Strength in depth?

Coulthirst

Shaq Coulthirst – his short term loan is soon to expire.

Even with five changes from Saturday, the team played the same way – they had the same control of possession, they attacked with a real threat. It’s good to know you’ve got that back up sitting waiting to come on when necessary.”

Gary Caldwell quoted on Wigan Today regarding the 3-2 victory at Crewe on Tuesday.

Caldwell had made the maximum five changes from the previous match that he was allowed according to Johnstone’s Paints Trophy rules. The players brought in to the starting lineup were Jack Hendry, Francisco Junior, Andy Kellett, Sanmi Odelusi and Yanic Wildschut. He went on to bring Don Cowie and Grant Holt off the bench for their first starts of the season. Tim Chow also came on as a substitute, with Richard O’Donnell staying on the bench.

A total of no less than 21 players played in the last two matches for Wigan Athletic out of a squad of 29. Some players were unavailable – Jordan Flores (suspension) and Shaq Coulthirst, Craig Davies, Haris Vuckic, Kevin McNaughton and Jason Pearce due to injury. Richard O’Donnell was on the bench for both games, with Ryan Jennings and Sean Murray not making the squad for either.

The departure of Jonjoe Kenny left Caldwell’s squad looking bare at right back/wing back, but the signing of Donald Love and with Donervon Daniels showing he can do a good job in that position has eased anxiety. Moreover Coulthirst has returned to the club from Tottenham and Yanic Wildshut has been signed on loan.

Caldwell’s comment indicated his satisfaction of having strength in depth. This is certainly the case, at least in the short term.

However, having a large squad can create complications as Uwe Rosler found out last year. Is Caldwell going to run into the similar problems, having to regularly rotate his squad in order to give all of them game time?

The lessons learned from last year are still ringing in the ears of Latics fans. Is Caldwell going to have to deal with disgruntled players left out in the cold? The logistics of rotating a squad of 29 players are mind boggling, let alone not having a settled team.

It appears that Coulthirst, Davies and Vuckic are close to returning from injury. Providing no further injuries or suspensions impact upon the squad before their return it will leave Caldwell in the position to choose his strongest starting eleven from a pool of 27.

Of the 29 in the squad there are 6 players on loan. Two of those – Jordy Hiwula and Haris Vuckic – are on season-long loans. The other four – Junior, Love, Murray and Wildschut – are on short-term loans. Coulthirst’s loan expires on November 1 and Love’s a month later, those of Junior and Wildschut in January.

Bringing in players on short-term loans is a relatively new experience for Wigan Athletic. Last season Rosler brought back Maynor Figueroa for a brief spell, followed by Malky Mackay bringing in seven. Moreover many of Mackay’s loanees were young players, causing a controversy among fans whether they should be given priority over home-grown young talent.

Up to this point Caldwell has been able to manage the two. He has given opportunities to the likes of Tim Chow, Jordan Flores and Ryan Jennings within the club, whilst bringing in the short-term loanees. Caldwell got a rude surprise when Everton recalled Kenny, although the same club had allowed Junior to extend his loan period.

Kenny is clearly an up-and-coming player at Goodison and will be there long-term. Junior’s contract will be up at the end of the season and at this stage it is unlikely that Everton will renew it. Junior has impressed in the relatively few appearances he has made so far. Fitness has been an issue. Junior has made five starts, being taken off in three of them within the first 56 minutes. However, it is to be noted that Junior completed the full 90 minutes at Crewe. He has already picked up three yellow cards.

Junior has clearly struggled to attain the levels of fitness necessary to make him a permanent choice in Caldwell’s team. Moreover he has had to make a major adjustment to the physicality of League 1. Come January Caldwell will need to make a decision whether to pursue the permanent signature of the player. Junior oozes class in a League 1 setting and were he to be fit and fully adjusted to the pace of the play, he would surely be an asset Caldwell would want to keep.

Caldwell certainly has a squad with strength in depth. But he will be challenged to name a settled team on a regular basis, given the size of the squad. He might even look at reducing its size over the coming months. The strength in depth could prove to be a millstone around his neck.

