Not another false dawn for Latics

falsedawn

On August 30th Wigan Athletic destroyed Birmingham City 4-0. The performance was a revelation, far removed from the mediocrity of the displays that had preceded it. Moreover Andy Delort was introduced to the Latics faithful before the match started and within a couple of days Adam Forshaw and William Kvist were to be snapped up.

It was such a hopeful time. It looked like Latics were back on the promotion trail.

But the international break meant that the momentum was lost and Latics were to go eight games and eight weeks without a win. The buoyant optimism was replaced by sheer frustration on the part of so many fans. A manager who had enjoyed almost iconic status in early-August was now an object of derision among many. Slogans such as ‘In Uwe We Trust’ and ‘Vorsprung Durch Uwe’ had melted away and #RoslerOut was rearing its head on the social media.

There were some Latics fans who would not have been unhappy for their team to lose at Derby on Saturday, hoping it would precipitate Uwe Rosler’s demise. Most fans wanted them to win, but doubted that it would happen. Then there were the brave few who quoted tales of Latics showing their resilience in bygone times of adversity, boldly predicting an away win.

The display at Derby on Saturday was a throwback to those days last season when Latics were on a great run and Rosler was viewed as the saviour. It was not pretty to watch and Latics picked up five yellow cards compared with the home team’s one. Nevertheless the victory was well deserved. The players battled to get that result, something they had not done in the midweek game against Millwall, in which incidentally no Wigan player got a yellow card. Why was there such a different attitude from the players on Saturday?

It could be said that the inclusion of Roger Espinoza in midfield was the catalyst. Espinoza is not the most technically gifted player in the squad, but he is surely one of the most committed when he gets on the pitch. Playing in the more advanced midfield role he was a livewire in closing down opposition defenders and midfielders, then running at them when in possession.

Emyr Huws and Adam Forshaw close behind Espinoza played with that same kind of passion. Both have the technical ability to do great things in the future. But on Saturday they showed the necessary level of commitment to complement their abilities. Something that had been missing in midfield since James McArthur’s departure.

The conspiracy theorists will say that something changed at the club following that insipid display against Millwall. Perhaps the manager really did clear the air through a heart-to-heart discussion with his players. Or perhaps some of the senior pros helped stifle dissent within the squad. Are there really players who want to leave in January? All this may be speculation and hearsay. Football clubs are masters at keeping such things secret and as fans we can only surmise.

At this moment in time many people are wary of a false dawn. After the Birmingham game there was so much buoyant optimism but it was to be sunk in a tide of indifferent displays.  Four weeks ago against Nottingham Forest the players played with real commitment, which dissipated in the matches that followed. Will the same happen again?

The next three matches are against teams below Latics in the table. However, both Bolton and Fulham have responded to changes in manager and are  on their way up the table. Moreover Brighton, like Latics, have been punching well below their weight this season and will surely get better.

However, the positives from the win at Derby outweigh those from that victory against Birmingham. There was some lovely football in that 4-0 result, but three of the goals came in the first half and Latics went off the boil in the second. The display at Derby showed that the players now have the levels of fitness to play the high tempo, high pressing game that Rosler has wanted all along. Their legs did not go in the second half and they finished as strong as the home side. Moreover since the return of the powerhouse Leon Barnett to the starting lineup Latics have had three shutouts in four games.

Another big plus on Saturday was seeing James McClean getting in there where it hurts to score two opportunist goals. The 4-4-2 system saw first Callum McManaman, then McClean, partner the centre forward upfront. Although McManaman was largely shackled by the Derby defence he thrives on the licence provided by the support striker role. McClean is more used to playing as an orthodox left winger, but he too has the potential to make a success of that role. He is fast and strong, with a powerful left foot, good qualities for that position.

Despite some colourless displays in recent weeks, Latics’ defence has tightened up, conceding only three goals in the last five matches. The absence of James Perch for domestic reasons has meant that James Tavernier has been given three straight starts and he will benefit from the experience. He has the best delivery of crosses and set pieces in the club. He and Perch are different types of players, but having the two available to play at right back gives Rosler good options.

The midfield situation is suddenly looking much rosier. Forshaw and Huws will surely form the midfield for years to come providing they stay injury-free and are not snapped up by bigger clubs. Espinoza’s comeback may be short-lived, given Rosler’s previous reluctance to include him, but his enthusiasm will surely rub off on those around him while he remains. The eventual return of Chris McCann and Ben Watson will add further competition for midfield places.

