CAPITULATION OR SURPRISE? A PREVIEW OF WIGAN ATHLETIC –CHELSEA

“ Beam me up Scottie” said Captain Kirk. Scottie was an Aberdonian with the skill of beaming people out of difficult situations in the original iconic “Startrek” series.  One only wishes  that Kirk and Scottie were here to help us now. As a Latic fanatic I would like to be beamed out of the upcoming fixtures. How unfortunate to be playing Chelsea after their high of defeating previously unbeaten  Man City, on the back of qualifying for the next stage of the Champions League with their victory over Valencia .

To be frank I am worried about Wigan Athletic going down this season.  We have better players than many of the teams near the bottom, but our luck leaves something to be desired.  What is “luck”? Is it when  the ball hits the woodwork and bounces out? Or is it a defensive inability to cope as a unit?     Or is it the bizarre  refereeing  decision such as the one that killed us in the Blackburn match? Or is it meeting other teams at the wrong time? Look at our fixture list. Having to play  the three newly promoted teams in the first three games, then getting this stuff that is coming up? Chelsea, Liverpool, Man U   and away at Stoke?

Sometimes it is the timing that you need on your side. The timing was right for  Norwich City last weekend.  A  potential challenger for relegation they gained an invaluable  three points  against a Newcastle team  “in a bad moment”, as a familiar Spanish football manager  might put it.  This was not the same Newcastle team brimming with confidence that we were unlucky to lose to in October. The Norwich  victory came through  traditional English football, by scoring from crosses. This was aided by the lack of any genuine centre half in the injury-hit Newcastle defence. You could say that Norwich played to Newcastle’s weaknesses, but to be honest, that is all you usually get from them. They are a typically English side – albeit with a Scottish manager – playing on the confidence  of success in the Championship. Their play is simple: get wide and put crosses in. They don’t play the passing game of Latics, but they are above us in the league. Let’s hope that will not be the case at the end of the season.

Let’s try to be positive about the Chelsea game. A couple of years ago Latics beat Chelsea 3-1. It was their first win against a top four team in 34 attempts in the Premier League. Chelsea had Petr  Cech sent  off that day, but the consensus was that Wigan deserved their victory. On paper the current Wigan Athletic team is at least as strong as the one of two seasons ago. Chelsea can be beaten! However, we are going to have to be at our best against a  team who have scored 15 goals without reply against us the last three times we have played them.

What a pity Antolin Alcaraz had to go off with a rib injury against West Brom. He played an excellent role in the position of right-sided  centre  back in a block of three.  When Latics were playing with an orthodox back four it was Alcaraz who had to play on the left of centre. Being a right footed player he looks more comfortable on the right hand side. Besides Maynor Figueroa, naturally left footed,  has regained his form and is currently playing well in his new role of left hand centre back. If Alcaraz is unable to play Steve Gohouri will probably take his place, although Emmerson Boyce might be fit enough to step in after six weeks out through injury. A good understanding between those three centre halves is going to be crucial if we are to keep Chelsea out.  I expect that the rest of the team will remain unchanged from the West Brom lineup.

Whatever happens I just hope we won’t get into the capitulation mode against Chelsea. Let’s go in with a positive team lineup and show some steel. So will it be capitulation or surprise? The latter is by no means impossible – go for it Wigan! Let’s give them an unpleasant surprise!

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Wigan Athletic 1 Bolton Wanderers 3: Defensive disaster

Match Report: Wigan Athletic 1 Bolton Wanderers 3

If you’ve watched Latics at all in the past few years, you’ll be familiar with our two most basic failings — individual defensive mistakes, and a lack of killer instinct up front. When we lose matches, it’s generally the former, when we draw them, the latter. You might as well insert your joke here, as I’m basically saying we can’t defend or attack. But it’s not quite that simple. The amazing conclusion to last season proved that when concentration levels are high, and individual mistakes are cut out, there is enough talent up front to get the necessary points. But it is games like this one — a local derby no less — that just makes you scratch your head in disbelief.

How is it possible that these are the same players who battled so hard to keep us up last year — did they not learn anything at all from that experience? Each of the three defensive lapses was a direct result of being too casual, taking too much time on the ball, as though it were a kickabout at the park.

