Another centre forward for Latics?

Eion Doyle

“PNE striker bound for Wigan?” 

So said a Lancashire Evening Post headline on Saturday.

The article went on to explain that Paul Cook was initially aiming to take Eion Doyle from Preston North End to Portsmouth, but that the centre forward’s  new destination  “might now be” Wigan.

Sometimes newspaper headlines can be pure speculation, but this one seemed to be well within the realms of possibility, if by no means confirmed. The 29 year old was on loan at Portsmouth in the second half of last season and previously played under Cook’s management at both Sligo and Chesterfield. But Paul Cook is known to favour the lone centre forward system and Wigan Athletic already have five of them on their books. Do they really need another?

But managers do sometimes like to bring in players who have been with them in the past.  Indeed Warren Joyce signed three in January – Gabriel Obertan, Ryan Tunnicliffe and James Weir – who were with him at Manchester United. Long will Latics fans remember the hapless Jason Scotland who had scored 53 goals in two years at Swansea under Roberto Martinez, but could muster only 2 in 36 appearances after the Catalan took him to Wigan. The Premier League had proved to be too big a step up for the Trinidadian.

But Doyle is a different matter. He was an important player for Cook at Chesterfield, scoring 38 goals for him in 64 starts and 20 appearances off the bench.  Indeed 21 of those goals had been scored at League 1 level in little more than half a season before he was transferred to Cardiff City at the beginning of February 2015. Admittedly Doyle’s goalscoring record since leaving Chesterfield has been less impressive, but it would be a surprise if Cook is not considering an offer for the player.

But Latics already have central strikers who could make a major impact on League 1 next season. If Doyle were to be brought in which ones would depart?

Will Grigg has scored in excess of 20 goals per season three times before in the third tier. His critics will say that he could not make the step up to the Championship last season, his last league goal being scored in September 2016. However, his supporters will say that the player had made a good start and looked comfortable at that level, only to be left on the bench or played out of position by his managers. But Grigg has just one year of his contract remaining and the likelihood is that Latics will invite offers over the summer, looking to recoup the £1m they paid Brentford for him a couple of years ago.

Omar Bogle we hoped would be the key figure in all of Joyce’s January signings. Full of confidence from his goalscoring exploits at Grimsby, he started off well, but he was to find Championship defenders a different kettle of fish to those in League 2. Injury also played its part in the player not making the impact that was hoped. However, although Bogle as a player is still a rough diamond in need of polishing, he has the physique and technique to be a top player. He is capable of making a major impact on League 1 if he can overcome his fitness issues.

Nick Powell‘s appearances near the end of last season showed his huge talent. Although he prefers to play in midfield, he can be devastating at centre forward. It could be argued that Latics would never have been relegated if Powell had been fit all season, giving his quality. But that was not a likely scenario, given his injury woes over recent years. If fit, Powell could take League 1 by storm, but therein lies the question. Would the club want to continue to pay a high-end salary to a player whose fitness is so uncertain? Powell put himself in the shop window with his displays over those closing weeks. There will surely be another club willing to take a gamble on a player of such quality.

Mikael Mandron was signed from Eastleigh Town in January. He had scored goals in the first half of the National League season and was known to Joyce’s assistant, Andy Welsh, through his time at Sunderland. He made just one start and two substitute appearances early on, but did not feature again after mid-March. Only 22 years old, Mandron could well be sent off on loan to gain further experience.

Billy Mckay remains a Latics player, although things never worked out for him at Wigan or on his loan at Oldham. But Mckay has a record of success in Scotland. He returned to his old club, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, on loan in January. It would not be a surprise to see Mckay complete his contract at Wigan with a further loan spell in Scotland. A return to the Latics squad would be a surprise, but by no means impossible.

The “PNE striker bound for Wigan?”  headline might have been speculative to some degree, but Doyle’s arrival might well come to fruition.

 

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Lifting the gloom and doom against Wolves

A win against Wolves can dispel the doom and gloom among Latics fans.

A win against Wolves can dispel the doom and gloom among Latics fans.

