Paul Jewell claims consistently to be unfazed by the lofty ambitions of his chairman, Dave Whelan, but clearly something is disturbing the sangfroid of the Wigan manager.
Fined £1,000 and banned from the touchline for two matches for lambasting a linesman when Wigan lost at Reading last month, Jewell risks another appearance before the Football Association after making comments about the referee at Sunderland on Tuesday, Ray Olivier.
Olivier sent off Wigan's Jason de Vos after Tommy Smith was tripped in the penalty area, even though a video replay confirmed the offence was committed by De Vos's team-mate, Ian Breckin. The penalty award allowed Sunderland to equalise with eight minutes left.
Given that he was not disputing that the offence took place and will lose a player whichever defender eventually takes the rap, Jewell's outburst seemed unnecessary. Yet he still suggested reporters "ask the referee, Stevie Wonder" when he was quizzed about the mistaken identity and accused Olivier of being determined to "even things up" after dismissing Sunderland's Julio Arca just before half-time.
Since Wigan, last season's Second Division champions, lost their grip on top spot in the First Division a month ago they have taken only two points from a possible 12. The loss of momentum has tempered Whelan's hopes of reaching the Premiership at the first attempt and undermined his appeal for the town to get behind Jewell and his team. The 25,000-capacity JJB Stadium has yet to be anywhere near full for a League match and the current average attendance is less than 10,000.
Today's game against Reading is unlikely to be popular, even though the Royals have won six of 10 matches since Steve Coppell became manager and put up an outstanding performance in defeat against Chelsea in the Carling Cup.
Coppell feels Jewell is suffering for past successes. "To a certain extent Wigan have suffered a little bit of a backlash, which happens when you're top," he said. "Unconsciously, teams play better against you. They have also had some very tough fixtures."
Setting Wigan back on course may be difficult as Jewell will again have to manage without the striker Geoff Horsfield today. Manchester City's Darren Huckerby, priced out of a permanent switch to Norwich after a month on loan, again looks a potential target for Whelan's cash, although the leaders West Bromwich Albion are also in the market.
Worryingly, despite cost-cutting measures, Norwich have admitted their debts have risen to £8m without taking into account the new South Stand at Carrow Road, which will push the figure closer to £15m. Wages remain the biggest drain.Reuse content