Oldham (A) preview – another chance for homegrown talent?

This time a year ago Wigan Athletic sank to a 2-1 home defeat to Bury in the League Cup, just three days after losing their opening League 1 match at Coventry. They had been up 1-0 but their legs seemed to go two thirds of the way through the match and the Shakers took full advantage.

There was a suspicion of lack of fitness on Saturday too at Bristol, with Latics being sharp and positive in the first half, but abject in the second, unable to stem the flow of the home team’s attacks. Most supporters there put it down to Caldwell’s team being negative, trying to defend a 1-0 lead through a rearguard action. But were the majority of the players really prepared for 90 minutes of hard toil?

The League Cup tie at Oldham will give us more insight. Will the players who turn out be able to play full-on for 90 minutes? What kind of lineup and tactical formation will Gary Caldwell use?

The League Cup will surely be low in Caldwell’s priorities. But typically such occasions can provide opportunities for the fringe players. Tim Chow, Ryan Colclough, Donervon Daniels, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Michael Jacobs and Sam Morsy were on the bench at Bristol so we can expect them to start this evening. Jack Hendry will surely take a central defensive role, together with at least one of the three who started on Saturday. Jordan Flores can be expected to start too. Left back remains a problem position, given Reece James’ continued absence and Stephen Warnock’s pre-season injury, although he played at the weekend.

For the trip to the West Country, Caldwell could not call on Craig Davies, Emyr Huws, Reece James, Andy Kellett and Nick Powell because of injury. Should most of those continue to be unavailable will the manager give further opportunities to young talent developed within the club?

Caldwell deserves credit for giving the talented 18 year old full back, Luke Burke, his competitive match debut on Saturday. He could have played another senior squad player at wing back, even if it were not their best position. Burke responded by giving a fine display, showing remarkable composure when facing wave after wave of opposition attacks in the second half. Hats off to the manager for having faith in the player.

However, Caldwell missed the opportunity to give a young striker an opportunity on Saturday. Knowing that Will Grigg could not last the full game he put in Michael Jacobs, later replacing Yanic Wildschut with Ryan Colclough. Neither was effective. Both are wide players or creative midfielders who can be effective in the hole behind the centre forward. But strikers they are not.

Strikers are hot property and cost a lot. Rumour continues to suggest that Latics are willing to splash out money to sign Lee Gregory from Millwall. A very positive prospect. However, speculation persists regarding the 29 year old free agent, Ishmael Miller, who has a career goalscoring record akin to that of Marc Antoine Fortune. Caldwell could have used a big man like Miller on Saturday, someone to hold the ball up, to draw a foul, take pressure of his defence. But would a signing like that be better than giving home grown talent an opportunity?

The 18 year old James Barrigan is likely to be the next former youth team player to make his senior team debut, after being on the bench at Bristol. Development squad central striker Sam Cosgrove, 19, will probably make the squad tonight, although Nick Powell could be the starter assuming he has shaken off his groin injury. Development squad winger Danny O’Brien, 20, who has had loan spells at Chester and Wrexham could also make the squad.

Caldwell will look for a blend of youth and experience in his lineup tonight. Given his wont for shuffling between 3-5-2 and 4-3-3 it could be the latter formation, with Colclough, Powell and Barrigan the front three and Morsy, Chow and Flores in midfield.

Oldham were defeated 3-0 at Millwall at the weekend, but will be keen to renew their rivalry with Wigan. Latics v Latics is a Lancashire derby and we can expect some passion. Let’s hope Wigan Latics can not only play with commitment and pride, but do so for the full 90 minutes.

 

Latics’ legs go as Bury take advantage

Jordan Flores showed glimpses of genuine class on his debut in the starting lineup.

Jordan Flores showed glimpses of genuine class in his debut in the starting lineup.

“In the first half and at the start of the second half I think we played with the intensity that I know we can, we kept the ball well and gave it to our attacking players in the right areas. We got in their faces and made it very competitive throughout the first half, and came out with even more intensity in the second. “

Gary Caldwell was right about that. Some two thirds of the way through the match the Latics had started to flag. The early intensity and running off the ball had dissipated and it came as no real surprise when Leon Clarke headed his first goal from a left wing cross in the 63rd minute. Neither was Clarke’s second goal in the 89th minute as Bury had continued to threaten.

