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: The plot thickens

Ben Watson, Shaun Maloney, Callum McManaman, FA Cup

Where do you begin to describe the last seven days in the life of Wigan Athletic, a must win game on Saturday against Huddersfield came and went with yet another defeat for the increasingly under pressure Malky Mackay. Once again we were our own worst enemy as we dominated the game but yet again failed to create any chances of note and lost to a cross come goal.

This was preceded by the departures of the two men who were central to Wigan Athletic winning the FA Cup as Ben Watson departed for Watford and Shaun Maloney headed stateside to join Chicago Fire. Later on in the week Adam Forshaw and Callum McManaman followed them out of the door signing for Middlesbrough and West Brom respectively. Malky Mackay has continually stated since he arrived he only wanted players committed to the Wigan Athletic cause at the club and I suspect the removal of players such as Maloney and Watson are central to that purpose.

There is no getting away from Malky Mackay’s record since he arrived at the club, it has been nothing short of abysmal. I and many others have been quick to call the club out on his appointment and subsequent record but is there an underlying reason to this. Have all the players who left the club this January become so disheartened with life at Wigan Athletic that they simply didn’t want to be here any longer?

If that is the case it’s a sad end to the careers of many Wigan Athletic players, especially the legendary FA Cup winning side. It was clear many players saw their future’s elsewhere but I thought it would have been in the club’s best interests to keep our most talented players together to help us win the battle against relegation. But despite that there are financial considerations to consider and as it looks more likely that we will be starting next season in League One it is understandable that the club has to plan financially for that likely occurrence.

We can blame former managers, we can blame the current incumbent, we can even blame the board but the fact is everyone needs to rally behind Wigan Athletic at the moment. The future of the club is at stake and if that means replacing our high earners and marquee signings from the summer so be it – even if we don’t agree with it.

Malky Mackay will live and die by his record with his own players, the club are giving him the opportunity to shape his own squad. The departures of Uwe Rosler and Roberto Martinez’s key players are displaying that. Perhaps we will see that upturn in form as Mackay’s signings start life at Wigan Athletic.

Whether that will be enough to keep us up remains to be seem.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Thursday 29th January 2015

12th Man: Happy new year?

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It hasn’t been a happy new year for Wigan Athletic, the win on Boxing Day against Leeds – Malky Mackay’s first in six games was quickly followed up by a gutless performance against Sheffield Wednesday and our first FA Cup defeat in normal time for three years.

It’s fair to say Malky Mackay has done little since arrived and certainly not enough to warrant the amount of controversy that was brought on the club by his appointment and the subsequent defence of his character by chairman Dave Whelan. Performances have frankly been terrible and the tactics seem archaic one goal from open play in eight games tells its own story. Dave Whelan’s call to arms of “trust me on this one” rings more hollow with every passing week.

Mackay certainly didn’t arrive with a reputation of exciting football but I don’t think anybody expected what has come since then. Not only are we not scoring goals but we are still conceding stupid goals. All that has changed since the departure of Uwe Rosler is that we are creating less and playing worse.

Malky Mackay states that his team selections are based on those impressing in training which is a decent enough policy but when those very same players serve up the same terrible performances week after week how long do you persist with that policy? Players like Andy Delort, Oriol Riera, William Kvist, Emyr Huws recruited at great expense in the summer have seemingly be frozen out whilst Ben Watson and Chris McCann who returned from serious injury just over a month ago are seemingly guaranteed a starting place each week.

The case of Delort and Riera is particularly interesting and at the same time damning, two players who were regular scorers for their previous clubs not given a fair chance at Wigan by either the new manager or the one who signed them. We as a club cannot afford to get it so disastrously wrong in the transfer market and despite Mackay’s reluctance to play either striker I refuse to believe a front two of the non-scoring Marc Antoine Fortune and a hard working left winger is a better option than two strikers who come with the goal scoring pedigree as Riera and Delort do.

