Latics struggling to make the chances count – Wigan Athletic 0 Reading 0

Goalscorer Nick Powell

Nick Powell had a header disallowed for offside

Latics struggled to capitalise on their chances as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Reading at the DW Stadium.

The hosts were without Gavin Massey, Michael Jacobs, Chey Dunkley and Antonee Robinson due to injury although striker Will Grigg returned to the bench after five weeks out. 

Latics had the majority of the opportunities with Josh Windass, Nick Powell, Nathan Byrne, Cedric Kipre and Joe Garner all going close, but they were unable to take advantage in a dour encounter.

Nick Powell might have given Latics the lead but he had a close range headed goal disallowed for offside following a short corner.

The Royals best chance came in the second half when Yakou Meite’s close range effort was turned away by Christan Walton.

Latics drop a place to 17th in the Championship table while Reading remain in 20th place just outside the relegation zone on goal difference.

Paul Cook’s team made the early running with Dan Burn heading wide from a Gary Roberts cross before Cedric Kipre missed a great chance heading over when he got on the end of Kal Naismith’s flick-on.

Powell then forced Royals keeper Anssi Jaakkola to tip over his 25-yard drive.

From the resulting corner, Powell looked to have given Latics the lead when he headed home at the near post but James was adjudged to have been offside when he played a one-two with Gary Roberts.

Kipre couldn’t capitalise on another good opportunity in the penalty area before Nathan Byrne had an even better chance heading wide at the back post with the goal at his mercy.

Josh Windass then forced another good save from Jaakkola from Naismith’s low cross into the area.

Early in the second half Roberts cut inside his marker and saw another shot saved by Jakkola before Windass missed the target from the rebound.

Latics were missing a clinical finisher and it was somewhat surprising that Will Grigg wasn’t introduced until the 71st minute.

Winger Callum McManaman remained on the bench and it was a little disappointing that Cook didn’t utilise his attacking threat. However, after four defeats the manager didn’t want to risk losing the game and seemed relieved to get a point on the board.

Despite lacking their early season continuity and cohesion Latics had still managed to create plenty of opportunities but had been profligate in front of goal.

Substitute Joe Garner had the hosts final opening from a James corner but his effort was blocked on the line and the points were shared.

If Latics are to get back to winning ways in the upcoming fixtures against Blackburn and Bolton they will need to improve in the final third, they cannot continue to waste opportunities if they are to thrive in the Championship. Forwards Grigg and McManaman must surely start against Blackburn on Wednesday night at the DW Stadium.

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Latics could become Championship contenders

Will Grigg5

Will Grigg could return against Reading

The current EFL Championship table shows the competitiveness of the division with only 13 points separating 16th placed Wigan from leaders Norwich City. Looking at the results this season it shows that the majority of the games are hard to predict, closely fought and often the margin between the teams near the top and those lower down is a relatively small one.

Latics have shown they are capable of defeating the top teams having produced two excellent performances against promotion favourites West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City.

After a superb start to the season Latics were in the play-off positions but have been desperately unlucky to be hit by a run of serious injuries which has hampered their progress. Few teams could maintain a winning run at this level with at least half of their starting XI missing.

Latics have been without their usual forward line of Gavin Massey, Michael Jacobs and Will Grigg for some weeks now and they have recently been joined on the injury list by defenders Chey Dunkley and Antonee Robinson.

Captain Samy Morsy was missing due to suspension for the game at Middlesbrough but there are now signs that the injury problems could be abating.

Gavin Massey is back in training after his hamstring operation and Will Grigg is now nearing fitness and could be available for tomorrow’s game against Reading.

During the last few weeks the protracted takeover of the club by the International Entertainment Corporation was finally completed and the new owners can now set about developing the club’s considerable potential.

Latics have an excellent management team in place led by Paul Cook and the Board has plenty of football experience with Executive Chairman Darren Royle, Director Joe Royle and Chief Executive Jonathan Jackson.

The Board’s main aim is to stabilise in the Championship this season but if they can re-capture their early season form then the play-offs are not an unrealistic prospect.

Latics are very lucky to have secured Cook on a four-year contract going forward as he has attracted attention from Premier League clubs and is amongst the contenders for the Republic of Ireland manager’s job.

He had an exceptional first season not only leading Latics’ return to the Championship but also leading his side to the FA Cup quarter-finals following victories over three Premier League sides, including the Champions Manchester City.

Cook will be given a boost if the club can tie down Nick Powell and Samy Morsy to new contracts and he will be looking to add to the squad in the January transfer window.

The manager was recently seen scouting at Accrington Stanley checking on Newcastle 21-year-old loanee midfielder Daniel Barlaser. Latics have also been linked to the promising Everton midfielder Kieran Dowell which is perhaps not surprising given Joe Royle’s Everton connections.

Players returning from injury, new contracts for key players and some astute signings in the transfer window and Latics could be in a stronger position come January.

Posted in Championship, International Entertainment Corporation, Paul Cook, Reading, Wigan Athletic, Will Grigg | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: State of Play – Under the Skin of the Modern Game by Michael Calvin

State of Play - Under the skin of the modern game by Michael Calvin

Award-winning sports writer Michael Calvin’s latest book is an ambitious, in-depth and wide-ranging examination of the current game. Calvin takes as his inspiration Arthur Hopcrafts’s ‘The Football Man,’ which was written two years after England won the World Cup and is regarded as one of the best football books ever written.

Hopcraft’s book was divided into nine sections but Calvin has gone for four broad headings: The Player; The Manager; The Club, The People.

It is an epic undertaking which covers: the need for more emotionally intelligent managers and coaches; the rise of the women’s game; the failing protocols for assessing and safeguarding injured players; the high-pressure, throw-away culture of the modern game and its toll on mental health; the social impact of football – in prisons, homeless shelters and urban estates around the UK and the future of the sport – for coaches, owners and fans alike.

Calvin interviews many well-known figures in the game including Gareth Southgate, Arsene Wenger and Deli Alli but often the more affecting human stories are with lesser-known individuals such as Dawn Astle.

The daughter of West Bromwich Albion and England striker Jeff Astle, who tragically died prematurely from Alzheimer’s dementia, is at the centre of the “Justice for Jeff” campaign, which she started in 2004.

The football authorities were in denial when the coroner found Jeff Astle had died from an ‘industrial disease’ – dementia brought on by the repeated trauma of heading the ball. A long and all consuming campaign to get justice for Astle and the hundred’s of other footballers who have died prematurely has ensued.

Social media is on the agenda and Calvin comments,

“Twitter has made everyone a pundit. Opinion takes precedence over action”,

and he is particularly scathing of Fan TV,

“The stars of Fan TV, uniformly self-regarding and inevitably self-appointed, emphasize the coarseness of what passes as public debate in a world without the constraint of truth, fairness and balance. Their narcissism is as over-powering as their ignorance, yet they set the tone, purport to speak for those who lack the intellect or inclination to think for themselves”.

Arsene Wenger acidly comments on a modern malaise,

“Five hundred years ago the target for people was to be a saint, fifty years ago it was to be a hero in the war. Today it is to be a billionaire, or, even more a celebrity”.

Calvin delves deep into the ever increasing inequalities of the modern game, while Accrington Stanley Chairman Andy Holt struggles to keep his club afloat, the top six demonstrate greed and avarice and try to impose serfdom on a game that needs to become more civilised than commercialised.

The hypocrisy of most fans’ motives is exposed. Bob Beech a Portsmouth supporter who set up the fans board during their financial difficulties is brutally honest when he says,

“Most fans are liars. They will tell you they want their football club to be as pure as the driven snow, with a great academy producing local boys for the first team. What they really want is to win on Saturday. If that happens they don’t really care whether a Colombian drug cartel is running the place”.

In his summary Calvin highlights the huge contradictions in the modern game when he says,

“Football’s beauty has long been in the eye of the beholder. It is capable of lyricism and cynicism, artistry and banality. It is steeped in reckless romanticism, and bloodless calculation. Its essential contradictions are embodied by its most acclaimed coach Pep Guardiola”.

“The splendour of his teams and the authenticity of his personal principles are undeniable. Yet his passionate espousal of the Catalan cause left him exposed to accusations of hypocrisy, since he has profited from an Abu-Dhabi-owned club Manchester City and his ambassadorial role with the Qatari World Cup. Neither Gulf regime is noted for its Liberalism”.

Betting companies and Agents are a huge stain on the game and exploitative practices, such as West Ham’s policy of charging £700 to fulfil the dream of being a mascot are contemptible.

Breaking through all the hype around football Calvin shows us the reality of what is really going on inside our clubs and associated institutions. It is an intelligent and deeply insightful book if somewhat dispiriting reading, about the current state of our national game.

