Wigan Athletic and the loan system

How many of the club’s most successful youth team will ever play for its senior side?
Photo courtesy of Wigan Athletic FC.

Critics of the loan system in English football say that it is there for the benefit of bigger clubs helping them to stockpile young talent. They cite the example of Chelsea as taking things to the extreme.

At the beginning of this season Chelsea had no less than 38 players out on loan. Half were sent to English clubs, half overseas.  In addition to those coming through their academy Chelsea buy up young talent from all over the world, typically sending them out on loan immediately to get experience. Some will come back and get a first team place, but for most the experience helps boost their market value and they are sold off.

But clubs in the lower divisions are so often happy to take the loanees. Using a loan player over  a relatively short period of time frees them from tying up their capital in long term contracts, which can be problematic if the club runs into financial difficulties. Moreover the clubs can use the loan market to cut wage bills by sending their own players on loans where other clubs pay their salaries. Andrew Taylor was signed for Wigan Athletic by Uwe Rosler in the summer of 2014 on a three year contract. He played 26 games for Latics in that first season, but has played no competitive games since for them. Last season was spent on loan at Reading, this season at Bolton.

The loan system also provides a lower division club with the opportunity to assess a player’s capabilities prior to making a decision on a permanent signing. In Wigan’s case it enabled them to sign Yanic Wildschut from Middlesbrough in January 2016 after a three month loan period.  It proved to be the most lucrative financial transaction the club has made in recent years, making a sizeable profit, even if critics might say it contributed to the lowly league position Latics now find themselves in. Reports suggest that Wildschut was signed for less than £1m and sold for a figure approaching £7m, although there may have been clauses in the deal made with Middlesbrough assigning them a portion of a future transfer fee. Nevertheless the club had used the loan system much to their benefit.

But Emyr Huws had been brought to Wigan on loan in the summer of 2014, resulting in Latics paying Manchester City reputed to be around £2.5m near the end of the summer transfer window. An ankle injury in the early part of the season severely hampered Huws, leading to him making only 16 appearances in 2014-15. After expressing his desire not to play in League 1, Huws went on loan to Huddersfield Town the following season, only to sign for Cardiff City last summer for a fee in the region of £1m. Latics had made a considerable loss on Huws, although we can only surmise on what would have happened if he had not suffered that ankle injury, something that has continued to dog the player.

Sometimes players are sent out on loan in the final stages of their contracts. Typically it is a way of helping them find future employment, when their contracts are not going to be renewed. Uwe Rosler signed Martyn Waghorn from Leicester City after a successful loan period in 2013-14. Stephen Warnock was given a permanent contract last summer after joining on loan from Derby County in March 2016.

But Wigan Athletic have signed 32 loan players over the past three seasons, with only Warnock and Wildschut becoming permanent signings. The majority of the loan signings were made in the January window. Faced with mass departures in the fire sale of January 2015, Malky Mackay made seven loan signings, none of whom were to stay on at the club at the end of the season.  Warren Joyce also made seven loan signings in January 2017.

The sheer number of loan players signed by Latics over the past three seasons has led to fans questioning the policy. Why have so many loan players been signed, when such a tiny proportion have gone on to sign permanent contracts? Moreover if the club is serious about its Academy why has it brought in so many youngsters on loan from other clubs? Put simply, has the club been helping other clubs in developing their young players at the expense of home grown talent?

The stats are damning. In the past three seasons only four graduates of the Wigan Athletic Academy/youth system have played in league matches for the club. They have made a combined total of 15 starts, with 12 substitute  appearances. The most appearances were made by Tim Chow (6 starts, 9 sub), Luke Burke (4 starts, 1 sub) and Jordan Flores (3 starts, 2 sub), with Lee Nicholls making two end of season starts against Brentford and Barnsley.

