From Wigan with Style

coyle2

The spectacular fireworks that followed Latics 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds provided a fitting finale for the first phase of Owen Coyle’s  revolution  at Wigan. It is only around five weeks since the effervescent Scotsman took over at the club, but a lot has happened in that time.

To be honest, Coyle’s appointment to the Wigan Athletic job did not initially go down well with the majority of supporters. It seemed that Dave Whelan was doing things on the cheap, bringing in a manager whose team had got relegated from the Premier League. To make things worse he had worked with the auld enemy up the road at the Reebok Stadium.

It is remarkable what Coyle has already done in such a short space of time. He must have been working 24/7.  His dealings in the transfer market up to this point have been very astute.

Coyle paid  a reputed £700,000 to Bursaspor for an ex-England goalkeeper –  who is only 27 –  in Scott Carson.  James Perch – 26, who promises to be a key central defender – was acquired from Newcastle for only £750,000. The biggest sum went to Norwich for 32 year old  Grant Holt – £2m  – but the big centre forward has a fantastic goalscoring record throughout his career and it could prove to be money very well spent.

Coyle has also picked up a swath of good quality players on free transfers – Stephen Crainey, Thomas Rogne, Chris McCann, Marc-Antoine Fortune.

Pre-season tours don’t usually end in fireworks and in reality only one of the three teams that Latics faced was capable of challenging them. Both the Riverhounds  and the Dayton Dutch Lions play in the newly formed USL Professional Division – the third tier of American football – and the gulf between them and Latics was clear to see.

The more difficult game was at Columbus. The Columbus Crew have competed in the MLS since it started in 1996 and their Crew Stadium was the first “soccer specific” ground built by an MLS club. Crew typically average around 14,500 for MLS matches and the greater metropolitan area of Columbus has a population of over 2 million. The team are currently in midtable in the Eastern Conference of the MLS. Latics’ performance to come away with a win against a team of that level in the full swing of their season was gratifying.

There is still a long road ahead for the Coyle revolution. The trip to the USA was little more than  a training exercise, although it did provide good PR for a club that now has a global branding. Wigan had arrived in the US as not only the team that won the FA Cup, but the one that won it in style. Although playing at half pace in the three matches one could see that the general pattern of Latics’ play has stayed intact. From time to time we saw a few hoofs upfield from new additions to the squad, but by and large we saw that silky approach that was the hallmark of the Martinez era.

Coyle is wise not to make major changes to the team’s playing style at this stage. As the season progresses Coyle will adapt it, in the same way that Michael Laudrup did at Swansea last season. The Swans stuck to their fundamentals of possession football, but became more flexible and pragmatic.

The next phase of Coyle’s revolution will be to bring in more quality players to boost the defence and attack.  The sooner he can do that, the better. The newcomers will not have had the same opportunity to bond with the squad as did those who went to the USA. However, the starting lineup for that first league game at Barnsley is probably already in Coyle’s head, give or take a right back or central defender.

The video coverage of the matches in the US made good viewing. Wiganers will get the chance to see the new squad with their own eyes tomorrow night when Latics play Atromitos at Leigh Sports Village. Last year the team from Athens faced Newcastle in the Europa League, drawing 1-1 at home and losing 1-0 away. The match will help provide an indication of what to expect in the Europa League this season.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.
Owen Coyle has already won over many doubters by his astute moves in the transfer market, his positive approach and his commitment to his work. He has made a really good start to his Wigan Athletic career.

Stateside Latics fanatics savo(u)r US tour

2013-latics-tourphoto
Wigan Athletic’s first ever USA tour is not just proving a success in terms of conditioning and team bonding — it has set the perfect stage for the beginnings of a US-based supporters club, as fans from all over the country communicated on Twitter and Facebook to meet up, get to know one another, and support the team.

Jon Sicotte, known on Twitter as @spikechiquet, is one of them. A sports copy editor at the Toledo Blade in Ohio and a freelance writer for TheCup.us, he started following the Latics three years ago after some web and FIFA-gaming based research, and hasn’t looked back since. He traveled to both Columbus Crew and Dayton Dutch Lions matches, and was kind enough to contribute a write-up and photos of each experience for the Amigos. Thanks Jon!