The return of Chris McCann

Mcann

Relegation from the Championship saw a Wigan Athletic fire sale that was surely unparalleled in the club’s history. Players on Championship-level salaries were jettisoned at bargain prices as the club made efforts to drastically slash its wage bill with the prospect of much reduced revenues in League 1. It was anybody’s guess who would remain from last season’s squad as the cull neared its completion.

Many of us thought they would keep up-and-coming young talent and cash in on the players with rich Championship or Premier League experience. It was therefore a surprise to see the 28 year old Chris McCann line up for the opening match of the season at Coventry. Here was a player who had appeared disaffected in the latter part of the previous season, who had not started a game since early February.

McCann could have been expected to be one of the first to be offloaded. But it was not to be. In fact, the Dubliner has played in all eleven league games up to this point. His versatility in being able to play in midfield or on the left side of a central defensive trio has been of paramount importance to Gary Caldwell, given the injury problems he has already had to cope with.

Owen Coyle must rank as one of the most unpopular managers that Wigan Athletic have ever had, although most fans would probably rank Malky Mackay even lower. Coyle lasted less than six months in charge at Wigan before he left “by mutual consent”.

Coyle was given the mountainous task of taking Latics back into the Premier League within a year, together with leading through an historic Europa League campaign. He inherited a group of players who had played under the tutelage of Roberto Martinez, but given the mass exodus of players in the summer he had a lot of recruiting to do.

Coyle’s first signing was to be Chris McCann. The Dubliner had played under him at Burnley and was available for free at the end of his contract. McCann had been at Turf Moor since arriving from Home Farm in 2004. He had an outstanding season in 2008-09, when Burnley won promotion to the top tier of English football. Sadly he sadly was only able to make half a dozen Premier League appearances for the Clarets before receiving a cruciate knee injury. McCann returned in January for a couple of games before injury ruled him out for rest of the season. However, the Irishman was to come back to start in 83 Championship matches over the next two seasons. But he was unable to once more reach the heights of that promotion season form at Burnley, with further knee problems not helping.

McCann’s early performances for Latics were solid, if uninspiring. Some said that Coyle had brought in an ex-player who was not up to par and was snubbing players from the Martinez era. However, McCann gave a fine display against Rubin Kazan in the Europa League, being tireless in defence, with his cultured passing when under pressure helping Latics keep possession. He followed that up with a fine performance at Charlton, being unlucky with a flick header that hit the crossbar. McCann had clearly now settled in and was to become an important cog in Coyle’s machine.

McCann must have wondered what would come next when Uwe Rosler replaced Coyle in December 2013. The Irishman is not the world’s most fortunate footballer and he was sadly sent off in Rosler’s first match in charge, leading to Latics being eliminated from the Europa League. Latics had been a goal up at Maribor when a shot from the edge of the box hit McCann’s upraised arm after he had turned his back to the shooter. It was clearly not intentional, but the Polish referee not only gave a penalty, but also gave McCann a yellow card. Since he already had an earlier one he was sent off.

But McCann was to become a key player for Rosler in Latics’ rise up the table and into the FA Cup semi-finals. He would usually operate on the left of midfield, where his surging runs forward, accurate passing and toughness in the tackle were a real asset. However, from time to time Rosler would play him on the left of a back line of three. He was playing in that position in the FA Cup sixth round match at Manchester City on March 9th, when he sadly fractured his knee cap during the first half of what was to be another stunning victory. Once again a serious injury had interrupted McCann’s career.

He was to make his return as a late substitute at Brighton on November 4th, in the penultimate game of Rosler’s reign. Mackay’s first match as Wigan manager saw them draw 1-1 at home to Middlesbrough, with McCann putting in an excellent performance. He became a frequent starter, although his performances had started to wane. McCann’s last appearance as a starter was on February 7th in a home defeat to Bournemouth. After that he was limited to three appearances off the bench for the remainder of the season.

McCann has staked his claim for a future under the management of Gary Caldwell. He has had his downs in his career, particularly with injuries, but continues to show his resilience. He has bounced back after appearing to be on his way out.

When McCann plays at the back Latics are pretty much guaranteed cultured passes coming in from the left hand side. Moreover at 6 ft 1 in and with a strong tackle McCann is able to cope with the physical side of defensive play.  However, his best position is on the left side of a trio of midfield players. It is from such a position that his attacking abilities are most effectively employed. On occasions when he has been played as one of two holding midfielders he has been less effective.