There was an air of resignation during the FA Cup exit to Bolton, it would have been an ideal time for Mackay to make changes and give game time to those who have received little or no game time since he arrived. Instead we stuck with what hasn’t been working for the past eight games.

For Bolton’s part they made numerous changes with young exciting players making their debuts and you could see the positivity throughout, similar to what we experienced last season under Uwe Rosler. Bolton completely outclassed us on Saturday and if it wasn’t for the man of the match performance from the re-called Ali Al Habsi it could have been 4 or 5 nil.

The fact that Mackay continues to state how well we’re playing is also a worrying trend. We aren’t playing well and haven’t played well on a regular basis since he arrived. The odd 30 minute spell here or there doesn’t matter until you can produce those performances consistently.

It’s depressing to be a Wigan Athletic fan at the moment, the club seems in turmoil in so many ways but still we have a chance to save ourselves. But the players and the management need to start delivering quickly otherwise we’ll be back in League One and many bigger clubs than Wigan Athletic have failed to recover after relegation to that league.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 10th January 2015

12th Man: Deep Trouble

Deep Trouble

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If people didn’t realise the trouble Wigan Athletic were in before the trip to Hillsborough they certainly do now. A 2-1 defeat to a side without a win in eleven games leaves Latics firmly entrenched in the relegation zone and most definitely in a relegation battle. I think Saturday showed that our problems go a lot deeper than Uwe Rosler and his departure won’t simply lead to Latics climbing the table and fighting for promotion.

It was the same old story on Saturday as Latics dominated a game in terms of possession and chances created but as with the side under Uwe Rosler they just couldn’t convert that superiority to goals. Marc Antoine Fortune works hard but looks so isolated on his own up front. I’m not advocating a return to 442 but he certainly needs more support up front, the support should be coming from Callum McManaman and James McClean on the wings but so often on Saturday Fortune would drop deep leaving no one in the box to convert those chances.

Mackay has had a good couple of weeks to work with his players now and with no midweek games in that time hopefully there has been plenty of time on the training ground to put his ideas across. Not having Shaun Maloney available on Saturday would have been a big blow after his virtuoso performance against Middlesbrough the previous week. But there were encouraging signs from Mackay earlier this week about whether the Scotsman can get himself fit and if he can he will surely feature against Norwich on Saturday.

Despite the controversy surrounding his appointment players have been queuing up to praise Mackay and his methods so far, if he can galvanise that support in the squad and get the players reaching their optimum on a more consistent basis Latics will hopefully start to climb the table and we can improve on what has been a truly terrible season so far.

            Andy Delort got himself on the score sheet again for the Development squad in midweek and along with Oriol Riera he must be due a call up for the first team very soon. Both are proven goal scorers and although they haven’t shown their best so far both players are surely worth a go. The same should be said for Martyn Waghorn who after such an impressive four months with Latics last season seems to have fallen off the face of the earth.

Like Rosler before him Mackay has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, how he manages to keep all the players happy and hit on a winning formula at the same time will be the key test of his management skills.

SEAN LIVESEY

First published in the Wigan Evening Post Friday 5th December 2014

12th Man: Ideal opportunity

James McClean scores against Sheffield Wednesday in last year's abandoned match at Hillsborough

James McClean scores against Sheffield Wednesday in last year’s abandoned match at Hillsborough

There’s been a dark cloud hanging over Wigan Athletic for the last week, the appointment of Malky Mackay has caused never before seen controversy for the club. This was compounded on Thursday and Friday as Dave Whelan’s unfortunate interview saw him accused of using racist and anti-semitic language – if these are the last days of Dave Whelan’s reign it will be a terribly tragic way for his twenty years in charge of Wigan Athletic to end.

Sadly all of that is out of our hands and it is now up to the FA as to whether or not they charge him, the club needs to as quickly as possible get back to what it does best and that is impressing on the pitch. With the sideshow clouding the build up to the game on Saturday many could have been forgiven for forgetting there was a football game taking place at the DW on Saturday.

