Can Latics hold their nerve for automatic promotion?

In March 2014 Uwe Rosler’s Wigan Athletic team were challenging for a playoff place in the Championship division. During that month they went on to amass 14 points from their 7 games, losing only one by a 1-0 margin at QPR. They looked odds-on to reach that playoff place, which they did finally achieve, but not without a stutter as they picked up just 11 points from their last 9 matches.

Rosler’s team had peaked too early and just could not maintain their form over the final six weeks of the season. They put up spirited displays in the semi-final of the playoffs against QPR, but just could not show the kind of intensity they had shown a couple of months earlier.

Gary Caldwell’s team too has been peaking, going on a 14 game unbeaten run. Their last defeat was against Blackpool on December 12th. Have they peaked too early? Can they hold their nerve and get an automatic promotion place?

Burton Albion’s defeat at Bradford on Tuesday evening could well prove to be a turning point for what remains of the season. They still stand four points ahead of Wigan Athletic, but significantly they no longer have games in hand. After being so consistent for so long is there a chink in Burton’s armour? They have now only won one out of their last five matches.

The most optimistic of Wigan Athletic fans are now seriously talking about their team winning the division. Burton have some tricky fixtures coming up in the final 11 games of the season. Four of those are against teams currently in the top six promotion zone – Millwall (A), Latics (H), Barnsley (H) and Gillingham (H).

Other than having to play at Burton, Latics have to play just one other team from the current top six – Barnsley (H) on the last day of the season.

This current Wigan Athletic team is capable of beating any other team in team in League 1, Burton included. They are have the capability to go the remainder of the season unbeaten. But they are also capable of producing poor results against teams they would be expected to beat. In recent home games they have failed to beat struggling Oldham and Peterborough and a 1-1 draw at Crewe in late January was disappointing.  But it was the shock 1-0 home defeat to Blackpool in mid-December that sparked the surging run they are on at the moment.

In their last 6 league games Latics have won 3 and drawn 3, an average of 2 points per game. Of the other teams in the top six only Barnsley have done better with 13 points, followed by Millwall on 11 points, Burton on 8, Gillingham on 5 and Walsall on 3.

Looking at stats for games played up to this point  it looks like the teams gaining automatic promotion this season will need less points than has been the norm over the past decade. It has been the kind of season where teams are closer in level, where they can quickly climb up or abruptly slide down the table within half a dozen games. However, for Latics to gain automatic promotion they are likely to need at least 86 points. That would require an average of 2 points in each of the remaining eleven matches.

Tomorrow’s game at Colchester is another of those potential banana skins upon which Latics have slipped several times this season. In their last six games Colchester’s record is LDLDWL. They lie in bottom place ten points from safety and have won just three home games this season.

All teams tend to have injury problems at this time of year and Wigan Athletic are no exception. Michael Jacobs and Reece James have been out long term and are still recuperating. Jussi Jaaskelainen is likely to return following concussion received against Peterborough, but both Conor McAleny and Jason Pearce are doubtful for tomorrow.

Caldwell commented this week that  “Whilst it’s a big disappointment to have players out, it’s an opportunity for other players to come in and show what they can do. It’s up to those players who haven’t been playing but have been asking to play and wanting to play to be ready for the opportunities.”

One of those players the manager could be referring to is Kevin McNaughton, who completed a full 90 minutes for the development squad on Tuesday. The Scot may not start at Colchester but could come on later in the game. Haris Vuckic is also due to reappear at some stage.

In addition to potential injuries Caldwell is likely to lose Will Grigg to the Northern Ireland squad for their friendly matches on March 24 and 28. Craig Davies is the obvious replacement, although he has not completed a full game for a long time.

Now is the time for Latics to hold their nerve and let the other teams cut each other’s throats. A late season dip in form like that which happened to Rosler’s team is what they must guard against.

 

 

 

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Warnock – a great signing for Latics

Warnock

The “New Era” recruitment team at Wigan Athletic already had an impressive record, but the announcement of the signing of Stephen Warnock is really the icing on the cake. Warnock turned 34 in December and his loan signing might be short term, but with over 200 career appearances at Premier League level he will surely have much to offer in League 1.

The long term injury to Reece James and a two game suspension  for Chris McCann left Gary Caldwell short of options at left back/left wing back. Against Peterborough on Saturday he moved Reece Wabara across from the right to play there, while McCann was rested on the bench.  The 22 year old Andy Kellett had been signed as the back-up left sided defender, but in most of his appearances he has been played further forward. Moreover Kellett has been dogged by injury. His last first team appearance was against Gillingham in early January.

