Lots of fight, but no cohesion – Wigan Athletic 1 Bournemouth 3

Clarke

Leon Clarke scored on his debut.

 

Playing the league leaders was never going to be easy for a Latics team so short in confidence. Wigan started well, but once Callum Wilson scored a controversial first goal for the visitors it never seemed likely that they could win it. In the end Bournemouth had too much quality for a Latics who have sold off most of their technically-able players.

Malky  Mackay has jettisoned ten players, but brought in eight new ones. He faces the challenge that helped bring down Uwe Rosler, that of bedding in new players in a struggling team. Yesterday he started with three of them – Chris Herd, Kim Bo-kyong and Leon Clarke. Two more – Sheyi Ojo and Billy Mckay – came on in the second half.

Mackay had had a difficult choice to make. If he brought in too many of his new signings he would face a lack of cohesion between players who would not know each others’ games. If he did not bring in the newbies, he would be persevering with the what remained of Rosler’s squad, players desperately low on confidence.

In the event it was a lack of cohesion that stood out yesterday, a Latics short of the kind of “team intelligence” that the visitors showed in abundance. Bournemouth played a brand of football reminiscent of Roberto Martinez’s time at Wigan. The central defenders would drop back to receive the ball, playing it calmly out of defence. All of their outfield players were comfortable on the ball. When they received it there was always someone moving in space to pass it to. They won the match without duly exerting themselves, with a crunch game at Derby coming up in midweek.

Bournemouth’s first goal was well taken by the exciting Callum Wilson, whose pace and movement was to give Leon Barnett and Liam Ridgewell a torrid afternoon. However, Wilson was clearly offside when he set off for that run. It was the kind of refereeing decision that struggling teams like Latics seem to invariably attract. Chris McCann’s loss of the ball on the edge of the penalty area soon after led to Yann Kermorgant scoring with a low shot that Ali Al-Habsi might have saved. Wilson once again evaded the centre of Latics’ defence for his second goal.

On a positive note all of the new players did enough to make them acceptable to the crowd. Clarke played the classic centre forward role and scored a headed goal. Kim worked hard for 45 minutes, showing some glimpses of skill, but was not fit enough to play for longer. Herd was gritty and tenacious in the right back role. Ojo is still only 17, but he immediately showed the silky skills that we had heard of. However, after an exciting start Bournemouth wised up to his moves and denied him space. Mckay formed a partnership with Clarke, but was well marked by a tight Cherries defence.

It will be interesting to see what kind of lineup Mackay chooses to face Nottingham Forest on Wednesday. Will he jump in at the deep end and throw in his other new players ? It will be Ridgewell’s last game before returning back to Portland, but will Mackay give Jason Pearce his first game in place of the nervy Barnett? Andrew Taylor has the crowd on his back after a series of indifferent displays and people will be keen to see if Gaetan Bong can do any better.

Sadly it looks like Emyr Huws could be out for some time after injuring his suspect ankle in training. Mackay’s resources in midfield are stretched and it is an injury that could be a major blow for Latics.

Click here for post match comments from Malky Mackay.

 

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Another woeful loss – freshening up required

freshenup

Depression reigns at Wigan. Dreams of getting back into the top flight are now a thing of the past. The harsh reality is that League 1 is getting scaringly close, following a woeful 1-0 home loss to Huddersfield Town.

Is Malky Mackay the right man to get Latics out of the relegation mire?

Mackay’s appointment caused more damage to Wigan Athletic’s reputation than anything else in their 83 year history. Moreover his record as a manager at Wigan, up to this point, beggars belief. Although it is still early days in Mackay’s tenure his win record up to this point is the worst of any Latics manager since they joined the Football League. At 10% his record falls below even such as Chris Hutchings,15%, and Kenny Swain, 24%. Thanks to Whittleblue for the win ratio stats he posted on the Vital Wigan Forum.

Mackay’s record before he arrived at Wigan led us to believe that he could turn the team around. Dave Whelan thought he was the man to lead Latics back to the Premier League. So what has gone wrong?

There are two diametrically opposed views that try to rationalise Wigan Athletic’s current predicament and put it into perspective. You could label them “Pro-Malky” and “Get Him Out”.

The “Pro-Malky” camp will say that Mackay has been lumbered with dead wood from the Rosler era. The bottom line of the argument is that the players just are not good enough and that is why Latics are in 23rd place in the Championship. The best thing that can happen is a total clear out, not just of players, but also of coaching staff. Malky can only succeed once he gets rid of the dead wood and brings in his own men.

The “Get Him Out” camp will say that he should never have been appointed, given the baggage he brought with him. How can a man who has been tarred (fairly or unfairly so) as a racist gain the respect of a multicultural dressing room? Given the prospect of an FA suspension hovering above him, do players see him as a temporary manager? But the camp’s strongest argument is a record of W1 D2 L7 since he arrived. What happened to the uplifting effect on results of a new manager?