Mackay’s return to the dugout was low key as was the result but it could yet be the turning point in our season. A point was probably a fair result but Latics will feel disappointed that they couldn’t hold on for all three points, especially when you consider the amount of chances we had in the second half. Mackay’s team selection was interesting as Uwe did when he first came in he fell back on to the players that have been the bedrock of the team for the last three seasons.

Ivan Ramis, Roger Espinoza, Callum McManaman Emmerson Boyce and Shaun Maloney all started with Uwe Rosler’s signings such as Emyur Huws and Oriol Riera on the bench. The performance was impressive with decent football throughout and the defence looked a lot stronger with Ivan Ramis and Leon Barnett back at the heart of it whilst Shaun Maloney looked to be something close to his old self. Mackay has stated that all of the squad will be given a chance to impress and if media reports are to be believed that also stretches out to the much maligned Grant Holt currently impressing on loan at Huddersfield.

Next up for Latics is a trip to Hillsborough to face a Sheffield Wednesday side without a win in ten games, a side with a similar run of form to ourselves. With the atmosphere around the club at the moment and relegation still a distinct possibility it’s imperative that we start to pick up wins to climb the table. The longer we spend at the bottom the more difficult it will be for us to climb the table. A trip to a struggling Sheffield Wednesday is the ideal opportunity to do just that, last season when Uwe first came in both trips to Hillsborough the abandoned match in December and the rearranged fixture in the New Year were two of the most impressive performances of Uwe’s year in charge. Let’s see if we can do the same again this Saturday and finally get this season up and running.

As a side note I celebrated my wedding over the weekend and my wife Jayne being the kind understanding Soul she is arranged for me and ten of my friends to watch the game in a box before our wedding reception in Manchester on Saturday evening. The treatment I and our party received from the club on Saturday was fantastic – from a presentation of a signed shirt on the pitch pre match to their outstanding service through the day. It was an example of our club doing what it does best, not what had been represented through the press in the last week.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post Friday 28th November 2014

12th Man: Moral dilemma

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I made my views on the potential appointment of Mackay clear last week, I felt it was the wrong appointment for the wrong club at the wrong time but now that appointment has been made where do I stand?

There’s a moral dilemma to the whole situation that sits uncomfortably with me – do you separate what has gone on from the football side or do you take the view that someone who has been involved in allegations like those isn’t the right fit for a club that has made such strides over the last decade to eradicate all forms of discrimination.

It’s a difficult decision to make and I’m unsure exactly where I fall. From a solely footballing point of view the decision to appoint Malky Mackay makes perfect sense. His record at Cardiff was particularly impressive and the football world with people including Neil Lennon, Mark Warburton and Harry Redknapp quick to offer their support to the man.

My focus is on Wigan Athletic and I don’t want anything to damage my football club, if Dave Whelan truly believes that Malky Mackay made an honest mistake and his appointment will benefit our football club it is a decision that we as supporters of the football club have to abide by.

Focussing on football it is far from an easy situation that Malky is walking in to, this Wigan side have talent in abundance but have shown little of that talent since the end of last season.  There is a peculiar mix of three managers worth of players at the club with all bringing different qualities and attitudes to the side. Malky needs to get those three factions pulling in the same direction as soon as possible.

If he can manage to unite the team behind him like Owen Coyle and Uwe Rosler failed to do we may well yet be able to turn our season around.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post Friday 21st November 2014

12th Man: Where do we go from here?

Uwe Rosler

Last friday had a feeling of finality about it, the excellent win over Derby had been followed by a hard earned point against Fulham but the wheels fell off in spectacular fashion at Brighton the following Tuesday. It seemed that Uwe had one final chance to save his job. That chance was over when this expensively assembled Wigan Athletic side fell flat against their local rivals in the biggest game of the season.