The key sentence in our match preview was “Whether Latics go on to beat Bolton resoundingly, or to even beat them at all, is going to depend on their approach to the game.” It’s hard to assign all blame to the coach when your defenders do silly things to give away goals, but Roberto’s lineup — and approach — was just too conservative. Packing the midfield is acceptable when you’re playing the big boys, but at home to Bolton, who were bottom of the table at kickoff? Come on. It sends the wrong message to the players, and affords too much respect to the opposition. Victor Moses was the only creative player on the pitch. Shaun Maloney could have started. We’ve seen all too little of Conor Sammon, who might’ve started as centre-forward, pushing Franco Di Santo out wide. We must assume Albert Crusat is injured, another shame, as his pace is much needed. What about Callum McManaman, Nouha Dicko, both of whom have been outstanding for the reserves?

All that said, I still thought we had enough to win it, in large part due to the return of Antolin Alcaraz. My optimism was short-lived, as it was a rusty Alcaraz who gave the ball away in the move that led to the first goal, and then later in the game for the third. Steve Gohouri, given the nod ahead of Maynor Figueroa at left-back — a strange move given Patrick Van Aanholt’s availability — had his worst match in a Wigan shirt. If he hadn’t cheaply given away possession right before half-time, Latics’ momentum probably would have carried them to victory in the second half.

The Good:

We should be pleased with Rodallega’s return, and that of Alcaraz, despite his mistakes. Ali Al-Habsi saved a penalty and remains someone we can rely on. Mo Diame scored again, and is emerging as our best midfielder. Victor Moses was dangerous as always, though he once again couldn’t score.

The Bad:

Lack of concentration. Individual mistakes. The manager’s defensive approach and tactical rigidity. The league table.

Credit Where it’s Due

Chris Eagles was a handful all afternoon and deserved his goal. David N’Gog’s goal was well taken, although all three goals exposed Gary Caldwell’s lack of pace in one way or another. If Latics players had even a percentage of the desire that Kevin Davis shows, in every single game, we’d be pushing for European places.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 7 — Saved a penalty and wasn’t to blame for any of the goals.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 — Wasn’t involved in the poor defending that led to Bolton’s goals, but we didn’t see too much of him either.

Gary Caldwell: 5 — Beaten to the header by the less-than-lightning Nigel Reo-Coker for the first goal, gave the penalty away (though it was very soft indeed), and had his lack of pace exposed by David N’Gog for the second, and Chris Eagles for the third. A bad afternoon.

Antolin Alcaraz: 5 — Too casual, particularly given the fact it was his first match back from injury and he was bound to be a little rusty. Got caught in possession a few times, two of them led to goals. A shame, because he is our best centre-back.

Steve Gohouri: 5 — One to forget. Looked a bit confused at times at left-back, struggling with the impressive Chris Eagles. Caught trying to dribble his way out of trouble in the buildup to the second goal. Substituted at half-time. Not a left-back.

Ben Watson: 6 — I actually thought he was one of the better performers in the first half, but was sacrificed in order to bring on Hugo Rodallega at half-time.

Mo Diame: 7 — Took his goal very well, and the only Latics midfielder that consistently gets himself in scoring positions.

Dave Jones: 6 — Didn’t show his best, although his left foot set piece deliveries were useful (when he was allowed near the ball. What on earth was Di Santo doing taking direct free-kicks in the second half?!)

James McCarthy: 5 — For me, the biggest disappointment this season. Always works hard, but his class and attacking ability have been absent. So much potential, but if anything he has regressed. Still young, but we need him find his form.

Victor Moses: 7 — Same as every week. Dangerous, fast, powerful, a headache for the opposition, but needs someone to poke home the chances he creates. And a cooler head when he goes to finish them himself.

Franco Di Santo: 6 — Worked hard, a decent and skilful target man who has everything except the goalscoring instincts. He is rarely in the right place at the right time, when a cross comes into the box.

Subs:

Hugo Rodallega: 6.5 — Latics did look better with him on the pitch, but he ballooned a dangerously positioned free-kick and had most of his shots blocked.

Maynor Figueroa: 6 — Better than Steve Gohouri.

Shaun Maloney:  N/A — Not on the pitch long enough to make an impact. Wish he had been in the starting lineup.