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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Latics fans react on social media to Sheff Wed defeat

boglegrigvote

Another narrow defeat against a team vying for promotion. It was a game practically devoid of good football, hardly an advertisement for the EPL in front of a large television audience. There were few moments of general entertainment in the whole game: a header from debutant James Weir that went over the bar and a disallowed goal when Callum Connolly ran through.

Warren Joyce has certainly created a team that can stop the opposition playing. Frankly, Sheffield Wednesday were made to look poor, despite being seventh placed in the division and their large investment in players.

But stopping the other team scoring goals is only half of the recipe for success. The other side of it is to be able to score goals yourself and Latics hardly looked like doing that last night. Once again Joyce had packed his starting line up with midfielders. It was the same eleven that sparkled against Brentford, but this time around the midfielders were preoccupied by their defensive duties, leaving Will Grigg without support. Latics’ attack was not surprisingly sterile.

The debate about playing twin strikers continues. Joyce had the opportunity to bring Omar Bogle on to pair up with Grigg, but chose not to do so. But even if you are playing with a single striker you can still push men forward to support him. Was it the midfielders themselves who were reluctant to push forward or were they following the manager’s instructions?

The quality of football played by Latics was reminiscent of the dark era of Malky Mackay. Now that Joyce has his team able to curb the opposition, will he move on to the next step which involves creativity and movement going forward?

We took a look at the social media following yesterday’s match and came up with a wide range of views. Our thanks go to the Cockney Latic Forum, Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum, The Boulevard of Broken Dreams (Facebook) and Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen.  Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below.

 

kendrickconnoly

Paul Rowley @PaulRowleyBBC tweeted:

Worth noting ‘LaticsOfficial have lost 7 of their last 8 league games at the DW. Just 3 home wins all season. @BBCMancSports

Sam Morsy @sammorsy08 talked of fine margins:

Great effort and commitment from the boys today, fine margins cost us today, but we will go again Tuesday, fans roaring us on till the end !

Matthew Taylor @matty123tay added:

Disappointed with that. Thought they were there for the taking really, onwards to Norwich…#wafc

MR Brownbill on the Cockney Latic Forum was unimpressed:

 Wasted 1st half….Never score in a month of Sundays with this bo..ocks Grigg on his own .No surprise he hasnt scored in 16 league games. Totally inept going forward…hit and hope. Final ball ,set pieces, corners dire. Wake up please…he will not budge in his plan….pack the middle with no support hope something drops our way. Bogle on….Grigg off….Ch..t almighty…another single goal di..ing. Jacobs..Power..time to rest em. Don’t give a toss how many players we signed he’ll just swap the midfield personnel and play with an isolated pi..ed off forward.

Martin W @dmartw opined:

No width, no urgency, no pace. Hard to believe that was the same team that beat Burton and Brentford. Slightly better in 2nd half #wafc

Dave Carter on The Boulevard of Broken Dreams commented:

Two thoughts from tonight. One, the disallowed goal was very marginal and we can feel just a bit hard done by. Two, Joyce is incredibly naive tactically. We had no support at all for Grigg and the only time that changed at all was after the substitutions with twenty minutes left. We’re going down unless someone kicks some sense into the manager.

Donnys Page on the Cockney Latic Forum questioned the approach:

Game plan exactly the same as against Utd. No support for either lone striker, lone strikers both looked like Fortune, Boseli, Riera and Delort totally lost. Not even a winger or even a wing back to replace a winger putting crosses in bar Jacobs efforts on the wrong wing with 20 minutes to go. No attacking midfielder supporting lone striker. Strikers forced out wide leaving their position in the box vacant.   It’s going to be a real battle to get out of this mire but we may have to be a little more cavalier to escape the drop. Same team as the Brentford game but different approach. Why?

Power Jacobs Perkins McDonald all ready for a rest for a few weeks and new ideas needed but it may be too late for that. This season was bal.. ed up last June.

JamesSaintLatic @JamesSaintLatic added:

Another Saturday of sitting and praying Burton, Bristol City & Blackburn don’t win #wafc.

Pauvre Jean on Latics Speyk has not lost hope:

It wasn’t for lack of effort we lost, it was the same old reliance on playing one badly out of form lone striker. When Weir and Bogle came on we started to threaten. A shame it took 75 minutes to try something different. So yet another disappointing 0-1 defeat to a ‘top six’ Team who were frankly little better than us.

