Desperate for points – Latics 0 Latics 0

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It was a truly  insipid  performance from Wigan Athletic. Their display was as muted as was the atmosphere in the DW Stadium.

From the very start  Oldham  were dominant on the pitch and their fans so dominant in vocalising their support. They not only reminded us that they considered their club to be the true Latics, but they lifted their team into a commendable display against their  high flying opponents.

Gary Caldwell admitted after the game that “We were lucky to come away with a point”. Such was the dominance of Oldham. Most of us had expected Wigan to win comfortably, but the sheer energy that epitomised their win at Bramall Lane was sadly lacking yesterday. A disappointed fan summed it up on his way out of the stadium when he said “They were hungry for points and were just weren’t hungry enough.”

As usual Caldwell had kept us guessing about his team selection and shape. He was to opt for a return to 3-4-3. Reece Wabara came in at right wing back, Donervon Daniels moving back into the centre of defence, Sam Morsy being relegated to a place on the bench despite a good performance at Sheffield.

Oldham dominated the first half. New manager, John Sheridan, set up a game plan that nullified Wigan’s creative players. Oldham were physically stronger, so often winning the second ball. They were getting so many players behind the ball when the home team attacked, closing down Wigan players, harassing them when playing the ball out from the back. Oldham crowded the midfield, Perkins and Power looking swamped and the wing backs out of touch. Grigg was isolated in the lone centre forward role and there was little creativity on view.

Wigan went into the half time interval thankful for Jussi Jaaskelainen’s solid goalkeeping, which had kept them in the game. The Oldham goalkeeper had hardly been troubled.

One expected Caldwell to boost his midfield in the second half and he duly obliged. Morsy was brought on as the teams came out, with Wigan switching to a version of 4-3-3 akin to the 4-1-4-1 we saw at Sheffield. The surprise was the exit of Daniels, rather than Wabara who had been peripheral throughout the first half.

The change in shape did have some positive effects, but the lack of creativity in Wigan’s play continued to show. Grigg had worked hard in the first half, despite being outnumbered. He continued to be lively in the second.

Oldham had clearly done their homework on dealing with Yanic Wildschut, although the service he was receiving left much to be desired. However, the Dutchman kept plugging away. Sadly when he was to get into the opposition box his decision-making was to let him down.

Conor McAleny was struggling as the second half went on and it seemed likely he would be substituted around the 60 minute mark. But the next substitution turned out to be Ryan Colclough for David Perkins after 76 minutes.

Wigan pushed their full backs well forward, Craig Morgan and Jason Pearce becoming virtually a two man back line. Oldham came close a couple of times before Craig Davies was brought on after 81 minutes for McAleny. Davies’ arrival was to give Grigg more support and their linkup saw Grigg come close near the end.

But it was not to be. The game ended goalless with the Oldham players clearly delighted. In truth they probably merited more than their well-earned point.

The Good

I don’t think we can take any positives” said Caldwell after the match.

The manager was spot-on in his comment.

But keeper Jasskelainen and defenders Morgan and Pearce were solid and Grigg did what he could up front.

But perhaps the result was not so surprising after all. Oldham are the draw specialists of League 1 having tied 13 of the 28 league matches they have played this season.

The Bad

As usual when the result does not go according to plan the manager’s tactics and team selections come under fire. But more than anything else the poor team display should be put down to the poor  performances of individual players.

However, this time around Caldwell was somewhat cautious in making second half substitutions.

Davies’ introduction came maybe 20 minutes too late and one wondered why the creative Haris Vuckic had been once again left on the bench. The Slovenian had started in the previous three home games when Wigan scored nine goals. In the absence of Michael Jacobs through injury he remains the obvious player to link the holding midfield and the attack.

Player Ratings

Jussi Jaaskelainen: 7 – solid and reliable.

Reece Wabara: 4 – peripheral, although he improved in the second half.

Donervon Daniels: – solid until being withdrawn at half time.

Craig Morgan: 7 – solid and did what he could in his distribution which was difficult at times with so many players static.

Jason Pearce: 7 – as solid and determined as ever.

Chris McCann: 5 – poor after a string of fine performances.

Max Power: 5.5 – struggled to make purposeful passes, although the lack of movement around him did not help.

David Perkins: 5 – struggled to make his mark on the game. Came off after 71 minutes.

Conor McAleny: 5 – had one excellent moment in the first half when he was through to goal before being tripped. Apart from that he had little effect on the game. Substituted after 81 minutes.

Will Grigg: 7 – full of effort with some nice touches.

Yanic Wildschut: 6.5 – not one of his better days, being deprived of good service, but still worried the Oldham defence.

