Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man

Paul Cook
Paul Cook

Our panel of Latics experts give their thoughts - and predictions - on the eve of the Championship campaign.

Martin Holden:

With the opening game upon us, it’s clearly time to take a good look at what lies ahead for Wigan Athletic in the coming season, in a league that doesn’t seem quite as daunting as it did last year, the overall strength of the teams in the Championship, whilst still good, is not as overpowering on paper as it was 12 months ago.

Despite the typical moaning of some of the Latics’ following, there is a lot to be optimistic about as we kick off our campaign against Cardiff City this weekend.

We have a fit Michael Jacobs and Gavin Massey for one – we really did miss these two for big chunks of last year and having them fit and raring to go is a big bonus for the attacking side of our game.

We now have a tried and tested quality goalkeeper with the signing of David Marshall and this I think will prove to be a really good buy come next May.

With Jamie Jones as back up, that is a good pair of keepers at our disposal.

The youngsters though! I wrote a few times last year about the quality of some of the kids coming through our youth teams and this pre-season they seem to have stepped forward and have really pushed for a permanent place in the squad.

Joe Gelhardt is one of the most promising youngsters I have seen generated through our club – for such a young man he is an absolute tank – very reminiscent in physique to Rooney at that age – lets hope he develops to anything close to what Rooney achieved.

The most impressive thing is that he is a goalscorer, he proved that with his goal against Premiership Burnley – a great finish and a real goal-scorers goal.

Jenson Weir seems very solid, I watched him in the game up at AFC Fylde and he was okay, nothing to write home about, actually on that day, another kid, Alex Perry stood out, so the pipeline continues.

However, in the game against Everton, I thought Weir came into his own and was very impressive indeed and seemed at home against quality opposition. Callum Lang has done it at a lower level with Oldham, and he looked sharp up at Fylde until his injury, but whether he gets a shot in the Championship just yet I am not sure, I am guessing he might be a backup striker at best for us right now.

The permanent signing of Antonee Robinson is a good move for the club, he continues to improve and will be a good addition to the squad and of course, he will be familiar with everything so can literally hit the ground running.

There will be more signings as the window comes close to shutting, some will be permanent and some will be loans – we certainly need a striker of quality and also a centre back, but I guess time will tell on that one. Leon Clarke again anyone?

One brand new thing to look forward to this year is the screen!

The new screen will be a hit with the fans, the live-action, the information, the replays are something that we have been crying out for for years, so that is yet another positive step from the owners who seems to have a plan and are sticking to it. The growth and development of the club continues.

So as we do every year, the time has come for some predictions, good and bad, so here we go.

Promotion (in no particular order): West Brom, Leeds Utd, Fulham but really I am not that interested in that end of the table.

Relegation (in no particular order): Barnsley, Reading, Millwall.

I sat down with my boys and talked through the teams and we concluded that Wigan will finish 19th this year, give or take two places either way for injuries (both us and other teams). So, all in all, I start the year optimistically, lots to look forward to, the good start, then the no win in three months and finally the comeback to stay up by the skin of our teeth, you know the score by now.

Given what is going on in Horwich we have to thank our lucky stars that our club appears to be stable and appears to be run by people who have a good business head and have the best interests of the club first and foremost in their minds.

Let’s get behind the manager and the players and let’s enjoy our football this year, good or bad, support your team!

Mike Goodman:
It’s great to finally have football back after 12-weeks off.

The friendlies were good to get a taste of action but it’s nothing compared to the competitive stuff.

Once again, we’re most people’s favourites to get relegated come May but we all know that’s when we shine and upset the odds.

With one of the best home records in the Championship last season, if we can come close to replicating that form this season and get a few more wins away from home, a solid mid-table finish would be a successful campaign considering we’ve never spent longer than two consecutive seasons in the Championship.

There’s of course lots of talk around transfers and obviously we still need a few more players to offset the number of departures over the summer.

I’m confident that we’ll get bodies in we need to add depth and quality to the squad before the deadline next week, but I think everyone agrees it’s been frustrating to not have everything sorted earlier in the window, most of all for Paul Cook, Jonathan Jackson and co.

If we could get three to four new players in, along with Callum Lang, Joe Gelhardt and Jenson Weir all now in and around the first team, we should then have enough to kick on and improve upon last season.

Craig Wigan:

So the new season is upon us, a new league... oh hold on wait, it’s the same league as last season for once!

Outside the Premier League, this is only the third time we’ve been able to say this in the last 16 years and some of our younger fans may be in danger of getting bored shortly as they’ve known no different.

I’ll gladly take an uneventful mid-table season this year, but let’s be honest, things never run that smoothly round these parts.

Continuity is what we all asked for last year and (eventually) we got it. So are we in a better or worse place going into this new season?

No Grigg, Powell, Burn, Walton or that guy from Chelsea this year, but then I suppose we didn’t have most of them at the end of last season when we finished with 11 points out of a possible 15.

But what could we have done if we stayed injury-free all last season and didn’t develop an inability to pick up away points in that same period?

I’m sure these are the same what ifs of almost every Championship club in, what I believe, is the most unpredictable league in the world. So is it realistically more important to just ensure our home form stays as good as it has been under Cook?

Personally I think we’ll be in for a similar season to last, but without the strong start and hopefully a winter not quite so baron.

But this is the prediction from a man who hasn’t been able to get close to a winning bet on the Championship at this time of any season... and I’m sure I’m not on my own.

It’s likely all the holes in the Latics squad won’t be filled until minutes before deadline day closes, or even a few after it, so how can we expect all these new guys to gel in our first few games?

A slow start therefore seems inevitable, especially without the momentum we had from league one last year. But us Wigan fans are patient right?!?

