Wigan Athletic 1 SV Zulte Waregem 2 – late stunner downs brave Latics

Leon Barnett celebrates his goal

Leon Barnett celebrates his goal

A superb 88th minute shot from Bernard Malanda broke Wigan hearts .

It had been a rollercoaster evening for Latics – who had blown hot and cold – but the game looked to be heading for a draw until the 19 year old Malanda struck.

Wigan knew they were going to be in for a tough match, given the Belgian team’s recent form.  The stark fact was that a team standing mid-table in the second tier of English football needed to beat a team currently second in the Belgian Jupiler League.

But then again Latics fans have become accustomed to giant killing, so maybe in some cases it was taken for granted that Wigan would win.

However, Latics started well.  Owen Coyle had put out a well-balanced starting lineup, omitting his two out-of-form central strikers and playing Nick Powell upfront. Callum McMananan and James McClean were on the wings and Jordi Gomez in his natural advanced midfield role.

The four were to link up very well at times in the first half, showing the kind of movement and mutual understanding that had been sadly lacking for big chunks of the Brighton game.

Coyle had brought back the tall Thomas Rogne at centre back who was to dominate the aerial game in defence. Stephen Crainey was brought in at left back and offered good support to McClean on the left, even getting to the byline himself to put over useful crosses.

Surprisingly for the neutral, Roger Espinoza was once again left on the bench for Chris McCann to continue in midfield, this time paired with James McArthur.

In the opening minutes Wigan’s wingers were looking lively and there was much more chemistry in the attack than we have seen for months. It was therefore no surprise when McManaman made a great run to the byline in the 7th minute to pull back for Gomez who fluffed his shot, but Leon Barnett stepped in and volleyed home with aplomb.

Latics continued to use the wings, with Gomez and Powell the catalysts in the middle.

But the Belgian team gradually clawed back control. They  had not seriously troubled the Latics defence until a  37th minute breakaway saw the excellent Thorgen Hazard hit a shot from the right that Lee Nicholls made a complete hash of, pushing the ball into his own net.

Coyle made no changes at half time. Gomez had a bad start to the second half, with poor deliveries from set pieces followed by the crowd voicing their frustration with him after being caught unawares as an opponent robbed him of the ball.  He was to be substituted after 64 minutes for Marc-Antoine Fortune.

Nicholls’ error had proved the turning point. Latics confidence had visibly wilted and it was an uphill battle from then on. However, they hung in there and gradually clawed their way back into the match. There were times when Latics looked thoroughly abject, but they showed resolve.

In the end Latics had held their own against a strong side. They had played good football at times and created more chances than the visitors.

The result was a huge disappointment after hopes had been so high.

However, against technically superior opposition Latics had done enough to win.  The margin proved to be due to a goalkeeping error and a spectacular finish that would have been good enough to decide the result of any match.

The Good

Coyle made a bold move by leaving out both of his experienced central strikers, putting Powell up front. The young player was excellent in the centre forward role, linking up well with the wingers and Gomez.  It was hard to understand why later in the game, Powell – who was the main threat to the Belgian team’s defence – was pushed out to the right wing.

It was refreshing to see the wing play of both McManaman and McClean in the first half. Both played with energy and commitment and no mean level of skill. Crainey at left back also gave support to the attack in a much improved performance by him.

If it had not been for the error after 37 minutes who knows what might have happened? Latics had been playing well and Coyle’s tactical plan seemed to be working. The movement that had been sadly lacking in the Brighton match was plain to see in that first half.

The Bad

There was a moment in the second half when Nicholls had the ball and there were at least seven Latics players static not far outside their own penalty area. It was a manifestation of how tired and dispirited Latics had looked at times.

Questions remain as to the level of fitness of the players. So often this season we have seen severe dips in their athletic performance during a match. Critics would say that this was something that occurred to Coyle’s teams at Bolton and that he is too easy on players during training. Others would criticize the conditioning staff.

