Sheffield Wednesday Preview – a potential banana skin

The dream continued to come true on Sunday as Latics grafted out a win that took them into the FA Cup semi-finals. Apart from a few glimpses in the first half we did not see the kind of flowing football that won them the FA Cup in May. But we did witness once again the “character” that this Latics team now displays under Uwe Rosler. It might not have been as pleasing on the eye as what we saw in May, but in many ways this win was even more impressive. Only one English team- Chelsea- had beaten Manchester City this season at the Etihad Stadium prior to Wigan’s victory. City had hit six against Arsenal and Tottenham and seven against Norwich.

It is a reflection upon the changes that have occurred since the historic May victory that only four players from that Wembley final made the starting lineup on Sunday. There may be even less in the team that meets Sheffield Wednesday tomorrow.

If any match this season presents a potential banana skin it is this one. It would be all too easy for Latics to slip up against the Yorkshire club after the elation of the quarter final win. Latics are clear favourites to win this match after six successive victories and a 3-0 win at Hillsborough a month ago. However, the performance at City will have taken its physical toll and this match is the second of three in a period of six days.

Rosler will certainly have to rotate his squad for this match. Chris McCann went off injured at half time on Sunday, so will be doubtful. Rosler has already stated that Ivan Ramis is not yet fit enough for two games a week. Leon Barnett, who has played more games than anyone this season, was rested from the starting lineup on Saturday but had to come on for McCann after half time. Rosler will also be tempted to rest Emmerson Boyce, who was superb on Sunday.

Nicky Maynard and Martyn Waghorn will almost certainly return to the starting lineup. Callum McManaman and James McClean shared game time on Sunday and may well do so again, the latter being the more likely starter. If Rosler goes for a flat back four then Ryan Tunnicliffe might well start in holding midfield. The big Swede Marcus Holgersson might well make his debut, teaming up with Barnett in the centre of defence. However, he can also play right back if Rosler decides to rest James Perch. Jean Beausejour will return at left back, providing he is fit. Rosler is fortunate to be able to choose from probably the two best goalkeepers in the division, in Ali Al-Habsi and Scott Carson.

Dave Whelan was quoted this week as saying “I’ve loved that FA Cup and the whole town has but this year you’ve got a feeling the league is more important. You get people asking ‘what do you want to do?’ Well there’s only one thing – promotion back to the Premier League.”

Rosler will be therefore be keen to bring his players back down to the ground following the elation of their amazing performance at the Etihad. They will have to knuckle down and fight for the fifty-fifty balls against a Wednesday team currently sitting in 16th place.

Latics fans will be hoping they don’t slip up on that banana skin tomorrow.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Does Rosler want promotion this season?

Uwe Rösler. Thanks to Beesotted Brentford for photo.

Another defeat to a mediocre team, say the cynics. They say that Latics don’t really want promotion this year – they are not ready. Give it another year and Rosler will have his own players playing in the style he seeks. Better to build up a nucleus of players who can serve us for years to come.

The 1-0 defeat at Huddersfield has opened up old wounds. Uwe Rosler’s honeymoon period at the club is nearing its end. Around 1,500 supporters made the trip across the Pennines yesterday in foul weather, but many must have come back disgruntled. The German’s team selection was puzzling.  Most people had expected him to play the wing duo of Callum McManaman and James McClean, but it was to be Martyn Waghorn and Jean Beausejour. Moreover with the wind behind them in the first half Latics did not utilize it to the same degree that Huddersfield were to in the second half.

But this was only Latics’ second league defeat in ten games since Rosler arrived, during which they have amassed 18 points. If they continue at that rate until the end of the season they will equal the 72 attained by Crystal Palace last year to reach sixth place and to go on to win the play-offs. In the two years prior to that the sixth place gathered 75 points. Wigan currently have 40 points from 28 matches. Rosler has mentioned the need to average 2 points per game. Were Latics to be able to do that until the end of the season it would leave them with 76 points.

