Legless Latics crossed out at Bristol

Latics go off for half time to a deserved ovation from the visiting support.

Latics go off for half time to a deserved ovation from the visiting support.

“We had the ball in some good positions and kept the ball well up until half-time, but then in the second-half we didn’t come out, we didn’t pass the ball and we didn’t do anything that we’d mentioned at half-time, so I felt it was only a matter of time before the goal was coming because we couldn’t stem the flow of the game.”

Gary Caldwell was right about that. After a fine first half performance Latics visibly flagged. The earlier intensity and running off the ball that had made them the marginally better team up to the interval seemed to disappear as soon as the second half commenced. City used the tactic so often employed in the Championship: that of bombarding the visiting defence with a barrage of crosses. With Latics unable to stop the flow of the crosses it seemed but a matter of time before the goals would materialize for the home side.

It was a beautiful day in the west of England and some 1,200 fans had made the journey down despite the handicaps imposed by the M5 motorway. Ashton Gate is a fine venue these days, following the construction of two new stands. Not only were the spectator facilities in good condition, but also the pitch, which is shared by Bristol RUFC. But comparisons with the pitch at the DW were hard to make as the rugby union season has not yet started, whereas the Warriors’ rugby league season is nearing its conclusion.

Caldwell made two changes from the starting lineup he had put out at Fleetwood, with Adam Bogdan coming in for Jussi Jaaskelainen and Stephen Warnock for Sam Morsy. It was a 3-5-2 formation with Will Grigg and Yanic Wildschut up front and Alex Gilbey playing a little further forward in central midfield than David Perkins and Max Power.

Wigan soon settled into the game, with the midfield trio linking up well and Grigg and Wildschut looking lively up front. Their movement caused problems for the home team defence. The Latics defence looked solid. Wigan were to get a beautifully worked goal after 32 minutes when Wildschut pulled the ball back for a beautifully struck shot from Gilbey from just outside penalty box. The home team’s main threat came from set pieces, particularly when the 6 ft 6 in central defender Aden Flint came forward.

The half time whistle saw Latics a goal up, having contained the home team and caused danger on the counterattack. One wondered if they could keep it up in the second half, with the home team playing towards a packed home support behind the goal in the rebuilt Wedlock Stand. Grigg’s inclusion in the team had been a surprise after not being able to train for a week. How long could he last?

As soon as the referee blew his whistle for the start of the second half the pattern of the game was to instantly change. City were to focus on flooding the flanks and pumping over crosses. It was to work to great effect. Latics were quickly penned back in their own half, unable to string passes together. The movement that had characterized their performance in the first half was sadly lacking. The crosses continued to ping into the box and it seemed a matter of time for the Latics defence to crack. Wigan’s central midfield just did not seem to have the legs to get into space to receive the ball and the opposition was dominating the centre of the pitch. Surely Caldwell would bring on Sam Morsy to stem the flow and provide some much needed steel in that midfield?

However, the first substitution was made by City manager, Lee Johnson. It was a double change after 67 minutes, with midfielder Bobby Reid and, crucially, the 6 ft 5 in central striker Tammy Abraham coming on to heighten the aerial threat. Grigg’s legs could cope no longer and he went off on the 70th minute to be replaced by Michael Jacobs.

The departure of Grigg meant that Wigan no longer had a centre forward capable of holding the ball up and giving his midfield and defence much needed respite. Their attack had almost completely fizzled out. The crosses continued to rain in and somehow the Latics defence held out. However, the inevitable was to happen in the 81st minute with Abraham bundling home a cross. Bogdan had been having a good debut and he was to make more fine saves and interceptions in the final 10 minutes.

The departure of Wildschut on 85 minutes was a further nail in the coffin for Latics, who were now able to offer zero in terms of attacking options. It was therefore no surprise when Reid scored following a deflection on 90 minutes. Donervon Daniels had been brought on for the injured Luke Burke after 77 minutes, but the man from the Leeward Islands was way out of touch, as was Ryan Colclough who had come on for Grigg. Five minutes added time would normally have provided a window for Latics to at least try to get back into the game, but their efforts were inept. They could hardly string passes together, their heavy legs probably taking toll.

City proved to be worthy winners. A legless Latics side was unable to both stop the crosses coming in and to retain the ball for any period of time.

Although it was not an excuse for a disappointing performance, Latics had not been helped by a referee who was lenient towards the home team in the whole game, giving Latics four yellow cards in the process. After some appalling arbitrage in League 1 last season one would have hoped for better in the Championship.