The case of Luke Burke this season is one seems to typify what has been happening. As an 18 year old Burke made a promising debut in the opening game of the season at Bristol City. He had come in seemingly full of confidence from a good pre-season and his success as captain of Wigan Athletic’s most successful ever youth team. However, as the season progressed Burke was to be marginalised, then sent on loan to Barrow. The right back position has continued to be problematic this season, with either midfield players put in there or young loan players brought in. They include Reece Burke (20), ostensibly a central defender, Callum Connolly (19) and Jamie Hanson (21).

Wigan Athletic are by no means the only EFL club to use the loan system in such a way. It has become commonplace throughout the three divisions. However, given the focus on building a strong academy, bringing in such quantities of young loan players is surely detrimental to the development of the club’s own home-grown talent.

Given the fact that Latics have been struggling against relegation since day 1 this season it is perhaps understandable why home grown talent has been so sparsely used. The irony is that last season’s youth team reached the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup for the first time, only losing in extra time to Manchester City. The club has arguably its brightest cohort of academy graduates. Will they continue to find their paths blocked by the presence of young loanees from other clubs?

Another thorny issue faced by clubs bringing in loan players involves stipulations from parent clubs regarding game-time. In certain cases clubs will only lend out their players if they have a commitment that they will be given opportunities in the first team.  Loans can involve fees and penalties based on appearances made. The omission of Matt Gilks in favour of Jakob Haugaard against Rotherham was  a surprise. Moreover Graham Barrow was reluctant to discuss it at his post-match interview. Was it because of pressure from Stoke City to play the Danish goalkeeper now he is fit again? Or is there a game-time clause in the loan agreement that involves financial penalties if not met?

With relegation beckoning many of Wigan Athletic’s squad will be looking at their futures. The last time Latics were heading for League 1 there was a huge clear-out of players over the summer, followed by Gary Caldwell signing fourteen new players, with another six coming in on loan.

The same will surely happen this summer. Most of the current squad will most likely be gone, with lots of new signings and loan players brought in. But what kinds of opportunities will be given to the club’s home grown talent?

The EFL Futures initiative has been set up to encourage clubs to develop young players through their academies. A sum of £750,000 per season will be shared out to clubs who field players under the age of 21 who are eligible to play for England (or Wales for Cardiff, Newport or Swansea).  The cash rewards will be shared out pro rata, depending on the number of qualified players and appearances made.

One wonders in what position  Wigan Athletic will appear in the list of recipients at the end of next season?

 

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Latics fans comment on Blackburn game and Joyce’s tactics on social media

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A couple of years ago to the week Dave Whelan said his goodbyes to the crowd before a home game with Leeds United. The man whose investment of time, money and belief had lifted a struggling club from the fourth tier to unbelievable success was stepping down as chairman. His 23 year old grandson was taking over.

There had been quite a buoyant mood before the match had started as Latics had won their previous two league games. There was some degree of belief that Malky Mackay would be able to salvage the season and pull Latics out of the relegation zone. Sadly it was not to be, Latics lost 1-0 and were nine points adrift of safety at the end of the day. It took another month to sack the hapless Mackay, but by then the rot was truly set in and new manager, Gary Caldwell, was unable to turn things around sufficiently in the handfull of games that remained.

Two years on from those dark days Wigan Athletic find themselves in a similar predicament. Another 1-0 defeat, this time against a poor Blackburn side. Sadly the credibility of the current manager, Warren Joyce, is at rock bottom. His woeful tactics and lack of positivity have taken the standard of football down to levels we have not seen for decades. It is hard to have belief in the manager given his negative approach and his unwillingness to embrace good football. I watched yesterday’s game on a live feed from Germany, where even the German commentator referred to Wigan’s approach as “kick and rush”.

It was sad to see Joyce with his face patched up, present but not giving orders from the front line. The cynics had suggested that the manager’s illness was simply a ruse to avoid attending the fan forum during the week. It was clearly not and we all must wish him a speedy recovery.

