Sheffield Wednesday Preview – a potential banana skin

The dream continued to come true on Sunday as Latics grafted out a win that took them into the FA Cup semi-finals. Apart from a few glimpses in the first half we did not see the kind of flowing football that won them the FA Cup in May. But we did witness once again the “character” that this Latics team now displays under Uwe Rosler. It might not have been as pleasing on the eye as what we saw in May, but in many ways this win was even more impressive. Only one English team- Chelsea- had beaten Manchester City this season at the Etihad Stadium prior to Wigan’s victory. City had hit six against Arsenal and Tottenham and seven against Norwich.

It is a reflection upon the changes that have occurred since the historic May victory that only four players from that Wembley final made the starting lineup on Sunday. There may be even less in the team that meets Sheffield Wednesday tomorrow.

If any match this season presents a potential banana skin it is this one. It would be all too easy for Latics to slip up against the Yorkshire club after the elation of the quarter final win. Latics are clear favourites to win this match after six successive victories and a 3-0 win at Hillsborough a month ago. However, the performance at City will have taken its physical toll and this match is the second of three in a period of six days.

Rosler will certainly have to rotate his squad for this match. Chris McCann went off injured at half time on Sunday, so will be doubtful. Rosler has already stated that Ivan Ramis is not yet fit enough for two games a week. Leon Barnett, who has played more games than anyone this season, was rested from the starting lineup on Saturday but had to come on for McCann after half time. Rosler will also be tempted to rest Emmerson Boyce, who was superb on Sunday.

Nicky Maynard and Martyn Waghorn will almost certainly return to the starting lineup. Callum McManaman and James McClean shared game time on Sunday and may well do so again, the latter being the more likely starter. If Rosler goes for a flat back four then Ryan Tunnicliffe might well start in holding midfield. The big Swede Marcus Holgersson might well make his debut, teaming up with Barnett in the centre of defence. However, he can also play right back if Rosler decides to rest James Perch. Jean Beausejour will return at left back, providing he is fit. Rosler is fortunate to be able to choose from probably the two best goalkeepers in the division, in Ali Al-Habsi and Scott Carson.

Dave Whelan was quoted this week as saying “I’ve loved that FA Cup and the whole town has but this year you’ve got a feeling the league is more important. You get people asking ‘what do you want to do?’ Well there’s only one thing – promotion back to the Premier League.”

Rosler will be therefore be keen to bring his players back down to the ground following the elation of their amazing performance at the Etihad. They will have to knuckle down and fight for the fifty-fifty balls against a Wednesday team currently sitting in 16th place.

Latics fans will be hoping they don’t slip up on that banana skin tomorrow.

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Barnsley Preview – The Pressure is on

Fresh from their hard-earned FA Cup victory at Cardiff, Wigan Athletic are due to entertain Barnsley tomorrow in their 43rd game of the season. What’s more is that three difficult away games follow for Rosler’s men who seek promotion to the Premier League and further progress in the Cup.

At first glance Barnsley at home does not appear to be the most difficult task ahead. Owen Coyle enjoyed his most successful result at Wigan after giving the Tykes a 4-0 hammering on the first day of the season. Barnsley remain anchored in the bottom three with only one away win all season.  A win for Latics would appear a formality.

However, Uwe Rosler’s side have not performed well against teams closer to the lower end of table. The elation of away wins at promotion-chasing Derby and Reading has been tempered by defeats at Doncaster and Huddersfield.  Moreover it will be Wigan’s fifth match in eighteen days in the month of February. The victory at Cardiff means that the difficult home match against league leaders Leicester City will have to be rearranged, creating even more fixture congestion.

But thanks to some astute dealings in the loan and transfer market Rosler has a strong and well balanced squad at his disposal. The German has already shown that he can successfully operate a rotation policy, achieving results. The quality in depth within the squad is such that Rosler could choose an entirely different starting eleven tomorrow and still have a good chance of beating Barnsley.