I’ve not lost hope like some on here as I can still see that we can turn it around. I’d like to see the line up that finished tonight starting on Tuesday for a start.

Stuart Kelsall @StuartKelsall believes Latics can stay up:

Not one team played us off park this season and that’s why am more than confident that will stay up there are worse sides than us #believe

Jonny_SuffolkLatic on Latics Speyk advocates a more attack oriented approach:

Our wins against teams around us in recent weeks already shows we can stay up, it’s just that against the higher positioned opponents we should be setting up, and playing, more attack orientated than we are. Against weaker opposition, the team we started with tonight might be able to deliver the points, but better teams need to be tested with more than Grigg up front supported by Jacobs on the wing.

SamWhyte @SamWhyte referred to Grigg’s role:

Grigg spends more time doing defensive work than actually being a striker that when chances do fall his way, he’s knackered. Waste IMO #wafc

Stewart Hart @No1fan referred to a Grigg/Bogle combination:

Should have got something tonight. Clear we can’t play Grigg alone, needs to be paired up, or Bogle on his own. Impressed with Weir. #wafc

Jeffs right on Latics Speyk added:

Bogle and Grigg together could have got us a point. Bogle on his own just reminded me of Mark Antoine Fortune. No service to either of the strikers from Power, Jacobs, Perkins, McDonald. For sh..s sake give Grigg some service and he will get us goals. Power and Jacobs have been more inept than Grigg all season yet Grigg gets the slag off.

Moonay on Latics Speyk summarised:

Sheff Weds – nowt special
Latics – not clinical enough
Rhodes v Grigg – both as poor as each other
Their goal – scabby ……………… & offside ?
Our goal – marginal ……….. but probably was just offside
Our chances – Weir & Burn & Jacobs should have scored
Negatives – reaction of some of our fickle fans, Connolly had his first poor-ish game
Positives – Weir, Morsy played well again, Weir, Bogle looked a handful, …….. oh, and Weir looked a good prospect.

WhittleBlue on Latics Speyk concluded:

A game we didn’t deserve to lose nor win.

Regarding the goal yes it had an element of fortune about it and perhaps Burn, in an otherwise excellent display, could have got closer to Rhodes but that passage of play should never happened in the first place. A lack of footballing intelligence cost us that goal this evening and the blame for that is solely down to Power. Why on earth having sent the centre backs forward would he choose a six yard sideways/backward pass to another player who wasn’t exactly free instead of putting it forward toward those who had ventured forward? What the hell did he expect MacDonald to do with it other than put it forward himself? Absolutely f**king clueless.

Other than that plenty of effort, we look decent defensively overall butlook bereft of quality in attacking areas. I thought Grigg had a thankless task with little service but the one opportunity he had he again spurned, miscontrolled and appears to be low on confidence. Morsy was good but had little support. Jacobs, whilst he tries hard is out of his depth at this level. The problem is who do we replace him with? Weir is a left sided player as is Obertan and the other midfielders all are of a similar type. Yanic is a massive loss and despite signing a load of players I don’t think they strengthen us in the area we needed strengthening which is offensively. The squad is very poorly balanced. The right back looks more threatening and likely to score than anyone which is a poor reflection on the attacking players. Sadly I don’t see enough creativity or goals in this team to see us winning games comfortably and I’m not convinced we will score enough to get us the victories we need to stay up.

 

 

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Latics fans react on social media to win over Forest

griggfire

Will Grigg scored his first goal in thirteen games yesterday to put Wigan Athletic ahead against Nottingham Forest as the half time whistle approached. After being written off by too many fans as a League 1 striker, Grigg showed the kind of opportunism that we had come to expect from him in the past. Providing he is not sold off in the transfer window we can expect more goals from a centre forward keen to show that he has the qualities to become a force in the Championship.

Warren Joyce commented after the game that:“I think Will has been great in general play and he works hard for the side. His all-round commitment has been good and he is doing a job for the team. It’s the hardest thing in football to score, that’s why strikers get paid the most money and he did his job very well today.”

