Latics legs go again in defeat at Charlton

Despite the defeat there were plenty of positives to be taken from Latics’ display at The Valley yesterday. But when it looked as though Wigan had battled through for a deserved point they were robbed by a wickedly deflected shot on goal during time added on.

Uwe Rosler largely stuck with the lineup he had put out in the previous league game against Reading. But with Emmerson Boyce injured he brought in Ivan Ramis at centre back. Marc-Antoine Fortune was brought in for Martyn Waghorn. In Boyce’s absence, James Perch was surprisingly nominated as captain ahead of James McArthur.

Latics started in a positive manner, playing the kind of football reminiscent of the days of Roberto Martinez. But despite having dominated the possession they fell behind in the 8th minute when their right-footed left winger Jordan Cousins cut inside Perch and blasted the ball home with his natural foot. Latics soon got back to their possession football, with Callum McManaman looking lively on the right. In the 21st minute a glorious long pass from James McArthur eluded left back Rhoys Wiggins for McManaman to control the ball and hit it with his left foot past goalkeeper Stephen Henderson from a narrow angle.

Latics continued to dominate possession, building up patiently out of defence. It was good to see Scott Carson looking to throw the ball, rather than give it his habitual hoof. Oriel Riera and Fortune were alternating between the centre forward and left wing positions, but moves were fizzling out with the two forwards and the midfield seemingly not on the same wavelength. Perch continued to have problems with Cousins, who looked dangerous.

Shaun Maloney came on for Riera at half time, playing on the left wing. Charlton had started to gain more possession, but the Latics midfield trio of Cowie, Huws and McArthur were still lively. Martyn Waghorn replaced Fortune in the centre forward position after 69 minutes. Huws was taking all the set pieces for Wigan but they were not threatening a steady Charlton defence with Ben Haim and Bikey-Amagou in top form.

With both teams resisting the long ball it was a fascinating contest and looked to be heading towards a draw. However, the substitution of Don Cowie after 75 minutes saw Wigan’s energy levels fading and the home side were looking the more lively. Latics’ crosses into the box were invariably cut out by the central defenders or the dominant substitute goalkeeper Nick Pope, who had come on after 67 minutes.

In the final ten minutes, which included five minutes of added-on time, Latics were all at sea. The left hand side of defence had all but folded and Perch and Ramis really had their work cut out holding things together. The midfield was unable to provide the protection it had given earlier. Vetokole broke through for a one on one with Carson but the keeper made a fine save. Perch made an excellent block from Gudmundsson. But even Ramis, who had been excellent up to that point, was looking ragged.

It had looked like a goal was on the cards for Charlton in added time, but it was to come when a shot from Moussa from outside the area was deflected by Kiernan, giving Carson no chance.

The stats showed that Latics enjoyed 55% of the possession with six corners to Charlton’s three. But more revealing was that Charlton had five shots on target to Latics’ one. In fact Wigan only mustered four shots in the whole game.

The Good

The good news is that football has returned to Latics’ play. In fact there was hardly a hoof all afternoon. Until they tired, Ramis and Kiernan were excellent in the centre of defence, reading the play and using the ball effectively.

The midfield trio of Cowie-McArthur-Huws at times looked like a carbon copy of last season’s favoured formation of Watson-McArthur-McCann. Cowie looked comfortable in the Watson role in the centre of the park, in front of the back four. Huws is a fine young player who will get better and better. McArthur was his usual lively self.

McManaman had a good first half, taking his goal superbly, but was heavily marked in the second.

The Bad

Once again Latics could not compete physically for the full 90 minutes. Those final ten minutes were agony as they just did not have the legs to compete on equal footing with the home team.

Despite having the majority of the possession Latics were not creating chances. Maloney came on in the second half but he too was unable to provide that spark that was missing.

It was surprising to see Huws take the set pieces with players like Maloney and Waghorn on the field.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 7 – did all that was asked of him. Distribution much improved.

James Perch: 6 – just did not look himself in the first half but showed the kind of grittiness and determination in the second half that typifies his normal play.

Ivan Ramis: 7.5 – excellent until the closing minutes.