State of Play – Under the Skin of the Modern Game by Michael Calvin. Published by Century. Price £16.99. 

This review first appeared in the November/December 2018 edition of Late Tackle magazine.

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Defensive errors proving costly – Middlesbrough 2 Wigan Athletic 0

Macca dw

Callum McManaman went close for Latics

Injury-hit Wigan Athletic suffered a seventh straight away defeat when they were beaten 2-0 by high-flying Middlesbrough at the Riverside.

Latics had matched their opponents for most of the first-half but a couple of defensive errors put Boro in the driving seat by half-time.

Darron Gibson gave the ball away needlessly before Cedric Kipre rashly fouled George Friend just inside the penalty area and Jordan Hugill converted the resulting spot-kick.

Boro were soon 2-0 up when Christian Walton got a hand to a cross from Martin Braithwaite but only diverted the ball into the path of Hugill who smashed the ball into the top of the net.

Latics had been their own worst enemies and despite an improved second-half showing they were unable to create many chances to reduce the deficit.

Middlesbrough move up to second in the table and Latics remain in 16th position, eight points off the play-offs and four points above the relegation zone.

Depleted Latics made three changes from the side that were defeated 2-1 by Leeds United with Nick Powell, Gary Roberts and Lee Evans replacing Joe Garner, Kal Naismith and the suspended Samy Morsy.

Latics faced some early pressure from the hosts but gradually worked themselves into the game.

Lee Evans tried his luck from 25 yards before Dan Burn headed off target from close range following Gary Roberts’ corner.

Boro went closest when Walton denied Danny Batth with a great save and Powell had to clear off the line from Aden Flint’s effort.

But all Latics good work was undone when two defensive errors in the space of six minutes put Boro in control.

Gibson gave the ball away and Kipre made a rash challenge just inside the area on Friend and the referee had no hesitation in awarding a spot-kick. Hugill duly converted, sending Walton the wrong way.

It was soon 2-0 as Martin Braithwaite crossed into the area where Walton only managed to push the ball into the path of Hugill who smashed the ball high into the net.

Latics upped their game in the second half with Powell forcing an early save from Darren Randolph which nearly fell into the path of the Josh Windass.

Evans then saw his effort from inside the penalty area blocked from Dan Burn’s knockdown.

Powell fired wide of the target on the hour mark but Latics were struggling to create any clear cut chances.

On 74 minutes Paul Cook made a double substitution with Callum McManaman and James Vaughan replacing Powell and Windass.

The change almost worked as McManaman curled a shot from the edge of the area narrowly wide of the post with Vaughan in close attendance.

McManaman looked lively as Latics created some half chances – the FA Cup winning winger firing over the crossbar following a Reece James free-kick.

But despite Latics’ best efforts Boro were fairly comfortable sitting back and absorbing the pressure.

It was always going to be a difficult task against a team who had only conceded eight goals all season but Cook’s team had once again contributed to their own downfall by making silly mistakes. As against Leeds United defensive lapses had proved costly.

Some of Latics’ players are still learning about the rigours of the Championship and others probably didn’t expect to be playing quite so regularly at this level.

It is not a time to panic however, as Latics are in the throes of an injury crisis which would cause problems for any team in the Championship. They’ve had a tough run of fixtures against teams at the top end of the table and very few teams would be able to get results with at least half of their first XI missing.

With the international break upcoming and a more reasonable run of fixtures in the offing against Reading, Blackburn and Bolton, Latics should be able to get one or two of their missing players back into action and get back to winning ways.

Posted in Callum McManaman, Championship, Jordan Hugill, Middlesbrough, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Wigan Athletic takeover – from Whelan family to Royle family

Royle's

From L to R – Director Joe Royle, IEC Chief Executive Melvin Yan Min Zhang and Executive Chairman Darren Royle. Photo courtesy of Wigan Athletic.

Following the takeover of Wigan Athletic by the Hong Kong-based International Entertainment Corporation (IEC) it has been revealed that father and son Joe and Darren Royle will be guiding the club going forward.

Dave Whelan and his grandson David Sharpe have steered the club for the last 23 years and now another family duo with the backing of IEC will have a big say in the future of Latics.

Former England international footballer Joe Royle, 69, has become a Director of the club and son Darren, 44, will be Executive Chairman.