Warnock was born in Ormskirk and has two caps for England. He came through the Liverpool youth system, going through loan spells at Bradford City and Coventry City when in his early twenties. He went on to make 40 Premier League appearances for Liverpool before moving on to Blackburn and Aston Villa, subsequently dropping down to the Championship in 2012 with a loan move to Bolton. He was then to move on to Leeds United before signing for Derby County in January 2015.

Warnock has made 30 appearances in the Championship for the Rams, but the arrival of a new manager in January has seen his first team opportunities become limited.

With James still injured and McCann serving a two match suspension we can expect Warnock to go straight in the team for the visit to Colchester on Saturday. Moreover his arrival gives Caldwell more flexibility in being able to use McCann in the centre of defence or midfield.

The performance on Saturday was surely affected by losing three players to injury by half time. Jussi Jaaskelainen and Jason Pearce are key players in the promotion push and Caldwell will be hoping they will be back for Saturday. He will also hope that Conor McAleny will be back soon, although he has an obvious replacement in Haris Vuckic. Kevin McNaughton is getting closer to full fitness and will surely challenge Reece Wabara and Donervon Daniels for the right back position over the coming weeks. A back four of McNaughton, Craig Morgan, Pearce and Warnock would rank among the most experienced and accomplished in the division.

When Michael Jacobs was in injured at Crewe at the end of January it looked like Latics would be short on creativity, although the signing of Ryan Colclough has certainly helped. However, Jacobs was one of the main driving forces in the new era side until his injury, one of the best attacking midfielders in the division.

The return of Jacobs, apparently still a couple of weeks away in terms of fitness, together with the advent of Warnock could be crucial in the bid for promotion.

Warnock is a terrific addition to the squad, albeit with just 11 league games to go.

Will injuries haunt Caldwell?

Roberto Martinez had bad luck with injuries in his final season at Wigan. Will Gary Caldwell prove more fortunate in his promotion push?

Roberto Martinez had bad luck with injuries in his final season at Wigan. Will Gary Caldwell prove more fortunate in his promotion push?

Antolin Alcaraz and Ivan Ramis are now playing for UD Las Palmas and Eibar in the Primera Division of La Liga. Both were fine centre backs in their time, strong in defence and comfortable on the ball.  In fact they were the kinds of players that Roberto Martinez liked to have in the centre of his defence.

Ramis was signed from Real Mallorca in the summer of 2012, to supplement the centre of defence of a team that had beaten the best in England in the final months of the previous season.  Alcaraz had starred in that run, playing in a backline of three with Gary Caldwell and Maynor Figueroa. Ramis had a fine record in La Liga and looked an excellent signing by Martinez. The squad that Martinez had built up was probably the strongest Wigan Athletic had had in their history. Our hopes were high as the season approached.

The Paraguayan and Spaniard played together in the centre of defence for the first three games of the season, a 2-0 home loss to Chelsea being followed by an away win by the same margin at Southampton and a resounding 4-1 League Cup victory at Nottingham Forest. But that was to be the last match in which they featured together. Alcaraz had picked up an injury and did not return to first team action until February. In his absence Ramis stablished himself as a regular, solid in defence, with excellent distribution.  Sadly Ramis’ season was to end in January when he picked up an anterior cruciate knee injury at Fulham.

Injuries to key players were to be the main factor in Wigan Athletic’s relegation from the Premier League that season. Indeed by the time the FA Cup Final came in May, Martinez was deprived of not only Ramis, but also of fellow central defenders Gary Caldwell and Maynor Figueroa and wing back Jean Beausejour. Midfielders Roger Espinoza and James McArthur were to be employed as wing backs, with a back three of Alcaraz, Emmerson Boyce and Paul Scharner. But, not surprisingly, the energy dissipated in that fabulous victory was to be lacking three days later when the 4-1 defeat at Arsenal sent Latics to the Championship.

Neither Alcaraz nor Ramis was able to reach their peak form again in the future. Martinez was to take Alcaraz with him to Everton, but the big Paraguayan was to struggle with injury and poor form, his release at the end of last season proving no surprise. Following a long period of recuperation Ramis had some good moments under Owen Coyle and Uwe Rosler, but niggling injuries were to constantly plague him. He was subsequently released by Malky Mackay in January 2015 to join Levante in La Liga.

