A trip to Moss Rose

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Mauro Boselli’s rocket shot at Bournemouth on Tuesday was eventful in more ways than one. Once more he showed the kind of clinical finishing that Latics have desperately lacked in the Premier League this season. The big question is whether he will ever be able to show such finishing in the Premier League. Roberto Martinez has been reluctant to put him in there, but has the time come for a change of heart? In any event, Boselli’s goal was enough to beat Bournemouth and set up a fascinating match at Macclesfield.

Macclesfield Town is a special name for those Wigan Athletic supporters who remember the club’s non-league era. My first sight of the ‘Silkmen’ was at Springfield Park in autumn of 1961, when the reigning Cheshire County League champions were visiting. Latics had only just got back into the league, at the expense of Wigan Rovers, after being relegated in 1947. However, they had finished in second place in the Lancashire Combination and were holding their own in the Cheshire League.This match proved to be a rude awakening for Wigan. Macc’s silver-haired player-manager, Frank Bowyer, led his team to a 4-1 rout. Macclesfield were to finish second and Wigan fifth at the end of the season.

Macclesfield proved to be formidable opponents for Wigan over the next couple of decades. A visit to their Moss Rose ground was to be feared and Latics often came unstuck there. One exception was a Boxing Day fixture on a snow-bound pitch in 1964 when Carl Davenport’s volley was the difference between the two sides. That was the season when Harry Lyon scored his 66 goals and Latics won the league, Macc finishing second. Both Wigan and Macclesfield joined the newly created Northern Premier League in 1968, each club winning the championship twice before Wigan got elected into the Football League 10 years later.

The fortunes of the clubs have differed greatly since those days. Wigan are in their eighth season in the Premier League and Macclesfield back in the Conference after 15 years in the Football League. There are people who knock Wigan Athletic’s success, but the reality is that Latics are four divisions above their old rivals. A remarkable achievement.

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What will January bring for Roberto?

Just over a year ago, on New Year’s Eve,  Wigan Athletic drew 2-2 at Stoke. The  point they gained kept them in 18th place in the Premier League. They had 15 points from 19 games. Jordi Gomez and Ronnie Stam had been in good form and Latics had survived an horrendous run of fixtures with their pride relatively intact. Despite their low league position there was just one new signing in the January transfer window and they went on to lose all four league games in January, plus an ignominious defeat in the FA Cup at Swindon of League 2. Fortunately their new signing, Jean Beausejour, was to later prove himself to be a key player in the fight to avoid relegation.

This season things are going a little better. Wigan already have 15 points from 16 games, but face a home tie with Arsenal and away games at Norwich, Everton and Aston Villa before the 2012 calendar year ends. Interestingly enough, Roberto Martinez speaks of strengthening his squad during the January transfer window. Free agent, Roger Espinoza, is already lined up and he promises to add a touch of steel to midfield – a second Hendry Thomas maybe? The American/Honduran is coming from a Kansas City side that topped the standings in the Eastern Conference of the MLS. Like other players coming from leagues that are not as competitive as the Premier League it will probably take him some time to adapt to the technical and athletic demands that will be placed upon him. One for the future probably.

We heard this week that ex-Swansea  midfield player, Ferrie Bodde, is being given a trial at Wigan. Bodde has had an horrendous past four years with serious knee injuries, being released by Swansea in summer after completing his contract. Bodde has never played in the Premier League. He has played only four first team games at Swansea since 2008.

Given the financial constraints that Roberto Martinez works under he is unlikely to be able to add any “ready-made” Premier League players to his squad in the transfer window. During Steve Bruce’s era at Wigan he was able to call on a backbone of highly experienced Premier League players – Emile Heskey, Mario Melchiot and Michael Brown, for example. The salaries paid to such players would not be sanctioned under the current financial regime at the club. Martinez is therefore more likely to be scouting around places like Scotland, Spain and Latin America for any January signings. La Liga is likely to be one of Martinez’ main markets since it is one of Europe’s strongest leagues and bargains can be found. Both Arouna Kone and Ivan Ramis have adapted quickly to the Premier League after coming from Levante and Mallorca, although one feels that the best is yet to come from them.

Speaking of Kone, his absence for the African Nations Cup in January is a concern. His country, Ivory Coast, have a difficult group, being drawn with Algeria, Togo and Tunisia. If his team qualifies for the knockout phase it will mean Kone being absent well into the month of February. Kone has become an important player for Wigan, with his ability to hold on to the ball and intelligent passing. His natural replacement would be Mauro Boselli, but he has been left out in the cold so often this season. Once again on Saturday, Martinez chose to bring him off the bench with only a handful of minutes remaining. There is a possibility that Martinez will give Boselli an extended run during Kone’s absence, but one cannot rule out his departure from Wigan in January. More likely that Martinez is looking for another central striker in the January transfer window.

