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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Barnett and Ramis can control the rollercoaster – Wolves preview

The season has been like an uncomfortable rollercoaster ride for Wigan Athletic, with some ups but too many downs. The downs have been quite depressing, characterized by low tempo football with little creativity and defensive weaknesses. In terms of performances there have been two “ups”, with a resounding first half display in a 4-0 defeat of Birmingham City and remarkably a 0-0 draw against Nottingham Forest.

A few weeks ago when the season started Latics fans would have had higher expectations of the clash with Forest. Last year Owen Coyle’s team beat them 2-1 at the DW to be followed up by a 4-1 win at the City Ground by Uwe Rosler’s side. Was this performance against Forest really an ‘up’ or was it really a higher ‘down’ than Latics have had in recent weeks?

It has been a rollercoaster ride for the fans above all. The disappointment of a draw and three losses in the first four games was tempered by two successive victories and promising activity in the transfer market. There was genuine optimism before the visit to Blackburn, but that dissipated following three losses and a draw in the next four games. The level of frustration of the fans was high and it led to hyperactivity on the fans forums and social media from the new darksiders, the keyboard warriors who wanted Rosler’s head on a platter.

Rumours were rife that Rosler was on his way out, but a show of support from Dave Whelan provided the German and his squad with the tonic they needed. The display against Forest was laden with the kind of physical endeavour that propelled Latics into the playoffs and cup semifinal some six months ago. It had been sadly lacking in recent weeks. Rumours about a divided dressing room and unprofessional behaviour from certain players were blown away by the chanting of “Uwe, Uwe” by the crowd at the end of the game.

Rosler will certainly be buoyed by the commitment showed by his team on Tuesday and by the backing of both chairman and fans. But then again, a football manager is above all judged on results. Latics will clearly have to start climbing the table or the manager’s future will be finite. Whelan has shown himself to be ruthless if he believes a manager cannot hack it. Rosler will surely know that.

An away game at Molineux is never going to be easy. Moreover Wolves are smarting from a surprise 3-1 defeat that broke an unbeaten home record in the calendar year. That it should be lowly Huddersfield Town who inflicted the defeat was a bit of a shock. But that Huddersfield’s star man was Grant Holt was even more so.

James McClean took the limelight against Forest with an all action display, but there were other players who also raised their games. The midfield was particularly improved, but the centre of defence looked more solid than it has done for weeks. In the absence of the injured Rob Kiernan, Rosler opted for the experience of Emmerson Boyce and Ivan Ramis, who teamed up well before Boyce had to go off injured at the end of the first half. However, the introduction of Leon Barnett in the second half made it look even stronger.

Barnett is a player who is tailor-made for the Championship division. He is rugged and competitive and is more than a match physically for any opposition forward. He is a superb header of a ball. His absence this season has made the defence more vulnerable to the aerial bombardments employed by so many Championship teams. Moreover Barnett is also dangerous in the opposing penalty box, as evidenced by his five goals last season. Latics have not looked so threatening this year from set pieces, partly through mediocre delivery, but also through lack of aggression of the big men thrust forward. Barnett has his weaknesses, his passing in particular, but after playing for two clubs that got promoted out of the Championship he knows the league and what is expected.

On his day Ramis is probably the best central defender in the division. Since his return to fitness he has become an ever-present in Rosler’s starting lineup, although never hitting his top form until an excellent display against Forest. He is a totally different type of central defender to Barnett, often preferring to bide his time before making vital interceptions and tackles. Few defenders in the Premier League can match the quality of his distribution of the ball.

Barnett and Ramis have the complementary strengths that can make them an awesome pairing at Championship level. They can provide the backbone that Latics need to gain that defensive solidity they have so far lacked.

For tomorrow’s game Boyce is out of the reckoning, but Kiernan may well be available. Putting a young central defender in the team when the team is playing well is one thing, but putting him into a struggling team has probably not helped Kiernan’s confidence.

With Don Cowie likely to be ruled out through injury, Rosler is likely to bring the more attack-minded Adam Forshaw into midfield. However, away from home he will be looking for defensive solidity first and foremost.

Ex-Latics striker Nouha Dicko will be keen to give Wigan’s central defence a hard time. It remains to be seen who will make up the central defensive partnership for Latics and whether there will be two of them or three. Following a promising performance with a regular back four, Rosler might well want to stick with that same formula. He will also have to decide whether to continue with his two natural wingers, Callum McManaman and James McClean, away from home. He has the option of playing Martyn Waghorn wide. Andy Delort and Oriel Riera will compete for the centre forward spot.

So what is next for Latics in this rollercoaster season? Wolves have come up from League 1 full of confidence and will provide tough opposition. An adverse result would most likely put Latics into the drop zone.

No matter what the result tomorrow the season still has a long way to go. With a central defensive partnership of Leon Barnett and Ivan Ramis long term prospects would look brighter. They can help provide control for that rollercoaster.