In this case it might well have been mental rather than physical. That first goal had an enormous impact on the morale of a team that is brittle in terms of self-confidence. Despite Coyle’s utterings that morale is good it does not manifest itself on the field of play.

Once again the midfield was looking one-paced and sluggish in the second half, crying out for an injection of pace and energy. The player who could have provided that – Roger Espinoza – was left on the bench until the 83rd minute.

This is not to suggest that Espinoza is a better player than McArthur and McCann, but the blend was wrong. It was a similar situation to the Brighton game when the pairing of McCann and Ben Watson had looked one-paced.

Once again the defence was unable to pass the ball effectively.

According to Squawka  “A no-nonsense attitude at the back for Wigan also gave rise to 50 clearances, something which allowed Zulte to rather consistently regain possession in order to launch new attacks, and at two crucial moments in the last few minutes of each half the Wigan defence was caught.”

When the centre backs get the ball they will play it across to each other or the full backs. More often than not it is returned to them and they either hoof the ball forward or pass it back to the goalkeeper for a long clearance. Nine times out of ten the end result is the other team getting possession.

Player Ratings

Lee Nicholls: 5 – a learning experience for the young player.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 – solid, but just not the player at full back that he was at wing back under Martinez.

Leon Barnett: 6 – took his goal really well and was solid in defence. Poor in his distribution.

Thomas Rogne: 6 – ruled the air in the centre of defence. What a pity such a potentially good young player has not been coached into using the ball more effectively.

Stephen Crainey: 6 – a much improved performance. Made some good overlapping runs.

James McArthur: 6 – although he played with his usual commitment and got through a lot of work he seems a pale shadow of his former self. Some might say he misses his old partner, James McCarthy, but Coyle just does not seem to be getting the best out of this Latics stalwart.

Chris McCann: 6 – once again did a lot of work behind the scenes, supporting the defence.

Jordi Gomez: 6 – although he made mistakes at times he was a key link player in the first half. Taking him off after the crowd got on his case is not going to help the player’s level of confidence. He needed a better level of support from a manager who had put him in the starting lineup.

Callum McManaman: 6 – looked like his old self in the first half but looked tired and dispirited in the second. Taken off after 83 minutes.

Nick Powell: 8 – looked the part as the centre forward, full of endeavour and showed his skill.

James McClean: 7 – the best game I have seen him play for Latics. Full of drive and energy and showed a level of skill that we have not seen before.

Substitutes

Marc-Antoine Fortune: – came on after 64 minutes. Poor.

Roger Espinoza: – clearly not one of Coyle’s  favourite players, being brought on after 83 minutes.

Grant Holt: – brought on for the long balls in the 90th minute.

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Zulte Waregem Preview – Coyle Needs a Win

Tomorrow’s home tie with Zulte Waregem is an historic occasion.

A win for Wigan Athletic will put them into the round of 32 of the Europa League, providing Rubin Kazan do their duty by dispatching Maribor.

But a failure to win would put mounting pressure on manager Owen Coyle.

It is not the best time to play Zulte Waregem.

Despite their indifferent form in the Europa League they have moved up to second place in the Belgian Jupiler League, losing only one game in the sixteen they have played. They are unbeaten in their last six matches in all competitions.

The storm clouds were gathering at the DW Stadium on Saturday when Latics lost their unbeaten home record to Brighton.

It was a particularly frustrating afternoon, Grant Holt’s miss being the straw that broke the camel’s back for many fans. The marquee signing just was not able to put away a one-on-one chance against the keeper in the 71st minute.

The fact that Brighton broke away to the other end and scored within a minute was hard to bear, particularly as the Wigan defence casually watched as Lee Crofts headed in. That Holt was not able to put away a header from an excellent James McClean cross in the 90th minute merely rubbed it in.

Holt’s miss was not the worst we have seen this season. It was through his own efforts that he got the goal scoring opportunity, dispossessing Brighton defender Greer and getting himself into exactly the right position to score.

