When the lineup was announced prior to the Leeds match on Saturday it was a sadly depressing moment. The mood had been positive and people had started to “Believe” again. But a look at the team sheet was enough to send many of us into despair. How can you keep faith in a manager who just does not seem to realize that some things just do not work?
The dampener on the proceedings was the selection of a strike force of Marc-Antoine Fortune and James McClean.
This is not to suggest that the two players do not have their merits.
Despite scoring only one league goal in 24 appearances the controversial MAF continues to get his place in the team. His holding up of the ball, commitment and willingness to sacrifice for the team make him a good team player. He has played under three managers at Wigan, all of whom have appreciated his attributes. In fact since signing in summer 2013 he has made 35 league starts and 25 appearances off the bench, scoring 5 goals.
McClean is on his way to be being voted “Player of the Season”. Fans have been impressed by his willingness to run himself into the ground for the cause, in a season when so many of his teammates have not shown that level of desire and commitment. Malky Mackay clearly believes he can become a bona fide central striker, through his speed, physicality, a powerful left foot and willingness to run at defences. As a left winger he has always been a committed team player, so often running back to help out his left full back. He is the club’s top scorer with six goals.
However, McClean has always had his critics. They will say he lacks the “trickery skills” that the best wingers possess, that he runs around like a headless chicken, not lifting his head, not providing the level of assists to be expected of an experienced Premier League practitioner. As a central striker he is too often caught offside and does not make the kind kinds of runs off the ball that are needed.
The Derry-raised forward deserves commendation for his commitment and enthusiasm to help the cause. He is the leading scorer with 6 goals this season, but as a central striker he has a lot to learn.On Saturday he was to be switched to the left flank during the course of the game.
Neither Fortune nor McClean are what might be called “natural strikers”. Those are the kinds of players who are in the right place at the right time to get the tap-ins to those balls fizzing across the box. Moreover their combined goalscoring records do not suggest they are going to do so.
The likelihood is that neither will be at the club at the end of the season. Fortune is now 33 and it would be a surprise if he were given a further contract. According to reports, McClean is one of the highest wage earners at the club (some suggest he is on £30k per week) and is likely to be released whether or not Latics stay in the Championship.
However, Latics do have other strikers. The big centre forward Leon Clarke – who has played for 14 clubs – is very much a “journeyman”. Nevertheless his physical presence has added to the forward line and his commitment has been excellent. Add to that a debut goal against Bournemouth.
Billy Mckay and Martyn Waghorn continue to be marginalized by Mackay.
Waghorn was Uwe Rosler’s first permanent signing and made a positive impact in the latter half of last season. Often played wide he nevertheless scored 5 goals in 15 appearances. Moreover he was a consummate team player, strong defensively, so often dropping back to defence to help his full back. During that period Waghorn was never a spectacular player, but one who fitted into the framework of the team, a very useful asset. Many of us expected Waghorn to continue to be one of Rosler’s mainstay players, but injury combined with the signing of new strikers pushed him out of contention. He has made just 6 starts this season, with 12 appearances as a substitute, scoring 2 goals.
Like Oriol Riera and Andy Delort who preceded him, Mckay is a proven goalscorer. He had scored 10 goals in 23 appearances for Inverness Caledonian Thistle this season, prior to joining Latics. In his two previous seasons in the SPL he scored 18 and 22 goals respectively.
Sadly it looks like Mckay is going the same way as his predecessors. The woeful treatment of Delort and Riera has continued with Mckay, albeit under a different manager. Is there a disconnect between recruiting and coaching at the club? Under Rosler good performance in training was paramount to his process of team selection. It continues with Mackay. Is Mckay not fit enough for the demands of the Championship or does he just not impress the coaching staff on the training field?
Mckay will have arrived with confidence, after banging in the goals in Scotland. But being given no starts and six appearances off the bench, his confidence will surely have already dissipated. Granted, he has failed to impress so far, but players need a run of games in the starting lineup to show their worth. Surely he must soon be given that opportunity?
Since Malky Mackay’s arrival Latics have not won a single home game, drawing two and losing eight. They have only scored 5 goals in those 10 matches at the DW Stadium.
Given his woeful record, it is a wonder that Mackay continues to be employed by the club. But it looks like he will continue at least until the end of the season.
In the meantime his coaching staff need to take a long hard look at themselves to explain how so many players with genuine talent have fallen by the wayside this season. It is their role to help players adjust, to make them into effective performers at the appropriate level.
Let’s hope that Mckay does not get consigned to the same level of mismanagement as Delort and Riera.