12th Man: Take it to the last day

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Eight months, eighteen games and a whole host of heartache since our last home win was put behind us on Saturday as a battling Wigan Athletic kept alive their extremely slim chances of survival with a 2-1 victory over Brighton.

It was good to see Gary Caldwell get his first win as Wigan Athletic boss at home, our home form feels like it has been a noose around our neck for too long this season and for Caldwell to start off at home with a win will do him and the side a world of good.

Realistically it’s too late for us now and it’s all about finishing the season off positively whilst building for next season but who knows what will happen over the next two weeks. The sensible money will be on either Rotherham or Millwall winning the battle to stay up even with a potential point deduction for Rotherham they’re in a much stronger position going in to the final week of the season than the Latics are but there’s a belief about this new Wigan Athletic.

That belief was shown in the video that was produced for the players ahead of the game against Brighton under instruction from Gary Caldwell and Graham Barrow, with such a new squad it’s important that they realise just what Wigan Athletic means and I couldn’t help but be inspired by that video if the players felt the same it was definitely worth doing.

Gary Caldwell along with David Sharpe has impressed in his first few weeks in the job and that was driven home by the performance on Saturday, Latics tried to play attacking passing football and you couldn’t help but make comparisons with Roberto Martinez’s Wigan Athletic. Although we’re a while away from that it was good to see us try to play football as oppose to the style of play we had been treated to in recent weeks.

Finally a word of congratulations should go to Tim Chow, if anything sums up Mackay’s time in charge of Wigan Athletic its Tim Chow. Told he was being released by Mackay he has been given a reprieve by Caldwell and shown the quality that has made him such a bright prospect over the last few years. He has grasped his chance with both hands and deserved all the plaudits he received on Saturday. Whether in League One as is likely or the Championship next season’s side will be built around the likes of Tim.

So on to Wolves it won’t be easy with Kenny Jackett’s side still chasing a play-off place but if we can get a second home win in as many weeks who knows what may happen this season.

Come on Wigan – let’s take it to the final day.

SEAN LIVESEY

12th Man: Glimmer of hope

MillwallIt had been on the cards for months, I was writing about us sleep walking to League one as far back as December but when it actually comes it still hits you hard. Relegation was all but confirmed on Tuesday night. After a hard fought point against Fulham and with news of a potential points deduction for Rotherham on the horizon expectations were high before the game against Millwall.

Sadly the same Achilles heel that has affected us all season our inability to score whilst on top coupled with an aggressive game plan from Millwall combined to leave us on the precipice of relegation. It seems that our decent football was once again evident with the players controlling the game through possession and creating numerous chances. But the reason we are where we are is because we can’t score.

Waghorn’s red card made a difficult task that bit harder and the game was only going to go one way after that sending off. Rotherham couldn’t beat Fulham on Wednesday night but it’s surely only a matter of time until relegation is confirmed – points deduction or no points deduction. In that regard serious questions need to be asked and answers given as to why a season that promised so much from the outset has descended in to the farce that has led to a second relegation in as many seasons.

Amidst all the gloom there is a slight glimmer of hope, Tim Chow made his senior debut on Tuesday night despite appearing to be released last week. The captain of our youth and development sides from recent seasons and a kid who has been with us since ten. If we are to be relegated it will be both sensible and necessary for us to build our team around our own youth products.

Chow impressed in pre-season alongside Fraser Fyvie and it was mystifying that he wasn’t given a chance in the early months of the season and now it seems the club have had a change of heart since Caldwell was appointed and offered him an extended contract. The loan of Josh Murphy from Norwich has also been extended, I’ll be the first to admit he hasn’t impressed me in the few games he’s had with us so far but could that extension be with a view to next season? He’s a young lad who we’re being told has bags of potential maybe he would thrive in a promotion bid in League One?

The Championship hasn’t been kind to us second time around, perhaps a chance to regroup in League One will rejuvenate the club. We need to get it right this time around though because we’ve got so much wrong since we were relegated. There needs to be a firm long term plan in place and the club need to stick with the man handed that opportunity. Gary Caldwell has the right ideas in terms of football if he can get a squad together to implement that then relegation needn’t be the disaster it could well be.

