Selling off quality

“We need the right offer. I don’t want to stop the lad from going into the Premier League.”

The words of Dave Whelan regarding the probable departure of James McArthur over the coming days. Once again Latics are playing the role of a club selling off quality.

When thinking of James McArthur the words “automatic choice” come to mind. In fact his would be the first name most Latics supporters would pencil into a team lineup. The Scot might not be the most elegant of movers, but he has been the key man in the engine room of the team. McArthur grew up under the tutelage of Roberto Martinez, where good football was of the essence, even if the results did not always match.

Working under three different managers in less than a year, McArthur stayed with the club when relegation happened. He is a player of genuine Premier League quality, with a massive work rate to supplement his considerable skills. Even in the dark days of long ball under Owen Coyle, McArthur did not succumb. He stuck to his footballing principles, providing the link between defence and attack, preferring to keep the ball on the ground rather than make hopeful long passes. With McArthur on the pitch there has always been a chance of good football coming from Latics.

The same could also be said for Ivan Ramis, the club’s most classy defender. Ramis might well have proved to be one of Martinez’s most astute signings, had he not suffered that cruciate knee ligament injury at Fulham in January 2013. Ramis remains a class act and if he can maintain his fitness he can still be a top flight player. Martinez never had much luck with injuries to his squad and one can only ponder on what might have been if Ramis and Antolin Alcaraz had been able to play together in the centre of defence on a regular basis.

Reports suggest that Ramis is on his way to join Deportivo  La Coruña in Galicia, now back in La Liga after a year’s absence. No fee has been mentioned, but if there is one it is likely to be modest, given the player’s injury record over the past 18 months. Ramis is reputed to be one of the highest earners at the club and his departure has been imminent.

The media reports that both Burnley and Leicester City have made bids for McArthur, the latest one being around £5m from the Foxes. Whelan will probably try for £7m, but the final figure is likely be closer to £6m. The lure of playing in the Premier League and earning a commensurate salary will be hard for the Scot to resist, although the cynics might say that he could well be back in the Championship a year from now if he joins either of those clubs. However, possibilities remain for other Premier League clubs to get involved as the week progresses.

At the moment it looks like Latics are going to take one step forward – in signing Adam Forshaw – and two steps back in allowing players of the quality of McArthur and Ramis to leave.

The dismantling of Roberto Martinez’s squad continues. In July  Latics lost both Jean Beausejour and Jordi Gomez, skilful players who added poise to the team.  Martinez himself did his old club no favours a year ago when he took James McCarthy and Arouna Kone to Everton, along with Alcaraz and Joel Robles. Four of the players remaining from the Martinez era – Emmerson Boyce, Gary Caldwell, Ali Al Habsi and Shaun Maloney – are now well into their thirties. Al Habsi is playing second fiddle to Scott Carson and might well be gone over these coming days.  Roger Espinoza and Fraser Fyvie have not impressed  Rosler sufficiently to push for regular first team places. Even Ben Watson could have left in summer if it had not been for his double leg fracture. On a more positive note Callum McManaman is getting back to his best form and both Rob Kiernan and Lee Nicholls have come up through the ranks.

Times have changed at the club. Few fans these days expect Whelan to get out his cheque book as he did in not only in helping Latics rise to the Premier League, but in keeping them there.   They made losses for six successive years in the elite league despite selling off prized assets like Antonio Valencia and Wilson Palacios. However, when Whelan brought in Martinez he cut the budget and somehow the Catalan managed to keep the club up there for three more years,  an horrendous injury list contributing to relegation in his fourth and final year.

A few years ago fans might have expected Whelan to back the manager in retaining quality players like Beausejour, Gomez, McArthur and Ramis. Uwe Rosler does not have such luxury. He is now likely to lose his classiest players in both defence and midfield. Rosler has to balance the books, using money brought in from transfers to fund his own searches for players.

Ramis played at his best for Rosler when in the centre of a back line of three. Although Latics remain well stocked for central defenders only Caldwell has experience in that position.