There are still players in the squad who have not yet hit form. They include not only the ‘new boys’ such as Andy Delort and Oriel Riera, but also such as Shaun Maloney. Part of Rosler’s problem is that his squad is too big and he is going to continue to face difficulties in keeping a happy ship.

The results over the next few games may well be patchy, but if Latics can get to a mid-table position by Christmas they will be within striking distance of the playoffs. With more time the newer acquisitions will become more settled in and we will see them perform closer to their best.

The Birmingham display proved to be a false dawn, but the performance at Derby could set the tone for the rest of the season. If Latics can maintain that level of passion and determination they will quickly rise up the table.

Playing at that level of intensity can be draining for players. However, Rosler has a strong and well balanced squad at his disposal. Squad rotation will continue to be his policy, of necessity.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Rosler gets it right – Derby County 1 Wigan Athletic 2

James McClean’s brace wins the match for Latics. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

Rosler got his tactics and team selection right this time and the result was a shocker. A Latics team that had not won for eight matches went on to beat a Derby outfit that had been unbeaten in twelve. Wigan just would not allow the home team time and space on the ball and fully deserved their victory.

As we have come to expect from him Uwe Rosler made changes in his lineup, causing due consternation among fans. He was to stick with the eleven that completed the last game against Millwall except Emyr Huws and Don Cowie came back from injury to replace James McClean and Shaun Maloney. The 4-4-2 formation saw Marc-Antoine Fortune and Callum McManaman playing up front, with Cowie in wide right midfield. Leon Barnett was named captain.

The first half hour was scrappy as Latics’ pressing tactic disrupted the home team’s game. Derby just did not look convincing and Wigan looked full of energy and sacrifice. However, the left footed right winger Johnny Russell curled a shot marginally wide but Latics gradually started to threaten the Derby defence. Huws had an effort saved by Jack Butland, then Roger Espinoza put a great pass through for McManaman, whose effort was blocked by Butland’s legs.

Just before half time Latics were awarded a penalty with John Eustace handling the ball as Espinoza threatened. James Tavernier hit the ball to Butland’s left but the home keeper made a fine save. The same Eustace then scored at the other end after Zak Whitbread had headed on a free kick for the experienced central midfielder to bundle home.

Latics went into half time a goal down after having looked in control. Conceding that goal so soon after missing a penalty was a body blow from which they might not recover.

Steve McLaren surprisingly made two changes at half time, Will Hughes and Ibe being replaced by Simon Dawkins and Jeff Hendrick. In the 56th minute Scott Carson could only parry Hendrick’s shot, but Latics managed to clear the ball. Ten minutes later Craig Bryson’s shot deflected off Hendrick to go narrowly wide. However, Latics were still in the game and playing with spirit. With the protection provided by Cowie, Tavernier was able to move forward and attack the Derby defence.

McClean had come on for McManaman after 62 minutes. Seven minutes later he put the ball home from short range after Cowie had put the indefatigable Espinoza through on the right for a cross into the box. Shaun Maloney came on for Huws a couple of minutes later. Latics were on top and McClean had a header go wide from a Maloney free kick and Tavernier’s fine shot from the edge of the penalty area went narrowly wide.

In the 83rd minute Tavernier ‘s corner caused problems for the Derby defence. Adam Forshaw’s shot was parried by Butland, but from the resulting melee the ball fell to McClean who scooped it home.

Espinoza’s shot from outside the box brought a fine save from Butland. William Kvist replaced Kiernan after 87 minutes. In the five minutes time that was added on, Barnett committed a foul just on the edge of the box in a dangerous position. Fortunately for Wigan, Chris Martin’s powerful shot passed wide of the far post.

There was widespread celebration among Wigan fans when the referee signaled the end of the game. Derby had gone 644 minutes without conceding until McClean’s first goal. Latics win was well deserved from a performance full of spirit and passion.

The Good

Rosler’s team selection had raised eyebrows with such as McClean and Maloney left on the bench. However, he surely appeased many fans by the selection of Espinoza in the centre of midfield.

Espinoza’s inclusion proved to be the catalyst that galvanized Latics’ midfield into action. His enthusiasm is infectious. Like Espinoza, Forshaw and Huws were tireless in their efforts to control the centre of the pitch. Despite playing so little competitive football over the past couple of months, Espinoza was a revelation, pressing the opposition and attacking with gusto.

McClean added his usual amount of energy when he came on, but importantly got a couple of opportunist goals. All too often in the past he has got himself into good positions without having the composure to finish. This time he got it right and his goals won the game for Wigan.

