Five talking points arising from a landmark win at Charlton

 

The Valley had not been a happy hunting ground for Wigan Athletic, but it was last night. Latics simply blew a decent Charlton side away with a scintillating display of football.

Gavin Massey has been growing in stature as the season has progressed, gradually making the adjustment to a higher division. His brace of goals will do his confidence a world of good.

Latics have now moved up to 6th place, 2 points behind Charlton in 3rd. Their next games are at home to Bristol Rovers (currently in 12th place) and Northampton Town (17th).

Let’s take a look at some talking points arising from yesterday’s match:

Paul Cook’s side plays a “fearless” brand of football

Latics were traveling to play a side who were second in the table, with an impressive home record over several months. Moreover they had gained just one point from their previous two matches. But they attacked Charlton from the get-go, with Gavin Massey almost scoring in the first minute from Michael Jacobs’ superb cross.

Cook has revolutionised the style of play. No longer does the team make a slow, cautious start, more concerned about the danger posed by the opposition. Last night the Charlton defence was under fire, as Latics employed a high press and poured men into the box. Massey’s first goal was scored from the kind of position a centre forward would take up and central midfielder Sam Morsy had moved forward into the box to notch the third.

There will be games where Cook’s side cannot quite get their act together, as we saw on Saturday at Shrewsbury. But their intent is going to be attacking, come what may.

Sam Morsy needs to keep a cool head

Morsy is a complete midfield player, rugged in defence, but so capable going forward. Given the way Cook throws men forward in attack the protection Morsy provides his back four is crucial. His passion for the game is what makes him a fine choice as captain, leading by example, totally committed to the cause. However, there can be times when he looks close to receiving a red card. Last night he was clearly incensed by a bad tackle on Nick Powell, his teammates having to drag him away. Opposition players also know he has a short fuse and last night a Charlton player followed him after he had been dragged away from the scene of the foul.

Morsy will continue to be baited by the opposition as the season continues. His challenge is to retain his passion, but to keep a cool head at crucial moments.

Reece James was a revelation last night

There were certainly doubts whether James would get back to his previous fitness levels following a season and a half out through injury. Indeed Cook brought in Callum Elder for cover.  However, James has been excellent since his return.

Cook expects his full backs to push forward into attack. Nathan Byrne clearly relishes that role on the right. Under Gary Caldwell, James was often played as a wing back, although he tended to be conservative in his play. However, in this brief spell under Cook there has been a transformation that has seen the player attack with gusto and no mean level of skill. It was from his crosses that the first and third goals came last night.

James is still only 23 years of age and his contract expires at the end of the season. Providing he stays clear of injury can we expect him to be offered an extended contract?

The centre of defence is solid

The loss of Chey Dunkley through suspension looked like it would unsettle the defence, but Alex Bruce has made a seamless transition into the side. Dan Burn remains a tower of strength and either Bruce or Dunkley can step in at his side.

There will be much more to come from a Grigg-Powell partnership

Will Grigg is still finding his feet after a long injury lay-off. Nick Powell continues his rehabilitation, his time on the pitch being carefully monitored by Cook. Should they both reach full fitness and match sharpness, League 1 defences had better beware. They are both intelligent players who know how to get into good positions. What a partnership it could become.

 

 

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The financial side of keeping a nucleus for League 1

“Que sera sera…..whatever will be will be….we’re going to Shrewsbury….que sera sera

So sang a group of Wigan Athletic supporters. It certainly took the wind out of the sails of the “going down” taunts of home fans at the Madejski Stadium last Saturday.

Shrewsbury is certainly a pleasant place to visit. Its football team has competed in each of the three EFL divisions. Their New Meadow stadium holds 9,375. Shrewsbury Town met Manchester United in the FA Cup in February 2016. They lost 3-0, which is not surprising given the fact that the Shrews had a wage bill of £2.5 m compared with £210 m of United.

In fact the Shrewsbury wage bill is typical of many clubs in League 1. According to an interesting article on the Daily Mail site, the average salary of a League 1 footballer in 2014-15 was £69,500. It compared with £324,200 in the Championship. The ratio of the average salaries is 1 to 4.7.

There are strong arguments to suggest that the league positions of clubs in the Championship division correlate to their wage bills. In their first season back in the Championship Wigan Athletic finished in a playoff place. The wage bill was around £30 m. Clubs in mid-table would typically have wage bills averaging £20 m.