David Sharpe will need to make decisions about the manager’s position over the coming week. Last time he left it late to bring in someone new. Latics have only won one game out of the last six and are heading for League 1 unless something drastic happens very soon. Significantly, reports suggest that Dave Whelan was at the game yesterday against his old club. Sharpe and Whelan will surely need to do something about a situation where a manager has not only been struggling with his job but has a seemingly major health problem to cope with too. Should they opt to put Joyce on medical leave until the end of the season they would be helping both the club and the manager himself. In the meantime a temporary appointment could be made within the club to provide the kind of positivity and belief that is lacking at the moment.

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.

 

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Stuart Alker @stuartalker tweeted:

Embarrassing day for us. The chairman will surely now be questioning the change of manager. Looks more ridiculous with every game.

Hindleylatic on Latics Speyk said:

He has to go before training on Monday.

Paul Tymon on The Boulevard of Broken Dreams

We are set up basically not to lose at all costs which isn’t working and as soon as we go 1-0 we struggle.

He also added:

Everybody knows wat we need to do apart from the manager which is worrying

Adgjlzcbm on Latics Speyk commented:

Didn’t the Blackburn announcer said “Finally Wigan have made a substitution”? Who overruled the sub as we were clapping when we thought Tunnicliffe was coming off?

Paul Kendrick @PKendrickWIG tweeted:

Carnage here. Seemingly a double change for Latics as Jacobs and Bogle replaced by Obertan and Grigg. Boos from the away end as Bogle off…

Dan Thompson  @DanThompson_89  tweeted:

It’s that embarrassing we can’t even make a sub correctly!!!

Dean Chambers on The Boulevard of Broken Dreams said:

I thought it was a well balanced game: both teams were sh.it. Never heard an away following turn on the management before. That substitution could have been in a Carry On film. They’ll get shut with 5 games to go and stick the plumber in charge for the rest of the season. Might as well do it now as were boll..xed. MoM: Burn and Buxton with special mentions to Crackers, Morsy and Bogle

Whittleblue on Latics Speyk commented on the atmosphere at the match:

For those not there it was genuinely that bad, both the performance, effort and the full time reaction from the fans, it went beyond discontent it was pure venom. Rational part of me says it went beyond what was acceptable- in fact it did but on this occasion I can understand why.

Regarding that sub Tunicliffe actually left the pitch – in a strop – before being pushed back on – I’m not sure he should have been allowed back as the sub had been made. Grigg looked bemused, Bogle was not happy when they tried to hook him, fans were going berserk, other players were looking round wondering what was going on, it was an absolute joke.

Rob Murphy on The Boulevard of Broken Dreams stated:

16 defeats out of 18 by a single goal must be some kind of record

Craig Aspey @AS_caspey tweeted:

We hammered Blackburn 3-0 earlier in the season. We’re a completely different team to then. Going down with a whimper. Embarrassing

Victor Moses ;)on Latics Speyk was far from happy:

Truly dreadful setup. I don’t think we could play any less effective without trying to lose games. Asking Bogle to run the channels and come back on defense is a complete waste of his ability.

Playing with wide players so deep, looks like 4 fullbacks on the pitch. Their not forward enough to be considered wingbacks. Never a pass available for the ball carrier. Cant describe how bad that is in words.

This is against sides with weaker squads(even at best), this would never work against stronger opposition. It doesn’t work against any opposition. Yet Joyce must think under 20% win ratio is enough. Feels like an amateur vs a professional system, week in week out. 5 defenders in midfield and 4 defensive defenders. Bogle trying to play as a complete solo attack unit. Never going to work over a period of time.

Without doubt Joyces tactics today. This system will relegate us from league 1 next season.

