Mackay gets it right – Post match reaction Leeds United (A)

Our luck was in today”.

So said James McClean, the architect of Wigan Athletic’s first win since October 25th. McClean’s cross led to a Leeds own goal after 11 minutes, then he sealed the win with a powerful finish in the 82nd minute.

Mackay got his tactics right this time around. He brought in James Tavernier in his best position as right wing back, with Andrew Taylor on the opposite flank and a central defensive trio of James Perch, Ivan Ramis and Rob Kiernan. He stuck with the experienced trio of Don Cowie, Chris McCann and Ben Watson in midfield, with McClean and Marc-Antoine Fortune upfront.

Nobody looked happier with yesterday’s win than the beleaguered manager, Malky Mackay. It was a welcome surprise to see him opt for a 3-5-2 formation, after his sterile tactics in previous matches. Fans were wincing at the prospect of him playing with just one striker, but the change in formation allowed him to play with two, whilst providing more defensive stability.

This time Mackay fielded three of Uwe Rosler’s signings in his starting lineup, having brought in Tavernier to join his trusted lieutenants, Cowie and Taylor. He boldly left out the underperforming FA Cup winning trio of Emmerson Boyce, Callum McManaman and Shaun Maloney.

Maloney might well be leaving the club over the coming weeks, as Latics are likely to want to cash in with his contract expiring at the end of the season. Boyce has been a wonderful club servant and played in Wigan’s most famous victories, but has just not looked the same player this season. At 35 he is now unlikely to be able to command a regular place in the starting lineup.

Ironically McManaman was left out when Mackay opted for the formation that suits him best. Playing wide on the flank makes it too easy for the opposition to snuff him out of the game with multiple markers. In a 3-5-2 system he has the freedom to wander, making it hard for the opposition defence to control him. The young player has received criticism over recent weeks from fans who have thought he has not been sufficiently involved in the game. However, unlike with Rosler, who would often only play him for an hour, he is now expected for play the full ninety.

Mackay is the third manager who has tried to play with the two wide men – McManaman and McClean – in the same lineup to find out it does not work. Of the two, McManaman is the more clinical finisher, although McClean hit home his goal with aplomb yesterday. Would Mackay consider playing the two together as strikers in a 3-5-2 formation, rather than as orthodox wingers?

Even in the Martinez days of 3-5-2 (or a modified 3-4-3), Latics played with at least one target man. In the last season in the Premier League it was Arouna Kone and Franco di Santo before that. Yesterday Mackay had Fortune playing there. Moreover over the past months Wigan’s defenders and goalkeeper have grown accustomed to using the centre forward as an outlet for hopeful long punts. But yesterday saw Ramis and Kiernan restored to the centre of defence and both are capable of resisting the hoof and playing the ball out from the back.

At last Wigan’s luck has changed for the better. In so many matches this season they have done enough to win, but thrown it away through defensive laxness or unlucky goals. This time around the remodeled defence held firm during the onslaught from the home team.

They say that one swallow does not make a summer. But at least fans can now see some light on the horizon. The coming weeks are going to continue to be a rollercoaster ride, both in terms of performance on the pitch and in changes in personnel over the period of the transfer window.

A win can do wonders for a team’s confidence and the players will now be looking forward to Tuesday’s home game with Sheffield Wednesday. They will hope that the ill-luck that has dogged them so much this season has gone for good.

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.

Rosler gets it right – Derby County 1 Wigan Athletic 2

James McClean’s brace wins the match for Latics. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

Rosler got his tactics and team selection right this time and the result was a shocker. A Latics team that had not won for eight matches went on to beat a Derby outfit that had been unbeaten in twelve. Wigan just would not allow the home team time and space on the ball and fully deserved their victory.

As we have come to expect from him Uwe Rosler made changes in his lineup, causing due consternation among fans. He was to stick with the eleven that completed the last game against Millwall except Emyr Huws and Don Cowie came back from injury to replace James McClean and Shaun Maloney. The 4-4-2 formation saw Marc-Antoine Fortune and Callum McManaman playing up front, with Cowie in wide right midfield. Leon Barnett was named captain.

The first half hour was scrappy as Latics’ pressing tactic disrupted the home team’s game. Derby just did not look convincing and Wigan looked full of energy and sacrifice. However, the left footed right winger Johnny Russell curled a shot marginally wide but Latics gradually started to threaten the Derby defence. Huws had an effort saved by Jack Butland, then Roger Espinoza put a great pass through for McManaman, whose effort was blocked by Butland’s legs.

Just before half time Latics were awarded a penalty with John Eustace handling the ball as Espinoza threatened. James Tavernier hit the ball to Butland’s left but the home keeper made a fine save. The same Eustace then scored at the other end after Zak Whitbread had headed on a free kick for the experienced central midfielder to bundle home.

Latics went into half time a goal down after having looked in control. Conceding that goal so soon after missing a penalty was a body blow from which they might not recover.

