Clear-out needed – Rotherham (H) match reaction

Will Mackay give the likes of Oriel Riera an extended run in the team?

Will Mackay give the likes of Oriol Riera an extended run in the team?

Once again Malky Mackay kept faith in the “old guard” and once again they let him down. Rotherham had not won a game since mid-October but they were good enough to beat a woeful Latics side. Once again Mackay’s team selection raised doubts, let alone the tactics on the pitch. Latics are going from bad to worse.

Mackay once again stuck with the old guard. There were just two Rosler signings in the starting lineup – Don Cowie and Andrew Taylor – both of whom were part of the manager’s previous old guard at Cardiff. Andy Delort was not even on the bench, after appearing in the 88th and 86th minutes of the previous two games. Was he injured or did his quotes in the French media upset the boss?

Mackay continues to shoot himself in the foot. James McClean has pace and power and cannot be faulted for his physical effort. But does he have the attributes to become a central striker? Physical effort needs to be matched by its mental equivalent, something the hard-working Irishman did not show in the first half when he was caught offside three times.

Perhaps Mackay was yielding to fan pressure when he brought on Marc-Antoine Fortune after 53 minutes for Shaun Maloney. Two central strikers on the pitch at the same time was something so many fans have been hoping for, but was the Rotherham goalkeeper going to be seriously tested by a pairing of McClean and Fortune?

In the event that partnership only lasted ten minutes until Oriol Riera was brought on for Cowie. The Spaniard went close near the end with a header that hit the crossbar, but would be better employed not having to fight for seemingly aimless long balls coming from defence and goalkeeper.

Mackay had chosen a one-paced midfield of Don Cowie, Chris McCann and Ben Watson. Cowie is well into his thirties and the other two have surely been brought in too early after long-term injuries. However, when he took off Cowie he reverted to a 4-2-4 system with two wingers and two central strikers. Not surprisingly the visitors became increasingly dangerous on the counterattack as he second half proceeded.

The time has come for the dissolution of the old guard. It would be true to say that most of the players signed by Rosler have not performed anywhere near the level expected of them. But Rosler created problems by bringing in ten new players over the summer, swelling the first team squad up to thirty. The end result was that he was unable to give so many of them the regular playing time they needed.

Rosler’s signings have come under a lot of criticism for their performances up to this point. Some fans have already written them off. In the podcast recently put on fan sites Mackay talked about the good young players he had at his disposal, including the 25 year old McClean in that category. Interestingly the name of Emyr Huws did not appear in the names he mentioned. The young Welshman made a positive start under Rosler until an ankle injury impeded his progress. Like Adam Forshaw he is a bright young talent. Let’s hope he has not disappeared off Mackay’s radar.

Latics need to start to rebuild a younger team. The old guard has had its day and Latics need to look at the future. The likes of Delort, Forshaw, Huws, Riera and Tavernier need to be given extended runs in the team. Moreover they need to be played in their best positions. For Delort it means playing him alongside another central striker, for Tavernier playing as either a wing back or a wide midfield player.

Although he never played badly for Latics the experienced Denmark captain, William Kvist, has been left out in the cold. Would a midfield of Kvist, Forshaw and Huws have done any worse than Cowie, McCann and Watson yesterday?

Somehow a new manager has come in and nothing much has changed on the pitch. If anything things have got worse and the level of football Latics are playing is poor even compared with the dark days of long ball under Owen Coyle.

Unless Mackay has a paradigm shift in his thinking, things are unlikely to get any better. Dave Whelan is unlikely to trust him with big money in the January transfer window and his new players are likely to be loan signings, plus Grant Holt.

The ball is firmly in Mackay’s court. Following yesterday’s game he was quoted as saying:

“It’s their [the fans] club, we’re custodians and I’ll do everything that I can to make them proud of us, make no mistake about that.”

The patience of those fans is being sorely tested. Is Mackay capable of making them proud of his team?

The jury is out on that one.