Holt’s second opportunity was a rarity – a cross from the wing that reached him and gave him at least an even chance to score. Latics wingers just have not done that enough this season. Holt may look clumsy and slow at times, but where has his service been?

It was refreshing to see Latics playing some good football in the first half, with their movement causing Brighton problems. It was that final touch that eluded them.

The further it went into the second half that movement got less and less.  Latics started to revert to that ‘Coylesque’ approach – hopeful long balls from defence, with Holt being expected to outjump the two central defenders each of whom was taller than him.

What happened to the approach of crossing from the flanks?

There were more than just murmurings of “Coyle Out!” this time around. The Latics faithful have been more than patient, realising that Coyle had a hill to climb in rebuilding a squad that had been decimated at the end of least season. In that respect he has surpassed expectations.

It is the poor quality of football the team has produced and Coyle’s perceived loyalty to players he has brought in that has made many supporters’ blood boil. Most supporters will even tolerate a less attractive style of play providing it brings results. An early exit from the Europa League would not go down well with them.

Once again Coyle has the opportunity to shuffle his pack. Saturday’s line up is probably his first choice, but with the strong squad he has built he has players on the bench who are more than adequate replacements. But then again, on Saturday the players looked like strangers to each other at times, so bringing in another set is hardly going to help the “chemistry”.

Jean Beausejour,  Stephen Crainey, Jordi Gomez,  James McArthur and Thomas Rogne are due to come back into the rotation. Given the indifferent form of both of his experienced central strikers against Brighton, Coyle might be tempted to start with Nick Powell at centre forward. 

Wins at Wigan and at home to Rubin Kazan will put Zulte Waregem through to the next round. Latics can therefore expect a very difficult game tomorrow night.

Much will depend on Coyle’s tactics. One hopes we will not see the woeful stuff that was served up in Kazan.

Latics fans deserve better than Route One football.

There is enough talent in this Wigan Athletic side to overcome the Belgian visitors.

Let’s hope Coyle gets it right.

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Rubin Kazan 1 Wigan Athletic 0 – route one Latics go down

Central Stadium, Kazan

The Central Stadium with the impressive Kazan Kremlin as its backdrop.

Some 150 Latics supporters made the long and expensive journey to Kazan. They deserved something better than this.

There have been worse performances by Latics in recent years and a 1-0 loss away to a team with a strong European pedigree does not look so bad. But it was so depressing to see Wigan Athletic playing a brand of football that has been the hallmark of teams like Bolton and Stoke.

Young Lee Nicholls continued in goal in place of the injured Scott Carson. Coyle brought back Thomas Rogne at centre back, with Ryan Shotton moving over to right back in place of Emmerson Boyce. Stephen Crainey came in at left back for James Perch, who moved in to midfield. At long last Roger Espinoza was given a start lining up, with captain for the night, James McArthur, to complete a central midfield trio. Callum McManaman and James McClean played wide, with Grant Holt being recalled at centre forward.

Latics started cautiously, with hopeful balls forward their only weapon. It looked like they were looking for a goalless draw. However, after 22 minutes that possibility evaporated.

In one of the few quality moves in the whole match Rubin’s Israeli midfield player Bibras Natkho put a lovely pass over Stephen Crainey’s head. Full back Oleg Kuzmin raced through and put in a powerful shot that went straight through rookie keeper Lee Nicholls and into the net.

Apart from putting the big men up for set pieces Latics posed little threat. The only quality move of note was when Espinoza put in a superb long cross from the left wing. Holt rose well but was not able to keep the header down and it went over the crossbar. The rest of Latics football in the first half was forgettable, with Rubin not much better.

Wigan came out in the second half with more resolve and started to take the game to Rubin. The approach was ‘Route One’. It looked like we were watching Sam Allardyce’s Bolton, but then were echoes of Stoke as Shotton put a series of long throw-ins into the penalty box.

