Season of disappointment ends with creditable draw – Wigan Athletic 1 Leeds United 1

Ryan-Tunnicliffe

Ryan Tunnicliffe scored his first and possibly last goal for Latics.

Wigan Athletic finished the season with a creditable 1-1 draw against Leeds United at the DW Stadium on Sunday.

Ryan Tunnicliffe produced a composed finish rounding Leeds keeper Rob Green to make it 1-0 to Latics after six minutes.

Fulham loanee Tunnicliffe turned from hero to villain early in the second half when he foolishly tripped Eunan O’Kane in the box and Chris Wood converted the penalty to draw Leeds level.

Kemar Roofe hit the crossbar for Leeds but Omar Bogle should have done better when he had two one-on-ones with the Leeds keeper and might have been awarded a penalty when he appeared to be brought down by Rob Green, but the scores stayed level at the final whistle.

Latics must now regroup in League One after an abject season in the Championship and Leeds will reflect on how they missed out on the play-offs after failing to win in their final five games.

In what looks likely to be interim manager Graham Barrow’s last game in charge, he made three changes from the 1-0 defeat at Reading, with Max Power, Callum Connolly and Omar Bogle replacing Shaun MacDonald, Reece Burke and Nick Powell.

Latics were ahead after only six minutes when Michael Jacobs produced a slide rule pass to free Tunnicliffe in the box, and the former Manchester United reserve rounded Green to slot home from close range.

Leeds pushed forward to try and get a quick response but Latics looked dangerous on the break. Green was given a yellow card for stopping Tunnicliffe taking a quick throw-in as Latics threatened.

On 25 minutes Bogle had his first one-on-one when he broke clear and Green had to be quick off his line to make a sharp save.

Green then saved at the feet of Tunnicliffe as he picked up Max Power’s through ball.

Latics were good value for the lead as the teams went in at half time.

But in the 49th minute Leeds were given a route back into the game when Tunnicliffe tripped Eunan O’Kane in the box, Chris Wood calmly converting the penalty kick.

Soon afterwards Leeds might have gone ahead but Kemar Roofe’s 25-yard shot struck the crossbar and bounced away to safety.

It was end-to-end stuff now as Bogle had his second one-on-one opportunity.

Bogle hesitated in front of the advancing Green, the striker’s initial effort was saved but from the follow up the keeper appeared to bring down Bogle, and despite Latics’ appeals for a penalty nothing was awarded.

Barrow replaced Craig Morgan, Michael Jacobs and David Perkins with Alex Bruce, Nick Powell and Ryan Colclough as Latics tried to finish the season with a win.

Latics’ best opportunity to claim victory came in the last minute of added time. Green failed to get any distance on a punch from a free-kick and Power’s attempted lob back was frustratingly wide of the target.

Overall Latics were a little unlucky not to have secured all three points, but in the grand scheme of things it was all immaterial, as they had already been relegated and Leeds had already missed out on promotion.

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Posted in Championship, Chris Wood, Graham Barrow, Leeds United, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

12th Man – Four for the manager shortlist

Uwe Rosler5

Could Uwe Rosler make a return to Latics?

With Latics’ relegation to League One finally confirmed, the search for a new manager will now gather pace with an appointment expected by the end of the month or beginning of June.

However, Latics’ track record in recruiting managers is not a good one as they have sacked five managers since 2013 and have one of the highest managerial turnovers in the Football League.

It is fair to say they have made some poor managerial appointments, in particular Owen Coyle, Malky Mackay and Warren Joyce, and it is crucial that they get it right this time.

Dave Whelan and David Sharpe have a shortlist of potential managers and hopefully this time they will do the due diligence and carry out extensive interviews with all the candidates.

There have been many managers mentioned in connection with the post but here’s my own personal shortlist of candidates that I would like to see interviewed.

1. The current Fleetwood Town and former Latics manager Uwe Rosler is probably the front-runner for the job but a lot will depend on which division Fleetwood are in next season. Rosler has done a remarkable job to get them into the League One play-offs on limited resources.

He initially did very well for Latics getting the team into the FA Cup semi-final and Championship play-offs in 2014, and he clearly has a good knowledge of League One and that will be required if they are to make a quick return to the Championship.

