Latics ready for a good second half at Huddersfield?

“I was disappointed that we dropped our intensity at the start of the second half and it started very much from the front…….Also the willingness to get on the ball dropped. We can’t hold the level for 90 minutes in certain positions – and that we have to address ….A football game isn’t 45 or 60 minutes, it’s 90-95, and we have to make sure we can play like we want for 95 minutes.”

Uwe Rosler was speaking with his usual openness about the flaws that were once again evident in his side’s performance, this time at Blackburn.

The first six league games have yielded just seven points for Latics, one less than Owen Coyle’s team had at this stage. Like Coyle’s team the current side has stayed unbeaten in its first three home games. But Coyle’s team started with an away win at Barnsley, before losing the next two on the road at Bournemouth and Leicester. This team has lost all three away games.

If the six league games played so far had finished at half time, Latics would be unbeaten with a record of W3 D3, having scored six goals and conceded one. However, they have lost all three matches so far in which the scores were level at half time. They have conceded seven goals in the second halves of their games, scoring only two. Latics certainly have been a first half team this season.

A win at Huddersfield would put Latics back into mid-table, within striking distance of the top six. Huddersfield have started the season poorly, with just one win so far. They have drawn one and lost two of their three home games. So is the scene set for Wigan to get their first away points of the season tomorrow?

Reading between the lines in what Rosler was saying the loss of intensity at Blackburn was started by the front players not closing down opposition defenders, then players not moving around to make themselves available to receive passes. The result was the Blackburn midfield receiving better service from defence and the Latics backline falling deeper. The cynics would say Scott Carson enjoys making those long kicks from his penalty box for the opposition defence to gobble up. Ali Al Habsi gets criticised for his poor kicking, but he is at least always looking for a teammate to throw the ball to. However, in Carson’s defence, if players are not moving to receive the ball his options are limited.

Were Latics to be able to play at full throttle for the 90 minutes-plus at Huddersfield a win would be on the cards. However, the manager seems caught between two stools. He wants to bring in his new players as soon as possible so that they can gel with their teammates, but all three have been short of match practice. On Saturday only William Kvist was remotely match fit and he only lasted 63 minutes. Andy Delort, who had not played a competitive game for weeks, was given the full 90 minutes. He was expected to press the opposition central defenders when they had the ball, together with doing all the onerous duties of a lone centre forward. Adam Forshaw was wisely only played for the final 10 minutes, given his lack of match fitness.

A player of the calibre of James McArthur is bound to be missed. It was evident at Blackburn. Moreover a central midfield of Don Cowie and William Kvist is not going to provide the kind of invention that Latics had when Auld Mac was there. Both are the kind of players who rarely get the plaudits, covering a lot of ground, making interceptions, winning tackles, making simple passes. Such types of player are essential in any effective and well balanced team.

In the long run we can expect the midfield to consist of either Cowie or Kvist in front of the centre of defence, with Forshaw on the right and Emyr Huws on the left. Chris McCann will eventually come back to challenge Huws for that left midfield position spot where he played so well last year. Ben Watson’s best position is probably in the centre of the midfield three, but he can also do a good job on the right. In the meantime Tim Chow, Roger Espinoza and Fraser Fyvie remain possibilities, but will never prove themselves without being given the chance. Neither will James Tavernier who can play at right back or midfield.

The backline of three central defenders was inevitably going to be tested against Gestede and Rhodes, but they looked ragged and uncoordinated at times in the second half. Perhaps Emmerson Boyce was suffering from his long trip to the Caribbean to play for Barbados, but he has not yet shown last season’s form. Ivan Ramis made some last gasp interceptions and put through some nice passes, but even he was looking short of composure by the end. Rob Kiernan will have to fight for his place, with Leon Barnett breathing down his neck, not to mention Thomas Rogne and Gary Caldwell.

