“As it stands, we’re as good as down”
The above quote appeared on twitter earlier this week, you could be forgiven for thinking it was April 2019 and the end of a relegation threatened season as oppose to August without a ball being kicked in anger. There’s currently a lot of un-rest through the Wigan Athletic support base, certainly if a quick browse of social media is anything to go by. The protracted takeover has yet to be completed and has clearly had an effect on Wigan Athletic’s business this summer.
Things started promisingly enough in the summer – Paul Cook signed a long term contract extension, Gary Roberts and Alex Bruce were tied down to new deals and Leonardo Da Silva Lopes arrived with a hefty price tag and a glowing reputation. England’s exploits in the fantastic World Cup further masked any simmering tensions amongst the Latics faithful.
As the lads stepped up preparations with a warm weather training camp in Spain, prodigal scouse son Callum McManaman walked back through the door as Yanic Wildschut hooked up with the team up the road in Horwich. Things seemingly we’re looking rosey, especially with trialists James Perch and Ross Wallace impressing and apparently set to add some much needed Championship experience.
Fast forward two weeks and Latics are seemingly in ‘crisis’, Perch and Wallace failed to sign. With the latter signing for League One Scunthorpe, whilst an impressive first half against Rangers gave way to a poor second half and a heavy defeat. The season is little more than 24 hours away and we have yet to sign a recognised left-back (as twitter likes to remind us every three minutes).
A lot of the anger has come from that performance at Rangers, admittedly it wasn’t good enough but equally it was a pre-season friendly. Four years ago we beat Champions League qualifiers Besiktas in a friendly and were still relegated in the same season. You can’t really use a game in July as a barometer of how your side will perform across the course of a season. Especially when Rangers had played a lot more games than we had – three of those as competitive European games.
I would be more concerned with the lack of actual pre-season games (only three first team games this year) than the results and performances in them.
Context has to be provided for all of this, no doubt it’s been a frustrating summer for Paul Cook and the club but with a complex takeover still on-going it was always going to be thus. Yes we need more bodies in the squad, and yes we certainly need a left-back but I believe the calls of crisis are wide of the mark. Surely the most important transfer business we could have done this summer was to keep the squad that did so well last season together. As of this week we’ve done that, a couple more additions would be welcome and in some cases required but I think the angry tweets telling Sharpe to pull his finger out and accusing Dave Whelan of leaving us in tatters are ever so slightly over the top.
The transfer window does end early this season but we can also sign loan deals right up until the end of August, there’s still time for us to get business done and I’m sure the management at all levels of the club are doing just that. We’re in danger of losing the fantastic feel good atmosphere that surrounded the club at the end of last season and that’s a crying shame, but not at all surprising. Takeover’s bring uncertainty, and uncertainty breeds dissatisfaction.
Wigan Athletic for so long have had the steady hand of the Whelan family to guide it, as we leave that steady hand and prepare for a new dawn under owners that we know very little about. Our end destination feels unknown, we’ll know more once the takeover is completed but until then we have to work with what we have and thankfully there’s still a lot to be positive about. We have a manager and a team who performed astoundingly well last season. Just an ounce of that again this season should see us safe.
One of the ironic things regarding this pre-season is how Gary Caldwell was roundly criticised last time out for making wholesale changes to the 2015/16 League One title winning side. Whether by design or default Paul Cook has resisted those types of changes, in favour of sticking with the bulk of last season’s promotion winning side. They deserve to show what they can do in the Championship and it certainly looks like they will get the chance to do that, that’s not to say that we don’t need reinforcements – of course we do but equally wholesale changes last time out didn’t necessarily translate in to a better performance on the pitch.
So as we build-up to Saturday’s match with Sheffield Wednesday what can Latics fans expect this season? Things will be different from last season, we won’t necessarily be steam rolling teams as we did over the last twelve months. We’ll need to get used to losing again – never an easy thing to do but the chances are we will lose more games than we win this time out. The key is to do enough to survive in this division. The Championship has morphed in to such a competitive league over the last few seasons, we need to bear that in mind and put all of our efforts in to survival. Anything more will be a fantastic bonus.
Strap yourselves in – another nine months of joy and heartache are just around the corner.
First published in the Wigan Post, Friday 3rd August 2018