Joyce has gone – time to BELIEVE again

Do we BELIEVE that Latics can get out of this predicament? Table thanks to Statto.com

David Sharpe did the right thing today by dismissing Warren Joyce and his close associate Andy Welsh. Some might say the chairman deserves praise for swallowing his pride and realising he did the wrong thing in November. But Sharpe is pragmatic enough to know that if he had kept Joyce in charge, Latics would surely have been doomed to relegation.

One of the fundamental building blocks in Wigan Athletic’s rise from the fourth tier to mingle for so long with the elite clubs of English football was sheer BELIEF. It was the belief of Dave Whelan in his managers – Paul Jewell, Steve Bruce and Roberto Martinez – that led to the club to an FA Cup, a League Cup Final and eight years in the Premier League. Whelan backed them, not only with his chequebook, but with his driving ambition to hold Wigan Athletic up there.

There were certainly sticky moments along the way, but there was always the hope that things would turn out alright in the end. They did apart from that fatal night at the Emirates, just three days after Ben Watson’s unforgettable goal had won them the Cup. But Whelan had chosen his managers wisely.

Jewell’s teams were built on solid defence, but always had flair players in attack. Whelan opted for continuity when Jewell left, giving the post to his assistant, Chris Hutchings. Sadly it did not work out and Hutchings was gone after barely three months in charge. Bruce came back to the club, Whelan backed him in the transfer market and he righted a foundering ship. His teams were based on a solid defence protected by a rugged midfield, but with a good smattering of flair players to provide balance.

Martinez was brought in to keep Latics in the Premier League on a much reduced budget. He went on to produce the best results in the club’s history, away wins at Arsenal and Liverpool, the club’s one and only victory at home to Manchester United, that epic victory on cup final day. Martinez was a great ambassador for the club, through his insistence that his teams compete against star-studded opposition by sticking to the principles of skilful possession football. The FA Cup victory against Manchester City was no fluke: Wigan had played the better football on the day, with not a hint of skulduggery.

Was Whelan just lucky with his appointments of Jewell, Bruce and Martinez or did he have a vision of what they would do? If he was lucky with those three, he certainly was not with his appointment of Owen Coyle. Neither was he in appointing Malky Mackay and his grandson made a similarly woeful appointment in Warren Joyce. None of those three names – Coyle, Mackay, Joyce – became synonymous with good football at Wigan Athletic. Indeed it was quite the reverse.

But Whelan did make a good appointment in Uwe Rosler, who picked up the mess left by Coyle and got Latics to the FA Cup Semi Final and the Championship playoffs. Sadly the going got rough in Rosler’s second season, but rather than showing faith in a manager who had achieved so much, Whelan showed him the door, bringing in the hapless Mackay. Sharpe did a similar thing with Gary Caldwell, who had only months before won the League 1 title. His replacement was the inept Joyce.

Sharpe has done the right thing for the moment. The odds are that Latics will not be able to avoid relegation, but without the shackles imposed by Joyce the players can make things happen. Few of us really and truly believed that Joyce was the right man for Wigan. To BELIEVE that Joyce could save the club from relegation was asking too much, given his obsession with the defensive side of the game and the hoofball we were witnessing.

Graham Barrow has been appointed caretaker manager again. Barrow is a survivor who has seen six managers come and go since rejoining the club in 2009. Barrow is not the kind of coach who will throw caution to the wind, but we can expect him to field line ups that are more balanced that we saw under Joyce. Due attention will be paid to the offence, as well as the defence.

With Barrow in charge we at least have a hope that we can BELIEVE our team can avoid the drop.

Courtesy of Statto.com

 

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A Fulham fan’s view of Ryan Tunnicliffe

 

Last week Ryan Tunnicliffe was signed on loan from Fulham until the end of the season, when his contract expires. He made an appearance off the bench after 76 minutes in the win against Brentford on Saturday. The 24 year old had a previous loan spell at Wigan under Uwe Rosler which was terminated prematurely.

On signing Tunnicliffe, Warren Joyce said: “Ryan has got a terrific attitude first and foremost. He has been educated through the United Academy and he is a player I always thought would do well.  He has built up considerable experience now in this division and we are confident he can be a really positive influence to the group in the immediate future.”

Tunnicliffe reciprocated by saying that he was delighted to work under Joyce again.

The question is: can the manager get the best out of a player who promised so much under his charge at Manchester United, but whose career seems to have lost its way since then?

Ryan Tunnicliffe was born in Heywood, part of the metropolitan borough of Rochdale. He made rapid progress through the Manchester United Academy, signing professional forms as a 17 year old in December 2009. He went on to win the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year Award in the side that won the FA Youth Cup in 2011, ahead of Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Ravel Morrison.