Caldwell fielded a 4-3-3 formation, akin to those of the Uwe Rosler era. Kevin McNaughton started at right back, with Leon Barnett partnering Craig Morgan in the centre of defence and Reece James on the left. Max Power, David Perkins and Jordan Flores made up the midfield, with Will Grigg at centre forward, Sanmi Odelusi on the right wing and Michael Jacobs on the left.

Wigan looked lively in the first half, with Jacobs marauding inside from the left, willing to take on defenders. However, the most clear cut chance came in the 33rd minute when Flores went on a long run from the half way line, rounding goalkeeper Walton in the six yard box before the keeper recovered to parry his shot. There was lots of running off the ball, with the players full of effort and commitment, but not surprisingly the players appeared to lack that telepathy which guides the final pass.

One wonders if Caldwell had told his players to make a point of running at the Bury defence as Jacobs did that straight from the kick off in the second half. He was upended in the box and Grigg hit home the penalty. It will do the centre forward a world of good, getting off the mark. He had been lively throughout and was soon to pull the ball back for Odelusi who spooned over the bar with the goal gaping.

Bury had by no means played badly by that stage. They were well organised and had played some good football. As the game moved on they looked so much more physically stronger than Wigan. Following Clarke’s first goal Latics had a throw in on the left hand side, at the half way line. There were four players close to the ball but not one made a run to receive it. The result was a short throw being made and Latics losing the ball. So many players had seemed to run out of steam with one third of the game still left.

Caldwell brought on Ryan Jennings after 70 minutes to replace the ineffective Odelusi. Grigg went off 8 minutes later for Craig Davies to enter. But neither substitution was to breathe further life into Wigan’s play. The substitution of Billy Mckay for Flores in the second minute of time added on seemed pointless, but somehow reminiscent of the treatment the Northern Ireland international received from Malky Mackay.

But there were positives for Wigan. Perkins shone, once again being the standout player. At 33 years of age he seemed to have the legs that his younger teammates lacked, covering acres of ground, solid in defence and with good distribution. Jacobs looks a good signing, with his willingness to take defenders on and to shoot. He has pace and determination. There were signs that Grigg and Jacobs will make a formidable pairing up front as their understanding of each other’s games improves. Both have skill has commitment and have enjoyed previous successes in League 1. McNaughton looked like an accomplished player throughout and will surely stake a claim for a regular starting berth. James performed well on the other flank.

Flores had a starting debut to remember, showing silky touches of genuine class, including that superb run on goal in the first half. Like any young player still learning the game, there were times when he switched off and made mistakes and by the end of the game he looked exhausted. Caldwell will have to decide how to develop the 19 year old further, whether to carefully nurture him within the club or to send him out on loan where he will get more game time. At any rate, Latics have got a player for the future in the Wigan lad who has a Spanish father and English mother.

It will be interesting to see if Caldwell sticks with 4-3-3 for the Doncaster match on Sunday. The centre of defence looked vulnerable to high balls in the second half and it led to two goals. Against teams with big, physically imposing forwards he might well opt for a line of three central defenders, including the powerful Donervon Daniels, who was on the bench last night. Moreover the return of Jason Pearce will surely strengthen the centre of defence. If Caldwell opts for three at the back it is to be hoped that he will play a 3-5-2 formation, rather than a 3-5-1-1 which leaves the centre forward isolated.

A home defeat to a team just promoted from League 2 can hardly be looked upon as a success. But few fans will bemoan an exit from a League Cup competition that adds extra games to a season that is already long and arduous.

Fans can accept last night’s result to some degree, knowing that Caldwell’s new team is a work in progress and the players need more game time together to develop that mutual understanding which enables good team play.

What is hard to accept or understand is why Bury looked so much fitter than Latics. The conspiracy theorists might say that Caldwell was not really interested in the League Cup and the players’ performances in the final third of the game reflected that. But the more likely explanation is that the visitors were simply physically fitter than Wigan.