Latics’ reputed wage bill for the current season is around £17 m. Assuming they were to trim next year’s wage bill according to, say, that previous ratio of average salaries between the two divisions, it would give a figure of around £3.6 m. In 2015-16, still buoyed by parachute payments, Latics had a wage bill of around £6 m in League 1, reportedly second highest after that of Sheffield United.

So at what level will David Sharpe pitch the wage bill for the coming season? As in the Championship there is some degree of correlation between wage bills and success on the playing field in League 1. If the club is to break even financially next season what kind of wage bill would be realistic? Moreover will the club be able to slash its wage bill as successfully as it did in the summer of 2015, when faced with a drop down to the third tier?

In 2015-16 Latics finished top of League 1 with an average attendance of 9,467. Shrewsbury Town finished in 14th place with an average of 5,407. The average attendance for the division was 7,163. Wigan’s cheapest adult season ticket cost  £250 while Shrewsbury’s was £285.

David Sharpe took a bold step in reducing season ticket prices for the club’s return to the Championship. Renewals were pitched at £179, with a price of £199 for new purchasers. The levels were uneconomic compared with those of competitor clubs, but Sharpe was clearly hoping to not only hold on to the core support, but to attract others. With just one match to go in the Championship season Wigan’s average home attendance is 11,560 up by more than 2,000 from the previous season in League 1. However, the bigger clubs in the Championship have brought sizeably larger away support than had those in League 1.

Rumour suggests that the club will maintain the levels of season tickets prices for the coming season. If this is so the £179 price would be almost 40% less than the figure of £295 to be offered by Shrewsbury Town for the coming  season. Moreover should Latics not be as successful as they were last time in League 1 attendances will surely fall. The match day revenue differentials between Wigan and Shrewsbury could merge closer.

Put simply potential match revenues for Wigan Athletic will in no way suffice to give them a competitive advantage over most of their rivals. Some would say that under Gary Caldwell Latics had bought their way out of League 1, having a wage bill twice that of most of their rivals. That was made possible by the parachute payments they were receiving at the time. However, now that the parachute era has come to an end, how can Latics get a financial advantage over most of their competitors in League 1?

One solution is to sell off assets. The second is for the ownership to provide the necessary funding.

The saleable assets Latics have are their players. The club’s main asset, Yanic Wildschut, was sold in January for a hefty premium. Early in the season Will Grigg would have been another major asset: he was scoring goals and looking comfortable in the higher division. It was sad to see how the player later found himself either warming the bench, playing as a lone centre forward with a derisory lack of support, or being played out of position. A player who could have probably drawn a transfer fee in excess of £5 m is now not such an attraction on the transfer market. Better to keep Grigg who has a superb record of goalscoring in League 1.

Nick Powell will surely be on his way. After months out through injury he roared back with spectacular performances as a super sub. In doing so, Powell put himself in the shop window. Dan Burn is another player who has caught the eye and will surely be of interest to Championship clubs. Burn was already an experienced Championship level player when arriving on a free transfer from Fulham. He has since developed a level of self-confidence  previously lacking. Between the two, Latics could possibly raise around £5 m on the market.

Omar Bogle was the most exciting of the January signings. Having scored a lot of goals for Grimsby he arrived brimming with confidence and style. But after a promising start Bogle was to wilt under  a horrible burden put on him by Joyce: that of being the lone striker in a 4-5-1 formation. Injury too was to hold him back. Like Grigg, his potential transfer value has plummeted. But the likelihood is that either Grigg or Bogle will be sold, albeit at a discounted price.

Max Power was almost sold to Birmingham City in January. Although he did not have the season he would have liked, Power remains one of the more saleable assets. Sam Morsy too is a player who could be sought by Championship clubs.

Last weekend Jonathan Jackson stated that “There will be some changes in the squad, but we want to keep the core there.”

Goalkeeper Matt Gilks and ex-captain Craig Morgan will be two of those core members who continue. Gilks was only signed in January on an 18 month contract and Morgan recently signed a two year extension to his contract. The long-term injured players – Donervon Daniels, Reece James, Andy Kellett and Shaun MacDonald – will also be staying. Alex Gilbey is another who has not been able to play in recent games after coming back from long-term injury. Latics will be hoping at least some of those players will be available for the beginning of next season.