Who would have thought that Wigan Athletic would be bottom of the Championship table by the end of September? The League 1 title had given the club back the momentum it had lost in the dark days of Malky’s reign. But now, once again, that prevailing atmosphere of doom and gloom has returned. Is there any light at the end of the tunnel?

But then again, it isn’t yet the end of September. The home game against Wolves is only a couple of days away. A win would not only propel them off the bottom, but could conceivably lift them out of the relegation zone too. But more than anything else it would lift the doom and gloom that is once again rearing its head. Is a win over Wolves likely to happen?

Football is a game of fine margins. The average number of goals per game in English football hovers around the 2.6 mark. It means that whichever team scores the first goal has a statistically good chance of winning the match. Sadly the authorities who run football remain staunchly conservative. Too many fine margins are determined by erroneous refereeing decisions as the sport continues to bury its head in the sand and resist the kind of video technology that has been invaluable in cricket and rugby. Those who oppose the use of video will say that the law of averages means that by the end of the season the number of dodgy decisions for and against even out.

Gary Caldwell would not necessarily agree. Sometimes those decisions just don’t balance themselves out. He was entirely right about the refereeing decision that led to Preston’s goal on Friday. He was also right about the incident at Bristol where a player who had already been booked should have been sent off a minute before he scored the match-winning goal. But such complaints from a manager tend to be looked upon as sour grapes and Caldwell needs to desist in making them if he is not to open himself up for criticism.

It could be argued that referees have not done Latics any favours so far this season. Many of us hoped that we would see better officials in the second tier than we saw last year in League 1. But if there is a difference in quality, is it so great?

But refereeing has not been the main factor in the poor results so far this season. Fitness has proved to be the overriding issue, exacerbated by the sheer number of new faces coming in. Once again the pre-season did not provide an adequate basis for the kind of physical competitiveness needed at the start of an English league season. Before the warm-up games started Caldwell already had long term injured players in Reece James and Andy Kellett, but he was soon to lose Donervon Daniels and Kyle Knoyle for several months too. For the game at Preston Caldwell was denied the services of at least seven of his squad through injury.

Given the injury situation Caldwell rightly boosted his squad size. He now had 27 players in the senior team squad. However, circumstances were to dictate that so many of the new signings he had brought in were well short of match fitness. It had taken some weeks to get the backbone of his team to a competitive level of fitness, but now he had to ease in new signings, some of whom had not had much game time in pre-season with their previous clubs.

Latics went to Preston to face a physical battle against a team whose style of play is reminiscent of the worst times of Sam Allardyce at Bolton. It was always going to be a difficult game, but the controversial, fortunate goal scored by the home team after just seven  minutes was a hammer blow to Wigan. To their credit they withstood that early onslaught and dominated possession thereafter. But a goal was not to come. The front three of Jacobs, Grigg and Wildschut all had poor games. Grigg had become a father for the first time just a couple of days before. Whether that affected his play on the day is up to debate, but the reality is that Latics need a sharp central striker when playing at places like Preston. The current North End team will never win an award for an aesthetically pleasing style of play, but their manager Simon Grayson has made them into a mean defensive unit.

Norwich City went to the top of the Championship division yesterday and with the strength of their squad they will surely be challenging for an automatic promotion place as May approaches. Despite an awful opening ten minutes at Carrow Road, Latics had gone on to match their rivals, coming so close to a result. The quality of Wigan’s play in the second half more than matched that of the Canaries. It showed that there is sufficient quality in the squad to at least consolidate in the Championship division.

Individual errors such as Dan Burn’s bad back pass at Bristol and Adam Bogdan’s howler at Norwich have been particularly frustrating. But most of the goals conceded have come from slack marking from defence and midfield. Much of it can be put down from a lack of continuity in the starting lineup, the players not “gelling”. The right back/wing back position has been a big headache for Caldwell. With Knoyle and Daniels out long term he has used no less than six players there in his starting lineup. Moreover he has yet to establish the kind of consistent pairing in the centre of defence that we saw last season with Morgan and Pearce. Burn and Buxton has been his recent preference.