Watford (A) aftermath – how can Malky stop the rot?

Chris McCann's 45th minute goal gave Latics hope, but sloppy defence was their downfall.

Chris McCann’s 45th minute goal gave Latics hope, but sloppy defence was their downfall.

Another defeat by a single goal. The Darkside pessimists had suggested that Latics would get badly beaten at Watford. That was not the case, but it is another bad result for Malky Mackay. He has an unenviable record for a new manager of one point gained in four games in charge. Can Mackay turn things around or are Latics heading for League 1?

Seeing the lineup for today’s match gave many of us a sense of foreboding. Not a single recognized central striker on the field, but two on the bench. Was Mackay planning to keep things tight and maybe steal it from a set piece?

In the event Mackay chose to deploy James McClean in the lone striker role. McClean’s strengths are his energy and his pace, but finishing is not his forte. Has the manager already written off the other strikers at the club when he has not seen most of them play in the Championship during his time at the club? Andy Delort might well think that. The Frenchman was brought on in the 86th minute. It would seem rather late but at least it was two minutes earlier than his entrance against Norwich. It can hardly be good for the player’s self -confidence.

Once again Mackay relied on the old guard, shunning the Rosler signings with the exception of Don Cowie and Andrew Taylor who played for him at the two clubs he previously managed. Up to this point it is not bearing fruit and the fans’ patience is wearing thin.

Fans who had been unhappy about Uwe Rosler’s team selections and formations are now seeing a similar pattern with Mackay. Many will say that nothing seems to have changed since Mackay arrived. The team is playing in the same way as before so what was the point of dismissing Rosler? The central striker has continued to be “lone” in the true sense of the word and sloppy defence has given away games which Latics might have won.

In 2012 Wolves had come down to the Championship division after three years in the Premier League. Over the summer they had sold Steven Fletcher (£14m) and Matt Jarvis (£11m) and paid around £2.4m for Bjorn Siguroarson, £2.7m for Bakary Sakho and £2m for Tongo Doumbia. Stale Solbakken had been brought in as manager.

By early October Wolves were in third place, with promotion looking within their grasp. Keen to get rid of the culture remaining from the days of Mick McCarthy as manager, Solbakken had sought empower the players. However, over the next three months Wolves started to drop down the table. There was a lack of discipline, training had become less than stimulating and the manager was largely unprepared to read the riot act when things went wrong on the field of play. Solbakken was sacked in early January after his team got knocked out of the FA Cup by non-league Luton. Dean Saunders was appointed to become Wolves’ fourth manager in twelve months, but he was unable to stop the slide and a 23rd place finish saw them relegated.

What happened to Wolves is a sobering prospect for Wigan Athletic followers. The situations differ but there are certain parallels. Unlike Wolves being relegated in their first season back in the Championship, Latics did well. Reaching the playoffs, the FA Cup semi-final and being robbed of progress in the Europa League by a dubious refereeing decision was quite an achievement. However, the rot was setting in in the latter stages of last season and it has continued up to now. Wolves had a wage bill of £25m with lots of players seasoned in the Premier League, but could not hack it in the Championship. Changing managers did not help Wolves, as Saunders could not better Solbakken in terms of results. Latics fans will be hoping that is not going to be the case with Mackay following Rosler.

In March 2013 ex-Wolves winger and BBC pundit Steve Froggatt was quoted as saying: “The team had been on an irreversible slide for a long period of time and Deano had identified what needed changing. I think the board must have thought: ‘If we can get by to the end of this season, then we’ll rebuild for next.’ But having seen the team all year, they should have seen that it was bereft of confidence and ideas. It’s almost that they’ve now decided to bring in one or two players well after the horse has bolted.”

It is to be hoped that Dave Whelan will take note of the board’s fateful decisions at Wolves. Mackay has already talked about offloading players in the January transfer window and bringing in at least a couple of new ones. More than anything else Mackay needs to build an organizational culture upon which he can bring things forward. Each of the previous managers – Martinez, Coyle and Rosler – had their own ideas about how football should be played. There has not only been turnover at managerial level but also in coaching and support staff. Latics are once again in the midst of a culture change within the club.