Michael O'Neill1

Michael O’Neill

2. The current Northern Ireland manager and former Latics midfielder Michael O’Neill is in contention for the Norwich City job but if Latics could tempt him, it would be something of a coup.

O’Neill was named coach of the year at BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2015 after helping Northern Ireland qualify for their first major tournament for 30 years. His team then went onto reach the last 16 of Euro 2016.

If Latics wanted him they would have to pay compensation to Northern Ireland but he would be an excellent appointment if it came about.

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Paul Cook

3. Former Latics midfielder Paul Cook is a strong contender for the job. Cook 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 led his team to promotion from League Two this season and previously managed Chesterfield to the League Two title in 2014.

Much could depend on the current takeover talks at Portsmouth with billionaire former Walt Disney Chairman Michael Eisner looking to invest in the club.

Cook has proved that he can be successful in the lower divisions. He is originally from Kirkby and if he wants a return to the North West, then Latics would be the ideal club for him.

danny-nicky-cowley

Danny and Nicky Cowley

4. The Lincoln City management duo of Danny and Nicky Cowley have been sending shockwaves throughout the football world with their scientific approach to coaching.

They achieved promotion to the Football League and were the first non-league team to reach the FA Cup quarter-final in 103 years, beating Ipswich, Brighton and Burnley this season.

Their Sports Science methods include using ‘Hudl’ to send video clips to players and iCoach4Sport which provides statistics and data to analyse player performance.

The two brothers are the rising stars of the coaching world and their relentless approach to management has won them plenty of admirers further up the football pyramid.

This article was first published in the 12th Man column for the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 5th May 2017.

Posted in Danny Cowley, Michael O'Neill, Nicky Cowley, Paul Cook, Uwe Rösler, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Latics relegation confirmed – Reading 1 Wigan Athletic 0

Goalscorer Nick Powell

Nick Powell had several good opportunities

Wigan Athletic’s relegation to the third tier of English football was confirmed when they lost 1-0 to play-off qualifiers Reading at the Madejski Stadium.

Yann Kermorgant put the Royals ahead after only five minutes when he headed home Garath McCleary’s cross.

Latics situation got worse on 21 minutes when they lost midfielder Shaun MacDonald with a broken leg after a collision with George Evans.

Despite the setback, and also losing defender Reece Burke to injury, they battled to get back into the game and created plenty of chances only to be foiled by former keeper Ali Al Habsi and their own poor finishing.

The victory moved the Royals up to third in the table while Wigan frustratingly drop back into League One after only one season back in the Championship.

There was one change to Latics starting line-up from the draw against Cardiff City with Nick Powell replacing Gabriel Obertan.

Latics had a dreadful start to the game when they went behind inside the first five minutes when Kermorgant headed home Garath McCleary’s cross.

Latics quickly tried to respond with Michael Jacobs testing Al Habsi, and a backheeled effort from Dan Burn which was narrowly wide of the post.

But then there was a major setback on 21 minutes when Shaun MacDonald suffered a double leg fracture following a challenge by George Evans, who received a yellow card.

Max Power replaced McDonald as they looked to get back into the game.

Jacobs fired over the crossbar and then Powell had two efforts in quick succession, first seeing a near post shot saved in the 29th minute, then shooting high over from 12 yards only a minute later.

Powell might have levelled on 35 minutes but Al Habsi saved his diving header from ten yards.

Powell was causing plenty of problems but couldn’t quite make his efforts count. On 42 minutes he played a one-two with Jacobs in the box, but his shot only hit the side netting.

Latics’ situation got worse just before the interval as the injured Burke had to be replaced by Callum Connolly. Powell then had another half-chance when he failed to make contact with Connolly’s low cross, and the teams went into half time with the Royals one goal to the good.

Latics continued to press at the beginning of the second half with Burn seeing his close range header deflected for a corner then Connolly put Jamie Hanson’s cross into the side netting.

Powell then fired at Al Habsi’s goal after 59 minutes and tried his luck from long range after 65 minutes, both efforts just wide of the target.

Barrow made the last change on 79 minutes with Omar Bogle replacing Powell but Latics could not make the breakthrough and relegation was confirmed.

Overall, it’s been a dreadful season at Latics and perhaps the most disappointing aspect is that many of the problems have been self-inflicted.