So can Latics get off the bottom by beating Wolves?

Well there is one factor that has been missing this season that all teams need to be successful. Most people would call it “luck”, maybe like that goal scored by Preston. It could be said that Preston were “lucky” that the referee ignored the linesman’s flagging for a foul on MacDonald. Moreover there was a strong element of “luck” involved as McGeady’s shot was going harmlessly wide before it hit his own player, changing its direction to beat Bogdan.

Given Caldwell’s luck up to this point he would quite happily settle for not having a controversial refereeing decision against his side. Going one behind in the first half against any Championship side makes things very difficult. Caldwell will recall the Birmingham game when Donaldson was at least a yard offside when he raced ahead to gain a penalty for his team that almost won the match for them.

Put simply, Latics are not bottom because of refereeing decisions or luck being against them. But a controversial decision going their way or a scrappy goal could be enough to see off Wolves. But then maybe their key players will sparkle at the same time bringing the best performance of the season to date?

A loss on Tuesday would not be the end of the world, but would be a further disappointment in a frustrating return to the Championship.

A Rotherham fan’s view of Craig Morgan

Morgan

Craig Morgan was Gary Caldwell’s third signing some six weeks ago, following on from David Perkins and Richard O’Donnell. At the time Caldwell commented that:

“He has great experience, having played internationally, but he also knows the division inside out. He is a quality defender, a real leader on the pitch who has been a captain, with a superb attitude and we are delighted to have him on board.”

Morgan surely knows League 1 well – moreover he was part of teams that gained back to back promotions to the Championship division with both Peterborough United and Rotherham United.

The 30 year old Welshman was born in Flint and began his footballing career some 15 miles away at Wrexham, making his debut for them as a 16 year old. He was to play for the Welsh club for three years before allowing his contract to run down after 52 appearances.

In summer 2005 he joined MK Dons and made 47 appearances that season. He made his debut for Wales in October 2006, but a week later he re-joined Wrexham on a one month loan, making two appearances before being sent out on loan to Peterborough United at the end of November.

The initial loan turned into a permanent transfer in January 2007. He was to make 41 appearances in the 2007-08 season when the Posh won promotion to League 1. At the beginning of the 2008-09 season Morgan was made captain at the age of 23. The Posh finished runners up to Leicester City, gaining promotion to the Championship.

Morgan went on to make 125 appearances for them in three and a half seasons, before Preston North End paid £400,000 for him to rejoin his former Peterborough manager, Darren Ferguson. A few months later Ferguson was sacked and replaced by Phil Brown, Preston being subsequently relegated to League 1 at the end of the season. Morgan’s contract at Preston was cancelled by mutual consent on the transfer deadline at the end of August 2012. He had made 50 appearances.

Morgan joined Rotherham United and they gained promotion to League 1 in that 2012-13 season. The following season Morgan was made captain, with them beating Leyton Orient in the League 1 playoff final. Morgan continued to captain the side as the Millers managed to stay in the Championship last season. Despite having an offer of a new contract from Rotherham he chose to join Latics, turning down an approach from Bolton Wanderers.

On joining Latics Morgan said:

“The changeover of the chairman and the manager last season seems to have given the club a fresh start for this new season. The club hit a very low point last season, but the only way is north for us and that’s why I was excited about coming here. I played here at the start of the year for Rotherham. It’s a good place to play football and it’s in desperate need of having the feelgood factor restored to it.”

Morgan had made 83 appearances for  Rotherham. He has 23 caps for Wales.

In order to learn more about Morgan’s time at Rotherham we contacted fan site It’s Millers Time (Twitter @millerstimerufc)

Here’s over to them:

Craig Morgan will be the perfect signing for Wigan in League One.

 A leader by example, Morgan has plenty of experience of winning promotion in that division and will be a focal point of the defence.

 He’ll win his headers, he’ll make his clearances and be strong in challenges. He is also comfortable in possession and is not a hoof merchant.