2013-latics-tourIMG_0701

Columbus Crew 1 Wigan Athletic 2

Although this Wigan trip was about the new squad limbering up for the Football Championship campaign, it really was a chance for Latics fans to find out that they are not alone. Through Twitter and Facebook, fans from all over the United States connected and got together to share stories, laughs (a few ales) and talk of their love of WAFC. Last Saturday, a group of us decided to go to the 4th St. Grill in Columbus, about a mile from Crew Stadium. It’s a Crew bar, but we were welcomed and had a great time (the bar’s Two-Hearted Ale/Chipotle sauce on boneless wings is fantastic).

The backgrounds of the fans were all over the board: a retiree from Illinois who has lived in the States for 35 years; a Texan who has been in the U.S. since 2005; a Canadian; an American with Wiganers in his family; and even some born-and-bred Americans that just happened to pick the Latics. A few of us tailgated right before the game and met a girl who lived in the area and was wearing a Liverpool kit, although she was from Wigan originally and was happy to see her town’s team playing in Columbus. She was waving a Union Jack proudly out of her car.

Crew fans and staff welcomed us with open arms and event security looked the other way as our group sat together despite having tickets all over the stadium. We may have been small, but we were mighty and we let the Crew know we were there! The array of kits was fun to watch. We met QPR fans, a few Manchester United, Man City and England National team fans in our journey. Michael, one of the guys I met while there, grew up playing youth games under Graham Barrow and the two got to catch up on old times before the match as well.

After the match, Ben Watson and Emmerson Boyce stopped by to chat with fans along with Roger Espinoza. Some of the other guys were down by the bench. A Wigan assistant coach handed up Wigan FA Cup posters as well. It was nice to meet Ben, I remarked I was happy to get to take a picture of the forehead that won Wigan the cup.

2013-latics-tourIMG_20130713_210703_615

Dayton Dutch Lions 1 Wigan Athletic 6

A few days later, I ventured to Piqua High School’s soccer field and assumed I would be alone since many of my “Twitter Crew” couldn’t make the second game. I was happily wrong. I was tapped on the shoulder by a teen named Chole. She, her mum, brother and boyfriend had been in Columbus, but also made it to Piqua for the Dayton vs. Wigan match…a three-hour trip from Louisville. They introduced me to Joe, who believe it or not, lives just down the road from me here in Perrysburg, Ohio. I also met a few more fans around us (I believe our crew stood eight strong or so) and we all braved the 90+ degree heat and humidity.

The players felt the heat as well. In fact, they stopped to take a water break at the 30th minute. The pitch’s grass seemed long and dry and dead, making it slow playing. Wigan was sloppy as well and tried to fool around at times instead of trying to be technically sound. Still, the second half was full of exciting goals and a few good shows of sportsmanship. Late in the match, after scoring a goal already, newcomer Grant Holt collided with Dayton’s keeper nearly outside the box. The goalie fell and was in pain near his knee. Instead of driving to the net, Grant kicked the ball out of bound and let the team tend to their keeper. A minute later, after a penalty kick was awarded, Wigan offered the services of Lee Nicholls to play the penalty instead of the injured keeper. (Dayton only had one keeper at the match). After Holt scored against his teammate, Nicholls stayed and finished the match for Dayton (I wonder if Mr. Whelan will get a few bucks for the transfer fee).

After the match, the players came up to our little group to take pictures and sign autographs. We caught a few more guys before they got on the bus to head back to Columbus. The team even brought out a few boxes of pizza to share with us and many young kids hanging around to meet some true professionals of the beautiful game.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Columbus Crew 1 Wigan Athletic 2 – a solid start for Coyle’s team

crew

Crew Stadium

Wigan Athletic got their pre-season match preparations underway with a 2-1 win in Columbus, Ohio. Latics looked in control from the start. After a pedestrian first half in which neither side looked like scoring, Wigan were  2-0 in front when a deflected goal got the home team back in the game after  73 minutes.

