Kvist is back – but for how long?

 

His last appearance for Latics had been as a substitute at Derby in late October. Despite that William Kvist made a successful return, playing the full 94 minutes against Blackburn Rovers yesterday.

Why had the Denmark captain been left out in the cold for so long? Can he become a regular component of Malky Mackay’s team?

Kvist is by no means an exciting player to watch. His preferred role is to sit in front of the back four, making tackles and interceptions, using the ball economically. However, given the fragility of the Wigan Athletic defence the shielding that Kvist can provide could be invaluable.

Kvist was signed at the end of the summer transfer window and has now made seven starts for Latics, with three appearances off the bench. Strangely enough until yesterday he had made as many starts for Denmark this season as he had for Latics.

The Dane arrived at Wigan with a reputation for long throw-ins. Uwe Rosler did not utilize that part of his game. However, given Malky Mackay’s focus on set plays we are likely to see him use Kvist in that way, providing he is included in the team. But will Kvist still be at Wigan two weeks from now?

There were rumours that Kvist (and Thomas Rogne) were looking to move in January. Despite the midfield functioning as badly as it has over the past weeks Mackay has stuck with long term injury returnees Chris McCann and Ben Watson. McCann has started in all ten games since Mackay arrived, being substituted only twice in the closing minutes. Although still not back to his form of last season the Irishman has done well to get back his match fitness. Watson too has been an ever-present under Mackay, although his appearance against Birmingham was off the bench. Following two long spells out following leg breaks, Watson has shown his resilience, although the standard of his play has been disappointing. Given such injuries one wonders how comfortable he is coping with the physicality of Championship teams’ midfields.

The departure of Roger Espinoza and the indifferent form of Watson surely precipitated Kvist’s return. However, the conspiracy theorists will say that his reappearance against Blackburn was an effort by Mackay to put him in the shop window, with an imminent departure a possibility. But Kvist has never let Latics down and surely deserves the opportunity to stake a claim for a regular place.

Yesterday also saw the return of the 21 year old Welshman, Emyr Huws. The ankle injury that was hampering his fight for a regular place in the starting lineup under Rosler was to put him out of action for weeks. When fully fit Huws will be a big asset. He is strong, energetic and tough in the tackle. The opposition know his skills are a threat, as indicated by the 29 fouls he has suffered, compared with the 16 he has committed.

Andy Delort continues to bide his time but at least was given more of a chance yesterday, coming on after 72 minutes, rather than the dying moments. Mackay clearly does not rate him, but Delort will want to prove him wrong. Delort’s main problem under Rosler was being played as a lone centre forward, which he is not. However, Mackay has been playing two upfront as of late and if he will give the young Frenchman a run in the team we will finally get to know whether he is capable of becoming a top striker in the Championship.

The futures of such as Kvist and Delort at Wigan are in the balance. It may well depend on which other players are offloaded. So far Espinoza, Oriol Riera and James Tavernier have been offloaded, with Liam Ridgewell coming in on a short term loan.

It looked like Shaun Maloney might go to Leicester, but the Foxes did not offer him the length of contract that he was seeking. The alternative is for him to wait until the end of the season and be in a strong negotiating position as a free agent, with Celtic and Chicago Fire both reportedly interested.

Mackay will be keen to get in funds to help him seek his own transfer preferences. If money does not come in for Maloney the departure of Callum McManaman could be hastened.

The family silver is to be sold and by the end of the season the squad could be stripped bare of quality players. If Latics stay up and Mackay is still here in August we will be seeing a different brand of football, but hopefully one with commitment from the players.

Skill alone does not suffice, particularly in the harsh world of the Championship division.

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Players who don’t seem to care – Norwich (H) match reaction

Can Mackay turn it around?

Can Mackay turn it around?

Over the years we have seen some abject performances from Latics with woeful scorelines. Too often when they were in the Premier League they would play a top of the table team and hold their own until the opponents scored their first goal. The confidence would sag and the legs would start to go. The exertion required to hold back the tide had taken too much out of the players, both physically and mentally. It almost looked like the players didn’t seem to care. It was akin to capitulation.

But those players did care. It was a learning experience for so many of them, but they would bounce back and get the most amazing results against those same elite clubs. One always felt with Roberto Martinez that he was trying to do something special, despite the very limited resources he had to work with. It was the mental side of things that he was building up. The players had to be mentally tough to compete against teams with so much more individual quality than they had.

After five decades of watching Latics I have rarely felt as depressed as I was after yesterday’s Norwich game. The stats show that Wigan committed just 5 fouls, to the Canaries’ 12. Neither side received a yellow card. Did those players really care? Where was the passion?

