The problem on the right

A rest from right back duties for David Perkins?

A rest from right back duties for David Perkins?

It is now sixteen months since Emmerson Boyce left Wigan Athletic under acrimonious circumstances. Boyce had been at the heart of most of the club’s greatest achievements and was much loved by the fans. It was never going to be an easy parting of ways.

When news broke out about Boyce’s departure in May 2015 there was consternation among his supporters, many of whom felt the club could have done more to keep him. There were myriad arguments for and against the club in the Boyce debate. But although the issues revolved largely around loyalty towards a player who had become a club legend, there were also those who questioned whether Latics could get a player who was any better to replace him.

Boyce was signed by Paul Jewell in August 2006. He went on to stay for nine seasons, his versatility in being able to play in the centre of defence or on the right being a real asset. Although in his early years at the club he was not the most technically proficient, he had a will to win that endeared him to the fans. When playing at right back Boyce had not been the most fleet footed or the best of distributors, but it was all to change when Roberto Martinez switched to 3-4-3 in November 2012. At the beginning Boyce looked uncomfortable in the right wing back position, but by the end of the season he had played his part in Wigan’s epic victories over the highs and mighties of the Premier League. Boyce had become the archetypal wing back, constantly available to receive the ball, helping stretch the play wide, thoughtful in his distribution and solid in defence.

Wing back is a specialist position, not easy to adapt to for someone used to playing right back in a quartet. Martinez and the coaches had worked with Boyce and he had mastered the position with aplomb. In January 2015 Martinez had brought in Jean Beausejour to play the left wing back role in which he had been utilized by his national team, Chile. The two smooth functioning wing backs were key cogs in Martinez’s machine.

Since Boyce’s departure no one has been able to claim the right back/wing back position as their own. In the first half of last season we saw glimpses of Kevin McNaughton, Jonjoe Kenny and Donald Love, with Tim Chow sometimes filling in. Donervon Daniels also played there when not playing in the centre of defence. Reece Wabara was signed in January and made 20 appearances without being totally convincing. He left in the summer after he and the club were unable to agree terms.

The turnover has continued this season. So far we have seen Luke Burke, Reece Burke, Nathan Byrne, Alex Gilbey, David Perkins, Max Power and Yanic Wildschut play there. Loanee Kyle Knoyle has not yet appeared after getting injured in the pre-season.

Were those who thought Boyce would be hard to replace right? Could Boyce have played a major role last season if he had stayed?

In fact Boyce went to Blackpool where he made just 17 starts last season. The reality was that he was 35 years old when he went there, with his best years behind him. Moreover after Martinez’s departure the player had, more often than not, found himself being played more as an orthodox right back or central defender. His halcyon days as a Premier League wing back were over.

Like Martinez, Gary Caldwell is a major proponent of the back three/wing back type of formation. But since taking over as manager he has rarely had the luxury of seeing two wing backs make a major impact in the same game. Moreover some of the players who have occupied the positions have not looked entirely comfortable with their roles.

Caldwell’s main preferred formations can be described as variations on 3-5-2 and 4-3-3. To be able to switch between the systems he would ideally have players with a bank of prior experience playing as both wing back and full back. But with most of his signings coming from English clubs it was going to be more likely he would get players used to playing as orthodox full backs, having to coach them into playing the differing wing back role.

Near the end of the transfer window Caldwell tried to sign attacking right full back Callum Paterson from Hearts, with an expectation of him playing either role. However, the deal never materialized and instead Caldwell signed Nathan Byrne from Wolves.

The complication is that Byrne is essentially a wing back or winger. So Caldwell faces the choice of sometimes playing Byrne as an orthodox right back or bringing in someone else for the position when he wants his team to play with four at the back. When fit, Knoyle could challenge for a place, although he probably lacks the experience to make the position his own.

Reece Burke is expected to return from injury shortly and can play right back, although he is primarily a central defender. The 18 year old Luke Burke knows both the wing back and full back roles through his time in the development squad, but Caldwell seems reluctant to rely on him as a regular alternative. When fit again Donervon Daniels will also challenge for a place on the right of defence.

It is possible that Caldwell will seek an experienced right back/wing back in the January transfer window. But budgetary constraints might well preclude that option.