It looks like Forshaw will be McArthur’s replacement.  A young player who has excelled at League 1 level compared with an experienced campaigner who played in all of the most eventful games in the club’s history in the higher echelons of English football.However, Rosler clearly has confidence in Forshaw’s ability to make it in a higher level of football.

However, fans will hope that the proceeds of the sales of Ramis and McArthur will go towards improving the squad. The media reports that Latics are in negotiations to sign central striker Andy Delort from French second division side, Tours. It is rumoured that they are offering around  £2m-£3m for the player. This added to an investment of around £5m for Riera and Forshaw would come close to what Latics would recoup. However, the possibility remains of more players leaving, particularly those on higher salaries or out of favour with the manager.

In McArthur and Ramis, Latics will be losing two more players of genuine Premier League quality. However, Rosler has to take a wide overview and make sure that his squad is well balanced and competitive in all positions. At the same time he needs to make sure that he not only breaks even on his transfer dealings, but that he keeps a cap on the wage bill.

Rosler does not have the financial backing that Paul Jewell or Steve Bruce had during their time at Wigan. His situation is more akin to that faced by Martinez. Although he has recruited mainly UK based players he has had to look further afield to find strikers that he can afford.

Fans will be disappointed to see McArthur and Ramis go, less so the Spaniard given his injury problems. They are quality players capable of performing at a high level in the first tiers of football in both England and Spain.

 

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Coyle brings back memories of Allan Brown

Wigan Athletic 1964-65. Back row, Wilf Birkett (Trainer),  Les Jackson (Chairman), Alan Halsall, Roy Wilkinson, Alf Craig, Ralph Gubbins, Derek Houghton, Derek Crompton, Frank Latham  Front Row: Les Campbell, Carl Davenport, Harry Lyon, Allan Brown (Player Manager), Walter Stanley

Wigan Athletic 1964-65.
Back row, Wilf Birkett (Trainer), Les Jackson (Chairman), Alan Halsall, Roy Wilkinson, Alf Craig, Ralph Gubbins, Derek Houghton, Denis Crompton, Frank Latham.
Front Row: Les Campbell, Carl Davenport, Harry Lyon, Allan Brown (Player Manager), Walter Stanley.
Thanks to WiganWorld for the photo.

A couple of weeks ago at Blackpool with Latics a goal behind, Owen Coyle made a bold move.  He already had two wingers on the field, Callum McManaman and James McClean, and decided to boost  Latics’ attack further by bringing on  two central strikers, Grant Holt and Marc-Antoine Fortune.  For a while Latics played in a formation akin to  4-2-4.

Seeing what was happening my mind drifted away to when I was a teenager watching Allan Brown’s team destroy rivals using that 4-2-4 system.

Brown took over at Wigan as player-manager in 1964 with a mandate to win the Cheshire League title. Latics had finished in mid table the previous year and it was obvious that a transformation was required. Brown and the Latics’ board at the time certainly meant business as they took the radical step of bringing in full-time professionals to give them a big advantage over the other clubs who use part-timers or amateurs. On top of that Brown brought in a 4-2-4 system, which was to reap high dividends.

As a teenager I was thrilled to get Brown’s autograph and those of his full time squad, who he would often take to the Roy Café in the centre of Wigan, where my mother worked. Sometimes I would even get a free ticket to the match.

LaticLatics4-2-4_formation_svgs played an orthodox 4-2-4 system like the one Brazil had used to win the 1958 World Cup. They had a flat back four with two ‘halfbacks’ – usually Dennis Crompton and Brown himself –  in the centre of midfield. Crompton was the ball winner/water carrier and Brown the number 10 who would put the passes through to the forwards, scoring goals himself in the process.  Wingers Les Campbell and Walter Stanley were there to supply crosses to the central strikers, although they did do a share of defensive duties.

Latics were to take the league title from Macclesfield, who were to finish five points behind. Wigan scored 121 goals in 42 matches, most of them  down to central strikers Harry Lyon and Carl Davenport. With such an emphasis on attack they needed a defence which could hold its own when the half backs and strikers got stranded upfield and the opposition counterattacked. The superb Derek Houghton was at right back and Roy Wilkinson on the left. Ex-paratrooper Alf Craig was a rock in the centre of defence alongside the elegant Ralph Gubbins.

