Goalscoring drought to end against Derby?

George Graham once said: “The goalkeeper is the jewel in the crown and getting at him should be almost impossible. It’s the biggest sin in football to make him do any work.”

His comment reflects the old adage that if the opposition doesn’t score then you don’t lose. But what Graham did not mention is the corollary “If you don’t score you can’t win.”

Wigan Athletic have failed to score in four of their last five home games. All four ended up in defeats. In fact their home record this season of W2 D8 L10 is arguably the worst in the club’s history. They have not won a single home game since Malky Mackay’s arrival in November.

Despite the lack of goals in those home games, Mackay has stuck to the same formula. A 4-4-2 system that is attacking in intent, but ineffective in its execution. Too often the central strikers have not looked remotely like scoring a goal and the wide men have not only been poor in their delivery but also negligent in their defensive duties. The best wide man, James McClean, who both attacks and defends with gusto, has been largely played out of position as a central striker. One can only hope that Mackay will let the Irishman play what will most probably his final six games at Wigan in his natural position.

The 4-4-2 formation has just not worked in home games, but Mackay has stuck with it. On his arrival he had played with a lone centre forward system, which many fans thought was attributing to a low scoring record. Perhaps Mackay’s main concession to the fans was to introduce the 4-4-2 for which many canvassed through the message boards and social media.

However, with just two men in central midfield Latics have too often been outnumbered by the opposition. Moreover the repeated failure of wide men to provide adequate defensive cover has left the defence too often open to counterattacks. Two of the wide men Mackay has used are still novices in first team football, young players learning their trade. Joining a team in a relegation struggle is far from ideal for either them or the club.

Derby County come to the DW Stadium hungry for points following a disappointing run of results. Having been challenging for an automatic promotion spot they now find themselves struggling to maintain a place in the playoff zone, currently occupying sixth position on goal difference ahead of Ipswich and Wolves.

The run has coincided with the absence of leading scorer Chris Martin, although he made a comeback as a substitute in their 2-2 draw against 10 man Watford on Good Friday. It looks like he will make the starting lineup tomorrow.

Derby coach Paul Simpson has let it be known that he expects it to be a scrappy game tomorrow. Given the recent state of the DW pitch and that there was a rugby game on it on Friday he is likely to be right. Derby are a footballing side who resist the long ball that can be the wont of too many Championship teams.They will find the pitch frustrating. But so too will Wigan.

The bad state of the pitch can hardly have helped Wigan Athletic over recent weeks. The old phrase “It’s the same for both teams” rings true in many ways, but to play on a surface like that regularly surely wears you down. So often this season we have seen experienced and capable players fail to control a ball or make an accurate pass. Much of that in the past was down to a lack of confidence in a team with low morale. Now the pitch also plays a part.

Is Mackay capable of making a paradigm shift in terms of his tactics and personnel at this late stage of the season?

The midfield needs to be stiffened up with an extra player if Derby are going to be denied possession. William Kvist surely deserves a place in the starting lineup. Chris McCann is almost a forgotten man but was a lychpin of Rosler’s success last season. Providing he is over his injury niggles he could have an important role to play. A trio of Kvist, McCann and Kim Bo Kyung could provide the balance needed to counteract a strong Derby midfield. Emmerson Boyce has given his all in recent games, but needs a rest. James Perch would drop back to replace him.

McClean should be played in his natural position on the wing and Martyn Waghorn might finally get the nod from Mackay to team up with the controversial MAF.

Whether the unbending Mackay is up to such changes is open to debate. The worst case scenario is that he continues with the same formula that has not worked at the DW for months.

A win tomorrow would put Latics back into contention. A draw or defeat would be a sign that relegation is around the corner.

Clear-out needed – Rotherham (H) match reaction

Will Mackay give the likes of Oriel Riera an extended run in the team?

Will Mackay give the likes of Oriol Riera an extended run in the team?