Tunnicliffe spent the first half of the 2011-12 season at Peterborough, where he made 27 apperances. On his return to Old Trafford he was a regular in Joyce’s reserve side that won two trophies. Tunnicliffe made his senior debut in a League Cup game against Newcastle in  September 2012. He went on a month’s loan to Barnsley in February 2012, followed by a six month loan at Ipswich in the first half of the 2013-14 season.

Ex-Manchester United coach Rene Meulensteen signed Tunnicliffe for Fulham in January 2014. He was a regular in the lineup until Felix Magath replaced the Dutchman. After falling out of favour he was sent on loan to Latics in February 2014. In summer 2014 he was sent on a season long loan at Blackburn, but Fulham recalled him in January 2015. He had made 10  starts for Rovers, with 7 appearances as a substitute.

In order to learn more about Tunnicliffe’s time at Fulham we reached out to Peter Grinham on Facebook. Peter previously wrote a fan view for us on Dan Burn.

Here’s over to Peter:

Rene Meulenstein brought him to Fulham after working with him at Man U where, I believe, he was their U21 skipper. He was well thought of at Man U at that time but his career at Fulham has faltered, not initially helped by then manager Felix Magath who was a destructive influence to ALL.

Ryan has never really got going at our club and doesn’t really fit the current Fulham playing style which is pass and go, dribbling past players if need be. He has a lot of energy and is a fully committed player with a decent engine. He has played everywhere across the middle of the park for us but I am really not sure of his best position. He likes a tackle and has a really committed attitude to his game.

When playing as an over age player for the U23s this season, he has simply got on with it, fighting for a 1st team place – where others out of the team appeared to sulk. Sometimes he can go AWOL during a game; I’m not sure if it is a concentration problem or just catching his breath after some powerful committed runs.

Has Caldwell got it right in the pre-season?

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Wigan Athletic’s first league game in their return to the Championship is less than two weeks away. Since the last match of the previous season against Barnsley on May 8th Latics have signed four new players, moved to a superior training complex at Euxton and played five pre-season games without a win, scoring just one goal. Today’s 4-1 defeat at Rochdale has raised many eyebrows. Given what has happened so far what kind of season can we expect to follow?

Some weeks ago Gary Caldwell acknowledged that recruiting players this summer was going to be a different matter than it was a year ago. Latics no longer have the financial advantage over teams in their division, enabling them to offer lucrative salaries to prospective signings. Wigan are now up against clubs with higher revenues, many of them buoyed with parachute payments. Latics are now in their final “parachute” season with a less than rosy financial short term future ahead.

Nevertheless Caldwell and his recruitment team have done well over the past weeks. Dan Burn may not be the most fulfilled central defender, but he is only 24 years old and already has more than 80 appearances in the Championship under his belt. The question is whether Caldwell, an ex-central defender himself, can nurture the player into realizing his full potential.

The signing of Stephen Warnock on a one year contract was no surprise. Warnock proved to be an excellent loan signing for League 1 and has a wealth of experience in higher divisions, plus two England caps.  However, he will be 35 in December, hence the short term contract. Warnock will face fierce competition for the left back spot from the 22 year old Reece James, providing the young player can rid himself of the troublesome ankle injury that has been dogging him so long.

Caldwell has brought in one for the future in the 21 year old Alex Gilbey. A product of the Colchester academy he has the kinds of technical attributes akin to those of Max Power, together with a willingness to work hard for the team. Although only 22 years old he made over 100 senior appearances for the U’s. Gilbey’s arrival will heighten the pressure for places in the central midfield.

The signing of Nick Powell is a bold gamble that Caldwell will be praying will come off. Powell’s impressive performances for Latics in the first part of the 2013-14 season showed what a fine player he can be at Championship level. However, niggling injuries have played their part in knocking Powell’s career off-track. His loan spells at Leicester and Hull were fruitless. In fact, the last time Powell played in a starting lineup was on April 5th 2014 for Latics against Leeds United. But the player is still only 22 and has the ability to become an outstanding performer. Once again the question arises whether Caldwell and his coaching staff will be able to give the player the kind of nurturing he will need to help him turn his career around.

The loan signing of Adam Bogdan from Liverpool leaves Latics with four goalkeepers on their books. Although he has had a hard time at Anfield the Hungarian was highly regarded at Bolton, where he pushed Jussi Jaaskelainen out of the team. It is most likely that Bogdan will do the same again at Wigan, with the big Finn being the backup keeper and either Lee Nicholls or Dan Lavercombe leaving for a loan spell.

