12th Man: A fitting tribute

Dave Whelan with Emmerson Boyce and Roberto Martinez

Dave Whelan announced somewhat in jest that if Warren Joyce manages to get us back to the Premier League he would commission a statue of Joyce next to his.

He must have seen the previous game at Oakwell on Saturday because at present this Wigan Athletic side ae as far away from a promotion push as at any time this season. It was surprising as we arrived at Barnsley on Saturday that we started the game without a recognised striker on the pitch.

Will Grigg, Craig Davies and Adam Le Fondre all started the match on the bench with Nick Powell and Yanic Wildschut playing as forwards. I thought Latics started well and initially looked dangerous with Powell leading the line, sadly any plans that Warren Joyce had for the afternoon were sent in to disarray as Powell left the game through injury midway through the second half. Luke Garbutt was the man to replace Nick Powell – surprisingly not one of the three strikers on the bench.

After the result against Reading in the previous match a hard earned point away at Barnsley could be considered a decent point but in our position we really need to start getting wins, some would argue that’s why Gary Caldwell lost his job. Not many would criticise Joyce for his approach to the Barnsley game, after the disastrous result in his first match coming away from Barnsley with any sort of result was of the utmost importance but it was still disappointing to see us lack any sort of attacking intent during the game.

But then on the other side of the coin numerous Barnsley fans were full of praise for Latics and how we had ‘done a job’ on them. Indeed Joyce was praised for his approach to the game and how he managed to nullify the threat from Barnsley. Next up it’s another trip over the Pennines – this time to Huddersfield. David Wagner’s side took the league by storm at the start of the season but have dropped off slightly since then. Any sort of result from Huddersfield would but welcome but we really need to start winning games. Let’s hope Joyce can get his first win on Monday night.

I didn’t manage to get over to Wigan on Thursday to witness the unveiling of Dave Whelan’s statue but it looked a wonderful event, befitting of the man and a wonderful honour for someone who has given Wigan so much. Dave Whelan is often much maligned – by myself and others but there is no escaping the fact that without Dave Whelan – there would be no Wigan Athletic. Certainly not in its current guise – it was great to see Roberto Martinez and Emmerson Boyce return to celebrate with Dave Whelan.

The statue itself is wonderful and adds character to the Stadium. There is now a permanent memorial now to the most famous day in Wigan Athletics history and although some will laugh there is no better monument than seeing the man behind that day honoured permanently outside of Wigan Athletic’s stadium.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Saturday 26th November 2016.

12th Man: Happy Hunting

Warren Joyce

So it’s back over the Pennines on Saturday afternoon and a return to Oakwell which has been a happy hunting ground of late for the Latics. Possibly the high point of Owen Coyle’s short tenure came at Barnsley as the relegated FA Cup winners came away from Oakwell with a 4-0 win.

Last season’s match at Barnsley could arguably have been considered a turning point in our season, going in to the game Gary Caldwell’s side had failed to win in four games with a damaging defeat to Blackpool in the previous game leaving any thoughts of promotion right at the back of the mind.

Goals from Andy Kellett and Yanic Wildschut saw Latics take all three points and the win over Barnsley was the catalyst for an unbeaten run of 19 games that saw us reach the top of the league and become favourites for promotion. Can this weekend’s match with Barnsley act as a similar catalyst?

Warren Joyce has now had a full two weeks with his team and will hopefully be better prepared to deal with what Barnsley throw at us. There have been positive sounds coming out of training from the senior players over the last week and an acceptance from Stephen Warnock that they let Gary Caldwell down. Whether you agree with that or not hopefully the club can now move forward under Warren Joyce’s tutelage and start to move up the Championship league table.

Joyce can’t expect to be judged on the Reading defeat with so little time with the squad beforehand so hopefully we’ll get more of an insight in to how his Wigan Athletic side will line up over the coming months after Saturday’s game.

Interesting sounds came out of the press last week with rumours circulating that Paul Scholes would be named as part of Warren Joyce’s coaching staff.

As of yet those rumours haven’t come to fruition and with a comfortable job with BT Sport and a lack of coaching badges it remains to be seen whether someone like Scholes would even consider taking a job with Latics.

It will come as no surprise that Wigan Athletic were named the cheapest club in the Championship in this year’s BBC Price of Football survey. The most expensive season ticket at Latics was also the cheapest in the league which shows just what good value it is to watch Latics and how lucky we are to have an ownership structure who recognise the need to keep football affordable.

If we can get the on pitch side of things right we can still be in for a decent season.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 18th November

12th Man: Baptism of Fire

Warren Joyce

As Baptisms of Fire go Warren Joyce couldn’t have been given a hotter reception on Saturday.

Two goals down within four minutes and a Latics side that looked a shadow of the side from a week earlier in the win over Cardiff. Saturday’s defeat was the heaviest of the season and the first time Latics have lost by more than a one goal margin. It was also arguably the worst performance of the season.