It is difficult to predict who else will stay to provide a core for the coming season. The club is going to have to slash its wage bill some 60-70% to be financially viable. Put simply more than half of the players currently under contract are likely to depart over summer, many on free transfers. Others will be sent off on loan.

The players currently under contract for the coming season are:

Goalkeepers: Matt Gilks, Dan Lavercombe

Full Backs – Luke Burke, Reece James.

Centre backs: Dan Burn, Jake Buxton, Donervon Daniels, Jack Hendry, Craig Morgan.

Midfielders: Jack Byrne, Alex Gilbey, Andy Kellett, Josh Laurent, Shaun MacDonald, Sam Morsy, Max Power, Danny Whitehead.

Forwards: Nathan Byrne, Omar Bogle, Ryan Colclough, Will Grigg, Michael Jacobs, Mikael Mandron, Sanmi Odelusi, Nick Powell, Kaiyne Woolery.

The amount of turnover at the end of the 2015 season was remarkable, with 31 incomings and 44 outgoings, including loan players.

Latics currently have seven whose contracts are due to expire – Jordan Flores, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Billy Mckay, Gabriel Obertan, David Perkins, Andrew Taylor and Stephen Warnock. There are another eight players whose loans are coming to an end.

In 2015 Gary Caldwell had already been installed as manager to oversee the massive turnover that took place over the summer.

At this stage we do not know who the next manager is going to be and there have been mutterings about taking the time to choose the right man for the job.

But given a mountain of a task ahead we might well see an appointment made sooner rather than later.
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Can Latics hold their nerve for automatic promotion?

In March 2014 Uwe Rosler’s Wigan Athletic team were challenging for a playoff place in the Championship division. During that month they went on to amass 14 points from their 7 games, losing only one by a 1-0 margin at QPR. They looked odds-on to reach that playoff place, which they did finally achieve, but not without a stutter as they picked up just 11 points from their last 9 matches.

Rosler’s team had peaked too early and just could not maintain their form over the final six weeks of the season. They put up spirited displays in the semi-final of the playoffs against QPR, but just could not show the kind of intensity they had shown a couple of months earlier.

Gary Caldwell’s team too has been peaking, going on a 14 game unbeaten run. Their last defeat was against Blackpool on December 12th. Have they peaked too early? Can they hold their nerve and get an automatic promotion place?

Burton Albion’s defeat at Bradford on Tuesday evening could well prove to be a turning point for what remains of the season. They still stand four points ahead of Wigan Athletic, but significantly they no longer have games in hand. After being so consistent for so long is there a chink in Burton’s armour? They have now only won one out of their last five matches.

The most optimistic of Wigan Athletic fans are now seriously talking about their team winning the division. Burton have some tricky fixtures coming up in the final 11 games of the season. Four of those are against teams currently in the top six promotion zone – Millwall (A), Latics (H), Barnsley (H) and Gillingham (H).

Other than having to play at Burton, Latics have to play just one other team from the current top six – Barnsley (H) on the last day of the season.

This current Wigan Athletic team is capable of beating any other team in team in League 1, Burton included. They are have the capability to go the remainder of the season unbeaten. But they are also capable of producing poor results against teams they would be expected to beat. In recent home games they have failed to beat struggling Oldham and Peterborough and a 1-1 draw at Crewe in late January was disappointing.  But it was the shock 1-0 home defeat to Blackpool in mid-December that sparked the surging run they are on at the moment.

In their last 6 league games Latics have won 3 and drawn 3, an average of 2 points per game. Of the other teams in the top six only Barnsley have done better with 13 points, followed by Millwall on 11 points, Burton on 8, Gillingham on 5 and Walsall on 3.

Looking at stats for games played up to this point  it looks like the teams gaining automatic promotion this season will need less points than has been the norm over the past decade. It has been the kind of season where teams are closer in level, where they can quickly climb up or abruptly slide down the table within half a dozen games. However, for Latics to gain automatic promotion they are likely to need at least 86 points. That would require an average of 2 points in each of the remaining eleven matches.

Tomorrow’s game at Colchester is another of those potential banana skins upon which Latics have slipped several times this season. In their last six games Colchester’s record is LDLDWL. They lie in bottom place ten points from safety and have won just three home games this season.

