Fighting for points through set pieces?

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Jake Buxton’s header at QPR brought a great save from Alex Smithies

It almost happened again. A good corner kick from Jamie Hanson and a bullet header from Jake Buxton. It would have put Latics 2-1 up at QPR, but a fine save by Alex Smithies prevented it.

Another header from Buxton from a Max Power corner had given Wigan Athletic an invaluable three points at Wolves a week before. A week earlier and Omar Bogle had headed home a goal against Norwich from corner kick launched by Michael Jacobs. Jacobs had also provided the delivery from the corner for Callum Connolly’s second goal at Burton in mid-January. Has Warren Joyce been placing more focus on set pieces during training?

Barnsley, Cardiff City and Newcastle United have the best record in the Championship division on set pieces in the season so far, each with 17 goals. Leeds United come next with 16 goals, 10 of which came from corners. Wigan only have 8, second worst to Aston Villa with 3. In fact, one of the most frustrating aspects of Latics’ play this season has been their performance on corners and free kicks. Too often the delivery from corners has failed to reach the centre of the goalmouth and the players waiting in and around the box have been too passive in their approach.

Latics have an average of 11.4 shots per game, only Blackburn Rovers having a lower average count. The stats show that Latics average a respectable 13.3 shots per game at home, but away from home only 9.6 shots per game, the lowest in the division. Wigan are clearly more disciplined when playing at home, where they have collected 28 yellow cards. They have received 42 away from home, the highest in the division.

West Bromwich Albion lead the Premier League in terms of goals from set pieces. They have 15, 11 of which have come from corners. Under Tony Pulis they have become a compact unit, with a tough defence and a high work rate. They have the lowest average possession rate at 40.7%.

There are arguments to the effect that football teams should not be obsessed with possession. But Roberto Martinez was certainly a believer and by maintaining possession his teams were more able to withstand the physical demands of the Premier League, more often than not playing against teams with technically superior players. In fact the top six teams in the Premier League table also have the top six possession statistics.

Wigan Athletic’s current average possession rate of 49.3% is the 13th highest in the division, but has been on a strong downward trend since the departure of Gary Caldwell. The emphasis on passing has been superseded by what is euphemistically called a more “direct approach” under Warren Joyce. Given Joyce’s previous reputation as coach of a Manchester United reserve team that played entertaining, flowing football it is difficult to fathom why he has resorted to such methods. Is Joyce trying to stave off relegation by transitioning to a Pulis-type approach?

However, 45% of West Bromwich’s goals have come from set pieces, compared with 27% for Wigan. Given the lack of flowing football from Joyce’s teams, making goals from open play relatively scarce, it is essential that they improve their conversion rate on set pieces.

In the 2014-15 season when they were to be relegated Wigan Athletic’s average possession was 51.6 %. They had an average of 13.7 shots per game. They scored 15 goals from set pieces, 8 of which were from corners. The previous season when they reached the Championship playoffs they had 52.3% possession and 14.7 shots per game, with 17 goals from set pieces.

Although results are the primary concern for Wigan Athletic fans at this moment in time there are many who would like to see Joyce’s team playing in what David Sharpe once named “The Wigan Way”. What that actually means is open to conjecture. The best quality football that Wigan Athletic have probably ever consistently played was from March to May 2012 under Roberto Martinez, while among the most exciting was the attacking play of the Paul Jewell era.

The football played by the current team is far removed from those halcyon times, closer to that of the days of Malky Mackay. But the very minimum most fans want is for Joyce to send his team out to win, rather than not to lose.

In the meantime, with the shortage of goals from open play and a lack of willingness to throw players forward, it is the set pieces that can prove crucial for Latics’ survival in the Championship division.

What are the chances of a set piece goal against Nottingham Forest tomorrow?

 
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Getting the best out of the wing backs

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A bad start to the season is not uncommon for Wigan Athletic.

The beginning of the 2011-12 season was no exception. A  3-1 home loss to Wolves in early November was their eighth consecutive defeat and Roberto Martinez clearly had to look at changing something. The changes he made took some time to take effect, but in the end they were to underpin a remarkable turnaround in the team’s fortunes.

