Five talking points from an important win over QPR

Wigan Athletic 2 Queens Park Rangers 1

Wigan Athletic gained an important three points with a tight victory over QPR. Latics had been two goals up with a quarter of an hour to go but a deflected goal for the visitors changed the complexion of the game, Latics hanging on in grim defence until the final whistle. This time Wigan took their chances better than the opposition, having 7 shots on goal compared with 21 for the visitors.

Following the match Paul Cook commented: “I’m delighted with the lads, it’s been a tough week for the club with Will Grigg leaving but with the type of money that was offered there was nothing we could do, it was the correct thing to do. The new lads have come in and done great today, I’m delighted for the owners and for the chairman, for everyone. It was a big win for us today, a much-needed win and I’m delighted for the players. You need a bit of luck and fortune as well as the good players and we’ve done it so we will enjoy tonight, it’s a good night for us after a tough week for everyone but when you win football matches, football clubs are always happy places.”

 Let’s take look at some points arising:

A surprise in the team selection?

The inclusion in the starting lineup of new acquisitions Leon Clarke and Danny Fox came as no surprise. But playing the latter at centre back, leaving Chey Dunkley on the bench, was somewhat unexpected.

One of the frustrations of fans over the transfer window was the failure to sign a specialist left back. Although Fox played in that position so many times in his earlier career his more recent experience has been at centre back. So, Cook decided to continue with Kal Naismith at left back, not a universally popular decision with supporters. In the event, Naismith was one of the better performers on the day. Antonee Robinson is now back in training and will be challenging for a place over the coming weeks. Will Naismith and Robinson be the contenders for the left back position for the remainder of the season? Or will Cook opt for more experience by bringing in Jonas Olsson at centre back and pushing Fox across to full back?

Dunkley has so often been the stalwart of Latics’ defence, so it was a surprise to see him left out. However, his distribution in recent games had left much to be desired. It is the part of his game that he needs to work on, if he is to prove himself as a quality player at Championship level. Dunkley made his entrance after 77 minutes for Fox.

The other surprise was to see Reece James replacing the suspended Sam Morsy in midfield, rather than Darron Gibson or newcomer Beni Baningime. But James had been pushed forward late in previous encounters and had looked comfortable there. After an uncertain start James grew into this match, showing his great range of skills.

The result of those selections was some degree of improvement in the passing of the ball from the back and added creativity and drive in midfield.

Clarke to be Cook’s first choice striker?

The departure of Will Grigg caused a lot of ripples among the Latics faithful. Grigg’s goals twice propelled Wigan out of League 1 and were a major feature in last season’s FA Cup run. But more than that it was his combination with players like Michael Jacobs, Gavin Massey and Nick Powell that led to Latics playing their best football in recent years.

The signing of Leon Clarke for the second time and the departure of Grigg did not go down well with many fans. Clarke had been unimpressive in his previous spell under Malky Mackay in 2015, scoring just one goal in ten games. Earlier in the transfer window rumours had linked Latics with big target men such as Gary Madine and Tom Eaves. It was therefore no surprise that the 6 ft 2 in Clarke was signed. Neither was it a surprise that Grigg was sold, having been consistently snubbed by Cook in his team selections.

Clarke was arguably Wigan’s best performer against QPR, scoring a goal and providing an assist. Moreover, his hold-up play was excellent. Although we did see intermittent spells of good football from Latics in this game the approach was largely direct. It would not have suited Grigg.

With the departures of Grigg to Sunderland and James Vaughan to Portsmouth we can expect Clarke and Joe Garner to be the main choices for the central striker position, although Cook still has the option of using Nick Powell in that position when he is fit. For the moment it looks like Clarke will be the first-choice. His linking up with Josh Windass was a feature of this game and holds promise for the future.

Experience has been brought in

While the January 2019 transfer window will be immediately memorable for the departure of a Latics icon it might well prove to be successful in terms of bringing in experience. Leon Clarke (33), Danny Fox (32), Jonas Olsson (35) and Anthony Pilkington (30) are seasoned professionals at Premier League and Championship levels. Cook has talked about needing leaders in the dressing room. His choice of Fox as captain in his first game for the club underlines that.