Right back continues to be a problem position, with recent loan signing Kyle Knoyle ruled out long term due to an elbow injury. In the meantime Caldwell has brought Ryan Taylor back to Wigan on trial. Taylor’s set piece deliveries were a key element for Steve Bruce’s team at Latics, but he left for Newcastle in February 2009, spending more than six years on Tyneside. However, injuries have taken their toll on the player who is now 31. Taylor started in only one Championship game for Hull City last season. Should Taylor be offered a contract it is unlikely to be for more than a year, given his recent history.

Caldwell will be hoping that his new signings can come out of the blocks running. However, in the cases of Bogdan and Powell, coming from unfulfilled spells at their previous clubs, it could take more time. Moreover Gilbey has to adjust to playing in the Championship for the first time and Burn has arrived possibly short on confidence after playing for a struggling Fulham team. However, new signings apart, the players remaining from last season’s League 1 title squad will also face the challenge of playing in a higher division. Key players such as Will Grigg and Max Power have never played at a level above League 1 and Yanic Wildschut only started in three games during his time at Middlesbrough in the Championship.

Wigan’s purchase of the Euxton training facility from Bolton Wanderers certainly looks like sound business. However, it puts into question the future of the venture at Charnock Richard, with implications for the development of the club’s academy. Dreams of developing a Category 1 academy now seem far away, given the short term financial situation the club will face. One wonders if Latics were to find their way back into the Premier League would they even then revisit the idea of having a top level youth programme?

In this month just a couple of years ago Uwe Rosler was the toast of the town after doing such a fine job in uplifting Latics following the damaging reign of Owen Coyle. But a calamitous pre-season proved to be the first nail in the coffin of a sequence of events which resulted in the German’s departure some four months later. Too many players picked up niggling injuries and a friendly match in Germany had to be cancelled because Rosler just did not have enough fit players. When the season started the majority of the players just were not up to going the whole 90 minutes, with slumps in the second half being too common. The seemingly old-fashioned concept of “over training” was raised by many fans at the time.

It is to be hoped that the lessons of a couple of years ago have been learned and that Caldwell’s squad is not being over trained. However, just one goal scored in five pre-season games is a worrying sign. Following a goalless draw at non-league Macclesfield Town the manager stated “It’s not about winning games or scoring lots of goals at this point, it’s about putting things into them physically and tactically and seeing how it works on the pitch.

However, he changed his tune somewhat following an abject 4-1 defeat at Rochdale yesterday, commenting that “I’m disappointed obviously with both the result and the performance because it wasn’t good enough. However, it’s understandable from the work we have been doing in training that the boys are going to be a little tired but we do still know that it’s unacceptable and we have two weeks to do something about it.”

Given the apparently heavy training regime and playing four games in eight days it is not surprising the players might be tired. The scheduling of the games against Manchester United and Liverpool on consecutive days was odd to say the least, offering more value in terms of PR than as a means of preparing the players for the season ahead.

Yesterday Caldwell was apparently unable to call on his three main centre backs – Donervon Daniels, Craig Morgan and Jason Pearce – and left back Stephen Warnock went off injured early on. Not surprisingly the back four of youth debutant Luke Burke together with Jack Hendry, Dan Burn and David Perkins was unable to assert itself.

Without a single victory in the pre-season up to this point, Caldwell will surely put more emphasis on winning for the two remaining friendlies at Oldham and Fleetwood. Although pre-season results are of minimal consequence as the season unfolds, the manager will want to restore the winning habit that the team established last season. He will also need to make greater use of his more established players, providing they are fit.

It is to be hoped that the sports science, physiotherapy and physical conditioning staff at the club are on top of things during the pre-season. Latics need to go out to that first league game at Ashton Gate with a squad of fit players who can give their all.

Surely the lessons of the Rosler era have been learned?

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

The demise of good football at Wigan Athletic

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Malky Mackay’s team of scrappers was once again caught short on their home ground. Watford are by no means Barcelona, but they try to play good football and deserve to be challenging for promotion. A 2-0 win for the Hornets was never a surprise to the realists among the Latics support.

It is almost exactly a year ago since Wigan Athletic beat Watford at the DW Stadium, their ninth win in ten matches. Uwe Rosler had built a side that was hard to beat, with a solid defence and flair players who could make the difference. It was not always pretty to watch, but fans were happy with the results and “In Rosler We Trust” was the order of the day.

It was results that were of paramount importance when Owen Coyle had taken over the reins in the summer of 2013. His brief was to get the club back into the Premier League by the end of the season. The Scot brought in ten new faces, a necessary thing to do after the exodus of players following relegation. His challenge was to meld together a dressing room of players who had played under Roberto Martinez and his new signings.

Coyle was never going to be an adherent to the ’tiki taka’ style of football preferred by his predecessor. However, more than half of his squad had been weaned on that approach. It was in their blood. But what was Coyle’s preferred playing style? How would the ex-Premier League players adapt to it?

