The problem on the right

A rest from right back duties for David Perkins?

A rest from right back duties for David Perkins?

It is now sixteen months since Emmerson Boyce left Wigan Athletic under acrimonious circumstances. Boyce had been at the heart of most of the club’s greatest achievements and was much loved by the fans. It was never going to be an easy parting of ways.

When news broke out about Boyce’s departure in May 2015 there was consternation among his supporters, many of whom felt the club could have done more to keep him. There were myriad arguments for and against the club in the Boyce debate. But although the issues revolved largely around loyalty towards a player who had become a club legend, there were also those who questioned whether Latics could get a player who was any better to replace him.

Boyce was signed by Paul Jewell in August 2006. He went on to stay for nine seasons, his versatility in being able to play in the centre of defence or on the right being a real asset. Although in his early years at the club he was not the most technically proficient, he had a will to win that endeared him to the fans. When playing at right back Boyce had not been the most fleet footed or the best of distributors, but it was all to change when Roberto Martinez switched to 3-4-3 in November 2012. At the beginning Boyce looked uncomfortable in the right wing back position, but by the end of the season he had played his part in Wigan’s epic victories over the highs and mighties of the Premier League. Boyce had become the archetypal wing back, constantly available to receive the ball, helping stretch the play wide, thoughtful in his distribution and solid in defence.

Wing back is a specialist position, not easy to adapt to for someone used to playing right back in a quartet. Martinez and the coaches had worked with Boyce and he had mastered the position with aplomb. In January 2015 Martinez had brought in Jean Beausejour to play the left wing back role in which he had been utilized by his national team, Chile. The two smooth functioning wing backs were key cogs in Martinez’s machine.

Since Boyce’s departure no one has been able to claim the right back/wing back position as their own. In the first half of last season we saw glimpses of Kevin McNaughton, Jonjoe Kenny and Donald Love, with Tim Chow sometimes filling in. Donervon Daniels also played there when not playing in the centre of defence. Reece Wabara was signed in January and made 20 appearances without being totally convincing. He left in the summer after he and the club were unable to agree terms.

The turnover has continued this season. So far we have seen Luke Burke, Reece Burke, Nathan Byrne, Alex Gilbey, David Perkins, Max Power and Yanic Wildschut play there. Loanee Kyle Knoyle has not yet appeared after getting injured in the pre-season.

Were those who thought Boyce would be hard to replace right? Could Boyce have played a major role last season if he had stayed?

In fact Boyce went to Blackpool where he made just 17 starts last season. The reality was that he was 35 years old when he went there, with his best years behind him. Moreover after Martinez’s departure the player had, more often than not, found himself being played more as an orthodox right back or central defender. His halcyon days as a Premier League wing back were over.

Like Martinez, Gary Caldwell is a major proponent of the back three/wing back type of formation. But since taking over as manager he has rarely had the luxury of seeing two wing backs make a major impact in the same game. Moreover some of the players who have occupied the positions have not looked entirely comfortable with their roles.

Caldwell’s main preferred formations can be described as variations on 3-5-2 and 4-3-3. To be able to switch between the systems he would ideally have players with a bank of prior experience playing as both wing back and full back. But with most of his signings coming from English clubs it was going to be more likely he would get players used to playing as orthodox full backs, having to coach them into playing the differing wing back role.

Near the end of the transfer window Caldwell tried to sign attacking right full back Callum Paterson from Hearts, with an expectation of him playing either role. However, the deal never materialized and instead Caldwell signed Nathan Byrne from Wolves.

The complication is that Byrne is essentially a wing back or winger. So Caldwell faces the choice of sometimes playing Byrne as an orthodox right back or bringing in someone else for the position when he wants his team to play with four at the back. When fit, Knoyle could challenge for a place, although he probably lacks the experience to make the position his own.

Reece Burke is expected to return from injury shortly and can play right back, although he is primarily a central defender. The 18 year old Luke Burke knows both the wing back and full back roles through his time in the development squad, but Caldwell seems reluctant to rely on him as a regular alternative. When fit again Donervon Daniels will also challenge for a place on the right of defence.

It is possible that Caldwell will seek an experienced right back/wing back in the January transfer window. But budgetary constraints might well preclude that option.

Many fans prefer to see Latics play with an orthodox back four, citing greater defensive stability. However, in the latter days of the Martinez era at Wigan it could be argued that playing with three central defenders and two wing backs provided more defensive solidity than we had seen with a  back four.

