Sheffield Wednesday preview – keeping a settled team?

SheffWed

Photo courtesy of SWFC.

Wigan Athletic travelled to Hillsborough on December 18th last year, only their second ever visit to that famous ground that hosted FA Cup semi-finals for so many years. Wigan were on a high. After a miserable run of defeats under Owen Coyle and caretaker management they had welcomed the charismatic Uwe Rosler. Just three days before the German had won his first game in charge, with a 3-2 victory over arch-rivals Bolton.

Almost a year on, Wigan Athletic find themselves with another new manager in his second game in charge, once again hoping to turn back a tide of bad results. With all the media hype about emails and racism the mood in Wigan is not as bright as it was a year ago, although there exists a significant faction of supporters who have faith in the ability of new manager, Malky Mackay, to turn things around.

Latics were playing well at Hillsborough a year ago, being 1-0 up through a goal from James McClean, only for the match to be abandoned after 59 minutes because of the torrential rain. They were to return to Hillsborough on February 11th to claim a 3-0 victory with two goals from Nicky Maynard and one from Marc-Antoine Fortune. It signaled the beginning of an eight game unbeaten run in the league with seven wins and a draw.

How times have changed. Latics currently lie in 23rd place in the Championship table, with Wednesday five points above them in 13th place. Strangely enough Wednesday have won only one out of nine home games this season, scoring just three goals. However, their defensive record is strong with only 14 goals conceded in 18 matches.

Latics put up a good performance in Mackay’s first game as manager, drawing 1-1 with high flyers Middlesbrough last Saturday, thanks to a superb free kick from Shaun Maloney. Mackay will be looking at building upon that performance to get a good result at Hillsborough.

One of the main criticisms levelled against Rosler was his constant rotation of the team. It will be therefore be revealing to see if Mackay sticks with the lineup that was a shade unfortunate not to beat Middlesbrough last weekend.

However, a lack of firepower upfront remains a huge concern for Latics. There are plenty of fans who would like to see a frontline pairing of Andy Delort and Oriel Riera. The two played together in midweek for the development squad, Delort scoring two and Riera hitting the post for Jordan Flores to tap in. Would Mackay be willing to vary his tactical formation to allow this to happen?

The big question is whether Mackay’s arrival can lift Latics in the same way that Rosler’s lifted them just over a year ago.

The performance on Saturday will give us at least an indication of whether Latics really can turn around a hugely disappointing start to the season.

Development squad beats Morecambe 4-0.

What Mackay can do for Latics

 

Photo courtesy of Sky Sports.

Photo courtesy of Sky Sports.

If you believe what some of the media tell you, Wigan Athletic have gone from being so many peoples’ second favourite football team to their least favourite. All in the space of a couple of weeks.

The furore surrounding Malky Mackay’s appointment and the roasting of Dave Whelan by the national media has changed the view of the club in the eyes of the public.

Without going into the moral rights and wrongs of the broader issues, it is clear that Whelan could have avoided this happening from the start.

Why did he choose Mackay over other candidates with good track records whose recruitment would not have caused such waves? Did Whelan have an inkling of the repercussions that Mackay’s appointment would cause?

If he had anticipated what might follow he must have believed that Mackay stood head and shoulders above the other candidates – that he was the right man to get Latics back to the Premier League. However, the fact that Whelan put a clause in Mackay’s contract “protecting the club” against possible FA action suggests that he had more than an inkling of what was going to happen and made a calculated gamble in the Scot’s appointment.

So what is it about Mackay that made Whelan take the risk to appoint him? Providing FA sanctions do not prevent him continuing at the club, can Mackay lead Latics back to the Promised Land?

Born in Bellshill, some ten miles from the Glasgow city centre, Mackay passed through the youth ranks at Queens Park where he made 70 first team appearances over a three year period. At the age of 21 the powerful young centre half joined Celtic. However, during a five year stay he struggled to command a regular place at Parkhead. In September 1998 he joined Norwich City for £350,000 and he went on to make 212 appearances for the Canaries over a period of six years.