The result at Watford could have been a lot worse. Moreover Latics had been the more dominant team in the second half until sloppy defence enabled the Hornets’ winner after 82 minutes. But it is yet another defeat.

Mackay has hardly impressed in his brief stay up to this point. However, changing the mentality of a group of players who have got used to not winning is not an easy matter. It is going to take time. It is to be hoped that arrivals and departures over the January transfer window will catalyse the change in culture that Mackay seeks.

In the meantime we will have to see if Mackay will continue to rely on an old guard which has largely let him down.

Anything could happen – Watford (A) preview

Second from bottom Latics visit sixth placed Watford on Saturday. Looking at recent form the pundits would suggest a resounding win for the home team. That might well happen, but then maybe Latics could win it?

Wigan Athletic’s season so far has been the most disappointing that I can remember as a fan. With a squad good enough to fight for a promotion spot, Latics incredibly find themselves in the relegation drop zone. What is going on?

There is something badly wrong somewhere. Malky Mackay has been appointed to put it right. The problem is that so far he has not made enough visible progress, in terms of getting the on the field commitment that is required to succeed in the Championship division.

Mackay will be keen to get a result at Watford. With just one point from two home games and one away, he needs to make some changes to what has been happening under his management.

However, despite miserable results against mediocre teams, Latics put up two of their best performances of the season against teams flying high. The win at top of the table Derby County was down to solid defence and two opportunist goals from James McClean. Latics were unlucky not to come away with a win in the home game with second placed Middlesbrough. They played some good football, the defence looked pretty solid and Shaun Maloney scored a spectacular free kick.

With their confidence so low there is a chance that Latics will lose the match by a wide margin. However, Latics have lost a lot of games this season, but never by more than two goal difference. In fact six of their nine losses were by a single goal. Moreover Watford’s form had dipped recently after flying high. Last weekend they had a 5-0 win at Fulham, after the home goalkeeper was sent off after 20 minutes. But Watford had lost their previous four games.

When Latics played in the Premier League they were almost always the underdogs. It could be said that a team languishing in the relegation zone of the Championship division fits the same category against a team that is in the playoff zone. However, in terms of the quality of their players, Latics are more than a match for Watford. The question is whether those players are ready to show the physical and mental commitment necessary to win the game.

Mackay has relied on the “old guard” up to this point and the formations have been similar to those of his predecessor. It has been practically the same that we have seen all season. Media reports suggest he has been working on the motivation of his players, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Above all he needs to persuade the players not only to perform their basic functions, but  show desire.

We can expect Mackay to do something different. However, unlike Rosler, he is not likely to make wholesale changes.

Mackay has two main issues to address on the field of play.

First and foremost is to build up a solid defence. Put simply, if the opposition don’t score, you don’t lose. As an ex-central defender he will be keen to do that. To do that he is going to need not only a settled back four, but also midfielders and wide players who come back and help.

Secondly he needs to address the lone centre forward issue. Too often we have seen hopeful long balls sent to a centre forward who is on a hiding to nothing. Even if, against the odds against two big central defenders, he wins the ball, he needs someone to pass it to. The support has been sadly lacking.

Like Rosler, Mackay is a fan of the lone centre forward system. However, against Norwich he brought Don Cowie into right midfield, pushing Callum McManaman inside. Is it a sign that he will look at playing two main strikers?

McManaman is much more effective in a free, supporting striker role than playing on the wing, where he is more easily picked up by defenders. He is Latics’ main attacking threat, but has been ill used most of the time. Playing as a second striker he could be expected to notch upwards of 15 goals per season.

Saturday’s match will provide another indication of where Latics are heading. With the squad they have they are surely too good for relegation.

What is needed is for the manager to deal with issues of squad morale and be ruthless when necessary.