But it does not necessarily work like that under Caldwell’s system. Is it that Caldwell just has not yet found the quality of wing backs he needs? Or is it that he sees them in a more attacking role than Martinez did?

The right side of defence has been one of Caldwell’s biggest headaches so far in his brief managerial career. At this stage it looks like Byrne will be his first choice right wing back, when fully fit. But who would be his preference at right back remains to be seen.

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Boyce’s anguished departure signals the end of an era

 

Photo courtesy of Daily Mail.

Photo courtesy of Daily Mail

 

I don’t think the history and tradition should ever be forgotten and it certainly should never be seen as a problem or an excuse for how we’re doing now. Showing that this club has enjoyed success in the past provides a target for everyone. But there is a generation of fans who are fed up with hearing about the European Cup victories from my time. I would really like this generation to share the times that the previous ones have done, as they did when they got a bit of glory in 2005.

It is a huge ask to get back to where we were in the Seventies and Eighties, but you always have to aim as high as you can, while at the same time being totally realistic. This club used to be so unified; everybody was pushing in the same direction. As long as I’m sitting here, there will be no divisions. Everybody will be treated with the utmost respect in the position they hold in the football club. “

So said Kenny Dalglish on his return to Liverpool in January 2011. The Scot is not known as one of the most eloquent men in football, but these words were powerful and struck a chord.

Twenty years from now will there be Wigan Athletic fans who are fed up of hearing about winning the FA Cup and the glories of wins over the elite clubs of English football? Will past successes provide a target or will they be a millstone around the club’s neck?

League 1 beckons Wigan after ten years away in the upper echelons. This time around it feels like a step into the unknown. The deconstruction of the playing staff that started in January will be completed over the coming weeks. The club has to cut its coat according to its cloth, from a £50 million salary bill in the Premier League in 2012-13 to one nearer £10 million in 2015-16.

Players come and they go. That is the nature of football. But Emmerson Boyce’s departure is much deeper than that. For me his presence on the field was always a reminder of the teams of the Martinez era, who achieved what was beyond our wildest dreams. Boyce and Wigan Athletic seemed to go hand in hand, the player and the club making constant, steady progress, jointly punching above their weight.

Boyce was signed by Paul Jewell from Crystal Palace in August 2006 as a replacement for right back, Pascal Chimbonda. He quickly established himself as a solid and reliable defender, playing either at right back or in the centre of defence. Boyce was to make 34 league starts in that 2006-07 season. However, Mario Melchiot was signed in the summer of 2007 and became the first choice right back, with Boyce being used primarily in the centre of defence. He made 25 league starts in that 2007-08 season. The following season saw him make 26 starts.

But it was the arrival of Roberto Martinez in the summer of 2009 that was to change Boyce’s career. Distribution had not been Boyce’s strong point, but under the influence of the Catalan, it started to improve.

Boyce was to experience true highs and lows during the four years with Martinez.

In September 2009, with Latics playing a new brand of football, Boyce lined up at centre back with Titus Bramble, in Wigan’s first ever league victory over Chelsea, a 3-1 win. A couple of months later that same central defensive partnership had a torrid time at Tottenham, resulting in a 9-1 defeat with Jermain Defoe scoring five goals. Gary Caldwell was to be signed in January, with Boyce losing a regular place in the lineup. However, Boyce did play in the last match of the season when Latics were thumped 8-0 by Chelsea. He had made 23 league appearances.

Boyce was back in the starting lineup in the 2010-11 season, but missed some 10 weeks due to injury. He went on to make 22 league appearances, including the final game of the season at Stoke when he made a goal line clearance in the first half before Hugo Rodallega’s header guaranteed safety from relegation.

Latics started the 2012-13 season badly and suffered seven consecutive losses in September and October. Following a 3-1 defeat by Wolves on November 6th, Martinez decided to change the system of play. For the next match with Blackburn he brought in a back line of three central defenders – Steve Gohouri, Gary Caldwell and Maynor Figueroa – with Ronnie Stam and David Jones as wing backs.

Gradually results started to improve as the players adapted to the new system. Boyce’s first game in the new system was as a wing back in a 3-1 defeat at QPR at the end of January. He moved into the back three for the next couple of matches, a 3-0 defeat at Tottenham and a 1-1 home draw with Everton. Martinez then opted for the safety of Boyce at wing back, rather than the defensively- suspect Ronnie Stam. Boyce was to get a better feel for the position, which was more physically challenging for him.