Many fans prefer to see Latics play with an orthodox back four, citing greater defensive stability. However, in the latter days of the Martinez era at Wigan it could be argued that playing with three central defenders and two wing backs provided more defensive solidity than we had seen with a  back four.

But it does not necessarily work like that under Caldwell’s system. Is it that Caldwell just has not yet found the quality of wing backs he needs? Or is it that he sees them in a more attacking role than Martinez did?

The right side of defence has been one of Caldwell’s biggest headaches so far in his brief managerial career. At this stage it looks like Byrne will be his first choice right wing back, when fully fit. But who would be his preference at right back remains to be seen.

Advertisements

A History Lesson

history

“Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
Winston Churchill

Uwe Rosler was the toast of Wigan in the summer of 2014. But within three months he was gone – his prior achievements counting for nothing. Dave Whelan had sacked him, in the hope that a strong Latics squad could still get promotion back to the Premier League. Little did we know what a disaster the German’s dismissal would turn out to be.

Had Rosler not been dismissed, would Wigan Athletic have been relegated? Granted, they were not playing well and Rosler’s new signings were taking a long time to gel with their teammates. Whelan had backed his manager in the transfer market. Hopes were high when he made the signings. Despite losing three of his best in Jean Beausejour, Jordi Gomez and James McArthur, Rosler had apparently strengthened his squad, bringing in a host of players who had good reviews. Not least of those were two exciting strikers from Europe.

Andy Delort and Oriol Riera were never bad players. The former has recently joined Universidad de Nuevo Leon, known as Los Tigres (the Tigers) for a fee over £6m, of which Latics received a portion, having put a sell-on clause in his contract when he was returning to Caen. Riera returned to La Liga and continues to enjoy the top division in Spain with Pamplona side, Osasuna, after time with Deportivo La Coruna. Neither player was given an extended run at Wigan, nor were they played as twin strikers. Marc Antoine Fortune had thought his first team chances were limited when the two arrived, but he was to see them off in January. MAF went on to score just 2 league goals in 37 appearances under Rosler and his successor, Malky Mackay.

We can only speculate about the futures of other Rosler signings. Midfielder Adam Forshaw is now playing in the Premier League after a slow start at Middlesbrough. James Tavernier and Martyn Waghorn have had a wonderful time at Rangers, albeit in the lowly standards of the Scottish Championship division. Emyr Huws has gone to Cardiff, his undoubted talent overshadowed by a consistent ankle problem and questions over his commitment to the club. Aaron Taylor-Sinclair’s time at Wigan was marred by injury: he remains at League 1 Doncaster. Don Cowie and Andrew Taylor, both signed from Cardiff, were to become the scapegoats of a relegation season. They had been successful in Wales but it was not to be in Wigan. Free agent signing William Kvist was captain of his national side, but could not reckon on a place in the starting lineup, Kvist went back to Denmark, where he continues to play for FC Copenhagen.

Like Rosler, Gary Caldwell also felt the need to bring in a swathe of new players to meet the demands of the Championship this season. Most are struggling to adjust to their new club and their manager’s preferred style of play.  Caldwell had brought in even more last season, when it took months for the sum of the parts to approximate to the whole. But in the end the quality of the players he could bring in gave him the divisional title.

Latics currently have 5 points from 8 league games. At the same stage two years ago Rosler’s team had 8 points. However, expectations differ greatly. Rosler was looking at promotion, whereas Caldwell will surely be looking at consolidation. But is Caldwell under the kind of pressure that prevailed upon Rosler at this time a couple of years ago?

Both managers had excellent records in their previous seasons. Caldwell’s achievement of winning League 1 is more than matched by Rosler’s success in revitalising his squad into reaching the playoffs and the FA Cup semi-final. But, given Rosler’s precipitous fall from grace, could Caldwell suffer a similar fate?

Looking back on the 2014-15 season one can only reflect in what might have happened. When Rosler was dismissed we continued to think about promotion. Perhaps we were being overoptimistic, but the woeful appointment of Malky Mackay put paid to that. He oversaw a January fire sale, including elements who had undermined his predecessor, leaving the squad threadbare. Relegation was the consequence.

Much has been said about Rosler being dictatorial with his players, that he brought in too many new faces, leading to discontent. But he was faced with an old guard from the eras of both Martinez and Owen Coyle. Modern football managers recruit players who will be loyal to them, rather than those whose fealty lies with predecessors. If Rosler made a key mistake, it was that of bringing in too many of his own men, bruising the egos of the status quo. Moreover his squad got so large that he had too many discontented players starved of first team football. Is Caldwell heading the same way?

