“Certainly off the back of tonight’s performance, there is going to be a couple of changes. It’s back to the training ground, we’ve got another few players into the club over the last couple of weeks so they’ll certainly be players getting their chances.”
So said Malky Mackay after arguably the worst performance of a depressing season, a 3-0 loss at Nottingham Forest.
Mackay had chosen a team with one change from that which lost against Bournemouth. Chris Herd came in for the injured Chris McCann. Billy McKay remained on the bench.
Mackay clearly had a plan to smother Forest’s fire by playing ugly. With Leon Clarke playing a lone centre forward role there was clearly going to be little goal threat from Latics unless the midfield trio of Cowie, Kvist and Herd got up to support him. With all three being defence-minded players that was unlikely to happen. Somehow Latics scrapped it out for 33 minutes until Britt Assombalomba opened the scoring, heralding a disintegration of order within the Wigan side. The only surprise is that Forest scored only two more.
One win in the last 16 league matches is the most dire of statistics. Moreover there is little likelihood of it changing soon as Mackay is likely to bring in more players who have never played together before, some of whom will be lacking match fitness as has been the case with Herd and Kim Bo Kyung in the past couple of games.
The loss of Emyr Huws for the rest of the season is a hammer blow for Mackay. Moreover the absence of Chris McCann last night left him desperately short of midfield cover.
Looking at the Wigan lineup before the game gave one a sense of foreboding. There just was not the talent in the starting eleven that we have become accustomed to over these years. The family silver was sold off and the side is now desperately short on quality.
Mackay has signed in only two new players on permanent contracts, Billy McKay and Jason Pearce. Clarke – who has played for 14 clubs – and Herd are players whose contracts expire at the end of the season, coming to Wigan on loan, unlikely to be offered extensions by their parent clubs at the end of the season. Kim’s contract at Cardiff was cancelled, as was Gaetan Bong’s at Olympiakos. They are on short term deals until the end of the season. Harry Maguire and Sheyi Ojo are young players coming from Premier League clubs, the former having minimal experience of Championship football, tghe latter none.
Ironically the two players who have been signed on permanent terms have been low on the totem pole.
Pearce is yet to appear, despite the poor form showed by Leon Barnett, who now looks a mere shadow of the player he was a year ago. Mackay once again persisted in a back four of Perch, Barnett, Ridgewell and Taylor. One would have expected that that quartet would have built up some mutual understanding following several games as a unit, but the way Forest were able to slice them open suggests that was not the case.
Mackay will be forced to change his back four in the next game at Reading, with Liam Ridgewell returning to Portland. Andrew Taylor is another whose form has been below par and he might well be replaced by Gaetan Bong. The most likely formation at Reading will be Perch, Pearce, Maguire and Bong. Not an ideal situation at this time of the season to have a new team of back four players.
McKay sadly seems to be following in the footsteps of Andy Delort, having come on last night after 88 minutes, although he did play the full second half against Bournemouth. Despite scoring 10 goals in 23 Scottish Premier League games his manager does not deem him necessary in the starting lineup. Let’s hope he will be better treated at the club than the Frenchman, who is now back at Tours, the rumours being that Latics continue to pay his wages.
Both Kim and Herd arrived at the club short of match fitness. Kim played the first 45 minutes on Saturday and only 9 minutes more last night. Herd’s stats are 59 minutes and 63 minutes respectively. Putting in unfit players when the team is struggling is hardly ideal.
However, with an absence of technically skilled players in the squad Mackay probably felt Kim was worth the risk. Ojo showed his skills on Saturday, but is unproven at this level. Can he put those skills into effect over a whole game? Mackay was forced to play Herd at right back against Bournemouth in the absence of Perch. Last night he was pushed in to shore up the midfield.
In the days of Roberto Martinez the “Believe” motto became the standard that raised the team into achieving against the odds. The manager himself had clear belief in his players and they responded on the pitch.
Under Mackay “believing” is much harder for us fans. His record up to this point as Latics manager is unbelievably bad. Will Dave Whelan pull the plug and bring in someone else to try to salvage the season, or is he already resigned to the club being in League 1 next year?
The likelihood is that Mackay will stay at least until the end of the season. He has come in as a hatchet man, chopping away at the squad, but he has not been allowed to bring in hordes of new players on long term contracts.
If Mackay stays next season, albeit in League 1, what can we expect?
The Scot is clearly a better manager than his results at Wigan suggest. His record at both Watford and Cardiff stands close scrutiny in terms of team performances. However, his teams have not been known for their entertainment value. Attendances will plummet, but the club will be cushioned by a continuing parachute payment of some £9 million. The pragmatists would continue to support him providing he got the results good enough to bring the club back upmto the Championship. If the results did not come then his situation woukd become untenable.
it is a bleak near future that lies ahead for Wigan Athletic. Will we ever get back to the point where we can “believe” again?