Joking aside, if I hear another ‘Cook out’ shout anytime soon then I’ll be pointing some people in the direction of the local mental asylum.

Would we have risen to safety last year if we’d changed leadership during the rocky period, would we instantly have a bigger budget and better players in the starting line-up, would the injuries have magically healed?

I really don’t think so, no matter how convincing the Warren and Malkys of this world may tell us in their job interviews.

I personally think some depth in positions is all we need, at both full backs, central midfield and in the creative attacking and striking positions.

I’d personally like to see someone more creative alongside Morsy this year but Joe Williams does seem to have long term potential as another top class midfield warrior.

So it does seem we will rely, or expect, a Massey, Windass, Jacobs attacking three to supply any front man with opportunities, but what happens beyond those three as a plan B?

Jamal Lowe is another option, but I think we’ll need more than that over a 50 game season.

Do we need to change all our tactics again if they get injured like last year or can we find more suitable competition to come in like for like?

I certainly hope it’s the latter as the long ball and play for time approach didn’t work for the fans, the players or the points total during the hamstring epidemic of last season.

My heart says that I’d love to see Joffy Geldhart be a backup striker to Garner and I do think he’d score goals given opportunities, but in the ruthless reality of the Championship I think we need a better option up there that we can guarantee goals from and who can do a bit more than just put them away.

I was disappointed to miss out on Jordan Hugill and Sam Gallagher but I still think there’s plenty around on the fringes of Premier League clubs and their youth teams that could do that job, if we could afford them.

But surely a goalscorer is a good reason to loosen those purse strings, just ask Sunderland.

But one thing is guaranteed, come deadline day I’ll be trawling the stats on Football Manager at all the abstract players we’re linked with and I’m sure the squad gaps will ultimately be filled.

It is disheartening that by that time I feel we’ll be getting third, fourth & fifth choices rather than even our most of conservative 1st choice in many of those positions.

But a positive I do see is that we still seem to be aiming at good lads, either with potential or experience that are willing to fight for this football club.

An adapted transfer policy, focusing on personality first and footballing ability second, that David Sharpe brought in under Caldwell was much needed after a few awful and expensive errors that almost bankrupted us post our relegation from the Premier League.

IEC seem to be continuing this, alongside some small investments in younger players that don’t look likely to make it in the Premier League with their current clubs anytime soon.

I’m filled with a quiet sense of comfort with this being our footballing future and who knows, maybe we’ll be buying the next Reece James among these.

So on the eve of another season all we have is hope at this stage.

Hope for some entertaining wins, hope for great away days backed by large numbers, hope that the away day pies aren’t sold out by half time, hope for new heroes on the pitch, hope for a giant killing, hope that the results can keep the moaners at bay and maybe even hope for a little Carabao Cup run involving some of our talented youth players.
But in July hope is all we have I suppose and i for one, am excited to ride that rollercoaster for another season.

Nathan Griffiths:
The wait is finally over! After going through mundane and mostly meaningless pre-season friendlies we are on the verge of the 2019/2020 Sky Bet Championship season.

It’s been a strange summer as a Latics fan, starting with the will we/wont we limbo of Powell potentially resigned after the club ‘pushed the boat out’ with a big offer for him to stay.

It wasn’t meant to be and Powell heads down the M6 to the Potters with best wishes from the majority of Wigan fans.

Then started the wait for new recruits, which went on longer than in previous seasons.

David Marshall on a free was a solid signing to get the ball rolling and I personally preferred this to Walton returning on another season loan. That was followed by Lewis MacLeod on a free which looks to be a low risk high reward deal.

MacLeod made a strong start to his career at Rangers but was hampered by injuries during his time at Brentford. Previously, the Scottish midfielder played as an attacking midfielder but from glimpses I have seen was playing alongside Morsy in a deeper role, allowing Evans to push further forward.

During the Everton match he seemed to pick up and spread the ball around well, he just needs to stay fit.

Then the first transfer of the summer saw Antonee Robinson return on a permanent deal for £2m.

I think this is a great signing, not only do we have the advantage of knowing what kind of player we are getting by having him on loan already but he is only 21 and made seven starts for the USNMT.

He has the pace to get make up for any mistakes he has made and by improving his reading of the game and positioning he will hopefully become a brilliant player.

Joe Williams followed Robinson from Everton late on Wednesday on a permanent deal.

I don’t know a great deal about Williams but he seemed to get high praise from the team down the road and Everton fans are sad to lose him.

Jamal Lowe is also a great addition to the still quite light squad and adds to the attacking department.

We still need a starting calibre striker to help get the goals this season, we can’t rely on Garner and possibly Lang if he stays to get the goal to keep us up.

In my opinion we could still do with another right back and left back to add some depth to the defence, if one of Robinson and Byrne go down injured for any extended time like last season we will be left to playing people out of position.

In terms of predictions, my heart is telling me we can get a mid-table finish but my head is saying we will be there about again at the end of the season and will finish about 19th , hopefully getting safety sown up earlier in the season than last year.

I have West Brom, Huddersfield and Cardiff marked for getting promotion this season, West Brom and Huddersfield have strengthened well and Cardiff have kept the majority of the squad that got them promoted last time round.

I believe the newly promoted teams may struggle this year with Charlton and Barnsley dropping back down to League One and being joined by Millwall after another relegation dog fight that we will hopefully be on the right side of.

We have a strong squad and I believe in Paul Cook to get the best out of them and hopeful of a big season for the likes of Windass and Pilkington helping to fill the gap left by Powell.

The next week leading up to Thursday’s transfer deadline regarding the striker’s position is a crucial time that will make or possibly break our season until January’s window at least, can the transfer team, the chairman and IEC deliver? Up the Tics!