Tightening up the defence

Craig Morgan - has three yellow cards in four league games.

Craig Morgan – has three yellow cards in four league games.

Will Grigg sent another message to his doubters on Saturday. His two opportunist goals at Nottingham had hauled his team back into a game where they had clearly been second best. What a shame his efforts were wasted by abysmal defending giving Forest a win in time added on.

In fact neither team’s defence looked solid. Witnessing the quality of Forest’s midfield play and the movement of their forwards one could have got the impression that they will challenge for promotion. So often they sliced through the Wigan defence like a knife. They scored four, and could conceivably have doubled that tally. But they have defensive problems. Grigg’s two goals were prime examples of opportunism as the centre forward punished the home team defence for their sloppiness.

Wigan too played some attractive football. Alex Gilbey and Michael Jacobs supported Grigg from midfield and Shaun MacDonald gave a promising first half display sitting in front of the back four. But the defence looked shaky from the start.

Gary Caldwell had decided to continue with the experiment of playing Yanic Wildschut as a wing back, as he had in the second half against Birmingham in midweek. It proved to be an ill-judged move.

Not only was the Dutchman lost in the role, but Craig Morgan was left exposed. With so little protection from not only the wing back, but also the midfield, the captain looked a shadow of the player he was last season.  Morgan struggled for pace against speedy attackers flooding his zone.

Given his contribution to last season’s title winning team few fans will openly criticise Morgan. Granted he never was the quickest of defenders, but he was able to use his experience to get into the right positions and make the best decisions. Some doubt that the captain is the right man to lead a defence in the Championship, but acknowledge that he is not alone in lacking pace in the Latics back line. The assertion is that a slow moving defence will have constant problems against the speedy forwards that so many Championship sides possess.

However, rarely will Morgan be as exposed as he was on Saturday. The failure of the midfield to protect the defence was a feature of the team’s performance. The absence of David Perkins was fully felt. Last season he was invaluable in covering his defence in deep positions, together with Max Power, whose defensive performance was found lacking at Nottingham. Moreover Morgan has been moved from his preferred position in the centre of the back three, where speed is an asset but an ability to read the game is paramount. Last season Morgan received one red card and seven yellows  in 38 league appearances. He has picked up three yellows  in the first four league games so far.

Having conceded four goals, despite another fine performance by keeper Adam Bogdan, the defence will inevitably take most of the blame. The decision to jettison Jason Pearce, who formed a formidable central defensive partnership with Morgan last season, continues to be questioned by the pundits. Should that partnership have been maintained, albeit in a higher division of football, where they would have been more tested by the pace and skills of Championship level forwards?

The use of Wildschut as a wing back was a speculative attacking ploy by Caldwell.  Against a stubborn Birmingham defence defending their one goal lead Caldwell had withdrawn his wing backs and placed Michael Jacobs and Wildschut in those positions. It was a bold move, typical of what we have come to expect from the manager over the past year. There were times last season when Caldwell threw caution to the wind and risked his defence being badly exposed. On occasions he got caught out, with the opposition scoring from rapid counterattacks, but there were times when games were won as a result.

There are fans who prefer to see Latics play with a conventional back four, rather than with three centre backs and wing backs. The 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 played by Caldwell’s teams last year saw the wing backs pushed high up the field, almost like wingers. An inherent danger in any type of 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation is wing backs being caught far forward and centre backs having to deal with pacy wide players on the break.

It is a far cry from the days in the Premier League when Latics had two excellent wing backs in Emmerson Boyce and Jean Beausejour who were not pushed so far forward. The two were so good at stretching the play by hugging the touchline and making themselves available to receive the ball from defence and support attacks. However, both played key defensive roles , the back three becoming a back five as they dropped back. On Saturday Wildschut looked lost when Forest attacked and Luke Garbutt made more of an impression in attack than in defence.

The three game suspension suffered by the experienced Jake Buxton, together with a long term injury for Donervon Daniels, has reduced Caldwell’s options in the centre of defence.  Following Buxton’s suspension Dan Burn was moved to the centre of the back line of three, with Morgan moving to the right.

With Buxton due to be available again for the match against QPR on Saturday, Caldwell might well opt for his experience on the right, with Morgan in the centre and Dan Burn on the left.  Although the manager did not include the 18 year old Luke Burke from the start at Nottingham, when the young player came on he once again looked the part. Despite his tender years he is the complete wing back. Buxton’s return could also enable Stephen Warnock to return to his more familiar position of left wing back. A return to 4-3-3 is also a possibility with a back four of Burke, Buxton, Morgan and Warnock.

