The Jettisoning to continue


The term “jettison” dates back to the early days of aviation, when goods were cast overboard to lighten the load and make an aeroplane more stable.

Jettisoning goods comes at a cost, but stability is necessary for survival.

The imminent departure of both James Tavernier and Martyn Waghorn from Wigan Athletic will be no surprise. They will be following in the paths of former teammates Scott Carson, Andy Delort, Rob Kiernan, James McClean, and Oriol Riera. All jettisoned in the quest to bring the wage bill down to a level more appropriate to a club that is to play in League 1.

Of the seven mentioned above only McClean fetched a transfer fee of note. The combined sales of Delort and Riera probably brought in around 20% of the revenues used to initially sign them. The rumours that Tavernier and Waghorn are to be sold for a joint fee of only £300,000 have come as a bit if a shock to fans, but could well be based on the truth.

Wigan Athletic had 18 senior squad players under contract to 2016 or beyond when last season concluded. Assuming the sale of Tavernier and Waghorn will go ahead they will have jettisoned seven of the eighteen. In return eight new players have been recruited – Donervon Daniels, Craig Davies, Will Grigg, Craig Morgan, Sanmi Odelusi, Richard O’Donnell, David Perkins and Max Power.

Certainly the departure of the seven has provided a means of making way for new players coming in. But it is not the number of players under contract that is the crucial issue at the moment, but more the need to get the highest wage earners off the books. Eleven players remain from last season, some are younger players on more manageable salaries, but the majority will be receiving Championship-level wages.

Over the coming weeks we can expect the departures of the likes of Leon Barnett, Chris McCann, James Perch and Andrew Taylor. All are marketable, being experienced Championship players who have Premier League experience. Significantly neither Barnett not McCann has enjoyed much playing time so far in the pre-season.

Don Cowie and Emyr Huws are injured. It looks like Grant Holt’s return to competitive football will be no earlier than October, as he recovers from a serious ACL injury. The three can be expected to stay, at least until January.

Billy Mckay’s spectacular strike against Altrincham brought positive comments from Gary Caldwell which implied that the Northern Ireland international might stay after all. It looked like David Ball was going to sign, but the player has now gone off for a trial at Barnsley. Maybe it is not only Mckay’s superbly taken goal, but also the situation with Ball, that has swayed Caldwell. However, Caldwell’s talk might well be window dressing, with Dundee United keen to acquire Mckay’s services. Given the woeful lack of opportunity the player has been given since his arrival from Inverness in January, who could blame him for wanting to return to the rich pastures of the SPL where he previously thrived?

What we are witnessing at the moment is a major reengineering of a playing staff and a wage structure. Many fans will argue that Latics have let go players of genuine quality who can do a good job at Championship level or higher. Moreover they have let them go for a pittance in terms of potential transfer value.

There remained a possibility of retaining some of those players, taking the risk in absorbing their “high” salaries, in a bid to get promotion back to the Championship at the first attempt. It was indeed a viable option, but fate has decreed that other higher earners will remain because of injuries. In the case of Huws it could be a blessing in disguise providing the player can rid himself of a possibly career-threatening ankle problem. Given Holt’s age, his serious injury and the abuse he has taken from fans, one wonders if he can make any impact on the season. However, Holt is a resilient character and can never be counted out.

Although the restructuring is largely based on financial parameters there also remains an element of “clearing out the dead wood” from a squad that hugely underachieved last season.  Moreover a wholesale clear-out gives the new manager the opportunity to largely work with his own men.

Caldwell has already imposed his stamp on the style of football the team is playing, which could already be described as “Martinez-esque”. However, Caldwell has already used different formations in pre-season, 4-3-3, 3-4-3 and 3-5-2. It provides the kind of flexibility that was not the norm under Martinez, although Uwe Rosler used it to effect. By varying his tactical approach from game to game, Caldwell will make it difficult for the opposition to stifle a Latics side that will not have the pure style of the Martinez era, but will seek a blend between style and effectiveness. Like Rosler the Scot will also employ the option of changing the formation as the game progresses.

Up to this point Caldwell and his recruitment team have scoured the market for bargains, making a major financial outlay in the reported £1m paid for Will Grigg. That is likely to largely remain the pattern for the acquisition of further players, although there probably remains another £2m in the coffers from outgoing transfers that can be used to make a couple more big signings.