It has been a remarkable turnaround from McCann. Although seemingly destined to leave the club he has stayed and fought his way back to a regular starting place.

Over the coming weeks, providing the injured players gradually ease their way back in, it will be a challenge for McCann to maintain his place. But then again, given the player’s resilience, who can say that he will not be a key player in Caldwell’s plans?

A visit to Brentford and a look at a disastrous season

With the final game of the season coming up at Brentford on Saturday, Billy Grant  (@billythebee99) of beesotted.co.uk asked us to respond to some topical questions. The article is also posted on the Beesotted site.

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When we touched base for the first time this season around the time of the Forshaw saga, we had no idea our season would end up like this. We (and the world) thought we would be battling against relegation and you thought we would be battling for promotion with Uwe Rosler making his much awaited return to Griffin Park. Where did it all go topsy turvey?

Things had already started to go awry by the time that Brentford visited in mid-October. Just over a week later, with only three victories in seventeen league games, Rosler was shown the door. It was a sad end to an era in which the German had enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame. The previous season he had taken over a team in 14th place and got them into the playoffs, only to be narrowly beaten by QPR. Moreover the stunning win at the Etihad against the to-be Premier League champions in the FA Cup sixth round would stick in the memory for years to come. So would the semifinal, taking Arsenal to a penalty shootout.

Sadly things had gone pear-shaped for Rosler in the second half of his reign. The rot had set in towards the end of the 2013-14 season. The confidence that had been generated through a long string of good results had started to wane. Then over summer Rosler was to lose class performers in Jean Beausejour and Jordi Gomez, but the biggest blow was the departure of James McArthur on the transfer deadline day.

The new season had seen the team coming back from pre-season training in Germany in poor physical shape, with second half collapses being the order of the day. Moreover Rosler had made nine new signings since the summer, all in need of a settling-in period. But their arrival had swelled the first team squad to over thirty, the end result being Rosler having to deal with disgruntled players not getting a regular game.

Sadly Rosler could not inculcate his vision into his players. As time wore on it appeared that he and the players had become  more and more out of tune in terms of what should be delivered on the pitch. As the new season wore on we were to see less and less of the commitment required for the high tempo, high pressing football he sought.

By November the dream of getting back into the Premier League had become almost unreal. It looked like it was not going to happen this season with Rosler. Dave Whelan stepped in, relieving the German of his job, bringing in Malky Mackay, stating his belief that the Scot was the right man to take the club back to the Premier League.

Little did we know what depths the team would plumage towards under Mackay. His appointment did great damage to the club’s image as portrayed by the national media. Moreover the team did not rise on the bounce effect of a new manager, as is so often the case. In fact they got worse. They did not win a single home game during his tenure and he will go into Wigan Athletic history as their least successful manager.

When Mackay had taken over he had stuck by an “old guard” who had been underperforming under Rosler. Neither did they perform well under him. The result was no less than thirteen players dispatched out of the club in the January window. Given the departure of so many players who had proved themselves in the Premier League it was no surprise that the standard of football was to plummet close to rock bottom. The hoofball that had become evident under Coyle, which Rosler could not eradicate, soon became the order of the day under Mackay.

The conspiracy theorists say that Mackay was brought in as a short-term alternative, with his main task being to cull the dead wood within the playing staff. It could be said that he did that. Perhaps some of the players from the Martinez era had become complacent and were causing divisions within the camp.But the cull, together with a reluctance to provide Mackay with sufficient cash to find adequate replacements, left the club so short of quality players that relegation was always going to be a possibility. Mackay was to replace the departed players with those on short term contracts or young loanees green behind the ears. It was a recipe for disaster.

So many fans are relieved that Mackay will not be at the club next year, even if it is in League 1. But it should not hide the lack of foresight and decisiveness by new chairman, Sharpe, who left it too late in dismissing him.

Give us your thoughts on Brentford’s season

Many of us were shocked by the decision to not continue with Mark Warburton. I wonder if he had come to Wigan with Rosler we might have been promoted by now, rather than relegated.

Warburton deserves commendation for what he has done since he took over as manager. He has stuck to his guns by insisting that the team play good football and their quality has surprised others in the division. To be within reach of a playoff spot on the last day of the season is some achievement.

Whoever follows Warburton is on a hiding to nothing. You have to hope that Benham will make the right appointment. Whelan made a major blunder at Wigan by appointing the “long ball” Coyle following the departure of “tiki taka” Martinez. You need to appoint a manager who will build on what is established, rather than one who will destroy it.

There was an enormous who-ha over Wigan’s poaching of Adam Forshaw at the start of the season. He gave his reason for leaving being he wanted to move to a ‘bigger club’ and to one that was ‘challenging for promotion’. A bit cheeky. Would you admit, looking at how the season has panned out, Forshaw made the wrong move? He was a key player for us and has become a bit player since his move.

Rosler was building for the future by signing a handful of younger players. Andy Delort, Adam Forshaw, Emyr Huws, Aaron Taylor-Sinclair and James Tavernier were brought in. All were stars at their clubs last season and they are still good players. Sadly they were dragged into a situation where even experienced and capable pros, such as Ivan Ramis, Shaun Maloney and Leon Barnett, had been struggling to impose themselves on the field of play. Sadly those young players were mismanaged, first by Rosler then by Mackay.

Forshaw’s transfer had hit the headlines because of the bad feeling it created between the clubs. From the player’s point of view he was rejoining the manager who had nurtured him to the point of becoming League 1 Player of the Year. He was also joining a club that had a squad good enough to challenge for promotion, which would offer him a more lucrative contract.

Like those other young players Forshaw was never able to truly establish himself. He made 13 starts, with three appearances off the bench, scoring one goal.

Talking of Forshaw, his agent played him a big BIG get-out-of-jail card. Out of the blue he got him a move to promotion-chasing Middlesbrough after staring relegation in the face. At one stage, he looked destined for the Premier League with them but now has to settle for the playoffs. Assuming we don’t make the playoffs, do you think Forshaw will be a Premier League player next season?

Ben Watson’s agent did even better. Since leaving for Watford in January he has been a regular in a side that is already promoted. Forshaw has been largely used as a substitute by Middlesbrough, making only five starts.

Forshaw had been part of the January cull, with the club cutting their potential losses for the season by selling players off for whatever transfer money they could get and freeing others on lucrative contracts. So many fans had been disenchanted by the lack of performance by the squad that Mackay did not meet the opposition one would have expected when selling off the family silver. But there were fans who thought the departures of young players with potential was worrying.

Aitor Karanka has done a good job at Middlesbrough. They can play attractive football and will have as much chance as any other team in the playoffs. We learned last year what a lottery the playoffs can be. Should Boro get promoted they are going to have to bring in a lot of new players as their squad is not anywhere near Premier League standard.

Forshaw still has not established as a regular starter in the Championship, but he does have potential and maybe the Premier League environment would suit him?

For a while Latics fans were a bit disenchanted with Brentford over the Forshaw saga, but most of us will wish the Bees well in the quest for promotion. You have an outside chance of getting into the playoff zone, then a one in four chance of winning the playoffs. But the likelihood is that Derby will win at home to Reading on Saturday. If they do then I will fancy their playoff chances. Despite poor recent form their squad is probably the best outside the top two.

The Rotherham result in midweek has consigned you to Division 1. Despite our little ding dong earlier this season, most Brentford fans would actually prefer you stayed up. We had a good day out at Wigan much preferring it to our trips to places like Bolton and Millwall to be quite honest. How do you think you will get on next season???

Wigan is a friendly town and away fans seem to enjoy their visits. I went to Millwall for the first time a couple of weeks ago and can understand why your fans are not keen.

Dave Whelan is now 78 and after 20 years of guiding the club he has stepped back. He made a mistake with the Malky Mackay appointment and his inappropriate comments were gobbled up by the national media. It has sadly tarnished the image of a man who has done more for Wigan Athletic than anyone before.

When all this was going on the club seemed to have no direction and leadership. But now Latics have a new chairman and a new manager, both young and hungry for success. The 23 year old David Sharpe wisely opted for a manager who believes in playing football the “Wigan way”. Moreover his expectation is that Gary Caldwell – only 32 years old – will stay in the position long-term.