Rob Kiernan: 6 – clearly not match fit. Played well until the final quarter of the match.

Andrew Taylor: 5 – looked out of touch. Is he fully fit?

Don Cowie: 7 – worked hard, strong in the tackle, rarely wasted the ball.

James McArthur: 7 – a battling performance.

Emyr Huws: 7 – strong in the tackle, with a cultured left foot.

Callum McManaman: 7 – did all he could offensively, but left Perch exposed at times.

Oriel Riera: 5 – made no impact. Taken off at half time.

Marc -Antoine Fortune: 5 – ineffective.

Substitutes:

Shaun Maloney: – ineffective.

Martyn Waghorn: – made no impact.

Roger Espinoza: – not his usual energetic self.

 

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Latics’ midfield – the key to promotion

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McArthur and Maloney – key players for a promotion push.

“Before the World Cup started there were a few rumours about McArthur and Maloney, but I have spoken to them and they know they are two of the cornerstones of the team. Both players will be massively important in my plans going forward and I made that very clear to both of them.”

It was heartening to hear Uwe Rosler this week dismiss transfer speculation regarding the two.

New signings apart, it is to be hoped that Latics will be able to resist approaches from other clubs for quality players such as Maloney and McArthur. Maloney was sadly missed last season and can play a key role, whether playing in “the hole” or in a wide role. Maybe we expected too much of him at the end of the season after a long layoff through injury.

Rosler will be hoping that Ben Watson and Chris McCann will be back in action following a double leg fracture and a damaged knee cap. Rosler clearly had faith in the midfield trio of McArthur, McCann and Watson. He had already lost Watson, when he lost McCann in the FA Cup win at Manchester City. It was McCann’s injury that proved to be the turning point and from then on results fell significantly.

One continues to ponder the future of Roger Espinoza, one of Honduras’ best performers in an albeit disappointing World Cup campaign. Despite being a fan-favourite Espinoza has failed to establish himself under three managers during his time at Wigan. He was played at left midfield for Honduras and looked effective in that position. Having been in the shop window during the World Cup it is possible that other clubs will bid for him. It will be interesting to see what develops.

Rosler continues to impress as Wigan Athletic manager. He has analysed the weaknesses in his squad and already made four signings, all of whom look like they can fit into the system the German likes to employ. They are already in training at the Latics camp in Germany.

Left back was a problem area last season, with wing back Jean Beausejour often having to play in that position, excellent when going forward, but sometimes unconvincing in defence. Stephen Crainey struggled to cope initially, but thrived when Rosler took some defensive responsibility away from him, allowing him to play at wing back. However, at 32 and on a one year contract it was unlikely the Scot would be staying. In their place Rosler has brought in Andrew Taylor and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair. Taylor is an experienced and very capable left back, who can also play left midfield. Taylor-Sinclair is clearly a bright young talent from Partick Thistle who might well follow in the paths of James McCarthy and James McArthur, who came from a similar type of background at Hamilton.

The signing of James Tavernier from Newcastle gives Rosler more options at right back. James Perch is an excellent defensively and over the course of last season he improved greatly in his attacking. His goals at the Etihad and Loftus Road showed his willingness to thrust himself forward. When Ryan Shotton left in the New Year Latics were short of options at right back, Emmerson Boyce having been drafted into the centre of defence. Perch continued to be the consummate team player, sometimes playing when he was not 100% fit. In Tavernier, Rosler has a more attacking option and the young player certainly has some flair.

Oriel Riera might well prove to be an inspired signing. Although he has spent most of his career in the lower leagues in Spain he proved himself last season in the La Liga first division at Osasuna. There was speculation among supporters that Dave Whelan was going to get out his cheque book and spend big money on a couple of quality strikers. However, Whelan was unlikely to undermine the wage structure that was in place and he is unwilling to pay over-inflated transfer fees for English-born strikers. Riera fits the bill. Another foreign-based striker remains on the cards.