Reports suggest that Sam Clucas of Chesterfield remains on Caldwell’s radar and he is likely to cost in excess of £1m. Moreover Caldwell will almost certainly need a new right back and Swindon’s Nathan Byrne, 23,  could fit the bill, at a price. In the meantime he will look at signing more free agents, such as the 32 year old Kevin McNaughton, ex-Cardiff City, and a full back who can also play in midfield. Rumours have also linked Latics with the ex-Everton 21 year old holding midfielder John Lundstram and 26 year old winger Paul Anderson from Ipswich.

The jettisoning will continue, with at least three more of last year’s squad likely to leave.  In the meantime Caldwell will continue to meld together his much changed squad, liberally sprinkled with bargain basement signings. With less than three weeks to go before the start of the season he faces a considerable challenge in inculcating his style of football into players who will be largely unfamiliar to it.



A Delort and Riera partnership

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“They’ll all be in for the start of pre-season on June 25, and they’ll all be big players for us next season.”

David Sharpe’s announcement has provided a fresh boost for Wigan Athletic’s bid to regain their Championship slot.

The return of Andy Delort, Rob Kiernan, Oriol Riera and James Tavernier from loan spells is surely a declaration of intent from the young chairman. Moreover if the club is as active in the transfer market as media rumours suggest, the squad for the coming season is going to be as strong as any in League 1.

Bringing back the loanees has its financial implications, but Sharpe is clearly willing to stick his neck out in the bid for promotion. At a time when the club is at the point of jettisoning its higher earners, Sharpe is clearly gambling on Delort and Riera delivering the goods. Strikers are an expensive commodity on the transfer market and rather than splash big money out on a player from another club, Sharpe is using the players he already has. Moreover Grant Holt, Billy Mckay and Martyn Waghorn remain on the books.

So many players suffered in the depressive climate of the relegation season recently concluded. That included Kiernan and Tavernier. Neither could reach his previous levels of performance and they were shunted off on loan in the January transfer window by the hapless Malky Mackay.

Kiernan remains highly regarded by Birmingham City manager Gary Rowett following a series of good displays. After leaving Wigan in January he had to wait until February 21st to make his first start against Brighton, playing in midfield, but from then on became a regular in the centre of defence. Kiernan had been promoted to Wigan’s first team in the second half of the 2013-14 season by Uwe Rosler, for whom he had played on loan at Brentford the year before. He performed well, particularly when playing in a back line of three, showing good positional sense, skilful in his distribution.

Tavernier too suffered in that spell at Wigan. He had arrived with good credentials from Rotherham where he was a favourite of the fans. His ability to strike on goal and make crosses with pinpoint accuracy was already evident in the pre-season. Sadly he could not produce his true form in the seven games he started at Wigan. He just did not seem to have the pace or quickness of thought to play as a full back in an orthodox back four. However, being employed as a wing back, Tavernier was to make a lasting impression in Bristol City’s League 1 title winning team. His spectacular goal from 45 yards against Colchester might look a freak, but given Tavernier’s technique and ambitious approach, it could well have been intentional.


Riera was shipped back to Spain in January after a frustrating time at Wigan. He had taken time to adjust to the physicality of the Championship and was hardly helped by the lack of service from a dysfunctional midfield.  However, a well taken goal against Blackpool surely boosted his confidence and he looked more comfortable in the 4-0 win over Birmingham City that followed. But Riera was surprisingly left as an unused substitute on the bench in the next game at Birmingham, in favour of a newly arrived Andy Delort. Riera was never given a run of starts after that and his confidence dwindled.

It was therefore no surprise when he joined Deportivo La Coruna. Since his arrival at the Galician club he has been a regular starter at centre forward and has scored four goals. His last one, a 60th minute header at Malaga, salvaged an important point for a side fighting to avoid relegation from La Liga.


Delort too will look at his time at Wigan with regret. Thrust into a lone centre forward role he looked like a duck out of water. A player who had scored 24 goals the previous season in Ligue 2 looked sure to make his mark in the Championship, but Delort had been used to playing with a twin striker at Tours. Rosler was to stick by his formula of playing with one central striker, as did Mackay when he first arrived.  Delort was sent back to a Tours side that was struggling against relegation. He has not been able to reproduce his prolific goalscoring of the previous season. Delort has scored two goals in thirteen starts.

During the time that Delort and Riera spent at Wigan many fans had hoped to see them play in tandem as twin strikers. But it never happened. However, there is now a prospect of seeing that Latin partnership for Latics in League 1.

