Five talking points following a rousing win over Cardiff

Wigan Athletic 3 Cardiff City 2

A rousing second half performance, capped by three well taken goals saw Wigan Athletic take the three points against a combative Cardiff City side. It was a well-deserved win against a team loaded with players who had played in the Premier League last season.

Paul Cook stuck with his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, largely keeping faith with players who kept the club in the Championship division last season. David Marshall in goal and Lewis Macleod in central midfield for the unavailable Sam Morsy were the new faces in the starting line-up.

Latics started brightly, despite their play being disrupted by the visitors’ physical approach and their ability to counterattack at speed. Wigan looked so much better when they played the ball on the ground, their high crosses being gobbled up by Cardiff’s big central defenders, the 6ft 6in tall Aden Flint and the 6ft 4in Sean Morrison. Although both teams had threatened it was the visitors who scored first, after 20 minutes, Marshall fumbling the ball with midfielder Joe Ralls hitting it home amid a chaotic Wigan defence. Ralls had been lucky not to receive a red card after an awful challenge on Lee Evans. Cardiff went into the interval one goal ahead having conceded 11 fouls to Wigan’s 4, with 3 yellow cards compared with none for the home team.

Wigan came out in the second half with spirit and intensity, building up with skill, challenging Cardiff’s giant defenders on the ground where they were less comfortable. Josh Windass had already been a thorn in the visitors’ side and soon after the interval he outpaced Morrison who nudged him to concede a penalty. It was a surprise to see Windass step up to take the spot-kick, Joe Garner being the normal penalty taker. Unfortunately, Windass could not convert it, the ball striking the post. But in the 59th minute the same player’s deflected free kick fell into the path of Michael Jacobs who slotted it home. Four minutes later Windass gave Wigan the lead, beating Morrison, before finishing with aplomb.

Cardiff continued to pose a threat and Wigan’s defence was exposed when Omar Bogle scored an equaliser after 70 minutes. But within five minutes Wigan were ahead again after Evans had cut in from the left and unleashed a superb right foot curler into the top right-hand corner of the Cardiff goal. Cook then brought on Cedric Kipre for Macleod, changing to a back three. It took brave defence to hold off waves of Cardiff pressure in the closing minutes.

Paul Cook had been awarded a yellow card in the first half, protesting Cardiff’s over-robust approach. He felt that Ralls “shouldn’t be on the pitch. My initial reaction was it wasn’t a hard decision to give a red. We spoke at half-time not to let anyone, including myself, lose their discipline.”

Let’s take a look at some points arising:

Windass in the number 10 role

Nick Powell’s departure for Stoke was a blow for Cook. The burning question has been who he would place in that key number 10 role behind the central striker. Reports have linked Latics to Preston’s creative midfielder Daniel Johnson, who played under the manager at Chesterfield. It was Josh Windass who was chosen to play in that role yesterday.

Windass has played the role before, with limited success. But in this game, he really stepped up to the plate, his mobility and pace causing all kinds of problems for the opposition defence. Windass cannot match Powell in terms of creativity and passing ability: he is a different type of player with different attributes.

Windass can be a frustrating player, seemingly losing concentration at times, misplacing passes, not being aware of those around him. But at his best he can be a real asset, his directness unsettling the opposition.

Macleod could be a key player

Lewis Macleod is a talented midfield player whose career has been dogged by injury. He played for 75 minutes yesterday before making way to Cedric Kipre. Macleod is gradually adjusting to Cook’s style of play, which is quite different than what he was used to at Brentford.

Should he manage to steer clear of injury he could be a key player this season.

Evans back to his best

Lee Evans had a disappointing time last season but has all the attributes to become a top-class midfielder at Championship level. He has good positional sense, is strong in the tackle and has a good technique. He had a fine game in a holding midfield role yesterday, capping it off with a superb goal that was to prove to be the match winner.

During the course of last season Reece James took over Evans’ regular duties of taking free kicks and corners. Yesterday Josh Windass took most of the set pieces. However, Evans is very capable in that area and in crossing the ball into space in open play.

One wonders if Evans lacks the self-belief that he should really have given his footballing abilities. He is such a capable player.

The challenge for Paul Cook is in how to get the best out of the Welshman.

Using a back three

Cook’s continues to prefer a 4-2-3-1 system that has served him so well in the past. He pushes his full backs forward, relying on holding midfielders dropping back to support an exposed defence. At times yesterday the centre of defence looked vulnerable with Cardiff breaking out with pace. Had they taken more of the chances they created they might well have come away with the three points.

