Holgerrson to stay?

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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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After 59 games, Latics’ season is now starting

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“It’s a strange scenario that, after 59 games, our season really starts now.”

So said Uwe Rosler in the Alan Brazil Breakfast Show yesterday.

Dave Whelan might well agree. Getting back to the Premier League is clearly his number one priority. Preferably this season, rather than next.

A month or two back ago Rosler was quoted as saying that he wanted to be the first German manager in the Premier League. We saw it as a statement of ambition – to get Latics back to the top flight of English football, as well as a personal goal for someone who had started his football career in communist East Germany. However, the personal goal was to dissolve when Felix Magath took over at Fulham.

When Rosler was appointed in December few could have hoped for more than the German steadying a rocking boat and preparing Wigan Athletic for promotion the following season. Latics had drifted under Owen Coyle and there seemed to be little sense of direction. Rosler was seen as someone with a more clearly defined philosophy, who could put the club back on the rails.

Rosler has done so much more than that. His first match in charge saw Latics’ European dream sadly ended, largely due to a dubious refereeing decision that saw Chris McCann sent off in Slovenia. But rather than have a long run in the Europa League, it was to be in the FA Cup, reaching semi-final and being unlucky to lose on penalties. Moreover Rosler has secured a playoff place that looked practically out of reach when he was appointed.

Rosler manipulated the transfer window shrewdly, offloading high wage earner and under-performer Grant Holt to Aston Villa, whilst bringing in a swath of loan signings to strengthen his squad. When he signed Martyn Waghorn on loan from Leicester, the cynics questioned his move. Since then the Geordie has become a key component of his set-up, not only excellent in the high pressing that Rosler demands from his forwards, but scoring 5 goals and providing 6 assists to date. Waghorn has a good technique, a good temperament and is a team player. He epitomises the profile of the kind of player Rosler wants at Wigan. Rosler has rewarded him with a long term contract.

Latics’ rise into the playoffs has come at a physical cost to key players. Emmerson Boyce has played 54 games so far, James McArthur 50, Leon Barnett 49, and James Perch 48. Not surprisingly they have not been at their best in recent games. The question is whether they can get a second wind for the playoffs.

Playing such a large number of games in a short amount of time over these past months is one thing, but the high pressing puts heavy physical demands on the players too. At their best, Latics defend from the front in a manner that even the master of that technique, Pep Guardiola, would approve. At the worst, the pressing is uneven and Latics are pushed back into their own half as the opposition retains possession.

Wigan Athletic’s chances of getting back to the Premier League are going to depend largely on their ability to high press their opponents and disrupt their style of play. That high energy approach was easier to implement a couple of months ago when the players had not accumulated so many games.

The final league game at Blackburn tomorrow is the 60th this season. Perhaps Rosler was slightly off the mark by saying that the season was starting after 59 games. Unless he views tomorrow’s confrontation as more important than most of us think. Is he keen to get a result at Blackburn so Latics can face QPR next week, rather than the more in-form Derby, who have won their last five matches?

However, previous form can mean nothing in the pressurised climate of the playoffs. Last year’s winners Crystal Palace only had one win in their final ten league games but got the results when it really counted, defeating both 4th placed Brighton and 3rd placed Watford.

Rosler faces the challenge of rousing a tired group of players for a final push. However, he does have Gary Caldwell, Roger Espinoza and Shaun Maloney back from long term injuries.

They might well have a crucial role to play.

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Brighton Preview – Latics need to show character

Photo courtesy of Visit Brighton

‘Character’ is a word that is much used – but much abused – in football vernacular. Ever hear a manager say his team showed character after his side has stolen the points with a controversial goal after being outplayed for most of the game?

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines character as “moral excellence and firmness”. Clearly it takes on a new meaning in the language used by football managers of modern day.

Wigan Athletic’s players will have to show a lot of character – that of technical excellence and consistent application – over the next two to three weeks. Before the next home tie with Sheffield Wednesday on March 12th Latics have three difficult matches on the road. Two are league matches against teams challenging for promotion, the third an FA Cup tie at the Etihad.

