The stats of goalscoring at Latics

“One of our forward-thinking players is going to have to stick the ball into the back of the net and that’s the key to it.”

So said Malky Mackay after the Leeds match where Latics had 60% of possession and 19 efforts on goal without scoring.

But in these days of increased use of data in football, did Mackay bear in mind the stats when picking his starting strikers? Has he looked at the performance records of the players he has at his disposal?

Goalscoring stats can be misleading. So often they are quoted as appearances per goal, which can be so unfair on a player largely used as an impact substitute. How can we compare the record of a player coming on in the 85th minute with one who has played the full 90? When we calculate a stat of appearances per goal we should also take into account at the ratio of starts to substitute appearances to get a true picture of player performance. Perhaps a more reliable indicator is starts per goal, but what about a player like Callum McManaman who would rarely complete the full 90 minutes?

However, these stats together can help us get a picture of the player’s goalscoring capabilities. Moreover looking at the player’s past performance stats can give us an overview on their current performance.

Compiling stats is dependent on a reliable source. The data that follows was compiled using player performance information from www.soccerbase.com . It is based on appearances in league and cup.

Looking at the main strikers currently available to Mackay:

Goals1

The raw stats suggest that Mackay chose the two players with the least probability of scoring against Leeds, Marc-Antoine Fortune and James McClean. However, until his recent conversion to central striker McClean has been on the left wing, where it is harder to score goals, so the stats should be interpreted carefully. The career stats suggest that the pairing with the most likelihood of scoring goals is that of Leon Clarke and Billy Mckay.

The more senior Latics supporters will remember the lethal goalscoring partnership of Harry Lyon and Bert Llewellyn. From 1965-68 Llewellyn scored 96 goals in 115 appearances for Wigan. Lyon remains the club’s leading all-time goalscorer with 273 to his name in his stay from 1962-70.

More recently the most memorable pairing is probably that of Nathan Ellington and Jason Roberts, whose stats show that each of them needed only just over two starts per goal.

In the Premier League days the partnership of Emile Heskey and Amr Zaki was one the best. Heskey was never a natural goalscorer but he created the space for Zaki. The result was the Egyptian scoring 11 goals in 24 starts.

In the Premier League era, Henri Camara was Wigan’s most consistent goalscorer. Taking a look at the stats of strikers who have now left Latics gives considerable insight:

GOALSOLD

The case of Nouha Dicko stands out. Deemed not wanted by the club, but his goalscoring record for Wolves has been outstanding. Dicko never started in a league game for Latics.

The sad stays of such as Conor Sammon and Jason Scotland are reflected in the difference between their Latics stats and those of their careers. The simple explanation would be that they were not good enough for the Premier League. But then again, is Dicko good enough for the Championship?

Andy Delort and Oriol Riera are back to scoring goals again in their home countries following frustrating stays at Wigan. Given the downsizing at the club, even if the miracle happens and relegation is avoided, it is unlikely they will return.

Mackay is now talking about solving his goalscoring problem through the loan market. This must feel like a kick in the teeth for such players as Billy Mckay and Martyn Waghorn who have shown in the past that they have the ability to be in the right place at the right time as far as goalscoring is concerned.

The coaching and management at the club continues to ostracise players. It has been far too apparent over the past couple of years that HR skills are sorely lacking.

Mark Twain once said “Facts are more stubborn things, but statistics are pliable”. As outsiders we are not privy to the real facts about what is happening at the club during the Mackay era. But pliable as statistics might be there is no getting away from the woeful record the Scot has had since he took over.

In a season where Latics have scored only 32 goals in 36 league games, one begins to wonder where the next goal will come from. It is a sad result of the mismanagement of the striking talent that the club has had and continues to squander.

Ipswich – once again a turning point?

Will the Ipswich game prove a turning point for Mackay's Latics?

Will the Ipswich game prove a turning point for Mackay’s Latics?

“I think we were terrific. I have watched Ipswich four times this season as a neutral and I knew they grinded teams down before scoring and winning – that is why they are near the top of the league.

“We had to make sure we matched that and we did. There was very little between the two teams. Anyone watching that game couldn’t have said who was near the top and who was near the bottom.”

Malky Mackay’s words after a dire 0-0 draw at Portman Road yesterday.

