Will Powell be back for the playoffs?

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Wigan Athletic have a paltry goalscoring record this season, notching just 81 goals in 60 matches. But among the goals they have scored there have been some absolute crackers. Jean Beausejour’s rocket shot at Derby, Jordi Gomez’s free kicks, Roger Espinoza’s 35 yard blinder against MK Dons.

But in terms of sheer self-confidence and artistry Nick Powell’s second goal in the Europa League home game against Maribor stands out. It is the kind of thing that one might expect to happen at places like the Nou Camp or the Bernabeu, but it was certainly a joy to see it at the DW.

Powell was the hero for Latics that night. His first goal had come after 22 minutes from a simple header into an empty net after the Slovenian goalkeeper had made a hash of a punch. Ben Watson scored with a header from Jean Beausejour’s cross some 12 minutes later. But Maribor clawed their way back into the game as Latics went flat, scoring after 61 minutes. Powell’s deciding goal came in the 91st minute when he somehow found the energy that most of his teammates did not have to slalom through the visitor’s defence and score with aplomb.

That was in early October and Powell’s stock was high. His name was being touted around the media as the one who could go back to Old Trafford and lift his parent club out of their lethargy.

Owen Coyle was clearly delighted to sign Powell on loan last August, saying “I said to David (Whelan) when I was bringing him in, for me it was a win-win-win situation.We would win out of it because we got a terrific player, Nick Powell would win because I’ve given him a platform to showcase his talents and Manchester United will get back a more-developed player with more experience and a player who can challenge; as we’ve done before with the Sturridges and the Wilsheres.There’s no doubt from me he can have a huge career.”

During the time Coyle was at Wigan it looked like his assessment of Powell’s potential might be right. The 19 year old was to get rich experience in Europe, starting in five of the six Europa League games and coming on for the last half hour in the other in Kazan. His first appearance for Latics was coming on as a substitute in the 2-0 defeat at Leicester on September 14th. Five days later he started in the unfamiliar centre forward position in the 0-0 draw with Zulte Waregem in Bruges. With experienced central strikers Grant Holt and Marc-Antoine Fortune struggling with injuries, Powell soon established himself in that position.

Alex Ferguson had signed him from Crewe in July 2012. Powell had been a boy wonder with the Railwaymen, making his debut at the age of 16. He was to get lots of media attention scoring a spectacular goal for Crewe in the 2012 League 2 playoff final, but he had already agreed on a move to Old Trafford before then.

The iconic Dario Gradi, Director of Football at Crewe, explained what Ferguson saw in Powell: “He is athletic, he’s a good size, he’s good physically and he’s bright, he knows where people are around him. His clever with his play, he’s not just twinkle toes. Nick’s got a brain and a desire and Alex spotted it on the strength of one outing.”

Powell had become a key player in Coyle’s squad. Given the number of games Latics were facing Coyle was operating a rotation policy but Powell seemed to be the one Latics forward who could go the full 90 minutes on a regular basis. It prompted fans to wonder about the fitness levels of his team mates. At the time of the Scot leaving the club in December, Powell had made 14 starts, 3 appearances as a substitute and scored 6 goals.

In both of Graham Barrow’s games in charge, Powell started, but was substituted early in the second half. He was pulled off after 65 minutes in Uwe Rosler’s first game, the 2-1 defeat at Maribor. However, in the next match he came back to play the full ninety against Bolton, scoring with a bicycle kick in Latics’ 3-2 win.

He scored a goal in the 2-1 win at Reading in the next match, but was taken off at half time. Around that time in late December media speculation over Powell’s future was going haywire. The main theme was that Manchester United were going to recall him from his loan spell. Another version was that he was either going to go on loan to another Premier League club for the rest of the season or another club was to sign him. The names of Everton and Swansea were often quoted.

In the event, Powell was to stay at Wigan until the end of the season. His next goals came after coming on in the 60th minute in the FA Cup tie at MK Dons when Latics were in trouble. His two well- taken goals helped them reach the fourth round.