The first of that trio of matches is at Brighton tomorrow. Latics went 1-0 down to the Seasiders in a tight contest at the DW Stadium on November 23rd. Little did we know at the time that it was to be the beginning of the end for Owen Coyle, with further home defeats to Zulte Waregem and Derby County to follow. Two more defeats followed, at Leeds and Millwall, in the interim period between Coyle’s departure and Uwe Rosler’s arrival.

It is an indication of the turnaround in Latics’ fortunes that they have now caught up with Brighton, being level on points and with the same goal difference. Moreover Brighton have not done badly since their win at Wigan with a league record of W6 D4 L3 since then. In that same period Latics have an average of two points per game, with a record of W7  D3 L2. If they are to reach a play-off spot by the end of the season they will have to maintain that same average in the 16 matches remaining.

Over the January transfer window Brighton sold their most prized asset, Liam Bridcutt, to Sunderland for £3m. Moreover Ashley Barnes, who troubled the Wigan defence in  that last encounter, moved on to Burnley £750,000. However, they brought in Dale Stephens – Charlton’s best player in the 0-0 draw with Latics at The Valley – for an undisclosed fee.

Like Wigan, Brighton had their fair share of injuries early in the season and were short in firepower up front. Since then the Argentinian centre forward Leonardo Ulloa has returned to good effect, with 8 goals in 16 league starts. He is likely to be partnered by either Kazenga Lua Lua or David Rodriguez, a recent signing from Celta Vigo.

Once again it will be interesting to see how Rosler shuffles around his lineup. Sadly it looks like Ben Watson has played his last game for the club following the horrendous injury he picked up against Barnsley. The player’s contract expires in summer. Such a pity as he was approaching the best form of his career. It looks like Rosler is lining up Josh McEachran as Watson’s replacement, although Roger Espinoza is another in contention.

Ivan Ramis was excellent in his return to action at Cardiff and might well make the starting lineup tomorrow. Rosler could rest Emmerson Boyce or push him over to right full back at the expense of James Perch. Perch has started in 35 matches this season, second only to Leon Barnett. The ex-Newcastle man has been a key player in the tightening up of Latics’ defence since Rosler’s arrival. However, he does not possess the attacking flair of Boyce.

Callum McManaman missed the midweek game through injury, but should be fit for tomorrow.  James McClean was the Man of the Match against Barnsley, his inch-perfect cross setting up a goal for Martyn Waghorn. The Irishman’s final pass has so often let the side down this season, but he is starting to show signs that he can lift his head and find teammates in the opposition penalty box.  When he can do that consistently he will be a terrific asset for the team.

Will Rosler play the two wide men in the same lineup? His tendency has been to only play one, but both are approaching their best form and their pace could be dangerous on the counter attack. The German can choose between Nicky Maynard and Marc Antoine Fortune at centre forward, although it is probably Waghorn’s best position too.  Little mention has been made of Nick Powell recently, but could he make a surprise appearance tomorrow?

The Brighton match will certainly be a test of character for Rosler’s men. Neither team will want to lose and the winner could be the one who grinds out the result, rather than the one who has played the better football.

A fascinating contest awaits us.

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Cardiff Preview – can they do it again?

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Can they do it again? Win the FA Cup?

Little has been mentioned about it in the media but Wigan Athletic are in the last 16. It is only the third time in their history that they have done that.

This time last year Latics went to Huddersfield and beat them 4-1. With his team struggling Roberto Martinez had made seven changes to his starting lineup, indicating that a Cup run was secondary to Premier League survival. At that time he could not have guessed that Latics would win the FA Cup and shake the foundations of the football establishment.

In Saturday’s match Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces a similar choice to that previously faced by Martinez. Cardiff City currently lie in 19th place, but just two points behind safety and 17th place.

