Keeping your key asset

Emyr Huws

Emyr Huws

With less than a week to go to the first training session of the new season the summer sell off at Wigan Athletic is starting to gather momentum. Scott Carson has already gone to Derby and it looks like James McClean is off to West Bromwich and Rob Kiernan to Rangers. The latest rumour is that James Perch will be joining McClean and Callum McManaman at West Bromwich.

The demand for ex-Premier League players like Carson, McClean and Perch was always going to be there. They were to be the three most likely to attract transfer income  for the club, as meanwhile it will ease its wage bill by some £20,000 per week or more for each of them. Keeping the three of them would have entailed using up around £3 m of an anticipated wage bill of £8- £10 m.

Behind them in the domestic transfer pecking order come Leon Barnett (29 years old), Don Cowie (32), Chris McCann (27) and Andrew Taylor (28) who have played in the Premier League, but are also experienced Championship division campaigners. Although their potential transfer values may not be high, the club will try to move on most of them, given their Championship-level salaries. Transfer fees will be waived as necessary.

The pairing of Andy Delort and Oriol Riera cost a total of around £5m in transfer fees last year. Sadly Delort was not able to regain his old goalscoring form after rejoining Tours on loan in January. He hit the back of the net only twice in fourteen starts. Reports from the French press suggest that there are Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 clubs interested in him, but it is doubtful whether they would be willing to pay the kind of transfer fee that Latics paid last September. Reports from Spain suggest that Deportivo La Coruna would like to keep Riera, but are unwilling to match the kind of transfer figure that Latics would like.

Latics face a dilemma with the two players. Sell them off for maybe a combined transfer input of  £1m, signifying a £4m loss, or bring them back and have to use up 20% or more of the total wage bill for a squad of around 24 players, on their salaries alone. The option remains of a further loan period for each, relieving wage bill costs, but leaving the door open for the future.

However, media reports suggest that Latics are actively seeking strikers from other English clubs. It therefore looks like they will take the first option and sell the two players off at a significant loss.

All of the players mentioned so far are those for whom salaries are an issue for a club facing a change from a £30m wage bill to one of around a third of that within a year. However, there are also the cases of the younger players such as James Tavernier (23), Martyn Waghorn (25), Aaron Taylor-Sinclair (23), whose salaries will also have to be taken into account, together with the Malky Mackay signings Billy Mckay (26) and Jason Pearce (27), whom one assumes will be staying.

David Sharpe talked some time ago about needing up to fifteen new players. The implication is that the majority of the players signed prior to 2015 will be encouraged to move on.

However, if players are to move on they need a club not only interested in their services, but willing to get close to matching the salaries they have been receiving. In Grant Holt’s case the options seem slim. Ostracised by Uwe Rosler, Holt faded out of the Latics’ scene.  He was sent off on loan to Aston Villa and Huddersfield, where he received an anterior cruciate knee injury that kept him out of action for the second half of last season. Holt is 34 years old and with that ACL injury he is unlikely to attract the interest of clubs who can afford to pay a salary probably well in excess of £20,000 per week.

Critics will say that Owen Coyle should not have been allowed to offer a three year contract with a lucrative salary to a 32 year old. At the time it appeared to be not such a bad bet, getting a player with proven goalscoring pedigree for a relatively low transfer fee. Little did we know that just two years later the club would be in League 1 and the player’s salary would be like a millstone around their necks.

Injuries certainly affect the marketability of a footballer. Holt’s injury while playing on loan at Huddersfield will most likely prove to be the factor that will mean him staying at the club. At 34 and past his best, recovering from injury, but playing in a lower division can he be a key player? Can he win back the fan support that he lost before he was dispatched to Villa Park?  The likely scenario is that Gary Caldwell will have to find ways of motivating a player who has had a difficult time at the club, into being part of a successful set-up.

The injury to Holt did Latics no favours, but the ankle problem that prevented Emyr Huws playing in the second half of last season might well prove to be a blessing in disguise.  The 21 year old Huws was initially signed on loan from Manchester City, but Rosler signed him for a fee in excess of £2m last September. Not long after Huws injured his ankle while playing for Wales and suffered a series of niggles with it that prevented him reaching top form.