Association_football_4-4-2_formation_svgIn 1966,  during Brown ‘s tenure at Wigan,  Alf Ramsey’s “wingless wonders” won the World Cup with midfield players – Alan Ball and Martin Peters –  playing in the wide positions. The 4-4-2 system he used was eventually adopted by most English clubs for years to come.  It provided more defensive cover with the wide players being regarded as midfield players, helping the attack and shielding the defence.

In recent years both Paul Jewell and Steve Bruce successfully used 4-4-2 at Wigan.

Whether Owen Coyle would call the system he briefly played at Blackpool 4-2-4 or 4-4-2 is academic. One system reverts into the other depending on the degree to which  the wingers/wide midfielders roles are focused on attacking.

There were times at Blackpool when both McClean and McManaman were both thrust into largely attacking roles. 4-2-4 is a dangerous ploy these days when a single goal can so often determine the final result.  Although it gives powerful attacking options it leaves the defence light on cover.

What a breath of fresh air it was to see Coyle attacking with two wingers and two central strikers. However, the wingers are only going to be effective if they get the ball. Too often the ball is launched long to the central strikers, cutting them out.

It is interesting how Latics’ regular wide players are listed on the club website. Both Jean Beausejour and James  McClean are regarded as midfielders, whereas Callum McManaman is listed as  a forward. One wonders how they will categorise Marc Albrighton.

One of the strengths of Allan Brown’s team was their consistency of approach. All players coming in knew the 4-2-4 system they had to fit into. The same could be said about Jewell’s and Bruce’s 4-4-2. Roberto Martinez was a tactical innovator, but his teams had a clear purpose, if they found it difficult to implement against star-studded opposition.

If there is one main criticism of Owen Coyle’s reign so far it has to be that there is no tactical blueprint of that type.

Moreover his wide players have not consistently delivered the goods in the opponent’s penalty box. Part of this is down to a lack of good form on their part, but too often their defensive duties have limited their scope in attack.

We will have to wait and see if the Wigan Athletic defence is going to be strong enough to allow the wide players to adopt a more attacking role. When that happens strikers like Holt and Fortune are going to get goals.

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Time to rebuild for beleaguered Wigan as icon Martinez bids farewell

roberto-martinez_2570061b

If a week is a long time in politics, this month has been an eternity in Wigan Athletic’s corner of football history. From that magical day at Wembley to the exhaustion and despair of relegation three days later, to the joy of the victory parade at which 30,000 Wiganers sang for Roberto Martinez to stay.

Ten or so days ago, it appeared the Wigan legend was making demands for further investment in the club’s training facilities and youth development — today, the club has announced that compensation has been officially agreed and he will leave to fill the managerial vacancy at Everton.

Well-deserved tributes to Martinez will follow in due course. He was far more than an employee during his managerial stint at Wigan Athletic — he represented the club as a true ambassador, with passion and pride, always portraying the club in the best possible light. He was a source of pride for most of the club’s supporters, a rarity in football who possesses a real love story with the club and town. He delivered footballing memories we shall never forget, including the club’s greatest achievement FA Cup victory but also the highest quality football the club has ever seen during last season’s great escape. He is and will remain an icon.

But he is gone, officially — and his departure leaves the club in a state of uncertainty. If the blow of relegation has been cushioned for many of us by the knowledge that his tireless work behind the scenes has left the club in strong shape for the long-term, his departure brings with it a wave of fresh concerns.

The immediate concern is a mass exodus. The loss of certain players was inevitable following relegation. But having already lost seven players to the expiration of the their contracts, either full-time or loan, the club now faces the challenge of keeping players who would have stayed loyal to Martinez but may now be tempted to follow his lead and jump ship. How many of the youngsters, especially the Spanish-speakers, will stick around for Championship football if a British manager takes over under a new playing philosophy? How many players — Alcaraz, Maloney and Kone spring to mind — will Martinez try to take with him? How many of the coaching staff will stay?