All teams tend to have injury problems at this time of year and Wigan Athletic are no exception. Michael Jacobs and Reece James have been out long term and are still recuperating. Jussi Jaaskelainen is likely to return following concussion received against Peterborough, but both Conor McAleny and Jason Pearce are doubtful for tomorrow.

Caldwell commented this week that  “Whilst it’s a big disappointment to have players out, it’s an opportunity for other players to come in and show what they can do. It’s up to those players who haven’t been playing but have been asking to play and wanting to play to be ready for the opportunities.”

One of those players the manager could be referring to is Kevin McNaughton, who completed a full 90 minutes for the development squad on Tuesday. The Scot may not start at Colchester but could come on later in the game. Haris Vuckic is also due to reappear at some stage.

In addition to potential injuries Caldwell is likely to lose Will Grigg to the Northern Ireland squad for their friendly matches on March 24 and 28. Craig Davies is the obvious replacement, although he has not completed a full game for a long time.

Now is the time for Latics to hold their nerve and let the other teams cut each other’s throats. A late season dip in form like that which happened to Rosler’s team is what they must guard against.

 

 

 

Warnock – a great signing for Latics

Warnock

The “New Era” recruitment team at Wigan Athletic already had an impressive record, but the announcement of the signing of Stephen Warnock is really the icing on the cake. Warnock turned 34 in December and his loan signing might be short term, but with over 200 career appearances at Premier League level he will surely have much to offer in League 1.

The long term injury to Reece James and a two game suspension  for Chris McCann left Gary Caldwell short of options at left back/left wing back. Against Peterborough on Saturday he moved Reece Wabara across from the right to play there, while McCann was rested on the bench.  The 22 year old Andy Kellett had been signed as the back-up left sided defender, but in most of his appearances he has been played further forward. Moreover Kellett has been dogged by injury. His last first team appearance was against Gillingham in early January.

Warnock was born in Ormskirk and has two caps for England. He came through the Liverpool youth system, going through loan spells at Bradford City and Coventry City when in his early twenties. He went on to make 40 Premier League appearances for Liverpool before moving on to Blackburn and Aston Villa, subsequently dropping down to the Championship in 2012 with a loan move to Bolton. He was then to move on to Leeds United before signing for Derby County in January 2015.

Warnock has made 30 appearances in the Championship for the Rams, but the arrival of a new manager in January has seen his first team opportunities become limited.

With James still injured and McCann serving a two match suspension we can expect Warnock to go straight in the team for the visit to Colchester on Saturday. Moreover his arrival gives Caldwell more flexibility in being able to use McCann in the centre of defence or midfield.

The performance on Saturday was surely affected by losing three players to injury by half time. Jussi Jaaskelainen and Jason Pearce are key players in the promotion push and Caldwell will be hoping they will be back for Saturday. He will also hope that Conor McAleny will be back soon, although he has an obvious replacement in Haris Vuckic. Kevin McNaughton is getting closer to full fitness and will surely challenge Reece Wabara and Donervon Daniels for the right back position over the coming weeks. A back four of McNaughton, Craig Morgan, Pearce and Warnock would rank among the most experienced and accomplished in the division.

When Michael Jacobs was in injured at Crewe at the end of January it looked like Latics would be short on creativity, although the signing of Ryan Colclough has certainly helped. However, Jacobs was one of the main driving forces in the new era side until his injury, one of the best attacking midfielders in the division.

The return of Jacobs, apparently still a couple of weeks away in terms of fitness, together with the advent of Warnock could be crucial in the bid for promotion.

Warnock is a terrific addition to the squad, albeit with just 11 league games to go.

Fan views – Part 4: Reece James and Craig Morgan

Given that we now have a wider readership than in our earlier days we will occasionally republish articles from our archives, that some may not have seen. We ask our long-established readers will bear with us on this. We will continue to put out our stream of current articles.

Our site stats have shown that our readership has been particularly interested in perspectives of Latics players from fans of their previous clubs. Thanks to contributions made by bloggers on the fan sites of those clubs for these articles from our archives.

Click here for our previous fan views on Yanic Wildschut and Jordy Hiwula.

Click here for our previous fan views on Andy Kellett and Haris Vuckic.

