A touch of steel needed at Bournemouth

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“…..Don’t be surprised if one or two players who have not played much for us in the last weeks maybe will start on Saturday.

The words of Uwe Rosler ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Bournemouth.

Rosler is ready to shake things up, following displays seemingly lacking in commitment. With just one point from the last three games the team is short of confidence. On Monday Latics allowed themselves to be bullied off the ball by an Ipswich side that was there to get a result at all costs. Put simply it was the lack of steel that lost Latics the game.

Gone are the days when Latics had a combative midfield. Lee Cattermole and Wilson Palacios were a pair to be feared in the Steve Bruce era, both rugged tacklers but possessing no mean level of skill. The ultra-competitive Michael Brown provided back up. Palacios had already gone to Tottenham when Roberto Martinez arrived. Cattermole was one of the first to depart before the new season started. However, Hendry Thomas was to arrive and Martinez use the steely Honduran in front of the back four. Thomas was successful for a while in the Makelele role, winning the ball and laying off simple passes. However, the emergence of James McCarthy saw Thomas lose his place. McCarthy was more mobile, not only strong in the tackle but adept at making interceptions. Together with James McArthur he formed a central midfield partnership that could compete on an even keel with the best that the Premier League could offer.

Midfield has been a problematic area so far this season. The loss of the excellent McArthur was a body blow for Rosler. In the absence of Chris McCann and Ben Watson through long-term injury, new players have been brought in and they have found it difficult to gel into a compact unit. Two of the three who played against Ipswich – Adam Forshaw and William Kvist – were recent signings, still short of match fitness.

Last season Rosler’s preferred midfield trio was that of McArthur, McCann and Watson. All hard working, forceful in the tackle and strong technically. Sadly McArthur has gone and it is going to take weeks before the other two will be fit enough to compete for a place. Moreover both suffered serious injuries and one can never be sure that a player can get back to the same level following a long recuperation.

Rosler has brought experience into the midfield through his signing of the 29 year old William Kvist and the 31 year old Don Cowie. Both players are strong defensively, with high work rates. However, they have their limitations going forward. However, Rosler has clearly made a good investment in younger players. The 19 year old Emyr Huws can play in either a holding role or further forward. He has a superb technique and is strong in the tackle. Adam Forshaw, aged 22, made his first start against Ipswich. Not having played a full game since May, he looked out of touch in the first half, but rallied in the second when he switched to a more central role. Some have likened his style to that of Jack Wilshere, through his ability to constantly receive and run with the ball. In the closing minutes he put through a couple of exquisitely timed passes to split a stubborn Ipswich rearguard. He looked the part in those closing minutes.

Rosler’s preferred midfield over the coming weeks could well be a trio of Forshaw and Huws, together with either Cowie or Kvist. However, given the need to inject energy and steel into Latics’ play, will he give a first start to Roger Espinoza?

James Tavernier could well start tomorrow. Rotherham fans will tell you that Tavernier’s strength is in going forward, not in his defending. For that reason he is more likely to be used as a wing back, rather than a full back. Would Rosler be willing to “rest” James Perch to bring Tavs in? Most fans will hope that he will not play Perch at left back again. The other possibility is to put Tavernier into midfield.

Oriel Riera looked lively after coming on in the second half against Ipswich and will probably take the centre forward spot from Andy Delort. Rosler will be hoping that Callum McManaman will be fit enough to play. Shaun Maloney looked a shadow of his former self on Monday. He needs more match practice, but it is difficult for Rosler to give him that time with the team struggling. Martyn Waghorn will be pushing for a place in the starting lineup.

It would be no surprise to see Leon Barnett return in defence, where his steel will add another dimension.

Bournemouth won 3-0 at Cardiff in midweek in the League Cup, breaking a run of five games without a win. The Cherries have won only one of their four home games so far. Latics have not won away from home this season.

It promises to be an interesting contest. Will Rosler be able to rally Latics into showing that touch of steel that is so necessary in the Championship division? If he can, then Latics could get a good result.

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Garcia ready to step in for Latics

Juan Carlos Garcia (left) ready to step in for Latics.

When Juan Carlos Garcia was signed last summer it looked like he was going to be the natural successor for Maynor Figueroa.

Like ‘Figgy’ he was an experienced Honduran international, in his mid-twenties, who had come from Honduras’ top club – Olimpia of Tegucigalpa – with the ambition of being successful in England. He was to be another in the line of Honduran footballers at Wigan following in the steps of Wilson Palacios, Hendry Thomas, Figueroa and Roger Espinoza. Garcia got himself known on a world stage in February 2013 through a spectacular goal for his country in a World Cup qualifier against the USA, assisted by Figueroa.

Like Figueroa, Garcia is a left back who can also play in the centre of defence. The left back position has been problematic for Latics this season. Stephen Crainey played there at the beginning of the season, to be replaced by James Perch. That gave Latics more defensive solidity, but Perch was limited in attacking skills, playing on his ‘wrong side’. At times Owen Coyle would draft in Jean Beausejour at left back. The arrival of Uwe Rosler saw the Chilean being used more in that position, with Crainey rotated in as a wing back when Latics played with a line of three central defenders.

