12th Man: Give it time

Michael Jacobs1

So it wasn’t the opening week of the season anybody would have wanted but it was certainly one that many could have envisaged. As disappointing as the performance was against Coventry the performance against Bury was much better and it should have meant progress in the League Cup for the first time since 2012.

These two games have been my first serious look at Gary Caldwell’s new Wigan Athletic and although it’s very much a work in progress if we take the results out of the way – especially Tuesday you can see a lot of good things about this side. The midfield looks particularly impressive with David Perkins arguably taking man of the match for both games, whilst Tuesday allowed the likes of Max Power, Jordan Flores and Michael Jacobs to show us what they’re about.

There was a marked increase in creativity against Bury with numerous chances from across the side and you could see this is something that had improved from the weekend when Will Grigg had looked so isolated against Coventry. As impressive as the midfield looked the defenders in the side were disappointing, all four goals we’ve conceded could have been easily stopped and you’ve got to hope that with increased game time together the defensive side of our game will improve.

Looking across the Latics forums and social media after Tuesday’s defeat I was surprised at the negativity surrounding the side once again. Did anyone think we would be unbeatable after a few weeks together? This is a completely new squad, in footballing terms they are still strangers. With each game together they will get stronger and Gary Caldwell’s plans and philosophy will be more clear and that will be reflected on the pitch.

To write off the manager and side after two games must be a record, even for the ever impatient Latics fanbase.

This is a long term project, we’ve had two years of upheaval that resulted in relegation to the third tier – if we want any chance of returning to a higher stage we need to give the manager, his players and the chairman as much time as possible. Otherwise we’ll be back to square one.

Doncaster will be no easy task on Sunday, like Bury they’re a club that are now are equals. We have to realise that but at the same
time make sure that our quality shines through.

Let’s get that first home win under our belts.

Sean Livesey

Originally published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 14th August 2015

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

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