Injury caused Powell to miss the month of February and he returned to the field on March 12th coming on in the 54th minute in the 1-0 home win over Sheffield Wednesday. Since then Powell has only completed two games, including a goal in the 3-3 home draw with Yeovil. His other goal was an 88th minute equalizer at Bolton, after coming on at the 70 minute mark. The last game he completed was the 1-0 defeat at QPR on March 25th.

Since Uwe Rosler’s arrival, Powell has made 12 starts, 10 appearances off the bench and scored 6 goals. The stats paint a different story than in the first half of the season under Coyle.

Nick Powell had an impressive start to his loan spell under Owen Coyle. Although Ferguson and Manchester United signed him as a midfield player,  Coyle thrust him into a central striking role. During Coyle’s tenure he looked the part.

The young player exudes a certain kind of arrogance in his body language on the field of play. Some have compared him to Berbatov, but under Coyle, Powell was willing to graft and defend in a way that would not typify the Bulgarian. Powell won the hearts of many Latics fans through not only his excellent technique and confident play, but also through the physical effort he put out for his team.

Somewhere along the line, Powell lost his way. He just has not been the same kind of player in the second part of the season. Have injuries and illness played a part? Has the extreme media attention got too much for him, above all not knowing where he will be next year? Or is it just that he is a young player, not long turned 20, who lacks consistency? The conspiracy theorists will say that there is a rift between Powell and Rosler.

What fans have seen over the past weeks is a Powell who has not shown the same kind of physical commitment that we saw earlier in the season. Moreover the swagger that the young player was showing in his body language earlier in the season was seen as a sign of self-belief, but  is now being interpreted by some as a “couldn’t care less” attitude. However, some would say that Powell has not been well used by Rosler, too often pushed out to the wings where he is less effective. At times under Coyle, he enjoyed a free role.

Nick Powell is a fine young player, who has represented his country at all youth levels 16-21. He has recently been nominated Crewe’s best player of all time. He is a class act and will almost certainly represent his country at senior level.

If Powell can make the playoffs – in a positive frame of mind and a good state of health and fitness – it might conceivably make the difference between another year in the Championship division or a return to the Premier League for Wigan Athletic.

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Manchester United 2 Wigan Athletic 0 – Latics go down

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James Perch was unlucky in deflecting Van Persie’s shot into his own goal.

Two goals from Robin Van Persie – a spectacular header after 6 minutes and a lucky deflection in the 59th minute – were enough to give United victory.

Scott Carson in the Wigan goal had no chance with either goal. Despite the bad start Wigan gradually clawed themselves back into the game and Scott Carson was underemployed most of the match, apart from a fine save from a Welbeck shot as half time approached.

Wigan started the game with six new players on the field, including James McClean who joined them in midweek. In contrast United fielded only one new face, that of Wilfried Zaha.

Dave Whelan had pronounced in the week that it was a game for Wigan players to enjoy, without the pressure of having to fight for league points. Maybe that would explain the distinct lack of competitive edge from Wigan in the first 20 minutes as United were allowed to caress the ball round in midfield without physical challenges coming in.

If Roberto Martinez were still manager he would have been enraged by the way Wigan defenders wasted the ball with hopeful long punts which were meat and drink for the Reds defence.

However, as the second half wore on Wigan started to pass the ball around from the back, denying United possession and looking a much better team. Had McClean shown a cool head when put through by a long ball from Stephen Crainey, Wigan could have equalised. However, instead of pushing the ball back to Grant Holt who could have slid the ball in, he shot from the narrowest of angles and it went wide.

A few minutes later Emmerson Boyce had a good opportunity from a free kick, but he headed across the box when a direct header on goal would have produced better results.

Grant Holt and Nemandja Vidic were involved in a series of physical tussles, with the big Serb not coming out on top. It was revealing to see him apparently appealing to referee Mark Clattenberg as the teams were going off for half time.

Wigan started the second half quite well but the deflection off James Perch from Van Persie’s shot left them an uphill task. Owen Coyle wisely made a raft of substititions in the final half hour, saving key players for the more important immediate task of a league match next weekend.

Dave Whelan’s quote that he saw it as “a show game, a bit of a friendly game” was reflected in the tempo of play. There was a real pre-season feel to the match and Wigan really did not too seem too worried about the score.