The tide was to turn in mid-March as the players started to play really well in the system. Shaun Maloney had established himself as a starter, with Boyce and the January arrival, Jean Beausejour, playing key roles as wing backs. Boyce’s form was a revelation. He had been transformed into a high quality wing back, defensively solid as always, but making long runs off the ball to make himself available to receive passes. But more than anything else it was the quality of his passing that caught the eye for me. Could this be the same player we saw in the Jewell era? He will be long remembered for his classy performances in the epic wins at home over Manchester United and away at Liverpool and Arsenal.

The following season was Latics’ last in the Premier League, but Boyce was to play a key role in helping lift the FA Cup. He had played at wing back in the 3-0 win at Everton and the 2-0 victory in the semi final against Millwall. But for the final he was drafted into the back three, together with Antolin Alcaraz and Paul Scharner. Being captain of a side that won the FA Cup is something he will never forget.

Boyce was clearly a late developer who had gained the self-confidence to play football in the Martinez style. The arrival of Owen Coyle meant a return to a flat back four, but Boyce did get opportunities to play in the wing back position on the occasions when Uwe Rosler chose to play with three central defenders. In the absence of Gary Caldwell through injury, Boyce had become the regular captain and an automatic choice in the team. He was to play a remarkable 50 matches in that 2013-14 season.

In August he had been back once again back at Wembley, leading his team out in the Community Shield against Manchester United. In September he led them out in the club’s first ever European competition match in Bruges. In early March he was to captain them to another famous FA Cup win over Manchester City, a 2-1 win in the sixth round at the Etihad Stadium. A month later he was back at Wembley for the 1-1 draw in the semi final against Arsenal. His season finished with two close encounters with QPR in the Championship playoffs.

Sadly Boyce could not maintain the same kind of form in the 2014-15 season that followed. He was not alone in that respect – it would not be an exaggeration to say that not one single player in the squad played to his potential. However, at times it looked like the years had caught up with him and at 35 he had lost some of his previously considerable pace. January saw a clear out of 13 players including his fellow cup final winners Roger Espinoza, Shaun Maloney, Callum McManaman and Ben Watson.

Just like with Liverpool an era of success had ended and the club was adjusting to a new reality. Dave Whelan had backed Uwe Rosler in the transfer market in a bid to get back to the Premier League, but it was to backfire with the German losing his job in November. Boyce was to work under his seventh manager in his ninth year at the club.

Malky Mackay was brought in by Whelan to get Latics back into the promotion race, but the reverse happened. Boyce no longer commanded a regular starting berth in the team and by the end of January, having seen the vestiges of the Martinez legacy depart, the writing was surely on the wall for him. The club was seriously downsizing just in case the unthinkable happened and Latics were to find themselves in League 1 next season. To not do so could jeopardise its financial future. Moreover so many players had not been playing to their potential, just not appearing to show the commitment on the field that fans expected. Sadly the downsizing left the squad short on quality and Mackay just could not turn things around.

After nine years Emmerson Boyce had become the epitome of what the club’s successful era was all about. In parallel he and the club had punched above their weight, competing on a field that was not level, against the elite of English football. His resilience and willingness to improve professionally made him a role model for his colleagues. Off the field he was a great ambassador for the club and his work with Street Soccer USA and Joseph’s Goal was notable.

As Wigan Athletic supporters we will all have our favourite and most memorable Boyce moments. I can remember being behind Mark Schwarzer’s goal at Fulham, with Latics fans singing ‘I’m a Believer’ at the tops of their voices, when he hit an absolute gem of a shot into the corner of the big keeper’s net. His block of what appeared to be a certain goal by Edin Dzeko in that sixth round cup win was unbelievable and will compete with any such incidents in world football. The post-match celebrations at Wembley and Boyce holding the FA Cup with Gary Caldwell beggared belief. But my favourite was when he carried Joseph Kendrick on to the pitch at Wembley. It was an unforgettable moment in a sport that can be as cynical as any.

As Kenny Dalglish said “…..you always have to aim as high as you can, while at the same time being totally realistic.”

