Much depends on Grigg

Grigg

I guarantee we will have a 20 goal a season striker this season

So said David Sharpe in June. Was the young chairman suggesting Latics would have a striker who would score 20 goals in the season ahead? Or was he saying that they would be signing a player who had already scored 20 goals in a season?

Less than two weeks after Sharpe had made his statement free agent Craig Davies was signed from Bolton on a two year contract. A week after that Latics paid Brentford around £1m for Will Grigg, who penned a three year deal.

Both had been 20 goal strikers. The 29 year old Davies scored 23 goals for Chesterfield in their promotion season from League 2 in 2010-11. Despite still only being 24 years old Grigg had done it twice. In the 2012-13 season he scored 20 for Walsall, then last season he scored 23 for the MK Dons in their promotion from League 1 to the Championship.

Davies remains a formidable force and has already impressed Latics fans with his all-action performances. Sadly the hamstring problems that haunted him at Bolton have returned, this time in his left leg. The big striker is now back in training, but even the most optimistic of fans will need to cross their fingers that he can stay away from further such problems. Given the likelihood of him receiving further injuries few would bet on Davies being a 20 goal striker this season. Up to this point he has made five starts, with one appearance as a substitute, scoring two goals.

In Davies and Grigg, Latics had signed players with proven goalscoring records in the lower divisions of the Football League. However, they already had another on their books. Grant Holt is now 34 years old and has recently recovered from a serious injury, but will nevertheless be feared by League 1 defences because of his superb goalscoring record in the lower divisions. Holt has reached the 20 goal mark on four occasions, once for Rochdale, once for Shrewsbury and twice for Norwich. Holt is being gradually eased back into playing a full 90 minutes and Latics will surely not rush him. The big man from Carlisle could have a big part to play in the remainder of the season, providing he can stay fit.

However, if Latics were to have a 20 goal striker this season, the odds would surely be on Grigg. On signing him Gary Caldwell said “Will is the one we were after. He’s a goalscorer, that’s what he does and why we’ve signed him. There were other clubs in the chase, including from the Championship, but he’s chosen to come to us and we are very happy about it.

But with the season at its first quarter Grigg has struggled to reach the goalscoring form that Caldwell would have hoped for. He has scored three goals up to this point, two of which were penalties. After starting in the first six games he missed the Chesterfield match through being on international duty for Northern Ireland. He came back as a 66th minute substitute at Port Vale, but was to pick up an elbow injury which kept him out of the next two games. He made his return as a 77th minute substitute, scoring the equalizer during added-on time against Millwall. Grigg returned to the starting lineup for the next game against Walsall, but was substituted after 70 minutes. However, international call up knocked on the door again and Grigg has missed the last two matches at Crewe and Bury.

Grigg’s season at Wigan has therefore been stop-start up to this point. Caldwell has experienced the frustration of the player being unavailable for three matches without getting on the field of play for Northern Ireland on top of his elbow injury.

At this point last season at MK Dons, Grigg was playing as a lone centre forward in Karl Robinson’s preferred 4-2-3-1 system, alternating with Benik Afobe in that position. He had made six starts, with four appearances as a substitute, scoring six goals including two in the Don’s League Cup victory over Manchester United.

Up to this point Grigg has played in the lone striker role and as a twin striker at Wigan. Caldwell has talked with enthusiasm about the Grigg-Davies partnership. They have started together three times, the most memorable being in the 3-0 destruction of Scunthorpe. The physical presence of Davies creates more space for Grigg and they are Caldwell’s optimal striking duo. The manager also has Holt at hand to play a similar kind of role to Davies and it will be interesting to see if he links the two together at some point in tomorrow’s game against Colchester.

Caldwell also has the option of linklng Grigg together with the physically less imposing, but pacy, Jordy Hiwula. The enigmatic Sanmi Odelusi remains another possibility in a partnership with Grigg.

Up to this point Latics have scored 17 goals in 13 games. Grigg ties with Hiwula and Michael Jacobs in being leading goalscorer with three goals. Recent loan signing Yanic Wildschut has really caught the fans’ attention with two exciting performances, including a blockbuster that will be a contender for goal of the season at Crewe. Hopes are high that the Dutch winger can terrify League 1 defences and score goals. However, the player’s career record reads 16 goals in 132 appearances, a goalscoring ratio similar to that of Jacobs who has also played a s winger during most of his career.

If any Wigan Athletic player is to reach the 20 goal mark this season, it will most likely to be Grigg. He has done it before on two occasions at League 1 level. But Grigg is much more than a goalscorer, his intelligent play and passing enabling him to create chances for others.

Caldwell will surely be counting on Will Grigg as being a cornerstone of his bid for promotion back to the Championship.

 

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Will injuries haunt Caldwell?

Roberto Martinez had bad luck with injuries in his final season at Wigan. Will Gary Caldwell prove more fortunate in his promotion push?

Roberto Martinez had bad luck with injuries in his final season at Wigan. Will Gary Caldwell prove more fortunate in his promotion push?

Antolin Alcaraz and Ivan Ramis are now playing for UD Las Palmas and Eibar in the Primera Division of La Liga. Both were fine centre backs in their time, strong in defence and comfortable on the ball.  In fact they were the kinds of players that Roberto Martinez liked to have in the centre of his defence.

Ramis was signed from Real Mallorca in the summer of 2012, to supplement the centre of defence of a team that had beaten the best in England in the final months of the previous season.  Alcaraz had starred in that run, playing in a backline of three with Gary Caldwell and Maynor Figueroa. Ramis had a fine record in La Liga and looked an excellent signing by Martinez. The squad that Martinez had built up was probably the strongest Wigan Athletic had had in their history. Our hopes were high as the season approached.

The Paraguayan and Spaniard played together in the centre of defence for the first three games of the season, a 2-0 home loss to Chelsea being followed by an away win by the same margin at Southampton and a resounding 4-1 League Cup victory at Nottingham Forest. But that was to be the last match in which they featured together. Alcaraz had picked up an injury and did not return to first team action until February. In his absence Ramis stablished himself as a regular, solid in defence, with excellent distribution.  Sadly Ramis’ season was to end in January when he picked up an anterior cruciate knee injury at Fulham.

Injuries to key players were to be the main factor in Wigan Athletic’s relegation from the Premier League that season. Indeed by the time the FA Cup Final came in May, Martinez was deprived of not only Ramis, but also of fellow central defenders Gary Caldwell and Maynor Figueroa and wing back Jean Beausejour. Midfielders Roger Espinoza and James McArthur were to be employed as wing backs, with a back three of Alcaraz, Emmerson Boyce and Paul Scharner. But, not surprisingly, the energy dissipated in that fabulous victory was to be lacking three days later when the 4-1 defeat at Arsenal sent Latics to the Championship.

Neither Alcaraz nor Ramis was able to reach their peak form again in the future. Martinez was to take Alcaraz with him to Everton, but the big Paraguayan was to struggle with injury and poor form, his release at the end of last season proving no surprise. Following a long period of recuperation Ramis had some good moments under Owen Coyle and Uwe Rosler, but niggling injuries were to constantly plague him. He was subsequently released by Malky Mackay in January 2015 to join Levante in La Liga.

Both UD Las Palmas and Eibar would have known of the two players’ injury issues prior to signing them this summer. Each signed a one year deal.  They are clearly calculated gambles by newly promoted clubs looking for experienced central defenders to do a short term job for them in a highly competitive league. Up to this point Alcaraz has played in all five league games for UD and Ramis in the first four for Eibar.

Gary Caldwell’s acquisition of Kevin McNaughton was also a calculated gamble. McNaughton has been a fine player in his time in the Premier League and Championship, but injury meant he only made 9 appearances for Bolton Wanderers last season. The 32 year old had fallen out of favour with Neil Lennon who had been critical of the player’s fitness. McNaughton’s his misery was compounded by a fractured fibula at the beginning of March in a match against Reading. It had been his first start since October. McNaughton is on a one year contract at Wigan.

Given the return to Everton of Jonjoe Kenny following a two month loan, Caldwell will be hoping that McNaughton will make a swift recovery from the hamstring injury that has kept him out since the Gillingham game a month ago. In the meantime he will either look for an out-of-contract or loan signing to provide further cover at right back/wing back, although midfielders Tim Chow and Max Power have experience in that position.

Caldwell took a bigger gamble in signing the 29 year old Craig Davies from Bolton on a two year contract. The big striker has had his fill of injury problems in his career, but none more than last season when he was restricted to just three starts from the turn of the year following a succession of hamstring problems.

After a series of excellent displays Davies missed the Fleetwood match with a hamstring injury. However, Caldwell explained to Wigan Today that:

“We knew his history when we signed him, and I have to say the fitness coaches and the physios have done magnificent with him. The actual injury he has now is on the other leg and is very minor for a hamstring injury. We’re looking after him very well and I’m sure he’ll be back stronger than ever.”

At his best, Davies is surely among the top central strikers in League 1. The question is whether he can overcome his hamstring problems and stay fit.

Other than McNaughton and Davies, Latics were also without Will Grigg, Francisco Junior, Craig Morgan and Haris Vuckic and for the Fleetwood game.

Grigg has torn ligaments in his elbow and missed the Fleetwood match after previously being away for international duty.  Morgan damaged his shoulder against Crewe on August 29th and Vuckic injured his ankle at Port Vale.

Junior has not played for a month due to a muscle injury, having been substituted at half time at Gillingham.

All of the six would surely challenge for a place in the starting line-up were they fit.

Injuries can make or break a club’s season, as Martinez found out in 2012-13.

It is to be hoped that Caldwell will have more good fortune in this regard than his ex-boss. Given their recent history Davies and McNaughton will have a challenge on their hands to regain their fitness and maintain it over the course the season. Caldwell and his coaches know that and will carefully monitor the two players’ fitness.

In the meantime Caldwell will be hoping that there will be no long term injuries to key players this season. Latics have had more than their fair share of those over recent years. Maybe the pendulum will turn in their favour this time around?

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Champagne football returns to Wigan – Scunthorpe match reaction

What a difference a change in shape can make. A reversion to a genuine 3-5-2 with twin strikers proved the catalyst for a wonderful performance from Latics. The 3-0 scoreline did not flatter Latics – in fact they could have had six, such was their superiority. Champagne football at long last has returned to Wigan.

Gary Caldwell had brought in Donervon Daniels in place of Leon Barnett, to play in a back three together with Craig Morgan and Chris McCann. Jonjoe Kenny and Reece James operated as wing backs, with Francisco Junior and David Perkins in holding midfield. But the key was bringing in Craig Davies to partner Will Grigg up front, with Michael Jacobs having a free role in midfield.

A goal within four minutes certainly settled Wigan’s nerves, Grigg expertly putting away the penalty he had gained. It was no surprise when Latics scored a second after 27 minutes, when Daniels struck the ball home with the aplomb of a centre forward. Latics were stroking the ball around at the back, with the midfield linking well to receive the ball and launch attacks.  The wing backs were pushed high up the pitch, stretching the visitors’ defence. The constant movement of Jacobs, Grigg and Davies was causing real problems for Scunthorpe.

Latics went in to the interval with a two goal lead. They had had 61% of the possession in the first half and constantly threatened the Scunthorpe defence. However, one wondered how long Davies could stay on the pitch, given his fitness issues. The big striker had been on fire, causing constant problems for the Scunthorpe defence, not least with his physical presence. Grigg too was thriving, given the extra space Davies was creating for him.

Davies did actually stay on until the 73rd minute, but three minutes before his departure he latched on to a great through ball from Grigg for Wigan’s third goal.  Shaq Coulthirst replaced Davies in that striking role, with Sean Murray replacing Jacobs in the 76th minute and Max Power coming on for Junior five minutes from time.

The level of football Latics played in this match made David Sharpe’s bold statement about smashing League 1 seem more realistic. But consistency is the key and Latics will face sterner tests than Scunthorpe. The style of play resembled the more heady days of the Martinez era, but was much more pragmatic. Probing long balls were mixed in with short passes. Above all it was the movement off the ball that enabled a spectacular display.

The Good

Davies silenced his critics and showed that he is much more than a big target man, with a superb all-round performance. Grigg’s intelligent play was a real headache for Scunthorpe. Jacobs was all-action, not afraid to run at the opposition defence, playing the creative role in midfield with great effect.

Perkins and Junior were a formidable partnership in the centre of midfield, making interceptions, winning tackles and being constantly available to receive the ball from defenders. Morgan looked calm and self-assured all night in the middle of the back three. McCann had looked insipid against Doncaster but was back to his best in this match. He was solid on defence, accurate in his passing and made the kinds of surging runs out of defence that he used to make under Uwe Rosler. Daniels not only scored a goal but looked solid throughout.

Thrust forward, almost operating as wingers, both wing backs played well. The 18 year old Kenny looks particularly suited to the wing back position, where he has less defensive duties than playing as a full back.

As has been the case this season, the goalkeeper saw a lot of the ball. O’Donnell is effectively playing the role of goalkeeper/sweeper, if at times the passes he receives put him under undue pressure. It is a far cry from the constant long punting of Scott Carson.

The Bad

It is hard to fault a performance as good as this. Caldwell got his tactics right and it worked to great effect.

However, once again the wing backs were pushed a long way forward. There were times when O’Donnell was in possession but both Kenny and James were stood marked at the half way line. They were probably playing to orders, perhaps a tactic designed to draw opposition defenders forward.  However, it means that they are not readily available to receive the ball from a goalkeeper or defender under pressure. In this match it was not a problem, given the impotence of the Scunthorpe attack, but it is something that would need adjustment playing against stronger opposition.

Player Ratings

Richard O’Donnell: 8 – largely untroubled by the Scunthorpe attack, but played an important part in the build-up from the back.

Jonjoe Kenny: 8 – has the makings of an outstanding wing back.

Donervon Daniels: 8 – took his goal well and played with confidence.

Craig Morgan: 8 – solid in defence and excellent in distribution.

Chris McCann: 8 – looked rejuvenated. Can he maintain this level of performance?

Reece James: 8 – an excellent young player learning the position of wing back.

Francisco Junior: 8.5 – showed his class and poise.

David Perkins: 8.5 – another all-action performance.

Michael Jacobs: 8 – full of running and a constant threat to the opposition defence.

Craig Davies: 9 – a complete performance showing not only a strong physical presence but good link-up play with teammates. Deservedly given a standing ovation when leaving the field of play.

Will Grigg: 8.5 – bright and full of invention.

Substitutes:

Shaq Coulthirst: – came on for Davies.

Sean Murray: –  came on for Jacobs. Looks better in a more advanced midfield role.

Max Power: – came on for the closing minutes.

 

Craig Davies – journeyman or saviour?

Davies

“He’s a big, strong boy who is also quick. He is different to what we’ve got and he’ll certainly cause defences some problems.”

The words of Mickey Adams, who certainly had some belief in Craig Davies as a footballer. He had signed the big man for Brighton in February 2009. Some 11 months later, after scoring just one goal in 10 league starts and 11 appearances off the bench, Davies was dispatched on loan to Port Vale, where once again he would be under the tutelage of Adams. Davies made an instant impression at Vale Park and ended his goal drought in his fourth game for his new club.

When Davies came on after 78 minutes against Bury on Tuesday night he did not receive an overwarm welcome from the crowd. Being an ex-Bolton player and the replacement for Grigg did not help his case. Moreover he had not impressed in the 35 minutes he was given as a substitute at Coventry. Some fans condemned him as being lazy. Another categorised him as a “journeyman” who has had as many clubs as Leon Clarke.

But on signing the big Welshman Gary Caldwell had said that “Craig’s a powerful striker who has a proven track record in this division. He’s an experienced player who will inspire those around him and we are absolutely delighted he has chosen to be with us.” Moreover he had later enthused about a Davies-Grigg striking partnership.

So who is the real Craig Davies – the inspirational central striker who can make a real difference to Wigan Athletic this season – or the journeyman who does not make enough effort on the pitch? Is he the 23 goal striker who was instrumental in helping Chesterfield win League 2 or the player who struggled for goals at Brighton?

Davies had begun his Wigan Athletic career as a 77th minute substitute in the pre-season match with Partick Thistle at Firhill. He immediately added a physical presence, although playing wide on the left. Gary Caldwell was being cautious in bringing Davies into play, given the constant injury problems he had last season.

It was therefore a surprise to see Davies start up front with Will Grigg in the match at Dundee just three days later. This time Davies played in the right hand twin striker role and was a real handful for the Dundee defence. He only played for the first 30 minutes, but during that time he had formed a positive impression, his interchange of passes with Grigg provoking a penalty.

So what kind of role will Davies play for Latics this season? When will he be fully fit and in contention for a place in the starting lineup?

Caldwell will continue to give Davies time to get himself in optimal physical condition. In the meantime he will use him as an impact substitute, either for a tiring Grigg or alongside him as a main striker. Up to this point Caldwell has tended to opt for a lone centre forward system, but he is nevertheless pragmatic enough to go for the twin striker scenario when needs arise. Grigg would surely benefit from the presence of Davies, who will ruffle the feathers of any defence, drawing defenders away.

However, there is more to Davies’ game than playing the target man and creating space for others in the penalty box. In his career he has scored 88 goals from 237 starts in league games. He had played for 12 clubs before joining Latics, hence the “journeyman” tag.

Davies will be keen to show that he is much more than just a journeyman. His signing was a gamble by Caldwell, given his career path and his injury issues at Bolton. But if Davies can get fully fit he will have the power and speed to cause a serious threat to opposition defences.

If nothing else Davies will provide Caldwell the option of going direct when the patient building up of play has failed to produce the desired results. Fit and at his best he is a force to be reckoned with.

Only time will tell if Caldwell’s signing of Davies was one of desperation, or of inspiration.

A Bolton fan’s view of Craig Davies

Davies

It was announced today that Wigan Athletic have completed the signing of free agent, Craig Davies, previously of Bolton Wanderers.

The 6 ft 2 in centre forward is 29 years old. He has played for Wales at all age levels, including five caps for the senior squad. Davies started as a youth player at Manchester City before joining Oxford United as an 18 year old. From 2004-06 he was to make 48 appearances, scoring 8 goals, while the club was in League 2.

In January 2006 he signed for Hellas Verona of Serie B for a fee of £85,000. Sadly he could not adapt to the culture change and only made one appearance, returning to England on loan with Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Championship. He was a regular starter for Wolves until they signed Andy Keogh in January 2007. Davies was to leave Wolves at the end of the season, having made 23 appearances, his only goals being one in a 2-2 FA Cup home draw with Oldham, followed by another in the 2-0 replay victory.

Curiously Davies was to join Oldham in the summer of 2007 to play in League 1. After regularly challenging for a first team place in his first season, he went through a 10 game goalless streak at the beginning of 2008-09, leading Oldham to send him out on loan to Stockport County, also in League 1 at the time. He scored 5 goals in 8 appearances before returning to Oldham. He had made 44 appearances for Oldham, scoring 10 goals before being sold to Brighton in January 2009.

Davies could not establish himself with the Seagulls and went on loan periods at Yeovil and Port Vale before joining Chesterfield in the summer of 2011. Davies’ 23 goals in 41 appearances were to help the Spireites win the League 2 title.

Davies was snapped up by Barnsley in the summer of 2012 and went on to make 60 appearances for the Tykes over the next two years, scoring 19 goals. His second season had been hampered by a  hamstring injury. Bolton Wanderers paid £300,000 for his services in January 2013 and Davies went on to make 35 starts for them with 19 appearances off they bench, scoring 10 goals.  He was loaned to Preston in January 2014, where he scored 5 goals from 13 starts and 3 substitute appearances.Last season he struggled once again with his hamstring injury and was not offered a new contract.

In order to learn more about Davies’ 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:

Wigan Athletic today completed the free signing of Craig Davies, seven days after his contract at Bolton came to an end.

Davies joined Wanderers in a £300,000 transfer from Barnsley in January 2013 and went on to score a total of 11 goals in 58 appearances for the Trotters, prior to his release.

Whilst those statistics may not look too appetising, it’s worth noting that 31 of those outings were from the substitutes’ bench.

Davies was a hugely popular figure amongst Bolton supporters, with his never-say-die attitude and willingness to put his body on the line earning him many plaudits, although it wasn’t until Neil Lennon’s arrival as manager in October 2014 that we began to see the best of what he had to offer.

All of a sudden, Davies became a focal point of the Bolton attack and was producing arguably the best form of his career – including a Man of the Match display in a 3-1 win over Latics at Macron Stadium.

Then, in a cruel twist of fate, he was struck down by three separate hamstring injuries that restricted him to just three starts after the turn of the year.

The club weighed up whether to offer him a fresh deal, but financial restraints at the present time meant it made little business sense to take a risk on an injury-prone player and Davies was an unfortunate victim of the cost-cutting measures currently in place.

 If he can put his fitness issues behind him, Davies has the ability to be one of the Championship’s top players. However, inconsistent form and the amount of time he spends in the treatment room has stopped him from fulfilling his undoubted potential.

If you can get 20+ games out of him next season, Wigan will have got themselves a good player who is more than capable of scoring the goals to get you out of the division at the first attempt.

With all those aforementioned worries, though, it would be unwise to pin all hopes on him, so I’d be expecting Gary Caldwell to bring in at least one more striker during the summer transfer window.