 

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Latics set to turn the tide against Blackpool

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Both teams are in need of a win in tomorrow’s confrontation at the DW Stadium. Blackpool have won only one of their last 13 matches, that being at the DW Stadium at the end of April. Latics have only won one in their last 10. Moreover Wigan Athletic have not beaten Blackpool since the year 2000.

Given those statistics it looks like anything might happen tomorrow and many fans are nervous about the result. However, Wigan have a far superior squad and come off the back of two narrow losses in difficult away games in the league. Charlton are a team transformed by Belgian manager Bob Peeters. They play good football and they showed that their win against Latics was no fluke by beating Derby County in midweek. The away game at Cardiff was always going to be difficult against a team that has a strong home record.

Uwe Rosler has patiently built up his squad over the summer, whereas Blackpool have been at rock bottom, with barely enough players to field a team some three weeks ago. The pre-season for Rosler did not go to plan, with too many players picking up niggling injuries preventing them from training, together with others still trying to overcome injuries received last season. The end result has been a team that has been unable to stay physically competitive for 90 minutes. Moreover there has been a lack of cohesion, mainly through having two new players into midfield. The mutual understanding between players in the midfield and up front has been noticeably lacking.

In the last two games Latics have had the majority of possession, without creating clear cut chances or making enough shots on goal. Sensibly Rosler has insisted his side, which has been struggling for fitness, maintain possession rather than hoof the ball as has been their wont on past occasions.

With every game Latics are going to get fitter and fitter. Moreover that mutual understanding between players will improve. Hopefully the end result will be a competitive side that can threaten the opposition’s defence.

Latics played their 3-5-2 formation at Cardiff with Marc-Antoine Fortune and Callum McManaman up front. The defence was obviously tighter but once again few chances were created and they recorded only one shot on target. They had played 4-3-3 at Charlton.

As far as creating chances are concerned it is not so much the formation that Latics have been playing, but that the midfield has not been getting forward sufficiently, leaving the central strikers isolated. Having conceded two goals in each of the first two league games Rosler would have been keen to tighten up his defence at Cardiff. The downside of that is wing backs and central midfielders not getting forward sufficiently to support the attack.

As always it is hard to predict the lineup that Rosler will put forward. However, Leon Barnett is overdue an appearance in defence, as is Roger Espinoza in midfield. He might be tempted to bring on James Tavernier at some stage to provide more attacking spark on the right of defence.

When Latics played Blackpool at home in April many of us expected a resounding win over the Tangerines. On the day Latics produced an abject and lifeless performance. Tiredness resulting from a marathon of matches led to a decline in results as the playoffs approached and although Latics played with spirit against QPR it was not enough to get them to the next stage. They still have not psychologically and physically recovered.

Tomorrow is an ideal opportunity for Latics to get back on to a winning track. Blackpool are in disarray and there for the taking. Most Latics fans would be happy with a 1-0 victory, but there are possibilities for more.

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Barnsley v Wigan Athletic Preview – the Coyle revolution put to the test

How times have changed.

Less than a year ago Wigan Athletic were entertaining Chelsea in the opening match of last season’s Premier League campaign. On Saturday they travel to Barnsley to open their Championship season.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since that encounter with the London giants. Wigan’s eighth Premier League season was constantly punctuated by injuries to key players and the impact was a very tospy-turvy season. The finale came in a bizarre last week of the season with them  winning the FA Cup, but getting relegated just three days later.

Maybe winning the FA Cup was the defining factor in Roberto Martinez’s decision to seek new pastures. It was the highest of highs in Wigan Athletic’s  history and has left an indelible mark on the club. But the reality is that now Latics face the challenge of getting back into the Premier League.

The visit to Oakwell is the first of many challenges that Owen Coyle’s new side will face this year. Coyle has done a wonderful job in bringing in nine new players to complement the strong backbone of a squad left behind by Martinez. His challenge will be to keep what was good from Martinez’s legacy, but to motivate a competitive squad of players to combine flair with the ability to slug it out over a really long season.

Barnsley finished one point above the relegation zone last year, having stayed up the previous year due to Portsmouth being docked points through having to go into administration. However, they will be keen to start the new season on a positive note and Latics can expect a stern physical tussle at Oakwell, which has been Barnsley’s home since 1888.

Wigan’s lineup is likely to be close to that which started the Dundee United game last weekend.  The main questions will be who will line up next to James Perch in the centre of defence and whether Callum McManaman will be fit enough to start.

If Thomas Royne  recovers from the back injury sustained in the match with the Tangerines he will most likely partner Perch. If not then Coyle has the option of throwing his brand-new signing Leon Barnett into the fray.

McManaman  did not feature prominently in the pre-season and there are doubts as to whether he has fully overcome the ankle injury received at the end of last season. If he is unavailable then Coyle has the option of bringing in Jean Beausejour on the left or fielding twin strikers in Grant Holt and Marc-Antoine Fortune.

Latics will be hoping for a good start to the season. Providing they can match Barnsley physically,  their technical superiority should be sufficient to get a result. Owen Coyle’s revolution is in progress and we will see its fruits over these coming months.

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