The longer-term concern is a potential loss of continuity. After four years of successfully revolutionizing the way the club played football from the youth teams upward, the club now faces the possibility of a new manager with a different footballing philosophy. The hope is that Dave Whelan will take a page out of Swansea’s book and prioritize continuity, bringing in a manager with a similar continental philosophy and an emphasis on youth development. Ideally, but impractically, Martinez would act in an advisory role to Whelan in the appointment of his successor to ensure his vision is continued.

The good news is that most of the candidates linked with the Wigan vacancy are promising from a footballing perspective. Gus Poyet is a personal favourite given his style of football, cultural and linguistic understanding, familiarity with the Championship, and relative youth. Rene Meulensteen represents a gamble, as Jakarta Jack recently wrote, but ticks many of the correct boxes with a continental approach, track record working with youth, and big-club pedigree. Karl Robinson is lesser known. Steve McLaren is experienced and did wonderful work at FC Twente and Middlesbrough, but has some blotches on his managerial record as well. Only Owen Coyle’s name sticks out as an unpopular candidacy. And finally, the Daily Mail couldn’t help but report that Whelan is after Steve Bruce for a third stint in the Premier League, this morning. Unlikely.

A swift appointment must be a priority. There will be much rebuilding over the summer. Poyet, Meulensteen and McLaren do inspire hope in the transfer market, something that should prove vital in the immediate future. But it remains to be seen what sort of budget Martinez’s successor is forced to operate within. There is a lingering sense of unfinished business for Martinez given the challenges posed by relegation. The biggest question is what led to the breakdown in talks between Whelan and Martinez, between that Friday when the Spaniard had asked for assurances about investments in the club, and the Monday when Whelan suggested he would be leaving. Did the manager ask the chairman for assurances about keeping certain players? About bringing new players in? Or strictly about investment in facilities and development?

The next few weeks promise to be unpleasant ones for the Wigan faithful. The ecstasy of the FA Cup win has been blunted by relegation and the slow and painful dismantling of the team that achieved it. The list of those to have left the club includes Antolin Alcaraz, Franco Di Santo, Maynor Figueroa, Ronnie Stam, Joel Robles, Angelo Henriquez, Paul Scharner, and now, most damningly, the captain of the ship, Roberto Martinez. Presumably his coaching staff will follow. Whelan’s swift action will be crucial. His managerial appointments in the past have largely been inspired, but this may be the greatest test yet.

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Wigan Athletic 1 Sunderland 4: Scoreline deceives as Black Cats punish Latics

We felt in our match preview that this was a tough time to play Sunderland, a revitalized side brimming with confidence after claiming Manchester City’s scalp on the weekend. Rarely will you see two strikes as sublime as those of Craig Gardner and James Vaughn in the same 90 minutes, and indeed it seemed everything went Sunderland’s way. But the scoreline, and headlines in most of today’s publications, paint a very false picture of a match Wigan had the better of, and should have put to bed before crucial decisions turned it upside down.

The first half was all Wigan — almost. Roberto turned a few heads with his stating lineup, resting the key duo of Victor Moses and Mohammed Diame; Albert Crusat and Ben Watson starting in their stead. The 3-4-2-1 formation that has yielded Latics best results this season was left intact. Steve Gohouri took Gary Caldwell’s position at the centre of the back three, while Dave Jones and Ronnie Stam continued as advanced wing-backs, protected by the mostly defensive central midfield pairing of James McCarthy and Ben Watson. Ahead of them, Crusat started inside left, Jordi inside right, and Rodallega up top — though such is the fluidity of this system that Jordi’s was more of a free-role, popping up left, right and center, with Ronnie Stam constantly overlapping him on the right wing.

It didn’t take long for Latics to carve out an opening, as Crusat sped down the left wing, crossing dangerously for Rodallega, narrowly beaten to the ball by John O’Shea. The passing and movement of the opening 20 minutes was hugely promising — possession at one point was 70% Wigan — although Antolin Alcaraz and Steve Gohouri foreshadowed the shambles of the second half with some risky misplaced passes around the penalty area.

Dave Jones was having his best game at left wing-back, and soon found himself in the box after fantastic interplay with Albert Crusat and Jordi Gomez. His left-footed shot beat Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet, cannoned back to Ronnie Stam, who laid it off with class for Ben Watson. The midfielder lunged with his right foot striking the other post before Sunderland defenders scrambled the ball clear.