A settled defence is key to Wigan’s chances of success in the Championship. Up to this point they have a record of W1 D1 L2, with a total of 4 points. Last year’s League 1 winning team had exactly the same record this time last year, as did Uwe Rosler’s team the year before which got relegated. It is simply too early in the season to predict what will happen later. Moreover both league defeats up to this point have come through goals in time added on.

In the meantime Caldwell will look at establishing a settled defence with a midfield in front of it that takes its fair share of defensive responsibilities.

Bramble and Burn


Dan Burn’s inept back pass to his goalkeeper gave Nottingham Forest a flying start at the City Ground. The home team centre forward Britt Assombalomba snuffled it up to give his side an early lead. It was the kind of error a Sunday League defender would be embarrassed by. Soon after the boos started to come from a small section of the away support when Burn touched the ball again. Thank goodness the jeering subsided and it did not rear its ugly head again.

A couple of weeks earlier a Latics fan, who had been to the pre-season games and had made a frustrating journey to watch his team play at Bristol said that Burn was “an accident waiting to happen”. Another went further by saying that he looked like a second Titus Bramble.

But is it fair to compare Burn with Bramble? Was the fan referring to the Titus Bramble who was famous for his high profile errors or the one who was Player of the Season for Steve Bruce’s Latics in the 2008-09 season?

Titus Bramble arrived at Wigan on a free transfer from Newcastle in the summer of 2007. Although he had made over 100 league appearances in his time at the north east club, he had become more well known for his errors than his considerable attributes as a Premier League central defender. Bramble had a superb physique with the requisite skills to be a top class defender. But it was his gaffes that had given him notoriety. Bruce was sticking his neck out by taking in the big Ipswich-born defender, but the manager himself had been a central defender. Could he and his coaching staff help Bramble become a more complete player?

It was not easy for Bruce or Bramble and the player continued to make those same kinds of errors in his early days at Wigan.

But Bruce maintained his belief in the player. The result was Bramble being voted both Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year near the end of the 2008-09 season. Bramble was to spend three years at Wigan, before following Bruce to Sunderland.

Dan Burn’s poorly hit back pass at Nottingham hardly places him in the category of Bramble. But Fulham fans will tell you he was prone to the odd howler and his pre-season performances for Latics were riddled with occasional errors that one would not expect from a player who has made more than 70 appearances in the Championship.

Having a very tall central defender can be a prerequisite for success in the Championship. At 6 ft 6 in Burn can dominate in the air. Tall defenders like Burn are not always strong in their distribution, an important feature in Gary Caldwell’s style of play, but Burn is capable of launching precise passes with a sweet left foot. Moreover he can be effective on the ground in making interceptions and breaking up play.

However, Burn needs to work on his heading of the ball. Being tall is not sufficient. He needs to work on developing more power and control of his headers. His arrival in the opposition penalty area should provoke concern for their defenders, but he remains unconvincing.

More than anything else he needs to work on his concentration.

When Bramble arrived at Wigan he was 24, the same age as Burn. Direct comparisons are futile. Their attributes and experience differ. But there are analogies.

Titus Bramble was a success at Wigan despite his precedents. His manager clearly believed in him and inspired him to give his best.

Like Bruce, Caldwell too is an ex- central defender. Can Caldwell help Burn cut out those errors, those moments of uncertainty which can blight his performances?

Dan Burn and Titus Bramble are different types of player from different eras. Moreover Bramble operated in the Premier League, not the Championship. But some parallels exist. Will Burn become one of the first names on Caldwell’s team sheet as was Bramble in the Bruce era?

Burn has the attributes to become a dominant central defender in the mould of Fulham legend Brede Hangeland. As such he could be invaluable to Latics. Although he can sometimes be uncertain in his play he has not committed the quantities of high profile errors that had plagued his predecessor Bramble’s early career. But can he win over the doubters in the Wigan support as Bramble did?

Caldwell was clearly unhappy with Fulham’s first goal at the weekend. With Jake Buxton’s suspension period over will he recall the ex-Derby player at Burn’s expense for the QPR game coming up on Saturday?

Or will he find a way to include both, giving Burn a vote of confidence?



Overloading the midfield

Preferred position - central midfield.

Preferred position – central midfield.

Owen Coyle had left it late, but he finally got his man on the last day of the summer transfer window in 2013. Nick Powell was 19 years old and still in Alex Ferguson’s plans. Manchester United had paid Crewe £6 million for his services in July 2012. Powell had made his debut for United just a couple of months later, scoring against Latics after coming on as a 71st minute substitute for Ryan Giggs.

“We see him as a central midfield player. Crewe played him as a forward in behind the striker, but I asked a question of [Alex director of football] Dario Gradi as to whether he thought central midfield was his position. That’s what he thinks, and Nick thinks that’s his position too, so we’re all in accord on that.”

Ferguson’s comment seemed to fall on deaf ears with Coyle, who was faced with injuries to his two main central strikers, Marc Antoine Fortune and Grant Holt. Powell was to be played as a centre forward, a position he had played earlier in his career. Over the next couple of months he was to establish himself as the club’s best striker, scoring three goals in Latics’ inaugural appearance in the Europa League. The disastrous Coyle reign ended in early December, but new manager Uwe Rosler continued to play him in the starting lineup. But niggling injuries started to take effect and Powell lost form. By the end of the season he looked a shadow of what we had seen in the short-lived Coyle era.

When Powell returned to Wigan a couple of weeks back many of us looked at his arrival as a boost for an attack so dependent on Will Grigg. Powell could step in as a centre forward, or play just behind the central striker. But in Powell’s first two matches against Blackburn Rovers and Birmingham City he was played as a central midfielder.

Although it was not a position he played in during his earlier days at Wigan, Powell has already looked the part playing there. It is his preferred position, although Gary Caldwell has acknowledged that Powell offers him flexibility through being able to play in different positions. However, if Powell is to be a regular starter in central midfield, who will be giving way for him?

Last season’s central midfield lynchpins were David Perkins and Max Power. They were joined in January by Sam Morsy, who had some highly impressive displays in the “Busquets role” in front of the back four. However, the ex-Chesterfield man also had some disappointing performances. However, many of us saw the 24 year old Morsy as a player for the future, someone who could add steel to the midfield, but who was also able to spray out pinpoint passes.

It was therefore a surprise to hear rumours that Latics were trying to sell Morsy. Both Chesterfield and Sheffield United have apparently matched Wigan’s asking price of around £400,000, but Morsy remains at Wigan, for the time being at least. Morsy will surely be loath to step back down to League 1, after reaching the Championship. He is within his rights to put his foot down and refuse to move on, having two years remaining on his contract at Wigan.

But over the past couple of years we have seen what a powerful machine there is at the club in “helping”, or maybe cajoling, players into moving on. The likelihood is that Morsy will be gone soon, with Latics recently signing a replacement in Shaun MacDonald.

The main contenders for a central midfield role are now MacDonald, Perkins, Powell and Power, with Tim Chow as back up. Alex Gilbey has so far been played a more advanced role, but could also challenge for a holding role.

The term “midfielder “ these days can include wing backs and other wide players. Yanic Wildschut is what might have been described in the old days as a “winger”, nowadays labelled as a midfielder, although he can also play a twin striker role. Michael Jacobs can also be classed as a winger, although his best position is probably in the hole between the midfield and the central striker. Ryan Colclough is usually played wide, but is another who might be more effective in an advanced central midfield role. However, Latics have now signed Jordi Gomez who can operate effectively in that role. Jordan Flores is a bright young talent, also an attacking midfielder. It could be a make or break season for Flores who has struggled with the physical demands of the game, despite his excellent technique and footballing vision. Andy Kellett will provide another option when he regains fitness after surgery.

Caldwell has such a wealth of midfield talent at his disposal that some would say it is an overload. Others would say that there are 46 games to play in a Championship season and you need to rotate your midfielders to keep them fresh. However, Morsy is not likely to be alone in leaving.

Caldwell continues to search for another centre forward of the quality of Grigg. Such players cost big money and he will be looking at raising funds to pay for it. It would not be a surprise to see other players from last season’s League 1 team following Morsy out of the door. In the meantime there could be loan moves for the some of the younger midfielders on the fringes of selection.

For the moment Latics have midfielders who have proven goalscoring records. Gomez and Powell both scored goals in their previous spells at the club and last season Colclough scored 9, Wildschut 7, Jacobs 8, Power 6 and Gilbey got 5. However, Caldwell will also look at protecting his defence and it would be no surprise to see MacDonald in the “Busquets role” if Morsy departs.

The transfer window is nearing its close. Having expected Caldwell to stick with the backbone last year’s team it was notable that the starting lineup in the first league game at Bristol City included five new faces.

Even more change is on its way.

An Everton fan’s view of Luke Garbutt


Wigan Athletic have announced the signing of Luke Garbutt from Everton on loan until January.

Given recent surgery to both Reece James and Andy Kellett, Gary Caldwell was looking for cover at left back. The 23 year old Garbutt is an accomplished player and appears to be an astute acquisition. On signing Garbutt, Caldwell commented that:

“Luke is a tremendous young player with a big future in the game and we are delighted to have reached an agreement to bring him here. He knows the division well having spent last season on loan with Fulham and he adds excellent competition to the squad. He has great energy, and is a dynamic defender who is comfortable as a wing back or as part of a flat back four.”