 

 

 

 

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Mackay gets it right – Post match reaction Leeds United (A)

Our luck was in today”.

So said James McClean, the architect of Wigan Athletic’s first win since October 25th. McClean’s cross led to a Leeds own goal after 11 minutes, then he sealed the win with a powerful finish in the 82nd minute.

Mackay got his tactics right this time around. He brought in James Tavernier in his best position as right wing back, with Andrew Taylor on the opposite flank and a central defensive trio of James Perch, Ivan Ramis and Rob Kiernan. He stuck with the experienced trio of Don Cowie, Chris McCann and Ben Watson in midfield, with McClean and Marc-Antoine Fortune upfront.

Nobody looked happier with yesterday’s win than the beleaguered manager, Malky Mackay. It was a welcome surprise to see him opt for a 3-5-2 formation, after his sterile tactics in previous matches. Fans were wincing at the prospect of him playing with just one striker, but the change in formation allowed him to play with two, whilst providing more defensive stability.

This time Mackay fielded three of Uwe Rosler’s signings in his starting lineup, having brought in Tavernier to join his trusted lieutenants, Cowie and Taylor. He boldly left out the underperforming FA Cup winning trio of Emmerson Boyce, Callum McManaman and Shaun Maloney.

Maloney might well be leaving the club over the coming weeks, as Latics are likely to want to cash in with his contract expiring at the end of the season. Boyce has been a wonderful club servant and played in Wigan’s most famous victories, but has just not looked the same player this season. At 35 he is now unlikely to be able to command a regular place in the starting lineup.

Ironically McManaman was left out when Mackay opted for the formation that suits him best. Playing wide on the flank makes it too easy for the opposition to snuff him out of the game with multiple markers. In a 3-5-2 system he has the freedom to wander, making it hard for the opposition defence to control him. The young player has received criticism over recent weeks from fans who have thought he has not been sufficiently involved in the game. However, unlike with Rosler, who would often only play him for an hour, he is now expected for play the full ninety.

Mackay is the third manager who has tried to play with the two wide men – McManaman and McClean – in the same lineup to find out it does not work. Of the two, McManaman is the more clinical finisher, although McClean hit home his goal with aplomb yesterday. Would Mackay consider playing the two together as strikers in a 3-5-2 formation, rather than as orthodox wingers?

Even in the Martinez days of 3-5-2 (or a modified 3-4-3), Latics played with at least one target man. In the last season in the Premier League it was Arouna Kone and Franco di Santo before that. Yesterday Mackay had Fortune playing there. Moreover over the past months Wigan’s defenders and goalkeeper have grown accustomed to using the centre forward as an outlet for hopeful long punts. But yesterday saw Ramis and Kiernan restored to the centre of defence and both are capable of resisting the hoof and playing the ball out from the back.

At last Wigan’s luck has changed for the better. In so many matches this season they have done enough to win, but thrown it away through defensive laxness or unlucky goals. This time around the remodeled defence held firm during the onslaught from the home team.

They say that one swallow does not make a summer. But at least fans can now see some light on the horizon. The coming weeks are going to continue to be a rollercoaster ride, both in terms of performance on the pitch and in changes in personnel over the period of the transfer window.

A win can do wonders for a team’s confidence and the players will now be looking forward to Tuesday’s home game with Sheffield Wednesday. They will hope that the ill-luck that has dogged them so much this season has gone for good.

Watford (A) aftermath – how can Malky stop the rot?

Chris McCann's 45th minute goal gave Latics hope, but sloppy defence was their downfall.

Chris McCann’s 45th minute goal gave Latics hope, but sloppy defence was their downfall.

Another defeat by a single goal. The Darkside pessimists had suggested that Latics would get badly beaten at Watford. That was not the case, but it is another bad result for Malky Mackay. He has an unenviable record for a new manager of one point gained in four games in charge. Can Mackay turn things around or are Latics heading for League 1?

Seeing the lineup for today’s match gave many of us a sense of foreboding. Not a single recognized central striker on the field, but two on the bench. Was Mackay planning to keep things tight and maybe steal it from a set piece?

In the event Mackay chose to deploy James McClean in the lone striker role. McClean’s strengths are his energy and his pace, but finishing is not his forte. Has the manager already written off the other strikers at the club when he has not seen most of them play in the Championship during his time at the club? Andy Delort might well think that. The Frenchman was brought on in the 86th minute. It would seem rather late but at least it was two minutes earlier than his entrance against Norwich. It can hardly be good for the player’s self -confidence.