There are fans who do not want Wigan Athletic to go up this season or next. They have seen Latics struggle to survive in the ‘Greed League’, year after year, against the odds. Seeing your team lose 9-1 and 8-0 can be depressing, as can having to sell your best players to keep financially afloat. The more senior of those fans might even remember the non-league days and the excitement of getting into the Football League in 1978. They have seen the club come so far but no longer yearn for higher things. Some talk of Latics having a slot in the lower divisions, playing against more humble opposition, but at least on an even keel.

But then again Wigan Athletic have a firm fan base of younger people who had known nothing but Premier League football until relegation last May. They want to see teams like Arsenal and Manchester United come to Wigan with their superstar players.  The sooner Latics get back into the Premier League the better for most young fans.

When a new manager comes in he tends to bring in his own players. Rosler brought in four loan signings and another on a short term contract over the January transfer window. It looks like Tyias Browning, signed on a one month loan, is going back to Everton.  Rosler will be hoping to get ex-Rochdale player Craig Dawson from West Bromwich Albion, as another loan signing over the coming week, which would be much to the chagrin of Bolton fans.  Dawson clearly made a very positive impression when playing at the Reebok last season. Rosler has not been afraid to give new loanees Nicky Maynard, Josh McEachran and Martyn Waghorn playing time. He could not include new signing Markus Holgersson in the squad for yesterday’s match because of illness.

There are fans who are less than impressed with Rosler’s signings and foresee the departure of more Martinez men in summer. They are not convinced that Rosler is making a serious push for promotion, not having brought in a high profile central striker during the transfer window. Latics just cannot convert enough chances into goals. Maynard is still trying to get back to fitness after a serious knee injury. Waghorn is being released by rivals Leicester when his contract expires in summer. Neither seems to fit the bill. These fans foresee losing technically gifted players from the Martinez era and them being replaced by players of inferior technique, with little or no Premier League experience.  Many of the players brought in by Owen Coyle are not good enough for the Premier League, but will be staying.

Rosler fans say he is looking for players with the right attitude who will fit into his style of play. Too many of the Martinez men did not have the right attitude and the struggles they went through in the Premier League left them with a losers mentality. Rosler is initially signing players on loan, but with a view towards signing them permanently if they fit the part. Too many times over the years the club paid big money for players who were not to succeed. The high tempo style that Rosler has in mind is very appealing. Seeing Brentford currently topping League 1 is a testament to the firm foundation the German left behind there.

Rosler is clearly hedging his bets. When he arrived at Wigan the club was in the lower part of the league table with a record of W6 D4 L8. They are now sitting in mid-table, having won more matches than they have lost. Like Coyle he has had to deal with fixture congestion and has regularly rotated his squad. He is not afraid to try different tactical formations and require the players to adjust accordingly. More than anything else he has eschewed the long-ball tactics of his predecessor and brought the concept of good football back to Wigan.

Rosler will be hoping that Latics can gradually ease their way into a play-off spot, knowing that time is tight and it is going to be difficult for his new players to settle in to the club and his style of play in a short period. If he does succeed in winning promotion this season he will be in a position to persuade players whose contracts are at an end, to stay on at the club with Premier League salaries. Moreover he can consider offering permanent contracts to loanees who have impressed.

If promotion does not happen this season Rosler will have nevertheless instilled a style of play upon those who remain after a considerable summer exodus. Prized assets will be sold off, but with Dave Whelan’s support, the funds will be reinvested into bargain buys.

Rosler is certainly looking at a return to the Premier League for Wigan Athletic. The question is whether it will be this season or the next.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Rosler’s loan signings can make the difference

transfer window

An unknown third choice goalkeeper from Spain, an end of contract midfielder from Kansas City and a 32 year old unwanted by Hamburg. Such were the loan signings made by Wigan Athletic a year ago.

The feeling at the time among Latics supporters was of being “underwhelmed”. Was this the best that Roberto Martinez could do? Why wasn’t Dave Whelan opening his wallet and bringing in players that could really make a difference?

In the event Joel Robles, Roger Espinoza and Paul Scharner did make a difference. It was not enough to save Latics from relegation, but all three were to go on and play in the lineup that won the FA Cup for the club.

That same underwhelming feeling has surfaced again.