League One title winning manager Gary Caldwell was unnecessarily sacked after only 14 games and the appointment of Warren Joyce was an unmitigated disaster.

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.

Interim manager Graham Barrow offered some limited respite from the defeats with home wins against Rotherham and Barnsley but the damage had already been done.

Owner Dave Whelan and Chairman David Sharpe have to take responsibility for the poor decisions and must think very carefully when they appoint the new manager as they prepare for life as a League One club.

Posted in Championship, Dave Whelan, David Sharpe, Nick Powell, Reading, Wigan Athletic, Yann Kermogant | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

12th Man – The greatest of great escapes?

David Unsworth

David Unsworth scored the winning penalty to stave off relegation in 2007

Latics look like making a quick return to the third tier of English football yet there is still a slim chance that they could survive.

They will need to win both their games against play-off contenders Reading and Leeds United plus Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers will need to lose both of their games. Unlikely to say the least, but crazier things have happened in the past.

Latics can take inspiration from another Latics – Oldham Athletic in 1993. In the inaugural Premier League season, Oldham produced an incredible three game sequence to avoid relegation. When Crystal Palace won on the penultimate Saturday, they were so nearly safe.

With an eight-point gap and an inferior goal difference, Oldham needed snookers. First, they won at Aston Villa to hand the title to Manchester United and keep their own race alive.

Then they beat Liverpool and coupled with Palace’s goalless draw at Manchester City, it went to the last day. Oldham had to win and the Eagles had to lose, as well as suffer a swing in the goal difference.

Amazingly Oldham beat Southampton 4-3 at Boundary Park, while Palace were on the end of a 3-0 loss at Arsenal.

Wigan have been involved in many great escapes in the past, but perhaps one of the most contentious was when they and West Ham survived on the final day of the 2006/07 season.

West Ham looked doomed to relegation with four games remaining but in Carlos Tevez, they had a striker who made all the difference to their fortunes.

Tevez was the catalyst to the Hammers winning each of their last four games to avoid the drop, most spectacularly with the winner at Champions Manchester United on the final day of the season.

However, that was only half the story. Tevez had been signed from a third-party owner along with compatriot Javier Mascherano, and thus his registration was not valid.

West Ham somehow escaped with a £5.5 million fine for fielding an ineligible player, but no points deduction.

Latics had gone into the final game without a win in eleven games and looking likely to be relegated from the top division. But their nail-biting 2-1 victory at relegation rivals Sheffield United was enough to keep them up. This in turn meant that Sheffield United were relegated.

The Blades would later be awarded £30 million in compensation by West Ham, but they have never returned to the Premier League since that fateful May afternoon.

One of the most memorable final day moments was when Carlisle United were facing the prospect of dropping out of the Football League in 1999.

Drawing 1-1 at home to mid-table Plymouth, they were going down and Scarborough were staying up. As the game went into added time, goalkeeper Jimmy Glass was sent up for a corner in an act of pure desperation. What happened next is the stuff of legend.

The ball bounced around the box before Glass pounced to fire into the net and spark incredible scenes to keep Carlisle up. Surprisingly, Glass never played another game for the club but his name lives on in the annals of football’s most famous moments.

Latics’ fans can only hope and pray for a similarly exciting end to the season.
Graham Barrow must set out his stall to win at Reading tomorrow and hope that the other results go his way, so that it goes to the final game against Leeds United and maybe another dramatic finale.

This article was first published in the 12th Man column for the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 28th April 2017.

Posted in Birmingham City, Blackburn Rovers, Carlisle United, Championship, David Unsworth, Jimmy Glass, Leeds United, Oldham Athletic, Reading, Sheffield United, West Ham United, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Latics are still hanging on – Wigan Athletic 0 Cardiff City 0

Graham Barrow2

Interim manager Graham Barrow had done his best to rally the team after Warren Joyce’s time in charge.

Latics are on the verge of the third tier of English football after a dour 0-0 draw against Cardiff City.

Birmingham City were defeated 1-0 by Aston Villa on Sunday, but Latics must win their last two games and Birmingham and Blackburn lose theirs if they are to survive.

Despite dominating possession Latics were unable to create many clear-cut chances against some stubborn Cardiff defending.

