Latics looking ready for the Premier League

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A week or two back Stuart Gray, manager of Sheffield Wednesday, commented that Wigan Athletic had a Premier League squad playing in the Championship. A similar comment was later made by Brian McDermott, Leeds United supremo, although he qualified his remark by saying that it was second to Leicester’s.

Whether Leicester’s squad is any better than Wigan’s is doubtful, but neither manager mentioned Queens Park Rangers, the most expensively assembled squad in the division. According to the Daily Star,  QPR got relegated last year although their budget was higher than that of Champions League runners-up Borussia Dortmund. Their budget this year has been scaled down, but is still unrealistically high for a Championship club.

There was talk in the pre-season that Wigan Athletic were going to have a splurge in the transfer market, using money brought in from their summer sales. Many fans were disgruntled when it did not happen, with Owen Coyle paying no more than around £2m for any of the players he brought in.

With catapult payments and transfer fees coming into play the club had a financial decision to make – how best to use that money. Given the extra six matches they were due to play in the Europa League they chose to spend on building a large squad, capable of putting up a good show in Europe and competing for promotion back to the Premier League. Little did they know at the time that Latics would also end up playing six matches in the FA Cup!

In February Latics played at Cardiff in the FA Cup 5th round in a televised game. At the time the commentators remarked on how one team had so much more Premier League experience than the other. But it was Wigan Athletic they were referring to. In fact every single player in their starting lineup had previously played in the Premier League.

Similarly at the FA Cup Semi Final last weekend all the starters had that experience. Moreover  Emmerson Boyce and Scott Carson alone had amassed almost 300 starts at Premier League level.

Some might say that Latics’ cup run this year has detracted from their league form. However, on their way to knocked out through the lottery of penalties, Latics were unbeaten within normal time against four Premier League teams, including two in Champions League spots. The self confidence garnered from such experience should not be underrated.

The displays against Arsenal and Manchester City have shown that this Wigan Athletic squad is good enough to challenge not only teams in the bottom half of the Premier League, but also those at the very top.

It has been a season of highs and lows for Wigan Athletic. Moreover the sheer volume of games they have had to play has contributed to poor results against teams that they would have otherwise beaten.

Uwe Rosler has done a fantastic job in raising Latics up into the playoff zone and being within a whisker of reaching another FA Cup Final.

It could be that sheer fatigue, injuries or controversial refereeing decisions will come into play over the coming weeks. However, Rosler will be mindful of the need to grind out enough points to secure that playoff place, but at the same time making sure that his key players peak at the right time – in the playoffs themselves.

The Championship playoffs are a pressure cauldron, where the unexpected can happen. However, Rosler has at his disposal an experienced and capable squad which has proved it can compete with the elite of English football.

The German’s challenge will be to ensure that the players are not complacent over the coming weeks. Latics fans are hoping for another Wembley visit on May 24th.

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Arsenal 1 Wigan Athletic 1 – valiant Latics go out on penalties

Arsene Wenger

Wigan Athletic gave as fine a performance as one could possibly expect, despite going down 4-2 on penalties to Arsenal after extra time. The leaps of joy from the Arsenal players on winning the shootout was testimony to the relief they must have felt. Latics had been leading until the 82nd  minute when a miskick led to a Gunners goal. It is a testimony to Uwe Rosler’s game plan and the commitment and quality shown by his players that they were only minutes away from another Wembley final.

Rosler surprised us by fielding a flat back four with Emmerson Boyce and Ivan Ramis in the centre of defence and James Perch and Stephen Crainey at full back. James McArthur, Josh McEachran and Jordi Gomez lined up in midfield, with Callum McManaman and Jean Beausejour nominally supporting Marc Antoine Fortune up front.

Arsenal put early pressure on Latics, particularly on the right where Oxlade-Chamberlain looked dangerous. He produced a superb cross that Sanogo headed towards goal, Carson making a terrific reflex save. However, after that initial 15 minutes Latics were starting to look more composed and their game plan was stifling their expensive opponents.

Sagna hit the ball wide after Vermaelen had headed a corner in his direction after 26 minutes, but Latics continued to fight their way back into the game, looking more composed. Callum McManaman was looking lively and he put a good effort just wide after cutting into the penalty box. Jean Beausejour had dropped back to cover the danger from Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Perch was giving Podolski no breathing space on the other flank.