Once again Malky Mackay kept faith in the “old guard” and once again they let him down. Rotherham had not won a game since mid-October but they were good enough to beat a woeful Latics side. Once again Mackay’s team selection raised doubts, let alone the tactics on the pitch. Latics are going from bad to worse.

Mackay once again stuck with the old guard. There were just two Rosler signings in the starting lineup – Don Cowie and Andrew Taylor – both of whom were part of the manager’s previous old guard at Cardiff. Andy Delort was not even on the bench, after appearing in the 88th and 86th minutes of the previous two games. Was he injured or did his quotes in the French media upset the boss?

Mackay continues to shoot himself in the foot. James McClean has pace and power and cannot be faulted for his physical effort. But does he have the attributes to become a central striker? Physical effort needs to be matched by its mental equivalent, something the hard-working Irishman did not show in the first half when he was caught offside three times.

Perhaps Mackay was yielding to fan pressure when he brought on Marc-Antoine Fortune after 53 minutes for Shaun Maloney. Two central strikers on the pitch at the same time was something so many fans have been hoping for, but was the Rotherham goalkeeper going to be seriously tested by a pairing of McClean and Fortune?

In the event that partnership only lasted ten minutes until Oriol Riera was brought on for Cowie. The Spaniard went close near the end with a header that hit the crossbar, but would be better employed not having to fight for seemingly aimless long balls coming from defence and goalkeeper.

Mackay had chosen a one-paced midfield of Don Cowie, Chris McCann and Ben Watson. Cowie is well into his thirties and the other two have surely been brought in too early after long-term injuries. However, when he took off Cowie he reverted to a 4-2-4 system with two wingers and two central strikers. Not surprisingly the visitors became increasingly dangerous on the counterattack as he second half proceeded.

The time has come for the dissolution of the old guard. It would be true to say that most of the players signed by Rosler have not performed anywhere near the level expected of them. But Rosler created problems by bringing in ten new players over the summer, swelling the first team squad up to thirty. The end result was that he was unable to give so many of them the regular playing time they needed.

Rosler’s signings have come under a lot of criticism for their performances up to this point. Some fans have already written them off. In the podcast recently put on fan sites Mackay talked about the good young players he had at his disposal, including the 25 year old McClean in that category. Interestingly the name of Emyr Huws did not appear in the names he mentioned. The young Welshman made a positive start under Rosler until an ankle injury impeded his progress. Like Adam Forshaw he is a bright young talent. Let’s hope he has not disappeared off Mackay’s radar.

Latics need to start to rebuild a younger team. The old guard has had its day and Latics need to look at the future. The likes of Delort, Forshaw, Huws, Riera and Tavernier need to be given extended runs in the team. Moreover they need to be played in their best positions. For Delort it means playing him alongside another central striker, for Tavernier playing as either a wing back or a wide midfield player.

Although he never played badly for Latics the experienced Denmark captain, William Kvist, has been left out in the cold. Would a midfield of Kvist, Forshaw and Huws have done any worse than Cowie, McCann and Watson yesterday?

Somehow a new manager has come in and nothing much has changed on the pitch. If anything things have got worse and the level of football Latics are playing is poor even compared with the dark days of long ball under Owen Coyle.

Unless Mackay has a paradigm shift in his thinking, things are unlikely to get any better. Dave Whelan is unlikely to trust him with big money in the January transfer window and his new players are likely to be loan signings, plus Grant Holt.

The ball is firmly in Mackay’s court. Following yesterday’s game he was quoted as saying:

“It’s their [the fans] club, we’re custodians and I’ll do everything that I can to make them proud of us, make no mistake about that.”

The patience of those fans is being sorely tested. Is Mackay capable of making them proud of his team?

The jury is out on that one.

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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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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Off to Blackburn in a mood of buoyant optimism

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It seems a long time has passed since the last away game. In fact it was a month ago when Latics went to Charlton in an air of uncertainty following a League Cup exit to Burton Albion. Uwe Rosler’s honeymoon period as manager reached its end when Charlton snatched the points with a freaky last minute goal.