Alex Bruce (34) departed for Kilmarnock, but despite that there is now a better balance in the squad in terms of youth and experience.

A nervy finish

Osayi-Samuels’ deflected 74th minute goal gave QPR new impetus. Cook’s reaction was to bring on Gibson and Garner for Pilkington and Clarke, then Dunkley for Fox three minutes later. The substitutions were most likely due to fitness issues. The outcome was Latics being very much under siege, frequently hoofing the ball away only for it to return very quickly.

In the end Latics did survive although the visitors hit the crossbar and had a strong penalty appeal turned down. The substitutions hardly improved things, Gibson in particular having a torrid time. But Latics’ confidence is still brittle, and they did not have the confidence to patiently build up moves from the back and manage the game more effectively. Nevertheless, aimless long balls to nobody in particular hardly help such game management.

Discipline on the field

Latics picked up three yellow cards to QPR’s one. It takes their yellow card tally to 66 for the league season so far, with 3 reds.

Only Nottingham Forest have a worse disciplinary record with 75 yellows and 5 reds. Neighbours Bolton closely follow Wigan with 61 yellows and 2 reds.

On the positive side it could be said that the stats indicate a team putting in lots of effort in a fight to avoid relegation. On the other hand, how many of those cards could have been avoided by a more controlled aggression?

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

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A volatile transfer window closure – a look at reactions on social media

It was always on the cards, but neverthless the sale of Will Grigg to Sunderland has sent shock waves across the Wigan Athletic faithful.

Let’s take a look at how fans have reacted to recent events through the message boards and social media.

Our thanks go to the Cockney Latic Forum, the Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum, The Boulevard of Broken Dreams on Facebook and Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen. Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below.

Chris Stafford on The Boulevard of Broken Dreams commented:

Well the board have revealed themselves to have absolutely no ambition at all on staying up . Sold Vaughan and Grigg and replace him with Leon Clarke . And don’t tell me all about how Clarke was top scorer last season . Grant Holt was top scorer at Norwich.

Up the tics on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

Looking at our recent signings and lack of ambition can’t help feeling we are doomed for another relegation. So sad to see what is becoming of our club. First post out of sheer anger we buy a 33 year old striker who has scored 3 goals in 24 appearances let Vaughn go sort of understand that but Grigg with one leg is better than Clarke……how can we score another goal ….with Windass, Garner & Clarke with our new front line sounds like from bad to worse…..not to mention Callum sitting on the bench every week because he’s not one of PC boys…..pathetic.

 

Cup Winners on the Cockney Latic Forum added:

I’ll still go to the DW simply because I’ve seen this all before. No one can deny it’s a damn good price and no one would have blinked an eye if this had of happened in the summer.

The problem is, timing and unloading 2 out your 3 strikers and looking at our league position it just beggars belief. As for the Clarke signing and those who sing his praises? I hope he does. 21 club moves says it all for me. 1 swallow doesn’t make a summer.

Cook suits the IEC and the Royles.

And finally, the subject of Grigg can’t play no Massey Powell, he needs wide players ? We have them, They’re either out on loan or bench warmers. Some people are more bothered about teams below us in the hope that sh……r than us. That’s an excellent way to follow your side.

 

 

 

 

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Waggy helps out the unbending Mackay

Is Martyn Waghorn back in from the cold?

Is Martyn Waghorn back in from the cold?

“Martyn showed what forwards are for, they’re there to score goals.”

The words of Malky Mackay after Martyn Waghorn’s spectacular late equalizer saved a point against a poor Bolton side.

Mackay will win some journalistic praise for an inspired substitution. After all it helped Wigan share the points when it looked like the opportunity had passed.

But the truth is less palatable.

Mackay frequently shoots himself in the foot, not only in his team selections, but also with what he says to the media. This was another example.

Once more Mackay started the game with a striker who is way short of his best form and another who cannot score goals.

Despite Leon Clarke’s poor performance against Watford the big man retained his place. Inconsistency has dogged Clarke throughout his frustrating career. Although he has genuine physical presence and can score goals, his record should be enough to tell Mackay that he is not a man to rely on for goals on a regular basis. At 30 years of age he has been the ultimate journeyman. His history shows him joining new clubs but soon being sent out on loan. Clarke is now in his 11th loan period at a club, after Wolves manager Kenny Jackett decided he did not need him for his promotion push.