Using this method Latics were able to put pressure on the home defence, without creating clear-cut chances. Coyle took off the hapless Perch after 60 minutes and Nick Powell came on. The youngster soon went on a mazy run before unleashing a good shot from 30 yards that went just wide. For the remaining 30 minutes the talented teenager was to see the ball go over his head most of the time.

Coyle brought on Marc Antoine Fortune for the cumbersome Holt after 71 minutes, then Jordi Gomez for McManaman three minutes later.  Soon after another superb cross from Espinoza was met by Rogne, whose header hit the crossbar.

In the end an out of form Rubin team gained a victory that practically puts them through to the knockout stages.

The Good

Latics played with spirit and commitment.

Roger Espinoza made a successful return, his energy and work rate being second to none. Moreover he provided moments of quality together with his incisive running.  The crosses he put in for Holt and Rogne were inch perfect.

The Bad

Once again Coyle showed a lack of tactical awareness.

He sent out a cautious lineup with three holding midfielders. For the second time this season Coyle put James Perch into a midfield role. He must have realized his mistake when he took Perch off on the hour. I might run the risk of repeating myself, but Coyle has an abundance of quality midfield players at his disposal. To put someone as technically limited as Perch in that position is hard to understand.

Holt was not the right man to start at centre forward in this match. He looked slow and out of touch. The more mobile Fortune would have been a better choice, but maybe Coyle had Sunday’s game at Yeovil on his mind. The French Guyanan is not particularly effective at jumping for the high balls which were the mode of operation for Latics in the second half.

The wide players, McManaman and McClean, were not able to get into the game. On the few occasions McManaman did run at the defence he was fouled. Latics wide play is just not getting the results it should.  Without Boyce on the right of defence McManaman was starved of decent passes. The Route One approach did not help in this game.

It seems to be ingrained in this Latics team that the long ball is the tactic in the second half. The quality players in midfield and on the wings become marginalized as defenders hoof the ball forward.

The back four in this match were all Coyle signings.They were either incapable or unwilling to play the ball out of defence in the way that the likes of Caldwell, Scharner and Alcaraz would. Or were they putting through those hopeful long passes under the manager’s instructions?

Player Ratings

Lee Nicholls: 5 – a tough European baptism for the young keeper.

Ryan Shotton: 5 – defensively solid, but his distribution was awful.

Thomas Rogne: 6 – solid in defence and unlucky to hit the woodwork yet again. Needs to work on his passing.

Leon Barnett: 6 – solid in defence, but poor in distribution.

Stephen Crainey: 5 – just does not look the part although used the ball more effectively than on previous occasions.

James Perch: 4 – poor. Taken off after 60 minutes.

James McArthur: 5 – could not put his stamp on the game.

Roger Espinoza: 7 – made some errors in his passing, but his energy and creativity were a real asset.

Callum McManaman: 5 – systematically fouled and heavily marked. Came off after 74 minutes.

Grant Holt: 4 – out of touch. Taken off after 71 minutes.

James McClean: 5 – the fingers pointed at him for not marking his full back when Rubin scored. An enigma – full of promise but does not deliver.

Substitutes

Nick Powell: – did what he could, but the style of play did not suit him. What a player he might have been had he come to Wigan a year earlier!

Jordi Gomez: – hardly saw the ball.

Marc Antoine Fortune: – heavily marked except on one occasion when he shot into the side netting with unmarked players waiting for the ball in the box.

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A good time to play Rubin

Europatable

Wigan Athletic travel to the most easterly club remaining in the Europa League on Thursday to play Rubin Kazan.  What are the chances of a good result for Latics?

Latics’ 1-1 draw with the Russian team ten days ago at the DW Stadium was well-earned and keeps them in with a more than even chance of qualifying from the group. Moreover it halted a nine game winning streak by Rubin in Europe.