Given the way that Cardiff play the manager might well have considered using three centre backs in his starting line-up. Instead he waited until the final quarter. It was certainly the right thing to do to counter the visitors’ aerial threat.

Cook deserves credit for his willingness to try other formations. However, so often when Latics have changed to a back three to close down a game they have dropped too deep in defence, giving the ball back to the opposition so cheaply. Keeping the ball is key to defending under pressure but Latics tend to launch long balls far too freely when a counterattack is on with the opposition pushed so far forward. It is something that the manager and his coaches need to work on with their players.

Looking for a big target man

Joe Garner is 5 ft 10 in tall. Given the height of the central defenders he had to compete with he did remarkably well to challenge for high balls. Garner is a capable centre forward to gives his all for the team, but he plays at his best when the ball is played to his feet.

Following failed attempts to sign big target men in Sam Gallagher and Jordan Hugill it is no surprise to hear that Cook is now trying to sign the 6ft 5in Kieffer Moore from Barnsley. Moore does not have a lot of experience at Championship level but has a better scoring rate than Gallagher or Hugill.

Signing a big centre forward who poses a big aerial threat would add an extra option for Cook. But Latics have enough creativity in midfield not to rely on the long ball which we saw too much of last season.

Let’s hope that the arrival of a tall centre forward is employed to give Latics extra options, rather than a signal to by-pass a capable midfield with long balls.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

 

 

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A blend of pace, youth and experience

Watching Wigan Athletic over the years there have been so many memorable moments. David Unsworth’s penalty at Bramall Lane, Hugo Rodallega’s header at Stoke, Amr Zaki’s blockbuster at Liverpool; not forgetting Ben Watson’s fateful finish at Wembley. We all have our favourites: those that will stick in our minds for years to come.

Most of the ones I remember are associated with key moments in big games for Latics: those that influenced promotion or relegation, winning the FA Cup. I do not recall many from pre-season friendlies.

The encounter on Saturday had the look of a pre-season drubbing. Two goals down after just 11 minutes to a Burnley side that looked like they could go on and win by an emphatic margin. But Latics came back, thanks to moments of inspiration from a couple of young players.

Josh Windass is still only 25 and has not yet reached his peak. Some 20 minutes after Burnley had scored their second Windass produced a touch of class, superbly eluding his marker on the by-line to cut the ball back for Anthony Pilkington to score. Minutes later he shot from just inside the Burnley half, almost catching the goalkeeper out of position.  Windass has showed moments of genuine class before but has not been able to add consistency to his game, tending to drift in and out of things.

Joe Gelhardt is 17. He plays with the air of someone who is not afraid to express himself on the football field. He has a great left foot, pace and vision. Burnley are a big, physical team with robust defenders, but Gelhardt was not intimidated. His goal from Antonee Robinson’s cutback was scored with aplomb.

It is no surprise to hear that other Championship clubs are interested in acquiring a player of Windass’ potential.  He still has time to iron out the flaws in his game and become a coveted player. He has a pace and directness that can trouble opposing defences.

Paul Cook has already intimated that Gelhardt and his fellow 17-year-old Jason Weir could have a role to play in the senior side this season. Were this to become the case it would be a revelation after so many young homegrown players have been denied opportunities in the past by cautious managers fearful of throwing them in at the deep end. So often they have featured in pre-season but have had to take a back seat to young loan players from big clubs who have been brought in.

So many have been sent off on loan to clubs in lower divisions, including non-league. Few have come back and been able to establish themselves as senior squad members. Callum Lang is back at Wigan after two seasons at Morecambe and Oldham. He is still only 20 and has 72 appearances under his belt in the EFL, notching 23 goals. Will Lang be given the chance to prove he can deliver in the Championship, as he did in League 2?

Performances in pre-season games can so often be poor predictors for what is going to follow over the course of the season, when new players will come in and some will leave. But draws with Everton and Burnley will no doubt boost confidence within the camp.

There been much talk in the social media and message boards about Wigan Athletic’s inability to sign players to bolster their squad. Bids of £3-4m were made for centre forwards from Premier League clubs, Sam Gallagher and Jordan Hugill. Neither bid succeeded, but it could be seen as a statement from Darren Royle and IEC that they are willing to seriously invest in the transfer market. Gallagher and Hugill have mediocre career strike records so we can assume that Cook is, above all, looking for a target man, with the weight of goalscoring placed primarily on midfielders.