It was sad to see Uwe Rosler’s demise. It was inevitable, given the awful results that his team was getting this season. But Rosler at least had a vision of the kind of football he wanted, even if the players were unable or unwilling to produce it.

The football we saw yesterday was reminiscent of the worst days of Rosler’s predecessor, Owen Coyle. The goalkeeper and the defenders hoofing the ball upfield to a lone centre forward. To his credit Fortune did actually defy the odds and win some of those balls yesterday. But the possession he gained was too often squandered by teammates.

Despite his reputation as a motivational manager, Mackay was unable to motivate his players yesterday. His team selection and tactics surely did not help.

The local newspaper had got us excited about Shaun Maloney coming back after illness. When the team was announced it looked like he would play in the attacking midfield position, in front of Chris McCann and Ben Watson. But Maloney was to be confined to the left wing and James McClean occupied that role. McClean was like a fish out of water. He has a repertoire of skills,  but not those needed for that position. Maloney never got into the game and was substituted after 47 minutes.

Mackay left Emmerson Boyce on the bench and neither Gary Caldwell nor Thomas Rogne even appeared there. Instead Mackay brought in Maynor Figueroa at centre back. Figs rarely played for Latics as a centre half in a conventional back four in the Martinez days. When he did it was not particularly successful. He could be excellent playing on the left of a back line of three central defenders, but that is quite distinct from the position he played yesterday.

Mackay took most of us by surprise when he named both of the previously long-term absentees, McCann and Watson in the team to play at Sheffield. It was even more of a shock to see them paired together again yesterday. McCann had actually performed well in his first two matches, but he and Watson were unable to turn it on yesterday. The two are crucial to Latics turning the season around. Mackay is taking a gamble in playing the two so much after their long recuperations from injury. He runs the risk of losing them with their bodies taking a toll of not playing for 8-9 months.

As expected, Don Cowie made his first appearance under Mackay, who had been his manager at both Watford and Cardiff. Cowie went to right midfield where he performed as he has before in that position. Pedestrian to be sure, but Cowie will at least make the effort. The result was Callum McManaman being pushed inside and not seeming to know where he was playing.

The hard-working Fortune was taken off after 82 minutes to be replaced by Roger Espinoza. Given the insipid, characterless stuff we had seen up to that point it was a pity Espinoza had not been brought on earlier. The player has many qualities, not the least of which is to fight for the ball and run forward with enthusiasm. But, even then, he was a midfielder replacing a central striker with Latics a goal behind.

Mackay was to make his biggest gaffe of the afternoon by bringing on Andy Delort after 88 minutes for Chris McCann. Fortune can rarely be faulted for effort and he often does a remarkable job of bringing down and controlling Scott Carson’s long kicks. But he is rarely a threat to the opponents’ goal. Delort has been scoring goals for the development squad. Admittedly there is a gulf between the Final Third Development League and the Championship, but the Frenchman also has a fine goalscoring record in Ligue 2, not light years away. Bringing Delort on so late is hardly going to help his confidence.

Mackay has a difficult task ahead of him. However, for the last two games his players have not competed as they need to. Moreover he has made baffling team selections.

He needs to get his act together soon, or Latics will be in deep, deep trouble.

Turning the tide – Latics v Norwich

Tide2

The arrival of a new manager so often spurs a team in to playing better. With the improved performances come better results.

Malky Mackay will be hoping that is the case when Latics face Norwich tomorrow. He had a positive start when he recalled the old guard against Middlesbrough, who did well but could not quite get the win they hoped for. But his second match saw two defensive errors give away three points against a mediocre Sheffield Wednesday side.

Like Latics, Norwich come off a run of bad results. In fact their records over the last six games are identical W1 D2 L3. The Canaries started the season well and new signings Cameron Jerome and Lewis Grabban were banging the goals in. However, since then they have found the Championship division harder than perhaps they had anticipated.

As Callum McManaman and Shaun Maloney will testify, referees in this division do not protect skillful players like they do in the Premier League. The Norwich playmaker, Wes Hoolahan, has only played 12 games this season and is still carrying an ankle injury. However, given his importance to the team, manager Neil Adams might risk the little Irishman tomorrow despite not being fully fit. Norwich can be expected to field an attacking lineup with winger Nathan Redmond joining Grabban and Jerome up front.

Ben Watson made his first start in nine months at Sheffield and looked understandably rusty. However, Mackay is likely to continue with him and Chris McCann in central midfield. Shaun Maloney is expected to return following illness. Should he be given a central midfield role then Adam Forshaw will find himself on the bench. However, Maloney could be played wide on the left with Forshaw continuing. Don Cowie is fit again and will challenge for a place, either in central or right midfield.