There is a viewpoint that Caldwell should have stayed loyal with the players who helped him win the League 1 title. The departures of Sam Morsy and Jason Pearce were certainly controversial, the loaning out of Ryan Colclough was a surprise, and the stripping of the captaincy from Craig Morgan, following an abortive move to Sheffield United, suggests he will struggle to claim a place in the starting lineup. Moreover goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen, another key element last season, is now playing second fiddle to Adam Bogdan. It had been the introduction of the big Finn, in place of Richard O’Donnell who was struggling to meet Caldwell’s demands of a goalkeeper, that coincided with an upturn in performances. Jaaskelainen provided an aura of confidence to his defence and his ability to distribute the ball became an important cog in Caldwell’s possession football.

However, although Pearce has gone to Charlton on a permanent transfer, Morsy and Colclough have been sent out on season-long loans. Caldwell has inferred that Colclough remains in his plans although his lips have been sealed regarding Morsy. Colclough has already made three league starts for MK Dons, whereas ex-Latics goalkeeper Lee Nicholls and Jack Hendry, on loan until January, have not made any. One of the criticisms of Colclough’s loan was that it meant he was going back to League 1, whereas Morsy was going to a Championship club in Barnsley. In fact Morsy has made just one appearance so far with the Tykes, as a 65th minute substitute.

Long term injuries have robbed Caldwell of Donervon Daniels, Reece James and Andy Kellett from last season’s squad.  Moreover both Craig Morgan and David Perkins have recently been unavailable through niggles.

As it was during the second season under Rosler, new players brought in have been under the spotlight. None more so than Dan Burn and Shaun MacDonald, seen by some as replacements for Pearce and Morsy. Burn’s fateful error at Bristol saw him warming the bench for a couple of matches, but he has performed well in the last two games since his return to the starting lineup. Moreover MacDonald, who has played little first team football over the past two seasons, inevitably started slowly, but showed his worth on Saturday with a good display against Fulham.

It was bad news for Caldwell to see Alex Gilbey stretchered off the field on Saturday, after being an ever-present in league games up to that point. The ex-Colchester player has already made the transition from League 1 to the Championship, his fine technique providing him with a solid foundation. Jordi Gomez, back after a two year stint at Sunderland, has already showed what class he can bring to the team in three appearances to date.

Jake Buxton’s sending off in the League Cup led to a three match suspension and he has made just three appearances in the league so far. However, by naming him vice-captain Caldwell clearly expects Buxton to be a mainstay in the centre of defence. Reece Burke, arriving with the highest of recommendations following last season’s loan at Bradford, will most likely compete with Burn for a central defensive position, although he was employed in the troublesome right back position at Norwich. Nathan Byrne has looked lively in his two appearances off the bench so far, although there are questions about his defending skills as an orthodox right back. Byrne will best employed as a wing back in 3-5-2 or a winger in 4-3-3.

Nick Powell’s signing was a gamble by Caldwell, following a couple of seasons bereft of first team football and niggling injuries. Powell showed his exciting capabilities as a midfielder in the 3-0 defeat of Blackburn, but fitness concerns continue to dog him. At his best, Powell is a top player in this division, but he clearly has a long way to go in terms of achieving match fitness.

Adam Bogdan was an excellent goalkeeper at Bolton, but his difficult experiences at Liverpool will surely have damaged his confidence. At times this season he has looked dominant in his box and has made fine saves that kept his team in the game. However, his fatal error at Norwich shows that he is still coming to terms with Caldwell’s requirement for a goalkeeper to use his feet to build up moves from defence.

Luke Garbutt has not shown his best form yet. He had an indifferent loan spell at Fulham last season, not being helped by an injury early on. Garbutt’s loan is up to January, when he will most likely return to Everton where expectations were that he would be the successor to Leighton Baines. Caldwell will be hoping Reece James will regain fitness by the time that Garbutt’s loan is due to end.

