Malky Mackay’s appointment and Dave Whelan’s subsequent controversial comments have resulted in an unprecedented amount of negative media coverage for the club, but on the pitch there are grounds for optimism.
The media storm created must have been a massive distraction for the players going into last Saturday’s game against Middlesbrough but they responded in a very positive manner. Although third from bottom in the table they outplayed the third top team in the Championship and with a little luck could have taken all three points.
Mackay made an immediate impact with his team selection and formation. He was fortunate to have captain Emmerson Boyce, Ivan Ramis, Chris McCann and Andrew Taylor all returning from injury, but the players all looked energized and determined to impress the new man.
Right from the kick off it was evident that he had given them a boost. McCann looked like he’d never been away despite an eight-month absence. The 27-year-old Irishman was winning tackles, passing crisply and driving forward with the ball at every opportunity.
Maloney was also back to his best for Latics after a series of top quality performances for Scotland. The little Scot was involved in most of Latics best play going forward and after a sighting shot he produced the perfect free-kick into the top left hand corner of the Boro net.
Taylor returned at left back and probably had his best game in Latics colours. Solid defensively, he also linked up well with the midfield and attack and the former Cardiff City player looked happy to back under the stewardship of Mackay.
Boyce and Ramis added much-needed stability to a backline that had looked all at sea in the defeat at Bolton. Boyce inevitably tired in the final minutes after two months on the injured list, but the importance of the return of the team captain should not be underestimated.
Another big bonus was the very welcome return as a substitute of FA Cup hero Ben Watson from a nine-month absence and from what had been a second leg break in the space of only 15 months. A fully fit Watson will give everyone at the club the belief that Latics luck is starting to change and a rise up the table is now in the offing.
Mackay galvanised the players into an effective unit for last Saturday’s game and a good result away at Sheffield Wednesday this Saturday will provide an indication as to whether that good reaction is ongoing or just temporary.
This article was first published in the 12th Man column for the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 28th November 2014.