The unpopular Cowie played an important role in right midfield, allowing the exciting Tavernier to attack down the right flank. Nevertheless Tavernier worked hard on the defensive side of his game too. Cowie’s play may be unspectacular but he is tireless in his efforts, a consummate team player.

It was the kind of display that we saw in the early days of Rosler’s reign last year. Latics were bristling with energy, closing down the opposition and looking threatening in the second half as they moved forward. Rosler’s dream of high tempo, high pressing football may not be an illusion after all.

The Bad

It had taken Rosler so long to give Espinoza a chance. The reasons are unknown to most of us who are not privy to what is going on at the club. Given the American/Honduran’s impact on the game one wonders why he was not included before.

 

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 7 – did all that was required of him.

James Tavernier: 8 – a display of attacking promise, with a high workrate in defence.

Leon Barnett: 8 – a captain’s performance. The defence has tightened up since his return.

Rob Kiernan: 7 – solid in defence and unruffled and accurate in his distribution.

Maynor Figueroa: 7 – a typical performance from him, full of endeavour.

Adam Forshaw: 8 – unable to show his silky skills, but was a real dynamo in the centre of midfield.

Emyr Huws: 8 – combative and good in his use of the ball. Went off after 70 minutes.

Roger Espinoza: 8.5 – a remarkable performance considering his lack of match fitness.

Don Cowie: 8 – a tireless worker, sacrificing himself for the team.

Callum McManaman: 7 – worked hard against a tight Derby defence. Substituted after 62 minutes.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: 7 – a typical hard-working performance.

Substitutes:

James McClean: – the match winner.

Shaun Maloney: – looked lively in those last 25 minutes.

William Kvist: – came on after 87 minutes.

 

 

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

A large squad poses problems for Rosler

 

It reads Ali Al-Habsi , Leon Barnett, Emmerson Boyce, Gary Caldwell, Scott Carson, Don Cowie, Andy Delort, Roger Espinoza, Adam Forshaw, Marc-Antoine Fortune, Fraser Fyvie, Juan Carlos Garcia (on loan), Grant Holt (on loan), Emyr Huws, Rob Kiernan,William Kvist, Shaun Maloney, James McClean, Callum McManaman, Lee Nicholls, James Perch, Ivan Ramis, Oriol Riera, Thomas Rogne, Chris McCann, James Tavernier, Andrew Taylor, Aaron Taylor-Sinclair , Martyn Waghorn, Ben Watson.

But let’s not forget to add the name of Maynor Figueroa to the list.

The Honduran got a deserved warm welcome from the DW crowd on his return to action for Wigan Athletic. It was a bolt out of the blue. Who could have expected the stalwart who had made 148 appearances in five years at Wigan to come back?

The addition of Figueroa means there are now 31 names on the above squad list. If we consider Figueroa’s primary position to be that of left back, it means that Latics now have four who play there. Does the squad really need to be so big? Has it just happened or was it planned? How is Uwe Rosler going to keep so many players happy?

Before the transfer deadline the list numbered 27, but included long-term absentees Chris McCann and Ben Watson whose returns to action were looking distant at that time. However, the recent news on the two has been uplifting and fans will be looking forward to seeing the two back in action in the near future.

 

 

With six extra games coming up in the Europa League last season, Owen Coyle saw the need for a large squad. He signed ten new players and brought in two more on loan. At this time last year Coyle had 25 players in his senior squad, but three were long-term absentees through injury.

The return of Figueroa serves to remind us of how the club’s circumstances have changed. The Honduran was one of Roberto Martinez’s key players. He originally played at left back, but when Martinez switched to a 3-4-3 system in the middle of the 2012-13 season, he played with great effect on the left hand side of the back three. Latics were to go on to that winning spree against the finest in the land. Given the current state of affairs at the club many of us are beginning to wonder if we will ever see that quality of football again.

Figueroa gives Rosler options. Reportedly brought in because of an injury to Andrew Taylor we can expect him to be largely employed as a left back. However, given Ivan Ramis’ hamstring problem and a trip to a strong Derby County on Saturday, Rosler might be tempted to revert to 3-5-2 with Figueroa in the back three and James Perch at left wing back.

The critics will say that Rosler’s acquisition of Figueroa on a month’s loan smacks of desperation. Moreover he had cover at left back in Aaron Taylor-Sinclair, who arrived at the club with a fine reputation following a stint at Partick Thistle. It could be argued that the 23 year old is not yet ready for the hurly burly of Championship football. However, Rosler has brought young James Tavernier in at right back for the last couple of games and Taylor-Sinclair could hardly have performed worse than the rest of the players who played against Millwall.