That Nixon mentions possible interest in Nmecha is therefore no surprise. The big German scored 4 goals in 38 appearances for Preston last season, either at centre forward or on the wing.

But Cook already has five players in his squad who were used as wide players last season: Michael Jacobs, Gavin Massey, Kal Naismith, Anthony Pilkington and Gary Roberts. Interest in Nmecha would most likely be as a target man. But why is the manager offering some £2.6m to bring in Jamal Lowe from Portsmouth, who is a right winger? Is someone on their way out? Or is the manager intending to use some of them in other positions, such as #10?

Up to this point Latics have signed three players: David Marshall (goalkeeper), Antonee Robinson (left back) and Lewis Macleod (centre midfield). Lowe and Joe Williams appear to be available at the right price, although there will be competition from other clubs. Reports suggest that Latics continue to be interested in signing the 19-year-old Chelsea right back Dujon Sterling on loan. Leonardo da Silva Lopes was the starter in that position on Saturday, after being used as a winger against Everton.

Recruitment for most Championship clubs will surely go down to the wire, as it has in previous years. As things currently stand Latics have the experience from the likes of Danny Fox, David Marshall and Gary Roberts to counterbalance the youth of such as Joe Gelhardt and Jensen Weir. With Michael Jacobs, Gavin Massey, Leo Da Silva Lopes, Josh Windass they have pace further forward.

But we can expect more movement over the coming nine days. That will most likely include players leaving to raise funds to offset the transfer fees to be paid out. How long will those moments of inspiration from Gelhardt and Windass stick in the memory? Football clubs are places of constant turnover and who knows what will happen next?

 

A Brentford fan’s view of Lewis Macleod

 

Wigan Athletic yesterday announced the signing of Lewis Macleod from Brentford on a one-year contract. The 5ft 10 in tall Macleod was a free agent.

Lewis Macleod was born in Wishaw, Lanarkshire. He joined Rangers as a 10-year-old, progressed through their academy and made his first team debut at 18 years of age in a Scottish Challenge Cup tie against Brechin in July 2012. He went on to make 26 appearances in the 2012-13 season when Rangers were in the Scottish League Division 3. A knee injury in January 2013 had kept him out for most of the second half of the season.

Macleod was a regular starter the 2013-14 season until a viral infection affected the muscles around his heart in January 2014. He recovered in time for the 2014-15 season and was a regular starter with Rangers now in the Scottish League 1. However, his season was once again curtailed after receiving a serious hamstring injury in a game against Alloa in December 2014. It proved to be Macleod’s last game for Rangers after making a total of 74 appearances, scoring 16 goals.

Macleod signed for Brentford on a three-and-a-half-year contract in January 2015 for a fee of around £1m. However, the hamstring went again in training keeping him out until May 2015 when he was an unused substitute in a Championship playoff game against Middlesbrough. Further hamstring problems plagued Macleod, until he made his debut as a substitute against Brighton in February 2016. However, in late February he suffered a medial ligament injury in training and did not appear in the first team squad for the remainder of the season.

Macleod returned to fitness for the start of the 2016-17 season, making 13 appearances before receiving a serious knee injury in a game at QPR at the end of October. In December 2016 he signed a one-year contract extension which would keep him with the Bees until the summer of 2019. Following the knee injury and further hamstring problems Macleod had to wait until December 2017 for his next appearance, coming on as a substitute against Fulham. He finished the 2017-18 season with 11 appearances. He was a regular starter in the 2018-19 season until suffering a hamstring injury in December 2018  during a game against West Bromwich Albion. He made only one more appearance, as a late substitute in Brentford’s 0-0 draw at the DW Stadium.

In order to find out more about Macleod’s time at Brentford  we once again reached out to Billy Grant (@billythebee99) who writes and makes podcasts for the Beesotted fan site (beesotted.com)

Here’s over to Billy:

Lewis Macleod joined Brentford in the Warburton era. For £1m reputedly which was a lot of money for us back then (still is). He was a highly reputed wonder-kid. Rangers fans were devastated he left but they were skint at the time. He was their young player of the year the season they won the Div 3 title.

 Macleod was signed injured. He didn’t play all season due to injury although he was on the bench for the playoff semi v Boro in May but never made it on.  Every time he was due to come back, he got injured again. Once he tripped on a twig in training and was out for a long time. Them he fell down a hole in training. Out for a while again.