There is a strong likelihood that more of the players remaining from the Premier League days will leave over the coming weeks. Jordi Gomez has already gone and Jean Beausejour will move soon. Ivan Ramis is Latics’ best centre back, but his high salary and questions over his fitness lead us to believe he will be on his way. One of the goalkeepers too is likely to depart. There has been no statement from the club regarding a new contract for Gary Caldwell. The Scot has his detractors, but if fully fit, he could be a force in the Championship.

A lot could happen over the coming weeks, but Rosler clearly has a plan forward. Under his astute management, promotion is a distinct possibility.

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After 59 games, Latics’ season is now starting

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“It’s a strange scenario that, after 59 games, our season really starts now.”

So said Uwe Rosler in the Alan Brazil Breakfast Show yesterday.

Dave Whelan might well agree. Getting back to the Premier League is clearly his number one priority. Preferably this season, rather than next.

A month or two back ago Rosler was quoted as saying that he wanted to be the first German manager in the Premier League. We saw it as a statement of ambition – to get Latics back to the top flight of English football, as well as a personal goal for someone who had started his football career in communist East Germany. However, the personal goal was to dissolve when Felix Magath took over at Fulham.

When Rosler was appointed in December few could have hoped for more than the German steadying a rocking boat and preparing Wigan Athletic for promotion the following season. Latics had drifted under Owen Coyle and there seemed to be little sense of direction. Rosler was seen as someone with a more clearly defined philosophy, who could put the club back on the rails.

Rosler has done so much more than that. His first match in charge saw Latics’ European dream sadly ended, largely due to a dubious refereeing decision that saw Chris McCann sent off in Slovenia. But rather than have a long run in the Europa League, it was to be in the FA Cup, reaching semi-final and being unlucky to lose on penalties. Moreover Rosler has secured a playoff place that looked practically out of reach when he was appointed.

Rosler manipulated the transfer window shrewdly, offloading high wage earner and under-performer Grant Holt to Aston Villa, whilst bringing in a swath of loan signings to strengthen his squad. When he signed Martyn Waghorn on loan from Leicester, the cynics questioned his move. Since then the Geordie has become a key component of his set-up, not only excellent in the high pressing that Rosler demands from his forwards, but scoring 5 goals and providing 6 assists to date. Waghorn has a good technique, a good temperament and is a team player. He epitomises the profile of the kind of player Rosler wants at Wigan. Rosler has rewarded him with a long term contract.

Latics’ rise into the playoffs has come at a physical cost to key players. Emmerson Boyce has played 54 games so far, James McArthur 50, Leon Barnett 49, and James Perch 48. Not surprisingly they have not been at their best in recent games. The question is whether they can get a second wind for the playoffs.

Playing such a large number of games in a short amount of time over these past months is one thing, but the high pressing puts heavy physical demands on the players too. At their best, Latics defend from the front in a manner that even the master of that technique, Pep Guardiola, would approve. At the worst, the pressing is uneven and Latics are pushed back into their own half as the opposition retains possession.

Wigan Athletic’s chances of getting back to the Premier League are going to depend largely on their ability to high press their opponents and disrupt their style of play. That high energy approach was easier to implement a couple of months ago when the players had not accumulated so many games.

The final league game at Blackburn tomorrow is the 60th this season. Perhaps Rosler was slightly off the mark by saying that the season was starting after 59 games. Unless he views tomorrow’s confrontation as more important than most of us think. Is he keen to get a result at Blackburn so Latics can face QPR next week, rather than the more in-form Derby, who have won their last five matches?

However, previous form can mean nothing in the pressurised climate of the playoffs. Last year’s winners Crystal Palace only had one win in their final ten league games but got the results when it really counted, defeating both 4th placed Brighton and 3rd placed Watford.

Rosler faces the challenge of rousing a tired group of players for a final push. However, he does have Gary Caldwell, Roger Espinoza and Shaun Maloney back from long term injuries.

They might well have a crucial role to play.

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Millwall Preview – a cameo role for Maloney in preparation for the FA Cup semi-final?

 

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A cameo role for Shaun Maloney tonight?

Given the sheer volume of fixtures Wigan Athletic have had to play over the past months it is no wonder that their form has been intermittent. There have been matches where they have looked full of energy, playing enterprising football, followed another a few days later where they would appear jaded and placing an over-reliance on the long ball.