Latics continued to frustrate Arsenal as the second half progressed. Their pressing in midfield nullified the passing movements one normally expects from the Gunners and Latics were playing composed football. Sensationally Latics were to gain a penalty in the 63rd minute as McManaman was tripped by Mertesacker as he sped across the penalty box teeing up a shot. The penalty was delayed with the injured Monreal being taken off, but Gomez showed great temperament by dispatching the penalty past Fabianski. Ironically he placed it to the right of Fabianski in a similar way to the one that was saved at Bolton, but it was good enough to beat the Polish ‘keeper.

A minute later Rosler took off McEachran, bringing on Jack Collison. Four minutes after that he took off McManaman, who had been Latics’ most dangerous player, for Nick Powell. Arsenal brought on Giroud for Podolski and started to play a more direct game, putting Latics under pressure. Sagna headed against the post, then Carson made a superb parry from a Gibbs header, with Crainey somehow clearing it off the line.  Sadly Latics’ defensive heroics were undone eight minutes from time when the unmarked Mertesacker headed in a scuffed shot from Gibbs.

The excellent Ramis limped off after 86 minutes to be surprisingly replaced by Gary Caldwell, with Leon Barnett remaining on the bench. It was the club captain’s first senior outing for close on a year. Latics held on in the closing minutes of normal time.

Extra time was a cruel consequence for a Wigan Athletic outfit that had already played more games than any other team in the country. However, they maintained their organization and composure in extra time despite close calls with Carson making a fine save from Sanogo and Oxlade-Chamberlain hitting the underside of the crossbar.

The match went to penalties, but Latics just did not have the depth in that department. Caldwell and Collison had the first two penalties saved and although McArthur and Beausejour dispatched their’s with aplomb, it was not enough, as the Gunners scored four out of four.

The Good

A superb display, brilliantly choreographed by Rosler. As at the Etihad in the previous round he got his tactics just right and Latics were within a whisker of pulling off a spectacular victory against great odds.

The defence was superb with Boyce and Ramis showing their class and composure. The midfield worked so hard to nullify the Arsenal threat.

McManaman was back to his best, clearly enjoying his return to Wembley.

Rosler stuck his neck out by putting in Carson for Al-Habsi, but the Cumbrian was superb. The German did it once again by bringing in Caldwell to replace Ramis, but the Scot did a fine job in defence.

The Bad

The performance cannot be faulted. However, taking off McManaman so early in the proceedings took some pressure off Arsenal, even if he was suffering from cramp.

Rosler was not in a position to name five good candidates for a penalty shootout. If Ramis had not gone off, maybe Shaun Maloney would have come on and he has shown his skills with penalties in the past. Both Caldwell and Collison were brave in stepping up for the first two, but their efforts were saved. Why the self-assured Powell did not take one is hard to understand.

Player Ratings:

Scott Carson: 9 – a superb display.

James Perch: 8 – superb defensively, nullifying the threat of Podolski.

Emmerson Boyce: 8.5 – marshaled his defence superbly, looking a class player in the process.

Ivan Ramis: 8 – another quality display. Let’s hope his injury is not serious.

Stephen Crainey: 8 – a fine display. He has been improving game by game under Rosler.

James McArthur: 8 – a typical display from this fine player, full of industry and cultured

Josh McEachran: 7 – so busy protecting his defence and not wasting the ball. A pity he had to be taken off. Taken off after 68 minutes.  One wonders when he will be fit for the full 90 minutes.

Jordi Gomez: 8.5 – excellent in all areas, covering so much ground and keeping possession under pressure.

Callum McMananan: 8 – looked like the player who electrified Manchester City last year. Let’s hope he can do this again in what remains of the season. Taken off after 64 minutes.

Marc Antoine Fortune: 7 – worked hard despite being so closely marked.

Jean Beausejour: 7 – the threat on Arsenal’s right flank kept him pegged back. In reality played a midfield, rather than a forward,  role.

Substitutes:

Jack Collison: – always ready to receive the ball, worked hard, but found the going tough.

Nick Powell: – could not stamp his mark on the game.

Gary Caldwell: – did well after such a long absence.

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The Dream refuses to die – but who will play?