Mackay went on to a one year stint at West Ham, followed by three years at Watford. In his first season playing for the Hornets he achieved the remarkable distinction of being promoted to the Premier League for the third time in three years.

Midway through his first season as a Premier League player in 2006-07, Mackay was appointed first team coach at Vicarage Road. He took over as caretaker manager in November 2008, following the departure of Aidy Boothroyd.  But it proved to be only for five games with Brendan Rodgers being brought in from Chelsea.

However, Rodgers’ reign proved to be short-lived and Mackay was to take over in the summer of 2009. His first season was a struggle. With just five games to go, Watford were in 21st position, but an end of season rally saw them finish in 16th place. Several players on higher salaries left the club over the summer of 2010 and Mackay eventually steered the Hornets into 14th place in the 2010-11 season.

In June 2011 Mackay joined Cardiff City, where he was to enjoy a successful first season. The Welsh club reached the League Cup final, only to be beaten 3-2 by Liverpool on penalties. They reached the Championship playoffs, only to be beaten by West Ham.

The 2012-13 season saw Cardiff win the Championship and Mackay receive the League Managers Association ‘Championship Manager of the Year’ award. However, Mackay and Cardiff owner, Vincent Tan, clearly did not see eye to eye. Being unhappy about Mackay’s transfer dealings over the summer, and with concerns about poor results and the style of play, Tan sacked Mackay in December 2013. The national press has kept us well aware of what happened between Tan and Mackay since then.

Mackay has certainly had his ups and downs in football. As a player he was released by two clubs after he had helped them get promotion to the Premier League. As a manager at Watford he had to deal with the departure of key players for financial reasons and fight against relegation. In his first two seasons at Cardiff he enjoyed considerable success, even if the style of play was not the most exciting to watch. Mackay knows the Championship division as well as any manager could.

Over the coming weeks we can expect Mackay to focus on making Latics a team that is hard to beat. As an ex-centre half he will demand a tight defence. To get goals he is not likely to flood the opposition penalty area with attackers, but will rely on set pieces and on his “flair players” delivering the goods.

With Latics currently second from bottom, Mackay has a task on his hands. However, he knows that he has enough quality in the squad to challenge the best in the division. Latics will surely rise out of the relegation zone, but it is more a question of how quickly they can do it. Promotion this year is not out of the question, but is a long way off at the moment.

Mackay will take things a step at a time and if promotion does not happen this season, he will be planning towards the next. He will surely be aware of the “player power” that helped dislodge his two predecessors at Wigan. He will look at downsizing the squad in the January transfer window and there could be some surprise names exiting the club.

Once again Wigan Athletic are at a turning point. Dave Whelan will be hoping he made the right move in appointing Malky Mackay.

Only time will tell if that is to be the case.

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Malky Mackay – a Cardiff City fan’s view

Malky Mackay Cardiff City

The huge media events over recent days have in many ways overshadowed what fans would normally be looking at when a new manager is appointed. Our intention is to take a look at Malky Mackay as a football manager – how did he take Cardiff City into the Premier League, how was he regarded by the fans?

In order to learn more about Mackay’s time at Cardiff we reached out to Benjamin James of the View from the Ninian fan site.

Here’s over to Benjamin:

Malky Mackay came to Cardiff City after Dave Jones had, very much so, taken us as far as he could. Whilst Dave Jones had filled his side with stars such as Bellamy, Chopra, McCormack and Bothroyd, Mackway filled his squad with workman like footballers. Craig Conway, Aron Gunnarsson, Kenny Miller and Don Cowie.

That first season, 2011-12, was expected to be transitional but Mackay got the team playing. His style of football isn’t particularly exciting or ground breaking but he sets his team up to be tough to break down. During his first season, we didn’t concede many but we also didn’t score too many. He still took us to the playoffs, finishing five points clear of 7th, and to a League Cup final which is one of my proudest Cardiff City memories to date.