Given their unhappy stays at Wigan, neither player will be over keen to return. Moreover stories of members of Latics’ coaching staff writing the two of them off have become more and more credible. Tim Chow too had been written off, being told that he would not receive another contract, only for Caldwell to intervene and bring the young player back into the fold.

Given the united front shown by Sharpe and Caldwell up to this point, we can assume that the manager is supportive of the return of the four players. It looks like Caldwell’s preferred formation will be 3-5-2, which would suit them. Tavernier is a natural wing back with great attacking potential. Kiernan would slot into a back line of three capable of passing the ball out of defence. Moreover Delort and Riera could make a formidable partnership up front.

Much will depend on the ability of Caldwell, and the coaches, to bring the best out of the four players. Latics paid around £5.5million for Delort, Riera and Tavernier. A good season from them could help the club back into the Championship, in addition to increasing their values on the transfer market, which will have nosedived over the past eight months.

Wigan Athletic are keen to put the nightmare 2014-15 season behind them. The slate needs to be wiped clean for those who suffered the contagion that swept through the squad. It is a fresh start and the four players still have much to offer.

Climbing back up with experience – Latics are ready for the Owls

With renewed confidence following a hard fought victory at Leeds on Boxing Day, Wigan Athletic face Sheffield Wednesday at the DW tomorrow night. A win for Latics would see them climb out of the relegation zone.

In an attempt to draw in more support the club are offering ground admission at £10. Not surprisingly after so many poor performances at home this season’s average attendance stands at 12,518. It is down 18% from last season’s average of 15,176.

Interestingly the DW Stadium was the most popular venue for away supporters in the Championship last season, with an average of 1,968 per game. If this had been a weekend game we could have expected a significant number of away supporters making the journey across the Pennines. However, with a 7:45 pm start on a Tuesday evening in cold weather it is going to take the most loyal of Owls’ fans to make the journey.

Malky Mackay will continue to rely mainly on his experienced players for this match. Latics have the second oldest squad in the division, although Mackay fielded a couple of younger players against Leeds in Rob Kiernan and James Tavernier, both 23 years of age. He will surely stick by the 3-5-2 system that worked well at Leeds, giving wing backs Tavernier and Andrew Taylor the opportunity to move forward to support the attack. Tavernier has the ability to launch superb crosses and it will be interesting to see if the probable strike force of Marc-Antoine Fortune and James McClean can show the heading ability needed to capitalize on his deliveries. Oriol Riera would surely thrive on such service should he come on the field at some stage.

Mackay will be tempted to name an unchanged lineup, providing there are no fitness issues among those players. At Leeds he had a bench that would be the envy of many clubs – Ali Al Habsi, Emmerson Boyce, Roger Espinoza, Adam Forshaw, Shaun Maloney, Callum McManaman and Oriol Riera. However, he will be keen to keep a settled lineup, particularly on the centre of defence where a new trio of James Perch, Ivan Ramis and Rob Kiernan did well at Leeds.

It is only four weeks since Latics were defeated at Hillsborough in a mediocre match. That day the giant centre forward Atdhe Nuhiu gave Latics’ central defence a torrid time. Ivan Ramis had a rare off-day and had to be substituted at half time. Tomorrow Nuhiu will find it harder, facing a backline of three central defenders, with Ramis keen to atone for his display that day.

Since then Wednesday won 2-1 at Blackburn, lost 0-1 at home to Wolves and 4-0 at Fulham, but beat Blackpool 1-0 at home on Boxing Day. They lie in 13th place, 11 points above Wigan. It will be the fourth time the two clubs have met in a league game in the 2014 calendar year.

If Latics are to climb the table they need to be able to beat sides like Sheffield Wednesday. It could be a tight encounter tomorrow night at the DW Stadium.

Clear-out needed – Rotherham (H) match reaction

Will Mackay give the likes of Oriel Riera an extended run in the team?

Will Mackay give the likes of Oriol Riera an extended run in the team?

Once again Malky Mackay kept faith in the “old guard” and once again they let him down. Rotherham had not won a game since mid-October but they were good enough to beat a woeful Latics side. Once again Mackay’s team selection raised doubts, let alone the tactics on the pitch. Latics are going from bad to worse.

