Another point for Latics as takeover looms

It was another of those games when Wigan Athletic had their chances, but just could not put the ball into the back of the net. Although not at their best, Wigan played some quality football at times against a Peterborough side keen to get a result. The visitors gave a good account of themselves, looking better than their current 9th position placing in League 1.

A third consecutive goalless draw at the DW Stadium is hardly the kind of thing that will attract the “floating” fan. Saturday’s attendance was 8,602 which included 399 from Peterborough. The average for the season so far is 9,084.

But despite the goalless draws, Latics have collected 21 points over the past 10 matches.  Although they have scored just one goal in their last four league matches, they have not conceded a goal in the last seven. However, they will be keeping a close eye on Blackburn Rovers, undefeated in 15 league matches. Over the last ten they have gathered 24 points to Wigan’s 21. They had an important 3-1 win over Shrewsbury on Saturday, bringing them to within 5 points of Latics, 2 points behind the Shrews.

When Aston Villa won the First Division title in the 1980/81 season they used only 14 players in a 42-game season. In contrast, Chelsea employed 24 to win last season’s Premier League in a season of 38 matches. In modern day the strength of the entire squad has become of increasing importance, not only in the first tier of English football. When Sheffield United won the League 1 title last season they used 28 players. When Gary Caldwell’s Latics won it the previous season they had 36 players involved.

The key to promotion from League 1 has typically been to have a nucleus of players who are regular names on the team sheet, together with quality back-up. Paul Cook’s recruitment over summer provided him with just that. That Wigan Athletic are top of the division at this stage of the season is no surprise, given the ability and experience of the core players and the quality in depth that they have. Only Blackburn Rovers have the kind of squad that can come close to Cook’s in terms of quality. They too are serious challengers for automatic promotion.

Shrewsbury Town have been the surprise team of the season. They do not have a squad with the depth of those of Latics or Blackburn, but continue to challenge for automatic promotion. Their success has largely been based on the successful chemistry between a nucleus of players largely drawn from the lower leagues. In fact, 10 of their squad have played in 23 games or more of the 26 they have played so far.

Back in 1980/81 Aston Villa employed such a small number of players during the season for several reasons. One is that teams were only allowed to use one substitute in that era. But a key factor is that their key players stayed clear of injury and suspensions. Shrewsbury are a physically competitive team, not afraid to disrupt the opposition’s game. However, they are well disciplined and have received just one red card and 33 yellows in 26 league games.  Should they manage to stay clear of injuries they could well sustain their challenge at the top of the table.

Given the impending takeover of the club by a Far East consortium, it has been hard to predict the short-term effects the potential change would have.  Despite the uncertainty of what will happen under new ownership, Cook has seemingly managed to keep the players focused, judging by the points accrued during an 11-game unbeaten run. Given the scenario, policy in the transfer market was going to be difficult to predict. Would it be driven by the current ownership or the future buyers?

Up to this point the recruitment in the January window bears the hallmark of the current ownership. Lee Evans left for Sheffield United, after they paid Wolves £750,000 for his services. Two other loan players, Matija Sarkic and Ivan Toney, have been recalled by their parent clubs, through lack of game time at Wigan. Cook will be hoping he can cling on to his other two loan players, Christian Walton and Callum Elder. The arrivals of Jamie Walker and James Vaughan will strengthen the squad, their bargain price signings being typical of the Sharpe era. But we have come to expect the club to seek incoming funds to compensate for the £500,000 or so that has been spent. It appears that Jack Byrne is going to Oldham on a permanent contract, although it is unclear how much compensation, if any, Latics will receive. Can we expect more departures?

The surprise up to this point is that there have been no rumours linking Latics to a right full back, as back-up for Nathan Byrne. Walker will effectively take Jack Byrne’s place in the squad, with Vaughan replacing Toney. Another winger would certainly strengthen the squad and Latics have been linked to Morton’s Jai Quitongo, who could be picked up at a bargain price since his contract expires in summer. Having already lost three loan players, Cook will surely also be scouring the loan market to add to his squad.

Should Alan Nixon be correct in his estimate of 10 more days, the takeover will happen before the ending of the transfer window. However, by then we can expect most of Cook’s adjustments to the squad to have been finalised. He will continue to focus on promotion back to the Championship. Should that happen, and Cook continue to be in charge, we can expect major transfer activity in summer.

