Rejuvenation in Cardiff – match reaction

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Tiger Bay – now reborn as Cardiff Bay.

I had been planning to make the journey to Cardiff some time ago. The principal reason had been to watch Latics in the hope that their luck would turn, but if it didn’t there would at least be the solace of being able to visit Tiger Bay.

As a small kid I had actually been to watch a couple of rugby games before becoming taken over by a constant need to visit Springfield Park and watch non-league football. But at one of those rugby games I saw Danny Wilson tear the home team apart. I heard that, like the man on the right wing of the other team that day, and a famous woman singer, he was from the rough port area of Cardiff known as Tiger Bay.

In the event I was to be lucky on both counts. A superb counterattack had seen Jordi Gomez notch an opportunist goal and send the away support into a mixture of shock and rapture. It had looked like if anybody was going to score, it would be the home team. Despite having the edge on possession, Latics had not posed much attacking threat until the 86th minute when that happened.

Although the arrival of Neil Warnock had brought two wins and a draw in the last three matches to lift them out of the relegation zone, the sparse home crowd was muted from the start. Latics dominated the first ten minutes, only to later look vulnerable to well-flighted crosses coming in from the wings. As the game progressed I had the uncomfortable feeling that the Wigan defence would eventually cave in to the pressure as they had notably at both Bristol and Nottingham. But thanks to a solid and resilient rearguard action and a profligate approach by the Cardiff attack they were to hold out for a much needed win.

When Gary Caldwell signed Jordi Gomez it looked like the Catalan’s flair and goalscoring capabilities were going to be invaluable. But in recent matches Gomez had not made the starting lineup. Perhaps Caldwell, like many of us, did not think that the Catalan and Nick Powell could share the midfield. But Powell was injured yesterday, giving Graham Barrow an easy choice to make. But until that goal Gomez had not looked at his sharpest. However,  he was to do what so many midfielders have done much too little of this season, by getting into the box to support the attack. The timing of his run was superb.

There had been speculation among some travelling fans as to whether we would see something different following Gary Caldwell’s premature departure from the club. But the pundits said that Barrow was a rock upon which the possession-style football had been built, not only in Caldwell’s day, but also under Roberto Martinez. In the event it was the same kind of football that we have seen for the past couple of months, the only difference being that this time around Latics were to win.

That win was long overdue and we can only speculate that if the tide of fortune had turned into Wigan’s favour a week ago against Brighton then Caldwell would still be with us. It has been a frustrating season, but Latics’ performances have not been abject. There had been so many games of fine margins where Latics could have won with a tad more luck on their side. Would that tide of fortune have eventually turned for Caldwell as it did for Barrow yesterday? David Sharpe was certainly precipitous in dismissing his protégé so early in the season.

With so many new faces it was always going to take time for the team to gel. The lack of a consistent back line was a particular problem. But yesterday the central defensive pairing of Dan Burn and Jake Buxton continued its steady improvement, looking strong throughout. Stephen Warnock has probably been Wigan’s best performer so far this season and he was excellent again yesterday. Moreover Reece Burke was to put in a good performance in the problematic right back position.

One swallow does not make a summer, but the win at Cardiff will provide a good platform for a new manager to build upon. Caldwell’s squad cannot compete with the best in the division, but it is at least good enough to get a mid-table berth. But who will that new manager be?

Strangely enough Danny Wilson’s son was the glamorous early front runner for the job. But was Ryan Giggs really willing to take a position with Latics and would Sharpe have been able to offer him the kind of terms he would expect? Since then the list of candidates touted for the position has been decidedly underwhelming. The latest bookmaker’s odds favour Manchester United development squad coach, Warren Joyce, who has no prior experience of managing a club in England. Neverthelss he has a fine record as a coach in developing young players. Should Joyce be appointed he will need the support of the fans.