If Joyce was in any doubt to the task facing him Saturday would have given him a clear indication as to what’s needed. Joyce shouldn’t face any of the blame for Saturday’s defeat but we have to hope he can get his ideas over to the players quickly – too many more performances like that and we’ll be looking at an instant return to League One.

The international break has come at the right time for Latics and should give the new manager valuable time to get to know his squad. It’s very unusual for a manager to come in to a club and have every player signed by the previous manager but that’s what Joyce will have to get around and hopefully the players loyalty to Gary Caldwell doesn’t damage our chances under the new manager.

I see that Red Bull are reportedly interested in buying an English club to add to their portfolio of football clubs across Europe. One would hope they don’t cast a glance towards this tiny part of Lancashire. Despite their undoubted riches winning the FA Cup as Wigan Athletic was far more satisfying than winning it as Red Bull Wigan could ever be.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 11th November 2016

12th Man: Thanks Gary

It was only five months ago that Gary Caldwell and his side lifted the League One trophy

It was only five months ago that Gary Caldwell and his side lifted the League One trophy

I didn’t realise that Gary Caldwell had been sacked until 7.30pm on Tuesday, a full two and a half hours since he had been relieved of his duties. I was busy trying to feed a fussy toddler and hadn’t bothered to check my phone, let alone take a look at twitter.

When I finally got round to checking my phone, the countless messages, the twitter explosion and the missed calls from Radio Manchester absolutely shocked me. Surely there was some mistake? Things haven’t been great this season but sacking him? Sacking him before we’ve even reached the end of October?  Sacking him when we’re a win away from getting out of the relegation zone? Sacking him following a four game unbeaten run before Saturday’s defeat to third placed Brighton?

Nearly 48 hours later I still can’t make sense of the decision, last year was built on the feel-good factor and unity that Caldwell and his team brought to the club after two years of turmoil. The foundations laid that were supposed to last us for years. It feels like all of that has been thrown away in haste, there were growing murmurs of discontent at the game on Saturday but up until that Brighton wonder goal we had more than matched another top of the table side and like Leeds a few days earlier we had deserved to be ahead let alone behind.

Yes there were issues, yes it hadn’t been good enough, yes we desperately needed to start winning games but if you’re worried that we haven’t carried the momentum of the League One winning season in to this the way to counter that isn’t by getting rid of the architect of that – at least so early.

Injuries have robbed the team of some of it’s more established squad members – Reece James, Andy Kellett, Donervon Daniels, Alex Gilbey and Kyle Knoyle who hasn’t even made an appearance yet. Add to that new players settling in and last season’s side struggling it’s no wonder it’s been a sluggish start but we’ve got one of the best defensive records in the division and looked like we were on the verge of turning things around.

I feel like we’ve acted in haste and I feel for Gary Caldwell and his staff, he is far from blameless for our current predicament but equally I’m not sure we can lay all the blame at his door. I thought after last season he had done more than enough to earn a bit of loyalty from us. Sadly David Sharpe and the club hierarchy felt otherwise.

So where now? Some of the names being linked with the job are un-inspiring at best whilst Ryan Giggs who seems to be favourite has even less experience than the manager we have just sacked for not having enough management experience.

This will be David Sharpe’s biggest decision to date if indeed it is Sharpey who makes the decisions, this is far more serious than when the hapless Malky Mackay was given his marching orders. I just hope he has made the right decision and we get the right man in to replace Gary Caldwell.

Time will tell of course but I’m worried at the moment, far more worried than I was on Saturday night.

No matter your thoughts on Gary Caldwell he’s been a presence at the club for well over six years, first as Captain second as manager. He’s been there through all of our highs and our lows. Last year was one of the most enjoyable seasons I’ve had watching Latics and that was down in no small part to Gary Caldwell.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday October 28th.

Cheers Gary.

12th Man: What a difference a weekend makes

Nick Powell and Will Grigg

What a difference a weekend makes. I spoke in last week’s column about Preston being a season defining game. It was a game that Latics really didn’t deserve to lose and if truth be told couldn’t really afford to lose before kick off.

The result left a lot of the Latics faithful downhearted and Gary Caldwell under some of the more intense pressure of his reign. It needed a performance and change of fortunes at home and we certainly got that four days later.

Wolves came in to the game on the back of an excellent run of form and had been one of the more consistent sides in the opening weeks of the season.

Gary Caldwell’s decision to rest Will Grigg and start Adam Le Fondre against his former club paid dividends as Latics got that goal that had been missing for the past two weeks. Wolves came back strongly and equalised through another individual mistake.

It looked as though another win would allude Latics but Will Grigg who had replaced Le Fondre late in the second half had other ideas and there was no way back for Wolves after Latics got the winner in the 88th minute.

The win at home to Wolves could well be the season defining game we needed. The key is now to follow that up with another good performance and some sort of result away to Brentford on Saturday.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 30th September 2016

12th Man: Return of Saint Jordi

The big news this week wasn’t the last minute equaliser against Birmingham, it wasn’t the mightily impressive 4 points in the space of 4 days. It wasn’t even getting one over Owen Coyle. It was all about the return of Jordi Gomez to Wigan Athletic.