We can only hope that the new ownership will invest more seriously in the squad than the current incumbents did in the summer of 2016. It remains to be seen whether the consortium would be willing to go a stage further by putting up the kind of money needed to challenge for a place back in the Premier League.

 

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Negotiating for Riera

 

Oriol Riera

Oriol Riera

The ongoing saga over Oriol Riera’s transfer to Deportivo La Coruña continues.

According to the Spanish media, the Deportivo coach Víctor Sánchez del Amo was pleased with Riera’s performances during the loan spell that started in January. The 28 year old Catalan made 21 appearances, scoring four goals as Deportivo managed to avoid relegation from La Liga. They eventually finished in 16th place. Sánchez del Amo is keen to finalise his squad before training resumes on July 2nd.

Reports suggest that Riera and Deportivo have agreed terms, but the clubs have still not agreed the transfer fee for the player whose contract at Wigan runs to 2017. Two other La Liga clubs, Granada CF and Levante, are also reported to be interested in the player, but he has made it clear that Deportivo is his preference.

Latics reportedly paid Osasuna  €3m for Riera last summer and are keen to cut their losses by asking €2.5m. Deportivo have offered €2m.

The heyday of the Galician club has clearly passed. Despite the population of the city being only around 200,000 they were competing with Barcelona and Real Madrid, just over ten years ago. They won La Liga in 1999-00 with a star studded team including Diego Tristan, Djalminha, Roy Makaay and Mauro Silva. In fact from 1992–93 to 2003–04, apart from their title win, they finished in second place four times, and another four times in third place. They competed in the Champions League for five consecutive years, being defeated by Mourinho’s Porto in  the semi-final of 2004.

Their period in the top flight came to an end in 2011, but they went back up the following season only to be relegated again in 2013. However, they once again bounced back to the top flight the following season.

Deportivo are clearly not in a position to splash the cash as they might have done in their heyday. Neither will Latics be keen to take a significant loss on their original outlay. Although some reports suggest that the talks have stalled it is in the interests of both clubs to reach an agreement.

Latics have clearly made a decision not to try to persuade Riera to return to Wigan, where his salary would be out of tune with most of his League 1 teammates. They will probably have to settle to a figure closer to what Deportivo have been offering.

Neither are Granada CF nor Levante likely to want to pay too much for Riera. Levante are the poor relations in the city of Valencia, their last contact with Latics being in Arouna Kone’s transfer in 2012. The Granada franchise is owned by Giampaolo Posso, who also owns Udinese and Watford. His usual mode of operation is in using a superb scouting network across the world to buy young, up and coming players, turning them into stars, then selling sell them for a good profit.

The likelihood is that Riera will be staying in Spain, most probably in Galicia.

 

Latics face QPR next Friday

Table

Wigan Athletic went down 4-3 to Blackburn Rovers in an entertaining game at Ewood Park this afternoon. However, Reading’s failure to beat Burnley left Latics in fifth place.

This means that they will play fourth placed QPR at the DW Stadium next Friday, May 9th.  The return game in west London is scheduled for Monday, May 12th. Both games will start at 7:45 pm.

Leonardo Ulloa’s header after two minutes of added time was enough to help Brighton win 2-1 at Nottingham Forest. The three points helped them to leapfrog over Reading into the playoffs at sixth place. Brighton entertain the in-form third placed Derby County on Thursday, May 8th with the return match on Sunday, May 11th at 5:15 pm.

Uwe Rosler will be pleased with the spirit shown by his team in the second half, but there will be questions asked as to his tactical approach which left a three man defence far too exposed.

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Evolution over revolution as Wigan welcomes Uwe Rosler

2013-rosler

Despite an awful run of form resulting in the club’s lowest league position in the better part of a decade, the formal unveiling of new boss Uwe Rosler at the DW Stadium earlier today appears to have injected a welcome breath of positivity at Wigan Athletic.

Flanked by chief executive Jonathan Jackson and club chairman Dave Whelan, the German hit all the right notes during an insightful half hour press conference. His approach serious and considered, Rosler did much to suggest he will embrace the groundwork set in place at the club by Roberto Martinez, while tweaking the finer details in playing style to suit his own brand of football.

