Of the sixteen players that were selected in the squad for Latics’ first Premier League game five of them had been in the dressing room on the 3rd May 2003 for the fixture that saw Jason De Vos lift the Second Division Championship trophy. Another two players that had featured against Barnsley weren’t available for the Chelsea game but were still at the club.
For the record the players involved are MacMillan, Jackson, Teale, Bullard, Baines, McCulloch and Filan. Barring hop-a-long all those played an important part throughout last season. Basically half of the match day squad had carried the Latics from a inability to escape the Second Division to potential European qualification.
They knew the manager and had seen little but success with the club. The momentum that had built up over the intervening three seasons had served the club well but had also buoyed these players confidence levels to heights where defeat was not really an option, no matter how many goals down you were no matter what team you were playing.
Add to that bunch the likes of Kavanagh and Roberts, both key players in the promotion from the Championship and you can easily see why we hit the Premier League ground running.
Enough reminiscing, as you read this four of those players have left the squad and only two of those that remain realistically feature in Jewell’s first choice sixteen (well, who knows where Studs would feature, being our best left back and all). The realists will tell you that the situation is sad but inevitable, the pessimist will ask you to look what we’ve been left with.
Whether or not you like the sound of it, the situation this summer was simple. Paul Jewell’s team, for whatever reasons, lost it’s heart and soul. It was all too easy then to take the cynical line. To paint Jimmy as a clown, playing as to the Soccer AM crowd; Pascal as the mercenary foreigner and Roberts as the moody get who was too big for his boots. The thing is that they were all winners and in their own way they were leaders.
Not only did we lose three decent players, we lost a chunk of what had made the club such a big hit over those nine months. It was a big task to replace them, in fact as things stand you, could hardly say that we have. Jewell might have brought players in that he thinks can do a job, but there is still a void where the team’s personality used to be.
More worryingly the players that have come in over the last 18 months don’t carry the same immunity to failure. Kirkland, Boyce, Hall, Kilbane, Heskey and Camara have all been through relegation battles and lost, even De Zeeuw has had his card marked. They’re just the ones that don’t take much research, I suspect that many of the foreign lads will carry a skeleton or two in their kit bag.
Maybe that’s where the feeling of resignation comes from, maybe those looks at the final whistle aren’t saying “wtf’s going on”, maybe they’re saying “It’s happening again”. Too many of the current team have been here before and you have to wonder how much of a spark it will take to turn it around.
Of course, confidence and attitude can be fickle and it’s not too late. A couple of wins and you never know what can happen, show a bit of fight and the fans will be right behind the team. The thing is that you just don’t get the feeling that the players have it in them at the moment.
It would be a real shame for the team to go down, not because that they didn’t know how to win, but because too many of them knew how to lose.
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