Steve McLaren surprisingly made two changes at half time, Will Hughes and Ibe being replaced by Simon Dawkins and Jeff Hendrick. In the 56th minute Scott Carson could only parry Hendrick’s shot, but Latics managed to clear the ball. Ten minutes later Craig Bryson’s shot deflected off Hendrick to go narrowly wide. However, Latics were still in the game and playing with spirit. With the protection provided by Cowie, Tavernier was able to move forward and attack the Derby defence.

McClean had come on for McManaman after 62 minutes. Seven minutes later he put the ball home from short range after Cowie had put the indefatigable Espinoza through on the right for a cross into the box. Shaun Maloney came on for Huws a couple of minutes later. Latics were on top and McClean had a header go wide from a Maloney free kick and Tavernier’s fine shot from the edge of the penalty area went narrowly wide.

In the 83rd minute Tavernier ‘s corner caused problems for the Derby defence. Adam Forshaw’s shot was parried by Butland, but from the resulting melee the ball fell to McClean who scooped it home.

Espinoza’s shot from outside the box brought a fine save from Butland. William Kvist replaced Kiernan after 87 minutes. In the five minutes time that was added on, Barnett committed a foul just on the edge of the box in a dangerous position. Fortunately for Wigan, Chris Martin’s powerful shot passed wide of the far post.

There was widespread celebration among Wigan fans when the referee signaled the end of the game. Derby had gone 644 minutes without conceding until McClean’s first goal. Latics win was well deserved from a performance full of spirit and passion.

The Good

Rosler’s team selection had raised eyebrows with such as McClean and Maloney left on the bench. However, he surely appeased many fans by the selection of Espinoza in the centre of midfield.

Espinoza’s inclusion proved to be the catalyst that galvanized Latics’ midfield into action. His enthusiasm is infectious. Like Espinoza, Forshaw and Huws were tireless in their efforts to control the centre of the pitch. Despite playing so little competitive football over the past couple of months, Espinoza was a revelation, pressing the opposition and attacking with gusto.

McClean added his usual amount of energy when he came on, but importantly got a couple of opportunist goals. All too often in the past he has got himself into good positions without having the composure to finish. This time he got it right and his goals won the game for Wigan.

The unpopular Cowie played an important role in right midfield, allowing the exciting Tavernier to attack down the right flank. Nevertheless Tavernier worked hard on the defensive side of his game too. Cowie’s play may be unspectacular but he is tireless in his efforts, a consummate team player.

It was the kind of display that we saw in the early days of Rosler’s reign last year. Latics were bristling with energy, closing down the opposition and looking threatening in the second half as they moved forward. Rosler’s dream of high tempo, high pressing football may not be an illusion after all.

The Bad

It had taken Rosler so long to give Espinoza a chance. The reasons are unknown to most of us who are not privy to what is going on at the club. Given the American/Honduran’s impact on the game one wonders why he was not included before.

 

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 7 – did all that was required of him.

James Tavernier: 8 – a display of attacking promise, with a high workrate in defence.

Leon Barnett: 8 – a captain’s performance. The defence has tightened up since his return.

Rob Kiernan: 7 – solid in defence and unruffled and accurate in his distribution.

Maynor Figueroa: 7 – a typical performance from him, full of endeavour.

Adam Forshaw: 8 – unable to show his silky skills, but was a real dynamo in the centre of midfield.

Emyr Huws: 8 – combative and good in his use of the ball. Went off after 70 minutes.

Roger Espinoza: 8.5 – a remarkable performance considering his lack of match fitness.

Don Cowie: 8 – a tireless worker, sacrificing himself for the team.

Callum McManaman: 7 – worked hard against a tight Derby defence. Substituted after 62 minutes.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: 7 – a typical hard-working performance.

Substitutes:

James McClean: – the match winner.

Shaun Maloney: – looked lively in those last 25 minutes.

William Kvist: – came on after 87 minutes.

 

 

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Hope looms on the horizon for Rosler

 

Adam Forshaw and Uwe Rosler appear soon to be reunited.

Adam Forshaw and Uwe Rosler appear soon to be reunited.

How the mighty are fallen. “In Rosler we trust” was the catchphrase just a few weeks ago. Since then criticism and doubt have come raining in.

There is an old saying that goes to the effect that football managers are only as good as their results. But despite a win over Blackpool on Saturday, Rosler’s mode of operation continues to be questioned. Once again Latics went on the defence in the second half, but this time against a team that is likely to stay rooted at the bottom of the league table for the rest of the season. A 1-0 win over a team as poor as Blackpool was seen as a relief, it being Latics ’first win of the season. On the other hand Rosler’s assertion that it was the best first half display by Latics since his arrival has been met with derision on the social media and fans forums.

Fitness still remains an issue, as does the lack of creativity in midfield and the lack of another reliable goal scorer to supplement Oriol Riera.

However, hope looms on the horizon for the German. Brentford sources announced today that they had reached an agreement with Latics over the transfer fee for Adam Forshaw. He is expected to sign for Wigan in the next few days. The League One Player of the Year, Forshaw might well be able to provide the kind of creative spark that has been missing up to this point.