Rubin are a formidable side at home in Kazan in European competition. They have not lost there for 22 matches, winning 13 and drawing 9. They have not conceded a goal in their last 7 European matches at their Centralniy Stadium.

For climatic reasons Rubin have had some of their previous European ties moved to Moscow, where they have understandably been less successful. However, this match will be played in Kazan, with a 9 pm kick-off (5 pm UK time).

Latics will count themselves fortunate in that they are going to arrive in Tatarstan a couple of weeks before the night temperatures drop below zero. The weather forecast for Kazan on Thursday indicates a daytime high of 11 °C, dropping down to 7°C at night.

Despite their formidable record in Europe, Rubin have only won one out of their last five matches in the Russian Premier League. Prior to coming to Wigan they lost 2-1 away at Volga Nizhny Novgorod. After drawing at the DW Stadium they lost 2-1 at home to second placed Lokomotiv Moscow, with ex-Tottenham player Roman Pavlyuchenko getting the Muscovites’ first goal.

Last Wednesday they made the 3,600 mile trip to Vladivostok, where they were knocked out of the domestic cup competition, losing 4-2 to the home side Luch. On Saturday they drew 0-0 at Rostov-Na-Donu. Rostov is on the Don River a mere 700 miles south west of Kazan. The result puts Rubin in 9th place, level on points with Rostov, but with a superior goal difference.

The timing of the match looks good for Wigan, despite the continued absence of key players through injury. When I wrote my initial posting about Rubin Kazan in early September they were unbeaten and in seventh place, within striking distance of the leaders Zenit St Petersburg. Since then Rubin’s league form has not been so impressive.

Although they are not scoring a lot of goals in the domestic league, Rubin are the most prolific scorers in the  Europa League Group Stage with ten goals. Although Latics have scored only four up to this point other statistics for the two teams make interesting reading.

Both teams have committed 43 fouls in their three games so far, but Rubin have suffered 36 and Latics 49. Rubin have completed 829 out of 998 passes attempted, Latics 716 out of 852. Rubin have had 16 goal attempts on target, compared with 14 for Latics. The Russian team has had 7 yellow cards, Latics 5.

Although Rubin’s form in Europe has been impressive, poor results in the Russian Premier League indicate they are not playing at their best.

Wigan Athletic will be hoping that Rubin’s recent run of poor form will continue – at least for one more game.

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Wigan Athletic 1 Rubin Kazan 1 – a point gained

Fortunemiss

Wigan Athletic were denied a memorable victory against a strong Rubin Kazan side in the dying seconds of the match.  Marc-Antoine Fortune’s close range shot had ‘goal’ written all over it but Russian goalkeeper Sergei Ryzhikov made an outstanding save to keep the scores level.

Rubin would have counted themselves unlucky had Fortune’s shot gone in as they were the more accomplished side, with players of superior technical ability. It was through sheer determination that Latics managed to claw their way back into the game and almost win it at the end.

Owen Coyle left regular league starters Thomas Rogne, James Perch and James McArthur on the bench, bringing in Ryan Shotton, Stephen Crainey and Chris McCann. Jordi Gomez was pushed into a right sided midfield forward role, with Jean Beausejour on the left. Grant Holt and Nick Powell played as a striking duo.

The opening minutes saw Latics controlling midfield but creating little danger. They received a wake-up call after 15 minutes when Alexander Prudnikov evaded Leon Barnett’s attempt to play him offside and slotted the ball past Scott Carson with aplomb.

The goal knocked the stuffing out of Wigan and the crowd were getting frustrated and were on their backs. Prudnikov seemed to have the freedom of the park at times, roaming around without anyone picking him up. However, a flowing move from Latics saw Holt square the ball across the box but Gomez fired high and wide from a great opportunity.

The equaliser in the 39th minute when Ben Watson’s backheel gave Powell the chance to rifle in a fine opportunist low shot from the edge of the penalty area. The goal lifted Latics and they began to more than hold their own through a mixture of skill and resilience.

