Adam’s latest “The Championship Corner” column.
In the midst of a busy schedule under a manager seemingly intent on fighting the world, Manchester United are wrapped up in their own challenges at the moment but it would have been interesting to know if anybody at Old Trafford took more than a passing interest in Wigan’s game at Huddersfield Town on Monday night.
The Latics’ 1-2 win marked Warren Joyce’s first victory in charge of the club and the timing of it was apt. A few hours before kick-off at the John Smith’s Stadium Jose Mourinho was receiving an FA charge for kicking a water bottle during United’s 1-1 draw with West Ham on Sunday.
It is the Portuguese’s second charge while in charge of United and his antics have given some justification to the misgivings of Sir Bobby Charlton when he highlighted his ‘pontificating’ back in 2012.
Joyce managed United’s reserve and youth sides for a total of 8 years and while there was little chance the 51-year-old would succeed Louis Van Gaal ahead of the box-office supercoach Mourinho, the loss of his services will have been felt heavily at a club that is in the process of overhauling its academy.
With Danny Welbeck, Joshua King, Michael Keane, Danny Simpson and Danny Drinkwater among a long list of talents that have developed under his coaching, Joyce stated that his loyalty to Sir Alex Ferguson kept him at Old Trafford in the face of numerous job offers.
Wigan, orchestrated by their 25-year-old chairman David Sharpe, have pulled off a huge coup.
With a young, energetic chairman and a relatively young manager well-versed in the art of crafting young players, the long-term future is bright at the DW Stadium as they remain occupied, for the time-being, with escaping from the relegation zone Gary Caldwell left them rooted in.
The 0-3 loss to Reading in Joyce’s first match has been improved on by a solid 0-0 draw at Barnsley and Monday evening’s victory.
Joyce’s acumen was clear as Huddersfield were defeated with a rigid defensive display with a unit that contained 3 holding midfielders and 5 defenders, soaking up pressure as Yanic Wildschut ran riot on the break.
Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba have also progressed under Joyce’s guidance and his experience of working with a long-list of extensive talents was clear in his assessment of match-winner Wildschut, who scored the winner after providing the opener for right-back Reece Burke.
“I see similar things to Marcus Rashford as a player,” said Joyce, drawing comparison to the gradual shift in position Rashford undertook during his progression into the first-team. “Marcus played on the wing all the way through, and it was a deliberate plan where we did a lot of work with him to open him up a bit.”
Team in need of inspiration
If Joyce’s astute coaching can rub off on Wildschut then he will hope that he can also work with Michael Jacobs, Max Power, Luke Garbutt, Alex Gilbey and Burke, who swept home Wildschut’s cross for the game’s opener, in a youthful squad that has so far struggled with the jump to the Championship after winning the League One title last term.
Nick Powell, desperately in need of guidance after failing to build on the huge potential he displayed at Crewe, has a fresh chance to work with Joyce away from the pressures of United and he will be hoping Reece James, another of Joyce’s former United pupils, can soon recover from the ankle injury that has ruled him out since the start of the season to give the defence a boost.
The centre-back pairing of Dan Burn and Jake Buxton, though short on pace has been solid enough, shipping only 20 goals, but it is at the other end where they have struggled, scoring only 18, the league’s lowest tally.
Will Grigg scored 25 in last year’s promotion winning campaign and has kept that form going with 5, but elsewhere they have been in short supply.
It is only Jordi Gomez, who along with David Perkins and Shaun MacDonald offer a sprinkling of experience to a youthful squad, who otherwise has more than 2 in a team that is accustomed to playing attractive football but has lacked cutting edge.
Joyce, who guided to United’s youngsters to top spot in the FA Professional Development League for the past two seasons, will aim to continue the crisp passing style while seeking to add more attacking bite.
Joyce left Manchester United having earned the respect of most at Old Trafford and their Carrington training ground, having gained a reputation for his intense fitness drills which players loved.
His new employer can’t speak more highly enough of him either; “the perfect blend for Warren and our club at this moment in time”, was how Sharpe referred to him.
Following the well-executed win at Huddersfield few can argue with that assessment. After 8 years of diligent, meticulous and loyal work with United, Joyce targets eventually managing in the Premier League and Wigan is the start of that journey.
United may be watching his progress with a nagging regret they didn’t give the coach the more prominent role his record deserved.
Written by Adam Gray
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