How times change. A year ago Latics went to Ipswich having won their previous eight matches. They were too good for the Tractor Boys that day, winning 3-1, and it was no surprise. But that game sadly signaled the end of a wonderful run of results, Latics winning only 4 of the 12 league games that followed.

Mackay will hope yesterday’s trip to Ipswich will also be a turning point, but this time in the other direction. It has been something that we could have expected earlier in the Scot’s tenure. On his appointment one had visions of this kind of performance, all grit and determination. His teams have rarely been good to watch, but they have been effective.

Getting the defence right has been key to Mackay’s efforts at Watford and Cardiff. Yesterday, he wisely resisted the temptation to put in new signing Jason Pearce, instead relying on a back four that had played together the previous three matches. The end product was a solid performance from them, not riddled by the errors we have seen over the past months.

Mackay’s signing of Liam Ridgewell looked like a mistake in the loanee’s wobbly first appearance at Birmingham, but since then he has begun to provide the kind of defensive backbone that had been lacking. Ridgewell is the kind of combative professional that one might expect in a Mackay lineup. Moreover when Ridgewell’s short loan period comes to an end he will have Pearce to replicate that style of play.

In the meantime one hopes that Leon Barnett’s recuperation continues. Barnett was one of the stars last season until an injury at, of all places, Ipswich caused him to lose his place. Since then his form has plummeted and he just has not looked the same player. However, Barnett is an experienced and capable central defender, who would find a place in most Championship teams. He is by no means elegant, but he certainly has the ability to be a real asset at this level.

With Chris McCann injured, Mackay opted for a midfield trio of Don Cowie, Emyr Huws and William Kvist. Kvist is at last being given an extended run in the team, albeit not only for his ability in protecting the defence, but also for his long throws which are becoming one of Mackay’s key ploys. Cowie is sadly being maligned by many fans in the same way that Jordi Gomez was during the Martinez era. His pedestrian style of play does not do him any favours in this respect, but there can be no doubting his commitment and workrate. He and Andrew Taylor were key elements of Mackay’s Championship winning team at Cardiff and he is likely to continue relying on the two. Huws remains an enigma. He has all the talent and physical qualities to be a top player, but has still not shown his best in Latics colours. The question is whether Mackay will be able to give him the straight run of games that he needs in order to get his play into full gear.

The downside of yesterday’s performance was the lack of cutting edge up front. The stats show that each of the two front men, Marco Fortune and James McClean, was caught offside four times during the course of the game. That is unacceptable in a team so short of goals.

Getting a result through playing ugly is something that we are likely to see more and more during Mackay’s tenure. The question is whether Latics can do it consistently over the games that remain. Can Latics become the sort of team that nobody wants to play against?

On a positive note, Mackay, at last, got the commitment he sought from the players yesterday. Perhaps the selling off of the crown jewels will have a silver lining. He has lost most of his classy and skllful players. but enough quality remains for Latics to escape the trap door of relegation.

If Latics can show that same kind of resilience that they showed yesterday, over the final 18 matches, then they can look forward to another season of Championship football in 2015-16.

Climbing back up with experience – Latics are ready for the Owls

With renewed confidence following a hard fought victory at Leeds on Boxing Day, Wigan Athletic face Sheffield Wednesday at the DW tomorrow night. A win for Latics would see them climb out of the relegation zone.

In an attempt to draw in more support the club are offering ground admission at £10. Not surprisingly after so many poor performances at home this season’s average attendance stands at 12,518. It is down 18% from last season’s average of 15,176.

Interestingly the DW Stadium was the most popular venue for away supporters in the Championship last season, with an average of 1,968 per game. If this had been a weekend game we could have expected a significant number of away supporters making the journey across the Pennines. However, with a 7:45 pm start on a Tuesday evening in cold weather it is going to take the most loyal of Owls’ fans to make the journey.

Malky Mackay will continue to rely mainly on his experienced players for this match. Latics have the second oldest squad in the division, although Mackay fielded a couple of younger players against Leeds in Rob Kiernan and James Tavernier, both 23 years of age. He will surely stick by the 3-5-2 system that worked well at Leeds, giving wing backs Tavernier and Andrew Taylor the opportunity to move forward to support the attack. Tavernier has the ability to launch superb crosses and it will be interesting to see if the probable strike force of Marc-Antoine Fortune and James McClean can show the heading ability needed to capitalize on his deliveries. Oriol Riera would surely thrive on such service should he come on the field at some stage.

Mackay will be tempted to name an unchanged lineup, providing there are no fitness issues among those players. At Leeds he had a bench that would be the envy of many clubs – Ali Al Habsi, Emmerson Boyce, Roger Espinoza, Adam Forshaw, Shaun Maloney, Callum McManaman and Oriol Riera. However, he will be keen to keep a settled lineup, particularly on the centre of defence where a new trio of James Perch, Ivan Ramis and Rob Kiernan did well at Leeds.

It is only four weeks since Latics were defeated at Hillsborough in a mediocre match. That day the giant centre forward Atdhe Nuhiu gave Latics’ central defence a torrid time. Ivan Ramis had a rare off-day and had to be substituted at half time. Tomorrow Nuhiu will find it harder, facing a backline of three central defenders, with Ramis keen to atone for his display that day.

Since then Wednesday won 2-1 at Blackburn, lost 0-1 at home to Wolves and 4-0 at Fulham, but beat Blackpool 1-0 at home on Boxing Day. They lie in 13th place, 11 points above Wigan. It will be the fourth time the two clubs have met in a league game in the 2014 calendar year.

If Latics are to climb the table they need to be able to beat sides like Sheffield Wednesday. It could be a tight encounter tomorrow night at the DW Stadium.

Players who don’t seem to care – Norwich (H) match reaction

Can Mackay turn it around?

Can Mackay turn it around?

Over the years we have seen some abject performances from Latics with woeful scorelines. Too often when they were in the Premier League they would play a top of the table team and hold their own until the opponents scored their first goal. The confidence would sag and the legs would start to go. The exertion required to hold back the tide had taken too much out of the players, both physically and mentally. It almost looked like the players didn’t seem to care. It was akin to capitulation.

But those players did care. It was a learning experience for so many of them, but they would bounce back and get the most amazing results against those same elite clubs. One always felt with Roberto Martinez that he was trying to do something special, despite the very limited resources he had to work with. It was the mental side of things that he was building up. The players had to be mentally tough to compete against teams with so much more individual quality than they had.

After five decades of watching Latics I have rarely felt as depressed as I was after yesterday’s Norwich game. The stats show that Wigan committed just 5 fouls, to the Canaries’ 12. Neither side received a yellow card. Did those players really care? Where was the passion?

It was sad to see Uwe Rosler’s demise. It was inevitable, given the awful results that his team was getting this season. But Rosler at least had a vision of the kind of football he wanted, even if the players were unable or unwilling to produce it.

The football we saw yesterday was reminiscent of the worst days of Rosler’s predecessor, Owen Coyle. The goalkeeper and the defenders hoofing the ball upfield to a lone centre forward. To his credit Fortune did actually defy the odds and win some of those balls yesterday. But the possession he gained was too often squandered by teammates.

Despite his reputation as a motivational manager, Mackay was unable to motivate his players yesterday. His team selection and tactics surely did not help.

The local newspaper had got us excited about Shaun Maloney coming back after illness. When the team was announced it looked like he would play in the attacking midfield position, in front of Chris McCann and Ben Watson. But Maloney was to be confined to the left wing and James McClean occupied that role. McClean was like a fish out of water. He has a repertoire of skills,  but not those needed for that position. Maloney never got into the game and was substituted after 47 minutes.

Mackay left Emmerson Boyce on the bench and neither Gary Caldwell nor Thomas Rogne even appeared there. Instead Mackay brought in Maynor Figueroa at centre back. Figs rarely played for Latics as a centre half in a conventional back four in the Martinez days. When he did it was not particularly successful. He could be excellent playing on the left of a back line of three central defenders, but that is quite distinct from the position he played yesterday.

Mackay took most of us by surprise when he named both of the previously long-term absentees, McCann and Watson in the team to play at Sheffield. It was even more of a shock to see them paired together again yesterday. McCann had actually performed well in his first two matches, but he and Watson were unable to turn it on yesterday. The two are crucial to Latics turning the season around. Mackay is taking a gamble in playing the two so much after their long recuperations from injury. He runs the risk of losing them with their bodies taking a toll of not playing for 8-9 months.