The Good

Luke Burke is an exciting young talent. The 18 year old former youth team captain made an excellent debut. Reminiscent of Leighton Baines in his younger days, Burke is a complete full back. He is sound in his positioning, thoughtful in his distribution and rugged in the tackle. There were times when he was overrun as City poured players over to their left flank, but he did not panic and made some crucial tackles and interceptions.

Alex Gilbey too made a promising debut, scoring a fine goal. Gilbey looks classy on the ball and can tackle too, although he still has some way to go in that department. Although he has never played above League 1 level before he looked comfortable.

Adam Bogdan had a fine debut in goal. He was assertive in his box, punching away dangerous crosses, making some excellent stops. It is to be hoped that he can put the nightmare of his time at Liverpool behind him and regain the brilliant form he had shown at Bolton before that.

The other debutants, Jake Buxton and Dan Burn, had solid games, keeping their calm in a back three peppered with crosses coming in, especially during the second half. There were lots of teams in League 1 last season who could test the Wigan defence with high balls, but in the Championship it is likely to be more of a threat, given the quality of the wide men putting in the crosses. City put in some wicked ones in this match and Wigan’s defence did well to keep them out for so long.

The Bad

Lee Johnson got the better of Gary Caldwell yesterday. The Bristol City manager made the right substitutions at the right time, both goal scorers having come off the bench. This time around Caldwell did not show the imagination or vision to change the tactical situation with his team under the cosh.

Faced with a midfield overrun by the opposition in the second half, the manager stuck with a midfield trio that was not able to cope. Given Sam Morsy’s combative qualities it was baffling that Caldwell did not choose to introduce him. Is the player out of favour or was it that the manager simply wanted to give the three central midfielders a full 90 minutes?

Moreover in the past Caldwell has shown initiative in changing the shape of his team. Seeing his team creaking in its foundations, with the midfield overrun, was it not time to switch to four at the back, with a strengthened midfield? Or was he once again, looking more long term, giving the new central defensive trio of Buxton, Morgan and Burn a full match to play together?

Last season the wealth of Wigan’s bench was the envy of many other managers in League 1. Yesterday it looked less impressive and the absence of a front man to replace Grigg stood out like a sore thumb. Neither was there a player of the ilk of Conor McAleny or Haris Vuckic to provide more options. Given the injury problems that both Craig Davies and Nick Powell have had over the past couple of years, Caldwell surely be looking at bringing in another central striker.

Michael Jacobs was a key player for Caldwell in League 1, but found himself on the bench yesterday. If Caldwell is going to operate 3-5-2 (or 5-3-2 as it morphed into during the second half yesterday) then the main position for Jacobs is going to be in the role occupied by Gilbey at Bristol. The manager might well be tempted to use Jacobs in that role in home games, but will be looking for more defensive cover when playing away. However, the 4-3-3 system that Caldwell also employs is one which Jacobs can be effectively slotted into, whether in the hole behind the central striker or wide.

Player Ratings

Adam Bogdan: 8 – a promising debut from the big Hungarian.

Luke Burke: 7 – played with composure and determination.

Jake Buxton: 6.5 – a calm influence on the right side of defence.

Craig Morgan: 7 – a gritty performance under pressure.

Dan Burn: 6.5 – kept his composure and made a useful contribution.

Stephen Warnock: 5 – way from his best. Is he fully fit?

David Perkins: 5.5 – as industrious as ever, but is he going to be as effective in the Championship as he was in League 1?

Max Power: 5.5 – below par.

Alex Gilbey: 5.5 – scored a beautifully taken goal, but needs to work on the defensive side of his game.

Will Grigg: 6– effective in the first half, anonymous in the second. Was he really fit to play?

Yanic Wildschut: 6 – a good first half but lost in the second with no service coming through.

Substitutes

Michael Jacobs – came on for Grigg after 70 minutes. Could not impose himself on the game.

Donervon Daniels – came on for Burke after 77 minutes. Looked out of touch. How fit is he?

Ryan Colclough – on after 85 minutes for Wildschut. Looked confused as to his role.

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Champagne football returns to Wigan – Scunthorpe match reaction

What a difference a change in shape can make. A reversion to a genuine 3-5-2 with twin strikers proved the catalyst for a wonderful performance from Latics. The 3-0 scoreline did not flatter Latics – in fact they could have had six, such was their superiority. Champagne football at long last has returned to Wigan.