The bad luck would continue, with Albert Crusat limping off two thirds of the way through the second half after a neat and effective display. It appeared he had taken a knee to the ribs, but reports say the injury was actually to his back. He was struggling to breathe before his substitution. Here’s for a speedy recovery as he has impressed on his displays thus far.

Victor Moses replaced him and minutes later, Jones again created space for himself in the box, this time shooting for the near post. It produced the save of the game from Mignolet, who not only blocked the shot with a steel hand but recovered in time to deny the lurking Maynor Figueroa.

It looked a matter of time until Latics opened the scoring amid the swirling rain and wind, but then came a series of unfortunate refereeing decisions. First, the fourth official signaled for five minutes of injury time — a bit excessive despite earlier knocks to Bendtner, Cattermole, in addition to Crusat. Mike Dean then failed to award Latics a corner after Antolin Alcaraz’ heavily deflected shot ran past the touchline. So obvious was the corner that Simon Mignolet sprinted off his line and dove to try and divert the ball for a throw-in. Moments later, at the other end, Nicklas Bendtner went down surrounded by Latics players — probably hoping to run the remaining minute of time down — and was awarded a free-kick. Replays would show there was no foul, but Craig Gardner would take full advantage to score the most beautiful free-kick you are likely to see this season. In the sixth minute of injury time.

To say it knocked the stuffing out of Wigan would be an understatement. Latics went in search of an equalizer in the second half but found Sunderland’s defense as resolute as Man City did days earlier. James McLean, a former Latics transfer target last season who had looked dangerous all match, popped up with a headed second before Martinez threw on Conor Sammon for Ronnie Stam. The shape changed to something of a 3-4-3-1, with Rodallega and Moses out on the wings, Jordi floating, and Sammon as target. And it was one of Rodallega’s energetic runs cutting in from the left that resulted in a deflected goal for the Colombian. At 2-1 down and the crowd back in the game, it looked like Latics had the momentum to go on and equalize, perhaps win.

But things would get worse. Maynor Figueroa appeared to be tugged by Bendtner and stopped playing as the Dane continued his run down the right wing, feeding Sessegnon for the goal that killed the game. If it was a foul, it was another awful refereeing decision just as Latics were regaining momentum. If it was not a foul, Figueroa made a terrible mistake as he might have blocked the ensuing cross had he not stopped in his tracks. Camera angles on the replay were not tight enough to draw conclusions.

By the time the fourth went in, Latics’ back three were a mess. Gary Caldwell’s presence and leadership was clearly missed, and many will be hoping Emmerson Boyce is restored to the starting lineup in Gohouri’s stead for the next two games. That said, they were isolated, playing in torrential conditions, and everything Sunderland seemed to attempt was working. When a shot was frantically blocked at the top of the box, James Vaughn unleashed a thunderbolt of a strike that none of us — Ali Al-Habsi included — saw until the replay slowed it down for us. Sunderland won’t score two goals like his or Gardner’s again this season.

It’s worth mentioning that Latics did have chances to equalize and reduce the deficit, but lacked a killer edge. The game swung on two passages of play — the Jones-Watson double-post, and the series of events leading to Sunderland’s first goal.

Opinion

It is hard to take yet another match in which unfavourable refereeing heavily influenced the outcome. Add this latest disappointment to the treatment at Old Trafford, the points lost to Blackburn as a result of Gamst Pedersen’s illegal corner, a fixture list featuring all three newly promoted sides in the first three matches of the season and the traditional big four in a row over the Christmas period — and it really does appear a concerted effort to make sure little Wigan finally get relegated to make way for a more profitable team. Phil Dowd and Mike Dean are two of the league’s most experienced referees. Andre Marriner is no longer a rookie. Why are they making these sort of mistakes? Sure, our defense eventually fell apart, but anyone watching the match up until the first goal — which should not have stood — would have told you that Latics looked destined to win this match until that free-kick was given.

Player Ratings

Al Al-Habsi: 6.5 —  Not to blame for any of the goals.