In contrast Latics go to Blackburn tomorrow in a mood of buoyant optimism. Ewood Park has rarely been a happy hunting ground for Latics and there might well be another adverse result, but fans are now more confident about what lies beyond. As a result of recent transfer activity Rosler has built a formidable squad, with quality players competing for places in every position.

One of the questions fans are now asking is whether Rosler will revert to his squad rotation mode after keeping a consistent starting lineup in the last three matches. Moreover will he stick with that same 3-5-2 formation that has produced improved results? Will he bring in his new signings: Andy Delort, Andy Forshaw and William Kvist?

Squad rotation is a prickly issue with many supporters. Those opposed to it will cite the example of Burnley who won promotion after sticking to a consistent starting eleven throughout the course of the season. In fact, Burnley used 23 different players in league games last season. However, three players – Tom Heaton, David Jones and Jason Shackell – started in all 46. Moreover another seven started in 37 games or more.

In contrast Wigan used 34 players in the league last year. However, in all competitions they played 11 matches more than Burnley over the course of the season. Leon Barnett and Emmerson Boyce both started in 39 games, James Perch in 38 and James McArthur in 37.

Rosler will cite the example of Alex Ferguson, who never picked the same team twice. He remains a fan of squad rotation, dating back to his formative years as a player under Otto Rehhagel at Kaiserslautern. Rehhagel is one most successful coaches in German football history, but perhaps better known as the coach of the dour Greek side that won the European Championship in 2004. However, Rehhagel won the Bundesliga with Kaiserslautern in 1998 with a newly promoted team that attacked with verve and seemed to have hidden depths of energy. Rehhagel operated a rotation system, with the result that all players in the squad felt involved and had a part to play. The result was a strong team spirit.

Given his previous history and the fact that he now has a very strong and well balanced squad, Rosler is likely to continue his rotations. However, most fans will hope that he will not be making wholesale changes in consecutive matches. There is the alternative of giving a player a run of games, then resting him.

For tomorrow’s match Rosler will most likely field a similar lineup to the team that beat Birmingham some two weeks ago. If he continues to opt for 3-5-2 he will probably choose between Ivan Ramis and Leon Barnett to play alongside Emmerson Boyce and Rob Kiernan in the back line of three. The heading ability of Barnett could be a useful tool against Blackburn who play with two big men upfront.

Kiernan continues to have the backing of the manager, having kept his place despite more experienced central defenders challenging him for a place. The ex-Watford player is particularly strong in coming forward to intercept balls before they reach the strikers. Moreover his passing from defence is getting better and better. Last time Latics played at Ewood at the end of last season they were undone by the central strikers, the 6’ 4” Frenchman Rudy Gestede and the 6’1” Scot Jordan Rhodes, whom they are likely to face again tomorrow.

Of the new players neither Delort nor Forshaw is likely to be match fit, although one or both could appear on the bench. However, William Kvist has played two games in the past week for Denmark. He played a full 90 minutes in the friendly against Turkey, followed by 74 minutes in the European Championship win against Armenia.

Despite the loss of James McArthur, Rosler has options in midfield. He might be tempted to put a solid wall in front of his defence by including Kvist alongside Cowie in holding midfield, pushing Emyr Huws further forward.

James McClean has recovered from injury, although he is not yet fully match fit. He could well come off the bench for Callum McManaman at some stage of the proceedings.

Blackburn have beaten Latics in 6 of the last 7 matches at Ewood Park, in all competitions. They are currently level with Wigan having 7 points from 5 games.

Given past history and the strength of Blackburn’s squad, tomorrow is likely to prove a difficult test. Latics can expect a strong physical challenge from the home side with balls raining in to their penalty box.

Physical fitness has been problematic for Rosler’s squad so far this season. Tomorrow represents an acid test.

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