Martinez

When Wigan Athletic won the FA Cup it really was a dream come true. Who could ever have imagined that they would be within close distance of making it come true again just eleven months later?

Just like last year Latics had a difficult time disposing of a team a division below them in the early rounds. Last season it was Bournemouth, this time around it was MK Dons. Martinez’s team had an amazing 3-0 win at Everton in the sixth round, while Rosler’s side also shocked the pundits with a 2-1 win at Manchester City.

However, Martinez’s team were to meet Millwall in the semi-final. Arsenal present a different proposition.

Whatever happens at Wembley tomorrow this team has done the club proud. They have got to the semi-final on merit following three successive victories over Premier League teams.

Latics had gone into the match at the Etihad following a series of good results, having won 4-1 at promotion-chasing Nottingham Forest in the previous game. Nevertheless they were facing a City team that had won 12 of its 13 home games in the Premier League and had already thrashed Latics 5-0 in the League cup.

As with the FA Cup Final last year against the same club, Latics’ manager got his tactics spot-on. Rosler’s team plays a more pragmatic style of football than that of Martinez. From the start they went at City, their high pressing game stemming the flow of the Citizens’ play. When Latics’ went 2-0 up not long after half time they dug in to conserve the result. City were to get a controversial goal that should have been disallowed for offside, but they were to pummel Wigan’s defence. With grim determination and a tiny bit of luck on their side Latics held on to get their victory.

At the Etihad, Rosler played a conservative 3-5-2 system, with Marc-Antoine Fortune and Callum McManaman upfront. However, the midfielders – Jordi Gomez in particular – pushed forward in the first half. He had surprised us by playing Chris McCann in the left of the backline trio. Leon Barnett was to take over that role after half time, due to the unfortunate injury to the Irishman.

Rosler will almost certainly adopt a similar approach tomorrow. Arsenal tend to pack their midfield with a lot of players and Wigan will need strength in numbers there to compete. James McArthur and Jordi Gomez will play in central midfield with James Perch and Jean Beausejour playing wide. However, it is that third central midfield position that will be up for grabs.

Jack Collison has the most experience, but played a full game in midweek plus most of the second half last Saturday. Would his knee stand up to him taking a starting role tomorrow? Josh McEachran played there at the Etihad, but has not figured much recently and was taken off at half time on Tuesday. However, this is an entirely different kind of match to the league encounter against Millwall and might well suit the young Chelsea loanee.

The lineup could well be that which began the second half at the Etihad, with the exception of Jean Beausejour for Stephen Crainey at left wing back : Carson ; Boyce, Ramis, Barnett; Perch, McArthur, Gomez, McEachran, Beausejour; McManaman, Fortune.

The 29 year old Michael Oliver has been named as referee for the encounter. Coincidentally he officiated last year’s semi-final against Millwall. One of the features of Rosler’s regime has been in the discipline shown by his players, with no red cards received. They will need to show that same kind of resolve tomorrow against a skilful Arsenal team whose supporters will be in the large majority at the Stadium, ready to pressurize the young referee.

The fourth placed team in the Premier League is playing against the fifth placed team from the division below, which has already played 55 matches this season. So once again the odds are heavily stacked against the Latics. However, only a fool would count them out.

The dream is still alive.

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Callum for Wembley

Manchester City v Wigan Athletic - FA Cup Final

Being ‘Man of the Match’ in an FA Cup Final can be hard to live up to. Callum McManaman knows that all too well.

Just eleven months ago McManaman was the toast of the town as he led Gael Clichy and the Manchester City defence a merry dance at Wembley. He had not only been the star of the Final, but also of the whole FA Cup tournament. He had started in all of Latics’ seven matches in that cup run, scoring three goals and making two assists. His free running in the final trapped Pablo Zabaleta into a red card, turning the momentum of the game. His superbly taken goal from Jordi Gomez’s exquisite pass had sealed the semi-final win over Millwall.

Who could have known that just three days later he would get an ankle injury that would not only put him on crutches, but seriously knock back his career prospects in the process. A burgeoning young talent had been coming through, with managers of the rich and famous clubs casting an eye in his direction. The injury put everything on hold.