On Saturday Latics played 3-5-2 with Callum McManaman and Oriel Riera up front. McManaman came close to scoring on at least four occasions, the easiest opportunity being after a great run and low cross from Riera. McManaman has returned to form this season and could well prove to be Latics’ trump card in their bid for promotion. He has shown in the past that he can have a cool head for finishing, even if a little poise was lacking on Saturday.

Given ridiculously inflated market prices for strikers within English football circles, it could be that Latics already have the players who can deliver the goods. Playing as a striker in a 3-5-2 formation, McManaman is likely to see more of the ball, making him more of a danger to the opposition defence than when he plays out wide in the 4-3-3 formation. Similar possibilities exist for James McClean, when he returns from injury. Although not renowned for his finishing, the Irishman actually has a better career record for scoring goals than McManaman.

Rumour also tells us that there is a possibility of a return on loan for Nick Powell. The 20 year old had an exciting start to his Latics career, scoring spectacular goals and oozing self-confidence. However, he was unable to reproduce that same form after an injury in mid-season. Rosler clearly rates him highly, having recognized his exceptional talent.

Suddenly there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel for Rosler and Latics.

However, there remains a fear among fans that is largely beyond Rosler’s control. That is of a further exodus of quality players from the club. Will the arrival of Forshaw herald the departure of James McArthur?

Will Dave Whelan provide the financial backing that will allow Latics to compete in the transfer market without having to sell their prized assets?

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Where will Latics’ goals come from?

goalcartoon

The transfer market is destroyed this year, in terms of the money that has been paid for certain positions. We have a strong team but where we lack is up front so we need to strengthen in that area. It’s not easy, especially when you’re driving a football club in a responsible way like we do.”

Uwe Rosler was making a valid point. Fulham recently paid £11m for Ross McCormack , a 28 year old forward who has never played in the Premier League. Then Nottingham Forest paid £5.5m for League 1 striker Britt Assombalonga.

As Rosler said, Wigan Athletic are certainly being driven in a responsible way. Fulham have clearly decided to splash a significant portion of their parachute payments on McCormack in an effort to get back to the Premier League as soon as possible.

In Wigan’s case the parachute payments have been used to payroll a large squad. Despite not being involved in the Europa League this year, Latics maintain a squad size comparable with that of last year. With so many players having been out of action over the past couple of years, maintaining a large squad can be seen as a safeguard in case the abnormal injury load continues.

A lack of funding continues to stymie Rosler in his efforts to provide balance to his squad. He is overburdened in the areas of goalkeepers and central defenders, but short on creative midfield players and strikers.

It appears that Latics have now given up their quest of signing creative midfielder Adam Forshaw from Brentford, with the London club continuing to ask £6m for a player who is unproven outside League 1. Wigan already have Shaun Maloney, who is as good as any creative player in the Championship division. However, to rest the main responsibility for the creation of goals on the shoulders of someone with Maloney’s injury record would be folly.

Wigan Athletic are not the only club who need a goal scoring centre forward and those who are available from English clubs are either prohibitively expensive or no better than what Latics already have.

Should Rosler not be able to get the new striker he seeks he will have to persevere with those already at the club. What kind of conversion rates (goals per appearance) do they have?

Looking at a player’s conversion rate through the course of his career and comparing it with that at Wigan provides food for thought.

Up until the start of the current season, Grant Holt had scored 180 goals in 467 appearances throughout his career, a conversion rate of 39%. Last season he scored 2 goals in 16 appearances for Latics, a conversion rate of 13%. Holt has played in all four divisions, but his conversion rate stayed around the same level in each. In two seasons of Premier League football with Norwich he scored 25 goals in 76 appearances, a conversion rate of 33%.

Holt tops the chart of career conversion rates for the current Wigan squad. But like Marc-Antoine  Fortune and James McClean his figures at Wigan compare unfavourably:

Goalchart3

Stats from Wikipedia. McManaman’s career stats include his loan spell at Blackpool.

It was rumoured that Latics were interested in Cameron Jerome from Stoke City, but the player has now signed for Norwich for a fee of around £2m. He has a career conversion rate of 22%.

Grant Holt is now 33 years old and although he is probably past his best he is a proven goalscorer. But not only has he become the object of abuse among fans on the social media, but he has been ostracized by his manager. Despite being among the highest wage earners at the club he has been sent to train with the under 21 squad and has no assigned team shirt number according to the club’s official website.

With his financial constraints Rosler may be unable to secure the services of a new player who has a proven goal scoring record. He may also be unable to offload Holt to another club before the transfer window ends at the end of the month.

If this becomes the case will Rosler consider waving an olive branch in Holt’s direction?

The big Cumbrian might not fit into the mould that Rosler requires, but a few goals over the coming months might well make him a target for other clubs in the January transfer window. Holt has made efforts to lose weight and surely would not want to be left out in the cold indefinitely.

Could Holt have a part to play over the coming months, even if only as an impact substitute?

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