As expected, Don Cowie made his first appearance under Mackay, who had been his manager at both Watford and Cardiff. Cowie went to right midfield where he performed as he has before in that position. Pedestrian to be sure, but Cowie will at least make the effort. The result was Callum McManaman being pushed inside and not seeming to know where he was playing.

The hard-working Fortune was taken off after 82 minutes to be replaced by Roger Espinoza. Given the insipid, characterless stuff we had seen up to that point it was a pity Espinoza had not been brought on earlier. The player has many qualities, not the least of which is to fight for the ball and run forward with enthusiasm. But, even then, he was a midfielder replacing a central striker with Latics a goal behind.

Mackay was to make his biggest gaffe of the afternoon by bringing on Andy Delort after 88 minutes for Chris McCann. Fortune can rarely be faulted for effort and he often does a remarkable job of bringing down and controlling Scott Carson’s long kicks. But he is rarely a threat to the opponents’ goal. Delort has been scoring goals for the development squad. Admittedly there is a gulf between the Final Third Development League and the Championship, but the Frenchman also has a fine goalscoring record in Ligue 2, not light years away. Bringing Delort on so late is hardly going to help his confidence.

Mackay has a difficult task ahead of him. However, for the last two games his players have not competed as they need to. Moreover he has made baffling team selections.

He needs to get his act together soon, or Latics will be in deep, deep trouble.

Reading Rosler

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I think I have options but players have to realise that I can only give them so many chances because we’re a top club in the Championship and, with the personnel we have, it can’t take you ten games to find your form.”

Quotes from football managers can be misinterpreted or taken out of context. Uwe Rosler has come out with some gems in recent weeks that have had people thinking. What is he really trying to say? How does it fit in with how the team has been playing? What goes on in his head when he is  picking a team?

Latics fans learned that Rosler’s team selections can be perplexing during his early days at the club. Having a reputation as a serial rotator the German continued in the same vein last season. From his first game in charge in December to the end of season playoffs he used 29 players. Faced with extreme fixture congestion a degree of team rotation was certainly necessary. In fact his predecessor, Owen Coyle, also felt the necessity to rotate his squad. But with Rosler it was not so much the rotation that fans questioned, but the way in which it was being done. Sometimes there would be wholesale changes resulting in lineups lacking in cohesion.

At times it might be easier to predict the winner of the Grand National than guess a Rosler starting lineup. Are his choices linked to a tactical approach or are they influenced by the players’ attitudes and their levels of commitment in training?

So far this season Rosler has used nineteen players in eleven league games. However, nine players have started in almost 90% of those matches. Put simply Rosler has stuck by a basic core of players, with others used sparingly as starters or substitutes. Is Rosler sending a warning to that nuclear core of players that if they don’t perform they will be replaced? Or is he referring to the new players who have taken time to settle in? Has he shown favouritism towards them at the expense of those recruited by previous managers?

The critics will say that Rosler has his favourites and his management style involves a “My way or the highway approach”. Grant Holt has clearly never met the manager’s approval and has now been sent away on another loan spell. Moreover Roger Espinoza, Fraser Fyvie, Lee Nicholls and Thomas Rogne have disappeared off the radar. Not so long ago Rosler was talking about sending players out on loan, with the inference that it could include those who had played in a recent development team fixture. They were Espinoza, Fyvie and Marc-Antoine Fortune. Since all three are in the final year of their contracts his remarks seemed to signal to those players that their time at the club was coming to an end. However, Fortune now finds himself back in favour with the manager.

Fortune is a player who has his critics, rightly so given his woeful goalscoring record. However, even they would acknowledge his ability to be effective in the target man role. Fortune is strong and hard to knock off the ball. Apart from his goalscoring he has fitted well into the Rosler machine. The big French Guianian would have surely realized his place would be threatened with the arrival of Oriel Riera and Andy Delort. In fact Rosler recently stated: “Marc-Antoine Fortune was told by me at the beginning of the season that the new strikers would be preferred at the beginning to get their chance.”