The reality is that Latics are fast-tracking towards League 1. The pattern of negative displays and results has become ingrained. The players seem to have forgotten how to win. Mackay clearly sees an influx of new personnel as a means of changing the mentality in the squad.

In the meantime the fire sale continues. Having already lost Roger Espinoza, Shaun Maloney and Ben Watson, it seems only a matter of time until Callum McManaman leaves. Ivan Ramis would probably have been gone too if it were not for an ankle injury. Both Fraser Fyvie and Thomas Rogne seem to have disappeared off the radar.

Although most fans would acknowledge the need for freshening up the squad, there remains an underlying suspicion that Latics have already accepted relegation as a probability and are selling off their higher wage earners to prepare for League 1.

Sadly the club does not remain as attractive to prospective new players as it did a year ago, when the mood was buoyant and the FA Cup victory still resonating in people’s minds. What kind of player would want to go to a club lying second from bottom of the Championship and selling off its family silver?

Mackay clearly sees the centre of defence as an area of weakness. He has already brought in the combative Liam Ridgewell on a six week loan and rumours are that he is going to tie up a move for the “tough tackling” Jason Pearce from Leeds United.

In the meantime there is a strong lobby among fans for Mackay to be dismissed, while there is still time for another manager to come in and turn things round. However, in dismissing Mackay, Dave Whelan would lose even more face on top of that he has already lost. Moreover Whelan is serving the six week ban imposed on him by the FA.

Time is marching on and a bad situation among the playing staff has gone from bad to worse since the Scot’s arrival. The pro-Mackay followers will say that he needs more time, as he brings in new players to catalyse a new dynamic. His detractors are getting increasingly frustrated and some are hoping that FA action against the manager will come in strong and sooner rather than later.

Freshening up seems a necessity.

The question is whether it is just the playing squad or it is the manager and the coaching staff too that needs it.

 

Playing ugly to stay up

Liam Ridgewell - Mackay's first signing.

Liam Ridgewell – Mackay’s first signing.

“He is the man to lead us back into the Premier League, I am convinced of that having met him and discussed the demands of the job ahead of him.”

So said Dave Whelan on November 19th when he announced the appointment of Malky Mackay.

Some seven weeks later the chairman’s judgement is looking decidedly suspect. Rather than leading Latics onward and upward the Scot has led them in the opposite direction up to this point in time.

Mackay’s record so far reads W1 D1 L6. Latics are in 23rd place in the Championship and the threat of relegation is growing increasingly real.

However, who is to say that Whelan will not eventually be proved right? Should Latics avoid relegation who knows what will happen next season?

Should Mackay succeed in doing the improbable – taking Latics back to the Premier league – what kind of football can we expect?

Mackay will base his team on solid defence, with goals from set pieces the order of the day. There will be a strong team spirit and they will not be afraid to get a result by playing ugly. The squad will consist largely of players from the British Isles.

Mackay has talked about the margins. In fact, the five league games lost under his charge have all been by a single goal margin. He clearly believes he is close to making the breakthrough.

The Scot inherited a squad at a low ebb in terms of self confidence. He will bring in fresh faces to provide uplift, even if those new players are potentially no better than those he has already had at his disposal.

He has stated his desire to recruit hungry British players. His first signing is Liam Ridgewell, a combative defender with a wealth of Premier League experience. Ridgewell knows what it is like to play ugly from his time at Birmingham where he played in a ruthless defence with Roger Johnson and Scott Dann. However, that defence provided the foundation for them to win the League Cup.

Whether Ridgewell is “hungry” is up to debate. He will only be at Wigan for six weeks but Mackay will hope his presence will bolster a defence that has let in too many “soft” goals.

Reports suggest that Latics have made a £150,000 bid for Dundee United winger Gary Mackay-Steven and that the bid has been rejected by the “Arabs”. The 24 year old is a fine prospect and can play on either wing.

However, there are other clubs interested and Latics will have to up their bid considerably if they are to compete.

Mackay is also reported to be interested in two English centre forwards who have played for a total of 18 different clubs.

Danny Graham is 29 years of age, currently at Sunderland. He has a career record of 102 goals in 346 league appearances, although he has enjoyed most of his success as a goalscorer playing as a twin striker. Graham played well at Watford under Mackay where he scored 38 goals in 91 league appearances. Heioar Helguson and Marvin Sordell were his main striking partners there. If Mackay can secure Graham’s services it will be on loan until the end of the season.

Ishmael Miller is now 27 years old and has had his ups and downs. The 6 ft 3 in Mancunian is now at his seventh club in Blackpool. He has a career record of 33 goals in 173 league games.

Mackay will hope that the comings and goings in the January transfer window will help provide a different dynamic in his squad. Put simply, the players need to shed that losing mentality.

By the end of February we can expect to see the kind of football that Mackay seeks. By then he will have had time to sufficiently bolster team spirit and get the kinds of results that the fans expect.