Once again Mackay relied on the old guard, shunning the Rosler signings with the exception of Don Cowie and Andrew Taylor who played for him at the two clubs he previously managed. Up to this point it is not bearing fruit and the fans’ patience is wearing thin.

Fans who had been unhappy about Uwe Rosler’s team selections and formations are now seeing a similar pattern with Mackay. Many will say that nothing seems to have changed since Mackay arrived. The team is playing in the same way as before so what was the point of dismissing Rosler? The central striker has continued to be “lone” in the true sense of the word and sloppy defence has given away games which Latics might have won.

In 2012 Wolves had come down to the Championship division after three years in the Premier League. Over the summer they had sold Steven Fletcher (£14m) and Matt Jarvis (£11m) and paid around £2.4m for Bjorn Siguroarson, £2.7m for Bakary Sakho and £2m for Tongo Doumbia. Stale Solbakken had been brought in as manager.

By early October Wolves were in third place, with promotion looking within their grasp. Keen to get rid of the culture remaining from the days of Mick McCarthy as manager, Solbakken had sought empower the players. However, over the next three months Wolves started to drop down the table. There was a lack of discipline, training had become less than stimulating and the manager was largely unprepared to read the riot act when things went wrong on the field of play. Solbakken was sacked in early January after his team got knocked out of the FA Cup by non-league Luton. Dean Saunders was appointed to become Wolves’ fourth manager in twelve months, but he was unable to stop the slide and a 23rd place finish saw them relegated.

What happened to Wolves is a sobering prospect for Wigan Athletic followers. The situations differ but there are certain parallels. Unlike Wolves being relegated in their first season back in the Championship, Latics did well. Reaching the playoffs, the FA Cup semi-final and being robbed of progress in the Europa League by a dubious refereeing decision was quite an achievement. However, the rot was setting in in the latter stages of last season and it has continued up to now. Wolves had a wage bill of £25m with lots of players seasoned in the Premier League, but could not hack it in the Championship. Changing managers did not help Wolves, as Saunders could not better Solbakken in terms of results. Latics fans will be hoping that is not going to be the case with Mackay following Rosler.

In March 2013 ex-Wolves winger and BBC pundit Steve Froggatt was quoted as saying: “The team had been on an irreversible slide for a long period of time and Deano had identified what needed changing. I think the board must have thought: ‘If we can get by to the end of this season, then we’ll rebuild for next.’ But having seen the team all year, they should have seen that it was bereft of confidence and ideas. It’s almost that they’ve now decided to bring in one or two players well after the horse has bolted.”

It is to be hoped that Dave Whelan will take note of the board’s fateful decisions at Wolves. Mackay has already talked about offloading players in the January transfer window and bringing in at least a couple of new ones. More than anything else Mackay needs to build an organizational culture upon which he can bring things forward. Each of the previous managers – Martinez, Coyle and Rosler – had their own ideas about how football should be played. There has not only been turnover at managerial level but also in coaching and support staff. Latics are once again in the midst of a culture change within the club.

The result at Watford could have been a lot worse. Moreover Latics had been the more dominant team in the second half until sloppy defence enabled the Hornets’ winner after 82 minutes. But it is yet another defeat.

Mackay has hardly impressed in his brief stay up to this point. However, changing the mentality of a group of players who have got used to not winning is not an easy matter. It is going to take time. It is to be hoped that arrivals and departures over the January transfer window will catalyse the change in culture that Mackay seeks.

In the meantime we will have to see if Mackay will continue to rely on an old guard which has largely let him down.

Players who don’t seem to care – Norwich (H) match reaction

Can Mackay turn it around?

Can Mackay turn it around?

Over the years we have seen some abject performances from Latics with woeful scorelines. Too often when they were in the Premier League they would play a top of the table team and hold their own until the opponents scored their first goal. The confidence would sag and the legs would start to go. The exertion required to hold back the tide had taken too much out of the players, both physically and mentally. It almost looked like the players didn’t seem to care. It was akin to capitulation.

But those players did care. It was a learning experience for so many of them, but they would bounce back and get the most amazing results against those same elite clubs. One always felt with Roberto Martinez that he was trying to do something special, despite the very limited resources he had to work with. It was the mental side of things that he was building up. The players had to be mentally tough to compete against teams with so much more individual quality than they had.

After five decades of watching Latics I have rarely felt as depressed as I was after yesterday’s Norwich game. The stats show that Wigan committed just 5 fouls, to the Canaries’ 12. Neither side received a yellow card. Did those players really care? Where was the passion?

It was sad to see Uwe Rosler’s demise. It was inevitable, given the awful results that his team was getting this season. But Rosler at least had a vision of the kind of football he wanted, even if the players were unable or unwilling to produce it.