On Saturday, Caldwell withdrew Will Grigg after 71 minutes, bringing on Adam Le Fondre. The manager’s dilemma will be in giving Le Fondre sufficient game time to keep him sharp. His preference for a lone central striker means that he is unlikely to play the two together, except near the end of games where his team needs to pull a goal back. Craig Davies already knows what it is like to be the backup striker, having had to be content with late appearances off the bench.

Caldwell’s starting lineup against Fulham contained six players signed over the summer. Moreover three more made appearances off the bench. Caldwell is familiar with the challenges of bringing in new players and weaning them into playing his style of football. He did it successfully in the past, but at this stage last season his team had 13 points, having won half the league games they had played. Caldwell’s current team has a solitary victory so far.

It is to be hoped that David Sharpe will heed Winston Churchill’s warning. His grandfather’s decision to dispense of Uwe Rosler’s services in November 2014 was compounded by the jettisoning of so many newly recruited players a couple of months later. The result was horrendous.

As with Rosler’s new recruits, Caldwell’s latest signings need time to adjust and to gel with their teammates. Caldwell himself will need time to get his squad up to speed. Sharpe needs to back the manager, who in turn needs to back his players. New players need time to adjust and to buy into Caldwell’s style of play.

There are testing times ahead. Latics are currently in the relegation zone, but as the new players gel results will surely improve. The question is when this will happen.

It could be later, rather than sooner.

 

A turning point at Carrow Road

Will the display at Carrow Road be the turning point for the season?

Will the display at Carrow Road be the turning point for the season?

I was looking forward to a pleasant visit. Norwich is a delightful city, having a centre with beautiful old buildings, remains of its medieval times and an impressive modern riverside development. On late Tuesday afternoon it was awash with supporters wearing the yellow and green of its local football club.

The visit to the city, and the fen areas surrounding it, was clearly something to look forward to. But the trip to Carrow Road was cause for trepidation. The Norwich team was going to be laden with ex-Premier League players, backed by a big partisan crowd. It was a Wigan team in transition, with so many new faces taking time to adjust to Gary Caldwell’s way of playing, its displays being littered with defensive errors. The portents were ominous.

When the results don’t come a football manager will always get flak from fans.

Vitriol was already flowing from the keyboard warriors on the social media prior to this game. Opinions were voiced in no uncertain terms. Caldwell had brought in too many new players, many of whom were no better than those of the League 1 title winning team. His team selections had left much to be desired and he had been out thought by opposition managers, particularly in his use of substitutes. There had been little defensive continuity and it showed. The defence was porous, with a lack of protection from midfield making things worse. The midfield or attacking players Caldwell had used in the problematic right wing back position had looked ill at ease. The 18 year old Luke Burke had done well when given the chance, so why was he not chosen for the position? Moreover Nathan Byrne had been signed to play there, but had not even made the bench at Sheffield. Why was the manager sticking to a 3-5-2 system that was clearly not working? Would he continue to stubbornly stand by it?

After going two goals behind in the first ten minutes things were looking bleak. Another defensive error had led to the softest of goals after just two minutes. The defence looked very suspect. The locals were baying for a 5 or 6 goal haul. Was it going to be one of those low points, a Championship equivalent to that horrendous 9-1 defeat at Tottenham in the Premier League? Or did this new Latics team have the character to fight back?

But Caldwell had changed the team’s shape from the start, opting for 4-3-3. Young loan signing Reece Burke and Stephen Warnock had been moved over to orthodox full back positions, with Dan Burn and Jake Buxton at centre half. Jordi Gomez was back, forming a midfield trio with Shaun MacDonald and Max Power. Yanic Wildschut had been left on the bench, with Alex Gilbey and Michael Jacobs on the wings, Will Grigg at centre forward.  Seven out of the starting lineup were new this season.

Caldwell is nothing if not brave.  Despite poor results he has continued to insist that his team build up from the back, even when things have gone awry. Some will blame Adam Bogdan for his lack of concentration in not looking to his right when Jacob Murphy took the ball from his feet, catching him unawares. Others put more blame the manager for putting the goalkeeper into a role where quick footedness is as important an ability as it is to catch the ball. But despite being on a hammering to nothing Latics continued to build from the back.

As the game progressed they got better and better and could have snatched at least a point in the closing minutes. This time Caldwell got his substitutions right. Despite taking off midfield anchorman MacDonald and bringing on Wildschut the midfield became dominant as the back four pushed further forward. When Byrne came on for Burke most of us expected him to play at right back, but Gilbey was moved there with Byrne playing as a right winger. But the result was Byrne and Wildschut adding much needed pace to the Latics attack.