Who on earth was Tyias Browning? Why would Latics want to sign a crock from Cardiff, who had not started in a league game this season? Why go for a player from Chelsea who had already been on loan at three other clubs? But most confounding of all – why would Latics take a player who had never made it in a team from their own Championship division?

Nicky Maynard was sought by Roberto Martinez while at Bristol City. In the event he went to West Ham who sold him on to Cardiff City for a fee around £2.75m in August 2012. Unfortunately he tore his anterior cruciate knee ligament in only his third game at the Welsh club, which was to keep him out of action until May 2013.

The 27 year old central striker is a Cheshire lad who came up through the Crewe Alexandra academy. His most successful year as a goal scorer was in 2009-10 when he scored 20 goals in 40 starts for Bristol City in the Championship division.  Maynard has struggled since the injury, his appearances for Cardiff this year being two starts in the League Cup and eight times off the bench in the Premier League.

Maynard is clearly a player of some pedigree and a proven goal scorer at Championship level. If he can regain an optimum level of fitness he will be a threat to Championship defences. Maynard is likely to alternate with Marc-Antoine Fortune for the centre forward spot, although there will be times when Rosler will play them together.

Latics fans saw what Josh McEachran can do yesterday when his superbly judged pass put Fortune through for an 89th minute goal yesterday. He made his Chelsea debut as a 17 year old. Still only 20 he has played for Swansea, Middlesbrough and Watford on loan. McEachran can play as a holding midfielder but his best position is in the hole between the midfield and the central striker.

McEachran is not fully fit at this stage, but he has so much quality that he can add the cutting edge that has been lacking in Latics’ play in recent weeks.

Rosler’s signing of Martyn Waghorn has been questioned by many Latics supporters who were hoping the club would sign a player with a proven history as a goal scorer.  They are unimpressed that Leicester City are willing to let him go out on loan although they are challenging for automatic promotion to the Premier League. Moreover Waghorn will be a free agent in summer when his contract runs out.

However, Waghorn is still only 24 years old and can play in any of the three front positions. He played for England at both under 19 and under 21 levels.  Leicester paid a fee of around £3m when he arrived from Sunderland in a permanent deal in August 2010. He had been voted young player of the year at Leicester the previous season when he had been on loan with them. See his goals during that season here.

Waghorn has had his ups and downs and played for five clubs before coming to Wigan. However, he had a successful spell on loan at Millwall this season, making 12 appearances and scoring 3 goals. Millwall boss Steve Lomas wanted to sign Waghorn permanently, but it was not to work out.

Waghorn will be keen to impress at Wigan and show that his success at Millwall is not a flash in the pan. He has a good left foot and is no mean penalty taker.

The 19 year old Tyias Browning was signed on a one month loan from Everton on January 10th. A day later he made a strong impression after coming on as a second half substitute in the 3-0 win against Bournemouth. A week later he was to concede a penalty in the disappointing 3-0 defeat at Doncaster. Browning is clearly one for the future, but the value of having a young player join the club for such a short loan period is open to question.

Following the last-gasp victory over Charlton yesterday Latics remain within reach of a play-off place.  Only one player – Nouha Dicko – left permanently during the transfer window. Grant Holt has gone on loan to Aston Villa, but Ivan Ramis will be staying at least until the end of the season following his failure to pass medicals at Cardiff and Crystal Palace. It could be a blessing in disguise for Latics.

A fit Ramis would make a big difference to the promotion push. Not one of that skilful trio – Jean Beausejour, Jordi Gomez and Ben Watson – left during the transfer window, although their contracts terminate in summer.

All in all, Latics have a better squad now than they had before the January window began. Moreover if loan players like Maynard, McEachran and Waghorn were to reach their optimum levels they could swing the balance and get Wigan into that play-off place.

Like Martinez last year, Rosler seems to have made ‘underwhelming’ loan signings in the transfer window.

But then again maybe they are better than they seem at first glance.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Doncaster Preview – Maynard set for debut

keepmoat

Wigan Athletic travel to the Keepmoat Stadium this afternoon having won their last three away games and being unbeaten in the league in seven matches under Uwe Rosler. Doncaster are fighting to get themselves out of the relegation mire, currently sitting on 22nd place. Their home record reads W4 D2 L6.

