The season ahead for Jordan Flores

He didn’t think he had played particularly well, but he had scored the opening goal at a very opportune moment, in the 45th minute. It was a superbly hit strike from outside the box, revealing the kind of technique that could make him a top player.

But Jordan Flores was right: he did not have a good game against Blackpool on Tuesday evening. His goal and a beautifully weighted pass to release Will Grigg were the highlights, but his passing was too often errant and it was clear that he still needs to work on his defensive skills.

But for those who have closely followed Flores’ career the biggest plus of the night was that he played the full 90 minutes plus of the match. It was the first time he had done so in  a competitive match for Wigan after having made his debut at Brentford in the final game of the 2014-15 season.

Jordan Flores is 21 years old, a local lad from Aspull. He played with the Latics juniors, later to re-join the club as a 15-year-old. He was to work his way up through the youth team and the development squad to make that first team debut in May 2015. The club had once prided itself on developing home-grown talent, but had somehow lost its way in recent years. Flores had come on to the field at Brentford to replace Tim Chow, another local lad who had come up through the ranks. Together they represented “homegrown youth” when Latics had for too long preferred to bring in young loan players from other clubs.

Flores is without doubt a talented player. He has the kind of technique that would enable him to feel at home among the talent at La Masia. He is blessed with a sweet left foot, excellent close control and a powerful shot. His best position is probably on the left side of a midfield trio, the kind of role that Chris McCann would often play in the era of Uwe Rosler. Flores is left sided, but not a winger. But in Paul Cook’s preferred 4-2-3-1 system where could Flores fit?

Prior to the Blackpool match the manager had commented: “In Jordan’s case, what’s Jordan’s best position in our line-up? We’re going to have a look at him on Tuesday night in a different position, in the front three behind the striker. Jordan’s a very naturally talented boy, and I think he’s going to be a great player for Wigan Athletic.”

It is not unusual for young footballers with genuine talent to be lacking in the physical side of the game. Flores has clearly been working on his stamina and having to sometimes play at full back or wing back will surely have helped him appreciate more the defensive part of the game. The challenge ahead is for him to be able to display his fine skills, but at the same time complement them with the physical attributes necessary for a successful footballer in the modern era.

When Warren Joyce sent him on loan to Blackpool in January it was by no means certain that Flores would be coming back this season. He was in the final 6 months of his contract with his future at the club seemingly in the balance. However, although he was not able to establish himself as a regular starter he went on to make 14 starts, with 7 appearances off the bench, scoring 3 goals. His total of 1,300 minutes playing time with the seaside club was to dwarf the combined total of 194 minutes he had previously spent on the pitch for Latics.

The relative success of his loan period at Blackpool surely influenced Latics to offer Flores a new two-year contract. It was a surprise at the time that the club were offering new contracts – Craig Morgan and David Perkins also received theirs – when the new manager had not been decided at that stage. Flores was clearly delighted commenting that: “I’m buzzing; I am going into what is my sixth season now and every year I feel like I have made progress. Last season that meant going out on loan and getting game time but this season I will hopefully break into the team. I support this club, I love this club and I have always wanted to play here.”

Cook clearly has faith in Flores’ abilities. However, he also commented about the player that: “But again these lads need to play regular, because you don’t learn much by not playing. These are the challenges ahead, not just for me but for Jordan and players like him. And we’ve got to stick together no matter what the plan is.”

The manager has already let us know that his squad is currently too big and that more players will be leaving. Is he hinting that Flores will be sent off on loan again?

The decision Cook will need to make before the end of August is whether Flores is ready to make an impact in his 4-2-3-1 system, and if he is, in what position? But another loan spell is a distinct possibility.

Jordan Flores remains a bright young talent with his best years ahead of him. With the right amount of nurturing he could become a very fine player.

 

Five talking points arising from an uplifting win at MK Dons

Milton Keynes celebrated its 50th birthday this year. It is a city of 260,000 inhabitants, unlike any other of its size in the UK with its wide open spaces and network of roads and shopping malls giving it an almost American feel. It is not everyone’s cup of tea as a place to live, but the city continues to grow as foreign investment continues to come in.

A prior review of the MK Stadium had forewarned us that, from the outside, it looked more like a hotel than a football ground and that it was far too big for a club in League 1. But maybe it was planned in the same way as the city itself, with attendances expected to grow in parallel with the surrounding population. It is a fabulous stadium, better than many in the Championship and even some in the Premier League. The presence of some 1,100 Latics fans yesterday swelled the attendance to over 9,000.

The visit to Milton Keynes proved to be enjoyable, not least due to an uplifting display from Paul Cook’s Wigan Athletic team. The referee almost spoiled it with a first half red card decision against Latics, but he even things up in the second period when he sent off a home player.

In the end Latics thoroughly deserved their 1-0 victory. They were much the better team, with a solid defence protected by a strong and creative midfield. Cook’s starting lineup had looked ambitious, with so many new players drafted in. But despite that there was a look of cohesion, with every player seemingly knowing his role and willing to put in the required amount of sweat and toil for his team. It was instantly noticeable how much movement there was compared with last season, with Latics able to break out of defence with strength and purpose.