Yanic Wildschut continued his impressive recent form, scoring his fifth goal of the season in the 57th minute. Danish goalkeeper, Jakob Haugaard,  made an eventful debut, saving an 80th minute penalty, Joyce commenting that:“I’m really pleased for Jakob. He didn’t have a lot to do thoughout the game but he had to keep his concentration and be there to save the penalty. Great for him, good confidence booster.”

However, the Man of the Match award went to Sam Morsy on his return from a loan spell at Barnsley. His performance was impressive enough to have fans lobbying for a permanent return to the club for Morsy, although the Yorkshire club have the option of signing the player providing they pay Wigan the agreed transfer fee and can agree personal terms with the player. Joyce commented that:“I’m delighted for Sam. I met him for the first time this week after talking to him on the phone and he’s impressed me, I’ve told him he’s my type of player. The situation is out of our control slightly so we’ll see how that develops.”

After a run of disappointing results, spirits have been lifted, the only real downer of the day being a sparse attendance of 5,163, with some 1,500 coming from Nottingham.

We took a look at the social media following yesterday’s match and came up with a wide range of views. Our thanks go to the Cockney Latic Forum, Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum, The Boulevard of Broken Dreams (Facebook) and Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen.  Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below.

Garswood_Latic on the Cockney Latic Forum commented:

Haugaard signed on loan and straight in the team. Sam Morsy back and in the team. Craig Davies off to Scunthorpe. I think it looks like Joyce is starting to forge what he wants.

Noel Wards Leg on Latics Speyk appraised Sam Morsy’s contribution:

I really enjoyed Sam Morsy’s performance today. His ability to play accurate forward passes and maintain the momentum of our play was a joy at times. Forest were very poor but still, I don’t think we’ve got anyone else who can play like that. If, as seems likely, it’s basically up to him whether he joins Barnsley now, then we can only regret whatever happened previously. However, as much as it appears on today’s performance that he would improve our current squad, it’s unlikely that he would play that well every week. Forest put him under no pressure when he had the ball and as we saw last season, he can fold very quickly when he is pressed very intensely. In the hurly-burly of an average Championship match, I fear he wouldn’t contribute as much as he did today. As to whether he will stay, Joyce said in his post-match interview that he’s told Morsy that “he’s my kind of player”. That, and a start today, may lead him to think that he will play more often for us than for them although he has played in his last six games for Barnsley. As ever it will probably come down to money. I can’t see us offering him a better contract but it may well be that he’s already earning more here than Barnsley can offer. If that’s the case, he may still be our player this time next week. He could make a difference and give the fans a lift into the bargain.

Paul Kendrick @PKendrickWIG tweeted:

May only be short-lived, but good to see Sam Morsy back in a Latics shirt. Mistake to let him go in summer. But only my two-penneth.

JamesSaintLatic  @JamesSaintLatic said:

Great, that. Midfield 3 superb. Showing what we are capable of. Morsy needs to stay if possible. Huge game next week now. Come on!

JimmyC on the Cockney Latic Forum talked about Haugaard:

This keeper from Stoke looks good jr. He didn’t have a lot to do today but looked comfortable coming for crosses, and saved a pen…

Rob G @robgibson82 praised Morsy’s performance:

I’m with the internet experts on this one. I thought Morsy was brilliant yesterday, maybe, just maybe he could have made a difference

CLatic on Latics Speyk commented:

Feel sorry for David Sharpe, he’ll take the pelters from the fans if Morsy goes when all he was doing was backing his manager at the time’s awful judgement. Having said that, I hope the young man has learnt a serious lesson regarding permanent fees inserted into loan contracts following this debacle. If Morsy decides to stay and helps keep us up, then for me he’ll become an instant cult hero at this club and deservedly so.

Phil Crompton @ptc23 tweeted:

@LaticsSpeyk#wafc    Worst PR ever. Loan Morsy out, recall him, play him in one match and sell him. Who thinks these things up ?

NuneatonLatic on the Cockney Latic Forum surmised that:

But why pick a player for one game knowing he’s off the week after. Imagine your the player stood down for him. Not gonna make for a happy squad is it? I think Joyce must rate him and I would hope he’s had a word with the lad and convinced him that he is an integral part of his plans. Sometimes that’s all is needed its what the great man managers do .

GrimReaper87 on Latics Speyk checked out a Barnsley view:

Just been looking on the Barnsley Forum and their fans don’t seem confident in signing Morsy, They’re saying that personal terms are the stumbling block they’re saying that Barnsley can’t and won’t offer the same money that we’re paying Morsy.