Many Latics supporters had viewed McManaman’s injury as a kind of blessing in disguise. If it had not happened the young player would most likely have been whisked away to a big club rather than helping Latics get back to the Premier League. Moreover the excellent Shaun Maloney remained at the club following the large turnover of players in the summer. Latics had a new manager in Owen Coyle and he would have at his disposal two players who could tear the hearts out of the defences of Championship sides.

Those hopes were soon quashed as Maloney’s injury In September put him out of action long term. Moreover McManaman was dealing with illness and niggling injuries that hampered his return to full fitness. When Coyle left in December, McManaman had made hardly any impact up to that point. Fans were hoping that new manager Uwe Rosler could get the best out of the exciting young forward.

At this point of the season McManaman has started in only 14 of the 41 league matches played, scoring one goal and making one assist. Moreover he has rarely played the full ninety minutes. However, he has started in four of the five FA Cup matches Latics have played, scoring in the home tie with MK Dons.

It has been a disappointing season so far for Callum McManaman, but there is still time for him to make a major impact. He has clearly enjoyed playing at Wembley, judging by his performances against Millwall and Manchester City, maybe less so than in his appearance as a 60th minute substitute in the Community Shield.

Rosler will surely take McManaman into strong consideration for lining up in the semi-final against Arsenal at the weekend. Coincidentally it was against the Gunners that his career took that set-back last season. Saturday’s game will be one in which he will be keen to impress, showing a big audience that he still has that talent that has been hiding under the surface for so long this season.

If he is given the chance McManaman can get his career back on fast-track with a star performance against the Gunners. At his best there are few more exciting players to watch in English football.

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Millwall Preview – a cameo role for Maloney in preparation for the FA Cup semi-final?

 

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A cameo role for Shaun Maloney tonight?

Given the sheer volume of fixtures Wigan Athletic have had to play over the past months it is no wonder that their form has been intermittent. There have been matches where they have looked full of energy, playing enterprising football, followed another a few days later where they would appear jaded and placing an over-reliance on the long ball.

The 1-0 win over Leeds on Saturday was typical of the latter. One could say it was because Uwe Rosler made only two changes from his lineup in the previous game, but then again the introduction of three substitutes in the second half did not catalyse any sort of spark. In the event Leeds did not have the quality to seriously challenge a solid Wigan defence and Latics ground out an important win.

If events continue to follow this recent pattern we can expect a more dynamic performance against a Millwall team struggling against relegation. However, there is the by no means small matter of an FA Cup Semi-Final coming up on Saturday. So what is going to happen tonight?

On Saturday Rosler took a risk by using all three substitutes by the 68th minute. Providing Latics are ahead midway through the second half he might do something similar tonight.

One of those coming on later tonight could well be Shaun Maloney, in preparation for including him on the bench at Wembley where he scored a goal in last year’s semi-final, coincidentally against Millwall. The Scot has been on the bench for the last two games, but Rosler felt the intensity of the Leicester match was too high for a player returning from long-term injury, then understandably did not bring him on against an over-physical Leeds.

It is an indication of the rotation policy that Rosler has operated that in the last five league matches twenty players have been employed on the pitch. Three players – Ali Al-Habsi, James McArthur and James Perch have started in all five. Five more – Emmerson Boyce, Jordi Gomez, Rob Kiernan, Ivan Ramis and Martyn Waghorn have started in four of those games. Josh McEachran, Callum McManaman and Nicky Maynard have been underemployed during the five matches, each starting in only one.

Rosler will certainly have to shuffle his pack following the limp display on Saturday. However, Latics have some tricky league fixtures coming up and the Millwall game appears the easiest to win, at least on paper. However, Millwall are locked in a relegation struggle and desperately need points. They can be expected to come out with guns a blazing. Rosler will therefore need to tread with caution, keeping a backbone of his regulars in the lineup, rather than make wholesale changes.

He has already announced that Ali Al-Habsi will be rested, with Scott Carson coming in. James Perch is overdue a rest, having played 43 games this season. Moreover Perch is sitting on nine yellow cards and one more would put him out of the FA Cup semi-final. James McArthur too needs resting, also having played 43 games.

Jean Beausejour is back from suspension. Rob Kiernan, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Martyn Waghorn are ineligible for the Arsenal game so have a good chance of playing, together with McEachran, McManaman and Maynard.