Rosler wisely rested the dependable Leon Barnett on Saturday. The ex-Norwich man has played 40 matches so far this season, much more than any other player. However, the lack of cover for the central defensive positions has now been alleviated by the signing of Markus Holgerrson and the return from injury of Ivan Ramis and Thomas Rogne. Given that strength in numbers Rosler might be tempted to play a backline of three, especially against teams whose main mode of play is putting high balls into the box. Moreover it would free up Emmerson Boyce and Jean Beausejour to play in their best positions as wing backs.

Following a successful return at Cardiff, Ramis will be rested tomorrow. Rosler has already said that the Spaniard is not yet up to playing more than one game a week. Barnett will almost certainly return, but Boyce is likely to be rested, meaning a possible debut for Holgerrson, although Rogne is also a possibility. Rosler has also talked about giving Lee Nicholls a chance and this might be the one for the young goalkeeper.

Ben Watson went off injured at Cardiff, but James McArthur will be ready to return. Josh McEachran will be pushing for a start in midfield, as will Roger Espinoza.

Both Martyn Waghorn and Nicky Maynard are due to return after being cup-tied and fans will be hoping that Nick Powell is fit after missing the last five matches. Although still only 19 years old, Powell has started in 25 matches this season and come off the bench in five, scoring 10 goals. Rosler is aware of the physical demands on the young man and will try to get the best use out of the highly talented player, without overstretching him.

With tricky away matches at Brighton and Nottingham Forest looming, Latics will be keen to claim the three points available from the Barnsley game. Rosler is looking at an average of two points per game until the end of the regular season to get in to a playoff berth. Failure to beat Barnsley would make that difficult over the three league games which precede the FA Cup 6th round match at Manchester City.

The pressure is on and the coming weeks will be a test of resolve for Rosler, but he has the squad to cope with what is coming up, providing injuries keep to a minimum. Beating Barnsley tomorrow will be a step in the right direction.

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Holgersson will come good, says Red Bulls supporter


As part of our continuing effort to keep Latics supporters informed about new recruits, we have invited a New York Red Bulls supporter to guest write an article about new centre-half Markus Holgersson.

Holgerrson’s signing, subject to international clearance, was confirmed by the club today. His initial contract will be until the end of the current season.

Hello Wigan supporters, my name is Dan Ryazansky. I have run, the premier website for the MetroStars (now Red Bulls) of Major League Soccer since 2001.

It’s hard to think of a player whose lot with Red Bulls supporters changed as much as Markus Holgersson’s. He arrived in 2012 at the tail end of the team’s Scandinavian invasion: a group of players acquired by Norwegian Sporting Director Erik Soler and Swedish manager Hans Backe. A rather tepid show in preseason led to many question Holgersson’s inclusion in the starting lineup.

Yet there he was, from the get-go, starting in central defense and quickly becoming a liability. Too slow. Too awkward. Not able to keep up with MLS’s physical attackers. And — worst of all — poor clearances and defensive lapses that led to scoring opportunities and, alas, goals.

And then, with Thierry Henry absent due to injury, Backe gave Holgersson the captain’s armband. Was it a case of Swedish nepotism, the supporters thought?

But something happened to Holgersson. Thrust with new responsibility, the much-maligned defender started to improve. His ability to read the game trumped his slowness of feet. He became excellent in one-on-one situations. The mistakes started to disappear as well. Even the goalscoring came, as he became a threat on set pieces.

Then, the offseason came. With Soler and Backe fired, many thought that Holgersson would be gone as well. Not so; new head coach Mike Petke kept him on, but the Swede did manage to lose his starting job in preseason. He won it back after the first two matches and didn’t relinquish it afterwards, playing almost every minute the rest of the way. By the end of the season, he was the team’s most consistent defender. When called upon, he even played some at right back.

Unfortunately, Holgersson’s high salary (by MLS standards) made it very hard for the team to keep him. When his departure was announced, the same supporters that called for his head expressed concerns over his departure.

So, in summary: a solid central defender who should be able to hold his own on the Championship level. Might have difficulties adjusting early, but will be able to adjust. Good at reading the game. Can start the attack from the back. Can play right back if needed, but not an efficient crosser of the ball. Thrives when given responsibility. Passionate. Will be missed.

Best of luck for him at Wigan!

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