The next season, the colour change ignored, was a good one on the pitch. With players like Bellamy, Kim Bo-Kyung, Nicky Maynard and Jordon Mutch coming in, it was really only a matter of time before Cardiff went up. Finishing top of the league by eight points, they conceded the second-least and scored the third-most. 10 home wins in a row basically sewed up the title and the points tally would have been more if Cardiff hadn’t drawn six of their last seven games.

Whilst many will point to Malky’s overspending in the PL season, something that I think the Chairman at the time had some responsibility for, Cardiff did well in the PL under Malky. A famous victory over Man City was followed up by draws with Everton, wins over Fulham, Swansea, and a draw with United. His last win, over WBA, left Cardiff in a good position. Our relegation was as much to do with Tan’s destabilising of the club as it was Ole’s inability to get us playing.

For what it’s worth, as a football manager, I liked Malky. In his first season, he restored so much pride back into the football club; pride that Dave Jones had sapped away from us. He also got the players fighting. Fans want to see players who would run through brick walls for the club and we had that in spades.

He spoke to the fans and built bridges that had previously been burnt. As much as I wished he’d spoken out against the red kit, I understand why he probably couldn’t. He was drastically weakened at that point and some fans will never forgive him. And all Cardiff fans, at the time, were on his side when he was battling Tan. Tan was an evil ruler and Malky was standing tall against him. The high point of that season for many was the 45 minute protest at Anfield where Cardiff fans sang his name over and over.

The only criticism I would have of Malky is that he is sometimes reluctant to give attacking players the freedom they need. Craig Noone was a star of our PL season but Malky seemed to hold him back. Rudy Gestede, who is on fire at Blackburn, never really started for us and Malky didn’t really know how to play him. He also struggled with a striker during our PL season; the one he signed was crocked from the beginning and he tried to play Campbell as a target man, poacher and out and out striker all at once.

Sadly, his reign was tainted by the text message row. For what it’s worth, no-one saw it coming and I, a vehement defender of Malky, was shocked by it all. .

It’s time for Riera

He was good enough to score 13 goals in 37 matches last year in La Liga. He is hard working, good in the air, a real team player. His club prided itself on playing a more typically English style than is the norm in Spain. He played the lone centre forward role there. Riera  looked the perfect fit for Wigan.

But in the rubble that typified the latter part of Uwe Rosler’s reign, Oriol Riera faded out of view. Put simply, Riera was poorly handled by Rosler. Can Malky Mackay bring out the best in him?

Riera has so far made five starts with five appearances off the bench. He made his debut in the opening game of the season, a 2-2 home draw with Reading. His headed pass set up James McArthur to score a 93rd minute equalizer.

According to McArthur “It’s a nice ball in from Huwsy and Oriol, who has been playing very well, has done brilliantly to flick the ball on for me. Oriol’s a great presence up front, he’s not the biggest striker you’ll see, but he’s so strong and I took a chance that he would win the ball. He won the ball and from there all I needed to do was get it on target and thankfully I did.”

Latics had fallen apart in the second half until McArthur’s late intervention. Sadly it was to become the norm in the matches that followed. The pre-season training programme just had not worked and the lack of fitness exacerbated the difficulties of new players settling in and gelling with their team mates.

Riera started in the second league game at Charlton where Rosler had him rotating with Marc-Antoine Fortune between the centre forward and left wing positions. It just did not work, Riera being taken off at half time. Riera was left out of the starting lineup in the next game at Cardiff, but came on for Fortune after 61 minutes. He made the starting lineup in the next game, when Latics beat a woeful Blackpool team 1-0 thanks to his well taken goal.

The goal would have done Riera’s confidence a world of good. Fans were not over impressed by the win over the Seasiders, but the team’s best performance of the season was to follow. Latics were to take Birmingham apart with a 4-0 win. Riera did not score but it looked like he was starting to adjust to the physicality of the Championship division. He was surely going to get a continued run in the team.

But then came the international break and the transfer window deadline. Andy Delort had been introduced to the home fans in the Birmingham game, but it came as a shock to see the Frenchman preferred to the Spaniard in the depressing 3-1 defeat at Blackburn. It was to signal the end of Riera’s run in the starting lineup, with Delort, Fortune or Martyn Waghorn to compete with for the lone centre forward position.

Up to this point of the season Latics’ centre forwards have scored a paltry two goals. Part of it can be attributed to poor service from midfield and a defence prone to hoofing the ball rather than putting through measured long passes. The wide players have hardly helped. Both Callum McManaman and James McClean are exciting to watch and can unsettle the opposition, but they seldom provide the kind of pinpoint crosses that a central striker feeds upon for his goals.

Looking at the footage of Riera’s goals for Osasuna, so many came from good crosses from the flanks. James Tavernier has the ability to put in such deliveries, but there are question marks about his defensive capabilities as a full back. Were Tavs to be played in a right midfield position he might be able to put in the kind of quality service that a proven goalscorer such as Riera would need.

So many times this season Latics have approached the opponents’ penalty box, but the intelligent runs from the front players have been lacking. At times it has made a mediocre midfield look worse than it really is.

Oriel Riera has more than enough quality to shine in the Championship. He is 6ft tall, good in the air and predatory within the box. At 28 years of age he is at his peak.

It would be sad if Latics could not get the best out of him.

Old guard supports Mackay – Wigan Athletic 1 Middlesbrough 1

Wigan Athletic’s old guard turned out in force at the DW yesterday. Third from bottom Latics were more than a match for third from top Middlesbrough and the home team can count itself a shade unfortunate not to have come out of it with three points. There were enough positive signs to suggest that Latics can put their horrendous start to the season behind them and be a team that will be hard to beat.

Malky Mackay wisely resorted to experience and the opening lineup had just two of Uwe Rosler’s signings in it. The old guard was back in force.

The unfortunate Rob Kiernan was not even on the bench. Emmerson Boyce was back in his old favourite right back position, with Andrew Taylor restored at left back. The centre of defence had a solid look about it with a pairing of Ivan Ramis and Leon Barnett. Mackay retained the 4-3-3 formation that Rosler had been using of late, with Adam Forshaw and Chris McCann in the holding roles and Roger Espinoza pushed further forward. Marc-Antoine Fortune played the lone centre forward role with Callum McManaman and Shaun Maloney playing wide.

The game started with a show of support for Dave Whelan that brought him to tears, as fans stood up and applauded him. It was one of those emotional moments that will be etched into the collective Wigan Athletic memory for years to come.

Latics started cautiously but soon started to match Boro. Players were working hard for each other and the team looked organised and compact. Chris McCann was bossing the left centre of midfield, reminding us of what we have been missing for the past seven months. In the 9th minute Shaun Maloney went close with a free kick that went just over the top. Fifteen minutes later McCann was brought down after bursting through from midfield. Maloney stepped up to put a perfect free kick into the left hand corner. The game became largely a midfield tussle with neither side willing to commit too many players forward. But just before half time Boro centre forward Kike turned to put a fine shot narrowly wide.

The game continued in the same vein until the 57th minute when Patrick Bamford, who had come on as a substitute for the visitors, scored an opportunist goal, evading Ramis and firing across Carson into the right hand corner. But Latics held firm and a patient and skillful buildup led to the ball falling to McCann, who could not keep it down and the chance was lost.

Maloney was buzzing and threatened to unlock a stubborn and well organized Boro defence. His set pieces had been excellent and in the 70th minute his inswinging corner was met by Barnett whose effort hit the post. James McClean had come on for Espinoza after 70 minutes. There was great applause for the return of Ben Watson, coming on for Forshaw after 80 minutes. James Perch replaced a tired looking Boyce a minute later.