Murf @RobertRobmurphy added:

waiting “Grigg and Yanic only doing it for a transfer out of here”#wafc

Mark Ashurst on The Boulevard of Broken Dreams said:

Wonder how many of the folk moaning about the club spending no money will not be going today as it’s a tenner to get on and not in your season ticket …..

Tez H on the Cockney Latic Forum commented:

What a shame there was only 3500 Latics die hards there to see it. Embarrassing that so called fans can’t put their hand in their pocket for a tenner.

TrueBeliever on Latics Speyk opined that:

The problem for me Tl4e is that we are not attracting pay on the day fans. We are only bringing in the season ticket holders and hence a game that has to be paid for as an extra is not appealing. I’m not saying this is the only reason but Wigan fans are fickle and have proved that over the years, until we start playing consistent and attractive football and start moving up the league I fear we will not see the floating “fans” back. Its a sad state of affairs I know but sometimes you have to take off the blinkers and see the truth of things.

 

 

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A two sided view of Warren Joyce at Latics

janus

Wigan Athletic lost at Villa Park on Saturday due to a brilliant goal in the 89th minute. Up to that point we had seen them cancel out the attacking efforts of a team loaded with players who played in the Premier League last season.

Looking at the team lineup prior to the kickoff it was clear that Warren Joyce was going to utilize the same tactics as he did at Barnsley and Huddersfield, where Latics picked up a draw and a win. The plan was simple: play a massed defence, relying on the pace of Yanic Wildschut up front. It worked until the closing minutes. Latics went close to getting a hard earned point, although they never truly looked like coming back with three.

After the game Joyce expressed his satisfaction on the effort and commitment of his team, also adding that “That’s where we’re at, we’ve got to make sure we stop the opposition from playing in the best way that we can and limit their opportunities of scoring – which we did today – and then try and come up with ways that we can score goals to win games. We will approach the game no differently on Wednesday night, we will try and win the game in what we believe is the best way that we can go and do that.”

After just five matches in charge the new manager has already polarized the Latics support. Is he playing the right tactics? Is it the right way to get out of the relegation zone?

Any argument has two sides. Let’s take a look at a couple of opposing views:

 

It is far too early to judge Joyce after just five matches in charge, most of which have been against teams either in high positions or on strong runs of form. He inherited problems left behind by Gary Caldwell and it is going to take time to put it right. Joyce has been appointed for the long term, as evidenced by the three and a half year contract he was given. Previous managers were appointed on rolling contracts.

Joyce had a great reputation at Manchester United and has demonstated his ability to develop young players. In the long term this will be necessary for our club which does not have the available resources to compete on an even keel with the bigger clubs in the division. The reality is that David Sharpe’s Latics will be the kind of club that develops players and sells one or two off each year to balance the books. In his interviews with Sharpe prior to taking the job, Joyce surely gave the young chairman a vision of how he could do that. He must have known it would be a difficult task, given this scenario, but nevertheless gave up a relatively comfortable position at Old Trafford to take on the challenge.

Caldwell had made far too many mistakes this season and if he had stayed Latics would have been in a constant struggle against relegation. His summer signings were uninspiring, with the players brought in no better than those who were there already. Moreover he broke up the solid central defensive partnership of Craig Morgan and Jason Pearce, the former being stripped of the captaincy, the latter offloaded to Charlton. The pre-season was a mess and the players have not been fit enough. Joyce has increased the intensity of training and is getting real commitment from his players. It may not be pretty to watch at this stage, but these are early days. Joyce’s teams at Old Trafford had a reputation for playing entertaining football and this will surely come at Wigan, given time.

The first thing to put right in a team struggling against relegation is the defence. Joyce is on his way to making Latics a team that others do not want to play. Nottingham Forest had a team studded with Premier League players, with £20 million worth on the bench, but they did not look like getting past Wigan’s defence until that spectacular goal a minute from the end of normal time.

Joyce’s team selections have been criticised but he oversees training on a daily basis. If a player is not making the effort in training should he leapfrog over others into the starting lineup? Joyce is sending a clear message to his squad that their full commitment is required.