Latics have more than enough quality to get a good result at Watford. But will their confidence be enough to carry them and will the commitment be there?

Malky’s January Fire Sale

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What is critical……is to eliminate problem personalities – or what he calls the “s—-” – from the dressing room. It’s not just the 11 who play, If you have half a dozen s—- around you’ve no chance. You can’t win. They’ll contaminate the rest of them and bring the whole club down. They’ll be negative everywhere, getting in to good lads and bringing them down to their level. If you walk in and see one or two s—- then you’re watching them, watching who they talk to and what they are doing. They suck as much energy out of you as anything.”

These revealing Harry Redknapp quotes come from an article on the Daily Telegraph site on the key to survival in the Premier League.

Malky Mackay would be wise to listen to Redknapp’s words. He will be aware of what happened to his predecessor at Wigan. He has the January transfer window as a means of moving some of those elements on.

Mackay hardly had a positive arrival at the club and has yet to stamp his mark on the style of play. What we saw on Saturday against Norwich was players going through the motions. A spiritless and gutless performance. It is not the first of that type that we have seen this season, but one expects a new manager to inject new energy and change the style of play. Why has Mackay not had more effect on the performances up to this point? What can we expect any changes over the coming weeks?

Mackay has now been in charge for three matches. His record is D1 L2. The 1-1 home draw with Middlesbrough was the best performance of the three, not only in the result but in the way the team played. Mackay had brought in the “old guard”, only two players signed by Uwe Rosler making the starting lineup. Not surprisingly there was more cohesion and the team played with more spirit than of late. He continued to rely on the old guard in the losses to Sheffield Wednesday and Norwich, but the response was poor.

It could be said that Mackay has used his most experienced players in a time of crisis. The conspiracy theorist will say that he has given players who undermined Rosler the chance to show their mettle. Interestingly the lineup against Norwich included nine players who were born or raised in the British Isles. Moreover the two from overseas- Figueroa and Fortune- have been in England for a long time.

The upcoming game at Watford will surely provide an indication of Mackay’s future plans. Given the continuation of poor results he is not in a position where he can continue with the old guard. Confidence is low and even good players are looking poor at the moment. However, Mackay clearly has to shuffle his pack since the players he has used so far have largely let him down.

Mackay recently mentioned ten players being out of contract for Latics at the end of the season, suggesting they will be trying to impress him enough to be offered a new contract. However, the reality is that likes of Ali Al-Habsi, Shaun Maloney and Ivan Ramis are likely to be lured by other clubs who can offer them better deals. Most of those players are in their late twenties or in their thirties and will demand relatively high salaries, which Latics will find hard to afford with a drop of £9m in parachute payments next season.

It is not only the out of contract players who could depart in January. Dave Whelan has always said that any player can go if the price is right, but the realities of an unsuccessful season and an upcoming drop in revenues could well mean that players go at bargain prices.

One of the reasons cited for Rosler’s lack of success this season was that his squad was too large, leading to too much squad rotation and dissatisfied players who were not getting playing time. Mackay has already acknowledged that the squad is large. However, stats from the transfermarkt site suggest that Latics’ squad is around average size for the division. Its average age of 27.6 years is the second highest behind the squad of Millwall at 28.9 years.

However, this is not to suggest the squad is not too large. Too many clubs in the Championship are spending well over what they should be on player salaries, given the revenues they are receiving. Whelan will be keen to cut down the squad to a financially more manageable size, probably around 23-24 players.

We can expect a fire sale in January. If what ‘Arry was referring to has been the case at Latics then it might take until February for the passion to return to Latics’ play.

Let’s hope this is not the case.

Players who don’t seem to care – Norwich (H) match reaction

Can Mackay turn it around?

Can Mackay turn it around?