Last year’s start of the season was marred by a disastrous pre-season programme that left the players largely unfit. Changes were clearly made this year, but the players still do not look fully fit. At the final pre-season match at Blackburn, Caldwell surprisingly made eight substitutions. Of the starting eleven at Coventry only three – Morgan, Perkins and Power – played the full 90 minutes at Blackburn.

The fitness issue at the beginning of the season goes back to Owen Coyle’s days. One can only hope that the people in charge of the physical preparation of the players at the club are getting it right this time around.

The Doncaster game will provide not only a glimpse into whether the players are starting to meld together as a team, but also whether they can match their opponents physically.

 

 

 

Youngsters to get their chance

What is the point of tonight’s match at the Etihad Stadium? Is there anything Wigan Athletic can gain from it, other than a share of gate revenue?

The League Cup meeting between Wigan Athletic and Manchester City was being built up as a repeat of the FA Cup final. Could David once again kill Goliath?

The media have now come to their senses. They now realize that Latics will be playing their third game in six days, let alone having been hit by injuries to both of their mainline central strikers and their playmaker.

The Citizens’ fan site Vital Manchester City reckons that Nick Powell will be the man to watch in the Latics side. The reality is that of all the players who might make the lineup tonight, Powell is one of the least likely. He played a full match against Ipswich on Sunday after playing for 83 minutes on his debut in Bruges last Thursday. To be fair to the fan site they do qualify their comments by stating that Powell “will need some shackling, if selected”.

Owen Coyle has rightly criticized the powers that be for their scheduling of the match. He has also said he will have to make “umpteen” changes, with a chance for some of the young players from the fringes of his squad.

In terms of the senior players, Coyle will not want to risk injuries with a difficult Championship fixture at Watford coming up on Saturday. On the other hand he will not want to run the risk of annihilation by putting out a team too short on experience.

His best option will be to look at putting in senior players who have not played major roles in the last two games. That rules out Scott Carson, Ryan Shotton, James Perch, James McArthur, James McClean, Nick Powell and Callum McManaman.

Even then Coyle will need to take a look at other players who made the lineup on Sunday, having to make a decision whether he is willing to risk them for another match only two days later. Emmerson Boyce was given a partial rest on Sunday, coming on as a substitute after 75 minutes. Ben Watson came on after 66 minutes in Belgium and played a full game on Sunday.

Senior players who clearly stand a chance of making the starting lineup include Stephen Crainey, Roger Espinoza, Fraser Fyvie, Jordi Gomez and Chris McCann. Juan Carlos Garcia is still adapting to his move from Honduras, but could be thrust in tonight at either left or centre back.

The names of “youngsters”  Lee Nicholls, Adam Buxton and Nouha Dicko have already been mentioned as possibilities for the lineup tonight. Nicholls is likely to replace Scott Carson in goal, with Buxton coming in at right back. Given the likely absence of other challengers Dicko could even end up in the centre forward position, where he has played before for the under-21 team.

Rob Kiernan is a promising young central defender, but Coyle might not want to expose him to dealing with the outstanding strikers that City can field. Jordan Mustoe deserves a chance at full back, as does Danny Redmond in midfield.

The emergence of the talented 19 year old Ross Barkley at Everton has had journalists praising Roberto Martinez for giving youth a chance. However, that was not always the case while he was at Wigan. The “youngsters” mentioned above are 21 to 22 years old. Their appearances with the senior side have been confined to cup matches against lower league opposition.

Coyle has a difficult task in putting together a team that can give Manchester City a contest tonight. At least three of the senior players he puts in the starting lineup are likely to be replaced in the second half, providing he does not have to make substitutions earlier due to injuries.

In the grander scheme of things the result of tonight’s match is of minor importance to Latics. The priorities are to get promotion out of the Championship and to put up a good show in the Europa League. However, Coyle will not want a whitewash that might damage morale within the club.

The most positive aspect is that opportunities will be given to young players – at long last!