So a midfield player is definitely lined up and there is a need for another striker. What other positions will Martinez be looking to supplement during the transfer window? The current squad remains the best Wigan have ever had, with competition for places in all positions. The position of most concern is that of goalkeeper. If Ali Al Habsi were to get injured then the choice would be between the 40 year old Mike Pollitt and youngster Lee Nicholls. Martinez might well be on the lookout for another goalkeeper who could provide the same kind of competition to Al-Habsi that players in other positions at the club are facing.

Let’s hope that January 2013 will be a successful month for Wigan Athletic, both in their league and cup performances and in their recruitment of new players. If any of the new signings in January makes the kind of difference that  Beausejour made, then Latics will be in a much better position to avoid getting drawn into the relegation mire. Whatever happens on the playing side there surely has to be an  an improvement on the results and performances of January 2012.

Bradford preview: More for Mauro?

I have often thought that the League Cup is a waste of time. Shadow teams playing each other in empty stadia. What purpose does it really serve? However, in a disappointing season for Wigan Athletic up to this point it has been the League Cup matches that have been the highlight. We have seen two successive 4-1 away wins where the finishing has been lethal, an uncommon experience for Latics fans. Moreover the ties have also shown that the club has considerable strength in depth, with ‘fringe’ players putting in excellent performances.

Will the finishing in the game against Bradford City tonight once again be of that order? Leading the charge, with three goals already in the competition, will be the excellent Mauro Boselli. Boselli is well on the way to proving his doubters wrong. It has been all too easy for the cynics to knock him. All kinds of misleading statistics have been thrown his way. Recently I even heard a football commentator on television say that Boselli had not scored a Premier League goal in three years at Wigan. It is not unusual for such people to put Wigan Athletic down, with their condescending attitudes towards the club. However, this recent comment was palpably unfair. Boselli started only five times in the first part of the 2010-2011 season before going off to Genoa and Estudiantes on loan. He has not started for Wigan in the Premier League since returning in July.

At Estudiantes, prior to joining Wigan, Boselli had scored 22 goals in 29 league starts in 2009-10 and 10 in 23 league starts in 2008-09. Impressive stats when playing for a relatively small club in a league with tight defences. He was the leading goalscorer in whole of the Copa Libertadores competition in 2008-09, helping his team lift the trophy with the match winner in the final against Cruzeiro. Since his return to Wigan he has been carefully nurtured by Roberto Martinez, being limited to three brief  substitute appearances in the Premier League. However, the snippets we have seen of Boselli’s finishing for Latics League Cup and Under 21 teams have shown us how he scored so many goals in tough and competitive competitions in South America. We may well see that tonight.

Prior to cup ties Roberto Martinez typically reiterates that they are an opportunity for the fringe players to break into the first choice lineup. However, he was careful to provide a backbone of experienced first choice players in defence for the wins at Forest and West Ham. Tonight he is likely to play both Roman Golobart and Adrian Lopez in the back three. They come from the opposite sides of Spain and have contrasting styles.

Roman Golobart – a Catalan from Barcelona in the east of Spain – is a big, powerful central defender, nevertheless with good passing ability. Golobart joined the club from Espanyol as a 17 year old in August 2009. Last season he had a successful loan spell at Inverness, being voted fans’ player of the year. Playing under the influence of manager Terry Butcher, ex-England centre half, will surely have helped his game. Still only 20 he is an excellent prospect.

Adrian Lopez –from the province of Coruña in Galicia, north west Spain – signed for Wigan in December 2010 from local team Deportivo La Coruña, as a free agent after a heated dispute over his contractual situation. In the previous three years he had played 26 matches for Deportivo, scoring one goal. In Spain he was known under his nickname ‘Piscu’ to distinguish him from the other Adrian Lopez ,a forward who plays for Atletico Madrid. Now 25 years old, Piscu has had 6 starts since joining Wigan. According to the Wigan Athletic club website, Lopez “ brings cultured development to Latics’ back line”. Clearly a different type of player to the more muscular Golobart. Lopez has struggled with the physicality of the Premier League, but Martinez retains confidence in the player.

Other likely starters for the match are Callum McManaman, Ronnie Stam, Fraser Fyvie, David Jones and Jordi Gomez. There are doubts over the fitness of Ryo Miyaichi. Albert Crusat remains out injured. Martinez may once again opt to put in some of his first choice players, although maybe fewer  than in the previous League Cup games with the away match at Tottenham coming up at the weekend.

Although tonight’s match is at the DW Stadium it might seem more like a home game for Bradford City, who have sold all of their 5,000 ticket allocation. Bradford are currently in 5th place in League Two, but have the highest average attendance in the division at just below 10,000.

Prediction: at least one goal from Mauro Boselli and a win for Wigan Athletic.

Nottingham Forest 1 Wigan Athletic 4 – Boselli leads the rout

One of the criticisms often leveled at Roberto Martinez’s Wigan Athletic teams is that they cannot finish. Four brilliantly executed goals destroyed their Championship opponents in this match.