 One thing he does lack his pace, but he makes up for it with his positional sense. He could also be better in the opposition box as he does not provide much threat from set-pieces.

A Bolton fan’s view of Craig Davies

Davies

It was announced today that Wigan Athletic have completed the signing of free agent, Craig Davies, previously of Bolton Wanderers.

The 6 ft 2 in centre forward is 29 years old. He has played for Wales at all age levels, including five caps for the senior squad. Davies started as a youth player at Manchester City before joining Oxford United as an 18 year old. From 2004-06 he was to make 48 appearances, scoring 8 goals, while the club was in League 2.

In January 2006 he signed for Hellas Verona of Serie B for a fee of £85,000. Sadly he could not adapt to the culture change and only made one appearance, returning to England on loan with Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Championship. He was a regular starter for Wolves until they signed Andy Keogh in January 2007. Davies was to leave Wolves at the end of the season, having made 23 appearances, his only goals being one in a 2-2 FA Cup home draw with Oldham, followed by another in the 2-0 replay victory.

Curiously Davies was to join Oldham in the summer of 2007 to play in League 1. After regularly challenging for a first team place in his first season, he went through a 10 game goalless streak at the beginning of 2008-09, leading Oldham to send him out on loan to Stockport County, also in League 1 at the time. He scored 5 goals in 8 appearances before returning to Oldham. He had made 44 appearances for Oldham, scoring 10 goals before being sold to Brighton in January 2009.

Davies could not establish himself with the Seagulls and went on loan periods at Yeovil and Port Vale before joining Chesterfield in the summer of 2011. Davies’ 23 goals in 41 appearances were to help the Spireites win the League 2 title.

Davies was snapped up by Barnsley in the summer of 2012 and went on to make 60 appearances for the Tykes over the next two years, scoring 19 goals. His second season had been hampered by a  hamstring injury. Bolton Wanderers paid £300,000 for his services in January 2013 and Davies went on to make 35 starts for them with 19 appearances off they bench, scoring 10 goals.  He was loaned to Preston in January 2014, where he scored 5 goals from 13 starts and 3 substitute appearances.Last season he struggled once again with his hamstring injury and was not offered a new contract.

In order to learn more about Davies’ time at Bolton we reached out to Chris Mann  of the Burnden Aces fan site http://www.burndenaces.co.uk (Twitter @BurndenAces )

So here’s over to Chris:

Wigan Athletic today completed the free signing of Craig Davies, seven days after his contract at Bolton came to an end.

Davies joined Wanderers in a £300,000 transfer from Barnsley in January 2013 and went on to score a total of 11 goals in 58 appearances for the Trotters, prior to his release.

Whilst those statistics may not look too appetising, it’s worth noting that 31 of those outings were from the substitutes’ bench.

Davies was a hugely popular figure amongst Bolton supporters, with his never-say-die attitude and willingness to put his body on the line earning him many plaudits, although it wasn’t until Neil Lennon’s arrival as manager in October 2014 that we began to see the best of what he had to offer.

All of a sudden, Davies became a focal point of the Bolton attack and was producing arguably the best form of his career – including a Man of the Match display in a 3-1 win over Latics at Macron Stadium.

Then, in a cruel twist of fate, he was struck down by three separate hamstring injuries that restricted him to just three starts after the turn of the year.

The club weighed up whether to offer him a fresh deal, but financial restraints at the present time meant it made little business sense to take a risk on an injury-prone player and Davies was an unfortunate victim of the cost-cutting measures currently in place.

 If he can put his fitness issues behind him, Davies has the ability to be one of the Championship’s top players. However, inconsistent form and the amount of time he spends in the treatment room has stopped him from fulfilling his undoubted potential.

If you can get 20+ games out of him next season, Wigan will have got themselves a good player who is more than capable of scoring the goals to get you out of the division at the first attempt.

With all those aforementioned worries, though, it would be unwise to pin all hopes on him, so I’d be expecting Gary Caldwell to bring in at least one more striker during the summer transfer window.