Coyle was quick to revert to a traditional back four, immediately scrapping the 3-4-3 that had been the hallmark of success in the Martinez era. In his first league game in charge at Barnsley he brought in five of his new signings. There was only one player from outside the British Isles in the starting lineup – in contrast to the ‘League of Nations’ lineups that Martinez had fielded.

However, that promising start was not to be continued and Latics stuttered through the next few games. The long ball – anathema in the days of Martinez – was soon to become a feature of Wigan’s play, led by the powerful kicking of new goalkeeper Scott Carson. Players who were used to the possession game under Martinez were now expected to adapt to the more direct and physical approach of Coyle. At times the players simply appeared that they did not know what to do in the absence of a clearly-articulated footballing philosophy from the manager.

The same could not be said of Coyle’s successor, Uwe Rosler. The German talked enthusiastically about high tempo, high pressing football. It gave us visions of Latics playing the exhilarating type of football demonstrated by the likes of Borussia Dortmund. Not surprisingly the players struggled to adapt to the style of football eschewed by their new manager. They could press high up the pitch for the first twenty to thirty minutes, but invariably ran out of steam.

In the early days of Rosler’s reign it was put down to the lack of fitness of the players under Coyle. However, that high pressing early in the game was to upset many opposing teams, providing a solid platform for obtaining improved results, even if the second halves of too many matches saw Latics massed in defence.

Despite considerable success in his first season – 5th place in the league, reaching an FA Cup semifinal – Rosler could not inculcate his vision into his players. As time wore on it appeared that he and the players became more and more out of tune in terms of what should be delivered on the pitch. As the new season wore on we were to see less and less of the commitment required for the high tempo, high pressing football he sought.

By November the dream of getting back into the Premier League had become almost unreal. It looked like it was not going to happen this season with Rosler. Dave Whelan stepped in, relieving the German of his job, bringing in Malky Mackay, stating his belief that the Scot was the right man to take the club back to the Premier League.

The harsh reality is that Mackay is taking Latics to League 1, rather than the Premier League.

During his tenure results have been awful, but the style of play has been even worse. Jettisoning thirteen players in a January fire-sale was clearly a collective decision, not taken by Mackay alone. David Sharpe must shoulder responsibility for this action, as too should Jonathan Jackson. The end result is a squad desperately short on quality compared with that of a year ago. Moreover the style of play is more akin to that of the club’s time in the Cheshire League than what we have been accustomed to over the past decade.

That the majority of fans are not demonstrating for the removal of Mackay is a reflection of the numbness that so many feel. His supporters – few as they may be – will say that he has got the players playing with the kind of passion that was lacking this season under Rosler. The fire sale and the threat of League 1 left him with little option but to sign loanees and players on short term contracts. He has been left to mop up the mess left behind by Rosler. Even the anti-Mackay brigade will grudgingly accept that there is some substance to such assertions.

However, how many fans have the confidence that Mackay can turn things around, given time? His management experience is at Championship level, together with a brief sojourn in the Premier League. The high probability is that Wigan Athletic are going to be in League 1 next year. Is he the right man to get them back out?

Mackay’s appointment was ill-fated to say the least. It has caused seemingly irreparable damage to the club. However, despite the media fracas it looked like Latics had appointed someone who could steady a sinking ship on the filed of play. He had successfully worked under pressure of relegation at Watford and taken Cardiff to the Championship title. On paper he looked the right kind of person to get the results to put the team back on track.

However, during Mackay’s reign we have seen the standard of football plummet to close to rock-bottom. The passing style of football that we have seen over the years has disappeared, with “hoof ball” coming to the fore. It could be said that teams in the relegation zone so often need to sacrifice good football to grind out results. The recent run of four consecutive away wins has been attained by following such a pattern. However, when the team plays at home it does not have the wherewithal to break down the opponent’s defence. The skliful approach is sadly lacking.

Mackay’s teams at Watford and Cardiff were not noted for their good football. The sad conclusion is that as long as Mackay continues at Wigan we are not going to see the type of dynamic football we saw from Paul Jewell’s teams or the skilful possession football under Roberto Martinez.

Mackay will almost certainly be in charge until the end of the season. It remains to be seen how much longer he will be at the club.

The brand of football that Watford are playing at the moment is close to what last season’s Wigan Athletic team were capable of at their best. With Mackay at the helm we are not going to see that from the home team at the DW Stadium.

Through the effects of relegation from the Premier League and some poor managerial appointments  we have witnessed the demise of good football at our beloved club.

Let’s hope the young chairman, David Sharpe, will have the foresight to make the kinds of decisions to bring it back.