Automatic promotion was attained with three fixtures spare and the title sealed in the penultimate fixture, leaving a single celebratory game away to local rivals Bolton. I can only imagine their pain giving the newly crowned champions a standing welcome as they emerged from the tunnel, glorious. Here’s the verdict from ESPN.com:
Wigan had been expected to struggle for much of the season and find themselves entrenched at the bottom of the standings but defied all odds by remarkably finishing top of the pile and claiming an unlikely title.
We certainly made things difficult for ourselves losing more games in the last stretch of the season than at any other point. Ultimately thought I’m thrilled, how could I not be? Pre season my personal target was mid table, which I upped to a play-off place mid season given our obvious progress. The board were unambitiously content to avoid a relegation battle, so we’ve surpassed their season expectations emphatically. I’ll try and analyse how we managed to achieve such a feat but first, let’s enjoy the goals that won us the title in a 2-1 win at Brentford:
We’ll be joined in the Premiership by second placed Villa and play-off victors Wolves.
In this post I revealed a new away formation put together with this season in mind, so now is the ideal time to rate it’s impact. Looking at the end of season table, filtered by away record, seems the logical starting point.
We take the third place spot on away form only, not bad at all. The obvious statistic that reflects just how well the new formation has served us is the number of games lost, only three defeats away from home. Clearly though we drew a lot of our away games, but I see this as progress – we’ve converted a number of defeats in to draws compared to last season. We’ve also conceded fewer goals than any other team away from home, which reflects our positional stance of numbers behind the ball, soaking up the pressure and looking to pick off opportunities on the counter attack.
My conclusion is that the introduction of this new away formation had a critical bearing on our success this season. It’s a formation I can see us having to use in home games as well next season when we find ourselves up against opposition that can bully us in possession.
I wouldn’t class Jermaine Pennant as a club legend, he’s only been with us a couple of seasons, but as individuals go he’s probably been the most influential player during my tenure. His decision to retire at the end of the season brings an immediate issue. His technical ability has shaped the style of football we’ve played during back to back promotions so replacing him feels highly significant to our long term future, and sentimental on a personal level. Bearing that in mind I’ve been scouting and considering his long term replacement for some time now in the knowledge that his playing career is coming to it’s end. But who can replace a man that provided 23 assists in his first season? Who could rival his crossing ability (17) and influence from free kicks (15) and corners (16)? And who can do all of that at a level befitting the Premier League?
Well I found a worthy replacement, Felipe Gedoz of Club Brugge, a player with fantastic ability and still improving at a ripe age of 23. Around 5.75 million was enough to crack Club Brugge’s resolve. Terms we’re agreed for a long term contract, I had my man, but disaster followed – Gedoz was declined a work permit and the deal fell through.The same thing happened to our second target, Jesus Corona, leaving our plans in limbo.
Eventually we signed a player who I think can deliver for us and live up to the high standards set by his predecessor, Johann Berg Guomundsson (Icelandic international), a 3.5 million signing from Charlton. He’s had an impressive season in the Championship racking up 7 goals and 11 assists. Not bad compared to our player of the season, Robbie Brady, who scored just 2 goals but laid off 15 for his team mates. Attribute-wise he stands up well and at the age of 26 he’s high in current ability but still has some room to improve. There are however some drawbacks, he’s actually a left footed inside forward but with some specific individual training I’m hoping to develop his right foot over time and enhance his crossing ability, which currently rates at 14. On the plus side he does bring long shots (15), passing (15) and free kicks (15) to the table – attributes that better those of Jermaine Pennant’s overall.
I have a real feel-good-factor about this signing. Bringing a successful Championship player up to the Premiership with us sits well with me, as opposed to spending big bucks on a star name. I feel as though he’ll have more to prove and a certain guile that only comes with a player who has something to prove on the big stage. Ultimately we’ll have to wait and see if me and my scouting team have made a sound judgement on this one.
Immediately after promotion was confirmed the board laid out budgets for the following season with around 15 million net spend. My first forays in to the transfer market were to secure current loanees Robbie Brady (900K), Jack Calback (2.4 million) and Tyrone Mings (325K) on permanent deals. I also added target man Libor Kozak (375K) and ball winner Cheikhou Kouyate (1.3 million) to add some quality in key positions as well as Premiership experience. Money well spent. The only other transfers I’m considering are the addition of a more experienced goalkeeper and James Wilson on loan – who would easily fit the bill of poacher in my twin-striker pairing, complimenting a target man option of either Kozak or last seasons top goalscorer Davies.
The board expectation is that we battle hard to avoid relegation and on this occasion I must concur, we’ll do well to consolidate our Premiership status. But whatever happens come the end of the season, this is bound to help the club: