Fulham 2 Wigan Athletic 2 – good football is back for Latics

 

It was a lovely mild spring evening and the walk through Bishops Park by the Thames was as delightful as any approach to a football ground. But then again, despite its great location, Craven Cottage had rarely been a happy hunting ground for Wigan Athletic.

It was Gary Caldwell’s first game as manager. What kind of tactical formation would he play? Would it be the 3-4-3 from his days under Roberto Martinez? Could he get the commitment from the players that has been lacking for so much of the season? Would he bring back players who had been left out in the cold under Malky Mackay? But more importantly could he steer his players away from the hoof that typified the era of his predecessor? Could they play football in the “Wigan Athletic way”?

It proved to be an entertaining 2-2 draw and Latics were well worth their point. A win was just beyond their reach and relegation has crept even closer. But the bright side was that, after just two days of training, Caldwell had got the team moving towards a brand of football reminiscent of the club’s best of times in the Premier League.

The starting lineup showed two changes from the last game with Scott Carson being preferred to Ali Al-Habsi and Jerome Pennant came in for Leon Clarke. Caldwell employed a flat back four, with William Kvist and James Perch in holding midfield and Kim Bo Kyung in the hole behind the lone centre forward, Marc-Antoine Fortune. James McClean was played wide on the left and Jerome Pennant on the right, although the latter tucked inside in the earlier proceedings.

Fulham’s goal after just 4 minutes was beautifully taken by the skillful Ross McCormack, as he curled the ball home from the edge of the box. However, once again the Wigan defence had not closed down a player in a shooting position, as has so often happened this season. Going a goal down so early on was a hammer blow and given their inability to get back into games after conceding the first goal in previous games one wondered if Latics might be doomed.

However, Caldwell’s new Latics began to dominate possession, largely resisting the hoof. Fulham were put on the back foot but there was little penetration in Wigan’s play. The forwards were simply not making the runs necessary to unlock a stubborn home defence with two giant central defenders who were ready to gobble up anything that went in the air. However, in the 22nd minute McClean was upended as he set off on a mazy run at speed. Pennant stepped up to score a delightful free kick, just like the first one he scored at Rotherham. Latics were clearly delighted and Pennant and Gaetan Bong ran to the other end of the field to celebrate in front of the visiting support.

Matt Smith’s beautifully taken long range goal after 35 minutes put the home team ahead again. Despite the excellence of the finish the Latics’ defence had once again backed off and allowed an opposition player a clear shot on goal.

Despite Wigan dominating the possession Fulham were a goal up as the teams went in for half time. One wondered if Caldwell would be able to find an answer to the lack of penetration of the Wigan attack.

Latics started the second half unchanged and the game continued in a similar vein although Fulham looked dangerous in flashes. The Wigan central defenders had looked uncomfortable playing the ball out of defence. Jason Pearce sometimes found a midfield player with a short pass, but largely passed the ball sideways or backwards. Harry Maguire’s passing was repeatedly off target as he went for long diagonal balls to the flanks. Carson’s distribution was also poor as he launched his customary long kicks that were too often ineffective against the height in Fulham’s defence. Meanwhile Latics continued to lack penetration up front.

However, Fortune was taken off after 56 minutes, the visiting supporters loudly cheering the arrival on the pitch of Martyn Waghorn. Latics then started to show more movement up front, players running off the ball to support those in possession. As a result their passing became more incisive and they deservedly got back in the game as Maguire headed on a Pennant corner for Pearce to slide home.

Chris McCann replaced the tiring Emmerson Boyce after 70 minutes with James Perch moving to a more familiar full back position. Josh Murphy replaced Pennant after 83 minutes as both teams attacked trying to get a winner. Both teams had chances in the closing minutes but the game was to finish in a draw that guarantees safety for Fulham but leaves Latics in deep relegation trouble.

Despite the inability of his team to win the three points, Caldwell was clearly happy with their performance. Good football has returned and there were signs in the second half that the forwards were able to make the kinds of incisive runs that will unlock defences.

 

 

Holgerrson to stay?

2014-holgersson

Markus Holgerrson is one of several Latics players whose contracts expire this summer.

The big Swede, Markus Holgerrson, at last made his debut for Wigan Athletic, albeit coming on at Blackburn as a substitute after 72 minutes.

Holgerrson was signed as a free agent from New York Red Bulls in early February, with glowing references. His contract is until the end of the current season, which is impending.

Uwe Rosler took a gamble at Blackburn by surprisingly playing Ivan Ramis in a central back line of three. The Spaniard came off at half time, to be substituted by Leon Barnett. Knowing that Ramis could be a key player in the playoffs, Rosler took the gamble of playing him despite the risk of it being too early following the hamstring injury from which he has been recuperating. Only time will tell if Rosler was right to put Ramis in there. A fit Ramis could make a big difference to the promotion push. But will he make it?

At this stage Holgerrson’s future at Wigan is uncertain. Rosler has been able to assess him in training, in the development squad and in about 20 minutes of competitive league play.

Were Holgerrson not to be offered a further contract it would not be a surprise following previous occurrences at the club. At the beginning of last season Roberto Martinez brought in two young players from Spain who had represented their country at youth and schoolboy levels. Eduard Campabadal was an exciting young right back from Barcelona who had put in good performances for the development squad. Martinez gave him his league debut in the last match of the season against Aston Villa and he did not play badly. However, for some unstated reason the 20 year old left the club over the summer and is now back in Spain playing for Cordoba. The other young prospect, forward Guillermo Andres, signed from Villareal, remains in the development squad.

The fate of Nouha Dicko does not bode well for Holgersson and others struggling to get frontline experience. As has happened with other young players at Wigan, Dicko was never given a run of games in which to establish himself. Under Roberto Martinez he went to Blackpool on loan and played well, scoring 9 goals in 32 appearances. Owen Coyle’s arrival saw him shipped off to Rotherham where he once again gave a good account of himself and scored 5 goals in 5 appearances. Despite never giving him a chance in the first choice lineup, in January Uwe Rosler sold him to Wolves where he since has scored 13 goals in 19 appearances. Given Latics’ lack of a forward who can regularly score goals the Dicko transfer was hard to fathom.

The dearth of first team opportunities for young players in particular has been a sore point at Wigan for some time. Callum McManaman had to wait so long to get his chance, as did Lee Nicholls. Their contemporaries Danny Redmond and Jordan Mustoe still have not started in a single league match despite being 23 years old and successfully negotiating Latics’ youth system and the development squad. They still remain on Latics’ books.

During his tenure at Wigan, Roberto Martinez was loath to blood young players from within the club in league games. More surprisingly Martinez gave young midfielder Fraser Fyvie little opportunity outside cup games to prove his worth. Fyvie was certainly no raw recruit, having made more than 50 appearances for Aberdeen in the SPL up to the age of 20, when he joined Latics. The current season has been a disaster for the skilful midfielder with injuries and unfortunate loan spells at Yeovil and Shrewsbury taking their toll. He has now had three managers at Wigan who have not had the confidence to give him a further league start to add to the single one he received at the same time as Campabadal against Aston Villa.

Owen Coyle took Adam Buxton to the USA for pre-season, but the young defender soon disappeared from the limelight. Over recent months he has had loan spells at Burton Albion and Accrington Stanley .

The news came out today that Honduras coach, Luis Fernando Suarez, has named both Roger Espinoza and Juan Carlos Garcia in his squad of 23 players for Brazil. The Colombian has also included ex-Latics favourites Maynor Figueroa and Wilson Palacios. Given that Garcia has played only one senior game all season at Wigan, Suarez clearly has faith in the player’s abilities. It was a surprise that Rosler did not include Garcia in the squad for the Blackburn game on Saturday. The player still has two more years remaining on his contract.

Holgerrson is not alone in that he has a contract expiring in summer. He is joined by Jean Beausejour, Emmerson Boyce, Gary Caldwell, Stephen Crainey, Jordi Gomez and Mike Pollitt. Moreover the loan periods will expire for Jack Collison, Josh McEachran, Nicky Maynard and Nick Powell.

For the moment Rosler will be focusing on the playoffs, which will decide which division Latics play in next year. Should it be the Premier League he might well look at retaining some of those end of contract players who have proven experience at that level. Should it be the Championship, Rosler will look at bringing down both the average age and the salary costs of his squad.

It is going to be a very different Wigan Athletic squad we will see at the beginning of next season.

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Latics could give Blackpool a hiding

 

Ex-Blackpool player Stephen Crainey thinks the game is massive for both sides.

The word “massive” has become an integral part of the modern day footballers’ vocabulary. In everyday English it roughly translates to “important”, but it can also signify “crucial”.

Ex-Blackpool player Stephen Crainey used it this week when he described Saturday’s clash with his old club as “a massive game for both sides”.

In reality the game is more “massive” for Blackpool than Latics. The Tangerines are in the drop zone, being in 22nd place, with only two games left. Failure to get at least a point at the DW Stadium on Saturday would put them in severe danger of relegation. On the other hand Wigan have three games left in which they need to amass the three points needed to secure a playoff spot.

Six months have passed since the Seasiders beat Owen Coyle’s Wigan Athletic in a bad tempered match at Bloomfield Road. It seems like an eternity. Latics have since been transformed by Uwe Rosler and their presence in the playoff zone is giving the other teams up there lots of food for thought.