In the next match against Blackburn Rovers he brought in a back line of three central defenders, with Ronnie Stam and David Jones employed as wing backs. Stam had struggled as a conventional right back, but looked much more comfortable as a wing back where he had much more freedom to attack. Defending was not his forte. Jones was a central midfielder pushed into a new role, in which he never looked truly comfortable. Results improved a little, but by Christmas Latics were still locked in the bottom three.

By the time the January transfer window opened the fans were clamouring for new signings to reinvigorate a team that was heading for relegation. Martinez was to sign just one player, paying Birmingham City £2.5m for left winger, Jean Beausejour. It did not seem enough at the time.

However, Martinez knew that Beausejour had played as a wing back for Chile. He immediately replaced Jones in that position and made it his own. Stam’s defensive limitations, even as a right wing back, were to persuade Martinez to bring back Emmerson Boyce. If nothing else, Boyce could provide more stability to a defence that was hemorrhaging goals.

By mid-March and the introduction of Shaun Maloney the team was starting to play much better. The 3-4-3 system was working really well, not least because of the contributions of Boyce and Beausejour at wing back. When Latics were under pressure they would drop back to provide a back line of five, but still be available to link up with the central defenders to build up moves from the back. Their patient and skilful build up play was to prove a key feature in the amazing results the team was to achieve in avoiding relegation.

Boyce and Beausejour tucked in closely with the back three. If one advanced the other would stay put. Boyce was to show a range of skills that surprised so many of us – defensively solid and with a silky touch in attack. Beausejour rarely wasted a ball and his crossing could be reminiscent of David Beckham.

Sadly the era of Boyce and Beausejour is over, but the appointment of Gary Caldwell as manager has brought a return to a system involving wing backs.

On the tour of Scotland we saw the wing backs pushed well forward, much further than was typically the case under Martinez. The Scot has stated his preference for attacking football and deploying the wing backs in relatively advanced positions could be viewed as a consequence of that. But Martinez was facing high quality opposition and was rarely able to let his wing backs off a tight leash. Caldwell faces a different pressure – providing attacking football that delivers the goals that were so sadly lacking last season.

However, there were times in both matches where the wing backs were not dropping back sufficiently to receive the ball from the back three. The result was central defenders either looking for holding midfielders to receive the ball or playing it across their own back line, too often resulting into a back pass to the goalkeeper to punt forward. Moreover the central defenders were sometimes exposed to counterattacks as attacks had broken down with the wing backs stranded.

Yesterday Caldwell started with the youngsters Jonjoe Kenny and Reece James at wing back. Both have the ball skills, pace and energy to be effective wing backs, even if had not been their natural roles with Everton and Manchester United respectively. In the second half Kenny was replaced by the more conservative, but perhaps defensively stronger, Kevin McNaughton.

Thirteen out of the fourteen players who were involved in the action yesterday were new to the club. A certain degree of lack of cohesion was inevitable and so it proved with Coventry’s goals. Moreover Tony Mowbray had employed a Rosler-style high pressing game in the early stages that prevented the slow build up from the back.

Perhaps expectations of a good result at Coventry were unrealistically high. However, the sight of central defenders constantly passing the ball across the back line and to the goalkeeper suggests that they do not have sufficient passing options. In the days of Malky Mackay or Owen Coyle they would have often employed the hoof, so often resulting in the position gaining possession.

It is to Caldwell’s credit that he eschews that option. Despite the comments made on Latics Player/WISH FM, teams have achieved promotion out of League 1 playing the ball out of defence. Caldwell will resist the hoof and insist that good football is played. This is not to say that his defenders will not look to put forward a well measured long pass if a forward has moved into an appropriate receiving position.

Mowbray’s pressing tactics will surely be used by other teams to disrupt Latics’ game of building up from the back. It is to be hoped that Caldwell can develop a Plan B to deal with it.

History tells us that it takes time for players to adjust to playing in system that involves three central defenders and wing backs. Roberto Martinez learned that, but he persevered and it came good in the end. However, Martinez was not dealing with a practically brand new squad of players. His players knew each other’s games, even if the system they were playing under was tweaked.

It is going to take time for Caldwell’s new charges to effectively put his footballing ideas into practice. In the meantime it is to be hoped that he can look at providing more of a link between his central defenders and his wing backs. Perhaps a look at old videos from the “golden era” will show the wing backs what can be done against a calibre of opposition with which League 1 pales in comparison.