The display certainly gave us lots to talk about:

1. Dan Burn must stay. Burn was formidable yesterday, his head seemingly a magnet for the ball. The Dons are by no means a long-ball team. They try to play good football, but whenever the ball did go into the air in the box it was soon snaffled up by Burn or Chey Dunkley. But Burn looked assured in all aspects of his play yesterday and must rank among the best central defenders in the division. He will prove invaluable against teams who prefer the aerial approach above all.

However, despite the departures of Jake Buxton, Matt Gilks, Jack Hendry, Mikael Mandron, Billy McKay and Sanmi Odelusi and with Kaiyne Woolery close to a move back to Forest Green Rovers the clear-out continues. Jack Byrne, Omar Bogle and Max Power are being pushed out and not allowed to train with the senior squad. Nick Powell’s goal yesterday helped to put him back into the shop window, with a loan move to a Championship side a likely outcome.

Burn has become one of Wigan’s major assets. Were he to be sold off by the end of August it would be a massive blow to Cook’s plans.

2. Recruitment up to this point is looking pretty good. The starting lineup yesterday included six new players, four of whom are on loan. Christian Walton continues to exude authority in his box, Chey Dunkley was excellent in the centre of defence. Callum Elder looked lively at left back until his premature departure. Lee Evans is a very important signing: a rock in front of the defence, but with the ability to spray passes around from the back. He and Sam Morsy looked a formidable partnership, willing to scrap it out when necessary, but both capable of launching attacks. Gavin Massey showed flashes of skill, together with a willingness to work hard for the team. Ivan Toney was lively up front, willing to drop back into midfield, his movement causing the home defence some headaches. Terell Thomas came on at left back following Elder’s dismissal, very solid despite being a naturally right-sided central defender playing out of position.

Noel Hunt was on the bench, as he was 19 times last season at Portsmouth. In fact, Hunt only made 3 starts last season and can hardly bear expected to challenge for a regular starting place in Cook’s  starting line-up.

3. Michael Jacobs has been rejuvenated. His display yesterday was a revelation following his disappointing season in the Championship. Jacobs worked tirelessly, showing no mean amount of flair, his performance marred only by his finishing on occcasions. He is an essential component in Cook’s tactic of rapid counterattack. With one year remaining on his contract will he be offered an extension?

4. Will Grigg is back. After so many months out because of injury he looked lively when coming on as a second half substitute. With Bogle seemingly on his way out, will Grigg be offered a contract extension? Or will he be sold off this month? The option of Grigg or Toney, or even both, is something Cook will want to retain. But is David Sharpe going to support his manager by retaining key players, despite Cook’s admission that his squad is still too big and that Latics are a “selling club”?

5. Cook will be hoping his long-term injured players will soon be match fit.  Alex Gilbey and Will Grigg are back in contention, but none of Donervon Daniels, Reece James or Andy Kellett were in the squad.

Nathan Byrne is trying hard at right full back despite it not being a position he enjoys. He steadily improved yesterday after looking a little uncomfortable early on. But is Cook going to bring a specialist right back from outside or is he going to rely on Byrne, Daniels or Luke Burke to cover the position?

With Callum Elder due to be suspended, Cook will need to assess the fitness of James. After 18 months out through injury, James needs to be brought in cautiously, but the team’s needs could push things along. Kellett too can play at left back, but is more productively employed in midfield.

 

 

A Peterborough United fan’s view of Callum Elder

Wigan Athletic have announced the signing of the 22-year-old Australian left back Callum Elder on a season-long loan from Leicester City. Elder has a contract with the Foxes until June 2019.

On signing for Latics Elder said “I spoke to the gaffer last week and he was really interested in bringing me in and for me to be a big part in his plans. I can’t wait to get started. I’m a left full back and an athletic player who likes to get up and down the flank and bring a real energy to the team, which is what the gaffer says he wants.”

Callum Elder was born in Sydney but went to Leicester City as a 16-year-old. In January 2015 Elder went on  a short-term loan to Mansfield Town which was to be extended until the end of the season, making 21 appearances. In August 2015 he joined Peterborough United, his loan being cut short in December due to a foot injury. He had made 18 league appearances and scored one goal.

In July 2016 Elder joined Championship side Brentford on a season-long loan. Although a regular in the opening games of the season, a knee injury was later followed by a thigh injury and he returned to Leicester in mid-December for treatment. Elder went back to Brentford in mid-January for a couple of weeks, but was recalled by Leicester, then sent to Barnsley for another loan. He had made 6 appearances for the midland club, going on to make 3 for Barnsley.

Elder has represented Australia at U20 level.

In order to learn more about Elder we reached out to Peterborough fan, John Verrall (@JohnVerrall).

Here’s over to John:

Callum Elder should be a great addition. He is the best left-back we have had a Posh since Darragh MacAnthony became owner and a stand out player at League One level.

Elder possesses great attacking ability, and he tirelessly creates an option down the left-side. In offensive positions, he has an excellent delivery and also showed enough trickery to get past a player.