On the other hand Blackpool have been in a downward spiral since then. Manager Paul Ince was sacked in January and his son Tom, their star player, went to Crystal Palace. Experienced Scottish international midfielder, Barry Ferguson, took over as player-manager on a temporary basis. At the time Blackpool were in 14th place, nine points outside the top six, eight points above the relegation zone.

Despite a run of poor results the 36 year-old Ferguson remains popular with their fans, whose anger and frustration is being vented more towards Chairman Karl Oyston. In a recent home defeat to Burnley fans threw tennis balls and tangerines on to the pitch, twice holding up play, in protest against the Chairman. The anger is down to a perceived unwillingness of Oyston to invest in the club the profit made from their time in the Premier League a couple of years ago, together with not appointing a manager on a permanent basis.

Blackpool come into the match following an invaluable point gained in a 1-1 draw at promotion hopefuls Brighton, after having lost 12 of their previous 15 away games. They will have ample support at the DW Stadium on Saturday through Oyston providing 3,000 free tickets for season ticket holders which were quickly snapped up. Moreover the Blackpool Supporters Association are providing them with free transport.

However, it looks like the Tangerines may be without talisman Ricardo Fuller through injury. They have not won a game without him since he made his debut in August. Blackpool have scored just 36 goals in 44 league matches this season, only Charlton having scored less.

Wigan Athletic go into this match with a far superior squad to that of their opponents. Moreover manager Uwe Rosler is likely to put forward his strongest lineup, in order to secure the playoff spot. Latics have had some poor results against teams in the lower reaches of the division, but they see this game as important and they will be up for it.

With a solid defence, a midfield trio of McArthur, Espinoza and Gomez and the likes of Maloney, McManaman, Powell and Waghorn up front Latics look far too good for their Lancashire neighbours.

If Latics play at the level they displayed a week ago against Reading, Blackpool will be in for a hiding.

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Latics ready to pick up 3 points against Leicester

Leicester City come to the DW Stadium tonight on the crest of a wave, sitting at the top of the Championship table, following on from a 2-0 away win at second placed Burnley.

Nigel Pearson has built a team that plays good football and has picked itself up since losing out to Watford in the playoffs last season. They looked impressive at Burnley, inflicting on the Clarets theirv first home defeat of the season.

However, Pearson has indicated that he will be making changes to a lineup that has been unchanged for the past six matches. Forward Jamie Vardy is injured and Pearson will have to look at making some rotations given the fixture congestion over the coming weeks.

Uwe Rosler knows all about fixture congestion and up to this point he has juggled his squad effectively. However, one player who has been a permanent name on the team sheet in the Rosler era is James McArthur. The Scot has been a model of consistency, but looked jaded in the Bolton game on Saturday. McArthur is in the engine room of Latics midfield and denies the opposition space as well as being the instigator of much of the good football that they play. Rosler will have to rest him soon. It could be tonight or against Leeds on Saturday.

Jean Beausejour is out with a two game suspension and Rosler will look towards either Stephen Crainey or James Perch to cover the left of defence. The German prefers utilizing Crainey as a wing back, rather than full back. Perch is a solid left back, but is not able to support attacks as effectively on his “wrong foot”.  In any case Ivan Ramis is likely to return and we might well see Rosler employing a 3-4-3 system with Emmerson Boyce, Leon Barnett and Ramis forming a formidable central defensive line.

Josh McEachran is due to return in midfield and Nicky Maynard at centre forward. Martyn Waghorn is unable to play against his parent club, but Rosler has a wealth of attacking options available. Callum McManaman looked more like his old self when coming on as a substitute against Bolton and remains relatively fresh, not having played so many games recently. Nick Powell scored a cracking equalizer at Bolton and will probably make the starting lineup. If he does it will be interesting to see if Rosler once again plays him in a wide position.

Latics will be keen to keep up with their quest for a play-off position by collecting three points from tonight’s game. Having beaten three Premier League teams, including title chasing Manchester City, in their FA Cup run they will not be overawed by playing the top team in the Championship.

It promises to be a fascinating contest tonight and a win against the league leaders would send shock waves to the other clubs contesting for play-off positions.

Maybe we will see Shaun Maloney coming off the bench in the later stages. A fully fit Maloney could be key to promotion back to the Premier League.

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Manchester City 1 Wigan Athletic 2 – the dream is coming true again

James Perch gets Latics'second

James Perch gets Latics’second

Wigan Athletic defied the odds once more with a remarkable victory at the Etihad. They now face Arsenal in the semi-final at Wembley.  The dream simply refuses to die.

Latics went into the game on the top of a run of good results, but were facing a side that had won 12 of its 13 home games in the Premier League and had already beaten them 5-0 in the League Cup. However, Uwe Rosler’s team were by no means overawed by their star-studded opponents and played with great spirit and organization and with no mean level of skill.