Gary Caldwell had brought in Donervon Daniels in place of Leon Barnett, to play in a back three together with Craig Morgan and Chris McCann. Jonjoe Kenny and Reece James operated as wing backs, with Francisco Junior and David Perkins in holding midfield. But the key was bringing in Craig Davies to partner Will Grigg up front, with Michael Jacobs having a free role in midfield.

A goal within four minutes certainly settled Wigan’s nerves, Grigg expertly putting away the penalty he had gained. It was no surprise when Latics scored a second after 27 minutes, when Daniels struck the ball home with the aplomb of a centre forward. Latics were stroking the ball around at the back, with the midfield linking well to receive the ball and launch attacks.  The wing backs were pushed high up the pitch, stretching the visitors’ defence. The constant movement of Jacobs, Grigg and Davies was causing real problems for Scunthorpe.

Latics went in to the interval with a two goal lead. They had had 61% of the possession in the first half and constantly threatened the Scunthorpe defence. However, one wondered how long Davies could stay on the pitch, given his fitness issues. The big striker had been on fire, causing constant problems for the Scunthorpe defence, not least with his physical presence. Grigg too was thriving, given the extra space Davies was creating for him.

Davies did actually stay on until the 73rd minute, but three minutes before his departure he latched on to a great through ball from Grigg for Wigan’s third goal.  Shaq Coulthirst replaced Davies in that striking role, with Sean Murray replacing Jacobs in the 76th minute and Max Power coming on for Junior five minutes from time.

The level of football Latics played in this match made David Sharpe’s bold statement about smashing League 1 seem more realistic. But consistency is the key and Latics will face sterner tests than Scunthorpe. The style of play resembled the more heady days of the Martinez era, but was much more pragmatic. Probing long balls were mixed in with short passes. Above all it was the movement off the ball that enabled a spectacular display.

The Good

Davies silenced his critics and showed that he is much more than a big target man, with a superb all-round performance. Grigg’s intelligent play was a real headache for Scunthorpe. Jacobs was all-action, not afraid to run at the opposition defence, playing the creative role in midfield with great effect.

Perkins and Junior were a formidable partnership in the centre of midfield, making interceptions, winning tackles and being constantly available to receive the ball from defenders. Morgan looked calm and self-assured all night in the middle of the back three. McCann had looked insipid against Doncaster but was back to his best in this match. He was solid on defence, accurate in his passing and made the kinds of surging runs out of defence that he used to make under Uwe Rosler. Daniels not only scored a goal but looked solid throughout.

Thrust forward, almost operating as wingers, both wing backs played well. The 18 year old Kenny looks particularly suited to the wing back position, where he has less defensive duties than playing as a full back.

As has been the case this season, the goalkeeper saw a lot of the ball. O’Donnell is effectively playing the role of goalkeeper/sweeper, if at times the passes he receives put him under undue pressure. It is a far cry from the constant long punting of Scott Carson.

The Bad

It is hard to fault a performance as good as this. Caldwell got his tactics right and it worked to great effect.

However, once again the wing backs were pushed a long way forward. There were times when O’Donnell was in possession but both Kenny and James were stood marked at the half way line. They were probably playing to orders, perhaps a tactic designed to draw opposition defenders forward.  However, it means that they are not readily available to receive the ball from a goalkeeper or defender under pressure. In this match it was not a problem, given the impotence of the Scunthorpe attack, but it is something that would need adjustment playing against stronger opposition.

Player Ratings

Richard O’Donnell: 8 – largely untroubled by the Scunthorpe attack, but played an important part in the build-up from the back.

Jonjoe Kenny: 8 – has the makings of an outstanding wing back.

Donervon Daniels: 8 – took his goal well and played with confidence.

Craig Morgan: 8 – solid in defence and excellent in distribution.

Chris McCann: 8 – looked rejuvenated. Can he maintain this level of performance?

Reece James: 8 – an excellent young player learning the position of wing back.

Francisco Junior: 8.5 – showed his class and poise.

David Perkins: 8.5 – another all-action performance.

Michael Jacobs: 8 – full of running and a constant threat to the opposition defence.

Craig Davies: 9 – a complete performance showing not only a strong physical presence but good link-up play with teammates. Deservedly given a standing ovation when leaving the field of play.

Will Grigg: 8.5 – bright and full of invention.

Substitutes:

Shaq Coulthirst: – came on for Davies.