At his best Clarke can play the bustling centre forward role with distinction, as he did for Coventry City in 2012-13 when he scored 23 goals in 34 appearances for the League 1 team. The other side of the coin is a player who appears languid and disinterested, too often caught offside, at odds with management.

What is in Mackay’s head when he makes quotes like the one above? Even the most supportive of fans would have to ask him why he continues to play Marc-Antoine Fortune upfront. Is MAF there to score goals? If goalscoring is what forwards are for then the French Guianan should surely not be playing there.

Martyn Waghorn’s reaction to his goal might well have sent a message to Mackay. Since the Scot’s arrival Waghorn’s main role has been that of a bench warmer. He has not been given a single start despite his proven ability to score goals at Championship level. Given the woeful lack of fire power in the Wigan attack Mackay’s unbending approach and loyalty to some players at the expense of others gives great cause for concern.

Do divisions still remain within the camp? Once again Mackay named a lineup that did not have a single player in it who was signed by Uwe Rosler. William Kvist – perhaps Rosler’s most successful signing – remained on the bench until the 78th minute when he came on for Emmerson Boyce. Boyce is an icon, a hero of the heights that the club reached in the Premier League era. At his peak he could match many of the best right backs in the country. But now his speed has gone and it leaves him defensively vulnerable. Kvist should have been on from the start with James Perch playing at right back.

Waghorn was Rosler’s first permanent signing at the club. He was an integral part of a team that finished in 5th place last season. Waghorn does not have the height of Clarke or Fortune, neither is he particularly fast. However, he has a great left foot and has the ability to be in the right place at the right time in the penalty box. Last season his excellent delivery from corner kicks caused problems for opposition defences, something that has been lacking in Mackay’s Wigan teams.

Last week Mackay shot himself in the foot with what was perhaps a Freudian slip saying:

“We’ve managed to bring in another couple this week, young Jerome for a little bit of experience and Josh, who showed his potential in the second half against Watford”.

His signing of Jerome Sinclair in particular raised the eyebrows of many fans. Some welcomed the arrival of a young talent from Liverpool with a fine goalscoring record at youth and development squad levels. Sinclair made an inauspicious debut against Watford, coming on in the 82nd minute. He did not make the bench yesterday.

Sinclair’s signing must have sent shock waves in the direction of both Waghorn and Billy Mckay. The Scot did actually get a place on the bench, but Waghorn was totally omitted.

But the larger question remains as to why, with just 9 matches left and with League 1 getting closer and closer, Mackay wanted to give experience to an 18 year old Liverpool player who had played just 9 minutes of first team football, that being almost two years ago.

Liverpool must be delighted in Mackay giving their youngsters an opportunity for first team football. Since his first appearance against Bournemouth on February 7th the 17 year old Sheyi Ojo has now played in 10 matches, including 5 in the starting lineup.

Although clearly a talented player Ojo has not surprisingly struggled to assert himself against rugged Championship defences. He might well produce some match-winning magic before the end of the season, but he is there at the expense of other players.

Martyn Waghorn was largely used in wide positions by Uwe Rosler. Moreover Mackay talks of the talent in his development squad, but has still not given any of them first team experience, apart from warming the bench. The bottom line is that Mackay is concentrating on young developing players from other clubs rather than his own.

Josh Murphy got his debut yesterday and might well be a regular feature in the upcoming matches. Despite his two superb free kicks at Rotherham, Jermaine Pennant is way past his sell-by date. He has started in 7 games so far and has not managed the full 90 in any of them. In fact he longest he has lasted has been 77 minutes and 84 minutes in his first two appearances. He went off after 66 minutes yesterday and 54 minutes in midweek.

Murphy is only 20 years old, more mature than Sinclair or Ojo, but sadly lacking in prior experience at senior level. He started in only one league game for Norwich this season. In fact most of his experience this season and last has been off the bench. Like Liverpool, Norwich must also be delighted that Latics are giving their young player invaluable first team experience.

To a large degree Mackay’s use of the loan market has been necessary. Losing 13 players in January left a big hole in the squad. However, bringing in young loanees with no real first team experience when relegation threatens smacks of desperation or trying to appease other clubs.

Moreover the young loanees have been brought in at the expense of players on long term contracts at the club who have been starved of first team opportunities, let alone the youngsters who have come through the club’s own academy.

Let us hope that Malky Mackay is not as unbending as he appears.

James McClean will return from suspension for the next game at Middlesbrough on April 3rd. Played on the left wing he could have a major role to play in keeping Latics afloat. But one has a sneaking suspicion that Mackay will once again play him in a striking role.

On the positive front Mackay has built a team with much more solidity in defence. However, his doggedness in persisting with a strike force impotent in its delivery could cost Latics their place in the division if it continues.

One hopes that Martyn Waghorn made a point with his brilliantly executed goal yesterday. The question is whether Mackay is willing to open his eyes, see the faults in his planning and take steps to rectify them.

Or is he going to be unbending?

 

Sinclair to face Watford

Jerome Sinclair. Photo courtesy of Daily Telegraph.

Jerome Sinclair. Photo courtesy of Daily Telegraph.

The rumours have been circulating for days and must have been unsettling for at least a couple of members of the Wigan Athletic squad. With just nine games left in the season, Jerome Sinclair has signed for Wigan Athletic.

Sinclair is an 18 year old forward who has made one appearance in the Liverpool first team. That was in September 2012 when he came on as a substitute in a League Cup tie at West Bromwich, where coincidentally he had learned his early football under their youth academy. He was just 16 years and 6 days old at the time and holds the record of being Liverpool’s youngest-ever player.

Sinclair missed much of last season through injury, but has scored 24 goals at youth and under 21 levels this season.

Although Sinclair is highly rated at Liverpool, many Latics fans are already questioning the acquisition of such a young and inexperienced player so close to the end of the season, giving him little time to settle in with his teammates and the style of play.

Mackay had publicly stated that he was looking at the loan market for a player who could get on the end of those loose balls in the opposition penalty box. He clearly believes that the 18 year old might be that person.

In the meantime both Billy Mckay and Martyn Waghorn will surely be thinking their days at Wigan are numbered. McKay was only signed at the end of January, but has since not made a single start. Last week a seemingly crazy rumour was flying around about Waghorn going on loan to another club. Given the current developments it now remains within the realms of possibility.

Following James McClean’s tenth yellow card on Saturday he will be unavailable for the Watford game tomorrow night. Fans will have their fingers crossed that Leon Clarke will be back from injury to lead the line. The big striker adds physicality to the attack that will be needed against a strong Watford side, currently in second place.

Should Clarke not be available it is possible that Sinclair will start, assuming the paperwork of his loan move is completed in time. It is reported that he has been training with the Wigan squad today.

There remains a possibility that either Mckay or Waghorn may be involved. But Mackay has already thrown the 17 year old Liverpool winger Sheyi Ojo into his starting lineups. Is he going to repeat it with Sinclair?

Interestingly enough at 5 ft 8 in Sinclair is of a similar height as Mckay and Waghorn. Let’s hope that if he does come on at some stage in the match, the ball does not continually fly over his head as the defenders hoof the ball forwards, as has happened so often to Latics strikers this season.

Bringing in Sinclair at this stage of the season can be considered either a bold move or smacking of desperation.

Check Mackay’s comments on Sinclair by clicking here.

Maybe Mackay will have the last laugh if the young man helps Latics avoid relegation.

Getting the best out of the strike force

Will Billy Mckay go the same way as his predecessors, Delort and Riera?  Photo courtesy of BBC Sport.,

Will Billy Mckay go the same way as his predecessors, Delort and Riera?
Photo courtesy of BBC Sport.,

When the lineup was announced prior to the Leeds match on Saturday it was a sadly depressing moment. The mood had been positive and people had started to “Believe” again. But a look at the team sheet was enough to send many of us into despair. How can you keep faith in a manager who just does not seem to realize that some things just do not work?

The dampener on the proceedings was the selection of a strike force of Marc-Antoine Fortune and James McClean.

This is not to suggest that the two players do not have their merits.