Over the years we have seen some abject performances from Latics with woeful scorelines. Too often when they were in the Premier League they would play a top of the table team and hold their own until the opponents scored their first goal. The confidence would sag and the legs would start to go. The exertion required to hold back the tide had taken too much out of the players, both physically and mentally. It almost looked like the players didn’t seem to care. It was akin to capitulation.

But those players did care. It was a learning experience for so many of them, but they would bounce back and get the most amazing results against those same elite clubs. One always felt with Roberto Martinez that he was trying to do something special, despite the very limited resources he had to work with. It was the mental side of things that he was building up. The players had to be mentally tough to compete against teams with so much more individual quality than they had.

After five decades of watching Latics I have rarely felt as depressed as I was after yesterday’s Norwich game. The stats show that Wigan committed just 5 fouls, to the Canaries’ 12. Neither side received a yellow card. Did those players really care? Where was the passion?

It was sad to see Uwe Rosler’s demise. It was inevitable, given the awful results that his team was getting this season. But Rosler at least had a vision of the kind of football he wanted, even if the players were unable or unwilling to produce it.

The football we saw yesterday was reminiscent of the worst days of Rosler’s predecessor, Owen Coyle. The goalkeeper and the defenders hoofing the ball upfield to a lone centre forward. To his credit Fortune did actually defy the odds and win some of those balls yesterday. But the possession he gained was too often squandered by teammates.

Despite his reputation as a motivational manager, Mackay was unable to motivate his players yesterday. His team selection and tactics surely did not help.

The local newspaper had got us excited about Shaun Maloney coming back after illness. When the team was announced it looked like he would play in the attacking midfield position, in front of Chris McCann and Ben Watson. But Maloney was to be confined to the left wing and James McClean occupied that role. McClean was like a fish out of water. He has a repertoire of skills,  but not those needed for that position. Maloney never got into the game and was substituted after 47 minutes.

Mackay left Emmerson Boyce on the bench and neither Gary Caldwell nor Thomas Rogne even appeared there. Instead Mackay brought in Maynor Figueroa at centre back. Figs rarely played for Latics as a centre half in a conventional back four in the Martinez days. When he did it was not particularly successful. He could be excellent playing on the left of a back line of three central defenders, but that is quite distinct from the position he played yesterday.

Mackay took most of us by surprise when he named both of the previously long-term absentees, McCann and Watson in the team to play at Sheffield. It was even more of a shock to see them paired together again yesterday. McCann had actually performed well in his first two matches, but he and Watson were unable to turn it on yesterday. The two are crucial to Latics turning the season around. Mackay is taking a gamble in playing the two so much after their long recuperations from injury. He runs the risk of losing them with their bodies taking a toll of not playing for 8-9 months.

As expected, Don Cowie made his first appearance under Mackay, who had been his manager at both Watford and Cardiff. Cowie went to right midfield where he performed as he has before in that position. Pedestrian to be sure, but Cowie will at least make the effort. The result was Callum McManaman being pushed inside and not seeming to know where he was playing.

The hard-working Fortune was taken off after 82 minutes to be replaced by Roger Espinoza. Given the insipid, characterless stuff we had seen up to that point it was a pity Espinoza had not been brought on earlier. The player has many qualities, not the least of which is to fight for the ball and run forward with enthusiasm. But, even then, he was a midfielder replacing a central striker with Latics a goal behind.

Mackay was to make his biggest gaffe of the afternoon by bringing on Andy Delort after 88 minutes for Chris McCann. Fortune can rarely be faulted for effort and he often does a remarkable job of bringing down and controlling Scott Carson’s long kicks. But he is rarely a threat to the opponents’ goal. Delort has been scoring goals for the development squad. Admittedly there is a gulf between the Final Third Development League and the Championship, but the Frenchman also has a fine goalscoring record in Ligue 2, not light years away. Bringing Delort on so late is hardly going to help his confidence.

Mackay has a difficult task ahead of him. However, for the last two games his players have not competed as they need to. Moreover he has made baffling team selections.

He needs to get his act together soon, or Latics will be in deep, deep trouble.