Joe Royle has a very successful track record in professional football and is a member of the League Managers Association Hall of Fame of English Football and has played at the highest level in a career that spanned 556 games, in which time he scored 188 goals for teams such as Manchester City and Everton.

During his club career, he played for Everton, Manchester City, Bristol City and Norwich City. Following the end of his playing career Royle managed over 1000 competitive league games for clubs such as Manchester City, Everton, Oldham Athletic and Ipswich Town.

As a manager Royle has won many honours: at Oldham Athletic he won the Second Division in 1990–91 and was League Cup runner-up in 1989–90; at Everton he won the FA Cup in 1994–95 and FA Charity Shield in 1995; during his time at Manchester City he won the Second Division play-offs in 1999 and was a First Division runner-up in 1999–2000.

Only this season Oldham Athletic renamed their North Stand the ‘Joe Royle Stand’ in honour of their club’s greatest ever manager.

It is understood that Darren Royle was instrumental in introducing IEC to the Whelan family and was responsible for brokering the takeover deal with Wigan.

Darren Royle introduced the Hong Kong-based organisation to several English Football League clubs including Oldham Athletic and Ipswich Town, but after viewing the facilities and speaking to the Whelan family they decided to purchase Wigan.

IEC have subsequently appointed Darren Royle as the Executive Chairman with responsibility for developing all aspects of the club including improving the Academy. The main aim however, for the Royles and IEC, being promotion to the Premier League.

Darren Royle has vast experience of football operations management and business leadership having worked in football brands and rights, performance analysis and data, academy management and commercial partnerships in senior executive roles within football business, before latterly launching and owning his own football businesses in the UK.

Royle played football at non-league level but football business has always been his passion and he has worked with some of Europe’s top football brands in a commercial capacity. In the UK, he has specifically developed an entire tier of academy football in the English football pyramid.

He is also co-founder of a new MBA qualification with Manchester Metropolitan University for Sporting Directors. Prior to the football business, he worked in senior management in the pharmaceutical industry where he completed an MBA in Marketing and Finance whilst holding an MSc in Exercise & Nutrition Science and BSc in Sports Science and Psychology.

Other members of the four man Board will be Thomas Chan who is an executive director of IEC, having been the group’s general counsel since February 2017 and Latics’ current Chief Executive Jonathan Jackson.

Posted in Championship, Darren Royle, International Entertainment Corporation, Joe Royle, Jonathan Jackson, Thomas Chan, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

End of an era for the Whelan family – Wigan Athletic 1 Leeds United 2

Dave Whelan

Dave Whelan 

It was a slightly disappointing finale for the Whelan family after 23 years in charge of Wigan Athletic as they were defeated 2-1 by Leeds United on Sunday.

Latics had been undefeated at home since February last year but with five attacking players unavailable it was always going to be a difficult task against high-flying Leeds.

Injury-hit Latics battled hard against the new Championship leaders but the lack of quality going forward meant their chances were few and far between as Leeds enjoyed the lion’s share of possession.

Latics went ahead after only six minutes when 18-year-old Chelsea loanee Reece James curled home a superb 30 yard free kick.

But Leeds were soon level as Barry Douglas’ defence splitting pass found Mateusz Klich in space and the Polish midfielder cut the ball back to Pablo Hernandez for an easy tap in.

Leeds started to dominate and Latics were a little lucky to go into the interval level, but the visitors went ahead very early in the second-half following a calamitous mix- up between Cedric Kipre and keeper Christian Walton which allowed Kemar Roofe an easy finish.

The hosts best chance to equalise came in the 85th minute when substitute Callum McManaman skilfully turned his marker but fired his shot agonisingly over the crossbar.

Latics were still without their usual forward line of Gavin Massey, Michael Jacobs and Will Grigg and these absentees were joined on the injury list by Nick Powell and Gary Roberts. Cedric Kipre, Darron Gibson, Kal Naismith and Joe Garner all came into the starting eleven following the defeat at Sheffield United.

Wigan got off to a great start after only six minutes when James curled a superb 30 yard free kick past Bailey Peacock-Farrell for his first goal for the club.

Leeds responded quickly and Douglas’ defence splitting pass found Klich in space and he cut the ball back to Hernandez for an easy finish.

On 23 minutes there was a rousing minute’s applause in appreciation of the 23 years of the Whelan family ownership at Wigan Athletic.

