I sat down to write a preview for the Derby and Huddersfield games earlier and got about 750 words in before I realised that I’d basically just said “I’ve not got a clue”. I’ve not got a clue why Latics are in the position they’re in, I’ve not got a clue why Warren Joyce is struggling to get, at least, the same level of performance out of the team that Gary Caldwell did and I’ve not got a clue how we’re going to get out of it. So I’ve started again.
The next two games definitely represent an interesting point in Joyce’s time as Wigan Athletic manager. The “new” manager is now eight games in, and although he’s failed to set the Latics world on fire, he’s now at the point that his predecessor first hinted, with that solid performance against Fulham, that he was capable of turning things around.
The games also provide a lead in to the point at which Joyce can look to remedy the main reasons given for him not getting off to a rollocking start. Just in case you’ve missed it, Joyce has been given a squad that he wouldn’t have chosen, the players are rubbish and, even if they aren’t, half of them are injured anyway.
It must be true; his backers point it out regularly and the man himself has hinted as much in several interviews. Ignoring the facts that a) Caldwell had his own injury problems and b) you’d reasonably in expecting a decent new manager to be able to do at least as poorly with the same players as the old one did, the transfer window gives him a chance to fix his problems, or to some extent at least.
But if Joyce wants backing, he’ll have to use these two games to create some confidence in his ability to change things. Two defeats, meaning a run of seven that would be reminiscent of the days where Latics’ league survival really was managed on a day-to-day wish and hope basis, and you can bet that the club won’t be looking down the back of the couch to cobble together a transfer budget, in fact it might be more case of cashing in on what saleable assets we have (again).
A couple of wins and Joyce might have the freedom to start planning beyond the end of the transfer window. The problem is, I’m not sure that anyone believes that will happen and when you look to the manager for hope, he’s about as inspirational as Steve Bruce that year he got a Tesco voucher for Christmas.
His comments in the press may be aimed at lowering expectations, but when it comes to leadership I know a couple of things. Firstly, a good leader can make an average team greater than the sum of its parts and a poor leader can make even a good team into a poor performing one. Secondly, you don’t get the best out of people by constantly pointing out their limitations.
I’m not asking Joyce to turn into Roberto Martinez, but I’ll pose you a question. The truism is that strikers thrive on confidence, what’s the best way to get the best out of Will Grigg, bemoaning your lack of firepower or by saying that you know he’s got goals in him and you’re sure they’ll start to flow soon? The answer is obvious and it’s not about tactics, passing, route one or plan B, it’s about building confidence, getting the players and fans on board and actually making the best out of what you have got, rather than bemoaning the fact you have to make the best from the “hand you’ve been dealt”.
It’s all about mentality, it’s easy to turn a team in a relegation position that believes it’s going to get out of it into one that believes it’s in a relegation battle, it’s easy to get players to believe they’re not as good as they could be and it’s easy to get a team to play as less than the sum of their parts. It’s a damn sight harder to turn a team with that mind set into a winning one.
I’m not calling for Joyce’s head, the last thing we want right now is more instability. I’m calling for him to show some leadership, he’s the manager of a football club now (and for the next three and some years) and he has more than a team to look after. It’s his job to inspire the fans as much as it is the players and he’s going to have to start soon before criticism of him becomes universal.
The good news is that the easiest way to start doing this is with performances on the pitch and Joyce’s previous games against Derby and Huddersfield were the ones that suggested he might have a game plan that could reap dividends.
Even if the Huddersfield performance split opinion like a Roberto Martinez press conference, the way we set up on the night did the job. Even if we succumbed to (yet another) soft goal against Derby, we played like a team who believed they might get something out of the game for 80 of the ninety minutes. It was about the last time I felt any sort of hope for survival.
So whilst I’ve, still, not got a clue, I reckon that starting again was the right answer. Right for me, right for Latics and definitely right for Warren Joyce. Backing the team is such an obvious thing to ask the fans to do, but it would be good to see Joyce change tack and back his players too. He’ll need them onside if he’s going to get the results to give him the support he wants in the transfer window.
Ironically, if it’s not too late, getting them onside could mean he finds he doesn’t need as much support as he thinks.
For more of this semi-depressed Latics chatter catch up with the Pie at Night Podcast. Episode 15 has the added cheer-up bonus of being a Christmas special and featuring people not burdened by being Laticsmons.