Both UD Las Palmas and Eibar would have known of the two players’ injury issues prior to signing them this summer. Each signed a one year deal.  They are clearly calculated gambles by newly promoted clubs looking for experienced central defenders to do a short term job for them in a highly competitive league. Up to this point Alcaraz has played in all five league games for UD and Ramis in the first four for Eibar.

Gary Caldwell’s acquisition of Kevin McNaughton was also a calculated gamble. McNaughton has been a fine player in his time in the Premier League and Championship, but injury meant he only made 9 appearances for Bolton Wanderers last season. The 32 year old had fallen out of favour with Neil Lennon who had been critical of the player’s fitness. McNaughton’s his misery was compounded by a fractured fibula at the beginning of March in a match against Reading. It had been his first start since October. McNaughton is on a one year contract at Wigan.

Given the return to Everton of Jonjoe Kenny following a two month loan, Caldwell will be hoping that McNaughton will make a swift recovery from the hamstring injury that has kept him out since the Gillingham game a month ago. In the meantime he will either look for an out-of-contract or loan signing to provide further cover at right back/wing back, although midfielders Tim Chow and Max Power have experience in that position.

Caldwell took a bigger gamble in signing the 29 year old Craig Davies from Bolton on a two year contract. The big striker has had his fill of injury problems in his career, but none more than last season when he was restricted to just three starts from the turn of the year following a succession of hamstring problems.

After a series of excellent displays Davies missed the Fleetwood match with a hamstring injury. However, Caldwell explained to Wigan Today that:

“We knew his history when we signed him, and I have to say the fitness coaches and the physios have done magnificent with him. The actual injury he has now is on the other leg and is very minor for a hamstring injury. We’re looking after him very well and I’m sure he’ll be back stronger than ever.”

At his best, Davies is surely among the top central strikers in League 1. The question is whether he can overcome his hamstring problems and stay fit.

Other than McNaughton and Davies, Latics were also without Will Grigg, Francisco Junior, Craig Morgan and Haris Vuckic and for the Fleetwood game.

Grigg has torn ligaments in his elbow and missed the Fleetwood match after previously being away for international duty.  Morgan damaged his shoulder against Crewe on August 29th and Vuckic injured his ankle at Port Vale.

Junior has not played for a month due to a muscle injury, having been substituted at half time at Gillingham.

All of the six would surely challenge for a place in the starting line-up were they fit.

Injuries can make or break a club’s season, as Martinez found out in 2012-13.

It is to be hoped that Caldwell will have more good fortune in this regard than his ex-boss. Given their recent history Davies and McNaughton will have a challenge on their hands to regain their fitness and maintain it over the course the season. Caldwell and his coaches know that and will carefully monitor the two players’ fitness.

In the meantime Caldwell will be hoping that there will be no long term injuries to key players this season. Latics have had more than their fair share of those over recent years. Maybe the pendulum will turn in their favour this time around?

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Kevin McNaughton – a Bolton and Cardiff fan view

Soccer - Pre Season Friendly - Cardiff CIty v Celtic - Cardiff City Stadium

Kevin McNaughton signed for Wigan Athletic yesterday on a one year contract.

McNaughton was released by Cardiff City this summer, after spending the last season on loan at Bolton.

In order to learn more about McNaughton’s time at Bolton we reached out to Chris Mann  of the Burnden Aces fan site http://www.burndenaces.co.uk (Twitter @BurndenAces )

So here’s over to Chris:

After a summer of uncertainty, Kevin McNaughton today committed his future to Wigan Athletic.

Having fallen out-of-favour at Cardiff City, McNaughton joined Bolton on a three-month loan spell in September 2013 and impressed so much that he immediately returned to the Bluebirds defence upon his return to the Welsh capital.
His new-found lease of life at Cardiff didn’t last long, however, and he was back with Wanderers in July 2014 – this time on a season-long loan – as then-boss Dougie Freedman landed a target that had previously served him well.
McNaughton started the campaign as first-choice right-back, but a troublesome hamstring injury put him out of the side soon after Neil Lennon’s arrival at the club.
With Wanderers struggling for options at the back, fans questioned the manager’s decision to continually overlook McNaughton for a place in the squad. In response, Lennon revealed he wasn’t happy with the player’s efforts in training but then, surprisingly, threw him straight back into the side the following weekend.
After a four-month exile, McNaughton looked to have earned a second chance under Lennon but was cruelly struck down with a broken leg in the following game and ruled out for the remainder of the campaign.
All things considered, the majority of Bolton fans took pretty well to McNaughton. He has his limitations, which are to be expected at 32 years of age, but you could never fault him for effort, something which many young players severely lack these days.
We wish him well at Wigan, even though I’m a little surprised he didn’t get snapped up by a Championship club. Had luck been on his side last season, he may well have earned himself a deal with Bolton. Unfortunately, for him, a new manager came in and didn’t have the same opinion as his predecessor.