He referenced a high-tempo passing and pressing game employing a 4-3-3 formation, similar in some ways to the Spaniard’s preferred system, but different in others — hinting that there would be an emphasis on pace and energy, and a commitment to pushing bodies forward in attack. Although we will have to wait and see exactly how these changes manifest themselves, the comparison between the Martinez and Rosler blueprints does not sound far off the transition Swansea underwent from Brendan Rodgers tikki-takka to Michael Laudrup’s skill-based but more direct approach.

Whelan once again commented on the hiring process, reiterating the goal of a Premier League return as soon as possible, and backing his new man to be a huge success at Wigan. When asked about specifically about Callum McManaman and James McLean, Rosler described them each as exciting, fast and direct players that would fit his system, while reserving a diplomatic word about room for improvement in McLean’s final pass. He also opined that the change in management and style, plus the fixture congestion with the club taking part in the Europa League group stages, posed huge challenges to the club earlier this season.

There was a quiet resolve and confidence about Rosler’s delivery that is already generating optimism amongst supporters on social media outlets. The hope is that he will be able to swiftly convey it to his new players and that such desire will manifest itself on the pitch in coming weeks. His description of the opportunity as a “dream” to join “such a big club” will likely please many but also felt genuine, while his long-term views and discussion of player development suggest he is in it for the long haul.

More immediately, he made it clear that next weekend’s Championship fixture against Bolton will be the priority, but that the midweek trip to Maribor was a winnable contest. It should also provide him a good chance to get to know some of the personalities in the squad as the Latics embark on their final Europa League group stage adventure as a squad.

Interestingly, the new manager spoke about having developed a relationship with Martinez since Rob Kiernan joined Brentford on loan in 2012, but confirmed that he had not consulted the Spaniard before taking the position over the weekend. In a curious twist of fate, Martinez himself was today in Wigan being honoured at Wigan’s “walk of stars” for his achievement in winning the FA Cup last season. Chairman Whelan, also being honoured at the event, was several minutes late to the press conference as a result.

All of which may have been pure coincidence, but you do get the sense that this was an appointment made with Martinez in mind. Whelan was displeased by Coyle’s rejection of the style his predecessor had spent three years implementing from the youth teams all the way up through the first team. With this appointment, the chairman has made clear his hope for a period of evolution rather than revolution at Wigan Athletic.

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Blackpool writer: Wigan are getting a Mr. Consistent in Stephen Crainey

2013-crainey

As the Owen Coyle revolution continues so too does our coverage of Wigan Athletic’s new signings. This week’s guest writer is Dan Bennett of Vital Blackpool (http://blackpool.vitalfootball.co.uk/), who kindly shares his insight on Scottish left-back Stephen Crainey — a man he dubs Mr. Consistent:

Although not one of the most exciting footballers to admire, Stephen Crainey certainly is one thing — consistent.

In total he has made 295 club appearances and had played for four different clubs before joining Wigan. He started his career at Celtic where he was never really first choice left back, and made 58 appearances over five years at Celtic Park before moving on to Southampton.

Crainey never truly found his feet at Southampton and only made 5 appearances for the club before a swift transfer move to Leeds United. It’s fair to say he did well at Leeds, his solid performances at left back won him many fans and in the 2005-2006 season made a total of 30 appearances for the club. This was the season Crainey had made the most appearances for any of his clubs until that point. 

However this was soon set to change as Crainey made his move to Blackpool, a club where his talents were truly appreciated. His ability never looked in doubt, and in the first season he spent with the club he made 43 appearances. His excellent work ethic and fantastic defensive play pleased many Tangerine fans and he soon became a favourite.

Crainey was part of the famous team that secured promotion to the Premier League with Blackpool, and featured many times the following year in the top division. Blackpool’s defence often came under scrutiny whilst Ian Holloway was manager of the club, and although Crainey was not the ‘perfect defender’ he rarely performed badly in a Pool shirt.

He’s certainly a player that Blackpool fans wanted to see back at the club next season; he was offered a fresh deal at the club but took the opportunity to move on. If he features frequently for Wigan next season, he’ll be a player that will always give his all in every game he plays. Even if he’s used as a squad man, Crainey’s performances are still likely to impress Latics fans.

He is certainly the solid and decent championship standard player that many of the clubs in this league desire. Luring Crainey to the club away from other potential suitors was certainly a great bit of business on behalf of Wigan Athletic. Latics fans will surely hope his championship experience can help you bounce back first time of asking.

Many thanks to Dan for his insights and to Vital Blackpool editor Jon Pearcy for his help.