Yesterday’s team is the youngest Latics have fielded for some years, with six of the starting lineup being below 25 years of age. Young players make mistakes under the pressure of high expectations, as was learned last year under Uwe Rosler. It is to be hoped that the current crop are given time to settle, despite the expectations of the chairman and a significant number of fans.

With the fans clamouring for attacking football Caldwell is pushing his wing backs forward. The question to be posed is whether they are taking sufficient part in the build-up of moves from the back that will translate to goals up front.

Boyce’s anguished departure signals the end of an era

 

Photo courtesy of Daily Mail.

Photo courtesy of Daily Mail

 

I don’t think the history and tradition should ever be forgotten and it certainly should never be seen as a problem or an excuse for how we’re doing now. Showing that this club has enjoyed success in the past provides a target for everyone. But there is a generation of fans who are fed up with hearing about the European Cup victories from my time. I would really like this generation to share the times that the previous ones have done, as they did when they got a bit of glory in 2005.

It is a huge ask to get back to where we were in the Seventies and Eighties, but you always have to aim as high as you can, while at the same time being totally realistic. This club used to be so unified; everybody was pushing in the same direction. As long as I’m sitting here, there will be no divisions. Everybody will be treated with the utmost respect in the position they hold in the football club. “

So said Kenny Dalglish on his return to Liverpool in January 2011. The Scot is not known as one of the most eloquent men in football, but these words were powerful and struck a chord.

Twenty years from now will there be Wigan Athletic fans who are fed up of hearing about winning the FA Cup and the glories of wins over the elite clubs of English football? Will past successes provide a target or will they be a millstone around the club’s neck?

League 1 beckons Wigan after ten years away in the upper echelons. This time around it feels like a step into the unknown. The deconstruction of the playing staff that started in January will be completed over the coming weeks. The club has to cut its coat according to its cloth, from a £50 million salary bill in the Premier League in 2012-13 to one nearer £10 million in 2015-16.

Players come and they go. That is the nature of football. But Emmerson Boyce’s departure is much deeper than that. For me his presence on the field was always a reminder of the teams of the Martinez era, who achieved what was beyond our wildest dreams. Boyce and Wigan Athletic seemed to go hand in hand, the player and the club making constant, steady progress, jointly punching above their weight.

Boyce was signed by Paul Jewell from Crystal Palace in August 2006 as a replacement for right back, Pascal Chimbonda. He quickly established himself as a solid and reliable defender, playing either at right back or in the centre of defence. Boyce was to make 34 league starts in that 2006-07 season. However, Mario Melchiot was signed in the summer of 2007 and became the first choice right back, with Boyce being used primarily in the centre of defence. He made 25 league starts in that 2007-08 season. The following season saw him make 26 starts.

But it was the arrival of Roberto Martinez in the summer of 2009 that was to change Boyce’s career. Distribution had not been Boyce’s strong point, but under the influence of the Catalan, it started to improve.

Boyce was to experience true highs and lows during the four years with Martinez.

In September 2009, with Latics playing a new brand of football, Boyce lined up at centre back with Titus Bramble, in Wigan’s first ever league victory over Chelsea, a 3-1 win. A couple of months later that same central defensive partnership had a torrid time at Tottenham, resulting in a 9-1 defeat with Jermain Defoe scoring five goals. Gary Caldwell was to be signed in January, with Boyce losing a regular place in the lineup. However, Boyce did play in the last match of the season when Latics were thumped 8-0 by Chelsea. He had made 23 league appearances.

Boyce was back in the starting lineup in the 2010-11 season, but missed some 10 weeks due to injury. He went on to make 22 league appearances, including the final game of the season at Stoke when he made a goal line clearance in the first half before Hugo Rodallega’s header guaranteed safety from relegation.

Latics started the 2012-13 season badly and suffered seven consecutive losses in September and October. Following a 3-1 defeat by Wolves on November 6th, Martinez decided to change the system of play. For the next match with Blackburn he brought in a back line of three central defenders – Steve Gohouri, Gary Caldwell and Maynor Figueroa – with Ronnie Stam and David Jones as wing backs.