Sean Murray: –  came on for Jacobs. Looks better in a more advanced midfield role.

Max Power: – came on for the closing minutes.

 

Climbing back up with experience – Latics are ready for the Owls

With renewed confidence following a hard fought victory at Leeds on Boxing Day, Wigan Athletic face Sheffield Wednesday at the DW tomorrow night. A win for Latics would see them climb out of the relegation zone.

In an attempt to draw in more support the club are offering ground admission at £10. Not surprisingly after so many poor performances at home this season’s average attendance stands at 12,518. It is down 18% from last season’s average of 15,176.

Interestingly the DW Stadium was the most popular venue for away supporters in the Championship last season, with an average of 1,968 per game. If this had been a weekend game we could have expected a significant number of away supporters making the journey across the Pennines. However, with a 7:45 pm start on a Tuesday evening in cold weather it is going to take the most loyal of Owls’ fans to make the journey.

Malky Mackay will continue to rely mainly on his experienced players for this match. Latics have the second oldest squad in the division, although Mackay fielded a couple of younger players against Leeds in Rob Kiernan and James Tavernier, both 23 years of age. He will surely stick by the 3-5-2 system that worked well at Leeds, giving wing backs Tavernier and Andrew Taylor the opportunity to move forward to support the attack. Tavernier has the ability to launch superb crosses and it will be interesting to see if the probable strike force of Marc-Antoine Fortune and James McClean can show the heading ability needed to capitalize on his deliveries. Oriol Riera would surely thrive on such service should he come on the field at some stage.

Mackay will be tempted to name an unchanged lineup, providing there are no fitness issues among those players. At Leeds he had a bench that would be the envy of many clubs – Ali Al Habsi, Emmerson Boyce, Roger Espinoza, Adam Forshaw, Shaun Maloney, Callum McManaman and Oriol Riera. However, he will be keen to keep a settled lineup, particularly on the centre of defence where a new trio of James Perch, Ivan Ramis and Rob Kiernan did well at Leeds.

It is only four weeks since Latics were defeated at Hillsborough in a mediocre match. That day the giant centre forward Atdhe Nuhiu gave Latics’ central defence a torrid time. Ivan Ramis had a rare off-day and had to be substituted at half time. Tomorrow Nuhiu will find it harder, facing a backline of three central defenders, with Ramis keen to atone for his display that day.

Since then Wednesday won 2-1 at Blackburn, lost 0-1 at home to Wolves and 4-0 at Fulham, but beat Blackpool 1-0 at home on Boxing Day. They lie in 13th place, 11 points above Wigan. It will be the fourth time the two clubs have met in a league game in the 2014 calendar year.

If Latics are to climb the table they need to be able to beat sides like Sheffield Wednesday. It could be a tight encounter tomorrow night at the DW Stadium.

Is Maloney central in Rosler’s plans?

Shaun Maloney

Will Shaun Maloney have a major role to play this season?

They say that every new manager likes to bring in his own men. Owen Coyle brought in ten new players at the start of last season. He had little choice than to do otherwise, with twelve members of the senior squad players having left following relegation, together with the  need for a large squad due to the extra matches involved in Europa League participation.

Only two of Coyle’s recruits – Scott Carson and James Perch – started in the Huddersfield game on Tuesday. Five of that starting lineup were new, signed by Uwe Rosler over the past couple of months. Two of the starters – Rob Kiernan and Ivan Ramis – were signed by Roberto Martinez. The other two were Callum McManaman  and Emmerson Boyce. McManaman joined the club as a 16 year old in 2007. The evergreen Boyce was signed by Paul Jewell in 2006.

Given that he already had a large squad, inherited from Coyle, how was Rosler going to make space to bring in his own players?

Rosler started by trying to sell Ivan Ramis in January, but both Cardiff City and Crystal Palace backed out of possible deals on medical grounds. However, by selling Nouha Dicko to Wolves and loaning Grant Holt to Newcastle, he was able to bring in a handful of loan players over the next few months. Of those only Martyn Waghorn remains, having signed a permanent contract in April.

Over the summer Jean Beausejour and Jordi Gomez left at the ends of their contracts. Stephen Crainey was released, together with Jordan Mustoe and Danny Redmond. Juan Carlos Garcia was farmed out to Tenerife on loan. James McArthur was sold to Crystal Palace.

