What a refreshing sight it was to see a sparking Callum McManaman running at the Arsenal defence on Saturday. It was almost like a glimpse from the past. When he plays like that few defences can contain him. Per Mertesacker will not be the last player to give away a penalty against the young winger, who outdid him on pace.
A week or two back if someone had said that McManaman would be back to his best and Shaun Maloney would be back in action it would have been hard to believe. Maloney sat on the bench at Wembley, but would most likely have come on for the extra time period if it were not for the unfortunate injury to Ivan Ramis, which required Uwe Rosler to use a defender as his third substitution. But the Scot had somehow played for the whole ninety minutes in the previous match against Millwall, despite not having played competively for some six months.
Maloney and McManaman, together with the departed Arouna Kone, provided the attacking thrust for Roberto Martinez’s cup winning side. A centre forward of Kone’s class was always going to be difficult to replace since he was not only a superb target man but also had an eye for goal. We have seen a succession of players in that position this season – Grant Holt, Marc-Antoine Fortune, Nicky Maynard and Nick Powell – but none has so far managed to get the balance between the two main facets of a central striker’s game. Until the end of the regular season Uwe Rosler will rotate Fortune, Maynard and Powell, although the young Manchester United loanee probably has the edge on claiming a starting position should Latics reach the playoffs.
Wigan’s injury problems continue, following Ivan Ramis’ sad exit in the FA Cup Semi Final. The Spaniard had been on superb form since coming back from injury. However, Latics are well covered for central defenders. Apart from a missed penalty that he should probably never have taken, Gary Caldwell made a successful return from long-term injury against Arsenal, surprisingly getting the nod ahead of the dependable Leon Barnett.
Since his hamstring injury at Ipswich Barnett has not been able to re-establish himself as the automatic choice he was previously. However, Rosler might well be holding him back until he regains full fitness. Barnett is the best header of the ball in the Latics defence and might well be preferred against teams who play a more direct style.
On the bright side it was good to see Roger Espinoza on the bench at Wembley, following a hernia operation. With the non-emergence of Ryan Tunnicliffe Latics have been short of options in midfield. A national newspaper reported last week that Tunnicliffe’s loan period had been cut short by Rosler with the player sent back to Fulham.
Having to play Reading at home on Good Friday and Burnley away on Easter Monday, Rosler will continue to rotate his squad. However, he is likely to put forward his strongest lineup against Reading, who lie a place below Latics in the playoff zone. It could well be close to that which lined up at Wembley, but with Maloney and Martyn Waghorn stepping in. The exciting, if enigmatic, James McClean did not make the bench at Wembley but will also come into consideration.
Reading themselves have some injury problems. According to their manager, ex-Latics goalkeeper Nigel Adkins “It’s been the story of the season. I don’t know who we’ll have available for Wigan, we’ll have to have a roll call with everybody. The easy thing would be to say ‘there you go, have a few weeks off’ but we just can’t afford that. We’ve got to keep pushing as much as we can, with all the players. We’re probably rushing people back a bit sooner than we would ideally want, but that’s where we are at this stage of the season.”
Given the injury problems Latics have faced this season, Adkins is unlikely to receive any sympathy from them. However, the visitors could well be without a handful of their senior players for the clash tomorrow.
Latics have been afforded a recuperation period of six days since the FA Cup Semi Final, rather than the 3-4 days that has been the norm over the last couple of months.
They go into the game relatively fresh, with McManaman and Maloney ready to cause problems for the Royals.
Three points for Latics is definitely on the cards.