Crew put forward their first choice lineup with the intention of withdrawing them after the hour mark, which they eventually did.

Wigan brought in Academy product, Adam Buxton, to make his debut at right back. Emmerson Boyce and James Perch occupied the centre of defence with Stephen Crainey on the left. Ben Watson was employed in front of the back four, James McArthur in front of Buxton on the right. Jordi Gomez and Chris McCann played in central midfield with Grant Holt as target man and Jean Beausejour wide on the left.

Roger Espinoza and James McCarthy came on after half time and after a minute a fine cross from the Honduran allowed McCarthy the luxury of a headed goal. Two more substitutes combined for Latics second goal after 63 minutes with Fraser Fyvie slipping through a fine pass which was clinically put away by Marc Antoine Fortune.

Following their goal Crew started to get back in the game and Scott Carson had to make a great save in the closing minutes to stop them scoring following a defensive error.

The Good

Wigan made good use of the ball and the midfield was in control for most of the match. It was revealing to see how the style of football resembled that of last season, give or take the occasional hoof upfield by one of the newcomers. The system had changed, with a flat back four.

In the first half they played with  a crowded midfield with only Grant Holt and Beausejour pushed forwards. But after 63 minutes it reverted to 4-3-3 with Nouha Dicko moving to the right wing with Callum McManaman on the left.

Although protected by the midfield to a large degree the centre back pairing of Boyce and Perch looked solid.

The Bad

Latics had five newcomers in their starting lineup and it is going to take time for them to gel. Grant Holt looked isolated up front and it will be a challenge for him to get used to the slower build-ups like we had in this match.

The current squad is unbalanced. There is a surplus of quality midfield players , but a dearth of defenders and forwards. Owen Coyle has done a remarkable job in the transfer market but there is still work to be done.

With Gary Caldwell and Ivan Ramis out if action for some time still, the centre of defence is in need of another experienced practioner. Although centre back is probably James Perch’s best position, Emmerson Boyce is best employed at right back, where his attacking skill can make the difference.

With the surfeit of central midfield players James McArthur was pushed to right midfield in the first half then right back in the second. Maybe his fine performance as a wing back in the FA Cup Final was a factor in Coyle playing him out of position, but McArthur is a quality central midfield player, who is likely to excel in the Championship.

Coyle has two centre forwards in Holt and Fortune, but there is a need for another wide player to compete with McManaman and Beausejour.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: – unemployed most of the match but saved the result in the closing minutes.

Adam Buxton: – did not look out of place. A promising debut. Taken off at half time.

Emmerson Boyce: – looked comfortable throughout. A key figure in the push for promotion.

James Perch: – a very good debut, his anticipation and tackling were excellent.

Stephen Crainey: – solid and reliable.

Ben Watson: – looked good in that familiar role in front of the back four. Went off after 63 minutes.

Jordi Gomez: – put through some cultured passes. Went off after 63 minutes.

Chris McCann: – looks a cultured player, but needs time to gel with teammates.

James McArthur: – showed his versatility, but deserves a place in central midfield.

Grant Holt: – a lone figure without support. Went off at half time.

Jean Beausejour: – looked lively. Went off after 63 minutes.

Substitutes

James McCarthy: – came on after half time and scored a minute later. Destined for a big money move.

Roger Espinoza: – came on after half time. Well known in Columbus for his exploits with Ohio State University. As lively and energetic as always and put in a good cross for the first goal.

Marc Antoine Fortune: – came on after half time for Holt. Looked comfortable in the lone centre forward role and took his goal well.

Fraser Fyvie: – on after 63 minutes. Looks class.  Nice pass for second goal. Why did he not play last season?

Callum McManaman: on after 63 minutes. Let’s hope Dave Whelan’s reputed £15 million price tag on him will deter his former manager from taking him away to Everton.

Nouha Dicko: – on after 63 minutes. Looked dangerous. Will this be his season?

Shaun Maloney: – on after 75 minutes. Apparently had a slight injury that prevented him starting. Championship defences will have trouble with this fellow.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.