Mackay once again stuck with the old guard. There were just two Rosler signings in the starting lineup – Don Cowie and Andrew Taylor – both of whom were part of the manager’s previous old guard at Cardiff. Andy Delort was not even on the bench, after appearing in the 88th and 86th minutes of the previous two games. Was he injured or did his quotes in the French media upset the boss?

Mackay continues to shoot himself in the foot. James McClean has pace and power and cannot be faulted for his physical effort. But does he have the attributes to become a central striker? Physical effort needs to be matched by its mental equivalent, something the hard-working Irishman did not show in the first half when he was caught offside three times.

Perhaps Mackay was yielding to fan pressure when he brought on Marc-Antoine Fortune after 53 minutes for Shaun Maloney. Two central strikers on the pitch at the same time was something so many fans have been hoping for, but was the Rotherham goalkeeper going to be seriously tested by a pairing of McClean and Fortune?

In the event that partnership only lasted ten minutes until Oriol Riera was brought on for Cowie. The Spaniard went close near the end with a header that hit the crossbar, but would be better employed not having to fight for seemingly aimless long balls coming from defence and goalkeeper.

Mackay had chosen a one-paced midfield of Don Cowie, Chris McCann and Ben Watson. Cowie is well into his thirties and the other two have surely been brought in too early after long-term injuries. However, when he took off Cowie he reverted to a 4-2-4 system with two wingers and two central strikers. Not surprisingly the visitors became increasingly dangerous on the counterattack as he second half proceeded.

The time has come for the dissolution of the old guard. It would be true to say that most of the players signed by Rosler have not performed anywhere near the level expected of them. But Rosler created problems by bringing in ten new players over the summer, swelling the first team squad up to thirty. The end result was that he was unable to give so many of them the regular playing time they needed.

Rosler’s signings have come under a lot of criticism for their performances up to this point. Some fans have already written them off. In the podcast recently put on fan sites Mackay talked about the good young players he had at his disposal, including the 25 year old McClean in that category. Interestingly the name of Emyr Huws did not appear in the names he mentioned. The young Welshman made a positive start under Rosler until an ankle injury impeded his progress. Like Adam Forshaw he is a bright young talent. Let’s hope he has not disappeared off Mackay’s radar.

Latics need to start to rebuild a younger team. The old guard has had its day and Latics need to look at the future. The likes of Delort, Forshaw, Huws, Riera and Tavernier need to be given extended runs in the team. Moreover they need to be played in their best positions. For Delort it means playing him alongside another central striker, for Tavernier playing as either a wing back or a wide midfield player.

Although he never played badly for Latics the experienced Denmark captain, William Kvist, has been left out in the cold. Would a midfield of Kvist, Forshaw and Huws have done any worse than Cowie, McCann and Watson yesterday?

Somehow a new manager has come in and nothing much has changed on the pitch. If anything things have got worse and the level of football Latics are playing is poor even compared with the dark days of long ball under Owen Coyle.

Unless Mackay has a paradigm shift in his thinking, things are unlikely to get any better. Dave Whelan is unlikely to trust him with big money in the January transfer window and his new players are likely to be loan signings, plus Grant Holt.

The ball is firmly in Mackay’s court. Following yesterday’s game he was quoted as saying:

“It’s their [the fans] club, we’re custodians and I’ll do everything that I can to make them proud of us, make no mistake about that.”

The patience of those fans is being sorely tested. Is Mackay capable of making them proud of his team?

The jury is out on that one.

What a Game! Wigan Athletic 3 Fulham 3


Adam Forshaw is congratulated after his penalty.  Photo courtesy of Fulham FC.

Adam Forshaw is congratulated after his penalty.
Photo courtesy of Fulham FC.

It was as entertaining as any game could be – with six goals and two red cards it kept us on our toes for 96 minutes.

Uwe Rosler shocked the fans by resisting his tinkering tendencies and naming an unchanged lineup from the one that started the previous game against Derby.

Latics started well, their pressing allowing Fulham no time on the ball. In the 9th minute Callum McManaman was tripped in the box for a penalty. Adam Forshaw stepped up and scored his first Latics goal, hitting through the middle as goalkeeper Bettinelli dove to his right. Latics continued to look bright but their incisive approach play did not produce another goal.