For their fourth round match at Bolton Solskjaer made five changes from the team that started the previous league game. That included key players Steven Caulker, Fraiser Campbell and Gary Medel. Cardiff were to win at Bolton through a Campbell goal after home keeper Andy Lonerghan had spilled the ball. However, it should be noted that in the third round they had an excellent 2-1 win at Newcastle.

Wigan Athletic’s lineup in the third round home tie against MK Dons included five players who had played in that famous FA Cup Final. Latics’ goals in the 3-3 draw came from three of those heroes – Roger Espinoza, Jordi Gomez and Callum McManaman. Of those players only Roger Espinoza and James McArthur have played in the three FA Cup ties Latics have played so far. However, there is no doubting that all the players who played in last year’s cup run would love to make Saturday’s lineup.

Uwe Rosler has made it clear that he rates the FA Cup as an important competition, despite the pressures he faces in getting Latics into the Championship playoffs this season. Rosler deems squad rotation as a natural occurrence, a view foreign to those who criticize him for not having a settled lineup. He cites the example of Alex Ferguson of never having the same lineup in successive games.

The German is much harder to read in his team selections than his predecessors. However, he has given both Callum McManaman and Roger Espinoza a break in the last two matches, so they are likely to make the starting lineup at Swansea. Both will have a lot to prove.

Espinoza scored one of the goals of the season in the home game with MK Dons and will be keen to show what he can do to get a regular place in the starting lineup. He has now been with the club for 13 months, but has not been able to claim a regular first team place. He is a fan favourite for his commitment and he shows no mean level of skill, but he has yet to convince Rosler that he should be high in his priorities.

McManaman is the most talented player remaining at the club. If it had not been for an injury in the Arsenal match just three days after the FA Cup Final he probably would not be at Wigan now. Being ‘’Man of the Match” in an FA Cup Final is something he will savour for the rest of his life. Life at Wigan has been a rollercoaster ride for him as I outlined in in my article of September.

Cardiff are a Premier League side and they will be facing Championship opponents. The bookmakers make them favourites. However, as Cup-holders Latics will give it all they have got. Moreover Wigan have a core of players, who have not only Premier League experience, but have helped the club win the FA Cup.

Those who remain from the Cup winning team will be keen to show that they can still do it. Moreover they will be backed up by players brought in by Owen Coyle who have ample Premier League experience.

In terms of the lineup on Saturday it might well be that Wigan have more players with Premier League experience than Cardiff.  But then again we will have to see the lineups the managers put out.

The bad news for Latics is that Rosler’s new strike force – Nicky Maynard and Martyn Waghorn – are cup-tied and unable to play. Moreover central defenders Markus Holgersson, Ivan Ramis and Thomas Rogne are not yet fully fit, although they played in an under 21 game in midweek. In their absence Emmerson Boyce and Leon Barnett will once again play in the middle. Jean Beausejour has started in two consecutive matches within the space of three days, so will most likely be rested, with Stephen Crainey brought in.

Rosler may need to rest either or both of Ben Watson and James McArthur who have played a lot of football recently. Cup winners Roger Espinoza and Jordi Gomez will be keen to step in. The front three will most likely be Callum McManaman, Marc-Antoine Fortune and Nick Powell, assuming the latter is now fit.

One thing is for sure – Latics will not relinquish their hold on the cup without a fight. Getting into the last eight is certainly a possibility.

Who knows – maybe they can do it again?

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Rosler’s loan signings can make the difference

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An unknown third choice goalkeeper from Spain, an end of contract midfielder from Kansas City and a 32 year old unwanted by Hamburg. Such were the loan signings made by Wigan Athletic a year ago.

The feeling at the time among Latics supporters was of being “underwhelmed”. Was this the best that Roberto Martinez could do? Why wasn’t Dave Whelan opening his wallet and bringing in players that could really make a difference?

In the event Joel Robles, Roger Espinoza and Paul Scharner did make a difference. It was not enough to save Latics from relegation, but all three were to go on and play in the lineup that won the FA Cup for the club.