Fortune was on the bench for the season opener against Reading, with Riera leading the attack. He started in the next game, the League Cup debacle at Burton Albion. Riera was to go on to start in four consecutive league games. His form was hardly electrifying, but he scored a well taken winner against Blackpool and played reasonably well in the 4-0 home defeat of Birmingham. However, the arrival of Andy Delort meant that he was surprisingly relegated to the bench. Delort was to start in three consecutive games without really impressing. However, the names of neither Delort nor Riera appeared in the starting lineup at Bournemouth. Fans were flabbergasted when Fortune was named ahead of them both. Delort returned in the next match at home to Ipswich, only for Fortune to come back for the 2-2 draw at Wolves last Saturday.

Rosler has been full of praise for Fortune, following his fine performance at Molineux, which included a well taken goal. “Marco has been an exceptional pro. He’s never let himself down or us down. He’s continued to work hard and kept himself in good shape mentally and physically.  In the situation we’re in we need more Championship experience and Marco gives us that, he knows the Championship in and out. He has the physicality to cope with that and he takes the pressure off our new players because they need to adapt a little bit more.”

Rosler’s supporters will say that he is wise to bring in Fortune to allow Delort and Riera more time to adapt. Moving to a new country is a challenge in its own right, let alone being thrust into the physicality of Championship football.

However, critics would say that Rosler left Riera out of the lineup at exactly the wrong time, after he had started to show that he was adjusting to the pace of English football. Moreover Delort was immediately thrust into the deep end, rather than having a settling in period and a gradual introduction into the team. Both Delort and Riera came to the club following successful seasons with their clubs as central strikers who scored more than their fair share of goals. However, the poor service from midfield up to this point would have made it difficult for any Latics striker to get goals. Neither player could be accused of wasting valuable opportunities – the necessary level of service just has not been there.

Midfield was a strong point for Latics last season. However, the departures of Jordi Gomez and James McArthur and the long term injuries to Chris McCann and Ben Watson have hit Latics hard. Rosler clearly had to build a new midfield. In Latics’ three games of the season McArthur made up the midfield trio together with Don Cowie and Emyr Huws.

When McArthur left for Crystal Palace, Rosler had the option of bringing in Espinoza, Fyvie or youngster Tim Chow who had impressed in pre-season. However, it was William Kvist, newly signed just before the transfer window closed who was to claim McArthur’s spot in the next match at Blackburn. Fitness levels of Latics’ squad at the time were low and once again they caved in during the second half. However, having recently played a couple of games for Denmark, Kvist’s fitness level was possibly better than some. Moreover Kvist played for Fulham in the second part of last season, so his adaption was not as difficult as that of Delort and Riera.

Allegations that Rosler has shown favouritism to players he has recruited are hard to substantiate. He had little choice than to bring in new central strikers, midfield players and left backs. In fact, Rosler has signed ten players in his tenure at the club, but only four made the starting lineup for the Wolves match. Don Cowie has played in every league game so far, and Emyr Huws and Andrew Taylor in all but one. The experienced Kvist has already staked a claim to a regular place. Of the remainder Martyn Waghorn has started in only two games, as has Adam Forshaw. James Tavernier has been limited to appearances off the bench and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair has not featured at all.

Rosler has brought in a mixture of youth and experience. Delort, Forshaw, Huws, Tavernier, Taylor-Sinclair and Waghorn are in their early twenties and all are excellent prospects for the future. In Cowie, Kvist, Riera and Taylor he has players with proven experience. However, as new players come in others can be expected to depart. Espinoza and Fyvie may well be sent out on loan. Latics could well be open to bids for Ali Al-Habsi in the January transfer window. In the meantime Nicholls could be sent out on short term loan.

Having a new midfield has hampered Latics’ possibilities of getting off to a good start this season. However, the overriding factor that has contributed to only two wins in eleven league games has been a lack of fitness. Latics have so often wilted in the second half, losing the initiative against teams that could not be able to compete with them in terms of quality. The run of bad results has led to a crisis of confidence among the squad that has affected all players, new and old.

On top of that Rosler’s team selections have been surprising to say the least. However. the overdue return of Leon Barnett will help provide more defensive solidity. Fitness levels have improved and both Adam Forshaw and Shaun Maloney will be available to provide the kind of service that Delort and Riera have so desperately lacked.

As fans we do not know what is going on behind the scenes at a football club. If we did maybe we could better understand the reasons for some of Uwe Rosler’s more puzzling decisions.

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