Wigan Athletic Season Preview: Latics on the up?

wiganLife is never dull at Wigan Athletic. They were briefly 2nd in their first season in the top flight, then had numerous great escapes after Roberto Martinez took over five years later. A historic FA Cup win in 2013 shortly preceded the club’s eventual relegation, a play-off finish the following season rescued by Uwe Rosler. A disastrous 14/15 campaign led to a second relegation, before Gary Caldwell got the club back up at the first attempt. But what is the next chapter in Wigan’s topsy-turvy history?

The Football Lab gets the thoughts of Ian Aspinall, who produces the Wigan Athletic blog Let’s Hang On. He writes a weekly 12th Man column for the Wigan Evening Post and has written for When Saturday Comes, Late Tackle, Footballscores.com, Sabotage Times and the Daisy Cutter. You can follow him on Twitter @IanHAspinall.

After a tricky start, Wigan stormed to the League One title last season. Do you think October’s late comeback at Bury and then the 5-0 win over Colchester served as the turning point?

Actually, I think the turning point for the club was the home win against Scunthorpe in August. Gary Caldwell had to assemble a completely new team after a disastrous relegation, but the first signs that he was on the right lines was the emphatic performance against Scunthorpe.

The more cynical pundits will argue Wigan should have gone up with their financial power, but Sheffield United have spent half a decade in that league with a similar budget… surely Gary Caldwell deserves credit?

Money certainly helps but it doesn’t guarantee success. Caldwell is a very good up and coming manager and deserves all the plaudits. But he’s still young and relatively inexperienced and the big challenge for him will be seeing if he can create a successful team in the Championship.

Goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen is now 41. He might have played well last season, but can he still perform in the top two divisions of English football? Could Richard O’Donnell be used after his loan spell at Bristol City?

Jussi proved to be a very important signing last term and was crucial to our promotion. I think he can still do a good job in the Championship but we also need another goalkeeper to keep him on his toes. Unfortunately our reserve keeper Lee Nichols has let us down too often and Richard O’Donnell has now left the club and signed permanently for Bristol City.

Craig Morgan played well in the Championship for Rotherham in 2014/15Are you happy with his centre-back partnership Jason Pearce? Could new defender Dan Burn break in?

Craig and Jason were important to our success last year and both are very capable at Championship level. Dan had a difficult time at Fulham but has the potential to become a good central defender under Caldwell’s tutelage. Donervon Daniels and Jack Hendry will also be competing with Dan for a place in the team and Stephen Warnock can also fill in as a central defender if necessary.

Stephen Warnock has signed permanently this summer. Is it good to have an orthodox left-back in situ?

Stephen made a big impact when he signed on loan from Derby. His experience was invaluable and he was a big factor in the long unbeaten run. His permanent signing was really a no brainer for Caldwell.

Defender Kyle Knoyle joins on loan from West Ham. There’s a degree of ambiguity as to his best position, so where do you see him slotting into the back-line?

Kyle is a right back who can play at centre back but unfortunately he broke his arm on our pre-season tour of Portugal and he will be out of contention for a considerable time.

Highly-rated Max Power started 43 league games last season. How close is he to becoming the complete midfielder?

Max exceeded many people’s expectations last season. He came from a team who had been relegated from the Football League and many thought he might struggle in League One, but he struck up a great partnership with David Perkins and they were both instrumental in our promotion. Max’s energy, determination and goalscoring ability mean that he should do well in the Championship.

New signing Alex Gilbey was one of Colchester’s better players last season. Do you think he will get into Caldwell’s first team plans ahead of five other central midfielders?

Competition for places will be very fierce but Wigan’s new recruitment team have spotted some good ones so far and Alex could be another another young player making a big impression.

Michael Jacobs has never quite made it in the Championship. Having been the main creative force in a League One title-winning team, surely this is the time for him to shine at that level?

I’m sure Michael will be desperate to succeed at this level and hopefully he will have learned from his previous experiences. Caldwell rates him very highly and he will be given every opportunity to make his mark this season. I’m backing him to be a success.

Nick Powell had a decent season for you in 13/14 but has done little since. What are your thoughts on his arrival?

The fans are already split on Nick’s arrival. He is a hugely talented player who initially did very well for us, but lost his way towards the end of his loan period. He’s struggled during his loans elsewhere, but if his attitude is right he could be a major player next season. Gary Caldwell certainly thinks it’s worth taking the risk.

Will Grigg scored 26 goals last season. He seems to have a lot of qualities in his game as well as finishing?

Despite all the media attention, Will is a level headed guy who can continue to improve in the Championship. He is good with both feet and he gets his fair share of headers, and his movement off the ball means that he is always a problem for defenders. He is usually in the right place at the right time and I’m sure he will continue to score goals as long he gets good service.

Your squad has players who have Championship experience. Could that help you start quickly?

There are a lot of teams with Championship and Premier League experience this season, so I’m hoping our momentum from last season will help us to make a good start. However, it’s where we finish at the end of the season that really matters.

What are your thoughts ahead of the Championship season as a whole? From what you’ve seen of Burton and Barnsley, can they step up?

Its going to be tough with some big guns dropping down and some big city clubs already in the Championship. With Benitez in charge I expect Newcastle to go straight back up, but as for the rest it’s going to be a very competitive division. Of the newcomers, I was very impressed with Barnsley towards the end of last season and think they will stay up. Burton proved difficult opposition but I think the step up may be too much for a club that has come such a long way in such a relatively short time.

Where will you finish?

I’m expecting a top half finish – 8th.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Wigan Athletic were worthy title winners last season and should stay up. However, summer signings are of mixed quality and the inexperience of off-field leaders could make this a year of consolidation. 16th