However, it was an incident in training in early February that caused Malky Mackay to report that “Emyr’s rolled his ankle badly, we’ve had it looked at and he’s going to need operating on. He’s going to be out for three or four months, and that’s a real disappointment. He came back in for a couple of games, he grabbed his chance and did really well, and it’s a real blow for us and him.”

Mackay clearly rated Huws and the young Welshman was one who avoided the huge January sell-off. Midfield was to prove a problematic area under Mackay and one can only speculate what might have happened had Huws been fit.

Because of his injury Huws might well avoid the cull that will happen in the coming weeks. Big clubs will bide their time and see if he can overcome his injury and realise his full potential. Moreover Caldwell might consider him a key player, well worth paying a salary above the League 1 norm.

Huws showed what a quality player he can be when on loan at Birmingham in 2013-14. He has shown flashes of his quality at Wigan, but niggling injury has held him back. However, he has all the attributes needed to become a top midfield player. He is combative in the tackle, has a cultured left foot, good dribbling skills and the technique to score spectacular goals from distance.

In League 1 Huws is capable of being the kind of imposing midfield player that Latics have lacked since the departures of the Jimmy Macs, McCarthy and McArthur. Moreover in shedding players who have played at higher levels there is a danger of a lack of class in the team. Huws can provide that.

Who knows how many of the players from Coyle and Rosler’s days will be at Wigan come August? So many will be shed because of economic necessity.

But Emyr Huws could prove to be the asset most worth keeping from that 2014 squad.

Only time will tell if Gary Caldwell thinks the same.

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Unlucky Latics fall apart – Bolton 3 Wigan Athletic 1

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How can a team that had more than matched the opposition fall apart as Latics did in this game? The capitulation in the second half brought back memories of  8-0 and 9-1 defeats in the Premier League days. Admittedly Latics did not concede a panful of goals, against a very ordinary Bolton side. But the way they played after Bolton scored their first goal was reminiscent of those debacles of the past.

Wigan had played well in the first half and were unlucky not to be ahead. Callum McManaman had hit both the crossbar and the post, they went close with other good efforts and had withstood the physical barrage of the opposition.

Uwe Rosler put out a well balanced team this time. James Perch moved across to right back to accommodate the return of Leon Barnett in the centre of defence. Emyr Huws returned in place of Don Cowie to form a useful-looking central midfield trio with Adam Forshaw and Roger Espinoza. Shaun Maloney and Callum were brought in to play wide with Marc-Antoine Fortune returning at centre forward.

Latics dominated the first quarter if the game, their high pressing leading to the home team struggling to retain possession. McManaman was making mincemeat out of Bolton right back Vela and he put in a superb left wing cross for Maloney to volley just wide. Then after cutting in from the left he hit a superb effort from 25 yards that scraped the top of the crossbar. Espinoza found himself free in the box but his claims for a penalty   were brushed aside as he went down. McManaman once again found space but goalkeeper Lonergan blocked his shot.

Bolton came back into the game and Max Clayton evaded the marking of Rob Kiernan only for Scott Carson to make a fine save from his angled shot. Latics were under more pressure now but the defence was holding firm. Espinoza had a chance to put Latics ahead from Fortune’s pass but the ball was on his weaker right side and the chance went begging.  McManaman’s shot hit the post and Espinoza shot wide.

One wondered if Latics could maintain their intensity in the second half. Sadly that was not to be. In the 50th minute Clayton was put free on the left of Carson’s goal and his shot somehow passed through the goalkeeper who had not made himself look big. That goal changed the whole tone of the game. Latics looked wobbly and Bolton got another five minutes later. A high cross from the right seemed to take an eternity to arrive, but when it did there was no sign of either of Wigan’s centre backs as Bolton centre forward Craig Davies headed home.

Rosler made a double substitution after 58 minutes with James McClean coming on from Maloney and Chris McCann for Huws. A couple of minutes later Barnett wrestled Matt Mills to the ground in the box, almost in front of the referee. Lee Chung-Yong easily beat Carson from the penalty with shot through the middle.

Latics had fallen apart. William Kvist came on for Forshaw after 69 minutes, but none of the substitutions had made a difference. Latics had simply fallen apart. Somehow in the 79th minute they got a goal with a rocket shot from McManaman from McClean’s cross, but more goals were not likely to come from a side looking desperately low on confidence.

A limited Bolton side had won on grit and determination against a Wigan team with enough talent to have beaten them.

The Good

McManaman was back to form and with luck could have had a hat trick. But once again he did not see enough of the ball. Fortune did well, especially in the first half. His hold-up play was excellent despite the presence of two powerful Bolton centre halves.

Following his cameo appearance at Brighton, Chris McCann was brought on earlier this time, after 58 minutes. Latics are going to need him back to his best if they are to reverse this awful sequence of results.

The Bad

Wigan Today quotes Rosler as saying ““We gave up in the second half and I felt embarrassed. I’m not sure it meant as much to some of my players as it meant for our supporters and our chairman. In any competitive game of football, you never give up, you always fight to the end.  To give up at Bolton, in a derby game? It’s unforgivable.”

One wonders what might have happened if one of those Wigan chances in the first half had gone in. They could have gone on to win the game. But the reality was that they did not go in and the confidence drained out of Latics with Bolton’s first goal.

The fan forums and social media are awash with demands that the manager be sacked. Dave Whelan was at the game and would surely have been furious to see his highly paid professionals being taken apart by a team lying second from bottom.

Somehow the negative streak has to be reversed. The big question is whether Rosler is able to accomplish that change.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 5 – it was sad to see him beaten by Clayton’s shot. He has been Latics’ best performer this season.

James Perch: 5 –looked rusty, misplacing passes and not tacking with his usual verve.

Leon Barnett: 4 – fell apart in the second half, although he made some good interventions in the first.

Rob Kiernan: 4 – poor. Lacked the physical presence needed in a game of this type.

Maynor Figueroa: 5 – not at his best.

Adam Forshaw: 5 – started well but faded.

Roger Espinoza: 5 – lively in the first half but faded.

Emyr Huws: 4 –  poor. Substituted after 58 minutes.

Shaun Maloney: 5 – lively early on. Substituted after 58 minutes.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: 7 – worked hard in the lone centre forward role.

Callum McManaman: 7 – not involved enough, but dangerous when he had the ball. His goal was superbly taken and he was unlucky in hitting the woodwork twice.

Substitutes

James McClean: – his cross led to Wigan’s goal.

Chris McCann: – it will take him time to get match fit.

William Kvist: – brought in from the cold. Why has he been left out over recent weeks?

Incohesive Latics let down the fans– Wigan Athletic 0 Brentford 0

Scott Carson was Wigan's best player.

Scott Carson was Wigan’s best player.

That goalkeeper Scott Carson was Wigan’s best player was a reflection on the mediocrity of Latics’ performance. It was a display so lacking in cohesion that an outsider might wonder if Wigan’s players had ever played together before. Brentford will probably be happy with a mid-table spot at the end of the season, after coming up from League 1, but it never seemed like Latics would beat them.

Uwe Rosler chose the kind of lineup that could be labelled “attacking”. He left James Perch on the bench to put in James Tavernier, left William Kvist out to include Adam Forshaw, and put in Oriel Riera for Marc-Antoine Fortune, Callum McManaman for Emyr Huws. The 4-3-3 lineup would have pleased those fans who have been demanding a more attacking lineup, but one wondered if it would have the right balance.

Both sides were cautious early on, but Brentford looked more dangerous. However, in the 12th minute Riera found Don Cowie on the edge of the box with a shooting opportunity that was deflected wide. Brentford continued to threaten Wigan up front and the Latics’ defence was at sixes and sevens keeping them out. The “light” midfield of Adam Forshaw, Don Cowie and Shaun Maloney was not able to repel the visitors forward movement. Callum McManaman looked disorientated, not seeming to know where he was meant to be playing, hardly in the game.

However, on the half hour mark Riera did well to put through Maloney, whose low shot was pushed wide by Brentford goalkeeper David Button. But Brentford continued to press and Andre Gray found himself clear of Wigan’s defence but chipped his shot over the bar.

Brentford had been the superior team in the first half against a Wigan team that looked rock bottom in terms of confidence.

The game continued in a similar vein. In the 55th minute McManaman’s good work caused a goalmouth scramble, but no Latics player was able to force the ball home. Then the ball came to Leon Barnett close to the goal but he was surrounded by defenders and the opportunity was lost. Brentford then really tested the Wigan defence, Scott Carson having to make two fine saves to keep out efforts from Pritchard and Jota, and then Douglas shot into the side netting.

In the 63rd minute Rosler had brought on Andy Delort for Riera and Fortune for McManaman. Kvist replaced Cowie in the 78th minute. A couple of minutes later Latics were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box, but Maloney’s well struck shot was well saved by Button. Then five minutes later Tavernier put in a superb trademark cross on to James McClean’s head but the Irishman put it wide.

That was to be the final chance for Latics and the game finished as a goalless draw, which Latics might have just about deserved. The fans had given the team terrific support throughout the game and they deserved more than this.

The Good

Despite playing so poorly, Latics could have won the game if they had taken the limited chances they created.

Tavernier did not have an easy first start for Latics in the Championship, but he nevertheless conjured up that superb cross in the 85th minute that McClean was unable to convert. Despite having a fine pre-season the ex-Rotherham and Newcastle man had to wait for his chance to get into the starting lineup. In this game he had to play in a flat back four, but he is more likely to prosper as a wing back, where he has more freedom to go forward.

Carson once more proved what a fine keeper he is. Not only was he Latics’ best player in this game, but he has been the most consistent all season.

The Bad

On paper and man-for-man, Latics looked a much stronger team than Brentford, but Rosler’s lineup just did not work. Although it looked like a bold attacking move, the end result was something different.

The centre backs, Barnett and Ramis, deserve credit for their perseverance. Brentford sensibly put a man on Ramis when Carson had the ball. The result was Barnett having to distribute the ball from the back, which is not his strong point. The midfield did not support him sufficiently and too often the ball was wasted.

Forshaw struggled in the role of holding midfielder and Cowie looked pedestrian. Maloney certainly did not look the same player who had done so much for Scotland over the international break, although he forced a couple of good saves from Button.

Playing Forshaw and Maloney together in central midfield role is unlikely to work, as both need a lot of the ball to be effective. Leaving a ball-winner like Kvist on the bench until the latter part of the game was a mistake.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 8 – a fine performance. He kept Latics in the game.

James Tavernier: 5.5 – looked exposed at times, unable to attack in the way he would have liked.

Ivan Ramis: 7 – solid defensively, but Brentford seldom allowed him to display his fine passing skills.

Leon Barnett: 7 – a defensive rock.

Andrew Taylor: 6 – worked hard.

Don Cowie: 5 – poor.

Adam Forshaw: 5 – poor.

Shaun Maloney: 5.5 – disappointing.

Callum McManaman: 5.5 – disappointing and substituted after 63 minutes.

Oriol Riera: 5.5 – apart from a couple of good passes he looked peripheral. Substituted after 68 minutes.

James McClean: 5.5 – energetic as always, but ineffective.

Substitutes:

Andy Delort: – came on after 63 minutes, but apart from one delightful flick he was unable to impose himself on the game.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: – also came on after 63 minutes, tried hard but with little effect. Why was he not on from the start following his performance at Wolves?

William Kvist: – brought on after 78 minutes.

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Latics ready for a good second half at Huddersfield?

“I was disappointed that we dropped our intensity at the start of the second half and it started very much from the front…….Also the willingness to get on the ball dropped. We can’t hold the level for 90 minutes in certain positions – and that we have to address ….A football game isn’t 45 or 60 minutes, it’s 90-95, and we have to make sure we can play like we want for 95 minutes.”

Uwe Rosler was speaking with his usual openness about the flaws that were once again evident in his side’s performance, this time at Blackburn.

The first six league games have yielded just seven points for Latics, one less than Owen Coyle’s team had at this stage. Like Coyle’s team the current side has stayed unbeaten in its first three home games. But Coyle’s team started with an away win at Barnsley, before losing the next two on the road at Bournemouth and Leicester. This team has lost all three away games.

If the six league games played so far had finished at half time, Latics would be unbeaten with a record of W3 D3, having scored six goals and conceded one. However, they have lost all three matches so far in which the scores were level at half time. They have conceded seven goals in the second halves of their games, scoring only two. Latics certainly have been a first half team this season.

A win at Huddersfield would put Latics back into mid-table, within striking distance of the top six. Huddersfield have started the season poorly, with just one win so far. They have drawn one and lost two of their three home games. So is the scene set for Wigan to get their first away points of the season tomorrow?

Reading between the lines in what Rosler was saying the loss of intensity at Blackburn was started by the front players not closing down opposition defenders, then players not moving around to make themselves available to receive passes. The result was the Blackburn midfield receiving better service from defence and the Latics backline falling deeper. The cynics would say Scott Carson enjoys making those long kicks from his penalty box for the opposition defence to gobble up. Ali Al Habsi gets criticised for his poor kicking, but he is at least always looking for a teammate to throw the ball to. However, in Carson’s defence, if players are not moving to receive the ball his options are limited.

Were Latics to be able to play at full throttle for the 90 minutes-plus at Huddersfield a win would be on the cards. However, the manager seems caught between two stools. He wants to bring in his new players as soon as possible so that they can gel with their teammates, but all three have been short of match practice. On Saturday only William Kvist was remotely match fit and he only lasted 63 minutes. Andy Delort, who had not played a competitive game for weeks, was given the full 90 minutes. He was expected to press the opposition central defenders when they had the ball, together with doing all the onerous duties of a lone centre forward. Adam Forshaw was wisely only played for the final 10 minutes, given his lack of match fitness.

A player of the calibre of James McArthur is bound to be missed. It was evident at Blackburn. Moreover a central midfield of Don Cowie and William Kvist is not going to provide the kind of invention that Latics had when Auld Mac was there. Both are the kind of players who rarely get the plaudits, covering a lot of ground, making interceptions, winning tackles, making simple passes. Such types of player are essential in any effective and well balanced team.

In the long run we can expect the midfield to consist of either Cowie or Kvist in front of the centre of defence, with Forshaw on the right and Emyr Huws on the left. Chris McCann will eventually come back to challenge Huws for that left midfield position spot where he played so well last year. Ben Watson’s best position is probably in the centre of the midfield three, but he can also do a good job on the right. In the meantime Tim Chow, Roger Espinoza and Fraser Fyvie remain possibilities, but will never prove themselves without being given the chance. Neither will James Tavernier who can play at right back or midfield.

The backline of three central defenders was inevitably going to be tested against Gestede and Rhodes, but they looked ragged and uncoordinated at times in the second half. Perhaps Emmerson Boyce was suffering from his long trip to the Caribbean to play for Barbados, but he has not yet shown last season’s form. Ivan Ramis made some last gasp interceptions and put through some nice passes, but even he was looking short of composure by the end. Rob Kiernan will have to fight for his place, with Leon Barnett breathing down his neck, not to mention Thomas Rogne and Gary Caldwell.

We can expect Oriel Riera to return to the lineup tomorrow. It would not be a surprise to see a reversal to 4-3-3 with Martyn Waghorn returning on the right, with Callum McManaman on the left. James McClean will be keen to get a game, but Rosler really needs to be careful since the Irishman is another who is clearly not match fit. Better to give him a good run out with the development squad first.

Shaun Maloney is another of those players who is still not fully match fit, but Rosler will be tempted to put him in from the start. If Cowie and Kvist can provide the protection in front of the back four the Scot could play an advanced midfield role. Emyr Huws went off injured on Saturday so his participation must be in doubt.

Rosler might well rest Boyce and go for a central defensive pairing of Ramis and Barnett, although Kiernan cannot be discounted despite a disappointing game at Blackburn.

Rosler has lots of permutations and combinations possible for his team selection. However, he will need to provide some continuity and wholesale changes might well make things worse. Moreover he cannot afford to make the gamble of playing too many players whose fitness is questionable.

As always it will be fascinating to see the lineup he puts out. The bottom line is to put out a balanced team that can play with intensity for the 90 minutes plus. A tall order? Let’s hope not.

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Are Latics a one half team?

Fitness

It reared its ugly head again. It is nothing new, but Latics fans had surely hoped that it had gone away. Unfortunately it is still there and it is something Uwe Rosler has met, not just at Wigan, but at Brentford before.

The pattern goes like this. Latics are sharp and competitive in the first half, playing better football than their opponents and deservedly going in front. In the second half it is a different scenario. Latics look lethargic. Playing hoof ball out of defence does not help because the opposition retain the ball and it seems a matter of time until they score.

It started during Owen Coyle’s reign last year. When Latics got tired in the second half we said they were not fit. What kind of training regime was Coyle running after all?

By the time the derby game with Bolton came around Latics had a new manager. It was Rosler’s first league match in charge. Latics got off to a storming start scoring two goals in the first half hour. But Bolton came back strongly in the second half, leveling the score. Callum McManaman then got a third for Latics, who hung on for victory.

After the match fans accepted that the players were just not up to the level of fitness that Rosler sought. It was clearly Coyle’s fault and we would have to wait until next season to see the players get the kind of fitness level Rosler required for his high pressing, high tempo football.

That same pattern recurred frequently in the games that were to follow during the second half of last season. Many times Latics hung in there, backs to the wall, holding on defensively to their lead. Even the best of teams will go on to the defensive after taking a lead, inviting the opposition to push forward and leave holes at the back that can be exploited. But Rosler’s Latics have rarely looked comfortable in such a situation. Rather than calmly organize themselves back in their own half, ready to launch counterattacks they are prone to simply hoof the ball away.

The cynics will say that Rosler prefers Scott Carson over Ali Al Habsi because he can kick the ball further. Both are top goalkeepers and opinion is divided as to which of the two is better. Fans will say Al Habsi is a better penalty saver, but his kicking is poor. Carson has a very powerful kick, but it is rare that he makes a long throw to set off an attack. During Coyle’s time Carson repeatedly sent long kicks on to the opposition’s central defenders’ heads. He has continued to do it under Rosler and one can only assume he has the German’s approval for doing so.

Who would want to be a lone centre forward with the ball being hoofed in their general direction so often? It could have even contributed to Grant Holt’s demise. Put simply, if the central striker spends most of his energy chasing hopeful punts it detracts from his role as a goalscorer. To score goals you need a degree of mental and physical sharpness, but if you are using most of your energy chasing lost causes your sharpness will be blunted.

Is Rosler’s team any fitter than that of his predecessor, Coyle? Defenders are more likely to hoof the ball when there is nobody moving to receive it. A fully functioning central midfield will be ready to receive the ball from defence to build up attacks. Moreover they will get into the box to support that lone centre forward.

It is early days to talk about fitness levels. On Saturday Rosler chose a lineup that was strong on paper, but several players had had minimal preparation through the pre-season games. That James McArthur could go the full match and still find the energy to get in the box and score a last-gasp equalizer, given so little playing time in pre-season, is impressive. He was joined in midfield by Don Cowie and Emyr Huws, who had almost as little playing time. Moreover it was a midfield trio that had never played together before. Add to that the appearance of Shaun Maloney off the bench in the second half, with zero pre-season playing time.

Last season the two teams who were to gain automatic promotion, Leicester City and Burnley, drew their first games of the season, both playing at home. There are another 45 league games remaining. That said, there are things that Rosler needs to look at minimizing the use of the hoof. Measured long passing is one thing, but the hoof has become an ugly and ineffective part of Latics’ play under the German.

Ex-Latics goalkeeper and now Reading manager, Nigel Adkins,  clearly did his homework for Saturday and he was unlucky not to come away with a win. Reading are not a side known for their passing football, but the stats show that in a game truncated by 33 fouls, Reading made 379 passes, Wigan 281. Rosler will often change the shape of his teams when things are not going well, but in this case he did not react. Ivan Ramis was sat on the bench and bringing him on, with a switch to 3-5-2 when Reading were in the ascendency, might have made a difference.

When Rosler chose his midfield he would surely have given consideration to Fraser Fyvie, who played more minutes in the pre-season than any other player. Sadly Fyvie did not even come off the bench, despite the fact that Latics were losing the midfield battle. However, Rosler will certainly persevere with Don Cowie and Emyr Huws, who are possible replacements for Ben Watson and Chris McCann, until they are fit to return. The German might well have used Roger Espinoza if it were not for injury. Shaun Maloney needs several more games under his belt before he will be effective. Sometimes we can expect too much from him.

Rosler has built up a good squad, with a couple more additions likely. The scary part of it is not who might come in, but who might leave.

Rosler remains in his honeymoon period at the club, with strong approval ratings from the fans. However, that will soon be over unless he addresses the hoof. Wiganers expect their team to try to play good football. The jury is out in this case.

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