As the half wore on the visitors took control, dominating possession and pressing high on the Latics defence. Adam Forshaw forced a good save from Walton and Latics were lucky to get to the interval on level terms.

But soon after the restart the visitors went in front following a mix-up between Kipre and Walton which allowed Roofe an easy task to score from close range.

Leeds had further chances to increase their lead with Roofe firing wide and Hernandez crashing another effort against the post.

Latics’ best opportunity came on 85 minutes when McManaman superbly turned his marker in the area and fired just over the crossbar.

Leeds had deserved the three points which took them back to the top of the table and I expect them to be involved in the promotion shake-up at the end of the season.

Latics will be rueing their mistakes and hoping for a quick end to their injury crisis. Very few clubs of Latics’ stature could compete against tough opposition without five of their best attacking players.

It may have been disappointing result on the day but nothing can detract from the last 23 years which have been an incredible success story for the Whelan family.

Dave Whelan’s contribution as Wigan Athletic owner should be celebrated as one of the great football success stories. Whelan and his grandson David Sharpe have made Wiganers dreams come true.

To climb through the divisions and to establish themselves in the Premier League for eight years, reach a League Cup Final, win an FA Cup Final and qualify for the Europa League is an almost unbelievable achievement for such a small town club.

It has been a privilege to support Wigan Athletic during this period and I can only thank them profusely for an amazing 23 years.

Posted in Championship, Dave Whelan, David Sharpe, Kemar Roofe, Leeds United, Reece James, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Whelan’s farewell – the times they are a changin’

Roberto Martinez and Dave Whelan

Roberto Martinez and Dave Whelan

The takeover of Wigan Athletic by the International Entertainment Corporation (IEC) should be completed tomorrow at the Extraordinary General Meeting (Friday 2nd November).

The change in ownership from Dave Whelan to IEC means the end of an era for the club. During the last 23 years Whelan’s time in charge of Latics has been truly remarkable. Whelan has completely transformed the club during his tenure.

When he took over in 1995 Latics were struggling in the bottom division on attendances of less than 2,000 and few could have expected that the club would have such a meteoric rise.

To climb through the divisions and to establish themselves in the Premier League for eight years, reach a League Cup Final, win an FA Cup Final and qualify for the Europa League is an almost unbelievable achievement.

When Whelan said he would take the club into the Premier League many people mocked. When he said he would like to see the Latics play in the FA Cup Final many people said it was an impossible dream.

But during Whelan’s ownership they have done these extraordinary things. Whelan’s investment in Wigan should also be recognised for the huge social and economic benefits it has brought to the town.

The £30m DW Stadium development and associated sporting facilities have been a tremendous boost for the local community.

Raising the town’s profile in front of a global TV audience can only have had positive benefits for the area, which has otherwise suffered considerable economic adversity.

Whelan’s leadership of the club has been steadfast and unswerving, he has given his financial backing to his managers but he has also been prepared to take some difficult decisions when required.

He has, of course, made mistakes. He fatefully appointed Malky Mackay as manager who was at the centre of an FA investigation while at Cardiff and the media storm followed him to Wigan. But his mistakes are far outweighed by his successes and the club is now light years away from when he took over.

In the last few years the club has been steered by Whelan’s grandson David Sharpe who is a Latics fan through and through. It has generally been a successful period with two promotions from League One and the one relegation from the Championship.

The club has been sold by the Whelan family in a strong position. It is financially solvent and making very good progress in the Championship under Paul Cook’s leadership. The hope now is that the new owners can bring continued success.

They have said that there will be continuity for many of the key staff who have been running the club, including the manager and his coaching staff, Chief Executive Jonathan Jackson and many of the other long standing employees.

Experienced football professionals Joe Royle and his son Darren Royle will be on the new board and they will hopefully be good custodians for the club going forward.

But whatever happens in the future, Dave Whelan’s achievements should be appreciated and celebrated as one of the greatest football stories. Whelan has done so much for the club and the town during his time in charge, everyone should be very grateful for an amazing 23 years.

His success as the businessman who created JJB Sports and subsequently DW Sports was renowned but his achievements at Wigan Athletic will be his enduring legacy.

Latics take on second-placed Leeds United in the lunchtime kick-off on Sunday and I’m hoping the club will have arranged a fitting tribute to Dave Whelan either at the game or in the near future; he certainly deserves one.

Posted in Championship, Dave Whelan, David Sharpe, International Entertainment Corporation, Leeds United, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments