Coyle’s departure leaves many ‘what ifs’

Owen Coyle

Owen Coyle

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OWEN Coyle’s five-and-a-half-month spell at Wigan Athletic probably won’t live too long in the memory for most fans.

It’s pretty surreal considering that his spell of 23 matches included managing the side at Wembley and in five European matches.

Of course, it was the previous regime which cemented Wigan’s place on both stages but Coyle was the man who guided them through both.

Just 10 days before his departure, Latics looked like they were in decent shape going into a busy Christmas period. A couple of points away from the play-off places with a game in hand, a great chance of progressing to the knock-out stages of the Europa League and an unbeaten home record intact.

But it was a week of nightmares which sealed Coyle’s fate.

Three home matches, three defeats. They plunged down to 14th in the league, and qualification for the next phase in Europe was left hanging by a thread.

In truth, cracks were beginning to form before that, though, but they were papered over by promises that Wigan’s squad was on the brink of clicking.

Away from home, the form was poor.

Marc-Antoine Fortune’s goal at Yeovil three weeks earlier was Latics’ first on their travels since August.

It’s fair to say that the style of play was beginning to frustrate a section of Wigan fans too. Rightly or wrongly, Coyle was often compared to Roberto Martinez.

The Scot’s approach to playing football was much more direct which helped a great deal in terms of firming up the back line but up front, Latics struggled.

The frustrating thing is that the quality of those attacking players is clear to see.

Callum McManaman was instrumental for Wigan last season, playing a vital and man-of-the-match winning role in the FA Cup final, while James McClean came to the club with plenty of promise and Grant Holt scored for fun at Norwich.

There was a definite argument that a distinct lack of luck cost Latics in front of goal but it is one that was used too often for most to accept.

Coyle needed the goals to come before the defence started to leak goals and, in nine miserable days, it was the latter which helped see the end to his Wigan reign.

There could also be a question of “what if?” hanging over the now ex-Latics boss.

What if Wigan had clung on to a point against Zulte Waregem and kept their European fate in their own hands?

What if Latics had taken their chances in the first half against Brighton?

What if they had converted many more opportunities into goals on their travels?

There was a very uncomfortable atmosphere around the DW Stadium on Sunday with many fans making it clear that they no longer wanted him as boss.

After the match, he criticised sections for being “ultra-critical” and targeting certain players such as Jordi Gomez.

A few supporters questioned why he was appointed in the first place, but you only have to look at his history in the Championship to see what attracted Dave Whelan.

His record with Burnley was superb. To get the Clarets to the Premier League was a huge achievement and one which cannot be ignored – even accounting for his troubles at Bolton, when he oversaw their relegation from the top-flight.

It was certainly one which turned Whelan’s head and played a big part in him getting the job.

When he was appointed in June, Whelan blamed bad luck with injuries for Coyle’s lack of success at Bolton, and said the Scot had the “enthusiasm” to make Wigan work.

Liked by the media for his down-to-earth demeanour, some may raise eyebrows at the decision for him to leave the club.

The chairman has previously stated managers aren’t given enough time and the way he, rightly, stuck by Martinez when times got tough in the Premier League was admirable.

Sunday’s game against Derby was the first Whelan had attended for a while following his holiday in Barbados and it’s fair to say that come 3.30pm, he didn’t expect to see Latics 3-0 down, and he seemingly lost confidence that Coyle could guide the club back to the top-flight.

With a hectic Christmas schedule approaching – there are eight games in the next four weeks – he decided to act now to try and arrest their slump in form.

When announcing the departure, Wigan said it was a “mutual agreement” but in his press conference, Coyle insisted he couldn’t feel the pressure.

Hours later, he was gone. His teenage son posted a message on Twitter, simply saying “Goodbye” – fuelling rumours about his exit.