It is not going to be an easy match. Millwall had a crucial 2-1 win at promotion hopefuls Nottingham Forest at the weekend. They sit in 23rd place but still retain hopes of lifting themselves out of the relegation zone. Under the management of Ian Holloway they will not go down without a fight.

Moreover the Lions will recall their 2-1 win over Wigan at the New Den, Latics’ sixth successive defeat at the time. Martyn Waghorn was on loan at Millwall at that time and was one of their top performers in a match watched by Rosler, prior to his taking the reins at Wigan. The Lions wanted to keep Waghorn, but their financial situation would not allow. Will Waghorn be the star player tonight?

It is never easy to predict Rosler’s starting lineups, but given the proximity of the Arsenal Semi-Final, it is all the more difficult this time around.

Which Wigan Athletic will we see tonight – the energetic or the lethargic? It could well be a mixture of the two.

 

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Wigan Athletic 1 Leeds United 0 – little in entertainment but three more points for Latics

 

Martyn Waghorn celebrated his permanent contract with his fourth goal in Latics colours.

Martyn Waghorn celebrated his permanent contract with his fourth goal in Latics colours.

Some say that for teams challenging for promotion at this time of the season it is the points that count, not the entertainment. So it could be said that Wigan Athletic did what was needed by gaining a welcome three points at the expense of visitors Leeds United. Following a run of three league matches without a win, it was important to consolidate a place in the top six. However, entertainment it was not.

Uwe Rosler made just two changes from the side that had lined up in midweek against Leicester. Callum McManaman and Martyn Waghorn came in for Jack Collison and Nicky Maynard.

In reality there were few moments of good football in this game. Latics appeared tired and were clearly not relishing the task of taking on a very physical Leeds side. Michael Brown typified the visitors’ approach. The 37 year old riled the home crowd with a series of challenges and niggles, reminiscent of his time at Wigan in the Steve Bruce era. He had managed to largely shackle Jordi Gomez until the Spaniard produced Latics only worthy effort on goal in the first 30 minutes, a fine shot from distance curling narrowly wide.

Latics were to go ahead in the 33rd minute after James McArthur slalomed around the edge of the area, going down under a Leeds challenge. However, from the loose ball Waghorn scored with a low shot which goalkeeper Jack Butland should have stopped. Ten minutes later, and much to his displeasure, Brown received a yellow card for a foul on Gomez.

Latics started the second half with James Perch having a good shot deflected over the top by Stephen Warnock. Latics brought on Collison for Nick Powell after 55 minutes, James McClean for McManaman after 62 minutes and Marc Antoine Fortune for Waghorn on the 68 minute mark. However, the substitutions were to have little effect and the mediocre football continued until the final whistle.

The match statistics reflected the way it had gone – Ali Al-Habsi having to make just one save, Butland two. Leeds had committed sixteen fouls, to Latics’ seven. Ironically it was Wigan who received more yellow cards, with three against Leeds’ two.

Swelled by the away support, the attendance of 16,443 was the largest at the DW Stadium since the visit of Burnley in December. They deserved better entertainment than this.

The Good

The three points puts Latics nine points ahead of Bournemouth, Brighton, Ipswich and Nottingham Forest who head the pack just below the play-off spots, all on 58 points. With only six games to go, Wigan are getting closer to securing a top six finish.

The Bad

After the match Rosler admitted his mistake of making only two changes from the lineup that had run themselves into the ground against Leicester. Too many players were clearly not up to it physically.

Once again Shaun Maloney was left on the bench, but given the way the skilful Gomez had been treated by the visitors, Rosler was probably right not to bring the Scot on.

Leeds showed themselves to be one of those uncompromising physical teams that are scattered around in the Championship division. Were this to have been a Premier League game there would have surely have been oodles of yellow cards issued. Championship referees are clearly more lenient.

Player Ratings

Ali Al-Habsi: 6 – largely unemployed.

James Perch: 5 – has not been at his best recently. Maybe still troubled by injury?

Emmerson Boyce: 6 – solid in defence.

Ivan Ramis: 6 – ditto.

Rob Kiernan: 6 – ditto.

Stephen Crainey: 5 – lacks the finesse and vision of Jean Beausejour at wing back, but worked hard.

James McArthur: 7 – despite playing an excessive number of games without a break he continues to be a key performer. Let’s hope he can stay fit and sharp for the play-offs, assuming Latics get there.