Whether the players brought in are better than those who were already at the club is up for debate. Would the presence of the departed Sam Morsy and Jason Pearce have provided more defensive security? Only time will tell if Caldwell made the right decision in bringing in 14 new players.

Last season showed us that new players at Wigan need time, not only to settle into the club and to get to know their teammates on and off the field, but also to learn to play the “Caldwell Way”. Moreover so many of the new signings, despite previous records of success in the Championship or above, arrived short of first team experience over the previous season. Nick Powell had not made a league start in two seasons, Shaun MacDonald made none last season for Bournemouth, Jake Buxton none for Derby. Adam Bogdan made just two  for Liverpool, Jordi Gomez only five for Sunderland. Both Adam Le Fondre and Nathan Byrne made ten league appearances for Wolves last season.

For those players it is not only a matter of adapting to new teammates and a demanding style of play, but also for them to gain the match fitness and the sharpness that cannot have been aided by their lack of playing time.

The display at Norwich might well prove to be the turning point in a season of transition. There were signs in that second half that Latics are enjoying the style of play the manager demands. Moreover they showed real fighting spirit with their backs against the wall.

Caldwell has had a difficult time back in the Championship division.  Injuries have deprived him of important players and errors of individual players have punished him. However, the Scot is not easily deterred and has that same kind of belief that Roberto Martinez possessed in the abilities of his players and in his style of play.

So often things get worse before they get better. That was the case at Carrow Road. But although the performance there might ultimately prove to be a turning point there are going to be lots of ups and downs over the coming months.

It has been a frustrating time for us as fans up to this point. Even those most who are the most supportive of Caldwell are likely to admit that he has made mistakes this season. However, he must learn from them.

Players need to be played in their most suited positions and the manager needs to show the level of tactical awareness we saw last season. The right back/wing back position is likely to be resolved by playing either Reece Burke or Luke Burke in an orthodox back four, with Byrne being used as a wing back or winger.

Alex Gilbey was a central midfielder at Colchester, but has been pushed further forward by Caldwell. At times he has looked comfortable in a wide attacking midfield role. But to play him on the right wing in a 4-3-3 formation and to leave Yanic Wildschut on the bench was not a successful ploy. Gilbey is neither winger nor full back. He is a talented young central midfielder with a lot to offer.

Caldwell has some difficult decisions to make regarding the centre of defence. Craig Morgan has been out of contention due to injury, but was close to leaving the club during the transfer window. It remains to be seen how much he is in the manager’s plans. Dan Burn was dropped after his gaffe at Bristol and played quite well at Norwich. At his best, Burn forms a solid physical presence in the back four, but is the manager going to keep faith in a player who has a tendency to switch off at times?

Jake Buxton has been brought in on a three year contract at the age of 31, a clear indication that Caldwell sees him as a key defender. Stephen Warnock has often been pushed into a back line of three, although lacking height and physique for such a role. Caldwell will have high hopes for Reece Burke in the centre of defence. Despite his tender age is Burke going to be a key player this season?

A settled defence, with a midfield that provides due protection, is something that Caldwell will surely be looking to put in place. In the meantime, despite the poor results, his players have shown the resilience to fight back under adverse conditions.

Such qualities will be needed to rise out of the relegation zone over the coming months.

 

 

 

A Bradford City fan’s view of Reece Burke

reece_burke_may_2015

The 20 year old West Ham United defender Reece Burke joined Wigan Athletic last week on a season long loan. The 6 ft 2 12 in Burke is essentially a central defender but can also play right back.

Latics manager Gary Caldwell clearly has a high opinion of Burke, commenting that:

As soon as we were made aware of Reece’s availability, we worked hard to get him here as we knew there was interest from a number of Championship clubs. He’s about to turn 20 and the experience he has already is impressive, having played in the Premier League for West Ham and also his successful spell with Bradford last season.

The fact West Ham have signed him up to a four-year-deal tells you how highly they rate him and we are pleased that they believe the best place for him to develop now is with us here at Wigan Athletic. He brings good quality on the ball, but most importantly he’s a solid defender who can deal with big crowds and the league environment, as he proved at Bradford.”