One has to feel some sadness for how it’s ended at Wigan Athletic for Uwe Rosler, as Dave Whelan has continually stated in the last 24 hours – Uwe Rosler is a good man and a very good manager. There’s no doubt about it Wigan Athletic were revolutionised under the management of Uwe last season, a team that was sluggish and un-fit soon became a fantastic winning machine. That spell from February to April last season was one of the best I have witnessed whilst watching the club, only bettered by the end of the 2011-2012 season under Roberto Martinez.

After coming so close last season we all believed we would be flying high under the stewardship of Uwe this season. The fact that nearly twelve months after taking over Wigan Athletic are in a worse position than before he took over tells the whole story about this season.

Something has gone seriously wrong this season and after being backed so handsomely in the summer transfer market you can see why there was reluctance on the part of Dave Whelan to change managers yet again. Any new manager will have to work with what he has, there won’t be re-enforcements come January. The squad is already one of the largest in the league and the club simply don’t have the funds for another wide spread recruitment drive.

The appointment of Owen Coyle last season was unbelievable, it was the wrong appointment for the wrong club at the wrong time but there was an element of understanding in why Uwe Rosler was chosen as his successor.

Here was a young manager in a similar mould to Roberto Martinez, he didn’t besmirch the achievements of Roberto whilst manager of the club he embraced them he even replicated the tactics that gave us our FA Cup as we beat Manchester City to once again reach Wembley. He didn’t criticise the fans as Coyle did he embraced them and played up to the Wigan story, he added another chapter to that story.

So where did it go so wrong for a manager who performed miracles last season? Did he try to change too much too soon? Did he anger senior pros with his methods? Did he ostracise players? The situations of Grant Holt and Marc Antoine Fortune may well point to that. Whatever happened in the summer it hasn’t worked and a manager who seemed here for the long haul has been sacked less than a year after being appointed.

Where do Latics go from here? Dave Whelan spoke a lot about age in his interview in the aftermath of yesterday’s sacking. He’s 77 now and despite being in good health its imperative he gets the next appointment right, it could be one of his last as chairman. Many names are being touted about but the club need to decide what they want – do they want an easy fix that may well get them promotion or do they want to have somebody who will take a long term view of the club.

They were caught between both with Uwe Rosler and Owen Coyle with neither what the club really needed at the time. Whoever it is the priority must be to move up the Championship table as soon as possible, relegation to League One would be devastating for a club that had made such strides in the last decade.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post Friday 14th November 2014

12th Man: Business as usual

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It was a case of business as usual at Wigan Athletic in the last seven days. The euphoria of the win over Derby County was quickly replaced by the usual anger and disappointment as a certain three points was blown at home to Fulham and some comical defending gifted a win to Brighton on the South Coast, their first since August.

Does that tell the whole story of the last week? Not necessarily, the performances against both Brighton and Fulham were strong and with better defending we would have been looking at a haul of four points from the last week.
Sadly though we have now gone past the point of good performances being enough. We need wins and we need wins soon, nothing else is good enough now.

Uwe bristled when asked about the club’s position in the league table after Tuesday’s game but the fact is if we lose to Bolton on Friday night we could well find ourselves in the relegation zone.
That won’t be good enough for the club’s board and Dave Whelan, especially when we consider the amount invested in the side over the summer.
The club are approaching a crossroads, we’ve gone from the settled period of Roberto Martinez and a defined style of play to two managers in the space of 18 months.

I was a vocal critic of Owen Coyle’s appointment at the club and I still believe it was the wrong decision at the wrong time but Coyle’s record last season currently stands stronger than Rosler’s – the pressure on the manager is increasing and the honeymoon period is well and truly over. The club need to think very hard before deciding on the future of Uwe Rosler.

A decent manager doesn’t turn in to a bad one over night, but for Uwe’s sake let’s hope the club start to see enough positive signs to stick with the gaffer and get Latics back up the league table. Friday has a feeling of finality about it, a win once again can push us on. A loss in front of a partizan crowd could spell the end for Uwe. I personally hope he turns it around.