 There were rumours about Warburton signing him back for Rangers, but these were unfounded. 

 He started the 2016 season and was looking decent – playing 12 matches before being injured at QPR. A bad knee injury. 

 The club backed him. They gave him a one-year extension on his contract and sent him to Philadelphia to get treated by a specialist. He had a couple of false returns but made a full league return 18 months later – scoring his first goal of the club against Boro. He finished the season intact which was a good sign.

 Summer 2018 was his first proper pre-season training with us. He came out fit. We had a great side – having kept hold of the bulk of our players with Ryan Woods the only player not to have been replaced. This gave an opportunity for midfielders Josh McEachran and Lewis McLeod to make their marks on the side.

 Brentford started the season magnificently beating Rotherham 5-1. We looked proper world beaters. We played Wigan a month later and played you guys off the park – winning 2-0.

 Then in October it started to go horribly wrong. Opposition teams got the handle of us. Pressed us hard and started to over-run our midfield. Macleod was showing flashes of real brilliance, but we were struggling when the going got tough.

 He scored his final goal for Brentford in the final minutes of an undeserved away point at West Brom. He got injured after that goal. Decided not to renew his contract. And that was it.

 He’s one of a handful of players Brentford signed since entering the Championship that we’ve lost money on. 

 What type of player was he? Potentially skilful. Tricky. But I’m going to be honest: I don’t really know. He played so few games in his four and a half years at Brentford it’s hard to piece together a pattern.

 His best period was August and September 2019 where he was very much part of our fluid football passing game.

 Maybe he needed a much tougher central midfielder to play alongside. Unfortunately, Josh McEachran isn’t your man when the going gets tough.

 There’s no doubt he’s an intelligent, skilful footballer who has had a lot of bad luck.

 Maybe a change of scenery in Wigan is exactly what he needs now. 

 

In need of a transfer policy

In: David Marshall (Hull City, free)

Out: Devante Cole (Motherwell, loan), Shaun MacDonald (Rotherham, free), Callum McManaman (Luton, free), Nick Powell (Stoke City, free), Jamie Walker (Hearts, free)

The deadline for Championship clubs for all incoming permanent and loan registrations is due to close at 5pm on Thursday August 8, 2019. It leaves Wigan Athletic just under four weeks to complete their recruitment for the first half of the season. It appears that enough time remains, but nevertheless the fans are getting nervous. Five players out and just one man in up to this point. What is happening?

The concerns of fans are reflected in the social media and message boards. They see that other clubs in the division are streets ahead of Latics in their recruitment at this stage. The Bristol Post yesterday published a list of comings and goings among Championship clubs. It makes interesting reading. Latics rank among the highest in players leaving, among the lowest in players coming in.

At this time last year Latics had signed Leo Da Silva Lopes and Kal Naismith on permanent contracts and Reece James and Christian Walton on loan. Why is it taking longer this year? Some fans say that players will not be keen on joining a club that could once again be battling against relegation. Others say that Latics simply cannot or will not compete with other Championship clubs who are splashing money around like water. Reports suggest that Wigan were prepared to offer the 34-year-old free agent Alan Hutton a two-year contract but were unable to agree terms with him.

The fee Southampton want for Gallagher is rumoured to be around £5m. It was a surprise to many of us that Wigan Athletic were actively pursuing a player from a Premier League club, given inflated transfer fees and salaries in that division. The interest in Portsmouth’s Jamal Lowe was more predictable, although the £3m tag put on him by the south coast club seems excessive for a League 1 player who has never played above that level. The summer transfer activity will surely provide a litmus test for the IEC’s willingness to invest in player recruitment.

Chairman Darren Royle is hardly a David Sharpe in terms of communicating with the fans. But he is certainly addressing issues within the club. The DW Stadium needs an overhaul, the club needs to bring in more commercial revenue, the Academy needs upgrading to at least a category 2 level.  Royle may be less comfortable with the media than his predecessor but is tidying up things that had been left on hold.

IEC made it clear on buying the club that they were willing to invest but would do so judiciously. Investing in infrastructure is already underway. It is the club’s recruitment policy that is unknown. During Paul Cook’s reign the players coming in have typically come from the British Isles. The club’s homegrown players have been largely ignored with young loan players from big clubs brought in. The manager typically brings in veteran players who he believes will add to the dressing room climate and positively influence the younger players. Last season Cook splashed money on signing Josh Windass (around £1.8m), Cedric Kipre (around £1m), Leo Da Silva Lopes (around £800,000). Windass and Kipre impressed at times, but generally struggled to adjust to second tier English football. Da Silva Lopes was sent out on loan to Gillingham. Windass is now 25 years old, Kipre is 22 and Da Silva Lopes is 20.