His immediate goal will to be to get towards the January transfer window, picking up enough points here and there to keep Latics within reach of the teams immediately above them in the table. He will keep things tight, not risking heavy defeats that can demoralize his players. He has inherited a weak squad and will need to bring in fresh blood in January. Much will depend on Sharpe’s willingness to back him in the transfer market. If the chairman does not provide the funds then Joyce will have to scour the loan market. His connections with Manchester United will surely help.

With time we can expect to see a team which effectively defends and attacks as a unit, with genuine pace up front and at the back. The days of the painfully slow build ups of Caldwell’s teams are gone and we can expect a more direct and high tempo approach from Joyce.

 

Since Joyce arrived Latics have gone backwards, rather than forwards. He started with a 3-0 home defeat and his only win was a steal at Huddersfield. The football has been horrible to watch. Even that served up by Owen Coyle was better. Players who were able to retain possession by stringing a series of passes together under Caldwell now seem unable to do so. Moreover if the defence or midfield wins the ball there is nobody to hold it up.

Joyce thinks a winger can be a centre forward, as did Malky Mackay with James McClean, which proved sadly misguided. Like McClean, Wildschut does not know how to hold up the ball or to head it. Moreover even as a winger he can be so inconsistent. I cannot recall a previous situation in English football when a manager has played a winger in the middle, with three centre forwards on the bench. Proven strikers are the most likely to win games for you.

On Saturday Joyce started with Luke Garbutt in wide right midfield and Michael Jacobs on the left. Most of their efforts were taken up by defending, with Wildschut looking solitary up front. Joyce’s game plans seem to have been based more on damage limitation rather than actually trying to win the three points.

Latics squad is far from the best in the division, but neither is it the worst. The problem is that he is not getting the best out of the squad at his disposal. With the right tactics and the right team selections there is already enough talent there to get the club out of the relegation zone.

The treatment of Will Grigg is baffling. The excuse that the player needs a rest because of being in the European Championship over summer wears thin. It appears that Joyce wants a central striker with more pace than Grigg (or Davies or Le Fondre), so he puts Wildschut there. Rather than adjust the tactics to suit the squad he has, Joyce chooses to leave out players who can win matches by scoring goals out of the blue. Is he so inflexible that he cannot see this? Common sense needs to prevail.

The right full back position remains problematic. Joyce’s preference has been Reece Burke, a central defender who lacks finesse in attack. His next choice is Garbutt, who is left footed and who had been left out of the team by Caldwell. Despite Joyce’s reputation of developing young players, Luke Burke continues to languish in the development squad, despite promising performances early in the season. Moreover Joyce also has another specialist right back in Kyle Knoyle who has disappeared from view.

When Latics were struggling to maintain their place in the Premier League in 2011-12 “Believe” was the theme. It happened. But at the moment it is hard to believe and it is not surprising that support in recent home games has been muted.

How can people believe in a manager who writes off a defeat at Aston Villa by saying that “Single points add up over the course of a season, but the reality is it’s just one point. It’s not all doom and gloom, it’s one point, in a tough game, against a massive club.” Prior to Saturday Latics had lost in just one of their previous eight visits to Villa Park.

Playing ugly football with just one forward is not the way to pick up points.

 

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Rekindling Grigg’s fire

 

Windsor Park erupted into song in the 62nd minute of a World Cup qualifying match on Friday. The chorus reverberated around the old Belfast stadium. The irony is that some Northern Ireland supporters may have been more familiar with the song than the player who came off the bench at that moment

Will Grigg went to the European Championships in France in summer, but never got the chance to play. He found himself the third choice centre forward behind  Kyle Lafferty of Norwich and Conor Washington of Queens Park Rangers. Lafferty has a fine goalscoring record for his country – one in every three games. He opened the scoring against Azerbaijan in the 24th minute, before going off with around half an hour to play. But Washington was not in the squad and Grigg was the replacement.

Will Grigg was born in Solihull and qualifies for Northern Ireland through an Irish grandparent. He made his debut for them in a 6-0 defeat to Italy in June 2012, going on to make five more appearances over the next 12 months, but over the past three years his appearances have become infrequent.

The experience in France will have been desperately disappointing for Grigg. He scored 27 goals last season, the third time in his career when he has exceeded the 20 mark. Given Lafferty’s goalscoring record at international level it was always going to be difficult to claim a place ahead of him. But Grigg’s fans will seriously question why he was not favoured over Washington, who had a good goalscoring ratio at Peterborough, but failed to score for QPR last season after his January transfer.