If we don’t get it right and we return to the short termism of the last two seasons then who knows what will happen. For the clubs sake let’s hope we get it right this time around.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 17 April 2015

12th Man: Was always going to end in tears

Gary Caldwell

It was always going to end in tears, people tried to warn Dave Whelan that it was the wrong decision, the club have gained absolutely nothing from appointing Malky Mackay but have lost so much. The club that had worked so hard to build up a positive reputation both on and off the pitch had that reputation ruined in one fell swoop. Mackay brought nothing positive to the club, neither in a footballing sense or off the pitch – as the Evening Post said this week his departure was ‘ the end of an error’.

The two games across Easter summed up our play over the last five months under Mackay, it was turgid, it was defensive and it was bloody awful to watch as far away from a Wigan Athletic side as you could imagine. In two games where we should have been fighting to the death in order to gain points to help our survival bid we meekly surrendered against a nervy Middlesbrough side and a Derby team who hadn’t won for eight games.

The continued exclusion of Martyn Waghorn when we needed goals was as mystifying a decision as they come from Mackay and just summed up the safety first nature of the last few months. The atmosphere at the DW was one of the worst I could remember and he really couldn’t continue in his job when the Latics fans myself included made their feelings known. His dismissal was desperately needed and although in my mind six months too late it was the right decision from David Sharpe.

The club moved swiftly to appoint Gary Caldwell and although it may seem a mystifying decision from outside of the club it could well be an inspired choice. Love him or loathe him Gary Caldwell was a massive influence on the Roberto Martinez era and although he accepts he wasn’t the best player he gave nothing less than 100% every time he pulled on the Wigan Athletic shirt.

The club needed to recognise it had got it wrong over the 12 months, and appointing Caldwell as manager is just what we needed. Finally it’s a decision that concentrates on the long term and has somebody with Wigan Athletic’s best interests at heart. As David Sharpe said he is one of our own and knows exactly what makes us tick and his declaration that he wants to return to the attacking football of the Roberto Martinez era is music to my ears and many other Wigan Athletic supporters after the depressing football of the last few months.

I think survival is beyond us this year but if Caldwell can start building a fresh in readiness for League One next season we should be able to approach that campaign with everything focussed on the goal of promotion.

It’s been an awful season, one of the worst I can remember for many reasons but on Tuesday afternoon it felt a bit like the Wigan Athletic of old had returned. The increasingly impressive David Sharpe has stepped out of his Grandad’s shadow and made a big call that needed to be made. The club have accepted it got it wrong after Roberto’s departure and this appointment although too late to save us goes a long way to addressing that.

Whatever league we’re in next season we can look forward to with a fresh focus. Wednesday’s press conference showed a unified force as David Sharpe, Jonathan Jackson and Graham Barrow joined Gary Caldwell on the head table.  A complete contrast from the day Mackay was introduced to the press. That same unity now needs to be shown throughout the club both on and off the pitch. Caldwell is an appointment we can all get behind – with our support who knows what could happen.

Good luck Gary.

SEAN LIVESEY

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 10 April 2015

12th Man: Easter is key

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Could Easter bring about a resurrection for Wigan Athletic and their under fire manager? We couldn’t really have wished for a more difficult two games over the easter period. Middlesbrough who have struggled in the Championship in recent years look to have finally hit on a formula and manager that works for them.

Along with Bournemouth and Watford Middlesbrough look certain to be playing Premier League football next season whilst Easter Monday sees the visit of Derby County who like Middlesbrough have genuine ambitions of playing in the top flight next season.

It could well be a good thing that we’re playing the sides at the top of the division as in recent weeks we have shown that we perform better against the sides at the top of the tree as oppose to those lower down. The same can be said for our home form, away from home we look to have a chance whilst at home our form just hasn’t been good enough over the course of the season but even more so since Mackay took over.

The task ahead of Wigan Athletic is simple we need to overtake Rotherham and we can no longer afford to drop points, wins are the only thing that will get us out of this situation and that means wins both home and away. As such we can’t afford to be defensive anymore, if we lose by being bold so be it. Better than going down thinking what may have been.

Mackay is a naturally cautious manager but that caution needs to be tempered with a focus on our attackers, threatening at one end of the pitch shouldn’t mean a reduction in our defensive qualities.

Martyn Waghorn who has been cruelly ostracised over the last couple of months should be a definite starter after his heroics in the game against Bolton whilst James McClean should make a welcome return from suspension. Both of these players have the quality to create and convert chances something that both Leon Clarke and Marc Antoine Fortune have failed to do in recent weeks.

The gap is currently five points, unless we do our job it could be an insurmountable lead for Rotherham come Easter Monday. It’s down to Mackay and his team to make sure that isn’t the case.

Sean Livesey