But by around the 20 minute mark Latics’ high pressing had practically evaporated as Fulham crowded out the midfield and started to dominate possession. It did not come as a big surprise when in the 30th minute Scott Parker put through a superb ball for Lasse Vigen to evade Leon Barnett and tuck the ball past Scott Carson. Then six minutes later Ross McCormack’s right footed punt from the left was easily chested home at the far post by Bryan Ruiz with the left side of Wigan’s defence caught sleeping. Fulham’s wide players had caused Latics’ defence constant problems and Hugo Rodallega was looking lively. The visitors went into half time with a 2-1 lead.

Latics came out in the second half showing renewed vigour and got the equalizer after 52 minutes. The ball came to Roger Espinoza some 25 yards out and he hit a fine volley past Bettinelli. The game became open with end to end play, neither defence looking comfortable. Callum McManaman had a good effort saved, then the dangerous young left winger George Williams crossed for McCormack to force a fine save from Carson. James McClean replaced an out of sorts Emyr Huws after 61 minutes, with Don Cowie moving into the centre of midfield. McCormack handed Latics the advantage after 74 minutes when he received his second yellow card after an altercation with McClean.

Shaun Maloney came on as substitute for McManaman and scored a well taken goal in the 82nd minute following an exchange of passes with Espinoza. It looked as if Latics were going to snatch a much wanted three points but it was not to be. In the 86th minute Kiernan’s inability to clear a lofted ball saw Rodallega running through on goal, to be cut down by Barnett. Barnett received a red card and Ruiz slotted home the penalty. Ivan Ramis came on for Espinoza as the game continued for another 10 minutes, until reaching its conclusion.

The Good

Latics extended their unbeaten run to six, albeit including five draws. Confidence is increasing and new partnerships on the field are being built.

Rosler’s pressing tactic worked well for the opening quarter. It helped Latics get off to a good start and they looked the better team at that stage, with good movement from the midfield.

Despite being behind at the interval they did not drop their heads and would probably have won the game if it weren’t for a defensive error.

Tavernier’s crossing was of high quality and he looks such a fine player going forward. Forshaw was involved throughout and is coming to terms with the physical side of play in the Championship division.

Espinoza was an inspiration. His passing was crisp and precise, he scored a cracking goal and made an assist for another.

Marc-Antoine Fortune once again was tireless in the target man role, his hold-up play being excellent.

The Bad

The back four were awful. Tavernier was repeatedly exposed by the 19 year old Williams and the centre backs did not mesh together. On the left Maynor Figueroa was useful going forward, but looked vulnerable in defence.

The ploy of playing Cowie in right midfield to allow Tavernier to attack did not work. On occasions when Tavernier was found wanting Cowie was not able to provide the support. Cowie looked one dimensional and short of pace on the right, but much better when moved into central midfield later in the game.

It appears that Cowie is heading the same way with the DW crowd as did Jordi Gomez in his early days at Wigan. Roberto Martinez always had faith in Gomez, despite the frustration he could cause among fans in passing the ball backwards or sideways. However, Gomez was never an automatic choice for Martinez, but Cowie has been so under Rosler.

After dominating the opening stages through their high pressing it was frustrating to see Latics drop back and allow Fulham to control the game. Was it something coming from the manager or were the players physically unable to keep up the pressing for longer than 20 minutes or so?

Tavernier is a talented young player, who will hopefully have a bright future at Wigan. In some ways he is reminiscent of Ryan Taylor. Taylor joined Latics as a right back, but was not a success in that position. Taylor proved to be so invaluable from set pieces that Steve Bruce would find a position for him in the team. That might also become the case with Tavernier.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 7 – made some good saves, but was stranded for Fulham’s second goal.

James Tavernier: 5.5 – good in attack, vulnerable in defence.

Leon Barnett: 4.5 – good in the air but otherwise poor.

Rob Kiernan: 4 – poor.

Maynor Figueroa: 5.5 – not at his best.

Adam Forshaw: 7 – worked hard, rarely wasted the ball.

Emyr Huws: 5 – not as involved as usual. Is his ankle still troubling him? Taken off after 61 minutes.

Roger Espinoza: 9 – the best player on the pitch.

Don Cowie: 4 – poor.

Callum McManaman: 6 – heavily marked, but still posed a threat to Fulham’s defence. Fouled for the penalty. Lasted until the 81st minute.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: 8 – clearly relishing his place in the lineup ahead of Delort and Riera.


James McClean: – full of running, but unable to provide that final pass.

Shaun Maloney: – took his goal well.

Ivan Ramis: – came on 85 minutes too late. Why was he not in from the start?

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