Gradually results started to improve as the players adapted to the new system. Boyce’s first game in the new system was as a wing back in a 3-1 defeat at QPR at the end of January. He moved into the back three for the next couple of matches, a 3-0 defeat at Tottenham and a 1-1 home draw with Everton. Martinez then opted for the safety of Boyce at wing back, rather than the defensively- suspect Ronnie Stam. Boyce was to get a better feel for the position, which was more physically challenging for him.

The tide was to turn in mid-March as the players started to play really well in the system. Shaun Maloney had established himself as a starter, with Boyce and the January arrival, Jean Beausejour, playing key roles as wing backs. Boyce’s form was a revelation. He had been transformed into a high quality wing back, defensively solid as always, but making long runs off the ball to make himself available to receive passes. But more than anything else it was the quality of his passing that caught the eye for me. Could this be the same player we saw in the Jewell era? He will be long remembered for his classy performances in the epic wins at home over Manchester United and away at Liverpool and Arsenal.

The following season was Latics’ last in the Premier League, but Boyce was to play a key role in helping lift the FA Cup. He had played at wing back in the 3-0 win at Everton and the 2-0 victory in the semi final against Millwall. But for the final he was drafted into the back three, together with Antolin Alcaraz and Paul Scharner. Being captain of a side that won the FA Cup is something he will never forget.

Boyce was clearly a late developer who had gained the self-confidence to play football in the Martinez style. The arrival of Owen Coyle meant a return to a flat back four, but Boyce did get opportunities to play in the wing back position on the occasions when Uwe Rosler chose to play with three central defenders. In the absence of Gary Caldwell through injury, Boyce had become the regular captain and an automatic choice in the team. He was to play a remarkable 50 matches in that 2013-14 season.

In August he had been back once again back at Wembley, leading his team out in the Community Shield against Manchester United. In September he led them out in the club’s first ever European competition match in Bruges. In early March he was to captain them to another famous FA Cup win over Manchester City, a 2-1 win in the sixth round at the Etihad Stadium. A month later he was back at Wembley for the 1-1 draw in the semi final against Arsenal. His season finished with two close encounters with QPR in the Championship playoffs.

Sadly Boyce could not maintain the same kind of form in the 2014-15 season that followed. He was not alone in that respect – it would not be an exaggeration to say that not one single player in the squad played to his potential. However, at times it looked like the years had caught up with him and at 35 he had lost some of his previously considerable pace. January saw a clear out of 13 players including his fellow cup final winners Roger Espinoza, Shaun Maloney, Callum McManaman and Ben Watson.

Just like with Liverpool an era of success had ended and the club was adjusting to a new reality. Dave Whelan had backed Uwe Rosler in the transfer market in a bid to get back to the Premier League, but it was to backfire with the German losing his job in November. Boyce was to work under his seventh manager in his ninth year at the club.

Malky Mackay was brought in by Whelan to get Latics back into the promotion race, but the reverse happened. Boyce no longer commanded a regular starting berth in the team and by the end of January, having seen the vestiges of the Martinez legacy depart, the writing was surely on the wall for him. The club was seriously downsizing just in case the unthinkable happened and Latics were to find themselves in League 1 next season. To not do so could jeopardise its financial future. Moreover so many players had not been playing to their potential, just not appearing to show the commitment on the field that fans expected. Sadly the downsizing left the squad short on quality and Mackay just could not turn things around.

After nine years Emmerson Boyce had become the epitome of what the club’s successful era was all about. In parallel he and the club had punched above their weight, competing on a field that was not level, against the elite of English football. His resilience and willingness to improve professionally made him a role model for his colleagues. Off the field he was a great ambassador for the club and his work with Street Soccer USA and Joseph’s Goal was notable.

As Wigan Athletic supporters we will all have our favourite and most memorable Boyce moments. I can remember being behind Mark Schwarzer’s goal at Fulham, with Latics fans singing ‘I’m a Believer’ at the tops of their voices, when he hit an absolute gem of a shot into the corner of the big keeper’s net. His block of what appeared to be a certain goal by Edin Dzeko in that sixth round cup win was unbelievable and will compete with any such incidents in world football. The post-match celebrations at Wembley and Boyce holding the FA Cup with Gary Caldwell beggared belief. But my favourite was when he carried Joseph Kendrick on to the pitch at Wembley. It was an unforgettable moment in a sport that can be as cynical as any.

As Kenny Dalglish said “…..you always have to aim as high as you can, while at the same time being totally realistic.”