Rosler’s squad has swelled in numbers because he has brought in ten players since his arrival, with not so many leaving. Ironically the players who did leave included quality players such as Jean Beausejour, Jordi Gomez and James McArthur.

If the squad remains so large Rosler will be hamstrung in efforts to bring in loan players when the transfer window reopens. He will be keen to send more players out on loan as well as bringing funds in by offloading more senior professionals through permanent transfers. He has already signaled the departure of Roger Espinoza back to the United States and that could happen sooner rather than later.

In the meantime Rosler has exacerbated his problems in keeping a large squad happy by bringing in Figueroa. Let’s hope that the arrival of that icon of days gone by will help raise the spirits in a squad that is low in confidence and self-belief.

Only time will tell if Rosler was right or wrong in bringing the likeable Honduran back.

 

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Espinoza return will energize a problematic midfield

espinoza

“Roger has trained very well for the last couple of weeks, he is in good spirits and he will be in the squad.”

Does that statement suggest that Uwe Rosler has welcomed Roger Espinoza back into the fold? The American/Honduran has played only 12 minutes of Championship football this season, coming after 78 minutes at Charlton. That was more than two months ago.

Curiously another statement from Rosler about Espinoza preceded the above in the media. In an interview with the BBC Rosler is quoted as saying that “Roger came twice to me and wanted to leave the club. He wanted to go back to Kansas. I think after he came back after the World Cup he struggled to find an appetite for football. His family is in the States, it was very difficult.

There had been rumours in the press about Espinoza going back to Kansas City, but is this the real reason why he has been given so little playing time, first by Coyle, then by Rosler? Admittedly he did undergo a hernia operation early this year, but he recovered quickly and was soon back in training.

Was Espinoza snubbed for so long because he did not perform well enough in training or was it that he was missing his family? Given the way Espinoza plays could he truly have lost his appetite for football or has he been disillusioned by the lack of opportunity given him by Rosler?

If anything has been Latics’ weak point this season it is the midfield. They have collectively struggled to do their job – to protect their defence and provide service to the forwards. There have been so many occasions this season when the midfield has needed an injection of energy and passion. That is something Espinoza has always had in abundance.

Apart from the return of Espinoza to the squad – and hopefully a place in the starting lineup – the other good news this week is of the returns of Chris McCann and Ben Watson from injury. However, following a broken knee cap and a double fracture of the leg respectively, neither player is likely to be match fit for some time. Sometimes an under pressure manager can bring key players back too soon after injury. Let’s hope that it will not be the case with McCann and Watson. Around the Christmas period would seem to be a realistic time frame for their return to first team action, following games for the development squad.

For the moment, Rosler has injury problems to deal with. It could be for that very reason that he is bringing Espinoza back into the match day squad.

Let’s hope that is not the case and that the German is going to give Espinoza a genuine chance, through a run of games in the team.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

 

Can Rosler turn it around?

merry-go-round2

Dave Whelan needs to avoid another managerial merry-go-round.

Another poor display, this time a goalless draw at home to Brentford, and the winless run now stretches to seven matches. The pressure on Uwe Rosler intensifies.

But it is not the first time that Rosler has faced such pressure, being under siege by those who want him out.

In August of last year Rosler’s Brentford side had seemed destined for better things. They had lost an automatic promotion spot in the last match of the previous season, Marcelo Trotta missing a last minute penalty, then Doncaster scoring a last gasp winner at the other end. They failed in the playoffs. However, the Bees started the 2013-14 season well, with two wins and two draws, but they were to lose four of their next seven games, winning only two. When they lost to lowly Stevenage in the next game the call for him to be sacked reached a crescendo.

The story of Rosler locking his team in the dressing room after the game for a heart-to-heart discussion is folklore at Brentford. The end result was a turnaround in fortunes as the Bees won seven and drew one of the eight games that followed, before his departure to Wigan.

Can Rosler turn it around at Wigan as he did at Brentford? How much more time will Dave Whelan give him if the results of this week’s games against Millwall and Derby are adverse? Can Latics afford to change their manager again? If so, what kind of appointment could we expect?

Rosler is by no means a conventional manager. His team selections and tactical approaches can be baffling. Moreover the marginalization of some of the players in his squad reeks of poor man-management skills. His pre-season programme just did not work, with the result that his team was at a physical disadvantage and would collapse in the second half. Poor results against teams with less talented players have been too often the norm this season. He has not got the best out of his players this season and their confidence is approaching rock bottom.