Under normal circumstances one would expect an emphatic Latics win. However, Wigan come into the encounter following an energy-sapping 120 minutes FA Cup win at MK Dons on Tuesday. It is by no means an ideal preparation for a trip to any team in the Championship division.

Uwe Rosler will be keen to avoid slipping on the banana skin with three points going begging. Ideally he would refresh his starting lineup to rest some of the tired legs in his squad. However, his options may be limited because of injury problems. In the centre of defence both Ivan Ramis and Thomas Rogne have been out for several games and Emmerson Boyce has had to move over to cover from the right back position. This might be the case today with James Perch on the right. The attacking option on the left of defence is Jean Beausejour, but Stephen Crainey is a possibility.

Midfielders Roger Espinoza, James McArthur, Chris McCann and Ben Watson played the full two hours at Milton Keynes.  At least two of them will make today’s lineup, with a possible start for Jordi Gomez, who came on after 72 minutes in midweek.

Callum McManaman was rested in midweek and could prove a key player today. Rosler wants to avoid burn-out of his young players. He is clearly nurturing McManaman, who has been starting to regain his form. Rosler is also concerned about overplaying the excellent 19 year old Nick Powell. However, had Powell not come on in the second half at Milton Keynes Latics might well have been knocked out of the FA Cup. He provides that extra touch of class and creativity that the team lacks when he is not on the field.

Marc-Antoine Fortune can at last see some light at the end of a dark tunnel, having scored two well taken goals in his last two games. Fortune was in danger of being written off by some fans and lumped into the same category as the hapless Grant Holt – that of two 32 year old strikers past their best.

Fortune has always been a good footballer, a mobile striker with no mean level of skill. His career record shows he has never been a consistent goalscorer, but with his previous clubs he would often be played wide, away from his natural position in the centre. The French Guianian might be into his thirties, but he still has pace and is benefitting from an extended run in the team. In league matches he now has 2 goals from 10 starts, but he leads the ‘assists’ with four.

Fortune fits in the Rosler mould as a mobile centre forward who can contribute towards the high pressing, but also has the pace to launch rapid counterattacks. The same cannot be said of Holt, who has temporarily left the club.

Holt was brought in by Owen Coyle to employ him in the kind of role that Kevin Davies played in the manager’s time at Bolton. He scored two goals in nine starts at Wigan. There has been much vitriol from fans aimed at the big Cumbrian, who has been offered a lifeline by his old manager Paul Lambert at Aston Villa. This is a good move for Wigan, not only freeing up space on the wage bill, but giving the player a fresh chance to show that he is not ‘over the hill’.

This week the social media has been riddled with images of Holt as an overweight, out-of-condition player. However, he was recently quoted as saying that he is in the best shape of his career. Holt has never been a player known for his pace, but more of an old fashioned English centre forward, a battering ram to attack any defence.  A future for Holt at Wigan remains unlikely given the style of play that Rosler seeks and the fan reaction towards him.

Rosler will probably start Fortune at centre forward at Doncaster today, bringing on Nicky Maynard at some stage. However, Fortune has started in the last four matches in a space of 17 days, including the marathon at Milton Keynes. A bold move on the manager’s part would be to put on Maynard from the start.

Maynard fits into the Rosler mould as a mobile central striker who can score goals. At 27 he should be nearing his peak, but serious injuries have held him back. Rosler will ease him in gradually and he could well share that centre forward position with Fortune, the two interchanging between the starting lineup and coming off the bench.

Whether Wigan Athletic come away with the points from today’s game depends largely on the energy and commitment they can put into it. Quite often the adrenalin that comes from a successful run of results can be sufficient to keep those tired legs moving.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Rosler’s January Sales

sale

“The budget is spent in terms of the amount of players we have in. It’s a big squad but that was needed because of the European games. What (the January transfer window) allows me is it might free up some money on the wage budget to bring in loan players until the end of the season or on a short-term to help us and that is what I’ll try to do.”

So said Uwe Rosler according to media reports yesterday. But what can be read into his comments?