This is what David Sharpe, Gary Caldwell and other senior managers at the club are currently dealing with. The club has to downsize to a wage bill around a third of what it was in that first season back in the Championship. Sharpe and Caldwell have provided a breath of fresh air to a club that was meandering with a lack of leadership and direction. They have a hard road ahead of them, but the support of the majority of the fans. The waters are going to be choppy over the next couple of months as things are reengineered.

There have been fans who have advocated finding a place for Emmerson Boyce, not only as a player, but also as a coach or an ambassador for the club. However, in the current economic climate that the club was facing, adding additional backroom or administrative staff was unlikely to happen. Sadly the club will most likely have to downsize its non-playing staff too, cutting back towards bare bones.

However, Dalglish had also pointed out that “This club used to be so unified; everybody was pushing in the same direction. As long as I’m sitting here, there will be no divisions. Everybody will be treated with the utmost respect in the position they hold in the football club.”

This is something that Sharpe, Caldwell and company will surely work on. Over the past couple of years too many players have been frozen out, with seemingly no future at the club, but still on the books. Others have come in and found it hard to settle and play to their potential.

There are so many supporters who are sad to see Emmerson Boyce not continue to be on the club’s playing staff. Some would say that he should have been offered a contract extension for another year on a salary commensurate with League 1 status. Others would opine that Boyce will be 36 in September, his best days behind him. Better to invest the more limited finances in younger players for the future.

Both views have credence. However, the way in which Boyce has been treated appears to reflect those broader human resource management issues within the club.

A pay-per-play arrangement is hardly ideal for a footballer coming up to 36 years of age, though the club can justify it given its changed economic situation. Boyce labelled the pay-as-you-play offer as “disappointing”, but went further by saying that the deal itself was “laughable”. His wife, Lucy, tweeted:

A degree of respect would be expected #9Years Unlike the disregard. It came too late & when it did it was a youth equivalent.”

But even if the size of the deal was seemingly derisive for him, Boyce went on to say that “After nine years I would have preferred someone to have sat down and told me they weren’t offering me a deal. That’s the most disappointing thing as far as I’m concerned. “

Some fans were disappointed with Boyce in that he had talked with the media about how he felt about the contract offer. Moreover his wife was active on the subject on Twitter. Why would a player who has appeared such a role model behave in that way? Some even said that he was using the media to put pressure on the club to give him a better offer. After all what right did he have to complain after picking up £1 million-plus salaries from the club over the years?

Others sided with the player. There had to be something seriously wrong with the scale of the offer he received. Why was the club offering its most highly respected player and captain a deal on youth equivalent terms? What happened with the communication?

The anguished exit of Emmerson Boyce leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

However, life goes on at the club and fans will continue to support the youthful duo of Sharpe and Caldwell. They have a difficult job to do to turn things around, but they remain optimistic about the road ahead.

Let’s hope they can learn from past mistakes made by the club and make sure they do not recur.

 

Holgerrson to stay?

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Markus Holgerrson is one of several Latics players whose contracts expire this summer.

The big Swede, Markus Holgerrson, at last made his debut for Wigan Athletic, albeit coming on at Blackburn as a substitute after 72 minutes.

Holgerrson was signed as a free agent from New York Red Bulls in early February, with glowing references. His contract is until the end of the current season, which is impending.

Uwe Rosler took a gamble at Blackburn by surprisingly playing Ivan Ramis in a central back line of three. The Spaniard came off at half time, to be substituted by Leon Barnett. Knowing that Ramis could be a key player in the playoffs, Rosler took the gamble of playing him despite the risk of it being too early following the hamstring injury from which he has been recuperating. Only time will tell if Rosler was right to put Ramis in there. A fit Ramis could make a big difference to the promotion push. But will he make it?

At this stage Holgerrson’s future at Wigan is uncertain. Rosler has been able to assess him in training, in the development squad and in about 20 minutes of competitive league play.

Were Holgerrson not to be offered a further contract it would not be a surprise following previous occurrences at the club. At the beginning of last season Roberto Martinez brought in two young players from Spain who had represented their country at youth and schoolboy levels. Eduard Campabadal was an exciting young right back from Barcelona who had put in good performances for the development squad. Martinez gave him his league debut in the last match of the season against Aston Villa and he did not play badly. However, for some unstated reason the 20 year old left the club over the summer and is now back in Spain playing for Cordoba. The other young prospect, forward Guillermo Andres, signed from Villareal, remains in the development squad.