This is what David Sharpe, Gary Caldwell and other senior managers at the club are currently dealing with. The club has to downsize to a wage bill around a third of what it was in that first season back in the Championship. Sharpe and Caldwell have provided a breath of fresh air to a club that was meandering with a lack of leadership and direction. They have a hard road ahead of them, but the support of the majority of the fans. The waters are going to be choppy over the next couple of months as things are reengineered.

There have been fans who have advocated finding a place for Emmerson Boyce, not only as a player, but also as a coach or an ambassador for the club. However, in the current economic climate that the club was facing, adding additional backroom or administrative staff was unlikely to happen. Sadly the club will most likely have to downsize its non-playing staff too, cutting back towards bare bones.

However, Dalglish had also pointed out that “This club used to be so unified; everybody was pushing in the same direction. As long as I’m sitting here, there will be no divisions. Everybody will be treated with the utmost respect in the position they hold in the football club.”

This is something that Sharpe, Caldwell and company will surely work on. Over the past couple of years too many players have been frozen out, with seemingly no future at the club, but still on the books. Others have come in and found it hard to settle and play to their potential.

There are so many supporters who are sad to see Emmerson Boyce not continue to be on the club’s playing staff. Some would say that he should have been offered a contract extension for another year on a salary commensurate with League 1 status. Others would opine that Boyce will be 36 in September, his best days behind him. Better to invest the more limited finances in younger players for the future.

Both views have credence. However, the way in which Boyce has been treated appears to reflect those broader human resource management issues within the club.

A pay-per-play arrangement is hardly ideal for a footballer coming up to 36 years of age, though the club can justify it given its changed economic situation. Boyce labelled the pay-as-you-play offer as “disappointing”, but went further by saying that the deal itself was “laughable”. His wife, Lucy, tweeted:

A degree of respect would be expected #9Years Unlike the disregard. It came too late & when it did it was a youth equivalent.”

But even if the size of the deal was seemingly derisive for him, Boyce went on to say that “After nine years I would have preferred someone to have sat down and told me they weren’t offering me a deal. That’s the most disappointing thing as far as I’m concerned. “

Some fans were disappointed with Boyce in that he had talked with the media about how he felt about the contract offer. Moreover his wife was active on the subject on Twitter. Why would a player who has appeared such a role model behave in that way? Some even said that he was using the media to put pressure on the club to give him a better offer. After all what right did he have to complain after picking up £1 million-plus salaries from the club over the years?

Others sided with the player. There had to be something seriously wrong with the scale of the offer he received. Why was the club offering its most highly respected player and captain a deal on youth equivalent terms? What happened with the communication?

The anguished exit of Emmerson Boyce leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

However, life goes on at the club and fans will continue to support the youthful duo of Sharpe and Caldwell. They have a difficult job to do to turn things around, but they remain optimistic about the road ahead.

Let’s hope they can learn from past mistakes made by the club and make sure they do not recur.

 

Sharpe’s honeymoon period is over

Sharpe

The honeymoon period for the new chairman is coming to an end as a storm rages over Emmerson Boyce’s contract.

 

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

David Sharpe should take heed of Machiavelli’s words.

A club that was tipped to win the Championship by the highly rated FourFourTwo magazine ended up being relegated. The mistakes of the past two seasons have dragged the club down and there is real danger of the slide continuing.

Is the youthful Sharpe capable of steadying things up and leading the club back to the Promised Land? What clues is Sharpe giving when one reads between the lines of his comments? Where are Latics really heading?

The young chairman is working on the creation of a new order at Wigan Athletic. The upheaval continues amid a climate of uncertainty. What kind of club will Latics be a year from now? What kinds of realistic expectations can fans have of the future?

Sharpe has certainly stepped into a difficult situation, but he continues to put on a brave face in his dealings with the media. Sharpe invariably paints an optimistic picture, whilst acknowledging that mistakes have been made in the past.

However, the initial gloss is now starting to wear off and fans are starting to read between the lines of what Sharpe has said. The sceptics will say that his comments are no more than window-dressing, that the Whelan family is no longer willing to put money into the club and that without it the club will languish in its “natural” position in the lower tiers of English football.

Fans who have been shell-shocked by the events of the past season were dealt a further jolt yesterday with the news of Emmerson Boyce’s impending departure.

 “Our ambition is to regain our Championship status as quickly as possible and we would like Emmerson to be a part of the team this coming season because we feel he could continue to help us . However, the reality of our current situation is that we are in League One and we have to maintain a wage structure in line with our status.”

