The last six months in the life of Wigan Athletic would have been dismissed as ridiculous had anyone attempted to predict the events that have unfolded. The end of last season saw relegation, jubilation and resignation as the championship beckoned, along with a Europa league adventure and the departure of popular manager Roberto Martinez.
The latter sparked speculation on who would take over the hot seat, with recently released Manchester United coaches Phelan and Meulensteen along with Steve McClaren amongst the forerunners. It was somewhat of a surprise then when Owen Coyle who had been out of work since leaving Bolton was appointed on a twelve month rolling contract, an appointment which sparked much merriment from our Horwich based friends who gleefully informed us that our fitness levels would drop, we would switch to a long ball game and pick up a lot of soft tissue injuries.
With all Roberto’s backroom staff following him to Everton with the exception of Graham Barrow, Owen Coyle brought in his management team from those Bolton days and left the Wigan fans wondering whether he had learnt from his failure there or whether we could expect more of the same?
Coyle took over a squad that was down to the bare bones with twelve players left under contract and one of those Kone actively seeking a move which he secured reuniting him with Martinez at Everton. Of all the players out of contract the only player to re-commit to Wigan was long time favourite Emmerson Boyce.
This meant a major influx of players was required and with Coyle seemingly working under tight financial constraints he deserves credit for the quality of players that he brought in; Barnett, Perch, Rogne, McClean, Holt, Fortune, Carson, Crainey and McCann all arriving for less than the sales of Boselli and Kone combined.
A constant whinge from Wigan fans over the past few years has been that we enter the season underdone because of a less than competitive pre season and so it turned out again with a pre season jaunt to the USA for three games only one of which could be viewed as competitive and friendlies against Morecambe, Dundee Untied and a Portuguese side no one had heard of viewed as hardly ideal preparation to gel so many players together.
And yet the season started so well with a comprehensive away victory at Barnsley , a game in which Wigan played a passing game at pace with Maloney and Beausejour constant threats down the flanks and Perch and Barnett looking solid at the back. One sky commentator was moved to say that such a comprehensive victory was it that any team who finished above Wigan would be promoted.
Wigan then started on a series of games above and beyond their league campaign which has certainly had an impact on their fortunes , the first being their appearance in the Community Shield against Manchester United. On paper the two nil defeat against the Premier League champions would seem to be a moral victory, however the performance told a different story, with a disjointed effort with no attacking prowess and too much reliance on long balls sparking disquiet amongst the fan base.
Next up was an away trip to newly promoted Bournemouth, a team we had beaten with our second string side on our way to winning the F.A.Cup final but football is no lover of sentiment and Bournemouth beat a Wigan side for whom McManaman was sent off, Bournemouth missed a penalty following a clumsy challenge from Beausejour and Grabbin scored the only goal of the game to send the travelling supporters on the long journey home wondering whether their favourites had what it took to return to the Premier League at the first attempt.
These pressures and concerns were not assuaged in the following two home games against Doncaster and Middlesboro where Wigan were grateful for late goals to spare their blushes of potential home defeats as both the away sides were the better team. The mutterings from fans exiting the stadium suggested that they remained to be convinced that the more direct style of football was going to deliver the results that they craved.
Transfer deadline day saw the departure of the one class player left at the club for a big money move to Everton. James McCarthy departed with the best wishes of all the fans although the deal went through too late for any of the money to be spent upon a replacement but deadline day loan moves for Nick Powell and Ryan Shotton were completed.
The loss of Maloney to a long term back injury sustained on international duty shortly after the transfer window closed robbed the squad of its most creative outlet and this increased the pressure on the remaining players to meet the expectations of the fans in an early return to the promised land.
A victory over Forest in what was arguably the best home league performance of the season was followed by one of the worse away ones in a comprehensive defeat away at Leicester, a common thread throughout all these games was the constant rotation of the squad with no apparent settled first XI.
A welcome distraction for the fans at least was the impending European adventure and over 2,000 Wigan fans decamped to a wet Belgium to watch a credible nil all draw against Zulte Waregam.
This was followed by alternating results; home victories over Ipswich and Blackburn interspersed with away defeats at Watford and Blackpool the latter defeats part of a nine game away run in which Wigan didn’t score an away goal. The most worrying aspect being the two forwards signed to deliver the goals, Fortune and Holt were both displaying an apparent lack of appetite for the battle and the lack of quality ball both received, mainly I fell due to the style of play which saw Wigan drop lower down the league.
Three straight draws followed against Kazan in the Europa League and in the league against Charlton and QPR, once again the lack of goals in the league was a cause for concern although this was tempered somewhat by one of the best defences in the division with Perch, Barnett and Shotton proficient.
Scrappy wins at home to a poor Huddersfield side and away to an already relegation threatened Yeovil side did nothing to stifle the increasing grumbles around the style of play and results that were being achieved with once again the lack of clarity on team selection a major cause for concern.
Harold Wilson once said that ,” a week is a long time in politics.” So it proved at Wigan Athletic with a pitiful home defeat in the league to Brighton in which too many players had off days with disjointed passing and an apparent lack of leadership was followed by a last minute defeat at home to Waregam culminated in the worst forty five minutes I can recall for many a year in the first half against Derby, with open chants for Owen Coyle to go and the players booed off at half time. An improvement in the second half didn’t affect the crowd’s mood and with social media reporting that Coyle had been sacked it was no surprise that it was announced the day afterwards that there had been a mutual parting of the ways.
For the next two games Graham Barrow took charge but two poor away performances at Leeds and Millwall saw consecutive defeats and the need to bring in a new manager took on a sense of urgency.
Step forwards young Brentford manager Uwe Rosler, a manager with a reputation of playing high tempo football that is pleasing on the eye and delivers the required results.
His first game in charge was away at Maribor and whilst the result brought to an end our European dream there was more commitment and fire in the bellies of the Wigan players which bode well for the rest of the season.
This was followed by a creditable home victory against local rivals Bolton, an abandoned game at Sheffield Wednesday when in the league and an excellent away win at Reading was somewhat tempered by two insipid performances against Birmingham and Bolton when good
possession football was ruined by a total lack of prowess and creativity in front of goal. Part of this may be down to the much publicised fitness issues, as several players appear to be struggling late on in matches and Rosler appears very focussed on improving fitness and a more balanced passing game utilising the skills of the midfield and pace of the wings.
Worrying concerns surrounding the possibility of Powell joining Shotton and Keane in returning to their parent clubs persist , plus the potential sale of several players out of contract next summer mean that as well as recalling loanees, Dicko and Kiernan a foray into the transfer market will be needed with an attacking midfielder and goal scorer the positions most needing strengthening.
Whatever happens in this transfer window, the second half of the season promises to be every bit as eventful as the first.
Mid season review part 2, player ratings to follow…………
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