The football we saw yesterday was reminiscent of the worst days of Rosler’s predecessor, Owen Coyle. The goalkeeper and the defenders hoofing the ball upfield to a lone centre forward. To his credit Fortune did actually defy the odds and win some of those balls yesterday. But the possession he gained was too often squandered by teammates.

Despite his reputation as a motivational manager, Mackay was unable to motivate his players yesterday. His team selection and tactics surely did not help.

The local newspaper had got us excited about Shaun Maloney coming back after illness. When the team was announced it looked like he would play in the attacking midfield position, in front of Chris McCann and Ben Watson. But Maloney was to be confined to the left wing and James McClean occupied that role. McClean was like a fish out of water. He has a repertoire of skills,  but not those needed for that position. Maloney never got into the game and was substituted after 47 minutes.

Mackay left Emmerson Boyce on the bench and neither Gary Caldwell nor Thomas Rogne even appeared there. Instead Mackay brought in Maynor Figueroa at centre back. Figs rarely played for Latics as a centre half in a conventional back four in the Martinez days. When he did it was not particularly successful. He could be excellent playing on the left of a back line of three central defenders, but that is quite distinct from the position he played yesterday.

Mackay took most of us by surprise when he named both of the previously long-term absentees, McCann and Watson in the team to play at Sheffield. It was even more of a shock to see them paired together again yesterday. McCann had actually performed well in his first two matches, but he and Watson were unable to turn it on yesterday. The two are crucial to Latics turning the season around. Mackay is taking a gamble in playing the two so much after their long recuperations from injury. He runs the risk of losing them with their bodies taking a toll of not playing for 8-9 months.

As expected, Don Cowie made his first appearance under Mackay, who had been his manager at both Watford and Cardiff. Cowie went to right midfield where he performed as he has before in that position. Pedestrian to be sure, but Cowie will at least make the effort. The result was Callum McManaman being pushed inside and not seeming to know where he was playing.

The hard-working Fortune was taken off after 82 minutes to be replaced by Roger Espinoza. Given the insipid, characterless stuff we had seen up to that point it was a pity Espinoza had not been brought on earlier. The player has many qualities, not the least of which is to fight for the ball and run forward with enthusiasm. But, even then, he was a midfielder replacing a central striker with Latics a goal behind.

Mackay was to make his biggest gaffe of the afternoon by bringing on Andy Delort after 88 minutes for Chris McCann. Fortune can rarely be faulted for effort and he often does a remarkable job of bringing down and controlling Scott Carson’s long kicks. But he is rarely a threat to the opponents’ goal. Delort has been scoring goals for the development squad. Admittedly there is a gulf between the Final Third Development League and the Championship, but the Frenchman also has a fine goalscoring record in Ligue 2, not light years away. Bringing Delort on so late is hardly going to help his confidence.

Mackay has a difficult task ahead of him. However, for the last two games his players have not competed as they need to. Moreover he has made baffling team selections.

He needs to get his act together soon, or Latics will be in deep, deep trouble.

Old guard supports Mackay – Wigan Athletic 1 Middlesbrough 1

Wigan Athletic’s old guard turned out in force at the DW yesterday. Third from bottom Latics were more than a match for third from top Middlesbrough and the home team can count itself a shade unfortunate not to have come out of it with three points. There were enough positive signs to suggest that Latics can put their horrendous start to the season behind them and be a team that will be hard to beat.

Malky Mackay wisely resorted to experience and the opening lineup had just two of Uwe Rosler’s signings in it. The old guard was back in force.

The unfortunate Rob Kiernan was not even on the bench. Emmerson Boyce was back in his old favourite right back position, with Andrew Taylor restored at left back. The centre of defence had a solid look about it with a pairing of Ivan Ramis and Leon Barnett. Mackay retained the 4-3-3 formation that Rosler had been using of late, with Adam Forshaw and Chris McCann in the holding roles and Roger Espinoza pushed further forward. Marc-Antoine Fortune played the lone centre forward role with Callum McManaman and Shaun Maloney playing wide.

The game started with a show of support for Dave Whelan that brought him to tears, as fans stood up and applauded him. It was one of those emotional moments that will be etched into the collective Wigan Athletic memory for years to come.

Latics started cautiously but soon started to match Boro. Players were working hard for each other and the team looked organised and compact. Chris McCann was bossing the left centre of midfield, reminding us of what we have been missing for the past seven months. In the 9th minute Shaun Maloney went close with a free kick that went just over the top. Fifteen minutes later McCann was brought down after bursting through from midfield. Maloney stepped up to put a perfect free kick into the left hand corner. The game became largely a midfield tussle with neither side willing to commit too many players forward. But just before half time Boro centre forward Kike turned to put a fine shot narrowly wide.

