‘Character’ is a word that is much used – but much abused – in football vernacular. Ever hear a manager say his team showed character after his side has stolen the points with a controversial goal after being outplayed for most of the game?
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines character as “moral excellence and firmness”. Clearly it takes on a new meaning in the language used by football managers of modern day.
Wigan Athletic’s players will have to show a lot of character – that of technical excellence and consistent application – over the next two to three weeks. Before the next home tie with Sheffield Wednesday on March 12th Latics have three difficult matches on the road. Two are league matches against teams challenging for promotion, the third an FA Cup tie at the Etihad.
The first of that trio of matches is at Brighton tomorrow. Latics went 1-0 down to the Seasiders in a tight contest at the DW Stadium on November 23rd. Little did we know at the time that it was to be the beginning of the end for Owen Coyle, with further home defeats to Zulte Waregem and Derby County to follow. Two more defeats followed, at Leeds and Millwall, in the interim period between Coyle’s departure and Uwe Rosler’s arrival.
It is an indication of the turnaround in Latics’ fortunes that they have now caught up with Brighton, being level on points and with the same goal difference. Moreover Brighton have not done badly since their win at Wigan with a league record of W6 D4 L3 since then. In that same period Latics have an average of two points per game, with a record of W7 D3 L2. If they are to reach a play-off spot by the end of the season they will have to maintain that same average in the 16 matches remaining.
Over the January transfer window Brighton sold their most prized asset, Liam Bridcutt, to Sunderland for £3m. Moreover Ashley Barnes, who troubled the Wigan defence in that last encounter, moved on to Burnley £750,000. However, they brought in Dale Stephens – Charlton’s best player in the 0-0 draw with Latics at The Valley – for an undisclosed fee.
Like Wigan, Brighton had their fair share of injuries early in the season and were short in firepower up front. Since then the Argentinian centre forward Leonardo Ulloa has returned to good effect, with 8 goals in 16 league starts. He is likely to be partnered by either Kazenga Lua Lua or David Rodriguez, a recent signing from Celta Vigo.
Once again it will be interesting to see how Rosler shuffles around his lineup. Sadly it looks like Ben Watson has played his last game for the club following the horrendous injury he picked up against Barnsley. The player’s contract expires in summer. Such a pity as he was approaching the best form of his career. It looks like Rosler is lining up Josh McEachran as Watson’s replacement, although Roger Espinoza is another in contention.
Ivan Ramis was excellent in his return to action at Cardiff and might well make the starting lineup tomorrow. Rosler could rest Emmerson Boyce or push him over to right full back at the expense of James Perch. Perch has started in 35 matches this season, second only to Leon Barnett. The ex-Newcastle man has been a key player in the tightening up of Latics’ defence since Rosler’s arrival. However, he does not possess the attacking flair of Boyce.
Callum McManaman missed the midweek game through injury, but should be fit for tomorrow. James McClean was the Man of the Match against Barnsley, his inch-perfect cross setting up a goal for Martyn Waghorn. The Irishman’s final pass has so often let the side down this season, but he is starting to show signs that he can lift his head and find teammates in the opposition penalty box. When he can do that consistently he will be a terrific asset for the team.
Will Rosler play the two wide men in the same lineup? His tendency has been to only play one, but both are approaching their best form and their pace could be dangerous on the counter attack. The German can choose between Nicky Maynard and Marc Antoine Fortune at centre forward, although it is probably Waghorn’s best position too. Little mention has been made of Nick Powell recently, but could he make a surprise appearance tomorrow?
The Brighton match will certainly be a test of character for Rosler’s men. Neither team will want to lose and the winner could be the one who grinds out the result, rather than the one who has played the better football.
A fascinating contest awaits us.