Whether he can or not, I’m unsure.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post Friday 7th November 2014

12th Man: The tipping point

The tipping pointUwe Rosler

So another week passes and Wigan Athletic’s wait for a win goes on, I spoke last week about only six points being acceptable from the games against Brentford and Millwall -two was what we got. We remain unbeaten in four but without a win in eight, if the pressure on Uwe Rosler was cranked up in recent weeks it hit tipping point on Tuesday night.

It’s probably fair to say that the majority of support has now turned against the manager or at least many are now questioning whether Uwe is indeed the right man for the job. His supporters; me included refer back to last season and that glorious spell from where he took over up to and including the FA Cup semi-final where he picked up a team that was on the floor and turned them in to world beaters. Whatever he did then he needs to do again and we need to quickly re-discover what made us great last season.

Has the manager tried to change things too quickly this season? Quite possibly, last year he gave the team a focus and a style. This year we’ve had neither. There are worrying rumours of player unrest but these are only that – rumours. The players publically at least can’t speak highly enough of the club and the team spirit within the club.

There are still things to be positive about even with our recent run of form, the return of Maynor Figueroa was one no one was expecting and should help to add more quality to the backline. The side are unbeaten in four games and haven’t conceded in three of those. The aforementioned defence looks a lot stronger than it did previously and the midfield is starting to dominate games. If we can build on that and start to add much needed creativity and goals to our game we can turn things around.

But time is quickly running out for Wigan Athletic’s season and Uwe Rosler’s future.

Rosler himself is bullish as you would expect him to be; he described himself as a fighter earlier this week and explained that he had taken bullets before. Let’s hope that he can arrest the alarming slide without receiving the bullet from Dave Whelan and Jonathan Jackson.

 First published in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 24th October 2014

12th Man: Old Spirit

Wigan Athletic midfielder Adam Forshaw with manager Uwe Rosler

Another international break over and done with – the last time we returned to action after an international break we were full of optimism and why not? Latics entered that break with two wins on the bounce, one a thoroughly impressive 4-0 demolition of Birmingham City and a number of exciting new signings following the closure of the transfer window.

If the defeat that followed at Blackburn had us worried worse was to come with further defeats to Ipswich and Bournemouth in the weeks following. The pressure looked to be reaching tipping point for Uwe Rosler a couple of weeks ago, and as ridiculous as it sounds many suspected the gaffers job to be on the line. Two decent performances albeit draws against sides at the top of the league seem to have helped the stop the rot and Uwe has said the season starts as of now.

And how true we need that to be, I don’t think it’s overly dramatic to suggest the next week could shape our season. We’re about to enter a run of six fixtures in the next four weeks ahead of the next international break. The target has to be six points from the next two games – that of course is easier said than done.

Brentford will be coming to the North West hoping to get one over their former manager and with the Adam Forshaw saga fresh in everyone’s minds it is the ideal scenario to give Uwe and the Latics a kick. But the Latics will be fired up as well, Uwe’s talents as a manager have been questioned over the last few weeks and how better to answer those critics with a win over his former side.

The players sound fired up with Callum McManaman and Adam Forshaw in particular looking forward to getting back to action and with a resounding friendly win over Rotherham last week fresh in the minds where the likes of the aforementioned Forshaw and McManaman along with Riera and Tavernier played 90 minutes it sounds like we’re in decent shape to finally get our season underway.

I’m looking forward to the game on Saturday,  I took part in a Brentford podcast earlier this week and it was refreshing to hear the Brentford fans talk about their climb up the leagues and how exciting it is to see their side perform in the Championship. Brentford remind me of us back in 2003/2004 when we first came up to the Championship. We could do with a bit of that old fighting spirit right now, let’s hope we can see it this weekend and finally get our season underway.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post Friday October 17th 2014