Despite scoring only one league goal in 24 appearances the controversial MAF continues to get his place in the team. His holding up of the ball, commitment and willingness to sacrifice for the team make him a good team player. He has played under three managers at Wigan, all of whom have appreciated his attributes. In fact since signing in summer 2013 he has made 35 league starts and 25 appearances off the bench, scoring 5 goals.

McClean is on his way to be being voted “Player of the Season”. Fans have been impressed by his willingness to run himself into the ground for the cause, in a season when so many of his teammates have not shown that level of desire and commitment. Malky Mackay clearly believes he can become a bona fide central striker, through his speed, physicality, a powerful left foot and willingness to run at defences. As a left winger he has always been a committed team player, so often running back to help out his left full back. He is the club’s top scorer with six goals.

However, McClean has always had his critics. They will say he lacks the “trickery skills” that the best wingers possess, that he runs around like a headless chicken, not lifting his head, not providing the level of assists to be expected of an experienced Premier League practitioner. As a central striker he is too often caught offside and does not make the kind kinds of runs off the ball that are needed.

The Derry-raised forward deserves commendation for his commitment and enthusiasm to help the cause. He is the leading scorer with 6 goals this season, but as a central striker he has a lot to learn.On Saturday he was to be switched to the left flank during the course of the game.

Neither Fortune nor McClean are what might be called “natural strikers”. Those are the kinds of players who are in the right place at the right time to get the tap-ins to those balls fizzing across the box. Moreover their combined goalscoring records do not suggest they are going to do so.

The likelihood is that neither will be at the club at the end of the season. Fortune is now 33 and it would be a surprise if he were given a further contract. According to reports, McClean is one of the highest wage earners at the club (some suggest he is on £30k per week) and is likely to be released whether or not Latics stay in the Championship.

However, Latics do have other strikers. The big centre forward Leon Clarke – who has played for 14 clubs – is very much a “journeyman”. Nevertheless his physical presence has added to the forward line and his commitment has been excellent. Add to that a debut goal against Bournemouth.

Billy Mckay and Martyn Waghorn continue to be marginalized by Mackay.

Waghorn was Uwe Rosler’s first permanent signing and made a positive impact in the latter half of last season. Often played wide he nevertheless scored 5 goals in 15 appearances. Moreover he was a consummate team player, strong defensively, so often dropping back to defence to help his full back. During that period Waghorn was never a spectacular player, but one who fitted into the framework of the team, a very useful asset. Many of us expected Waghorn to continue to be one of Rosler’s mainstay players, but injury combined with the signing of new strikers pushed him out of contention. He has made just 6 starts this season, with 12 appearances as a substitute, scoring 2 goals.

Like Oriol Riera and Andy Delort who preceded him, Mckay is a proven goalscorer. He had scored 10 goals in 23 appearances for Inverness Caledonian Thistle this season, prior to joining Latics. In his two previous seasons in the SPL he scored 18 and 22 goals respectively.

Sadly it looks like Mckay is going the same way as his predecessors. The woeful treatment of Delort and Riera has continued with Mckay, albeit under a different manager. Is there a disconnect between recruiting and coaching at the club? Under Rosler good performance in training was paramount to his process of team selection. It continues with Mackay. Is Mckay not fit enough for the demands of the Championship or does he just not impress the coaching staff on the training field?

Mckay will have arrived with confidence, after banging in the goals in Scotland. But being given no starts and six appearances off the bench, his confidence will surely have already dissipated. Granted, he has failed to impress so far, but players need a run of games in the starting lineup to show their worth. Surely he must soon be given that opportunity?

Since Malky Mackay’s arrival Latics have not won a single home game, drawing two and losing eight. They have only scored 5 goals in those 10 matches at the DW Stadium.

Given his woeful record, it is a wonder that Mackay continues to be employed by the club. But it looks like he will continue at least until the end of the season.

In the meantime his coaching staff need to take a long hard look at themselves to explain how so many players with genuine talent have fallen by the wayside this season. It is their role to help players adjust, to make them into effective performers at the appropriate level.

Let’s hope that Mckay does not get consigned to the same level of mismanagement as Delort and Riera.