Jordi Gomez: 5 – a marked man, not on top of his game.

Callum McManaman: 5 – disappointing. Taken off after 62 minutes.

Martyn Waghorn: 6 – celebrated receiving his permanent contract with an opportunist goal. Worked hard as usual. Now has 4 goals and 4 assists in his 10 starts. Taken off after 68 minutes.

Nick Powell: 5 – clearly not yet fully match-fit. He will not be able to reach the crowd’s expectations of him until he regains full fitness. Went off after 55 minutes.

Substitutes:

Jack Collison, James McClean, Marc Antoine Fortune – could not make much impact on the game.

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Auld Mac getting better and better – a look at James McArthur

 

The Jimmy Macs - McArthur left with McCarthy.  Photo courtesy of the Daily Record

The Jimmy Macs – McArthur (left) with McCarthy.
Photo courtesy of the Daily Record

They were the two Jimmy Macs – James McArthur and James McCarthy – in the engine room of Roberto Martinez’s midfield. It could be difficult guessing Bob’s starting lineups, but the Jimmy Macs always seemed to be there. Together with Shaun Maloney they could compete on an even keel with the likes of  Gerrard, Lampard and Scholes. They were the ones who underpinned Wigan Athletic’s famous victories against giants like Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United.

Both had started at Hamilton Academicals in the second tier of Scottish football. Both Glaswegians and both part of the Accies side that won the Scottish First Division in 2007-08. The younger Jimmy Mac – McCarthy – was first to join Latics in summer of 2009, to be followed by ‘Auld Mac’ a year later. James McCarthy made 120 appearances for Latics before he moved to Everton early this season. James McArthur has made 116 up to this point.

Given his wealth of Premier League experience McArthur was expected to be a major force in the Championship division. His early performances under new manager Owen Coyle were disappointing, his partner McCarthy’s departure not helping. Some even suggested McArthur would never be the same without the younger Mac. But then again not many players reached optimum levels under Coyle’s slack regime. However, Coyle clearly recognized McArthur’s talent and leadership qualities, giving him brief captaincy duties for the first time in the absence of Emmerson Boyce.

The arrival of new manager Uwe Rosler signaled a change in tactical approach. Coyle’s long ball tactics had not suited the skilful McArthur and he soon made an impact upon his new manager. He formed a formidable midfield trio with Chris McCann and Ben Watson that was to prove crucial in Latics’ revival. Sadly both McCann and Watson were to pick up long term injuries and since then McArthur has had a variety of players accompanying him in midfield. Nevertheless he has kept up his excellent form.

However, Auld Mac has become more and more influential in that midfield engine room. He has become the fulcrum around whom things happen, a complete midfield player. Despite already having played 45 games this season he was full of energy and drive in an outstanding display in the draw with champions-elect Leicester City on Wednesday.

McArthur was once described as a tough tackler with creative spark. But he has become much more than that. He has become the midfield general who sets the example to his teammates in terms of his commitment and dedication to the Wigan Athletic cause. He will always be remembered as being part of the team that beat Manchester City to win the FA Cup last May. He had a wonderful game as a makeshift wing back.

If there is one area in which McArthur needs to improve it is in scoring more goals. However, when he does get them they tend to be good ones. That rocket shot at Huddersfield last season and the amazing chip over the Northern Ireland goalkeeper are as good as you will see.

Auld Mac is not so old. In fact he is only 26 and still has not reached his peak. He has taken his game to a higher level and many would view the underrated Scot as Latics’ player of the season at this point. It is ironic that when he is showing  possibly the best form of his career he is not making the first choice line-up for his country. Granted he has dropped down a division, but are the current starters for the Scotland team really better than him?

James McArthur is a quality footballer with a great attitude. He can help take Wigan Athletic into the play-offs and beyond.

At 26 he has still not reached his peak. Latics supporters will hope he will stay at the club for years to come.

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Wigan Athletic 2 Leicester City 2 – exciting contest ends in a draw

 

Table

Latics remain in contention for a play-off place.

An 87th minute headed equalizer by Dean Hammond robbed Wigan Athletic of a merited victory over a fine Leicester side. Despite an uncertain opening Latics had attacked with exciting abandon until the closing minutes when tiredness crept in. It was a game full of good football and a treat for spectators.

