Key player: Lee Evans
Despite sharing the name of Britain’s most mediocre comedian, Lee Evans has made an impressive career for himself at Wigan and is surely poised to become their key man this season: even if that is only because everyone else has left.
He never really broke into the side during five years at Wolves, despite a number of decent loan spells (one of them being at Wigan, over a year before his permanent move). He joined the Lancashire outfit in 2019 and has gained a reputation as a good all rounder in central midfield, providing both creativity, control, and defensive solidity. In times like this, a quality all-rounder could be just what Wigan need with a paper thin squad and money haemorrhaging its way out of the club….assuming he isn’t sold too.
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Manager: Leam Richardson
Everything is chaotic at Wigan currently. The managerial hot-seat is no exception. Paul Cook left the club along with most of their players after relegation and his long time assistant Leam Richardson was promoted to manager, on what was initially a temporary basis.
Not much is known about Richardson, except for the fact that he has been an able and trusted deputy to the talented Cook over the years. That said, a good number two doesn’t always make a good number one. Look at Pep Clotet recently, and Peter Taylor back in the day.
His only job in management so far has been a middling year at Accrington Stanley, in between Coleman’s two lengthy spells. That he left voluntarily to be assistant to Cook at Chesterfield indicates he may not be cut out for management. It’s worth keeping an eye on him though, Wigan probably won’t attract anyone better in their current state.
Danger man: Joe Garner
In striker Joe Garner – assuming they keep hold of him – Wigan have a potential top-scorer this season. In fact, his last two seasons at this level saw him score 18 and 25 goals respectively as Preston won promotion in 2015. Since then, he’s gone on to average just over a goal every two-and-a-half games at Championship level (based on goals per minute), which is a very impressive record, and a goal every other game at Rangers.
He started the season with two goals already, against League One rivals Fleetwood Town, and that’s a positive sign for the season ahead. At 32 however, you may begin to think he’s a little past his best.
Last season: 23rd in the Championship
They say that football is a game of two halves. For Wigan Athletic, the 2019/20 season was a year of three thirds. The start, middle and end were all very clearly defined.
Up to the New Year, the Lactics were struggling on their own (lack of) merit. Just five wins in the first half of the season saw Paul Cook fighting to keep his job. Wigan were in danger of turning into a yoyo club with their third relegation in 6 seasons well on the cards.
A New Year’s Day win at Birmingham turned the tide and then some, with Wigan on excellent form and soaring towards the top half of the table. Cook had finally found a settled team and the most optimistic of fans had half an eye on the play-offs when the pandemic hit.
A month into the nationwide lockdown, shockwaves hit the town. Wigan, just a month after being taken over, went into administration and were set to be deducted 12 points, in shady circumstances. Their good form continued but they couldn’t quite get over the line. Cook promptly departed and Wigan ended the season facing an uncertain future.
Key departure: All of them
When trying to pin down Wigan’s key departure, this is the one entry where we’re going to tear up the rulebook. They’ve lost so many players, in so many positions, that it would be an injustice to pin down one.
Star striker Kieffer Moore has gone back to his native Wales, signing for Cardiff to add a new element to their attack. Jamal Lowe, excellent in Wigan’s good 2020 run, has gone to the other side of South Wales, joining Swansea.
Their defence has been weakened too. Goalkeeper David Marshall was excellent in their uptick, contributing well to a number of clean sheets before being sold in what fans will hope isn’t the great closing down sale. The same can be said for USMNT left-back Antonee Robinson who, joining Fulham in the Premier League, arguably earned the biggest move of the lot. The possible exception is Cédric Kipré who joined another newly promoted side, West Bromwich Albion.
There’s a reason why we can make such an exception for Wigan. Their side has been stripped beyond recognition from the one that was on such flying form from January to July.
Target: Avoid relegation
There’s no nice way of saying it. The future for Wigan Athletic looks very, very, very bleak. Takeover talks aren’t progressing as well as could have been hoped, with talks with the initial preferred bidder collapsing in July. There is hope for a deal for American baseball owners to take over, but concrete details are very much lacking at this stage.
Wigan have been decimated on and off the pitch and they can’t even rely on former owner Dave Whelan to bail them out, so affected by the coronavirus his businesses have been. As fans are still not likely to be allowed back into stadiums (and certainly not in any large numbers) for a while yet, Wigan’s sources of natural income to keep them going through the administration period have been cut off at the neck.
In truth, their target for the season isn’t just to survive relegation, but to survive liquidation. Many fans would surely embrace the possibility of starting next season in League Two if it means they have a club, and one they can watch in person too.
Yet, it’s not impossible that they manage to defy the odds and stay in League One, or even climb higher. The question centres around whether they can push the takeover before the end of the transfer window without losing any more players.
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