Right, before “fresh start” becomes the phrase of the moment at Wigan Athletic, it seems as good a time as any to fire up the laptop and get mine (fresh start) in early. It’s been more than a month since I’ve done one of these and we’ve won two games in the interim, so maybe it’ll be a bit more cheery than usual, maybe…
1) Look how far we’ve come.
Erm, well. That Fulham blog a month ago came off the back of Latics making fools of themselves at Norwich and Wednesday and responding by boring us all to death in a quest for a nil-bout draw. Well that search for a clean sheet became the team’s raison d’etre after that and well, it’s been fairly effing dull, hasn’t it?
Well, there was the Wolves game, where Latics did their best to draw a game they’d completely dominated before ruining it all with a late Grigg winner. Oh, and there was the Preston game, where Latics spent the game chasing a draw, if you can chase anything with lead in your boots.
But October really has been a fairly turgid month on the pitch, Latics never set anyone’s world alight, but contrived to look workmanlike and efficient, without ever tipping the balance in their favour.
I’ve seen people talk about fine margins, and it’s true that if the odd moment in games had fallen the right way then Latics could easily have ended the month six points better off. To the same extent, I’ve seen Gary Caldwell talk about self-confidence and belief and sometimes the reason those moments don’t come off in games is because you don’t believe they will or aren’t confident enough to gamble on them doing.
The proof, if you need it, came on Saturday. Late on in a game that had largely been going nowhere, Perkins and Gomez took a punt and burst forward to support Craig Davies. This endeavour surprised Cardiff so much that they let them waltz into the box and the rest, as they say, is history, giving Graham Barrow his first win in charge of Latics since some time in 1995.
2) Barrow buoy
You can never predict who the next boo-boy at Latics is going to be, but a bit of a pattern has developed over recent times. I think I first noticed it when Dave Whelan took on his now abandoned role of reliable football chairman that doesn’t sack managers by supporting Paul Jewell over his players. The theory now seems to be that, if the big man won’t sack the manager when we want him to then he needs to change the coaching staff every time things get sticky.
For the last few years, that means that Graham Barrow has taken the brunt of armchair chairmen all across the borough. This is a 62 year old man who has served the club as player, manager, coach, assistant manager and, probably, many other untitled roles.
He’s as good an example as we’ll get at Latics of a club stalwart, and whilst I’d never suggest that anyone is beyond criticism, Graham, and people like him deserve more respect than being called a “clueless f***ing idiot” and numerous other names by anyone. Especially by clueless f***ing idiots that have no idea what his role at the club is, let alone whether he’s any good at it.
Still, I’m probably a bit late to the game on that one, what with him having won a game, the fickle contingent amongst our fans have probably chalked him up as a local hero, for the week.
3) The elephant in the room
Right, I’ve held off long enough now, it’s ten o’clock on Monday morning and David Sharpe hasn’t seen the error of his ways, Caldwell isn’t coming back and it’s about time for me to face facts and accept that he’s gone.
I’ve never actually been Caldwell’s biggest fan, around about this time last seen I was talking about how his side was too timid and needed to go out and try to dominate games. Despite winning the league, he never really convinced me on that point and it was no surprise to see them going into their shells again at the start of this season.
But, and this is a massive but, not being convinced by a manager and not liking some of how he goes about things, isn’t just cause for wanting him to be sacked. Just the same way as taking results in isolation from what’s happening on the pitch shouldn’t be taken as justification for sacking a manager.
The arguments for Caldwell; that he was promoted from within, that he understood the club and the town, that he was learning on the job, that he’d won an emphatic promotion just 5 months ago, that no team had looked that much better than us all season, that we’d managed to restrict teams that have scored ponfuls against other teams and that the players were still playing for him, buying into what he was trying to do; far outweigh the arguments against him; i.e. that results haven’t gone the way we’d have liked so far this season.
What changed with a defeat against the second top side in the division that the chairman hadn’t already seen in the previous 14? Why sack your manager after a game that should have been a gimme when you’ve just had an international break that would have given you two weeks with no games to find a new boss or could have waited another two weeks for the next international break?
We’ll never get to find out what would have happened had Caldwell stayed in post, but the evidence of last season, where a similarly sticky start turned into a title win, suggests that safety wasn’t beyond Caldwell’s side. As plenty of other people have pointed out, regardless of what you thought of him as a manager, the timing of the decision to fire Gary off just felt odd.
4) and it’s goodbye from him…
Normally, when a club sacks its manager then a few others will follow. That’s not typically the case at Latics where managers have been asked to work with a set of backroom staff that, presumably, have the Whelan seal of approval. When people go, it’s usually because they’ve got an offer of a job elsewhere.
So, it’s natural that questions were asked when Mike Pollitt followed Gary Caldwell out of the club. There’s still no indication whether he was pushed or if he jumped and I suppose your answer there will depend on how this sits with your bigger view of the situation. The romantic in me wants to see it as Polly standing up for his mate, the cynic says it could just be simple cost cutting either way, whilst it’s sad to see someone who’s been at the club so long and been involved in so much leave, it hardly feels like a cataclysmic change for the set-up.
Conversely, the departure of Malcolm Crosby on the same day, may have had many people asking “who?”, but it’s the one that raises most questions. Crosby was head scout and brought in this summer as part of the much vaunted “recruitment team”. Was this just a chance to correct a wrong appointment or is Sharpe already doubting the thing he put so much stead in when he took over? Only time will tell…
5) So what next…
Mike Joyce, Warren G and Joyce of Worst Album covers ever fame have all ruled themselves out of the running, but Warren Joyce is still the overwhelming favourite to be the next Wigan Athletic manager. To be honest, I’ve idea who’ll get the job, but with Joyce managing the Manchester United reserve team against Spurs on the day he was going to be announced and United insisting they’ve had no approach yet, forgive me if I’m a bit dubious.
I’d like to think that Latics are waiting to make sure that they get the right man for the job. The decision to sack Caldwell might stink of short termism, but the next appointment has to be for the long term. There isn’t going to be a shedload of cash available in January and we’ve all seen the affect a January fire sale can have for a club like ours (well, for our club in particular), whoever comes in will have to work with what he has for now and, with the parachute payments now gone, for the future as well.
Whoever it is, will have a fair bit of a job on their hands and Lids forgive if they don’t hit the ground running.
6) And finally…
Ok, so we’ve not had many Cardiff thoughts at all, but the game definitely feels like the least important thing this week. As we move into November, we can look forward to yellow footballs, my birthday, the next manager, hopefully some wins and, by way of light relief, a new The Pie at Night #nowplaying playlist.
We’ve not made that much of a fuss about it. But the podcast team have been compiling a Spotify playlist of all the things we’ve been listening to across October, there’s old stuff, new stuff, stuff that we’ve played on the podcast and some things that Ian picked in there and you can find it at the bottom of the article, we hope you enjoy it. Look on our profile from tomorrow and you’ll also see our November playlist start to take shape, follow it, and slag us off on Twitter as we go along.
See you on the other side.