 

We had previously learned about McNaughton’s time at Cardiff through Benjamin James of the View from the Ninian fan site.

What to say about Kevin McNaughton?

A player who most, if not all Cardiff fans, would have gladly kept. A player who came in unheralded and went on to become one of the most revered players of recent times. The very definition of a club legend.

The image of him on the pitch after our promotion to the Premier League is iconic – he, out of all those players in the squad, deserved it more than most. Near misses and play-off disappointments were felt most by him.

It looked as if for all the years he had given us, he was going to miss out on some Premier League action; a loan to Bolton looked to signal the end of his career at Cardiff City. But he returned and I was so happy that he got to play in the Prem for us.

Wigan have signed a player who will build an incredible rapport with the fans. You’ve signed a player who will leave it all on the pitch. You’ve signed a player who will be invaluable to the dressing room – if you want someone to dress up as Dangermouse, he will be the first to do it.

I’ve seen him knock himself out in consecutive games, take out lino’s in his quest to get to the ball and outpace the quickest of players.

I can’t think of a bad word to say about him and I know I’m not alone in this. In an ideal world, Kev would have seen out his career with us. He became a true fan favourite in his nine years with the club and he will be missed.

He’s played all across the back four and even in midfield at points. He’s seen the best of times and some of the worst yet he’s stayed as consistent as ever. I really hope he succeeds at Wigan and Wigan succeed with him – he deserves nothing less.  

A Cardiff fan’s view of Kevin McNaughton

Soccer - Pre Season Friendly - Cardiff CIty v Celtic - Cardiff City Stadium

It has been announced that  32 year old Kevin McNaughton has signed for Wigan Athletic on a one year contract, following a trial period at the club.

Given the youthful nature of his squad Gary Caldwell will be looking for some more experience and McNaughton can certainly provide it, having played more than 450 games in his career. McNaughton made his debut for Latics in the pre-season match at Southport and subsequently played against Dundee and Blackburn Rovers.

The 5 ft 10 in McNaughton was born in Dundee, but came up through the Aberdeen youth system. He made his debut for the Dons as an 18 year old and was to make 175 appearances over 5 seasons.

McNaughton signed for Cardiff City in summer 2006 and manager Dave Jones used him regularly as a left back in the 2006-07 season. The following season saw him switched to right back and he played in all six matches in Cardiff’s run to the 2008 FA Cup final. His following season was dogged by injury but he reclaimed his place in the 2010-11 season when he was voted Player of the Year.

In September 2013 McNaughton went on loan to Bolton Wanderers, making 13 appearances during a three month stay. He went back to Cardiff in January and played in a handful of Premier League games by the end of the season.  Last season saw McNaughton return to Bolton on loan, where he made 8 appearances. He had made 254 appearances for Cardiff before being released this summer.

In order to learn more about McNaughton’s time at Cardiff we reached out to Benjamin James of the View from the Ninian fan site.

Here’s over to Ben:

What to say about Kevin McNaughton?

A player who most, if not all Cardiff fans, would have gladly kept. A player who came in unheralded and went on to become one of the most revered players of recent times. The very definition of a club legend.

The image of him on the pitch after our promotion to the Premier League is iconic – he, out of all those players in the squad, deserved it more than most. Near misses and play-off disappointments were felt most by him.

It looked as if for all the years he had given us, he was going to miss out on some Premier League action; a loan to Bolton looked to signal the end of his career at Cardiff City. But he returned and I was so happy that he got to play in the Prem for us.

Wigan have signed a player who will build an incredible rapport with the fans. You’ve signed a player who will leave it all on the pitch. You’ve signed a player who will be invaluable to the dressing room – if you want someone to dress up as Dangermouse, he will be the first to do it.

I’ve seen him knock himself out in consecutive games, take out lino’s in his quest to get to the ball and outpace the quickest of players.

I can’t think of a bad word to say about him and I know I’m not alone in this. In an ideal world, Kev would have seen out his career with us. He became a true fan favourite in his nine years with the club and he will be missed.

He’s played all across the back four and even in midfield at points. He’s seen the best of times and some of the worst yet he’s stayed as consistent as ever. I really hope he succeeds at Wigan and Wigan succeed with him – he deserves nothing less.