The home fans had hoped that the introduction of the talismanic Nick Powell, who had scored five goals in his previous three substitute appearances, would make the breakthrough but it wasn’t to be.

Graham Barrow made three changes to the team beaten at Brighton with Matt Gilks, Craig Morgan and Reece Burke replacing Jakob Haugaard, Jake Buxton and Max Power.

Latics pressed from the kick off and forced four early corners, the best opportunity came when Morgan headed Jamie Hanson’s delivery just wide in the 12th minute.

They should probably have had a penalty when Shaun MacDonald was brought down in the box by Ecuele-Manga but referee Oliver Langford waved away the appeals.

Latics were on the front foot throughout the first half but they couldn’t find a way through a well organised Cardiff rearguard.

Michael Jacobs tried his luck from distance and then Burke picked up the ball on the halfway line and drove forward before unleashing a low drive which was narrowly wide.

Jacobs then produced a good cross which found Morgan on the edge of the six yard box but the defender was unable to make his effort count.

Cardiff might have taken an unlikely lead just before half time when a mistake by David Perkins set up Craig Noone whose shot skimmed the crossbar from close range.

The teams went into the interval level and the fans speculated as to whether Nick Powell and Ryan Colclough would be introduced immediately to try and keep Latics’ season alive.

Barrow waited until the 56th minute, when Powell and Colclough replaced Obertan and Hanson.

Powell was soon creating panic in the Cardiff defence and from a corner the ball fell to Dan Burn but his volley was blocked.

But despite Powell and Colclough’s introduction Latics were still failing to carve out any clear-cut chances.

With ten minutes remaining and in a desperate attempt to try and win the game Barrow pushed Burn forward as a second striker.

Colclough tried his luck from the edge of the area with a low drive but Amos saved at the near post. Powell then had an effort blocked on the line by substitute Rickie Lambert.

Latics were given four minutes of added time but they just couldn’t make the all- important breakthrough and the game ended in a frustrating draw.

Posted in Cardiff City, Championship, Graham Barrow, Nick Powell, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

12th Man – Do or die

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Nick Powell. Photograph courtesy of Wigan Athletic.

Graham Barrow’s cunning plan to upset Brighton’s promotion party might have come off on Easter Monday if it was not for some woeful defending.

Barrow had hoped his team would keep the scores level until he could introduce the prolific Nick Powell in the last 30 minutes but Latics went behind before half time.

The goal was a route one affair converted by Glenn Murray with the Latics defence slow to react.

Solly March added the second when his shot went straight through Jakob Haugaard’s legs and the Seagulls could have had many more as the Stoke City loanee keeper made a series of mistakes by dropping crosses and fumbling shots.

In a season of self-inflicted problems Latics have dumped yet more misery upon themselves.

Experienced keeper Matt Gilks had been in good form before Haugaard surprisingly returned to the team against Rotherham and Barnsley and was very shaky to say the least.

But Haugaard’s performance against Brighton at the Amex Stadium was embarrassing and cost Latics any chance of getting a point. The Latics Board must rue signing the agreement that Haugaard play a specified number of games or pay the financial penalty.

It’s do or die now with Latics five points from safety with only three games remaining. Their relegation rivals Blackburn, Nottingham Forest and Birmingham have easier fixtures on paper, so it will require some surprise results for Latics to stay up.

A win against Cardiff City tomorrow is essential if they are to have any hope of survival and Gilks must surely return to the team if they are to have a chance.

Latics must also take a risk with Nick Powell’s fitness as they try to keep their season alive. The former Manchester United midfielder has been limited to 20 and 30 minute spells on the pitch due to his hamstring injury but I would expect him to have more game time against the Bluebirds.

Powell has now scored five goals in his last three substitute appearances with a goal on average every 16.4 minutes.

It is likely that Latics would not have been in relegation trouble if Powell had been available all season. He is a prodigious talent and can turn a game almost single-handedly.

In his last three substitute appearances he has shown Premier League quality and if he can show that kind of form in the next three games who knows what might happen.

This article was first published in the 12th Man column for the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 21st April 2017.