The 5 ft 10 12 in defender was born in Harrogate and joined the Leeds United academy. He was signed by Everton as a 16 year old, the Toffees having to pay the Yorkshire club a £600,000 fee set by tribunal. He made his Everton debut in August 2012 in a League Cup tie.

Garbutt spent the 2011-12 season on loan at Cheltenham Town, making 34 appearances and scoring two goals. He was to go on loan again, spending the first half of the 2013-14 season at Colchester, making 19 appearances and scoring two goals.

Garbutt went on to make his Premier League debut for Everton in April 2014, soon after being called up for the England under-21 side, for whom he was to go on to make 11 appearances. In the 2014-15 he made 10 appearances for Everton, half of which were in the Europa League.

He spent last season on loan at Fulham, making 25 appearances, scoring one goal. Click here to check out a Fulham view of Garbutt’s performances.

In order to get an overview on Garbutt’s position at Everton we contacted Lyndon Lloyd of Everton fan site Toffeeweb  (http://toffeeweb.com/).

Luke’s situation is a puzzling one because, at one stage, as an up-and-coming England U21 international, he looked to be the natural heir to Leighton Baines. He deputised for him pretty impressively in 2014-15, including in some big games in the Europa League against the likes of Wolfsburg, and a lot of his play was reminiscent of Baines’s own style at left back.

 He appeared to have a great cross on him and was actually more effective at set pieces than most of the other players in the side at a time when our poor dead-ball routines were a regular source of frustration… as they were for most of the last two seasons under Roberto Martinez. In any case, we Blues clamoured for him to get a new contract when it looked like we might lose him for free to Liverpool last summer.

 I didn’t get to see any of his performances on loan for Fulham last season but the accounts weren’t all that favourable. I know that he struggled with injuries — if I recall correctly, he picked up an ankle injury almost as soon as he arrived at Craven Cottage — so, hopefully, with Wigan being closer to home and with better luck with injuries he can settle down and get his career back on track.

Since we were in touch with Lyndon we asked him if there was any news of Conor McAleny, who scored some crucial goals for Latics last season. There have been rumours that Caldwell is seeking the player’s return to Wigan. Here is what Lyndon had to say:

Regarding McAleny, it seems like only a matter of time before he gets a permanent move, most likely to a Championship side because, at 24, people are starting to joke that he’ll get his Everton testimonial before he makes another first-team appearance. Unlike younger Academy graduates like Tom Davies and Kieran Dowell, he’s been dropped back to the U23s again which doesn’t bode well for his future under Ronald Koeman.






A Bournemouth fan’s view of Shaun McDonald


Wigan Athletic have announced the signing of 28 year old midfielder Shaun McDonald from Bournemouth on a two year contract.

McDonald is a player little known to Latics supporters, but on recruiting him Gary Caldwell said:

“He is a quality addition to the squad. A terrific pro who understands the way we want to play, a skillful midfielder capable of fitting into our system. He is a a great person too, with a great attitude who has gone through a similar experience at Bournemouth to where we are now, a team coming up from League One to the Championship and playing a certain brand of football.

The 6 ft 1 in McDonald was born in Swansea and joined his home town club, making his debut as a 17 year old in August 2005. From 2009 to 2011 he spent no less than 5 loan spells with Yeovil Town, making 61 league starts and scoring 9 goals.

McDonald signed for Bournemouth in August 2011 for a fee of around £125,000. He since made 70 starts, with 31 appearances off the bench, scoring 7 goals. McDonald has four full international caps for Wales.

In order to learn more about McDonald we contacted Steve J, Supreme Overlord at Tales From the South End @tftse www.thesouthend.co.uk

Here’s over to Steve:

Shaun MacDonald signed back in 2011 when AFC Bournemouth were still in League One. Nicknamed the Welsh Zidane Bournemouth fans didn’t know what to expect, but he proved to be a hard-tackling midfielder with a touch of flair. As a defensive midfielder he rarely ventured too far up field so scoring a goal was a rare treat. He got two in first season.

He was an integral part of the Cherries team that got promoted to the Championship, which cemented his place amongst the fans affections. His future was looking bright, he made 25 appearances in 2013/14, but the emergence of Harry Arter and the signing of Andrew Surman saw his chances restricted. He struggled to get in the side but never let down the team when called upon.

At 28, he is coming into his prime and deserves a chance to prove himself with regular first-team football. It’s catch 22 for MacDonald, when he’s not in the first team he is not getting the minutes needed to improve and prove himself.

We at TFTSE thinks if he gets regular football he will prove to be an invaluable part of the Wigan team. Maybe even good enough to play in the Premier League.