Tiger Bay had a reputation as a tough and dangerous area before its renovation. The names of Wilson, Boston and Bassey are now echoes of its past. Under its new name of Cardiff Bay, it is now a major tourist attraction in a city that has been rejuvenated from its past as a coal and iron and steel exporting port. Will the rejuvenation of Wigan Athletic now begin too?

After five managers in three years and continued turnover of playing staff the club is in need of stability. When Sharpe appointed Caldwell the ten year combined reign of Paul Jewell and Roberto Martinez looked like a blueprint for the future. That was until the young chairman shot from the hip and cut down the Scot.

Sharpe’s grandfather made some of the best managerial appointments in the club’s history in Jewell and Martinez. He also made arguably the worst in Owen Coyle and Malky Mackay, neither of whom showed a love of good football. Let’s hope that Sharpe can rectify his unfortunate and hasty decision to dismiss a manager who had brought a divisional title to the club just six months before. Put simply he needs not only to choose the right person for the job, but to offer him more longevity than Caldwell received.

The win at Cardiff was a great relief, but there are still choppy waters ahead. Having the right leader at the helm is crucial.

A Cardiff and a Bolton fan’s view of Adam Le Fondre

 

 

Wigan Athletic yesterday announced the loan signing of 29 year old striker Adam Le Fondre from Cardiff City. The loan is until the end of the season, when the player’s contract at Cardiff is due to expire.

The 5 ft 9 in tall Le Fondre is a proven goalscorer with a tally of 175 in his professional career, including 14 for Reading in the Premier League in the 2012-13 season. Although he has been through some lean times in the last couple of seasons he is eager to get back to his best. On signing for Latics he said:

“This move is going to give me a platform to perform again and consistently play football. There is a lot of hard work in front of me and a lot of goals to score, but that’s what I am here to do.

Le Fondre was born in Stockport and joined his local club. He made his debut for County in September 2004 as an 18 year old, scoring a goal in a 3-1 League Cup win over Bury. He went on to make 63 appearances, scoring 18 goals in three seasons there. In January 2007 he went on loan to Rochdale, the move becoming permanent that summer. He went on to spend two more seasons at Rochdale making a total of 96 appearances and scoring 34 goals.

Rotherham United paid an undisclosed transfer fee for Le Fondre in the summer of 2009. He stayed there two seasons with a goal tally of 54 in 96 games. In late August 2011 he joined Reading, then in the Championship, for a fee of £350,000. Reading were promoted that season , with Le Fondre scoring 16 goals in 38 league appearances. The 2012-13 season saw him break the Premier League record for goals as a substitute, also being voted Reading’s Player of the Season. The 2014-15 season saw Reading back in the Championship, Le Fondre scoring back to back home hat tricks in January 2014 against Bolton Wanderers and Blackpool.

Le Fondre left Reading in the summer of 2014 having scored 42 goals in 110 appearances in all competitions, signing for Cardiff City for an undisclosed fee. In January 2015 he joined Bolton Wanderers on loan, finishing their top scorer for the 2014-15 season with 8 goals. Le Fondre spent the 2015-16 season on loan at Wolves where he made 26 appearances, scoring three goals. He had made a total of 23 appearances for Cardiff, scoring three goals.

In order to learn more about Le Fondre’s time at Cardiff we contacted Ben James of the View from the Ninian site.

Here’s over to Ben:

The signing of Adam Le Fondre promised so much and delivered very little. A shaky start under Ole meant ALF was either played out of position or not given enough game time. While fans were expecting goals, he couldn’t deliver and was quickly shipped out on loan around Christmas of that first season.

And after that, he’s never really been back. I had very high hopes for him but he’s not fulfilled any of the promise and I think it’s more the clubs fault than his.

I hope he can turn it around at Wigan because he’s talented, no doubt. It just feels like a case of right player, wrong time for Cardiff.

 

To learn more about Le Fondre’s time at Bolton we contacted Chris Mann of the Burnden Aces fan site http://www.burndenaces.co.uk (Twitter @BurndenAces ).

So, Adam Le Fondre joins the ever-growing list of former Bolton players to pitch up at the DW Stadium.