Steve Gohouri: 5.5 — Almost gave away a goal in the first half. Didn’t make any glaring mistakes but his nerves had a negative effect on the other two centre-backs, who had been playing very well in recent times.

Antolin Alcaraz: 6 — Put the defense under pressure repeatedly with misplaced passes.

Maynor Figueroa: 6 — Had a decent first half, but stopped playing altogether in the buildup to the third goal, which was really the nail in the coffin. Was he fouled?

Ronnie Stam: 7 — Had a very good first half, making overlapping runs down the right wing. His deliveries were top quality — we could use more attacking players who can head the ball. Also had the coolness to lay the ball off to Watson for what was almost Latics first goal.

David Jones: 7 — His best attacking display, particularly in the first half, where his intelligent passing and interplay with Crusat and Gomez led to Latics two best chances. Unlucky not to be on the scoresheet. Unfortunately, he got caught in possession in the buildup to the second goal.

James McCarthy: 7.5 — He is becoming a quality defensive midfielder. His energy levels are great, he rarely gives the ball away. I personally miss the quality of his attacking play, but it was his midfield for most of the match.

Ben Watson: 6.5 — Showed his class and technique with some lovely cross-field balls, very unlucky to hit the post.

Jordi Gomez: 6.5 — Was at the heart of Latics best attacking work, but grew frustrated — the conditions didn’t help.

Albert Crusat: 7 — Quick, neat passer of the ball, had a good first half before being substituted for injury.

Hugo Rodallega: 7 — No clear chances, but got a deflected goal and caused problems for the Sunderland defense. More likely to score than Conor Sammon or Franco Di Santo.

Subs:

Victor Moses: 7 — Called into action earlier than expected, started where Crusat left off proving a handful. But Sunderland had too many men behind the ball.

Conor Sammon: 6 — Again all effort but no end product.

Sunderland 1 Wigan Athletic 2: Luck turns

We asked — we begged and pleaded — for a bit of luck, and finally we have received. After weeks upon weeks of dodgy refereeing, ill-timed injuries, missed penalties, Victor Moses’ personal mission to hit the post but not score, we finally caught a break, and won a match we probably did not deserve to win.

Quite how you can play as well as Latics did away at Newcastle and lose, and then beat Sunderland as we did on Sunday, I’m not sure. Roberto tends to praise his team’s performance when results go the wrong way. This was the opposite, a decidedly average if resolute performance, but an excellent result.

Latics started like wounded dogs — after the morale crushing finale against Blackburn a week prior — and it was no surprise when Sebastian Larsson put Sunderland ahead after 8 minutes. Ali Al-Habsi made a rare mistake, spilling from Nicklas Bendtner’s optimistic shot. The Omani keeper’s subsequent block fell to the Swede, a bright light in Sunderland’s poor campaign, and he made no mistake.

Al-Habsi redeemed himself with a string of excellent saves before Ronnie Stam skied Latics’ first half-chance at the other end. It was the Dutchman’s dangerous cross minutes later, however, that led to the equaliser. Conor Sammon was a foot from connecting inside the penalty area, but when he missed Victor Moses was ready at the far post, collecting, spinning into the box and drawing a foul from Sunderland’s goalscorer. Larsson might have been better off letting the winger shoot, but having witnessed Ben Watson’s two most recent penalty efforts perhaps felt it was a gamble worth taking. Referee Kevin Friend pointed to the spot and the Latics faithful breathed a sigh of relief as Jordi Gomez confidently sent the keeper the wrong way to equalize just before the half.

The second half was not one for the neutral, but Latics did look determined. Gary Caldwell in particular made a few key defensive clearances while Al-Habsi continued to make up for his early error. Conor Sammon broke excitingly from midfield before running out of ideas and being muscled off the ball in one of Latics’ more exciting counter attacks. Sunderland did some aerial bombarding, but it was all predictable and Latics three centre-halves coped with what was thrown at them. It all looked set for a bore draw when James McArthur, on for Ronnie Stam, pounced on a poor touch from Wes Brown, squaring for Franco Di Santo to tap in. A costly defensive mistake from the Sunderland perspective, a reward for a determined performance for the Latics.