That same underwhelming feeling has surfaced again.

Who on earth was Tyias Browning? Why would Latics want to sign a crock from Cardiff, who had not started in a league game this season? Why go for a player from Chelsea who had already been on loan at three other clubs? But most confounding of all – why would Latics take a player who had never made it in a team from their own Championship division?

Nicky Maynard was sought by Roberto Martinez while at Bristol City. In the event he went to West Ham who sold him on to Cardiff City for a fee around £2.75m in August 2012. Unfortunately he tore his anterior cruciate knee ligament in only his third game at the Welsh club, which was to keep him out of action until May 2013.

The 27 year old central striker is a Cheshire lad who came up through the Crewe Alexandra academy. His most successful year as a goal scorer was in 2009-10 when he scored 20 goals in 40 starts for Bristol City in the Championship division.  Maynard has struggled since the injury, his appearances for Cardiff this year being two starts in the League Cup and eight times off the bench in the Premier League.

Maynard is clearly a player of some pedigree and a proven goal scorer at Championship level. If he can regain an optimum level of fitness he will be a threat to Championship defences. Maynard is likely to alternate with Marc-Antoine Fortune for the centre forward spot, although there will be times when Rosler will play them together.

Latics fans saw what Josh McEachran can do yesterday when his superbly judged pass put Fortune through for an 89th minute goal yesterday. He made his Chelsea debut as a 17 year old. Still only 20 he has played for Swansea, Middlesbrough and Watford on loan. McEachran can play as a holding midfielder but his best position is in the hole between the midfield and the central striker.

McEachran is not fully fit at this stage, but he has so much quality that he can add the cutting edge that has been lacking in Latics’ play in recent weeks.

Rosler’s signing of Martyn Waghorn has been questioned by many Latics supporters who were hoping the club would sign a player with a proven history as a goal scorer.  They are unimpressed that Leicester City are willing to let him go out on loan although they are challenging for automatic promotion to the Premier League. Moreover Waghorn will be a free agent in summer when his contract runs out.

However, Waghorn is still only 24 years old and can play in any of the three front positions. He played for England at both under 19 and under 21 levels.  Leicester paid a fee of around £3m when he arrived from Sunderland in a permanent deal in August 2010. He had been voted young player of the year at Leicester the previous season when he had been on loan with them. See his goals during that season here.

Waghorn has had his ups and downs and played for five clubs before coming to Wigan. However, he had a successful spell on loan at Millwall this season, making 12 appearances and scoring 3 goals. Millwall boss Steve Lomas wanted to sign Waghorn permanently, but it was not to work out.

Waghorn will be keen to impress at Wigan and show that his success at Millwall is not a flash in the pan. He has a good left foot and is no mean penalty taker.

The 19 year old Tyias Browning was signed on a one month loan from Everton on January 10th. A day later he made a strong impression after coming on as a second half substitute in the 3-0 win against Bournemouth. A week later he was to concede a penalty in the disappointing 3-0 defeat at Doncaster. Browning is clearly one for the future, but the value of having a young player join the club for such a short loan period is open to question.

Following the last-gasp victory over Charlton yesterday Latics remain within reach of a play-off place.  Only one player – Nouha Dicko – left permanently during the transfer window. Grant Holt has gone on loan to Aston Villa, but Ivan Ramis will be staying at least until the end of the season following his failure to pass medicals at Cardiff and Crystal Palace. It could be a blessing in disguise for Latics.

A fit Ramis would make a big difference to the promotion push. Not one of that skilful trio – Jean Beausejour, Jordi Gomez and Ben Watson – left during the transfer window, although their contracts terminate in summer.

All in all, Latics have a better squad now than they had before the January window began. Moreover if loan players like Maynard, McEachran and Waghorn were to reach their optimum levels they could swing the balance and get Wigan into that play-off place.

Like Martinez last year, Rosler seems to have made ‘underwhelming’ loan signings in the transfer window.

But then again maybe they are better than they seem at first glance.

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