Next season is a great unknown for us. There will be another mass exodus over summer as the club sheds its highest wage earners and rebuilds. Sharpe has already stated his goal of promotion next season, but most of us realise that this might not happen so quickly. A large number of new players will be coming in and it is going to take time for them to gel and learn to play football with the style that Caldwell expects.

With the youngest manager and youngest chairman in the four divisions at the helm there is renewed optimism at Wigan. The era of Whelan has gone, but an exciting new one is about to commence.

Do you think you players will turn up at the weekend?

More than half of the players who made the starting lineup against Wolves last weekend are on short-term contracts which finish next month. Many of the remainder are likely to be leaving in summer. Will this motley crew give their commitment on Saturday?

Nevertheless Caldwell will expect them to give their all and many might want to impress possible future employers. Moreover there is no pressure on them to get a result.

Given such a scenario who knows what will happen? It could be a surprise victory for Latics or a hammering.

My guess is that it will be a 1-1 draw.

 

 

The controversial MAF

Fortunemiss

“Marco is a quality player and we were very impressed by just how well he did for us last season. People say he didn’t have a fantastic scoring record. But look at the goals from midfield after he came in. The goals the other boys scored because the way he played was phenomenal. Marco had a great ethic about him in his training as well as his playing. He was a privilege to work with.”

So said Peter Grant when Marc-Antoine Fortune signed for Celtic in July 2009. Grant had moved to a coaching position at Celtic after a spell at West Bromwich Albion, where he had previously worked with the French Guianan.

Celtic had paid Nancy a fee of £3.8m for “MAF”, after he had impressed in a loan spell with West Bromwich in the second half of the 2008-09 season. MAF had become a fan favourite at the Hawthorns and after 18 appearances and 5 goals he was voted ‘’Player of the Season”.

Sadly times have changed for MAF. A mere mention of his name among Wigan Athletic supporters will cause controversy.

The player appears shot-shy, unwilling or unable to make the probing runs off the ball that are expected of a striker. But despite a record of 7 goals in 70 appearances (including 43 starts), MAF continues to figure prominently in Malky Mackay’s plans. It causes a considerable amount of consternation among the majority of fans. Put simply, how can a player with such a striking record regularly make the starting lineup?

However, MAF does have his supporters who will say that he is a real team player, with his strong hold-up play and willingness to chase. Moreover on occasions when he has been substituted during the course of a game, Latics’ play has got worse, not better. The team so often seems to play better when he is on the pitch.

At 33 and nearing the end of his contract, will there be a possibility of him staying at Wigan? He has never been a prolific goalscorer, but there have been spells at clubs where his record has been well within the acceptable range. Is he at the end of his career now or can he still show that he can score goals more often?

That move to Celtic had been potentially the high point of MAF’s career, but despite scoring 10 goals in 32 appearances for the Glasgow club, he could not live up to his price tag and new manager Neil Lennon shipped him off to West Bromwich a year later.

MAF was not able to relieve his previous highs in his second spell with the midlands club, but nevertheless stayed with them for three more years. He was to score 10 goals in 62 appearances.

When Owen Coyle took over as Wigan Athletic manager in the summer of 2013 he had a major rebuilding job to do with a squad that had been decimated following relegation from the Premier League. Coyle had been given a year to get the club back into the Premier League. His recruitment plan was to largely focus on seeking experienced professionals who had played in the Premier League.

In his signing of Grant Holt and MAF it looked like he had found a good blend of strikers. Holt was the bustling, goalscoring centre forward, with MAF the foil, through his unselfish and hardworking support. Sadly the partnership never really got together , with Holt dispatched off on loan in January.

Their lack of success had drawn criticism from many fans of Coyle’s signing of two 32 year olds on long term contracts. With the departure of Holt on loan the focus fell more and more on MAF. Under Coyle he had made 19 appearances, which included only 8 starts. His solitary goal had come ironically from a superb crossfield pass from Grant Holt at Yeovil. However, he was to find favour with new manager Uwe Rosler under whom he made 15 starts and 15 appearances off the bench, scoring 4 goals.