The 1-0 win over Leeds on Saturday was typical of the latter. One could say it was because Uwe Rosler made only two changes from his lineup in the previous game, but then again the introduction of three substitutes in the second half did not catalyse any sort of spark. In the event Leeds did not have the quality to seriously challenge a solid Wigan defence and Latics ground out an important win.

If events continue to follow this recent pattern we can expect a more dynamic performance against a Millwall team struggling against relegation. However, there is the by no means small matter of an FA Cup Semi-Final coming up on Saturday. So what is going to happen tonight?

On Saturday Rosler took a risk by using all three substitutes by the 68th minute. Providing Latics are ahead midway through the second half he might do something similar tonight.

One of those coming on later tonight could well be Shaun Maloney, in preparation for including him on the bench at Wembley where he scored a goal in last year’s semi-final, coincidentally against Millwall. The Scot has been on the bench for the last two games, but Rosler felt the intensity of the Leicester match was too high for a player returning from long-term injury, then understandably did not bring him on against an over-physical Leeds.

It is an indication of the rotation policy that Rosler has operated that in the last five league matches twenty players have been employed on the pitch. Three players – Ali Al-Habsi, James McArthur and James Perch have started in all five. Five more – Emmerson Boyce, Jordi Gomez, Rob Kiernan, Ivan Ramis and Martyn Waghorn have started in four of those games. Josh McEachran, Callum McManaman and Nicky Maynard have been underemployed during the five matches, each starting in only one.

Rosler will certainly have to shuffle his pack following the limp display on Saturday. However, Latics have some tricky league fixtures coming up and the Millwall game appears the easiest to win, at least on paper. However, Millwall are locked in a relegation struggle and desperately need points. They can be expected to come out with guns a blazing. Rosler will therefore need to tread with caution, keeping a backbone of his regulars in the lineup, rather than make wholesale changes.

He has already announced that Ali Al-Habsi will be rested, with Scott Carson coming in. James Perch is overdue a rest, having played 43 games this season. Moreover Perch is sitting on nine yellow cards and one more would put him out of the FA Cup semi-final. James McArthur too needs resting, also having played 43 games.

Jean Beausejour is back from suspension. Rob Kiernan, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Martyn Waghorn are ineligible for the Arsenal game so have a good chance of playing, together with McEachran, McManaman and Maynard.

It is not going to be an easy match. Millwall had a crucial 2-1 win at promotion hopefuls Nottingham Forest at the weekend. They sit in 23rd place but still retain hopes of lifting themselves out of the relegation zone. Under the management of Ian Holloway they will not go down without a fight.

Moreover the Lions will recall their 2-1 win over Wigan at the New Den, Latics’ sixth successive defeat at the time. Martyn Waghorn was on loan at Millwall at that time and was one of their top performers in a match watched by Rosler, prior to his taking the reins at Wigan. The Lions wanted to keep Waghorn, but their financial situation would not allow. Will Waghorn be the star player tonight?

It is never easy to predict Rosler’s starting lineups, but given the proximity of the Arsenal Semi-Final, it is all the more difficult this time around.

Which Wigan Athletic will we see tonight – the energetic or the lethargic? It could well be a mixture of the two.

 

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Wigan Athletic 2 Leicester City 2 – exciting contest ends in a draw

 

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Latics remain in contention for a play-off place.

An 87th minute headed equalizer by Dean Hammond robbed Wigan Athletic of a merited victory over a fine Leicester side. Despite an uncertain opening Latics had attacked with exciting abandon until the closing minutes when tiredness crept in. It was a game full of good football and a treat for spectators.

As expected Uwe Rosler played a backline of three central defenders, but surprisingly brought in Rob Kiernan in place of Leon Barnett, who was on the bench. Ivan Ramis and Emmerson Boyce made up the trio. As in the Watford game Rosler pushed his wing backs – James Perch and Stephen Crainey – well forward, effectively creating a five man midfield, together with James McArthur, Jack Collison and Jordi Gomez. Nicky Maynard and Nick Powell played up front.

Nigel Pearson had made six changes to his lineup, but his team remained formidable opponents with their high pressure approach, full of good movement off the ball. The Foxes could have had a goal after just three minutes, Ramis clearing Liam Moore’s header off the line. Wigan had been under considerable pressure in those opening minutes but rallied, taking the game to the visitors. They took the lead in the 37th minute when Ramis headed home from an accurate Gomez free kick. However, the Foxes equalized four minutes later with a fine goal from Andy King, who turned and placed a low shot beyond Al-Habsi’s reach in the right hand corner of the goal.

The advent of the second half saw Wigan’s high tempo approach unsettling the visitors’ defence and it was no surprise that Latics got their second in the 62nd  minute, Kiernan heading in his first professional goal from a Gomez corner. Latics continued to play in an attacking, cavalier fashion and another goal looked due. James McClean had come on for Maynard after 52 minutes and his direct running caused more problems for Leicester, but his finishing did not match his promise. Marc-Antoine Fortune was introduced for Powell after 66 minutes as Latics continued to attack.

The central midfield trio for Latics had been dominant in the second half, but the tiring Gomez was replaced by Josh McEachran after 79 minutes. Leicester had started to apply pressure and Latics looked in need of their second wind. In the 87th minute Crainey gave away a free kick and Hammond rose to equalize. There were to be 5 minutes of added time but a tired-looking Latics managed to hang on for a well-earned draw.

The Good

Following a lethargic display at Bolton this was quite the opposite. Latics tore into Leicester and with better finishing would have got the win they deserved. It is a tribute to the manager and his squad that they could play a game at such high tempo despite it being their 51st encounter of the season.

The midfield was outstanding. Collison fits into the system seamlessly, McArthur and Gomez were excellent in their passing and recuperation of the ball. Penalty misses aside, Gomez is playing the best football of his Latics career.

With the wing backs pushed so far forward the 3-5-2 system at times resembled 3-3-4. Playing with such attacking abandon places a heavy reliance on the backline, but the trio held things together under pressure. Moreover they contributed the two goals. Kiernan was a revelation. Eyebrows were raised when he was given the nod over the popular Barnett, but he defended well and his passing was much improved. Having fine passers of the ball like Boyce and Ramis playing alongside, he followed their example. His goal was well deserved.

The Bad

The lack of a natural goalscorer in the team is Latics’ Achilles Heel. The game should have been killed off in the second half, but there was nobody with the composure needed to convert chances to goals. Maynard and Powell looked lively in the first half, but could not score. The attacking duo of Fortune and McClean in the second half looked promising, but neither has a pedigree in turning chances into goals. Callum McManaman, more of a natural goalscorer, remained on the bench despite a good performance at Bolton.

Player Ratings

Ali Al-Habsi: 7 – did all that could be expected of him.

Emmerson Boyce: 6.5 – not at his best, but has a calming influence on his defence.

Ivan Ramis: 7 – defensively sound and passing excellent. Topped off a good performance with a goal.

Rob Kiernan: 8  – calm and solid at the back, did not waste the ball and got a fine headed goal.

James Perch: 6 – worked hard.

Stephen Crainey: 7 – clearly enjoys playing in the wing back position. After a difficult settling-in period at the club, he is becoming a real asset. Full of energy and commitment.

James McArthur: 8.5 – a classy display from a very accomplished midfield player.

Jack Collison: 7 – kept things ticking over, making himself available to receive passes, solid in his tackling.

Jordi Gomez: 8.5 – an all-action display from the technically gifted player. What a change there has been in his play since Rosler arrived.

Nicky Maynard: 6.5 – good movement, tried hard. Taken off after 52 minutes.

Nick Powell: 6 – looked promising but could not deliver. It was good to see him played in a more central role. Taken off after 66 minutes. The fitter he gets the more dangerous he will become to opposition defences.

Substitutes

James McClean: – added energy to the attack, coming on after 52 minutes. He is an exciting sight when he attacks defences like this. Hopefully the finishing will come as he matures.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: – came on after 66 minutes but could not stamp his mark on the game.

Josh McEachran:- came on after 79 minutes.

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