Bernard Ramsdale @BernardTNS said:

Here’s an idea WJ. Why not start every game thinking we are 1-0 down? You can then get rid of the defensive sh.te. #eyeswideshut

Zeb2 on the Cockney Latic Forum summed up the performance:

Can’t argue … “nil” again and no more than we deserved…yet another game where their keeper could have played, sat in a deck chair. A bit of late huff and puff (to no avail) when they finally decided to field the line up they ought to have started with. Simply not enough attacking intent. My first and last away of the season

Charlz54 on Latics Speyk added:

Well, it was the same old same old same today and let’s face it we look like we are going to be relegated now. We keep hearing the same old same excuses but NOtHING changes….the fact is we can’t win football matches and that means relegation and league one again next season…..embarrassing

 Bigroy on the Cockney Latic Forum summed up the season by saying:

With us only scoring a goal every other game this season its been a bloody awful season for supporters and most feel completely despondent I’m sure. Don’t think I’ve witnessed a latics team with such a lack of invention and it’s bloody pitiful to watch. Not one player can beat a player, create a killer pass, shoot well. It’s awful to watch and um surprised more haven’t boycotted what must be the worst Latics team in around 20 years.

Daryl Rogerson @darylrogerson tweeted:

Depending on other teams games in hand, we could be 6pts from safety which is twice the gap when Joyce took over.

Lazysid on Latics Speyk added:

I will take relegation now if it means I don’t have to put up with watching this sh.te every week in trying to survive in a league we don’t deserve to be in.

Truelatic4ever on Latics Speyk was not happy:

Time for Sharpe to admit he screwed up yet again. We are absolute garbage,negative sh.te,we are going down.

Paul Kendrick @PauKendrickWIG commented:

Graham Barrow: “Defence kept us in the game. I think the finger has to be pointed at those further up the pitch who have to do better”

MudhutsMedia @mudhutter responded:

@PKenrickWIG there wasn’t anyone further up the pitch apart from the Bogle, that’s the whole problem

Bickymon on the Cockney Latic Forum commented on the owners’ quietness:

 We started preparing for league one when we sold yanic and brought in those league one type players in January. The owners are very quiet about the whole sorry mess we are in._.But then again its their fault just dont think they are interested anymore

NorthernSoul on Latics Speyk commented on the Wildschut transfer:

 In the season was undoubtedly the sale of Wildschut, just after we’d won back to back league games, started creating chances and scoring and looking like climbing the table, we let our key attacking player leave.

4m upfront with over 1m going to Boro, with 3m in performance related installments, now Norwich have missed out on the play offs and are a total shambles and Yanic can’t get in the team and seems unsettled down in East Anglia, it’s unlikely to see us get anymore than 3m in the end.

Was losing 6/7m or so a season in revenue, with relegation worth this panic sale? Yanic may have been bang out of order but if we’d have kept him and and agreed to sell him in the Summer, it would probably have kept us up. Without his pace and power we have absolutely nothing at all creativity wise. Whoever sanctioned the deal should probably resign.

Donnyspage  on the Cockney Latic Forum urged Dave Whelan to stop the downward spiral:

I for one have such a lot of gratitude for Dave Whelan and the journey we have been on but at the moment the journey seems to be going back to the lower leagues. There are the cynical amongst us who will think Dave has had other reasons than football too, like raising his own personal and business profile and having this profile shown to the world along the way. Who can blame him, the two have gone together. It could have cost a fortune to raise the business profile so much with stadium and shirt sponsorship alone. A huge chunk of money invested. Remember for all the money that he has put in Latics, Dave still owns millions in assets with the stadium and land etc and still the company name is flashed on TV every week.

I just think it is a shame after taking us up there to be on the slide which could have been prevented with a fraction of investment again rather than perennial fire sales. Someone somewhere should be accountable for this ridiculous and downward spiraling of Latics and let us hope Mr Whelan can find them, stop them and do something about this slide. I hope he is patient because it is looking like he will have to start this process from league 1 and without a parachute payment which will need the right personnel and investment from the off. It will also require the ruthless side of his business life with a full clear out of most players, the chairman and board, the manager, all the coaching staff, all the hanger ons. Let the upward journey begin again Dave.

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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

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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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Huddersfield 1 Latics 2 – Joyce gets it right – video highlights and match reaction

“He’s not great running back as a wide player, but you look at what he’s good at and he’s hard to stop.You look at the GPS stuff – his top end pace is quicker than Nani and Ronaldo.That’s a fact. It’s a hell of an attribute to have.”