Royle and the IEC are keen to develop the academy as a potential source of first team players. Latics have some fine prospects on their hands at the moment and it is to be hoped that the likes of Joe Gelhardt and Jensen Weir will not fall by the wayside as so many young players have at Wigan over the years.

 

Callum Lang is now 20 but has made 72 senior appearances in the past two seasons on loan at Morecambe and Oldham, scoring 23 goals. The loans have given him valuable experience. Now the time has come for the player to be given a chance in the Championship. Last season an under-pressure Cook was loath to bring in home grown talent.

Wigan Athletic’s recruitment policy has hardly been coherent in recent seasons. It contrasts with that of Brentford, whose data-driven approach helps them scout talent not only in the British Isles, but all over Europe. No matter that managers have come and gone they have stuck with a formula that has brought in significant funds from transfers, helping them stay solvent. They have shown that a small club can compete with the heavyweights of the Championship, finishing in the top ten in each of the past four years.

The 25 year-old Macleod is a free agent after letting his contract run down at Brentford. He has made 41 appearances for the Bees since signing from Rangers in December 2014. Macleod is a very capable player whose career has been riddled with injury problems, hamstring issues in particular. If he does sign for Latics will Cook and his medical team be able to get the best out of him and resurrect his career as they did with Nick Powell?

The next four weeks will certainly give us an indication of the recruitment policy to be supported by the new owners. Will the club continue to bring in young loan players from big clubs at the expense of home-grown talent?

A Cardiff fan’s view of David Marshall

 

Wigan Athletic yesterday announced the signing of goalkeeper David Marshall from Hull City. The 34-year-old was a free agent and joins Latics on a two-year contract.

The 6ft 3in tall Glaswegian is a product of the Celtic academy. He made his senior debut at 17 as a substitute in a Scottish Cup tie against St Johnstone in February 2003. In December 2003 he made his first start in a 3-0 win at Partick Thistle in the Scottish League Cup. Marshall went on to make 18 appearances in that 2003-04 season, including an outstanding performance in keeping a clean sheet at Nou Camp, knocking Barcelona out of the UEFA Cup. He made his Scotland debut in August 2004 in a friendly against Hungary. In the next month Celtic met Barcelona again, this time in the Champions League, Marshall giving an excellent performance in a home loss to the Catalan club, saving a Ronaldinho penalty. However, after conceding nine goals in the first two games of the 2005-06 season Marshall fell out of favour with new manager Gordon Strachan. In January 2007 he joined Norwich City on loan, although his season was curtailed following an ankle injury in a 4-0 defeat at Chelsea in the FA Cup in February.

Marshall joined Norwich on three-year contract in summer 2007, the fee being undisclosed. He went on to make 100 appearances for the Canaries until joining Cardiff City in summer 2009 for £500,000. Marshall was to spend 6 seasons with the Bluebirds, making 281 appearances, with 81 clean sheets. On August 30, 2016 Cardiff accepted an offer for Marshall adding up to £5m from Hull City, recently promoted to the Premier League. He went on to make 61 appearances for the Tigers.

With some 500 appearances in Scotland and England and 28 caps for Scotland, Marshall looks a fine signing for Latics.

In order to learn more about Marshall’s time at Cardiff we reached out to Benjamin James of the View from the Ninian fan site (http://www.viewfromtheninian.com/).

Here’s over to Benjamin:

When we signed David Marshall, we weren’t sure what we were going to get. All we hoped was that we signed a keeper who could stop the rot of a run of goalies who weren’t so great. What we didn’t anticipate is that he would become, probably, our best goalie for a few decades. 

 A truly fantastic shot stopper, there have been times where fans were reduced to awed gasps as he pulled out another world class saves. During our first, ill-fated, Premier League season, he kept us in many games with brilliant saves. He was vital in playoff semi-finals, stopping penalties brilliantly. He would pull last minute saves out of nowhere and if a ball was deflected, he’d find a way to get back to the ball.

 There was talk earlier this summer that we were going to sell Etheridge, our number one, and the only player I would have replaced him with is Marshy. He’s a brilliant, brilliant, keeper. Vocal, adept at crosses, shot-stopping, and decent distribution.