 Le Fondre – Alfie as he became to be known – has a record that speaks for itself. He’s scored goals at every level, including the Premier League, but appears to have hit a sticky patch in his career.

 Wanderers fans were first introduced to Le Fondre when he netted a first-half hat-trick in our dismal 7-1 defeat at Reading in January 2014. Luckily for you, Adam Bogdan avoids embarrassment due to being an unused substitute that day, as was Craig Davies. Sanmi Odelusi got 25 minutes though…

 He joined Cardiff City at the end of that season but struggled to hit top form for the Bluebirds, before finding success once again during a loan spell at Macron Stadium – netting eight times in 17 games and claiming the Golden Boot award, despite signing midway through the campaign.

 Le Fondre struck up a superb partnership with the emerging Zach Clough at the time and hopes were high that a permanent deal could be struck, before the full extent of our financial problems became public knowledge.

 Clearly, Le Fondre was out of our price range, as was pretty much every professional footballer on the planet, and he instead spent last season on loan at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Again, he failed to impress, but any player would struggle to score goals when restricted to the substitute role he was largely given.

 For whatever reason, his time at Cardiff hasn’t worked out. Le Fondre is too good to be rotting away in the reserves of any Championship club.

 If his time at Bolton is anything to go by, Alfie may take a couple of games to get into his stride. If so, stick with him and once that first goal arrives and the confidence begins to return, Latics should have one of the division’s top goalscorers on their books and, if you play your cards right, a man who will be available for free next summer.

 

 

 

Kevin McNaughton – a Bolton and Cardiff fan view

Soccer - Pre Season Friendly - Cardiff CIty v Celtic - Cardiff City Stadium

Kevin McNaughton signed for Wigan Athletic yesterday on a one year contract.

McNaughton was released by Cardiff City this summer, after spending the last season on loan at Bolton.

In order to learn more about McNaughton’s time at Bolton we reached out to Chris Mann  of the Burnden Aces fan site http://www.burndenaces.co.uk (Twitter @BurndenAces )

So here’s over to Chris:

After a summer of uncertainty, Kevin McNaughton today committed his future to Wigan Athletic.

Having fallen out-of-favour at Cardiff City, McNaughton joined Bolton on a three-month loan spell in September 2013 and impressed so much that he immediately returned to the Bluebirds defence upon his return to the Welsh capital.
His new-found lease of life at Cardiff didn’t last long, however, and he was back with Wanderers in July 2014 – this time on a season-long loan – as then-boss Dougie Freedman landed a target that had previously served him well.
McNaughton started the campaign as first-choice right-back, but a troublesome hamstring injury put him out of the side soon after Neil Lennon’s arrival at the club.
With Wanderers struggling for options at the back, fans questioned the manager’s decision to continually overlook McNaughton for a place in the squad. In response, Lennon revealed he wasn’t happy with the player’s efforts in training but then, surprisingly, threw him straight back into the side the following weekend.
After a four-month exile, McNaughton looked to have earned a second chance under Lennon but was cruelly struck down with a broken leg in the following game and ruled out for the remainder of the campaign.
All things considered, the majority of Bolton fans took pretty well to McNaughton. He has his limitations, which are to be expected at 32 years of age, but you could never fault him for effort, something which many young players severely lack these days.
We wish him well at Wigan, even though I’m a little surprised he didn’t get snapped up by a Championship club. Had luck been on his side last season, he may well have earned himself a deal with Bolton. Unfortunately, for him, a new manager came in and didn’t have the same opinion as his predecessor.

 

We had previously learned about McNaughton’s time at Cardiff through Benjamin James of the View from the Ninian fan site.

What to say about Kevin McNaughton?

A player who most, if not all Cardiff fans, would have gladly kept. A player who came in unheralded and went on to become one of the most revered players of recent times. The very definition of a club legend.

The image of him on the pitch after our promotion to the Premier League is iconic – he, out of all those players in the squad, deserved it more than most. Near misses and play-off disappointments were felt most by him.

It looked as if for all the years he had given us, he was going to miss out on some Premier League action; a loan to Bolton looked to signal the end of his career at Cardiff City. But he returned and I was so happy that he got to play in the Prem for us.

Wigan have signed a player who will build an incredible rapport with the fans. You’ve signed a player who will leave it all on the pitch. You’ve signed a player who will be invaluable to the dressing room – if you want someone to dress up as Dangermouse, he will be the first to do it.

I’ve seen him knock himself out in consecutive games, take out lino’s in his quest to get to the ball and outpace the quickest of players.

I can’t think of a bad word to say about him and I know I’m not alone in this. In an ideal world, Kev would have seen out his career with us. He became a true fan favourite in his nine years with the club and he will be missed.

He’s played all across the back four and even in midfield at points. He’s seen the best of times and some of the worst yet he’s stayed as consistent as ever. I really hope he succeeds at Wigan and Wigan succeed with him – he deserves nothing less.  

Latics looking ready for the Premier League

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A week or two back Stuart Gray, manager of Sheffield Wednesday, commented that Wigan Athletic had a Premier League squad playing in the Championship. A similar comment was later made by Brian McDermott, Leeds United supremo, although he qualified his remark by saying that it was second to Leicester’s.

Whether Leicester’s squad is any better than Wigan’s is doubtful, but neither manager mentioned Queens Park Rangers, the most expensively assembled squad in the division. According to the Daily Star,  QPR got relegated last year although their budget was higher than that of Champions League runners-up Borussia Dortmund. Their budget this year has been scaled down, but is still unrealistically high for a Championship club.

There was talk in the pre-season that Wigan Athletic were going to have a splurge in the transfer market, using money brought in from their summer sales. Many fans were disgruntled when it did not happen, with Owen Coyle paying no more than around £2m for any of the players he brought in.

With catapult payments and transfer fees coming into play the club had a financial decision to make – how best to use that money. Given the extra six matches they were due to play in the Europa League they chose to spend on building a large squad, capable of putting up a good show in Europe and competing for promotion back to the Premier League. Little did they know at the time that Latics would also end up playing six matches in the FA Cup!

In February Latics played at Cardiff in the FA Cup 5th round in a televised game. At the time the commentators remarked on how one team had so much more Premier League experience than the other. But it was Wigan Athletic they were referring to. In fact every single player in their starting lineup had previously played in the Premier League.

Similarly at the FA Cup Semi Final last weekend all the starters had that experience. Moreover  Emmerson Boyce and Scott Carson alone had amassed almost 300 starts at Premier League level.

Some might say that Latics’ cup run this year has detracted from their league form. However, on their way to knocked out through the lottery of penalties, Latics were unbeaten within normal time against four Premier League teams, including two in Champions League spots. The self confidence garnered from such experience should not be underrated.

The displays against Arsenal and Manchester City have shown that this Wigan Athletic squad is good enough to challenge not only teams in the bottom half of the Premier League, but also those at the very top.

It has been a season of highs and lows for Wigan Athletic. Moreover the sheer volume of games they have had to play has contributed to poor results against teams that they would have otherwise beaten.

Uwe Rosler has done a fantastic job in raising Latics up into the playoff zone and being within a whisker of reaching another FA Cup Final.

It could be that sheer fatigue, injuries or controversial refereeing decisions will come into play over the coming weeks. However, Rosler will be mindful of the need to grind out enough points to secure that playoff place, but at the same time making sure that his key players peak at the right time – in the playoffs themselves.

The Championship playoffs are a pressure cauldron, where the unexpected can happen. However, Rosler has at his disposal an experienced and capable squad which has proved it can compete with the elite of English football.

The German’s challenge will be to ensure that the players are not complacent over the coming weeks. Latics fans are hoping for another Wembley visit on May 24th.

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Cardiff Preview – can they do it again?

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Can they do it again? Win the FA Cup?

Little has been mentioned about it in the media but Wigan Athletic are in the last 16. It is only the third time in their history that they have done that.

This time last year Latics went to Huddersfield and beat them 4-1. With his team struggling Roberto Martinez had made seven changes to his starting lineup, indicating that a Cup run was secondary to Premier League survival. At that time he could not have guessed that Latics would win the FA Cup and shake the foundations of the football establishment.

In Saturday’s match Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces a similar choice to that previously faced by Martinez. Cardiff City currently lie in 19th place, but just two points behind safety and 17th place.

For their fourth round match at Bolton Solskjaer made five changes from the team that started the previous league game. That included key players Steven Caulker, Fraiser Campbell and Gary Medel. Cardiff were to win at Bolton through a Campbell goal after home keeper Andy Lonerghan had spilled the ball. However, it should be noted that in the third round they had an excellent 2-1 win at Newcastle.

Wigan Athletic’s lineup in the third round home tie against MK Dons included five players who had played in that famous FA Cup Final. Latics’ goals in the 3-3 draw came from three of those heroes – Roger Espinoza, Jordi Gomez and Callum McManaman. Of those players only Roger Espinoza and James McArthur have played in the three FA Cup ties Latics have played so far. However, there is no doubting that all the players who played in last year’s cup run would love to make Saturday’s lineup.

Uwe Rosler has made it clear that he rates the FA Cup as an important competition, despite the pressures he faces in getting Latics into the Championship playoffs this season. Rosler deems squad rotation as a natural occurrence, a view foreign to those who criticize him for not having a settled lineup. He cites the example of Alex Ferguson of never having the same lineup in successive games.

The German is much harder to read in his team selections than his predecessors. However, he has given both Callum McManaman and Roger Espinoza a break in the last two matches, so they are likely to make the starting lineup at Swansea. Both will have a lot to prove.

Espinoza scored one of the goals of the season in the home game with MK Dons and will be keen to show what he can do to get a regular place in the starting lineup. He has now been with the club for 13 months, but has not been able to claim a regular first team place. He is a fan favourite for his commitment and he shows no mean level of skill, but he has yet to convince Rosler that he should be high in his priorities.

McManaman is the most talented player remaining at the club. If it had not been for an injury in the Arsenal match just three days after the FA Cup Final he probably would not be at Wigan now. Being ‘’Man of the Match” in an FA Cup Final is something he will savour for the rest of his life. Life at Wigan has been a rollercoaster ride for him as I outlined in in my article of September.

Cardiff are a Premier League side and they will be facing Championship opponents. The bookmakers make them favourites. However, as Cup-holders Latics will give it all they have got. Moreover Wigan have a core of players, who have not only Premier League experience, but have helped the club win the FA Cup.

Those who remain from the Cup winning team will be keen to show that they can still do it. Moreover they will be backed up by players brought in by Owen Coyle who have ample Premier League experience.

In terms of the lineup on Saturday it might well be that Wigan have more players with Premier League experience than Cardiff.  But then again we will have to see the lineups the managers put out.

The bad news for Latics is that Rosler’s new strike force – Nicky Maynard and Martyn Waghorn – are cup-tied and unable to play. Moreover central defenders Markus Holgersson, Ivan Ramis and Thomas Rogne are not yet fully fit, although they played in an under 21 game in midweek. In their absence Emmerson Boyce and Leon Barnett will once again play in the middle. Jean Beausejour has started in two consecutive matches within the space of three days, so will most likely be rested, with Stephen Crainey brought in.

Rosler may need to rest either or both of Ben Watson and James McArthur who have played a lot of football recently. Cup winners Roger Espinoza and Jordi Gomez will be keen to step in. The front three will most likely be Callum McManaman, Marc-Antoine Fortune and Nick Powell, assuming the latter is now fit.

One thing is for sure – Latics will not relinquish their hold on the cup without a fight. Getting into the last eight is certainly a possibility.

Who knows – maybe they can do it again?

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