The Boyce issue was always going to be a tricky one for Sharpe. After nine years at the club the player had become a legend, with massive fan support. According to Boyce the deal he was offered was “laughable”. Sharpe acknowledges that he would like Boyce to continue but clearly his view of a suitable deal differs greatly with the aspirations of the player.

However, by taking a tough stand in the case of out of contract players, Sharpe has set a precedent for the future. The deals he offered to Gaetan Bong and Kim Bo-Kyung were also not acceptable to the players, who will be moving on.

The Boyce scenario is not going down well with the majority of fans who hold the player in such high esteem, but the figures involved in the offer are unlikely to be publicly revealed. Without them it is difficult to take the side of either club or player. However, even if Boyce were to be offered a regular contract it would be on a salary commensurate with League 1, not with one of the Championship or the Premier League to which he had been accustomed. Moreover Boyce will be 36 in September, probably the reason why the club was offering a pay-as-you-play deal. The player made only 26 league starts compared with 50 the previous season.

We await the news regarding a contract renewal for Jermaine Pennant. The winger made an impression through three spectacular goals from free kicks, although he never managed to complete in full 90 minutes in a match since joining in January. Moreover he does not have the pace to pass his full back. However, Pennant does have experience, class and technique. But given the salaries he has earned in the past will he be tempted by an offer commensurate to that of a League 1 club?

Last Friday Sharpe talked about the return of Andy Delort, Rob Kiernan, Oriol Riera and James Tavernier from loan spells:

“They’ll all be in for the start of pre-season on June 25, and they’ll all be big players for us next season.”

The sceptics were quick to dismiss Sharpe’s statement as mere posturing, that most of the four would be gone by the end of August. They were backed up by the Daily Mail reporting on that same day that Cardiff City and Reading were in a battle to sign Kiernan for £100,000.

The retained list published on Monday confirmed that:

“ …..the four remain contracted to Wigan Athletic beyond June 2015, and unless that situation changes, will be returning to pre-season training with the rest of the squad on June 25.”

It was quite a turnaround within the space of three days. Dreams of a Delort-Riera partnership are now appearing less than realistic.

It was also confirmed that Latics have 18 players contracted beyond June 2015, excepting the seriously ill Juan Carlos Garcia. However, as in the case of the four players sent out on loan, the club communique once again includes that proviso “and unless that situation changes” . Contracts will also be offered to the young players Jordan Flores (19 years old), Tim Chow (21), Matty Hamilton (19) and Ryan Jennings (19).

In April Sharpe had stated that Latics were going to need at least ten new players for next season. But a couple of days ago he raised that figure:

“There could be, in the end, up to 15 players we bring in, and that means every day is a challenge.”

Clearly he is expecting more players to leave than he was a month ago.

Should Latics have a squad of 24 senior players, with 15 players of them new, only 9 will remain from last season. Whatever the mathematics it is clear that Sharpe expects at least half of the players with contracts beyond June 2015 to depart.

Sharpe continues to reiterate that the recruitment team of himself, Gary Caldwell, Jonathan Jackson, Graham Barrow and Matt Jackson are meeting on close to a daily basis to look at future acquisitions. He states that:

“There’s probably a list of five or six players in each position who we’re looking at. But the deal’s got to be right for the player and the football club.”

He refers to the wage structure. For the deal to be right for the player and the club, the recruitment team is clearly focusing on players whose salary aspirations would fall within the new wage structure. Typically they would be from clubs in the lower reaches of the Championship, from League 1 or League 2 clubs, or Scotland.

Sharpe also expresses his preference for “young, hungry players between the ages of 24-27, ones who have done it before, who know what it’s like to win promotion, who are willing to learn and put in the hours, and buy into Gary’s brand of football.”

Bringing in 15 new players is a mountain of a task, but media reports suggest that deals are already in motion. They include midfielders John McGinn, 20 years old, from St Mirren and the 21 year old Max Power from Tranmere. It is also rumoured that they have made a £500,000 bid for 24 year old Chesterfield left winger Sam Clucas. The media also reports interest in the rugged 30 year old Rangers central midfield player Ian Black, the 25 year old Bristol City striker Jay Emmanuel Thomas, the 31 year old Australian striker/attacking midfield player Scott McDonald from Celtic and the 31 year old goalkeeper Andy Lonergan from Bolton.