The Good

Up until the second goal Wigan were in with a chance of leveling the match. After the initial United onslaught they held firm and did not fall apart in the way that they have too often done in the past against the Manchester team.

With so many new players in the lineup it is going to take time for the team to gel. However, the defence looked firm and when they built up moves from the back Latics looked a much better team.

The Bad

Wigan were awful in the first 20 minutes. You simply cannot allow a team of the quality of United so much possession of the ball.

Three out of the back four are new to the team and are adjusting to the concept of passing the ball out of defence, rather than playing a long ball. The goalkeeper Scott Carson was also guilty of kicking too many long balls, when he could have passed to a defender in space.

Player ratings

Scott Carson: 6 – could not be faulted for either goal. Needs to work on his distribution

Emmerson Boyce: 5 – not at his best. Patrice Evra gave him problems in the second half.

Leon Barnett: 8- excellent throughout. Made a memorable sliding clearance from a dangerous low cross from Evra in the second half.

James Perch: 7.5 – so unlucky with the deflection for the second goal. Otherwise played well.

Stephen Crainey: 6 – very involved with a lot of touches on the ball. Needs to work on his distribution.

Ben Watson: 5 – worked hard to stem the flow of United attacks, but not at his best. Substituted after 71 minutes.

James McCarthy: 5 – not at his best. Substituted after 86 minutes.

James McArthur: 5 – together with Watson and McCarthy could not wrestle the midfield out of United’s grasp. Substituted after 60 minutes.

Shaun Maloney: 5 – worked hard to no avail. Substituted after 71 minutes.

Grant Holt: 6 – gave Vidic a torrid time, but had no opportunities for goals. Substituted after 60 minutes.

James McClean: 6 – fast and skillful, but lacking in judgment, not only when clear through on goal. Substituted after 60 minutes.

Substitutes:

After 60 minutes – Chris McCann, Callum McManaman, Marc-Antoine Fortune.

After 71 minutes – Roger Espinoiza, Jordi Gomez.

After 86 minutes – Nouha Dicko.

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Moyes has more to lose than Coyle – Community Shield preview

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The FA Community Shield

Dave Whelan is well known for supporting his managers and his comments during the week have already taken pressure off Owen Coyle ahead of Sunday’s Community Shield match at Wembley.

Whelan said that he regards the match as “a show game and a bit of a friendly game”. He downplayed its importance in comparison with league games adding that “It is the game in the football season that our boys can enjoy. Every league game is something where there is a lot at stake – three points – and we’ve got to fight for every single point.”

Coyle will be leading out a team that has his stamp on it. He has made ten new signings and at least half of those are likely to start the match.  He has already adapted the tactical system in an almost seamless transition. His players – new and old – are united in the aim of getting Wigan Athletic back into the Premier League. Moreover he has already won over the fans, many of whom were initially leery about his appointment.

For Moyes it is a “no-win”, no matter what the result. Manchester United have beaten Latics in 15 out of the 16 times they have met. Nothing short of an emphatic win is expected by their fans – any other result would be unacceptable. If United do win it will merely be a step forward to the start of the Premier League season. After all what is a win over  a Championship side worth to fans who are expecting their team to win at least one of the Premier League or Champions League?

Moyes has already been under intense media pressure and his progress in the transfer market is under scrutiny. He will be leading out Ferguson’s team at Wembley, not having made any major signings up to this point.

Wigan are likely to go into the match with the same starting lineup that played in the 4-0 win at Barnsley last week. With up to 6 substitutes allowed Coyle might well take the opportunity to give squad members a taste of the Wembley experience. Providing he is fit we can expect Callum McManaman to come on at some time and he will be anxious to impress. The occasion provides dynamic young players like McManaman and James McCarthy a stage upon which they can show their talents in front in front of a large TV audience.

Manchester United won the first Charity Shield – now known as the Community Shield – in 1908. They have won it 19 times – more than any other club.

Just like in the FA Cup Final the odds are stacked against Wigan Athletic and a win for the Reds is by far the most likely outcome.

But Latics fans will continue to “Believe”  –  Wigan have nothing to lose and an upset remains possible.

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