But despite the knockbacks of France and critics wondering if Grigg was up to the level of the Championship, the player started the season with a flourish. Despite his team’s poor start to the season Grigg not only managed to score 4 goals in the first 5 games, but also to look comfortable playing in the second tier. It looked like Grigg could be on fire in the Championship as he had been in League 1.

At the start of the season Grigg was Wigan’s most marketable player. Were he to make a success of himself in the Championship his potential transfer value would sky-rocket. The figure Latics paid Brentford – rumoured to be around £900,000 – looked like chicken feed compared with the possibilities of a valuation moving up towards the £10 million mark. In a cash-strapped situation the club could not afford to miss out on a big cash-in at a later date.

But since early September Grigg has not so much been on fire, but more like smouldering. With his first child due to be born he opted out of the Northern Ireland squad at the end of August, the arrival of Adam Le Fondre near the end of the transfer window also complicating Grigg’s position. At the end of September in the home game against Wolves Gary Caldwell chose Le Fondre to start ahead of Grigg. The manager could say his move paid off as Le Fondre scored after 5 minutes, with Grigg coming off the bench to score the winner in the 88th minute. In fact that has been Grigg’s only goal in his last 7 matches for Wigan.

Le Fondre was again preferred to Grigg in the goalless draw with Burton in mid-October, but Grigg was to regain his place for the next three matches. However, the arrival of new manager Warren Joyce was to see Le Fondre start in the ill-fated 3-0 defeat to Reading.

One wonders if Joyce will continue to favour Le Fondre over Grigg. The 29 year old Le Fondre arrived on loan from Cardiff with an impressive career strike record, having scored 164 goals in 287 league starts and 152 appearances off the bench. He has played in the lower divisions, but also in the Premier League with Reading. He joined Cardiff City in May 2014 but managed only 4 goals in 19 starts and 4 substitute appearances before being sent off on loan to Bolton then Wolves.

Joyce might well be looking into resting Grigg over the coming weeks. Last week he stated that: “It is a real frustration. Talking to Will, he’s had a long summer, where he maybe only had 10 days off between seasons, and he almost needs a little bit of a break. I know from my experience at Manchester United, the players always had at least a four-week break (over the summer) because the body needs that. It’s something we’ll be looking at with Will, to try to give him a chance to recharge his batteries and go again for the rest of the year.”

Up to this point Grigg has started in 13 league matches, with 3 appearances off the bench. He has scored 5 goals. Le Fondre has started in 3, with 4 substitute appearances, scoring 1 goal.

Both Grigg and Le Fondre have excellent goalscoring records. There are fans who would like to see them play together as twin strikers, but Joyce is likely to take a similar stance to Gary Caldwell and most other modern day managers by playing with one central striker. The 25 year old Grigg is physically bigger than Le Fondre and has shown his ability to play the lone centre forward role with skill and application. But Le Fondre has more experience of playing in higher levels of football.

Joyce also has a fit-again Craig Davies at his disposal. Davies can play the role of an old fashioned battering ram centre forward who can make life uncomfortable for central defenders. He was afforded little playing time last season, so often brought on near the ends of games, with little time to settle in. Davies needs more consistent playing time to be at his sharpest, but with Grigg and Le Fondre ahead of him in the pecking order he will find it tough. But the prospect of a Davies-Le Fondre double act in the final quarter of a tight game could be tempting for Joyce.

It is ironic that at the same time that Joyce is talking about resting Grigg he is at last getting playing time for Northern Ireland. It is a matter which is out of the manager’s hands, but he cannot be happy with the situation.

It remains to be seen not only how much rest Joyce will afford Grigg, but whether the player wants it. He started the season well, but events have conspired to disrupt his rhythm. Many fans advocate a return for Grigg as the undisputed first choice centre forward. Joyce will have to make some difficult decisions over the coming weeks.

An on-fire Grigg could be the key to Latics moving up the Championship table, free of the threat of relegation. He remains the club’s biggest asset and the manager will need to ensure that he is sharp and at his best.

Last season Grigg had only scored 6 league goals by Christmas, but went on to notch 25. He has already scored 5 goals in the Championship this season.

Can he do it again?

Can Joyce rekindle Grigg’s fire?