He was lauded as the best of Owen Coyle’s new signings. But if you were ask a room of Latics supporters which of the twelve new players brought in by Coyle has been the most disappointing – the name of Grant Holt would be the one which comes up most.
What has happened to Holt? Is he past his best? Does his style of play suit Latics? Can he still make a major impact on the promotion push for Latics?
Up to this point Holt has made seven starts, with two appearances as a substitute. He has scored two goals, one being a penalty. He was injured in the Middlesbrough match in late August, coming back as a substitute against Blackburn in early October.
In the last two matches, against Rubin Kazan and Charlton, Holt has looked slow and cumbersome.
One cannot say that Holt is past his best. He has not played enough games to tell. But what is noticeable is that when he does play there are more long balls played by Latics. His mere presence causes the midfield to be by-passed.
Two years ago, in Norwich’s first season back in the Premier League, it was a surprise to their supporters to see their icon often being used as an impact player. Before that Holt had been the first name to be written on the team sheet as his 45 league goals helped the Canaries ascend two divisions in consecutive seasons.
However, Paul Lambert used Holt to good effect as a super-sub. By the end of November Holt had scored four Premier League goals, three of them being when he had come on as a substitute. At the end of the season Holt’s record in the Premier League was 15 goals from 24 starts and 12 appearances as a substitute.
Holt can clearly be very effective as an impact player, but the broader question remains – is he the right type of player for Wigan Athletic?
Despite it being the end of October Latics still do not have a defined style of play. The manager continues to tinker on the tactical side and it does not help a squad with so many new players to gel together.
However, in general Latics try to play the ball through their highly capable midfield for the first 60 minutes. After that the defenders start to loft the ball over their heads, adopting a ‘more direct’ approach.
In the last two matches Holt has been substituted in the 63rd and 76th minute, leaving Marc-Antoine Fortune the task of beating big central defenders to high balls. That is not Fortune’s forte. He is big and powerful certainly, but is much more effective with the ball to his feet. If Latics are to continue to play ‘direct’ in the final third of the game it would make more sense for Holt to be the player coming on, not going off.
Grant Holt has a great reputation as a top professional and a real team player. He will run himself into the ground for Wigan Athletic. He has a superb goalscoring record over the course of his career and is likely to get them out of the Championship, given the right service.
The more cogent question is not so much whether Holt is the right type of player for Latics, but how to get the best out if him.
Holt is as good as anyone in the division in the role as a target man for long balls out of defence. He has the physical strength and technique to hold off two or three defenders, keeping the ball until teammates advance. In fact his enthusiasm is such that you see him actually courting the long pass.
However, Holt’s primary purpose is to score goals. He gets a lot of his goals through headers and deflections and needs the ball coming into the box from the flanks. Up to this point only Jean Beausejour of Latics’ wide players has been able to put quality crosses into the box. Callum McManaman and James McClean have not produced up to this point, but the season is still young.
Maybe we have expected too much from Holt. Given the physical exercion of holding off big opposition defenders he is expected to be sharp and lively in the box. All at 32 years of age.
Coyle needs to be realistic about how to get the best from the big Cumbrian. Give him the right service and don’t allow defenders to take the easy way out with long balls up to him when they are under pressure. Let him receive the ball facing the goal rather than with his back to it.
There will be matches where Fortune or Powell’s mobility will be required rather than Holt’s combativeness. Holt has proved how effective he can be as a super-sub.
Whether Grant Holt has a successful season and gets the goals to take Wigan back up depends on Coyle’s tactical approach.
In the match at Charlton there were signs that Latics were willing to play the ball through midfield when under pressure. Instead of taking the easy route of a long ball to an isolated central striker they sought the counterattack.
Give Holt good service from the flanks, minimize those speculative long balls and we will see the big Cumbrian get a lot of goals.
It is the tactics that have to be right for Holt to succeed.