Reece Burke was born in Newham and joined West Ham when he was nine years old. He has represented England at under 18, under 19 and under 20 levels. He made his senior debut for the Hammers in January 2014, in an FA Cup match at Nottingham Forest. His next appearance came the following August in a League Cup tie at home to Sheffield United. He had to wait until April 2015 to make his Premier League debut in a goalless draw at Queens Park Rangers. This season he played for the Hammers in their ill-fated Europa League match up with Astra Giurgiu at the London Stadium.

Last season Burke was loaned out to Bradford City, where he made a major impact, winning the Player of the Year award.

In order to learn more about Burke’s time at Bradford we contacted Bantams’ fan Stuart Black through Twitter  (@blackmeister).

Here’s over to Stuart:

We made a poor start to last season. Late player recruitment had damaged our summer plans, caused by the protracted and ultimately failed takeover of Bradford City by Gianni Paladini. The alarm bells were ringing amongst the fans after a weak pre-season, a poor start to the League and being dumped out of the Capital One Cup by York City.

Reece made his debut in the Yorkshire Derby away at Barnsley on 25th August 2015 where City drew 0-0 gaining us only our second point of the season. From then on he played in 34 fixtures at Centre half and was named as our Player of the season.

Reece settled in well next to experienced Rory McArdle and as the season progressed and as our performances improved he certainly gained confidence.

He has a fantastic coolness about him on the ball that not many centre halves have and on many occasions he would take the ball forward skilfully beating opponents reminding us of a Bobby Moore/ Rio Ferdinand type.  The last player I can remember being so cool in possession from that position for Bradford was the late Dean Richards who ended up at Spurs.  His modern day comparison would be John Stones.

He is fairly quick and athletic but strong for his age. With further improvement in his heading and tackling ability he will be playing Premier League football within 1-2 years without a doubt. 

It was widely suggested by City fans that we will one day see Reece Burke in an England Shirt as a full international as he has all the ability in the world to do so. Let’s hope his career continues to blossom at Wigan and he becomes as much of a favourite with your fans as he is endeared by ours.  

The Season Starts Now

 

“In my head this season only starts from tonight onwards”.

So said David Sharpe at the end of the transfer deadline day. The chairman went on to say that the transfer window should finish on the 31st of July, rather than the 31st of August.

Much has been said by many people about the date of closure of the summer transfer window. Sharpe is one of many club chairmen unhappy with the current arrangement. The  Championship season started on August 6th and the clubs had played five league games before the transfer window closed. Sadly for Sharpe, Wigan Athletic only gathered four points from those matches, three less than last season’s League 1 runners-up Burton Albion and five less than playoff winners Barnsley.

Latics have once again made a poor start to a season, not only in terms of results, but also in terms of performances. Granted, the defeats at both Bristol and Nottingham came in time added on, but in neither match did Latics truly merit a point. The home games against Birmingham and QPR saw Latics play against teams with well organised and uncompromising defences, something they will have to get used to this season. There are few easy games in the Championship.

Some fans will attribute the disappointing start to the season to bringing in too many new players into a team that had won the League 1 title just three months before. The starting lineup for the first game of the season at Bristol contained just six players who started in last season’s finale against Barnsley. Moreover with the transfer window still open for another 25 days there were surely going to be more new players coming in. The slow start of last season’s team in the league was put down largely to the sheer number of new players brought in. It was bound to take time for them to cohere into a unit in which the whole at least approached the sum of its parts. It looks like it will be happening again.

In fact Caldwell had already brought in seven new players to his squad by the end of July. Since then he has added another seven. Fans are now wondering how long it is going to take for a squad with fourteen new players to gel into a cohesive unit. Is there such a gulf between League 1 and the Championship that Caldwell had to bring in so much new blood? Did the other promoted clubs feel the same need?

In fact, Barnsley, like Latics, fielded six players in their starting lineup on August 6th who had started in the last game of the 2015-16 season. Burton started with only five. Barnsley brought in nine new players during the month of August, Burton acquiring six during that same period.

The managers at all three clubs clearly felt a need to seriously strengthen their squads in moving to a higher division.

The League 1 winners of 2014-15, Bristol City struggled to come to grips with the Championship last season. They lost their first three games, but drew the next at home to Leeds and won the following one at Middlesbrough. They therefore had four points from their first five games, as Latics have right now.