The fate of Nouha Dicko does not bode well for Holgersson and others struggling to get frontline experience. As has happened with other young players at Wigan, Dicko was never given a run of games in which to establish himself. Under Roberto Martinez he went to Blackpool on loan and played well, scoring 9 goals in 32 appearances. Owen Coyle’s arrival saw him shipped off to Rotherham where he once again gave a good account of himself and scored 5 goals in 5 appearances. Despite never giving him a chance in the first choice lineup, in January Uwe Rosler sold him to Wolves where he since has scored 13 goals in 19 appearances. Given Latics’ lack of a forward who can regularly score goals the Dicko transfer was hard to fathom.

The dearth of first team opportunities for young players in particular has been a sore point at Wigan for some time. Callum McManaman had to wait so long to get his chance, as did Lee Nicholls. Their contemporaries Danny Redmond and Jordan Mustoe still have not started in a single league match despite being 23 years old and successfully negotiating Latics’ youth system and the development squad. They still remain on Latics’ books.

During his tenure at Wigan, Roberto Martinez was loath to blood young players from within the club in league games. More surprisingly Martinez gave young midfielder Fraser Fyvie little opportunity outside cup games to prove his worth. Fyvie was certainly no raw recruit, having made more than 50 appearances for Aberdeen in the SPL up to the age of 20, when he joined Latics. The current season has been a disaster for the skilful midfielder with injuries and unfortunate loan spells at Yeovil and Shrewsbury taking their toll. He has now had three managers at Wigan who have not had the confidence to give him a further league start to add to the single one he received at the same time as Campabadal against Aston Villa.

Owen Coyle took Adam Buxton to the USA for pre-season, but the young defender soon disappeared from the limelight. Over recent months he has had loan spells at Burton Albion and Accrington Stanley .

The news came out today that Honduras coach, Luis Fernando Suarez, has named both Roger Espinoza and Juan Carlos Garcia in his squad of 23 players for Brazil. The Colombian has also included ex-Latics favourites Maynor Figueroa and Wilson Palacios. Given that Garcia has played only one senior game all season at Wigan, Suarez clearly has faith in the player’s abilities. It was a surprise that Rosler did not include Garcia in the squad for the Blackburn game on Saturday. The player still has two more years remaining on his contract.

Holgerrson is not alone in that he has a contract expiring in summer. He is joined by Jean Beausejour, Emmerson Boyce, Gary Caldwell, Stephen Crainey, Jordi Gomez and Mike Pollitt. Moreover the loan periods will expire for Jack Collison, Josh McEachran, Nicky Maynard and Nick Powell.

For the moment Rosler will be focusing on the playoffs, which will decide which division Latics play in next year. Should it be the Premier League he might well look at retaining some of those end of contract players who have proven experience at that level. Should it be the Championship, Rosler will look at bringing down both the average age and the salary costs of his squad.

It is going to be a very different Wigan Athletic squad we will see at the beginning of next season.

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Wigan Athletic 2 Watford 1 – a well-earned win for Latics

Waghorn celebrates Wigan's second goal.

Waghorn celebrates Wigan’s second goal.

Wigan Athletic’s undefeated run goes on, this time with a narrow, but well-earned win over a cultured Watford side. Despite a miserable away record and a position in mid-table the visitors proved to be worthy opposition, being well organized and playing good football. In Ikechi Anya – born in Scotland from a Nigerian father and Romanian mother – Watford were to have the outstanding performer on the day.

Uwe Rosler sprung a surprise in his starting lineup, bringing in Rob Kiernan to make his first league start for Latics against his former club. Kiernan formed a central defensive trio with Emmerson Boyce and Ivan Ramis. James Perch and Jean Beausejour occupied the wing back positions, with James McArthur and Jordi Gomez in the centre of midfield. James McClean and Martyn Waghorn played further forward supporting Marc Antoine Fortune.

The common misunderstanding about a team playing with three centre backs is that they are playing light on defence. The reality is that the wing backs typically come back to complete a back line of five. However, as soon as the game started Latics’ wing backs, Beausejour in particular, were pushed far forward. Rather than playing 3-4-3 it became more akin to 3-2-5.