Some money has now been freed from the wage budget with the transfer of Nouha Dicko to Wolves, for a fee reputed to be around £300,000. On the other hand Dicko was not one of the big wage earners and Latics already added a new member to their staff last week by recruiting Chris Haslam, Brentford’s performance coach.

Letting a striker go when the team has been so goal-shy would seem like a backward step, but Dicko was never able to secure a first team place despite his successes on loan at Blackpool and Rotherham.

In fact Haslam’s recruitment could be the key to a successful second half of the season for the club. The players continue to adapt to the high pressing game that Rosler demands, although they often run out of steam. If Haslam can improve player fitness levels it is going to make the team more consistently competitive.

Rosler’s right hand men at Brentford – assistant manager Alan Kernaghan and coach Peter Farrell – left the London club soon after he did. But they have not followed him to Wigan, with Graham Barrow continuing and John Doolan being brought up from youth team duties to help out. It has become the norm for a new manager to bring his tried and trusted lieutenants with him, but in this case Rosler certainly seems to have made a good start without them.

The budget might be the constraining factor, but it could also be down to an awareness within the club that more wholesale changes to the coaching and backroom staff could be damaging. It is only six months ago that Owen Coyle brought in a swathe of new staff to replace those that Roberto Martinez took with him to Everton.

Rosler’s dilemma is in how he is going to be able to further reduce the wage bill, without weakening Latics’ chances of getting back to the Premier League. The established players who are still with the club from the Martinez era are going to be among the highest wage earners, although Coyle probably had to offer salaries above Championship division norms to many of the players he recruited.

Jean Beausejour, Jordi Gomez and Ben Watson are out of contract at the end of the season. All three are experienced former Premier League players who will attract interest in this transfer window. At least one is likely to go unless offers come in for others in the squad with a similar profile.

Ivan Ramis is a prized asset, but has only recently come back from long-term injury and a club is unlikely to want to take a gamble at this stage. A few months ago one would have expected the big clubs to be chasing Callum McManaman in January, but his form has been disappointing so far. Keeping Ramis and McManaman and at least two of Beausejour, Gomez or Watson will provide a backbone of players who can not only help Latics get promotion, but go on to play in the Premier League next season.

Rumours have been circulating that Rosler will cut his losses with Grant Holt, reputedly the highest wage earner of the players recruited by Coyle. The main talk is of sending him off on loan, which would help the lower the wage bill for now but it should not be forgotten that Holt is on a three year contract. It remains to be seen whether another club would come in and even take him on a free transfer, given his wage expectations. Will he suffer the same fate as Mauro Boselli to be sent off on various loans until his contract winds down in 2016?

Coyle’s hopeful signing of the two 32 year old strikers – Holt and Fortune – has proved a damp squib up to this point. He has the option to try to offload them and reduce the wage bill, but he might be shooting himself in the foot in doing so and leaving the squad without any specialized and experienced strikers.

With the short term loan signing of Tyias Browning and the not-too-distant return of Gary Caldwell the defence remains well staffed. So too does the midfield, although it looks like Fraser Fyvie will once more be sent on loan. Moreover rumours abound that Roger Espinoza will be leaving in this transfer window. He was marginalised by Coyle and Rosler has not seemed particularly keen on him despite the Honduran putting up good performances when given the opportunity. One wonders if off the field issues are coming into play.

Latics have a peculiar situation with goalkeepers, for some reason having four. Rosler is already talking about sending Lee Nicholls out on loan again and Mike Pollitt’s contract is up in summer. Even so he has two ex-Premier League keepers  in Ali Al-Habsi and Scott Carson. Should Latics get promotion they might both continue. Should they not then it is likely one will depart in summer.

The January transfer window period always seems to be a stressful time at the DW Stadium. In the past Latics have lost key players during this period. But it can work both ways. Last year Martinez brought in Roger Espinoza from Kansas City and both Paul Scharner and Joel Robles on loan from Hamburg and Atletico Madrid respectively. All three were to play in the lineup that won the FA Cup final.

Let’s hope that not too many of Wigan’s better players are whisked away over the coming weeks and that Rosler can make good loan signings.

He will be hoping that Cardiff forward Nicky Maynard will be his second loan recruit within the next few days.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.