Although one of the physically biggest sides that one will see in the Championship this year, Boro had kept the ball largely on the ground, no doubt under the influence of Spanish manager Aitor Karanka. However, in the closing minute they threatened to use their height to steal the game at the death. However, Latics defence was to hold firm.

The Good

Mackay was wise in packing so many of the old guard into his lineup. That lack of cohesion that had been so evident with new players being introduced en masse was no longer apparent. The players looked comfortable working together and effort and commitment was also evident.

McCann was a revelation, somehow completing the full period of the game despite a lack of match practice after such a long absence. His tackling was as crisp as ever and he put the ball to good use. Maloney was a different player to what we had seen under Rosler, looking like the player of yesteryear under Martinez.

Mackay made a bold statement by putting Boyce in at right back and leaving Perch on the bench. Boyce looked rusty and off-pace at times, but he can offer so much more going forward. He has been out of action for several weeks and that showed. It remains to be seen whether he will be able to regularly command that right back spot at 35 year of age. Andrew Taylor fully justified his recall, being solid in defence and offering good support to the attack. It was another bold move to give him preference over crowd favourite Maynor Figueroa.

It was an experienced and capable back four and it is to be hoped that Mackay will not tinker with it, as did his predecessor. The midfield worked hard. Forshaw continues to show that he is willing to make the effort for the team. His more creative side will show more when he is fully established as a starter in the team. Espinoza showed typical commitment, with an all-action performance. He made one or two naïve passes, but this should not detract from the value he added. Whether an attacking midfield position is the best place to play him remains open to debate.

McManaman threatened, but once again the opposition were prepared to deal with him. He so much more dangerous when not confined to the right wing. Fortune fought for the high balls, but was short of ideas in his distribution and did not move into positions that threatened the opposition defence. The time must surely come for Oriel Riera to appear on a regular basis. Andy Delort did not even make the bench, but his time will surely come too.

When McClean came on in the second half, Maloney moved into a more central position. The 4-3-3-formation became more like the 4-2-3-1 played by Scotland. That could well prove to be Mackay’s favoured system.

The Bad

Mackay put out a conservative lineup and did not pour men into attack. Given Wigan’s league position he was probably justified. He is not a manager associated with flowing attacking football, but the most important thing for Latics at the moment is results.

This was not a great result, neither was it a bad one.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 6 – largely unemployed and cannot be faulted for Boro’s goal.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 – it was good to see the captain back.

Ivan Ramis: 7 – classy as ever, with fine interceptions and quality passing of the ball. But should he have done better with Bamford’s goal?

Leon Barnett: 6.5 – not at his best, but solid and dependable. But his style is a perfect foil for that of Ramis. Together they could provide a formidable centre of defence.

Andrew Taylor: 7 – a complete performance. Deserved his recall.

Adam Forshaw: 6.5- full of industry.

Roger Espinoza: 6.5 – his mistakes were more obvious than the good things he did. Deserves an extended run in the team.

Chris McCann: 8.5 – combative, hardworking and with the cultured left foot. A quality player at Championship level.

Callum McManaman: 6 – exciting as always when on the ball, but should be more proactive when Latics attack. Despite his prodiguous talent he needs to add another dimension to his game to become a real top player.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: 6 – committed but limited in attacking vision.

Shaun Maloney: 8.5 – got rough treatment from the visitors, but was not deterred and showed his quality. A brilliant free kick.

Substitutes:

James McClean: – raw energy, physicality, speed and commitment are his key assets. But he is another player who needs to take his game to a higher level. Needs to develop an aspect of unpredictability about his play.

James Perch: – a very solid and dependable full back, unlucky not to make the starting lineup.

Ben Watson: – can he make a comeback in the same way as McCann? After successive leg breaks it is going to be a tall order. But if he can Latics will have a formidable midfield.