Latics: Let's roll up our sleeves
Wigan's worrying decline is put into perspective by a past master of the relegation fight
Sunday 21 January 2007
It has not been the best of weeks for Paul Jewell. The Wigan Athletic manager has been laid low with flu. It seems he is suffering from a bad side, too, judging by his team's recent run of results in the Premiership.
Six straight defeats have brought cause for concern about Wigan's survival in English football's top division. Since winning 2-0 at West Ham United on 6 December and drawing 1-1 at Middlesbrough three days later, Jewell's men have been on a sharp decline from the comfort of middle- class territory in the Premiership to the very brink of the potential outcasts in the relegation zone.
Another defeat this afternoon, when Everton make the short trip to the JJB Stadium, would equal the club's record losing run of League games, set in 1993, when the Latics dropped into England's fourth flight. Including a 2-1 loss at Portsmouth in the FA Cup, the streak already stands at seven in all competitions. Not that Jewell is getting his tracksuit in a twist - in public, at any rate.
Like any football manager when the pressure is on, his rallying call is along the lines of that popularised by Corporal Jones of the Warminster-on-Sea Home Guard. The trouble is, having gathered so much downward momentum, Wigan and their manager are fast approaching the time to panic.
"We've had a sticky run, no doubt about it," Jewell said. "But the performances in many of those games haven't reflected the scoreline. Yes, we have been leaking silly goals, but what people must not forget is that we've played Chelsea twice, Arsenal and Man United, and a team on top form in Blackburn.
"I'm never one to make excuses - that's not my style - but when a team like Wigan lose key performers like Arjan De Zeeuw, Henri Camara and Paul Scharner for extended periods, it is bound to have an effect. Rather than complain about it, we just need to roll up our sleeves and try even harder."
Jewell, who has so far only managed to sign two players on loan to the end of the season, concedes these are "tough times", but that is when he feels people show their true colours. "I can understand the supporters' fears, but we're not a selling club, we're an up-and-coming club. All of a sudden one or two things have not gone our way and that has led to a lot of negativity. But it's not as bad as everybody thinks.
"I'm trying to get players in from Europe, England, everywhere, but it's difficult selling Wigan when you're fourth bottom and with the lowest crowds. So this is a very difficult situation for us, and that's why on and off the pitch we need people to stand up and be counted.
"When you have a fall-out with your missus you don't go out and get divorced straightaway. You stick together through the tough times, and that's why people need to take a reality check."
Jewell has been this way before, of course. The threat of relegation hovered over his first season as a manager in the Premiership, with Bradford City in 1999-2000. On that occasion, his Bantams had sufficient fight to survive, courtesy of a last-day win against Liverpool at Valley Parade. This time his Latics have 16 games left in which to salvage themselves and keep Wigan in top-flight business for a third season.
"The manager knows what it takes to dig in for a challenge," the winger Kevin Kilbane said. "We have the right man in charge and now it's up to the players to show what we can do. We have 48 points to play for, so there's an awfully long way to go yet.
"Although we've not had the best of months, now is the time to forget what's gone before, to roll up our sleeves and just get on with the job ahead of us. I'm convinced - as are the rest of the lads - that there is sufficient quality and character in the dressing room to pull through this."
A point or three today would get the recovery process under way, against the club with whom Kilbane started the season. A goal from the old Evertonian would help, too. The Republic of Ireland international has yet to hit the target for Wigan following his transfer-deadline day move last August.
Jewell's side have failed to score in four of their last six Premiership matches and have leaked 15 goals at the other end - four of them at Stamford Bridge eight days ago, when Chris Kirkland did not have the best of afternoons between the posts.
"It hits hard, but you've got to get on with it," the Wigan goalkeeper said. "You need to be as confident as you can. Without a doubt, there's resilience in the dressing room. We're not looking at just staying up; we're trying to push up the League."
That remains Jewell's objective, although a transfer request by Lee McCulloch has hardly helped the Wigan cause. Despite attempts by Walter Smith to lure the Scotland winger to Ibrox, McCulloch is likely to be in the Wigan team today. "He's every chance of playing," Jewell said. "People can have their differences with the club or with me; I don't really care. He is paid by us to play for us."
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