The second half saw neither side dominant as Wigan started to adopt a more direct approach the their play. Ryan Shotton was fortunate to receive only a yellow card in the 49th minute after a scything tackle on the edge of the box.

Holt was replaced by Fortune who did well to get past three defenders but could not get enough power behind his shot after 70 minutes. A couple of minutes before Latics had breathed a sigh of relief as Roman Eremenko’s sliding shot was blocked on its way to the net.

James McClean had replaced Beausejour after 68 minutes, but the pattern of the game continued. Callum McManaman replaced Gomez in the 75th minute and had a near post shot blocked near the end.

Latics continued their aerial bombardment, but Rubin’s big Spanish defenders, Ivan Marcano and the 6’4″  Cesar Navas who was brought on after 67 minutes, were able to repel most of the long balls.

In the end it was a point well won by Latics, against the team that will surely win the group.

Maribor’s shock 3-1 victory against Zulte Waregem in Belgium has opened up the group and Latics will need at least one  good result in the  games in Russia and Slovenia and at home to Zulte Waregem to continue to hol second place.

The Good

Latics could not be faulted for effort. The midfield holding players – Watson and McCann – put in a hard shift, helping to protect their defence, building up attacks.

This Latics side does not give up easily and they still stand a good chance of qualifying for the next round.

The Bad

Once more we had a tactical change from Coyle. This time the wide players were more withdrawn towards midfield and Powell was paired with Holt as a central striker, albeit playing a little deeper.

Powell is best employed running at the defence from midfield, in the kind of role Shaun Maloney used to play. He is not suited to the long ball game that Latics played too often in the second half. Given Maloney’s absence, possibly for the rest of the season, Powell is going to be a key player at such a young age.

Once again we saw Coyle put Gomez in a midfield attacking role on the right. The Spaniard had a nightmare game, slowing down attacks and passing the ball backwards far too often. His lack of defensive cover on the right hand side, put Emmerson Boyce under pressure, especially in the second half when Rubin brought on the speedy Ghanaian Mubarak Wakaso on the left wing.

Playing Gomez in that position is not doing him any favours. He can play a useful role in the centre of midfield, either in a holding role or playing in the hole behind the central striker.

Once again Latics adopted a long ball game in the latter part of the match. One hopes that Coyle can develop another ‘Plan B’ as the season continues. At times it looked like we were watching a Bolton game.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 6 – only had a couple of saves to make.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 – once again played with great heart. His pace is not what it was and he was troubled by Wakaso in the second half.

Leon Barnett: 6 – together with Ryan Shotton he forms a physically intimidating centre of defence. However, at times he looked disorientated with the movement of opposition forwards and midfield players.

Ryan Shotton: 6 – ditto

Stephen Crainey: 6 – made a cautious, steady return. Looked solid enough in defence and is clearly working on improving his distribution.

Chris McCann: 8 – an excellent performance from the cultured Irishman. Provided good cover for hs defence and put in some nice passes with his educated left foot.

Ben Watson: 7.5 – was involved in Wigan’s two best moves of the first half and worked very hard to hold Rubin back. His set piece deliveries were not up to his usual high standard.

Jordi Gomez: 3 – poor.

Nick Powell: 7 – took his goal really well. A quality player who needs the ball to his feet, rather  than in the air.

Grant Holt: 5 – looked clumsy and short of pace. Not long back from injury he probably needs more time to get in top shape.

Jean Beausejour: 5 – starved of possession and could not get in the game.

Substitutes

Marc-Antoine Fortune: – looked more mobile than Holt, but was too often outnumbered by opposition defenders. A pity his last gasp effort did not go in.

Callum McManaman: – showed a little more than in recent games when coming on for the last 15 minutes. Let’s hope he can rekindle last season’s form over the coming weeks.

James McClean: – worked hard and put in a good defensive stint.

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