As expected Uwe Rosler played a backline of three central defenders, but surprisingly brought in Rob Kiernan in place of Leon Barnett, who was on the bench. Ivan Ramis and Emmerson Boyce made up the trio. As in the Watford game Rosler pushed his wing backs – James Perch and Stephen Crainey – well forward, effectively creating a five man midfield, together with James McArthur, Jack Collison and Jordi Gomez. Nicky Maynard and Nick Powell played up front.

Nigel Pearson had made six changes to his lineup, but his team remained formidable opponents with their high pressure approach, full of good movement off the ball. The Foxes could have had a goal after just three minutes, Ramis clearing Liam Moore’s header off the line. Wigan had been under considerable pressure in those opening minutes but rallied, taking the game to the visitors. They took the lead in the 37th minute when Ramis headed home from an accurate Gomez free kick. However, the Foxes equalized four minutes later with a fine goal from Andy King, who turned and placed a low shot beyond Al-Habsi’s reach in the right hand corner of the goal.

The advent of the second half saw Wigan’s high tempo approach unsettling the visitors’ defence and it was no surprise that Latics got their second in the 62nd  minute, Kiernan heading in his first professional goal from a Gomez corner. Latics continued to play in an attacking, cavalier fashion and another goal looked due. James McClean had come on for Maynard after 52 minutes and his direct running caused more problems for Leicester, but his finishing did not match his promise. Marc-Antoine Fortune was introduced for Powell after 66 minutes as Latics continued to attack.

The central midfield trio for Latics had been dominant in the second half, but the tiring Gomez was replaced by Josh McEachran after 79 minutes. Leicester had started to apply pressure and Latics looked in need of their second wind. In the 87th minute Crainey gave away a free kick and Hammond rose to equalize. There were to be 5 minutes of added time but a tired-looking Latics managed to hang on for a well-earned draw.

The Good

Following a lethargic display at Bolton this was quite the opposite. Latics tore into Leicester and with better finishing would have got the win they deserved. It is a tribute to the manager and his squad that they could play a game at such high tempo despite it being their 51st encounter of the season.

The midfield was outstanding. Collison fits into the system seamlessly, McArthur and Gomez were excellent in their passing and recuperation of the ball. Penalty misses aside, Gomez is playing the best football of his Latics career.

With the wing backs pushed so far forward the 3-5-2 system at times resembled 3-3-4. Playing with such attacking abandon places a heavy reliance on the backline, but the trio held things together under pressure. Moreover they contributed the two goals. Kiernan was a revelation. Eyebrows were raised when he was given the nod over the popular Barnett, but he defended well and his passing was much improved. Having fine passers of the ball like Boyce and Ramis playing alongside, he followed their example. His goal was well deserved.

The Bad

The lack of a natural goalscorer in the team is Latics’ Achilles Heel. The game should have been killed off in the second half, but there was nobody with the composure needed to convert chances to goals. Maynard and Powell looked lively in the first half, but could not score. The attacking duo of Fortune and McClean in the second half looked promising, but neither has a pedigree in turning chances into goals. Callum McManaman, more of a natural goalscorer, remained on the bench despite a good performance at Bolton.

Player Ratings

Ali Al-Habsi: 7 – did all that could be expected of him.

Emmerson Boyce: 6.5 – not at his best, but has a calming influence on his defence.

Ivan Ramis: 7 – defensively sound and passing excellent. Topped off a good performance with a goal.

Rob Kiernan: 8  – calm and solid at the back, did not waste the ball and got a fine headed goal.

James Perch: 6 – worked hard.

Stephen Crainey: 7 – clearly enjoys playing in the wing back position. After a difficult settling-in period at the club, he is becoming a real asset. Full of energy and commitment.

James McArthur: 8.5 – a classy display from a very accomplished midfield player.

Jack Collison: 7 – kept things ticking over, making himself available to receive passes, solid in his tackling.

Jordi Gomez: 8.5 – an all-action display from the technically gifted player. What a change there has been in his play since Rosler arrived.

Nicky Maynard: 6.5 – good movement, tried hard. Taken off after 52 minutes.

Nick Powell: 6 – looked promising but could not deliver. It was good to see him played in a more central role. Taken off after 66 minutes. The fitter he gets the more dangerous he will become to opposition defences.