After six years at Blackpool, Crainey struggled to adapt to his new playing environment in the first half of the season. Being played at wing back relieved some of the defensive pressure on him and he started to grow in confidence.

Beausejour’s preferred position is wing back. Ironically when Latics have played with three central defenders it has been, more often than not, Crainey who has been played at left wing back. Apart from the occasional game on the left wing Beausejour has been played largely at left back, not his best position.

In the last two games the left hand side of Latics defence has looked vulnerable. At Burnley it was Crainey partnering Leon Barnett on the left, then it was Beausejour against Blackpool.

Rosler might well choose to revert to a 3-5-2 formation for the remaining two league games, bringing in Rob Kiernan as an extra centre back. However, if he opts to go for a flat back four he could do worse than put in Garcia at left back.

Figueroa made 148 appearances over five seasons for Latics and has been badly missed this season at left back. However, when he first arrived in January 2008 he had to wait months before making his debut as a substitute three months later. His first start was in the last match of the 2007-08 season facing Cristiano Ronaldo.

Garcia did not have to wait quite so long, making his debut in Latics’ 5-0 League Cup debacle at Manchester City in late September. Coyle played him in a wide position in left midfield. Since then he has had some injury problems, but has overcome them, making regular appearances for the development squad.

Will Garcia get his second chance before the season ends?

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Wigan Athletic & Honduras: A love story

It was a chilly evening in Bloemfontein. The 2010 World Cup was in full swing, and while the rest of the world adjusted their TV sets for the decisive Group H match — Spain vs. Chile — my party set off for Free State Stadium amid a sea of blue and white stripes.

My wife Kat and I, fresh from a 12 hour drive from Port Elizabeth where we’d taken in England’s 1-0 win over Slovenia a couple days prior — wore Wigan Athletic shirts. My brother-in-law John, also dressed in Wigan from head to toe, had followed Honduras’ progress through the qualifiers and ensured we had tickets for the group match against Switzerland. Everyone else wore Honduras colours, but by the time we arrived at the stadium, the distinction was blurred.

On paper, the match was a drab 0-0 that dumped Switzerland out of the tournament (Honduras had already been knocked out after defeats against Spain and Chile). But for Hondurans, this was an historic night. Second World Cup, their first since 1982. And it might have been a first win but for some good goalkeeping from the Swiss. The draw was seen as a dignified way to bow out of an extremely tricky group, in their second World Cup appearance. Switzerland had defeated Champions-to-be Spain only a week prior — they were no slouches.

On the pitch, former Latics favourite Wilson Palacios bossed the midfield alongside Hendry Thomas, still a Wigan player at the time. They never got to play together at the JJB or DW, a shame based on the tenacity displayed that evening. Maynor Figueroa, heroic in previous matches despite the defeats, continued his fine form in defense. Current Latics target Roger Espinoza was on the bench. As Figueroa walked toward the tunnel at the end of the match, I shouted in Spanish, “Maynor, por favor quedate en el Wigan!” [Maynor, please stay at Wigan] As the words registered, he retreated back out of the tunnel, stuck his back out head out, and gestured a thumbs up my way. True to his word, he remains a fixture at Wigan Athletic to this day.

I’ve since learned that we were not the only Latics supporters following Honduras at that World Cup. For years now, a curious bond has formed between the Central American nation and the northern town of Wigan.

Having spent a large part of my childhood in Colombia, I know what it means for a Latin American country to see their footballer exports succeed abroad. My dad would pull me out of bed on Sunday mornings to watch Faustino Asprilla play for Parma, and later Newcastle. This was long before the days of Ivan Cordoba’s success at Inter Milan, or the present day golden generation of Colombians succeeding in Europe led by Radamel Falcao. There were two or three players plying their trade abroad, and their every movement was watched with pride.

In many ways, Wigan Athletic has become dear to Hondurans as Parma did to Colombians back in those days. If Roger Espinoza completes his rumoured move from the MLS upon the expiration of his contract, he will become the fourth Honduran to play for the Latics. It is no coincidence that Honduras qualified to their first World Cup in 2010, as their players found first team football in top level leagues. Wigan continue to give their players a stage, an opportunity to grow — and they are reaping the benefits. Needing a win to progress in CONCACAF qualifying yesterday, they annihilated Canada 8-1 and in turn leapfrogged them and Panama to win their qualifying group in the final fixture. Their excellent showing at the Olympics proved there is more talent coming through, Espinoza included. A second consecutive World Cup is a possibility.

And so, there is a real bond between Honduras and Wigan Athletic. Jet-lag aside, Honduras’ success in the qualifiers can only be good for the Latics. Maynor Figueroa has grown immensely over the years. Honduras was the first to use him as a left centre-half, and it wouldn’t be surprising if watching Honduras had persuaded Roberto Martinez to use him in the same way in Wigan. The experience these players gain in major tournaments ultimately strengthens their performances for the club. If Rodallega had been able to break into the Colombian team, he too, might have further developed. As it was, he fell down the pecking order and stagnated for both club and country.

So keep an eye out for our Honduran brethren in the final six-team CONCACAF group stage. With Mexico, USA, Costa Rica, Panama, and Jamaica for company — three automatic berths, and a playoff against Oceania — you may have another reason to travel to Brazil in 2014.

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