Posted in Cardiff City, Championship, Graham Barrow, Jakob Haugaard, Nick Powell, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Latics fail to spoil Brighton’s promotion party – Brighton & Hove Albion 2 Wigan Athletic 1

Amex Stadium

View from the away end – Amex Stadium

Latics failed to stall Brighton’s promotion celebrations and slipped further into relegation trouble with a 2-1 defeat at the Amex Stadium.

Brighton dominated throughout but it was some woeful defending by Latics that ensured they were promoted to the Premier League with three Championship fixtures still remaining.

The home team went ahead on 37 minutes when Tomer Hemed in the box knocked down a route one ball from Lewis Dunk and Glenn Murray fired home past Haugaard.

Solly March added a second in the second half when his shot went straight through Haugaard’s legs and the Seagulls could have had many more as the Stoke City loanee keeper made a series of mistakes by dropping crosses and fumbling shots.

The Latics Board must surely be rueing signing the agreement for Haugaard to play a specified number of games or pay the financial penalty.

From a rare Latics attack substitute Nick Powell’s header gave them hope on 85 minutes but they failed to test Brighton keeper David Stockdale in the dying minutes and they are now five points from safety with only three games remaining.

Brighton need three more points from their three remaining games if they are to seal the Championship title.

Graham Barrow made two changes to the Latics line-up from the victory against Barnsley with Ryan Tunnicliffe and David Perkins replacing Callum Connolly and Sam Morsy.

In front of a bumper crowd of 29,940 and with Brighton going for promotion Latics knew they would have to be at their best to get anything from the game.

They coped well in the early minutes but some nervy goalkeeping by Haugaard wasn’t helping matters.

Anthony Knockaert’s free-kick into the box wasn’t held by Haugaard and Dunk should have scored but his effort was somehow bundled away. Dunk then got on the end of another Knockaert free-kick after 26 minutes but headed over.

The first Brighton goal was a route one affair on 37 minutes. Dunk launched a long ball from his own half, which was knocked down by Tomer Hemed in the box, and Glenn Murray fired home past Haugaard.

The Seagulls might have soon doubled their lead when Knockaert’s corner was headed in by Murray at the far post but the ball was judged to have crossed the line on its way from the corner.

David Perkins had a rare attempt at goal just before half time, but his effort was deflected for a corner.

With Latics only one goal down at the interval and with the likely introduction of Nick Powell and Ryan Colclough in the second half there was still hope that they could get something from the game.

However, the Latics keeper wasn’t inspiring any confidence in defence and he spilled Solly March’s left-wing cross and Hemed looked likely to score but Buxton managed to save Haugaard’s blushes.

Haugaard did make a good save on 52 minutes when he tipped Knockaert’s free-kick from 20 yards around his post.

Barrow made the expected change on 60 minutes replacing Ryan Tunnicliffe and Gabriel Obertan with Ryan Colclough and Nick Powell.

But before Latics could build any momentum they were 2-0 down on 65 minutes. Knockaert weaved his way past two Latics defenders and set up March who took a touch and fired through the hapless Haugaard’s legs at the near post.

Haugaard looked dreadfully uncomfortable and he flapped at an easy to catch cross which fell to Knockaert but the striker somehow failed to convert.

Barrow then introduced Sam Morsy in place of Shaun MacDonald as Latics tried to gain a foothold.

Powell had an attempt from 25 yards but Stockdale saved easily. Knockaert then had the ball in the net but was flagged offside and Murray produced a good cross which Knockaert just failed to reach.

But with 85 minutes on the clock Latics reduced the arrears through the prolific Nick Powell. The supersub met Jamie Hanson’s cross between two Brighton defenders in the six-yard box and angled his header into the corner of the net.

Powell has now scored five goals in his last three substitute appearances with a goal on average every 16.4 minutes.

Wigan now had a chance to get something out of the game. However, substitute Chuba Akpom might have increased Brighton’s lead but his shot from close range only hit the side netting.

Latics were given three minutes of added time to try and grab a point and postpone Brighton’s promotion but sadly they failed to get a shot on target. Just before the end Powell produced a mazey run beating several defenders but the last defender blocked his final shot and their last hope of a point was extinguished.

The final whistle was greeted with a massive cheer from the home fans and the inevitable mass pitch invasion to start the promotion party.

Posted in Brighton & Hove Albion, Championship, Glenn Murray, Nick Powell, Solly March, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment