A Portsmouth fan’s view of Gary Roberts


Wigan Athletic have announced the signing of 33-year-old midfielder Gary Roberts from Portsmouth on a one-year contract. Roberts had been released by Pompey after completing two years of a three-year deal.

Roberts has played under Paul Cook’s management at Accrington, Chesterfield and Portsmouth. On announcing the signing Cook commented: ‘Gary is a player I trust and who has proven himself at this level. He will make a significant contribution and I’m delighted to have him on board.’

Gareth Roberts was born in Chester, joining Liverpool’s academy but being released at the age of 17. He went on to play youth football at Bala Town and Denbigh Town before briefly playing for Rhyl to move on to Bangor City as a 19-year-old where he played 22 games, scoring one goal, in the 2003-04 season. Roberts went on to play for his fifth club in Wales the following season, when he made 22 appearances for Welshpool Town scoring 9 goals.

At the age of 21 Roberts signed for Accrington Stanley where he made 66 appearances, scoring 22 goals. In October 2006, he went on loan to Ipswich Town, signing permanently for the Tractor Boys in January 2007. He went on to make 40 appearances for Ipswich in almost two seasons, scoring 4 goals. He had also played for Crewe Alexandra on a month’s loan  in February 2008.

In summer 2008, Huddersfield Town, then in League 1, paid Ipswich £250,000 for Roberts. In his first season he went on to score 11 goals, winning the Huddersfield awards for best goal of the season, Player’ Player of the Season and Fans’ Player of the Season. Over his four seasons Roberts went on to make 145 league starts, with 17 appearances off the bench, scoring 31 goals.

In summer 2012 Roberts made a parallel move to Swindon Town, where he made 39 league appearances, scoring 4 goals. In June 2013 Paul Cook signed him for Chesterfield where he was to spend two seasons, making 69 starts with 5 appearances as a substitute, scoring 17 goals. When Cook went to Portsmouth in summer 2015, Roberts was to follow. He went on to make 58 league starts, 16 appearances as a substitute, scoring 17 goals over two seasons.

Roberts has won four promotions in his career and was League Two Player of The Year in 2013-2014.

In order to learn more about Roberts’ time at Portsmouth we contacted Jim Bonner  (@FrattonFaithful) of the Fratton Faithful fan site.

Here’s over to Jim:

Gary Roberts going to Wigan after being released from Pompey is the most predictable deal of the summer. He has always been a favourite with Paul Cook so it’s no surprise that the pair have been reunited after Kenny Jackett deemed him surplus to requirements and wanted to remove him from the bill.

Roberts can play on either wing or behind the striker and on his day he can be a major influence on a match as he clearly has ability and scored some very important goals duringhis two-year spell at Portsmouth. However, his days are now few and far between as his 33-year-old legs have gone and he often becomes a passenger in matches because of it.

Do not be surprised to see Cook select Roberts ahead of other, more logical choices for the Wigan starting eleven as our ex-manager probably values him too highly but he will be fondly remembered at Fratton Park for the most part and may well chip in with an important goal or two for his new club. It’s just a question of whether those goals will be worth the time he spends on the pitch being completely ineffective.

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Another centre forward for Latics?

Eion Doyle

“PNE striker bound for Wigan?” 

So said a Lancashire Evening Post headline on Saturday.

The article went on to explain that Paul Cook was initially aiming to take Eion Doyle from Preston North End to Portsmouth, but that the centre forward’s  new destination  “might now be” Wigan.

Sometimes newspaper headlines can be pure speculation, but this one seemed to be well within the realms of possibility, if by no means confirmed. The 29 year old was on loan at Portsmouth in the second half of last season and previously played under Cook’s management at both Sligo and Chesterfield. But Paul Cook is known to favour the lone centre forward system and Wigan Athletic already have five of them on their books. Do they really need another?

But managers do sometimes like to bring in players who have been with them in the past.  Indeed Warren Joyce signed three in January – Gabriel Obertan, Ryan Tunnicliffe and James Weir – who were with him at Manchester United. Long will Latics fans remember the hapless Jason Scotland who had scored 53 goals in two years at Swansea under Roberto Martinez, but could muster only 2 in 36 appearances after the Catalan took him to Wigan. The Premier League had proved to be too big a step up for the Trinidadian.

But Doyle is a different matter. He was an important player for Cook at Chesterfield, scoring 38 goals for him in 64 starts and 20 appearances off the bench.  Indeed 21 of those goals had been scored at League 1 level in little more than half a season before he was transferred to Cardiff City at the beginning of February 2015. Admittedly Doyle’s goalscoring record since leaving Chesterfield has been less impressive, but it would be a surprise if Cook is not considering an offer for the player.

But Latics already have central strikers who could make a major impact on League 1 next season. If Doyle were to be brought in which ones would depart?

Will Grigg has scored in excess of 20 goals per season three times before in the third tier. His critics will say that he could not make the step up to the Championship last season, his last league goal being scored in September 2016. However, his supporters will say that the player had made a good start and looked comfortable at that level, only to be left on the bench or played out of position by his managers. But Grigg has just one year of his contract remaining and the likelihood is that Latics will invite offers over the summer, looking to recoup the £1m they paid Brentford for him a couple of years ago.

Omar Bogle we hoped would be the key figure in all of Joyce’s January signings. Full of confidence from his goalscoring exploits at Grimsby, he started off well, but he was to find Championship defenders a different kettle of fish to those in League 2. Injury also played its part in the player not making the impact that was hoped. However, although Bogle as a player is still a rough diamond in need of polishing, he has the physique and technique to be a top player. He is capable of making a major impact on League 1 if he can overcome his fitness issues.

Nick Powell‘s appearances near the end of last season showed his huge talent. Although he prefers to play in midfield, he can be devastating at centre forward. It could be argued that Latics would never have been relegated if Powell had been fit all season, giving his quality. But that was not a likely scenario, given his injury woes over recent years. If fit, Powell could take League 1 by storm, but therein lies the question. Would the club want to continue to pay a high-end salary to a player whose fitness is so uncertain? Powell put himself in the shop window with his displays over those closing weeks. There will surely be another club willing to take a gamble on a player of such quality.

Mikael Mandron was signed from Eastleigh Town in January. He had scored goals in the first half of the National League season and was known to Joyce’s assistant, Andy Welsh, through his time at Sunderland. He made just one start and two substitute appearances early on, but did not feature again after mid-March. Only 22 years old, Mandron could well be sent off on loan to gain further experience.

Billy Mckay remains a Latics player, although things never worked out for him at Wigan or on his loan at Oldham. But Mckay has a record of success in Scotland. He returned to his old club, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, on loan in January. It would not be a surprise to see Mckay complete his contract at Wigan with a further loan spell in Scotland. A return to the Latics squad would be a surprise, but by no means impossible.

The “PNE striker bound for Wigan?”  headline might have been speculative to some degree, but Doyle’s arrival might well come to fruition.


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Sam Morsy – a crucial acquisition in the quest for promotion

Photo courtesy of the Express and Star.

Photo courtesy of the Express and Star.

To the more discerning viewer the work of Sergio Busquets for Barcelona is crucial to the smooth running of the team. Granted their MSN forward line would take any defence apart, given decent ammunition. But that ammunition is dependent upon someone playing a seemingly simple role much deeper. Busquets plays the same kind of role that Pep Guardiola did when playing under Johan Cruyff. He is strong in the tackle, makes key interceptions and rarely wastes the ball.

On Saturday Sam Morsy played the Busquets role in an excellent Wigan Athletic performance at Walsall. He sat in front of the back four, nullifying Walsall’s attacks, making sure possession was retained. Moreover he put through pinpoint long passes towards the flanks. Had Will Grigg not been so profligate, with a handful of goal scoring opportunities, Latics would have been out of sight long before Yanic Wildschut’s stunning winner. But Morsy’s contribution in that Busquets role was crucial in stopping opposition attacks and launching his team forwards.

Morsy was signed at a knock-down price from Chesterfield, being in the final year of his contract. He was the captain and the driving force behind the midfield in a team that challenged for promotion last season. The Busquets role is not one he was used to at Chesterfield, where he operated in the holding midfield role where David Perkins and Max Power have excelled for Latics this season. But at Sheffield and Walsall, Caldwell opted to put Morsy in front of the back four, pushing the duo further forward.

Morsy is only 24, with his best years ahead of him. He gave an excellent account of himself at both of his previous clubs, Port Vale and Chesterfield. He is a player who has come through the lower divisions of the English football pyramid, but shows the capability of playing at a higher level.

Gary Caldwell and his recruitment team have done a wonderful job in building up a squad capable of gaining automatic promotion back to the Championship. They have signed a number of players in their early to mid-twenties. Should Latics get the promotion they seek, most of those players can be expected to make a mark on the Championship. Morsy ranks among them.

Sam Morsy has made an immediate impression on Wigan Athletic fans. He could be a key player for not only promotion, but for years to come.

A Chesterfield fan’s view of Sam Morsy

Sam_Morsy_2014Reports suggest that Sam Morsy is about to sign for Wigan Athletic. The 24 year old Chesterfield captain is out of contract at the end of the season and Latics have surely negotiated a bargain fee to secure his permanent transfer. Morsy might well prove to be the type of midfield enforcer that Caldwell has been looking for.

The 5 ft 9 in Sami Sayed Morsi was born in Wolverhampton of an Egyptian father. He played in the Wolves academy until he was 16 when he joined the youth ranks at Port Vale. A year later he was in the senior squad, making his debut in February 2010. By the end of the season he was named Youth Player of the Year and given a professional contract. Morsy went on to make 71 appearances, scoring 4 goals, for Vale over four seasons.

Morsy joined Chesterfield in the summer of 2013 after a fee had been agreed for him as an under 24 player. Ex-Latics player and Chesterfield manager at the time, Paul Cook, said that “When we found out that he may be available, we moved heaven and earth to get him here.”

Morsy went on to make 39 appearances in that 2013-14 season when the Spireites won League 2. He was voted Player of the Year, also providing the assist for Eoin Doyle’s goal in the Football League Trophy final when Chesterfield were beaten 3-1 by Peterborough United.

Last season Morsy became club captain and led Chesterfield to the League 1 playoffs where they were knocked out by Preston North End.

A couple of weeks ago another ex-Latics player, Mark Grew, who had been Morsy’s coach at Port Vale told the Stoke Sentinel that:

“I’ve known Sam Morsy since he was 16 and he can’t wait for this game to come. I still speak to him on occasion and I think this is the fixture he is looking for. I am sure other clubs must be looking at him now because every time I watch him he is quality. Ever since I got him from Wolves I always thought he could play at a higher level. Whether he could reach the Premier League is another question but I think he is definitely a Championship player.”

In his time at Chesterfield Morsy made a total of 97 appearances, scoring 6 goals.

In order to learn more about Morsy’s time at Chesterfield we reached out to Keag Lytham (twitter @KLytham), a Spireites fan.

Here’s over to Keag:

Obviously as a Chesterfield fan I’m really sad to see Sammy go as in my opinion he’s the best central midfielder in the league!

He’s a real leader on the pitch leading from the back all the way to the top. Sammy always gives his all and has endless energy. As a defender it must be a blessing to have him in front of you because technically he really is gifted.

He fights for every ball looking for that killer pass; he cuts up play and gives defenders reassurance! Going forward Sammy can be very dangerous and very unpredictable, for a small man he can move! His only trait is his mouth which as a captain he should use but he talks his way into the book a lot.

That being said he is an aggressive player but that’s what being a centre midfielder is about! The fans at Chesterfield really adored and worshipped the ground he walked on. He was the first on the pitch and the last off.

A small club like us was always going to struggle to keep hold of a gem like Sammy, he really does put 110% in each game! It’s really sad to see him go, but he was destined for bigger and better things!

Good luck Sammy and congratulations on the move, I’m sure you’ll be a great success there !



Three home games towards automatic promotion

Three successive away games is a bit of a rarity in League 1. But if it were to happen to a team and they collected 7 points from those encounters, their fans could be expected to be pleased. But there is a nervousness among Wigan Athletic fans, as Gary Caldwell’s team seeks automatic promotion.

Latics have collected those 7 points playing in less than ideal weather conditions on tight pitches, hardly an ideal scenario for a club that prides itself in playing football “The Wigan Way”. Earlier in the season Latics were strong at home, but away performances had left much to be desired. Since then consecutive defeats by Burton Albion and Blackpool were to shatter an unbeaten home record. But on the road Latics have really improved their results, with 5 draws and 4 wins coming out of the last 9 away games.

The 2-0 win at Barnsley was achieved on a pitch that is 5 yards shorter than that of the DW Stadium. According to the Football Ground Guide  the pitch at Oakwell is 110 yards long and 75 yards wide, compared with Wigan’s at 115 x 74. Fleetwood’s pitch measures 112 x 74, Scunthorpe’s 111 x 73.

But the smallest pitch Latics have played on this season was that of Roots Hall, where Latics played out a goalless draw with Southend United. The conditions that day had made good football very difficult. Latics had to grit their teeth and grind out a result against a team keen to overcome them. Given the conditions it was no surprise that Latics’ goal threat had come largely through set pieces, with Leon Barnett going close on three occasions.

Latics have clearly had to modify their approach away from home. They have tightened up defensively, conceding 8 goals in those last nine games, after allowing 9 in their first four. The recent performances on the road would be more aptly labelled “professional” rather than “free-flowing”.

The professional performance at Scunthorpe on Saturday was enough to claim a point. But with three of the four teams above them winning, it produced more anxiety for fans who saw the gap between Latics and the teams in the automatic promotion places widen to 9 points. However, with teams below them not getting good results the gap between Latics top six and Southend at the head of the teams outside the playoff zone widened to 4 points.

A tally of 17 points from 9 away games signifies that Wigan Athletic are genuine contenders for an automatic promotion place. But in contrast with earlier in the season it has been their home form that has been letting Latics down. After mediocre 1-0 victories against lowly Swindon and Shrewsbury they were beaten 1-0 by Burton Albion in a game where the result could have gone either way. That was followed by an abject 1-0 defeat by Blackpool.

Caldwell’s team have certainly learned how to graft and painstakingly grind out results away from the DW. But they need to find a more pragmatic approach at home. So many teams will come to “park the bus”, looking for goals on the break or through set pieces.

Over the past couple of months Latics have relied heavily on Yanic Wildschut for inspiration, but he has gone back to Middlesbrough, at least for the time being. However, Caldwell will be buoyed by the return to form of Michael Jacobs, now back in his best role, just behind the central striker. But other than Jacobs, who else can provide those moments of quality and the kind of spark offered by Wildschut?

Playing in an advanced midfield role, Andy Kellett has provided some memorable moments of skill in recent games, with well taken goals at Barnsley and Fleetwood. Kellett will most likely keep his place against Gillingham with Caldwell operating a 3-4-3 formation with Kellett and Jacobs operating behind Will Grigg. However, both Craig Davies and Haris Vuckic, each of whom can offer something special are waiting for their opportunity.

It is a mystery why Davies has not been used more since his return to fitness. Caldwell’s preference for a lone centre forward in the starting lineup is a major factor, but Alex Revell seemed to have jumped over Davies in the pecking order prior to his return to Cardiff. Then on Saturday, Jordy Hiwula was brought off the bench in preference to him. Admittedly Hiwula is a different type of player, lacking the physical power of Davies, but with an excellent strike record of 6 goals in his 7 starts and 5 substitute experiences.

Vuckic has practically disappeared off the radar. He was on the bench at Fleetwood, but was left out completely against Scunthorpe. Vuckic is exactly the kind of player to fit into the kind of role currently occupied by Andy Kellett.

Caldwell simply has not got the best out of Davies or Vuckic, although injuries have not helped. However, there is lots of time left this season for that to happen.

Gillingham on Thursday is the first of three consecutive home games, being followed by Sheffield United on the Tuesday and Chesterfield the next weekend. With such a gap between Latics and the teams in the automatic promotion positions these games take on extra importance.

The word “massive” is wildly overused in football circles when describing upcoming games. But it comes close to describing the Gillingham match as far as automatic promotion is concerned, with the Kent club currently in second place. Moreover a win over the Gills, followed by successive victories over Sheffield United and Chesterfield, would put pressure on those clubs above Latics who fear their ascendency.

The results in the next three matches will provide a barometer reading for Wigan Athletic’s chances of automatic promotion. The gap between Latics and the teams above them needs to be narrowed – better sooner than later.