The honeymoon period for David Sharpe has come to its end. Should Boyce depart from the club, as it seems he will, Sharpe will be unpopular with supporters who will feel he could have done more to keep the player at the club. Some have mentioned a possibility of a player/coach position, as was offered to Caldwell. However, at least one media report last summer suggested that Caldwell’s new contract had been on a salary 50% lower than before.

However, Sharpe is already showing the kind of toughness that is going to be required to get the club back on track. Moreover, up to this point, he has shielded rookie manager Caldwell from the brunt of criticism and backed him in reversing the decision regarding Tim Chow’s contract.

The club faces a further period of upheaval, but the hope is that Sharpe and his team can put together an infrastructure that will serve the club for years to come.

Given the current focus on the comings and goings of the playing staff it is not surprising that the matter of the Charnock Richard facility has taken the back burner. Will the club be going ahead with the original plans, even if it is in League 1?

Sharpe’s honeymoon period is over, but he is taking charge of introducing a new order of things at Wigan Athletic. It will be a rough ride for the young chairman.

The question remains whether his new order will be sufficient to elevate Latics back into the higher divisions or whether it will merely provide the sustainability for the club to exist in the lower divisions of the Football League.

 

Old guard supports Mackay – Wigan Athletic 1 Middlesbrough 1

Wigan Athletic’s old guard turned out in force at the DW yesterday. Third from bottom Latics were more than a match for third from top Middlesbrough and the home team can count itself a shade unfortunate not to have come out of it with three points. There were enough positive signs to suggest that Latics can put their horrendous start to the season behind them and be a team that will be hard to beat.

Malky Mackay wisely resorted to experience and the opening lineup had just two of Uwe Rosler’s signings in it. The old guard was back in force.

The unfortunate Rob Kiernan was not even on the bench. Emmerson Boyce was back in his old favourite right back position, with Andrew Taylor restored at left back. The centre of defence had a solid look about it with a pairing of Ivan Ramis and Leon Barnett. Mackay retained the 4-3-3 formation that Rosler had been using of late, with Adam Forshaw and Chris McCann in the holding roles and Roger Espinoza pushed further forward. Marc-Antoine Fortune played the lone centre forward role with Callum McManaman and Shaun Maloney playing wide.

The game started with a show of support for Dave Whelan that brought him to tears, as fans stood up and applauded him. It was one of those emotional moments that will be etched into the collective Wigan Athletic memory for years to come.

Latics started cautiously but soon started to match Boro. Players were working hard for each other and the team looked organised and compact. Chris McCann was bossing the left centre of midfield, reminding us of what we have been missing for the past seven months. In the 9th minute Shaun Maloney went close with a free kick that went just over the top. Fifteen minutes later McCann was brought down after bursting through from midfield. Maloney stepped up to put a perfect free kick into the left hand corner. The game became largely a midfield tussle with neither side willing to commit too many players forward. But just before half time Boro centre forward Kike turned to put a fine shot narrowly wide.

The game continued in the same vein until the 57th minute when Patrick Bamford, who had come on as a substitute for the visitors, scored an opportunist goal, evading Ramis and firing across Carson into the right hand corner. But Latics held firm and a patient and skillful buildup led to the ball falling to McCann, who could not keep it down and the chance was lost.

Maloney was buzzing and threatened to unlock a stubborn and well organized Boro defence. His set pieces had been excellent and in the 70th minute his inswinging corner was met by Barnett whose effort hit the post. James McClean had come on for Espinoza after 70 minutes. There was great applause for the return of Ben Watson, coming on for Forshaw after 80 minutes. James Perch replaced a tired looking Boyce a minute later.

Although one of the physically biggest sides that one will see in the Championship this year, Boro had kept the ball largely on the ground, no doubt under the influence of Spanish manager Aitor Karanka. However, in the closing minute they threatened to use their height to steal the game at the death. However, Latics defence was to hold firm.

The Good

Mackay was wise in packing so many of the old guard into his lineup. That lack of cohesion that had been so evident with new players being introduced en masse was no longer apparent. The players looked comfortable working together and effort and commitment was also evident.

McCann was a revelation, somehow completing the full period of the game despite a lack of match practice after such a long absence. His tackling was as crisp as ever and he put the ball to good use. Maloney was a different player to what we had seen under Rosler, looking like the player of yesteryear under Martinez.

