In the last 12th Man column of the season I was asked by the Wigan Evening Post to provide answers to four key questions:
What went wrong?
At the beginning of the season I was optimistic that Latics would have a good campaign in the Championship. Gary Caldwell’s team had comfortably won the League One title and there was a feeling that they could build on that momentum.
They made some promising signings with Jordi Gomez and Nick Powell returning to the club and Alex Gilbey joining from Colchester United and Dan Burn from Fulham.
Latics made an indifferent start to the season but they were only three points from safety with two thirds of the season remaining. It was always going to be a possibility that the team would take time to gel and settle into a higher division.
However, Caldwell was not given the time to adjust and he was sacked after only 14 games. It was a regrettable decision by Dave Whelan and David Sharpe.
The Board then made another major error by not recruiting wisely. Whelan’s friend Alex Ferguson recommended Caldwell’s successor, Warren Joyce, and what a disaster it proved to be.
Joyce was out of his depth in the Championship and he introduced a negative style of football, which was not only ineffective in accruing points but also deeply unappealing to watch.
He lasted only four months in charge and left the club deeply embedded in the relegation zone. Joyce was allowed to bring in 14 players in the January transfer window and many of these were either unfit or inferior to the players already at the club. They also lost winger Yanic Wildschut to Norwich City and Jordi Gomez to Rayo Vallecano.
Throughout the season they also suffered with long-term injuries to Alex Gilbey, Nick Powell, Donervon Daniels, Reece James and Andy Kellett. Plus some players who had done well in League One struggled to cope with the step up.
Interim manager Graham Barrow prompted an improvement in performances in the few remaining games, but it was not enough to keep Latics in the Championship.
It is likely that if the Board had shown some continuity and been patient with Caldwell they would not have been relegated. Many of the problems this season have been self-inflicted and the Board must take responsibility and quickly learn from their mistakes.
In a season of few highlights it was Nick Powell’s 11-minute hat-trick to stun Barnsley that took the eye. The talented Powell had been injured for most of the season but he came on for Latics against the Tykes when they were 2-0 down with only 20 minutes remaining.
Powell almost immediately won a free kick on the angle of the area and he stepped up to smash an unstoppable shot past the Barnsley keeper. Two minutes later the keeper couldn’t hold Ryan Colclough’s low drive and Powell pounced to make the scores level.
Powell was in unstoppable form and Barnsley resorted to desperate measures to try to contain him. Fouls were plentiful around the Barnsley box and the chance of a free-kick or penalty always looked likely.
The inevitable happened and a defender foolishly fouled Powell in the area. A clear penalty and it was, of course, Powell who stepped up to take it. He showed no signs of nerves and smashed the ball down the centre of the goal to seal an amazing comeback and keep Latics’ season alive for a few more weeks.
Who would you like as the new manager?
Former Latics midfielder Paul Cook would be my first choice for the job. Cook has strong Wigan connections having played nearly 100 games for the club and featured in the squad which reached the FA Cup quarter-final in 1987.
The current Portsmouth manager has just led his team to the League Two title and previously managed Chesterfield to the title in 2014. When Cook took over Pompey they had finished 16th in League Two in 2014/15. He then took them to the play-offs in 2016, and in only his second season he secured the League Two title.
Cook’s future could depend on the current takeover talks at Portsmouth with billionaire former Walt Disney Chairman Michael Eisner looking to take control of the club.
Portsmouth are considering appointing a director of football next season should Eisner’s takeover go through. Eisner has already informed Cook of his interest in creating the role.
Cook is believed to want a firm input over any potential candidate to ensure minimal disruption to his set-up. Any dispute about the role could lead to Cook’s departure and open the way for Latics.
Early hopes for next year?
Latics must take the time to ensure that they get the right manager in place and if they do, then the new man will benefit from having the nucleus of a strong squad for the lower division.
They must get back to the attacking football that was successful under Caldwell in League One and if they do that then they will have a good chance to bounce back quickly.
This article was published in the 12th Man column for the Wigan Evening Post.