The game continued in the same vein until the 57th minute when Patrick Bamford, who had come on as a substitute for the visitors, scored an opportunist goal, evading Ramis and firing across Carson into the right hand corner. But Latics held firm and a patient and skillful buildup led to the ball falling to McCann, who could not keep it down and the chance was lost.

Maloney was buzzing and threatened to unlock a stubborn and well organized Boro defence. His set pieces had been excellent and in the 70th minute his inswinging corner was met by Barnett whose effort hit the post. James McClean had come on for Espinoza after 70 minutes. There was great applause for the return of Ben Watson, coming on for Forshaw after 80 minutes. James Perch replaced a tired looking Boyce a minute later.

Although one of the physically biggest sides that one will see in the Championship this year, Boro had kept the ball largely on the ground, no doubt under the influence of Spanish manager Aitor Karanka. However, in the closing minute they threatened to use their height to steal the game at the death. However, Latics defence was to hold firm.

The Good

Mackay was wise in packing so many of the old guard into his lineup. That lack of cohesion that had been so evident with new players being introduced en masse was no longer apparent. The players looked comfortable working together and effort and commitment was also evident.

McCann was a revelation, somehow completing the full period of the game despite a lack of match practice after such a long absence. His tackling was as crisp as ever and he put the ball to good use. Maloney was a different player to what we had seen under Rosler, looking like the player of yesteryear under Martinez.

Mackay made a bold statement by putting Boyce in at right back and leaving Perch on the bench. Boyce looked rusty and off-pace at times, but he can offer so much more going forward. He has been out of action for several weeks and that showed. It remains to be seen whether he will be able to regularly command that right back spot at 35 year of age. Andrew Taylor fully justified his recall, being solid in defence and offering good support to the attack. It was another bold move to give him preference over crowd favourite Maynor Figueroa.

It was an experienced and capable back four and it is to be hoped that Mackay will not tinker with it, as did his predecessor. The midfield worked hard. Forshaw continues to show that he is willing to make the effort for the team. His more creative side will show more when he is fully established as a starter in the team. Espinoza showed typical commitment, with an all-action performance. He made one or two naïve passes, but this should not detract from the value he added. Whether an attacking midfield position is the best place to play him remains open to debate.

McManaman threatened, but once again the opposition were prepared to deal with him. He so much more dangerous when not confined to the right wing. Fortune fought for the high balls, but was short of ideas in his distribution and did not move into positions that threatened the opposition defence. The time must surely come for Oriel Riera to appear on a regular basis. Andy Delort did not even make the bench, but his time will surely come too.

When McClean came on in the second half, Maloney moved into a more central position. The 4-3-3-formation became more like the 4-2-3-1 played by Scotland. That could well prove to be Mackay’s favoured system.

The Bad

Mackay put out a conservative lineup and did not pour men into attack. Given Wigan’s league position he was probably justified. He is not a manager associated with flowing attacking football, but the most important thing for Latics at the moment is results.

This was not a great result, neither was it a bad one.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 6 – largely unemployed and cannot be faulted for Boro’s goal.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 – it was good to see the captain back.

Ivan Ramis: 7 – classy as ever, with fine interceptions and quality passing of the ball. But should he have done better with Bamford’s goal?

Leon Barnett: 6.5 – not at his best, but solid and dependable. But his style is a perfect foil for that of Ramis. Together they could provide a formidable centre of defence.

Andrew Taylor: 7 – a complete performance. Deserved his recall.

Adam Forshaw: 6.5- full of industry.

Roger Espinoza: 6.5 – his mistakes were more obvious than the good things he did. Deserves an extended run in the team.

Chris McCann: 8.5 – combative, hardworking and with the cultured left foot. A quality player at Championship level.

Callum McManaman: 6 – exciting as always when on the ball, but should be more proactive when Latics attack. Despite his prodiguous talent he needs to add another dimension to his game to become a real top player.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: 6 – committed but limited in attacking vision.

Shaun Maloney: 8.5 – got rough treatment from the visitors, but was not deterred and showed his quality. A brilliant free kick.

Substitutes:

James McClean: – raw energy, physicality, speed and commitment are his key assets. But he is another player who needs to take his game to a higher level. Needs to develop an aspect of unpredictability about his play.

James Perch: – a very solid and dependable full back, unlucky not to make the starting lineup.

Ben Watson: – can he make a comeback in the same way as McCann? After successive leg breaks it is going to be a tall order. But if he can Latics will have a formidable midfield.