With so many men pushed forward Latics were able to launch long passes, putting pressure on the visitor’s defence. McClean fired wide from a good position then Gomez put Beausejour through with a great ball but the Chilean could only fire straight at goalkeeper Almunia. McClean again failed to convert a chance shooting straight at the goalkeeper.  With a little more composure Latics could have been 3-0 up in the first fifteen minutes. In the 18th minute Ramis rose to Waghorn’s corner but header was cleared off the line.

At the other end Wigan’s defence had held firm, despite Anya looking a threat. The Scotland international had an effort go past the post, and then could not find the target after a swift counterattack caught out Latics’ defence. McClean had another shot saved by Almunia, then his final ball let him down with Waghorn waiting at the far post.

Wigan should have had the game done and dusted but their profligacy was letting them down. In a way it did not come as a surprise when the visitors took the lead with a beautifully struck low shot from Lewis McGugan in the 36th minute. But Latics were back in the game four minutes later when Ramis’ long pass found Beausejour whose volley was blocked by Almunia, but the Chilean headed home the rebound.

Wigan took the lead on 55 minutes, Waghorn turning and firing home after McArthur had scuffed his shot. Latics brought on Jack Collison for Waghorn after 61 minutes, then Nick Powell for McClean eight minutes later. Gomez and Beausejour had efforts go wide before Watford started to apply concerted pressure in the last 15 minutes with Latics tiring. Anya had a chance go narrowly wide of the post, then could not finish a good opportunity after getting behind Thomas Rogne who had come on for Kiernan.

McArthur was to miss a sitter near the end as the ball had been pulled back to him.

Despite having to play five minutes of added time Wigan held on for a deserved win.

The Good

Rosler launched Latics into this game with their guns a blazing. Rarely over these past years have we seen Latics push so many men forward from the very start. His tactic of pushing the wing backs well forward led to Beausejour finding himself practically in  a centre forward position on a couple of occasions.  Unfortunately the wing back does not have the clinical finishing abilities of a good centre forward, being unable to put away his first opportunity, but scoring his second from the rebound.

With the wing backs coming forward McClean and Waghorn were given the opportunity to play more central roles, supporting Fortune. We have seen great improvements in the Irishman’s finishing over these past weeks, but in this match it was lacking. However, he remained a threat to the Watford defence before being taken off midway into the second half. Fortune was his usual self, full of endeavour, linking up well with teammates.

Gomez proved that he can do a good job in a midfield holding role, together with the industrious McArthur. The Spaniard must have covered every blade of grass on the pitch, tackling, intercepting, and receiving. He is benefitting from as long a run of matches as he has received in his five years at the club. Apart from his industry, his touch was excellent and he sprayed out some great passes.

Kiernan looked comfortable in the role on the left hand side of the line of centre backs. He made a few misplaced passes in the first half but showed his worth defensively. Collison came off the bench and soon looked at ease. He could prove a valuable loan signing.

The Bad

Once again Latics flagged in the last 15 minutes and were put under pressure by Watford. Powell came on to play in a wide position, where he overindulged at times. Hopefully Rosler will use him in a central striking position over the coming matches.

Player Ratings

Ali Al-Habsi: 7 – did all that was asked of him. Could not be faulted for the goal.

James Perch: 7 – as hard working and dependable as ever.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 – he and Ramis formed a formidable partnership in the centre of defence.

Ivan Ramis: 7.5 – see above. Unlucky with his header on goal and his passing as good as ever, including the pass for Latics’ first goal.

Rob Kiernan: 6 – solid in defence.

Jean Beausejour: 8 – an excellent performance in his favourite position as wing back. Must have impressed his family who were over from Chile and at the game.

James McArthur: 7 – a model of consistency in the middle of the park.

Jordi Gomez: 8.5 – superb in midfield.

Martyn Waghorn: 6 – took his goal well, but otherwise rather subdued.

Marc Antoine Fortune: 7 – full of running and endeavour.

James McClean: 6 – got himself in great positions but could not deliver. Nevertheless a handful for the Watford defence. Substituted after 61 minutes.

Substitutes:

Jack Collison: -came on after 61 minutes. Looked the part.

Nick Powell: – came on after 69 minutes. Frustrating.

Thomas Rogne: – came on after 79 minutes.

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