But things got worse for City before they got better. After losing 4-0 at Burnley at the end of December they finished the calendar year in 22nd place. In the end City managed 18th place. City had not brought in a swathe of new players over summer, but made use of the loan system through the course of the season to effect. Of the other promoted teams, MK Dons were relegated and Preston NE finished 11th.

So, given the poor start what can we expect from Caldwell’s Wigan Athletic this season? Moreover what are the expectations of the chairman and can Caldwell meet them?

Last season Caldwell built a quality squad with strength in depth compared with other clubs in League 1. His bench was the envy of the division and he employed it to effect. When things were not going to the game plan Caldwell was able to bring players off the bench who would have a significant impact on the proceedings.

However, the bench that Caldwell had for the game at Bristol was less impressive. Not only had the stakes been raised by moving up to a higher division, but injuries in the pre-season had further reduced his options. When a partially fit Will Grigg finally left the pitch after 70 minutes there was no central striker available to replace him.

A month later there are still injuries but the squad is so much stronger. Adam le Fondre has come in, ready to challenge Grigg for a starting position, with Craig Davies now fit again and Nick Powell capable of playing a central striking role too. Nathan Byrne has been signed for the troublesome right wing back position, with Luke Burke as an alternative. Apart from Yanic Wildschut the squad was lacking players of genuine pace. Byrne can provide that as can Kaiyne Woolery, a rough diamond that Caldwell will seek to polish.

Reece Burke will add quality to the centre of defence, with the ability to play in the orthodox right back position if Caldwell opts for a back four. Jordi Gomez is a fine player at Championship level when played in a central midfield role.

The squad currently consists of:

Goalkeepers  – Adam Bogdan (28), Jussi Jaaskelainen (41), Dan Lavercombe (21).

Full backs/wing backs – Nathan Byrne (24), Kyle Knoyle (19), Luke Burke (18), Reece James (22), Stephen Warnock (34), Luke Garbutt (23).

Centre backs – Reece Burke (20), Dan Burn (24), Donervon Daniels (22), Craig Morgan (31), Jake Buxton (31).

Midfielders – Alex Gilbey (21), Max Power (23), David Perkins (34), Andy Kellett (22), Nick Powell (22), Jordan Flores (20), Michael Jacobs (24), Shaun MacDonald (28), Jordi Gomez (31).

Forwards – Will Grigg (25), Craig Davies (30), Yanic Wildschut (24), Kaiyne Woolery (21), Adam le Fondre (29).

The squad is now well balanced, although Daniels, James and Knoyle remain on the long term injured list. It appears to have sufficient quality to ensure a mid-table position, although results over the coming weeks might not show much improvement as new players “bed in” with their teammates and Caldwell’s preferred style of play. Put simply, results are likely to get worse before they get better.

Only Preston of last season’s promoted teams could reach a mid-table position last season. Should Caldwell’s team manage that it will be seen as a success by most supporters, consolidation in the first season back in the Championship providing a base upon which to build.

However, the ambitions within the club could well be higher. This is the last season of parachute payments and the Whelan family’s policy running of the club over the past few years has seen money invested, but at least as much recouped. It remains to be seen if they would be willing to front the cash needed to mount a promotion push a year from now without the parachute subsidy.

It is not publicly known what Sharpe’s aspirations are for the current season. He will certainly have learned from his “smash the league with 100 points” comment just over a year ago, but would he be happy with consolidation this season? Or does he see this as the season that Latics can conceivably regain their Premier League status? It would be a tall order, unlikely, but by no means impossible.

In the meantime Caldwell will be hoping that his new players can ‘gel’ in as soon as possible. It inevitably took time for the process to happen last season but the depth and quality of the squad ultimately proved to be the determining factor for success. His current squad is much stronger than it was a month ago, but is it good enough to challenge the best teams in the championship?

Last season taught us to be patient. We knew that the new squad was going to take time to gel into a cohesive unit. Patience will also be required this season, although the going is much tougher in a highly competitive Championship division with so many clubs having spent serious money on new players over the summer.

Given the situation a mid-table position would be an achievement:  anything higher an added bonus. The bottom line is to avoid relegation, but Caldwell’s squad is so much stronger than that of the hapless Malky Mackay a couple of seasons ago.

For the moment patience would seem to be the order of the day.