Mackay made a bold statement by putting Boyce in at right back and leaving Perch on the bench. Boyce looked rusty and off-pace at times, but he can offer so much more going forward. He has been out of action for several weeks and that showed. It remains to be seen whether he will be able to regularly command that right back spot at 35 year of age. Andrew Taylor fully justified his recall, being solid in defence and offering good support to the attack. It was another bold move to give him preference over crowd favourite Maynor Figueroa.

It was an experienced and capable back four and it is to be hoped that Mackay will not tinker with it, as did his predecessor. The midfield worked hard. Forshaw continues to show that he is willing to make the effort for the team. His more creative side will show more when he is fully established as a starter in the team. Espinoza showed typical commitment, with an all-action performance. He made one or two naïve passes, but this should not detract from the value he added. Whether an attacking midfield position is the best place to play him remains open to debate.

McManaman threatened, but once again the opposition were prepared to deal with him. He so much more dangerous when not confined to the right wing. Fortune fought for the high balls, but was short of ideas in his distribution and did not move into positions that threatened the opposition defence. The time must surely come for Oriel Riera to appear on a regular basis. Andy Delort did not even make the bench, but his time will surely come too.

When McClean came on in the second half, Maloney moved into a more central position. The 4-3-3-formation became more like the 4-2-3-1 played by Scotland. That could well prove to be Mackay’s favoured system.

The Bad

Mackay put out a conservative lineup and did not pour men into attack. Given Wigan’s league position he was probably justified. He is not a manager associated with flowing attacking football, but the most important thing for Latics at the moment is results.

This was not a great result, neither was it a bad one.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 6 – largely unemployed and cannot be faulted for Boro’s goal.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 – it was good to see the captain back.

Ivan Ramis: 7 – classy as ever, with fine interceptions and quality passing of the ball. But should he have done better with Bamford’s goal?

Leon Barnett: 6.5 – not at his best, but solid and dependable. But his style is a perfect foil for that of Ramis. Together they could provide a formidable centre of defence.

Andrew Taylor: 7 – a complete performance. Deserved his recall.

Adam Forshaw: 6.5- full of industry.

Roger Espinoza: 6.5 – his mistakes were more obvious than the good things he did. Deserves an extended run in the team.

Chris McCann: 8.5 – combative, hardworking and with the cultured left foot. A quality player at Championship level.

Callum McManaman: 6 – exciting as always when on the ball, but should be more proactive when Latics attack. Despite his prodiguous talent he needs to add another dimension to his game to become a real top player.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: 6 – committed but limited in attacking vision.

Shaun Maloney: 8.5 – got rough treatment from the visitors, but was not deterred and showed his quality. A brilliant free kick.

Substitutes:

James McClean: – raw energy, physicality, speed and commitment are his key assets. But he is another player who needs to take his game to a higher level. Needs to develop an aspect of unpredictability about his play.

James Perch: – a very solid and dependable full back, unlucky not to make the starting lineup.

Ben Watson: – can he make a comeback in the same way as McCann? After successive leg breaks it is going to be a tall order. But if he can Latics will have a formidable midfield.

Is Latics’ squad lacking in quality?

 

Some say that results in pre-season matches are not important. But then again, a 2-1 loss at Rochdale was hard for Wigan Athletic supporters to swallow, let alone a 4-1 drubbing in Dusseldorf yesterday.

Latics’ worst ever pre-season performance will surely be that of five decades ago, when fourth division Southport smashed non-league Wigan 10-2. My father told me at the time that friendly matches can produce strange results and do not really have much bearing on the season to follow. Strangely enough the same two teams met again four days later at Springfield Park and Latics went on to win 3-0. In the event it turned out to be a mediocre season for Latics, who finished in mid-table in the Cheshire League. That 10-2 scoreline proved to be an indicator of defensive weakness as Latics were to concede 82 goals in 42 league matches.

Following the 2-1 win over Besiktas, thanks largely to Ali Al-Habsi’s brilliance, we seemed to be looking forward to a good season ahead. Granted there were concerns over the departures of two of Latics’ most creative players – Jordi Gomez and Jean Beausejour – but Uwe Rosler had been moving shrewdly in the transfer market and was building up a stronger squad. Most fans have now accepted that Dave Whelan is not going to wave his cheque book around in the way he did to get Latics into the Premier League last time. Austerity has not yet set in, but stringent financial management is the order of the day at the club.