Defensively, too, he is strong and he rarely was beaten by an opposition winger.

I believe he struggled on loan at Barnsley last term, but in League One he will be one of the best left-backs in the division. 

 

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A Portsmouth fan’s view of Noel Hunt

Wigan Athletic today announced the signing of 34-year-old striker Noel Hunt on a one year contract. The 5 ft 8 in tall Irishman was a free agent who spent last season at Portsmouth.

Following the announcement of Hunt’s signing Paul Cook said: “Noel is a top pro whose experience, commitment and quality has already started rubbing off on the squad. He’s a player who trains as he plays, at 100% level, and he will make a significant contribution on and off the field.”

Noel Hunt was born in Waterford and joined Dublin club Shamrock Rovers as an 18-year-old. He was soon to be loaned out to Waterford United where he went on to score 5 goals in 9 appearances. Hunt went on to make 25 appearances for Rovers, scoring 11 goals.

Hunt signed for Dunfermline Athletic in January 2003 for £100,000. He spent three years there, injuries limiting him to making 80 appearances, scoring 8 goals, before moving to Dundee United for £50,000. He went on to make 64 appearances, scoring 23 goals in two years. In July 2008 Hunt was transferred to Reading for £600,000. He went on to spend five years there, making 145 appearances, scoring 33 goals.

Hunt left Reading as a free agent in July 2013 after they had been relegated from the Premier League to re-join Brian McDermott who had taken over at Leeds United. In November 2014, he joined Ipswich Town on a short-term loan. Hunt’s time at Leeds had been blighted by injuries and he made 22 appearances, without scoring a goal, before terminating his contract by mutual agreement in January 2015. He then went back to Ipswich but was released at the end of the season, after scoring 2 goals in 7 appearances. He went on to play for Southend in 2015-16, making 21 appearances, scoring 4 goals. Last season, on a one-year contract at Portsmouth, he scored 1 goal in 20 appearances.

In order to learn more about Hunt’s time at Portsmouth we contacted Jim Bonner  (@FrattonFaithful) of the Fratton Faithful fan site.

Here’s over to Jim:

Noel Hunt will be a positive influence off the pitch. His experience will be valuable to some of the younger players and he was popular amongst Pompey fans last season for his attitude and willingness to talk to fans. I suspect he has signed with a view to be having some coaching role when he retires in the next year or two.

However, in terms of on the pitch contribution he only scored once for us (a tap in against the nine men of Mansfield) and barely saw any playing time in League Two, so he is likely to have even less of an impact on a team pushing for promotion in League One, although his willingness to run around despite his age does give him some nuisance value up front. 

If he has signed to be a replacement for Omar Bogle, Wigan fans are going to be very disappointed. Hunt was a player all Pompey fans expected to leave this summer regardless of who the manager was.

 

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A Wolves fan’s view of Lee Evans

Photo courtesy of Wigan Athletic.

A few days ago we published a Bradford City fan’s view of Lee Evans. Since then we have been in contact with Tom Baugh of the Wolves Blog (http://www.wolvesblog.com/)

Evans can be expected to be a key player for Latics this season in a midfield holding role. On signing for Wigan he said:

“I am delighted to be here. It’s taken a couple of weeks to get everything sorted at both ends. I knew I didn’t really have a future this season at Wolves so to join a club like Wigan, who are pushing for promotion this season, is a perfect opportunity for me. It’s part of football, different managers have different opinions; under Paul Lambert I was playing quite a bit and he gave me a new contract but now the new manager has different ideas. That’s fine, they told me soon enough so I had plenty of time to get things sorted, I had plenty of options but I felt like Wigan was the best opportunity for me.”

The departure of Paul Lambert and the arrival of ex-Porto coach, Nuno Espirito Santo, saw the player move down the pecking order at Wolverhampton. The loan arrangement appears to be in the interests of both Latics and Evans.

Here’s over to Tom to tell us about Evans’ time at Wolves:

Lee Evans could easily have been lining up for Wolves this weekend. He’d probably fit nicely into our new 343 system. But we’ve shelled out £15 million on Ruben Neves from Porto and he’s found himself frozen out despite only signing a new contract a few months back. There’s probably not much between him and Jack Price who remains contention at Wolves, but we’ve got a bloated squad meaning someone had to go.

His obvious strength is an excellent passing range. He can ping accurate balls out wide for fun and deliver searching forward passes. He’s combative, decent in the tackle and can get forward to chip in with the odd goal.

I don’t think he’s particularly mobile. You’re certainly not going to see him going past players or embarking on mazy dribbles. He’ll hold a position and feed balls into attackers who can make something happen.

He did well in League One for Wolves and Bradford so it’s a no-brainer signing for Paul Cook. His quality at that level is undisputed. After we got promoted he was briefly instrumental in our Championship promotion push the following season but faded away.

If the plan is to get the ball on the deck and play, I think he’ll do very well for Wigan and with his best mate Michael Jacobs there I’m sure he’ll hit the ground running.

Best of luck for the season guys.

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