Substitutes

James McClean: – added energy to the attack, coming on after 52 minutes. He is an exciting sight when he attacks defences like this. Hopefully the finishing will come as he matures.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: – came on after 66 minutes but could not stamp his mark on the game.

Josh McEachran:- came on after 79 minutes.

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Latics ready to pick up 3 points against Leicester

Leicester City come to the DW Stadium tonight on the crest of a wave, sitting at the top of the Championship table, following on from a 2-0 away win at second placed Burnley.

Nigel Pearson has built a team that plays good football and has picked itself up since losing out to Watford in the playoffs last season. They looked impressive at Burnley, inflicting on the Clarets theirv first home defeat of the season.

However, Pearson has indicated that he will be making changes to a lineup that has been unchanged for the past six matches. Forward Jamie Vardy is injured and Pearson will have to look at making some rotations given the fixture congestion over the coming weeks.

Uwe Rosler knows all about fixture congestion and up to this point he has juggled his squad effectively. However, one player who has been a permanent name on the team sheet in the Rosler era is James McArthur. The Scot has been a model of consistency, but looked jaded in the Bolton game on Saturday. McArthur is in the engine room of Latics midfield and denies the opposition space as well as being the instigator of much of the good football that they play. Rosler will have to rest him soon. It could be tonight or against Leeds on Saturday.

Jean Beausejour is out with a two game suspension and Rosler will look towards either Stephen Crainey or James Perch to cover the left of defence. The German prefers utilizing Crainey as a wing back, rather than full back. Perch is a solid left back, but is not able to support attacks as effectively on his “wrong foot”.  In any case Ivan Ramis is likely to return and we might well see Rosler employing a 3-4-3 system with Emmerson Boyce, Leon Barnett and Ramis forming a formidable central defensive line.

Josh McEachran is due to return in midfield and Nicky Maynard at centre forward. Martyn Waghorn is unable to play against his parent club, but Rosler has a wealth of attacking options available. Callum McManaman looked more like his old self when coming on as a substitute against Bolton and remains relatively fresh, not having played so many games recently. Nick Powell scored a cracking equalizer at Bolton and will probably make the starting lineup. If he does it will be interesting to see if Rosler once again plays him in a wide position.

Latics will be keen to keep up with their quest for a play-off position by collecting three points from tonight’s game. Having beaten three Premier League teams, including title chasing Manchester City, in their FA Cup run they will not be overawed by playing the top team in the Championship.

It promises to be a fascinating contest tonight and a win against the league leaders would send shock waves to the other clubs contesting for play-off positions.

Maybe we will see Shaun Maloney coming off the bench in the later stages. A fully fit Maloney could be key to promotion back to the Premier League.

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Maloney set to surprise Leicester

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In a recent interview the likeable Latics talisman Ben Watson was asked who was the best player he had played with during his five years at Wigan. The names of Antonio Valencia and Charles N’Zogbia soon rolled off his tongue, and he said he had to mention his friend and teammate James McArthur. But above all stood Shaun Maloney.

At the start of the season things were looking bright for Owen Coyle’s Latics. Coyle had made some good summer signings and the exciting talent of Maloney and Callum McManaman remained at the club. The disappointing results during Coyle’s tenure could at least partly be attributed to the loss of Maloney through injury after only five league games, together with the lack of form of the young McManaman.

Maloney was clearly enjoying playing in the Championship where his skills shone like a beacon. He scored four goals and made two assists in those five matches. Although he had dropped down a division Maloney was still first choice for his country and played in two friendlies and three World Cup qualifying games for Scotland over those weeks.

Uwe Rosler would most likely prefer to bring in Maloney gradually as the season progresses. Were Latics to secure a playoff place the Scot could well prove to be the ace in the German’s pack. He will clearly be a marked man – 13 fouls were committed against him in those five matches – and Rosler will hope to get Maloney back to full match fitness and free from further injuries, during the month of April.

Given his current predicament with so many matches coming a short period of time Rosler might have to risk fielding Maloney more frequently than he would prefer. But the German will be delighted to have him available.

Maloney has had a long convalescence period from major surgery and given those circumstances it would be unwise to expect too much from him too soon.

However, Leicester City could be the first team to suffer when the little magician reappears at the DW Stadium tomorrow.

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