Rosler is used to working under tight budgets, through his experience with his previous clubs. He will bring in a mixture of youth and experience. The experienced Andrew Taylor and Don Cowie have played in the Premier League and been part of a Championship division winning team. James Tavernier and AaronTaylor-Sinclair are clearly the kind of youngsters who have the potential to develop into quality players. The 19 year old loanee, Emyr Huws , is an exciting young player who can play in the creative midfield role that Gomez used to enjoy. A good central striker at an affordable price is something that hardly exists in modern day English football, but Rosler has done well to bring in Oriel Riera from Osasuna. Riera scored 13 goals in La Liga last season for a team that was relegated, making an interesting comparison with Arouna Kone who scored 15 for Levante before arriving at Wigan.

In order to sign another central striker Rosler will need to raise funds by selling off one of his assets. Stories of Latics courting another goalkeeper might seem far-fetched, but both Ali Al-Habsi and Scott Carson are likely to be transfer targets for other clubs. A possible scenario is for one of them to be sold, with the exciting, but inexperienced, Lee Nicholls once more sent out on loan.

Rosler’s squad is not yet complete. We can expect more incomings and possibly outgoings over the coming weeks. But when the squad is finally completed will there be sufficient quality there to mount a serious challenge for promotion?

After playing for ten clubs in six countries in over a decade, Jean Beausejour has gone home to Chile. He will play in Santiago for Colo-Colo, the country’s historically most successful club. When Roberto Martinez signed him from Birmingham City in January 2012, Latics were struggling. Moreover fans were disappointed with Martinez’ lack of activity in that January transfer window. However, the arrival of a specialist left wing back blew fresh air into Latics’ play, helping them to produce the best quality of football and the best results in their history over the next three months. He was the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle that Martinez was putting together. A team player, he was solid in defence. When Latics had the ball he was always available, hugging the touchline, stretching the opposition defence. He rarely lost the ball and had a few tricks up his sleeve with quick footwork. Beausejour is probably the best crosser of a ball who ever played for Latics, although some more senior supporters might also cite Walter Stanley whose sublime crosses helped Harry Lyon become a household name in Wigan.

Last season was not a good one for the Chilean, except for a memorable goal in the World Cup finals. Beausejour was frequently played at left back, rather than his natural wing back position. Like Gomez, he is another player who never got the recognition that he probably deserved from sections of the DW crowd.

During that late season rally in 2011-2012 and the FA Cup run in 2012-13, Latics beat the top teams in the country on merit, through playing quality football. The stats show that in winning the FA Cup final they committed only 5 fouls, compared with their opponents 11. Is it possible that they will ever be able to raise their football to that level ever again?

Since then lots of quality players have left the club. However, Emmerson Boyce, Shaun Maloney and James McArthur still remain. They are the pillars upon which Rosler will build this season’s team. Boyce is getting no younger, but at centre back he still has years ahead of him. The fitness of the two Scots will be of paramount importance and Rosler is nurturing them very carefully through the pre-season physical conditioning programme. Moreover the skilful Ben Watson and Chris McCann are making good progress in their recuperation from major injuries.

On the tactical front Rosler continues to demand the high tempo, high pressing style that he espouses. They did it for half an hour at Dusseldorf, but once again could not keep it going. It remains to be seen whether Rosler will ever enjoy that level of intensity he seeks from the players at his disposal.

In the meantime Rosler will scour the loan market to complete his squad. Maybe even that additional central striker will be a loan player? A return for Nick Powell continues to be touted by the media.

The name of Grant Holt continues to pop up in the social media and fan forums, the comments usually being derogatory. If no other club is willing to take the player off the club’s hands will Rosler be able to turn him into an asset? Would Holt be able to fit into Rosler’s style of play if he could regain full fitness?

Holt has proved in the past that he can deliver the goods by scoring key goals that win matches, but last season was one he will want to forget. During the reign of Owen Coyle he was used in a similar way that Bolton used Kevin Davies for so many years, a human battering ram posing a physical threat to the defence. That probably did Holt no favours and moreover it led to defenders constantly launching long balls in his direction. Given Rosler’s preferred style of play Holt would not be a regular starter, even if fully fit. However, he could have a role to play as an impact substitute.

Providing his ventures in the transfer market go well over the coming weeks, Rosler will have a squad good enough to challenge for promotion. Enough quality players remain, but the moot point is whether they can they stay fit.

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