Click here for our previous fan views on Will Grigg and Craig Davies.

 

A Huddersfield fan’s view of Reece James.

jAMES3

Written by: Marko (Twitter @marko2807) is a Huddersfield Town SC holder & ATT Town Fans Panel Member and Matthew (Twitter @mtthwrks).

Published: July 30, 2015.

 

The 21 year old Reece James joined Wigan Athletic just over a week ago on a three year contract for a fee of around £1million. Within a couple of days he was to play his first game for his new club, playing at left wing back in the pre-season game at Dens Park, Dundee.

James had arrived at Wigan with a good reputation and his display in Dundee did not disappoint. In fact he was arguably Latics’ best player that day, being a constant threat to the home team, showing a fine technique and putting over quality crosses and corner kicks.

The 5 ft 11 12 in tall James was born in Bacup and began his football career just five miles away at Rossendale United as a youth player. He enjoyed brief spells at Preston North End and Blackburn Rovers before joining Manchester United as an 18 year old in July 2012. He went to Carlisle United on loan in summer 2013, but returned to United in September due to injury. He was to be one of the outstanding performers for their under 21 team that season. He made his senior team debut in July 2014, scoring two goals in a 7-0 victory over Los Angeles Galaxy.

In November 2014 James went to Rotherham on loan, making 8 appearances before returning in late January. In late March 2015 he joined Huddersfield Town on loan and played with them until the end of the season, making 6 appearances and scoring a goal directly from a corner against Derby County.

In order to find out more about James’ time at Huddersfield we contacted a couple of Terriers’ fans.

Here’s over to Marko (Twitter @marko2807):

Huddersfield Manager Chris Powell swooped for the loan signing of Reece James from Manchester United following the long term injury to season long loanee from QPR Jack Robinson. Robinson who suffered a serious knee injury after steadily growing into a very competent full back left a big hole in the Town back line which was already known for shipping too many goals.  Powell tried in house to fill the gap but soon brought in James on loan until the end of the season as it became evident following Robinsons injury and Paul Dixons return to Scotland, that was a problem position for us.

 Being brought up through the United academy, you would always expect players to be of a certain level and James was no different.  This was James third loan spell after previously making just one senior appearance for Carlisle in 2013 before a 7 game spell at Rotherham.  

James made just 6 appearances for the Terriers, scoring one goal,  but made a very favourable impression. With no recognised first choice left back, many Town fans assumed that the club would go in for James either on a season long loan or a permanent transfer.

 It’s unclear if Town did make enquiries into the possibility of a return for him but then instead swooped for Australian world cup star Jayson Davidson from West Brom.  Whilst being pleased with the signing of Davidson however It was met with some surprise by many fans that James made a move down the divisions into League one when it’s clear that he is more than capable of playing at a higher level. 

Perhaps the lure of bigger wages enabled from the continuation of the rather unfair parachute payments was the case but either way, in my view, Wigan have signed an excellent young footballer who will only get better and should really shine in League One.

 I for one will be watching with interest at how he progresses. 

 Here’s over to Matthew (Twitter @mtthwrks).

It’s quite difficult to go into enormous depth as he only made 6 appearances towards the back end of last season after an injury to previous loanee Jack Robinson, but from what Town fans saw in just 540 minutes of football, the vast majority were impressed.

He seemed to be quite an attacking minded full-back, but in contrast to your modern day “attacking full-backs”, was more than capable of doing his defensive duties. It was evident to Town fans he was schooled at Manchester United and, albeit only a brief stint, we had our first decent left-back in years!

He takes a good set-piece, particularly corners. In fact, he actually scored directly from a corner in Town’s 4-4 draw with Derby, his first and only current senior goal.

What to expect? Not goals. But you can expect 100% commitment, tidy deliveries into the box from the left side and a pretty complete young full-back.

Put it this way, there wasn’t a Huddersfield Town fan about that wasn’t disappointed when hearing we weren’t going to be in for him.

Furthermore, there were a lot of shocked fans about when hearing he’d be playing in League One next season, as he’s more than capable of playing regular Championship football. Best of luck to him!

 

 

A Rotherham fan’s view of Craig Morgan.

 

Morgan

 

Written by: It’s Millers Time (Twitter @millerstimerufc)

Published: July 31, 2015.

 

 

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.