Forest had dominated the early proceedings. However, in the 25th minute Ronnie Stam went on one of his foraging runs down the right and whipped in a trademark cross. It cut out the goalkeeper and defenders but not Mauro Boselli, who nipped in to score an opportunist header. How often last season Stam had played similar balls in that nobody capitalized on. The goal shocked Forest and more were to follow. Suddenly there were acres of space in midfield and classy Latics took full advantage. Watson and Jones started to dominate the centre of midfield, with their silky skills and high workrate, linking up well with the forwards and the wing backs.

Roberto Martinez had kept only four players from the team that had started at Southampton, and all at the back: Al Habsi, Ramis, Figueroa and Alcaraz, who was captain for the night in the absence of Caldwell. Ramis was to move to the centre of the back line of three, with Figueroa taking up his now more familiar position left of centre. There were two specialist wing backs in Stam and Beausejour, Watson and Jones in central midfield and Gomez, Crusat and Boselli further forward.

Latics were to add to their tally on the 35th minute mark when Maynor Figueroa hit an absolute screamer from 30 yards, the ball flying across goalkeeper Camp into the far corner of the net. This followed nice approach play by Crusat and Watson. Forest defender Halford could be faulted for not making sufficient effort to block Figeroa’s shot, but it was a truly stunning strike. Latics made it three a minute before half time when Jordi Gomez hit a right-footed rocket past Camp, after receiving from Crusat 20 yards out. Even before then Gomez had gone close a couple of times and Boselli had two clear penalties not given. One was a handball in the area, the second when he was pushed when in a goalscoring position. The Argentine was also unlucky with a clever flick that would have put Crusat clear, but for a deflection.

The second half started and Forest were starting to recover from the shellshock of the last 20 minutes of the first half . After only two minutes had passed Simon Cox got them back in the game with a spectacular 30 yard shot. They started to press, pushing Wigan on the back foot. Latics seemed content to defend and hold their lead. Callum McManaman came on for Jordi Gomez after 72 minutes. Antolin Alcaraz carelessly got himself a second yellow card with a trip on Moussi in the 78th minute, but the defence held resolute. A couple of minutes later Ryo Miyaichi came on to make his debut in place of Albert Crusat. Fraser Fyvie was also make his competitive bow three minutes later for Mauro Boselli.

As the match was winding down Miyaichi revealed his blistering pace, passing inside the box the Callum McManaman who made finishing look easy, side stepping his marker and coolly placing the ball past Camp.

The Good

Wigan Athletic’s performances in cup competitions in the Martinez era have been poor in the past. It had seemed like the players had not been interested. This was not the case here. Martinez smartly chose a team with a strong backbone in defence, with a good balance in midfield and upfront. The players showed commitment and at times they looked almost as classy as the first choice lineup at Southampton last weekend. Latics clearly have strength in depth and their now well-established style of play makes it easy for players to step in. Everybody knows their role and there are at least two players seriously challenging for selection in all eleven positions.

Up front Latics look in really good shape. There are three central strikers of varying styles, but each one a quality player. In this match Mauro Boselli led the line with skill and effort, getting into good positions and meriting his opportunist goal. The arrival of Ivan Ramis has given Latics another quality central defender, so necessary when one of the three regulars gets injured or is suspended.

The Bad

What a shame Alcaraz made a reckless challenge to get his second yellow card and get sent off. He has a great technique and is physically strong. His career at Latics has been dogged by injuries and sometimes reckless decision making. At his best he is one of the classier central defenders in the division.

Player ratings

Ali Al Habsi: 7 – solid and did what he needed to.

Antolin Alcaraz : 7 – played well until his sending off.

Ivan Ramis: 7 – looked a natural in Gary Caldwell’s role. Quickly getting accustomed to the pace of the English game.

Maynor Figueroa: 9 – notwithstanding his spectacular goal he has developed into an excellent central defender. His positional sense and power make him a fine player. Outstanding performance.

Ronnie Stam: 8 – as always attacked with verve, his crosses being menacing for the opposition defence. Worked hard in defence.

Jean Beausejour: 7 – a class act as a wing back. Performed his dual role in defence and attack with his usual diligence.

Ben Watson: 6 – worked hard and showed his class. At times seemed to be trying too hard, hitting ambitious passes that did not quite come off. More to come from him, given the chance.

David Jones: 7 – that cultured left foot together with a high workrate helped him make a good contribution.

Jordi Gomez: 8 – excellent passing and posed an attacking threat. His right footed rocket shot for his goal was a surprise to us all. Let’s see more of that Jordi!

Mauro Boselli: 8 – led the line with skill and panache. Looked dangerous and linked up well with teammates.

Albert Crusat: 6 – not his best match but he put in some nice touches. The best is yet to come from the diminutive winger.

Substitutes:

Callum McManaman – took his goal with such coolness and self confidence. Has been unlucky not to be given more opportunities in the past.

Ryo Miyaichi – impressive in his brief time on the pitch. This speed merchant could have a key role this season, especially in the closing stages when the opposition tires.

Fraser Fyvie – not on for long, so hard to judge. Clearly one for the future.