kenny Jackett rumoured to take his place.