We can expect Oriel Riera to return to the lineup tomorrow. It would not be a surprise to see a reversal to 4-3-3 with Martyn Waghorn returning on the right, with Callum McManaman on the left. James McClean will be keen to get a game, but Rosler really needs to be careful since the Irishman is another who is clearly not match fit. Better to give him a good run out with the development squad first.

Shaun Maloney is another of those players who is still not fully match fit, but Rosler will be tempted to put him in from the start. If Cowie and Kvist can provide the protection in front of the back four the Scot could play an advanced midfield role. Emyr Huws went off injured on Saturday so his participation must be in doubt.

Rosler might well rest Boyce and go for a central defensive pairing of Ramis and Barnett, although Kiernan cannot be discounted despite a disappointing game at Blackburn.

Rosler has lots of permutations and combinations possible for his team selection. However, he will need to provide some continuity and wholesale changes might well make things worse. Moreover he cannot afford to make the gamble of playing too many players whose fitness is questionable.

As always it will be fascinating to see the lineup he puts out. The bottom line is to put out a balanced team that can play with intensity for the 90 minutes plus. A tall order? Let’s hope not.

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FA Cup Fifth Round: Huddersfield Town v Wigan Athletic

John Smith's Stadium,  Huddersfield

John Smith’s Stadium, Huddersfield

Wigan Athletic have reached the  6th round of the FA Cup only once before. That was in the 1986-1987 season, when they were unluckily beaten by Leeds United on a bitterly cold and blustery afternoon at  Springfield Park. On Sunday they will be hoping to get there again when they travel to meet a Huddersfield Town team that pulled off a surprise 2-1 victory at high flying Championship rivals Leicester on Tuesday.

The last time Wigan played Huddersfield in the FA Cup was in 1973, when Latics were a non-league side and the Terriers were in Division 3. The result at the old Leeds Road stadium was a 2-0 win for the home team. Huddersfield moved to their new ground, now known as the John Smiths Stadium, in 1994. Not surprisingly there have been some concerns about the state of the pitch, since Town share the ground with the local rugby league club.  There has been  debate among Town supporters as to what has caused the  recent  problems. Some say it has been churned up by having rugby matches played on it;  others say it is been because of the bad weather and the need for undersoil heating.  A familiar debate well known to Wigan fans. Let’s hope the issue does not rear its ugly head again in the matches remaining this season at the DW Stadium.

Given their current predicament  in the relegation zone of the Premier League,  Wigan will be reluctant to risk first choice players for this game. However, a few are likely to be drafted in to provide balance. There appears to be an outside chance that Emmerson Boyce will make  a return, following his recent hamstring injury. However, Martinez will probably play safe and play Ronnie Stam at right wing back, saving the senior professional for the Reading game.

The big Spanish goalkeeper Joel Robles will have the opportunity to stake a claim for a  first team place. He is likely to see much more action against a Championship side than he did against Conference side Macclesfield in the last round. Roman Golobart is likely to step into central defence, with Adrian Lopez alongside him, if fit. The third central defensive position would go to a senior player, although the return of Antolin Alcaraz is still in doubt. Jordan Mustoe staked a claim at left wing back in the Macclesfield game in the previous round, but it could also be taken by Maynor Figueroa or Jean Beausejour.

David Jones  will surely start in the centre of midfield, but Fraser Fyvie is injured, so Roger Espinoza will probably step in. Jordi Gomez will surely start in the front three, together with two of Callum McManaman,  Angelo Henriquez and Nouha Dicko. Given that he has not had much football in recent weeks we can expect Arouna Kone to feature at some time during the game.

This will be a stern test for the second string. Huddersfield currently lie 18th in the Championship table, but they have only lost 4 matches out of 16 at home. All teams in the Championship are competitive and this Huddersfield side is likely to stretch a Wigan lineup that only plays together in cup matches. However, the second string has already shown this season that it can take its chances clinically and grind out results. A good result at the John Smith’s Stadium would lift the spirits of all at the club.

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