Mackay fielded two wingers- Callum McManaman and James McClean – at Sheffield. But he will surely have found, as did Uwe Rosler and Owen Coyle previously, that playing the two wide men at the same time just does not work.

Emmerson Boyce moved into the centre of defence in the second half at Sheffield with Leon Barnett. The lack of form of central defenders in recent games is a cause for concern, but Mackay will most likely stick with the two Bs, with James Perch and Andrew Taylor at full back.

The performance at Sheffield once again highlighted the need for a goalscoring centre forward, who receives the necessary support. McManaman and McClean ended up putting in crosses that were too often uncontested.

Mackay’s preferred formation at Cardiff was based on a version of 4-5-1 that was close to the 4-3-3 preferred by Rosler. Like Rosler, it has not been his wont to play with twin strikers. However, given the repeated failure of Latics to put the ball into the back of the net, will he is willing to change his formation? The exciting McManaman is much more effective in a free role than marooned out on the right wing where he it is easier for opposition defenders to pick him off.

Various combinations exist for a twin strike force – choose any two from Delort/Fortune/McClean/ McManaman/Riera/Waghorn. A switch to 4-4-2 would certainly be worth a try.

Once again this is a match that Latics can certainly win. Perhaps Lady Luck might be on Wigan’s side this time? There have been so many times this season when Latics have been within a whisker of getting a crucial goal.

Perhaps the tide will turn tomorrow?

Sheffield Wednesday preview – keeping a settled team?

SheffWed

Photo courtesy of SWFC.

Wigan Athletic travelled to Hillsborough on December 18th last year, only their second ever visit to that famous ground that hosted FA Cup semi-finals for so many years. Wigan were on a high. After a miserable run of defeats under Owen Coyle and caretaker management they had welcomed the charismatic Uwe Rosler. Just three days before the German had won his first game in charge, with a 3-2 victory over arch-rivals Bolton.

Almost a year on, Wigan Athletic find themselves with another new manager in his second game in charge, once again hoping to turn back a tide of bad results. With all the media hype about emails and racism the mood in Wigan is not as bright as it was a year ago, although there exists a significant faction of supporters who have faith in the ability of new manager, Malky Mackay, to turn things around.

Latics were playing well at Hillsborough a year ago, being 1-0 up through a goal from James McClean, only for the match to be abandoned after 59 minutes because of the torrential rain. They were to return to Hillsborough on February 11th to claim a 3-0 victory with two goals from Nicky Maynard and one from Marc-Antoine Fortune. It signaled the beginning of an eight game unbeaten run in the league with seven wins and a draw.

How times have changed. Latics currently lie in 23rd place in the Championship table, with Wednesday five points above them in 13th place. Strangely enough Wednesday have won only one out of nine home games this season, scoring just three goals. However, their defensive record is strong with only 14 goals conceded in 18 matches.

Latics put up a good performance in Mackay’s first game as manager, drawing 1-1 with high flyers Middlesbrough last Saturday, thanks to a superb free kick from Shaun Maloney. Mackay will be looking at building upon that performance to get a good result at Hillsborough.

One of the main criticisms levelled against Rosler was his constant rotation of the team. It will be therefore be revealing to see if Mackay sticks with the lineup that was a shade unfortunate not to beat Middlesbrough last weekend.

However, a lack of firepower upfront remains a huge concern for Latics. There are plenty of fans who would like to see a frontline pairing of Andy Delort and Oriel Riera. The two played together in midweek for the development squad, Delort scoring two and Riera hitting the post for Jordan Flores to tap in. Would Mackay be willing to vary his tactical formation to allow this to happen?

The big question is whether Mackay’s arrival can lift Latics in the same way that Rosler’s lifted them just over a year ago.

The performance on Saturday will give us at least an indication of whether Latics really can turn around a hugely disappointing start to the season.

Development squad beats Morecambe 4-0.

What a Game! Wigan Athletic 3 Fulham 3

 

Adam Forshaw is congratulated after his penalty.  Photo courtesy of Fulham FC.

Adam Forshaw is congratulated after his penalty.
Photo courtesy of Fulham FC.

It was as entertaining as any game could be – with six goals and two red cards it kept us on our toes for 96 minutes.

Uwe Rosler shocked the fans by resisting his tinkering tendencies and naming an unchanged lineup from the one that started the previous game against Derby.

Latics started well, their pressing allowing Fulham no time on the ball. In the 9th minute Callum McManaman was tripped in the box for a penalty. Adam Forshaw stepped up and scored his first Latics goal, hitting through the middle as goalkeeper Bettinelli dove to his right. Latics continued to look bright but their incisive approach play did not produce another goal.

But by around the 20 minute mark Latics’ high pressing had practically evaporated as Fulham crowded out the midfield and started to dominate possession. It did not come as a big surprise when in the 30th minute Scott Parker put through a superb ball for Lasse Vigen to evade Leon Barnett and tuck the ball past Scott Carson. Then six minutes later Ross McCormack’s right footed punt from the left was easily chested home at the far post by Bryan Ruiz with the left side of Wigan’s defence caught sleeping. Fulham’s wide players had caused Latics’ defence constant problems and Hugo Rodallega was looking lively. The visitors went into half time with a 2-1 lead.

Latics came out in the second half showing renewed vigour and got the equalizer after 52 minutes. The ball came to Roger Espinoza some 25 yards out and he hit a fine volley past Bettinelli. The game became open with end to end play, neither defence looking comfortable. Callum McManaman had a good effort saved, then the dangerous young left winger George Williams crossed for McCormack to force a fine save from Carson. James McClean replaced an out of sorts Emyr Huws after 61 minutes, with Don Cowie moving into the centre of midfield. McCormack handed Latics the advantage after 74 minutes when he received his second yellow card after an altercation with McClean.

Shaun Maloney came on as substitute for McManaman and scored a well taken goal in the 82nd minute following an exchange of passes with Espinoza. It looked as if Latics were going to snatch a much wanted three points but it was not to be. In the 86th minute Kiernan’s inability to clear a lofted ball saw Rodallega running through on goal, to be cut down by Barnett. Barnett received a red card and Ruiz slotted home the penalty. Ivan Ramis came on for Espinoza as the game continued for another 10 minutes, until reaching its conclusion.

The Good

Latics extended their unbeaten run to six, albeit including five draws. Confidence is increasing and new partnerships on the field are being built.

Rosler’s pressing tactic worked well for the opening quarter. It helped Latics get off to a good start and they looked the better team at that stage, with good movement from the midfield.

Despite being behind at the interval they did not drop their heads and would probably have won the game if it weren’t for a defensive error.

Tavernier’s crossing was of high quality and he looks such a fine player going forward. Forshaw was involved throughout and is coming to terms with the physical side of play in the Championship division.

Espinoza was an inspiration. His passing was crisp and precise, he scored a cracking goal and made an assist for another.

Marc-Antoine Fortune once again was tireless in the target man role, his hold-up play being excellent.

The Bad

The back four were awful. Tavernier was repeatedly exposed by the 19 year old Williams and the centre backs did not mesh together. On the left Maynor Figueroa was useful going forward, but looked vulnerable in defence.

The ploy of playing Cowie in right midfield to allow Tavernier to attack did not work. On occasions when Tavernier was found wanting Cowie was not able to provide the support. Cowie looked one dimensional and short of pace on the right, but much better when moved into central midfield later in the game.

It appears that Cowie is heading the same way with the DW crowd as did Jordi Gomez in his early days at Wigan. Roberto Martinez always had faith in Gomez, despite the frustration he could cause among fans in passing the ball backwards or sideways. However, Gomez was never an automatic choice for Martinez, but Cowie has been so under Rosler.

After dominating the opening stages through their high pressing it was frustrating to see Latics drop back and allow Fulham to control the game. Was it something coming from the manager or were the players physically unable to keep up the pressing for longer than 20 minutes or so?

Tavernier is a talented young player, who will hopefully have a bright future at Wigan. In some ways he is reminiscent of Ryan Taylor. Taylor joined Latics as a right back, but was not a success in that position. Taylor proved to be so invaluable from set pieces that Steve Bruce would find a position for him in the team. That might also become the case with Tavernier.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 7 – made some good saves, but was stranded for Fulham’s second goal.

James Tavernier: 5.5 – good in attack, vulnerable in defence.

Leon Barnett: 4.5 – good in the air but otherwise poor.

Rob Kiernan: 4 – poor.

Maynor Figueroa: 5.5 – not at his best.

Adam Forshaw: 7 – worked hard, rarely wasted the ball.

Emyr Huws: 5 – not as involved as usual. Is his ankle still troubling him? Taken off after 61 minutes.

Roger Espinoza: 9 – the best player on the pitch.

Don Cowie: 4 – poor.

Callum McManaman: 6 – heavily marked, but still posed a threat to Fulham’s defence. Fouled for the penalty. Lasted until the 81st minute.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: 8 – clearly relishing his place in the lineup ahead of Delort and Riera.

Substitutes:

James McClean: – full of running, but unable to provide that final pass.

Shaun Maloney: – took his goal well.

Ivan Ramis: – came on 85 minutes too late. Why was he not in from the start?

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