So said Warren Joyce after Yanic Wildschut’s pace destroyed Huddersfield.

Joyce had been pilloried by so many of the Latics faithful for leaving three centre forwards on the bench in the 0-0 draw at Barnsley, using the Dutch winger in the main striker position. He stuck his neck out even further last night by not even including Will Grigg on the bench, although the striker had travelled with the squad.

But Joyce was to have the last laugh as his game plan worked to a tee, his team defending en masse and counterattacking with gusto. Within the space of three weeks he has instigated a paradigm shift within his squad. The possession-based football of Gary Caldwell has been thrown out of the window for a more pragmatic style based on rugged defence and pace in attack.

Faced with the absence of the suspended Craig Morgan the manager moved Stephen Warnock across into the centre of defence, something that would have been risky against a team with more height up front. But Huddersfield play a smooth brand of football based on possession and pressing, rather than pumping long balls to a big target man. The captain once again had a major role to play, even though he was booked in the opening minutes for a crude foul on winger Sean Scannell who later had to be substituted. He also survived a strong second half penalty claim after pushing  Elias Kachunga to the ground. Earlier in the second half an unsighted referee had waved away home team penalty appeals after Luke Garbutt had tripped Nakhi Wells in the box.

During Caldwell’s brief reign as a manager in the Championship refereeing decisions tended to go against Latics, rather than for them. At times Latics had looked plain unlucky. But over the last couple of games under Joyce the tide has seemed to turn.

Latics had been poor in the first quarter of the game, the home side looking superior. But they gritted their teeth and were rewarded by a superb goal from Reece Burke. The young defender had won the ball in his own half, releasing it to Wildschut who sprinted past the Huddersfield defence to put in a superb cross for Burke who had run through the centre forward channel to score. It would be rash to suggest that this was part of Joyce’s game plan. Full backs don’t normally move into positions like that. But there were other occasions when players made long runs from their own half to support the attack. It did not happen so often, but when it did it was refreshing to see.

Wildschut had been a constant threat to the home team defence who found it hard to cope with his searing pace. Huddersfield had equalised in the 50th minute but ten minutes later the Dutchman raced past three defenders from the half way line before rounding the goalkeeper and slotting home. It proved to be the winner, thanks to a dogged rearguard action in the final half hour.

The statistics showed that Huddersfield had 70% of the possession with 19 shots, of which 5 were on target. Latics had 9 shots with 4 on target. Wigan’s style of play was the polar opposite of what we had come to expect under Caldwell, where so much emphasis was put on possession. Since the humbling experience of being beaten 3-0 at home by Reading in his first game at the helm, Joyce has tightened up defensively, with the midfield providing better cover and the back four playing no-nonsense football. However, there have been some hairy moments at both Barnsley and Huddersfield when the home teams have squandered goal scoring opportunities. Barnsley had enjoyed 62% of the possession, Huddersfield 70%. The pressure on the defence was inevitable given the amount of possession of the opposition.

Joyce’s next challenge will be to prepare his tactics for Saturday’s game against Derby County. Playing at home is a different scenario and he can be expected to introduce at least one more attacking player. However, it is unlikely to be Grigg.

These are still early days for Warren Joyce at Wigan. He now has four points from his three matches in charge, but will be looking for an even better rate of return in the coming weeks. The players who have been chosen in the past couple of matches have shown the kind of fighting spirit that can lift the club out of the relegation zone. It has not been pretty to watch, but with time we can expect a better style of football to come. Although we saw a glimpse of something at Huddersfield the manager still has not clearly enunciated his preferred playing style, preferring to talk about what his players should do on and off the ball.

Caldwell’s teams were stamped with his philosophy, sometimes to the irritation of fans who preferred a faster and more direct approach. It will be interesting to see how the playing style gradually unfurls under Joyce. The Derby match will provide us with further insight.

 

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