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: Let’s learn the lessons of last season

David Sharpe and Gary Caldwell

12 months ago, many people myself included expected to be writing about our triumphant return to the Premier League in August 2015. That wasn’t the case and although there’s no need to go over old ground as to why we were relegated Gary Caldwell and David Sharpe will do well to heed the lessons of last season, we’re in a similar predicament to last season although we may be in a new league. Once again we have been made favourites for promotion by most of the press and pundits and as with last year we’ve made a number of high profile signings who have had very little time to gel.

You have to hope the difference this time will be those players want to play for the club where in the case of last season that same desire wasn’t there. The squad has been completely re-shaped and at the time of writing only Leon Barnett remains from the squad that started the season last August and with his lack of game time in pre-season there is no guarantee he’ll make an appearance.

With the expectation comes added pressure and the playing staff weren’t able to deal with that last season, whatever the reason was for that. This time players talk about buying in to the vision of David Sharpe and Gary Caldwell two relatively young men who know our football club as well as anybody and will be eager to help us return to our previous lofty position.

Where last season’s squad featured a lot of un-proven talent this squad has heaps of League One and Championship experience and you can only be impressed by how the club have recruited this summer. The stand out players are clearly Welsh internationals Craig Morgan and Craig Davies whilst Will Grigg will be relied on to become the goal scoring striker we sorely need. Reece James joins from Manchester United again spurning supposed interest from Championship clubs while Everton youngsters Francissco Junior and JonJoe Kenny represent potential. Across the pitch we look strong and many may agree that on paper this team is stronger than the one that ended last season.

Despite this as I keep reiterating we need to proceed with caution, although David Sharpe’s comments at the Fans Forum about smashing the league were well intended and clearly the comments of an enthusiastic supporter they could be a stone around our neck. With so many changes and upheaval in the club this side will take time to gel and learn each other’s style of play – you can see that from the under whelming pre-season we’ve just witnessed.

The club needs to show patience but at the same time the supporters do as well, we’ve had two years of complete upheaval at the club since we won the FA Cup and this ‘New Era’ represents our best chance of returning to stability. Mistakes will be made along the way – Gary Caldwell and David Sharpe are both novices we need to give them as much support as possible.

Away from ourselves our rivals will be lining up to knock us down, make no bounds about it we’ll be a scalp for most of League One. Even if we feel more comfortable amongst the likes of Bury, Rochdale and Oldham it’s been over a decade since we were at the same level as these clubs. In that time we’ve been on a journey that they could only dream of and they’ll be eager to bring us back to earth.

Relegation really shouldn’t have happened last season, it was scandalous that a club who had invested so much and had so many resources on the pitch could be relegated alongside the likes of Blackpool and Millwall but relegated we were, relegation needn’t be the disaster it could have been if we can use this opportunity to get back to the Championship we’ll only do that if we use the club’s motto and progress with unity.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 7th August 2015