Jordi Gomez

A move that had been mooted all summer finally transpired as the Catalan put pen to paper on a year contract, two years after departing for Sunderland. Jordi quite obviously split opinion amongst the Latics support – certainly in the Premier League days. Jordi for many came to symbolise the Roberto Martinez era – ambitious but sometimes not good enough.

Whether or not you agree with that is another matter and I fall firmly in to the don’t agree camp, the Championship is where Jordi can and has shone in the past. Nobody can doubt that he was the beating heart of our first season back at this level, shining in both the league and European campaigns and of course also having a starring role in our second FA Cup run in as many seasons.

A lot has changed at Latics since the former Barcelona and Espanyol player left for Sunderland and if there is anyone who can get the best out of Jordi it’s his former captain. Gary Caldwell doesn’t seemingly do sentiment – especially with how the likes of Emmerson Boyce and Jason Pearce have left the club in recent times.

This isn’t a move grounded in sentiment, Jordi is only recently turned 31 and has never been blessed with pace so that won’t be an issue on his return. This is a move for a midfielder who should and could be a class apart in this division. A midfield with the likes of Yanic, Michael Jacobs, Alex Gilbey, Max Power and Nick Powell supplying Will Grigg is an exciting prospect and one that should see any defence in this league worried.

So welcome back Jordi, the ‘bloody hell Gomez’ club will also be relishing your return – but you know they love you really.

Originally published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 19th August 2016

12th Man: Time to celebrate

Wigan Athletic celebrate

The finish line is in site – the best part of nine months’ work, in fact twelve months work if we think back to the start of Gary Caldwell’s reign.

It would take a collapse of epic proportions for Wigan Athletic not to be playing in the Championship again next season, what isn’t yet confirmed is whether Latics will be promoted as Champions. Gary Caldwell and David Sharpe laid out their plans during the summer and many scoffed at those ambitions, Latics were still tainted by last season’s disaster and the subsequent relegation with all the controversy that went with it. But the young manager and chairman duo were steadfast in their belief that Latics stay in League One would be a short one and they’ve been proved right.

People will say that this Latics side have achieved nothing more than was expected of them, many opposition managers point to the club’s supposed advantages in terms of finances. All that is well and good but doesn’t stop Wigan’s achievement being any less impressive – this bar the odd one or two players is a completely different side. Made up of many younger players who hadn’t played at this level before along with seasoned pros who had. When you take a step back from the partisan grind of week to week football and think about the achievement of this season it makes it all the more impressive.

Yes Latics have had an advantage but it still needed someone to bring it all together and Gary Caldwell’s first full season in management should be viewed as an absolute success. Blackpool on Saturday can act as a party, the best part of 3000 Wiganers visiting the sea-side to toast a successful season and hopefully go some way to clinching that title that Gary Caldwell and David Sharpe so craved last summer.

Comparisons will undoubtedly be made with Paul Jewell’s side that last won promotion from this division, that’s only natural and although this side have a long way to go until they can be compared with the likes of the Duke, Bullard, Teale and McCulloch if they can carry their form from this season in to next they could yet be labelled legends as well.

Let’s celebrate, the lads have done well.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 29 April 2016

12th Man: Questions need to be answered

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So there you have it, a season that promised so much at the outset has finished in relegation to the third tier of English football.

This time around relegation doesn’t feel as painful as from the Premier League. Maybe it’s because it’s been on the cards for so long or maybe it’s because this is exactly what we deserve.

We had been offered a slight lifeline in the last couple of weeks thanks to Rotherham’s points deduction but the damage had already been done.

So just where did it go so wrong this season? This season was another example of Wigan
Athletic making the wrong decisions. We’ve been making the wrong decisions since we were relegated from the Premier League. Three major questions need answering in my eyes – 1) Why was Uwe Rosler given such a large transfer budget if we weren’t happy with the quality of his signings? 2) Why did we appoint the most toxic man in football 3) Why did we stick with him when results were so glaringly poor and it was clear no improvement was forthcoming?

It truly is a travesty that a club who spent so handsomely in the summer and were tipped as favourites for promotion should be relegated in such disastrous circumstances.

There is a twisted irony that in the season Dave Whelan steps down the club are heading back to the leagues he fought so hard to get us out of. I don’t link criticising Dave Whelan because without him there wouldn’t be a Wigan Athletic and certainly not a Wigan Athletic who had experienced the last decade of success but Dave sadly needs to take a lot of the blame for current situation. Catastrophic decisions have led us down this path.

One has to hope that the club have now made the right decision in appointing Gary Caldwell. Next season won’t be the walk in the park many expect, it’ll be a tough slog but already Caldwell has shown himself to be capable.

David Sharpe has said only promotion matters next season and although I agree with the sentiment it was that kind of attitude in relegation from the Premier League that has landed us in this mess. I’ll just be happy to see my team be competitive, play decent football and win a few games again.

That isn’t too much to ask is it?

Sean Livesey

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: 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