The style of football is not going to be sexy, but the priority is to get out of that relegation zone and build up a squad good enough to challenge for promotion next year. At this stage things look bleak, but Mackay still has the time to do what is necessary to get Latics back on track.

Selling off the crown jewels – but who cares?

Photo courtesy of royal.gov.uk

Photo courtesy of royal.gov.uk

The exodus has all but begun. What seemed almost inconceivable just a few months ago is well underway. The crown jewels are about to be sold, but nobody seems to care.

Shaun Maloney will surely depart over the coming weeks. The media tell us that there are at least four clubs interested in signing him and that Latics are asking for a fee of £1.5m, which they are unlikely to get unless they can instigate a bidding war. It is said that Leicester City have already offered £750,000.

Maloney is an icon at Wigan, largely through his marvelous performances in the latter part of the 2012-13 season and his role as an FA Cup winner. He was the playmaker, the one who would make himself available to receive a pass, able to slot through incisive balls to his forwards. He was excellent on set pieces and would use his dribbling skills to great effect.

However, through reasons of injury or illness or lack of form, the Scot has started in just nine league matches this season. He has starred for his country, showing those kinds of attributes. But for Latics he has not consistently shown that keenness to receive the ball and make things happen. He did those things in Mackay’s first game at home to Middlesbrough, scoring a spectacular free kick and going so close with a previous effort. But since then he has not reproduced such form.

His fans would say that he remains the best midfield player at the club, but is playing in a team that does not know how to play good football. Too often his fellow midfield players will pass the ball behind for the defence to hoof up front. The case comes to mind of Dutch international midfielder Denny Landzaat who got himself into hot water during the Steve Bruce era. Landzaat’s performances at Wigan had been disappointing. When asked about his form by the Dutch media he told them that most of the time the ball from defence went over his head, not to his feet. Landzaat was undoubtedly a skillful player, but he just did not fit in to the Bruce style of play, so he moved on.

At 31 years of age, Maloney will be keen to safeguard his future. Despite having been dogged by injury he has shown that he has the quality to be a better than average player at Premier League level.

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Maloney was a key cog in the machine that played the best football in Wigan Athletic’s history. However, under the Mackay regime he just does not fit.

Most fans will accept the need for Maloney to move, but the case of Oriel Riera is something different. The latest reports suggest that he is about to join Deportivo La Coruña on loan until the end of the season. Promoted last season from the segunda division they are in 16th place in the primera division of La Liga.

Riera’s case contrasts with that of Maloney. The Scot is about to move to a higher league after an unsuccessful spell in a lower one. The Spaniard is about to do the reverse.

Following the recent news of Grant Holt’s long term injury, many of us expected Riera to stay, but it appears that negotiations for his release have been going on for some time. Mackay and his coaching staff have clearly written off the Spaniard and it looks like he will not be coming back after his loan.

Critics will say that Riera lacks the physicality to be successful as a central striker in the Championship. At times he has been anonymous on the field of play, not being able to stamp his mark on the game.

However, most fans will say that he has never been given a fair chance. Riera came to Wigan three years too late. He would have most likely thrived playing in Roberto Martinez’s team. However, the role of the lone centre forward this season has been largely taken up in trying to make something of the long hooves launched by goalkeeper and defenders. One wonders if even the likes of Diego Costa or Robin Van Persie could have done any better receiving that kind of service.

Rather than include Riera in the starting lineup Mackay has resorted either to the goal-shy Marc-Antoine Fortune or James McClean, a left winger playing out of position. The result has been that Latics have only scored one goal from open play since the manager’s arrival.

The club will be keen to bring in funds gathered from Maloney’s transfer and Riera’s loan deal. Andy Delort will surely be among the next to go. The transfer fees paid for Riera and Delort together amounted to around £5m, big money for Latics these days. They will be keen to cut their losses. Further economies will be made shortly when Roger Espinoza will be taken off the wage bill, sadly on his way back to Kansas after a frustrating time at Wigan.

The need for a physically uncompromising defender has been standing out over the course of the season. Media reports suggest that Mackay is about to sign a player who fits the bill. Liam Ridgewell went to Portland Timbers in the MLS in June after being released by West Bromwich Albion. He is an experienced Premier League defender, who can play at centre half or left back.

However, in a time when the club are under attack from the national media they are about to make themselves vulnerable again. Moreover fans have become disillusioned by the attitudes of players who earn more in a couple of weeks than most of them do in a year. Ridgewell will come with the baggage of his antics of a couple of years ago which were reported on the national media. Such behaviour will hardly endear him to the fans at Wigan.

These are trying times for Wigan Athletic supporters. The club seems to have gone into free-fall and there is little light at the end of the tunnel. Fans have grown so disillusioned with the lack of performance of the players that most no longer care about who gets sold off in the transfer window.

There is a general malaise that is dragging the club down. Players who have proved themselves in the past have been pulled down into the mire.

The likelihood is that the players leaving during Mackay’s fire sale will be successful at their new clubs.

The crown jewels of old will most likely be sold off – but what will take their place?