In the space of ten months and despite the obstacles to doing so, Rosler has managed to bring in ten of his own men. However, he now needs to reduce his now-inflated squad by sending players out on loan. They appear to include not only Grant Holt, but also Roger Espinoza, Fraser Fyvie and Marc-Antoine Fortune. The Championship loan market is open to mid-November. The latter three players are in the final year of their contracts at the club, so a loan move would signal that they are no longer in the manager’s future plans.

Wigan Athletic lost three key players over the summer. In Beausejour, Gomez and McArthur Latics had players with considerable technical ability who could play the passing game. There has been a considerable amount of debate among fans in recent weeks about the type of football Latics have been playing this season, which has seemed to alternate between the possession football typical of the Martinez era and the long ball of the Coyle reign. Do Latics still have players to play that passing game effectively?

It has been a difficult start to the season for Rosler, not only with having so many new players to settle in, but also due to fitness issues. Too many players have been physically ill-prepared to compete on an even keel with opposing teams. New players invariably need time to gel with their teammates, but the lack of a clearly defined style of play has made it even more difficult for them. The style of play espoused by the manager –  high pressing, high tempo, with rapid movement – is light years away from what we have seen up to this point. Goals have been given away by sloppy defending and goal opportunities have so often been wasted. But more than anything else it is the lack of creativity that has stood out.

Rosler clearly has faith in his recent signing, Adam Forshaw, in being able to provide a creative spark in midfield. Forshaw did it to great effect at Brentford and Rosler will be banking on him doing the same at Wigan. In recent matches Emyr Huws has provided much of that spark, but he is only 19 years old and needs time. However, if you were to ask a room full of Latics fans who is the best bet for a creative midfield role, the name of Shaun Maloney would surely be their typical response. However, is Maloney in Rosler’s plans? If so, is there room for both he and Forshaw? In what position would Maloney be employed?

Without doubt the best football Wigan Athletic have ever played was in the final part of the 2012-13 season and in the FA Cup triumph in 2013-14. The common theme was that it was based on a 3-4-3 system. There were two central, holding midfield players, who linked up with the wing backs on each side to make a strong middle line. The front three consisted of a centre forward (Di Santo/Kone), a mobile wide player/striker (Moses/McManaman) and typically Shaun Maloney. When Latics were under pressure the wing backs would retreat to make a back five, but they would supply the front three when they moved forward. Sometimes Maloney would be played wide on the left, but he was most effective when playing an advanced midfield role in the “hole” behind the centre forward. If anybody made the side tick it was he.

Martinez had switched from a flat back four system in that 2012-13 season, after his defence had been leaking goals. 3-4-3 became his preferred shape. Maloney had a key role as the playmaker. In the memorable 2-1 victory at Arsenal, Jordi Gomez played in Maloney’s place and had a fine game. However, having the two on the field at the same time rarely worked. Will also be the case with Maloney and Forshaw this season?

Rosler also plays a system with a back line of three defenders. He labels it 3-5-2. His midfield consists of the wing backs plus three more central midfielders. Some fans say that the system is too defensive, with a back line of five shielded by three central midfielders, leaving only two players up front. However, at Huddersfield Huws played a more advanced midfield role than the other two central midfielders, Cowie and Kvist. At times it looked more like 3-4-3 than 3-5-2.

Rosler’s 3-5-2 system is inherently defensive only if the wing backs and the three central midfielders do not get forward to support the attack. To be fair on the manager he is to be seen frequently urging his team forward from his touchline position. However, far too often this season the lone centre forward has been starved of good service and left without support from the midfield. Adverse results have surely played a part in the players’ minds, being reluctant to commit themselves forward for fear of an opposition counterattack. The fitness issue is also surely a factor. Confidence has a huge part to play. So often the courses of matches are changed when the opposition scores a goal out of the blue or poor refereeing decisions play their part.

Shaun Maloney did not play in the pre-season games but has amassed a total of 115 minutes in the league in four appearances off the bench. He started in the League Cup game at Burton Albion, lasting 60 minutes. He has not been at his best, but his superbly timed slide rule pass for Waghorn’s goal against Birmingham highlighted the talent he possesses.

Maloney proved himself as a top quality Premier League player. But questions remain, if at 31 years of age and after a major hip operation, he will ever get back to where he was. At his best and playing in his favourite position in the centre of midfield, he would be an outstanding performer in the Championship.

Is there room for both Maloney and Forshaw in the same team? If so will Maloney be consigned to wide position?

Let’s see what happens over these coming weeks.

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