What has happened up to this point of the season hardly merits further debate, except maybe for the way he has ostracized certain players. That is something he still has time to put right.

Grant Holt is one of the least popular players that Latics have ever signed. However, Rosler’s reported treatment of him beggars belief. Every story has two sides, but what Holt has recently revealed to the press remains disturbing.

Moreover the marginalization of Roger Espinoza is also incomprehensible to fans. So many times this season the midfield has looked ineffective and lethargic. Espinoza may not be the most skilled footballer in the squad, but whenever he comes on to the pitch he shows an infectious dynamism that few can match. Juan Carlos Garcia was sent on loan to Tenerife after spending a year at the club and not playing in a single league game. Fraser Fyvie and Thomas Rogne now find themselves regularly outside the match day squads.

However, Rosler’s history as a manager in Norway and England shows that he has had his downs and still bounced back. He did an exceptional job last season and surely deserves more time to show that he can put things right. A fascinating analysis by Sam Whyte on that excellent site, Vital Wigan Athletic, compares the proportion of wins that the club’s managers have enjoyed over the last decade or so. Rosler’s record of 21 wins in 50 games gives him a 42% win ratio, almost the same as Paul Jewell who won 127 out of 291, a 43% ratio. Owen Coyle won 7 out of 23, a 30% ratio.

Rosler’s critics have been keen to show that at the same point last year, after 12 league games, Coyle’s team had amassed 16 points, five more than this season. However, Coyle had the likes of Jean Beausejour, Jordi Gomez, James McArthur, Chris McCann, Nick Powell and Ben Watson at his disposal. Rosler has had to deal with the departures of so many of his more skilful players, plus serious injuries to others.

Rosler has had to replace too many key players and it is taking time for the replacements time to settle in. This time last year fans were unimpressed by Chris McCann, signed from Burnley as a free agent. However, McCann was to become a key player in Rosler’s setup in an excellent midfield. His serious injury in the FA Cup win at Manchester City was a body blow for the manager.

It is far too early to write off players Rosler has brought to the club. In Don Cowie and Andrew Taylor he signed experienced players who have had played not only in the Premier League but were key players for the Cardiff team that gained promotion from the Championship. He also signed the Denmark national team captain, William Kvist, who played in the Premier League last season. Oriel Riera scored 13 goals in La Liga last year and is clearly capable of doing so in the Championship, providing he receives a modicum of service.

Moreover Rosler has started to sow the seeds for the future. In the second half of last season he signed Martyn Waghorn who was to gain the club’s ‘Young Player of the Year’ award. Midfielders Emyr Huws, 21 years old and Adam Forshaw, 23, are players of real technical ability with work rates to match. Andy Delort, 23, banged in 24 goals for Tours last season, and like Riera, will score goals at Wigan when the service improves. Full backs, James Tavernier, 22, and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair, 23, are both talented players who will be carefully groomed for Championship football.

Rosler had little choice in  the departures of Beausejour, Gomez and McArthur because of financial constraints imposed upon him. However, he has been financially astute in the transfer market,  signing players who were free agents and others at close to bargain prices. He has brought in ten new players with his outlay being only marginally more than the money that has come in.

Millwall come to the DW Stadium tomorrow night having done the double over Latics last season. Will it be the turning point, when Rosler’s team embarks on a successful run of results? Lady Luck has hardly shined on Latics so far this season. Will this be the match in which it does? A deflected shot going in or a soft penalty decision in Latics’ favour – the kind of “luck” that this team needs.

If the results against Millwall and Derby were to go against Latics and Whelan were to step in to replace Rosler, what would happen next?

The prospect of a new manager coming in and the whole merry-go-round that tends to follow is not what the club needs. The transition from Coyle to Rosler brought in ten new players, but the German brought only Chris Haslam from his backroom staff at Brentford. However, most managers prefer to bring in their own men and it would involve more upheaval at a time when the club does not need it.

It would be more likely a change from within. The names of Eric Black and Gary Caldwell are already being put forward on the social media.

Despite the poor results so far this season, Rosler has built a strong and well balanced squad. Fitness issues now seem to be resolved and with time the new players will settle in.The challenge for whoever is in charge over these coming months will be to get the best out of those players.

Uwe Rosler has shown before how he can overcome adversity. Who could say with certainly at this stage that he will not bring Latics back into contention for a return to the Premier League?

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.