Roberto spoke after the match about the healthy competition for places in the squad — the goal was a result of the energy and drive of his two substitutes. It does say a lot that Ben Watson and Hugo Rodallega — two of the first names on the teamsheet a month ago, and last season — were unused substitutes. Martinez stuck to his new tactical system, with Ronnie Stam and David Jones operating as wing-backs on the right and left respectively, ahead of the trio of centre-backs Caldwell, Figueroa and Gohouri. It will be interesting to see if he keeps faith in the system that has yielded four points from six (which would have been six from six but for the inexplicable refereeing against Blackburn) once Antolin Alcaraz and Emmerson Boyce return from suspension and injury respectively. A central three of Caldwell, Alcaraz and Boyce, or Caldwell, Alcaraz and Figueroa, is promising. And I wouldn’t mind seeing Patrick Van Aanholt, so dangerous against Everton in an attacking left-back role, at left wing-back.

The midfield was quiet, although James McCarthy did win the battle against Lee Cattermole, who was substituted for David Vaughn after an ineffectual match. The young Irishman/Scot is solid enough in that deep role, but you do feel his true potential lies in a more attacking role. Mohammed Diame was subdued, while Jordi Gomez is much less effective when the team does not control possession (although thank goodness he was there to take the penalty — who else could be trusted with it?). Victor Moses won the penalty and broke with pace on a few occasions, but didn’t have a shot on target that I can remember. Conor Sammon toiled but didn’t have much to work with.

But three points are three points. What happened here is what typically happens the other way around. Steve Bruce was naive to leave one man at the back as Sunderland chased three points, and our substitutes pounced. Wigan has now leapfrogged Blackburn in the table, and despite the terrifying fixture list ahead there is cause for optimism. Five goals in two matches, a new tactical system that seems to be working, and a squad in which every player is replaceable. Arsenal play Manchester City in the Carling Cup tonight, and with Wenger talking up the need to rest Van Persie and Walcott, opportunity knocks.

A Neutral Would Say

Wigan were a bit lucky to emerge with three points, but Sunderland were sloppy.

Player Ratings

Al Al-Habsi: 7.5 —  Made a mistake on the goal but kept Latics in the game with some excellent saves.

Steve Gohouri: 6 — Doesn’t inspire confidence, but wasn’t at fault for the goal and otherwise kept Sunderland out.

Gary Caldwell: 6.5 — The best of the three central defenders, he made some important clearances. We may see his best football with this new system.

Maynor Figueroa: 6 — Out of position in the first half when Phil Bardsley skied what should have been Sunderland’s second goal. But kept them out thereafter.

Ronnie Stam: 6.5 — Didn’t get forward enough, but was involved in Latics’ best attacking forays when he did.

David Jones: 5.5 — A bit quiet in this one.

Mo Diame: 6 — Also quiet. Shouldn’t be taking free-kicks.

James McCarthy: 6 — Lots of tackling and simple passing, won the battle with Cattermole. But gave the ball away once or twice a bit dangerously.

Jordi Gomez: 6 — Will thrive in this system when Latics dominate possession, but doesn’t have the pace to be effective when counter-attacking. Surprising that he wasn’t replaced by Crusat.

Victor Moses: 7 — Won the penalty, and caused problems with his dribbling as always. Probably earned Sunderland a collective 4 yellow cards.

Conor Sammon: 6 — Worked hard and made one barn-storming run from midfield, but lacks the dribbling and culture of Franco Di Santo. Still, his and Moses’ pace made the Sunderland defense work.

Subs:

James McArthur: 7 — Came on for Ronnie Stam, a defensive substitution when the match was crying out for a quicker option like Albert Crusat. But it was his sheer determination to win the loose ball from Wes Brown that led to the winner. Also kept his cool to square to Di Santo when he could have easily gone for glory and missed. Tempting to say that if it had been the other way around, Franco would have shot!

Franco Di Santo: 7 — His work-rate is very good, and he’s excellent with the ball at his feet. It was his harassing of Kieran Westwood that led to Wes Brown’s poor touch. Big questions about his finishing remain, but he got the winner this time. Pleased for him.