As expected Rosler fielded three central defenders, pushing back Chris McCann to the left side, with Emmerson Boyce on the right and Ivan Ramis in the centre. Scott Carson made a return in goal and Josh McEachran took over the Ben Watson role in midfield. Marc-Antoine Fortune and Callum McManaman played upfront with Jordi Gomez playing behind them in a forward midfield role.

Latics had started brightly, showing no fear, taking the game to the home team. In the 27th minute Marc-Antoine Fortune turned past Martin Dimichaelis near the byline for the Argentinian to make a clumsy challenge within the penalty box. Jordi Gomez was coolness personified as he slotted home the penalty. Latics continued to play the better football and City had not tested Carson as the half time whistle sounded.  Latics high pressing tactic had stemmed the flow of City moves and they deservedly went in ahead.

The second half saw a change for Latics with Leon Barnett coming on for Chris McCann. The Irishman had been outstanding, solid in defence, building up play from the back via his cultured left foot. He had been injured in the 40th minute following a powerhouse tackle on Micah Richards.

The question was whether Latics would have the energy  to continue to operate their high pressing game, boldly leaving two players up front even when under pressure.

Incredibly Latics went 2-0 up just two minutes into the second half. Lethargic defence by the home team saw James McArthur receive the ball outside the penalty area. The Scot ran through the defence before putting in a superb low cross from the left. It looked like Gael Clichy was going to clear it, but somehow James Perch got a foot to it between the Frenchman’s legs to put the ball in the net.

Manuel Pellegrini took a calculated risk after 53 minutes, using his substitute allotment by bringing on James Milner, David Silva and Edin Dzeko.  Soon after Dzeko was unlucky to head against the post and Latics were on the back foot. City scored a controversial goal after 68 minutes when Samir Nasri  shot from outside the box with Joleon Lescott trying to connect, but the ball passing between his legs to beat Carson.

Latics had brought on James McClean for McManaman after 58 minutes and Roger Espinoza for McEachran after 66 minutes. Following their goal City continued to bombard the Wigan defence, but somehow it held firm. Boyce made an amazing block to prevent Dzeko from scoring, but it was not to be City’s day. A breakaway saw Fortune wastefully blazing the ball over the bar from distance when a simple pass would have seen McClean put through on a direct route to goal.

Sheer resilience saw Latics through five minutes of added time to gain a win that was richly deserved.

The Good

Uwe Rosler had clearly done his homework and his tactics were spot-on.  In the first half the three central defenders passed the ball out of defence with composure and snuffed out the danger of strikers Aguero and Negredo. The combination of McCann and Crainey proved too much for the flying winger Navas, who was taken off after 53 minutes.  Crainey was to have his best game yet in a Latics shirt in the left wing back position. At right wing back, James Perch was as solid as ever and capped his display with an opportunist goal. It is an indication of the type of attacking approach that Rosler encourages when a wing back gets into that kind of scoring position.

Boyce gave an inspirational display. His performance in the FA Cup Final was huge, but this one might have been even better.  He forms a fine partnership with the intelligent Ramis. Barnett once again gave his all for the cause.

McArthur was his usual tireless self in midfield and made an assist for the second goal. Apart from one sloppy pass that put his defence in danger McEachran played his part until going off after 66 minutes. Gomez played well, linking up the play in the first half, putting in a lot of hard graft. Who else do Latics have who could take a penalty with such aplomb, despite the huge pressure?

Fortune gave Dimichaelis a match to forget, playing the target man role. City had clearly recognized McManaman as a danger man and although he came in for rough treatment, he made a valuable contribution.

The Bad

One wonders what might have happened had the referee, Antony Taylor, correctly disallowed City’s goal for offside.  As one might expect City did have some shouts for penalties but Taylor rightly ignored them.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 7 – a welcome return from the excellent ‘keeper. Did all that could be expected of him.

Emmerson Boyce: 9.5 – has he ever played a better game for Latics? Superb.

Ivan Ramis: 8 – another fine defensive performance from a quality central defender. His anticipation is a real advantage to his team mates.

Chris McCann: 8 – excellent. Let’s hope the injury is not serious. He has become a key player for Latics.

James Perch: 8 – excellent in defence and we will remember his goal for years to come.

Stephen Crainey: 8 – it has taken the Scot some time to adjust to the quality passing game that Latics favour. Today he was solid in defence and his use of the ball good.

James McArthur: 8- a midfield dynamo.

Josh McEachran: 7 – still lacking match fitness, but could become a key player over the coming weeks.

Jordi Gomez: 8 – a tireless display, capped by his goal.

Callum McManaman: 7.5 – looked useful.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: 8 – a fine performance as the central striker.

Substitutes:

Leon Barnett:-  came on after half time.  Solid and committed.

James McClean: – high on endeavour, but his control lets him down when switching over to the right.

Roger Espinoza: – tried hard to stem the tide of City attacks.

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