When Oriol Riera and Andy Delort were signed early on in the current season, and with Martyn Waghorn’s proven goalscoring record, it had looked like MAF would fall well down the pecking order. But he has come bouncing back. Riera and Delort are gone, Waghorn is marginalised and new signing Billy Mckay finds himself warming the bench. MAF has weathered the storm, working under three managers at Wigan, all of whom have shown faith in his abilities.

So far this season MAF has made 22 starts, with 5 appearances off the bench. He has scored 2 goals and made no assists. The last time he scored a goal at the DW Stadium was in February 2014.

Despite the value MAF might add through his hold-up play and commitment can Malky Mackay continue to justify his inclusion in a team desperately short on goals?

Has Mackay considered playing MAF wide on the right, where he can play an effective role but not labour under the burden of scoring goals?

The controversy appears set to linger on until the end of a bitterly disappointing season.

 

 

Latics in a quagmire

Mud

Rugby League has never really appealed to me. In my pre-adolescent days Wigan RLFC used to have a good deal for kids. You could go and watch the famous Cherry and Whites for threepence in the ‘hen pen’ behind the goals. I did it twice, once when they beat Hull and finally when Ryan Giggs’ father, Danny Wilson, inspired Salford to victory there.

Central Park was just five minutes’ walk from where I lived, right next to the town centre. So when my dad asked me if I would like to make the longer crosstown walk over to Springfield Park on a rainy day I had to think twice about it. But from the moment I watched Latics that first time, as an eleven year old, there was no way I was going back to the hen pen.

I have maintained little interest in watching the local rugby team playing a sport that I have rarely found entertaining. But on Saturday I tuned into the second half of the World Club Challenge game between the Warriors and the Brisbane Broncos. The commentators were waxing lyrically about what a good game it was, but all I could see was the Warriors penned into their own half, unable to move forward on a quagmire of a pitch. It was dull stuff until they surprisingly broke away from their own half and equalized near the end of the game. By that time the pitch was totally ruined, so a little bit more punishment caused by the game going into extra time was not going to make that much difference.

It is the first rugby league game I have watched for ten years and a similar time period could elapse before I watch another. The pitch clearly made things difficult for both teams. It made me wonder if the Warriors would have been able to hold the Broncos to such a tight margin if the pitch had been better. Then my thoughts turned to the Cardiff match. Could it be that the quagmire pitch might actually help Latics?

The term ‘quagmire’ can be used to describe not only the DW Stadium pitch, but also the current plight of Wigan Athletic. They are stuck in a quagmire in their fight to avoid relegation. Most of the more skilful players in the squad have deserted a sinking ship and the manager has the most unenviable record in the Football League of W2 D3 L10. Moreover Malky Mackay’s plans have been hit by long term injuries to Emyr Huws, Chris Herd and Leon Clarke, plus a two week absence for William Kvist who has been the team’s most consistent performer over recent weeks. Having shipped the likes of Delort, Kiernan, Riera and Tavernier off on loan he is left with a squad that is starting to look threadbare.

Mackay and Latics are certainly in a quagmire and there appears no way out of it. The manager has dismantled the old squad, brought in new players, but performances continue to be well below par. Latics have got worse, not better, during Mackay’s tenure. Dave Whelan is back in town and clearly worried about results. If Latics do not beat Cardiff tonight will he be showing Mackay the door?

Cardiff City’s form has also slumped over the past couple of months, so Latics will face another side low on confidence like themselves. It would appear to be a real opportunity to pick up three precious points, but over recent weeks Latics have thrown away games against teams in similar situations. The home defeats to struggling Rotherham and Charlton sides were a bitter pill to swallow. But can they actually win tonight playing on that quagmire of a pitch?

The critics would say that good football has not been evident since Mackay’s arrival, with goals from set pieces the order of the day. The pitch could stifle any attacking moves from the opposition and a goal from a set piece could win it. Mackay will rue the absence of Kvist, with his long throw-ins.

It is likely to be a grim night for lovers of good football tonight at the DW Stadium. But it is the result that is paramount. A win for Latics would provide at least a ray of hope for the future. Less than that will surely bog them down even more in the quagmire that Mackay finds himself in.