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?