Ipswich Town 1 Wigan Athletic 3 – Latics too good for Ipswich

McClean ipswich

McClean completes the first of his two goals.

Wigan Athletic notched their sixth successive away win with a convincing performance at Portman Road.  Latics were almost unrecognizable from the jaded side we saw in midweek against Sheffield Wednesday. This time they were full of energy and their pressing forced the home team into a series of errors.

Uwe Rosler resisted the opportunity to rest any of his defensive regulars – Leon Barnett, Emmerson Boyce and James Perch. Ivan Ramis came in at centre half with Boyce switching to right back and Perch to the left back position. Marc-Antoine Fortune replaced Nicky Maynard up front.

Ipswich were lively in the early stages and took the lead after 19 minutes when central defender Tommy Smith hooked in a loose ball into the right hand corner of the net following a melee in the penalty box. Their play had been typical of that of a Mick McCarthy side, with crosses raining into the Latics box.

Latics equalized within two minutes when James McClean latched on to a great cut back by Fortune to score an opportunist goal. The goal spurred Latics on and it was no surprise when they got their second in the 42nd minute. Jordi Gomez put in beautifully flighted free kick from the left, Ipswich keeper Gerken did not go for it and Barnett headed home.

At half time some Ipswich supporters opined that their team never does well against big physical sides like Wigan. There was some truth in their assertion in that Latics had more height in their team, but the reality was that after McClean’s goal Latics were winning almost all of the fifty-fifty challenges> Moreover Ipswich kept putting the ball in the air. Being an ex-Norwich player,  Barnett was subject to jeering from the crowd, but he and Ramis had started to gobble up the high balls and stifle the home team’s limited tactic.

Ipswich came out in the second half with fresh resolve, but Wigan’s experienced and very capable back four held firm.  Jordi Gomez was pulling the strings in midfield and Latics looked dangerous on counterattack. At one stage Martyn Waghorn broke through from midfield with two teammates in close support. A goal was on the cards, but Wigan were thwarted by a last ditch challenge by the classy Aaron Creswell.

Latics brought on Nick Powell for Martyn Waghorn after 63 minutes, the youngster occupying that same wide right position. Another Wigan goal was on the cards and it came in the 77th minute. Fortune had fought relentlessly against Ipswich’s robust defence and once again he broke free. Gomez had won the ball and released the French Guianian on the right. His superb low cross eluded the home defence to be hit home with glee by McClean.

Barnett had been taken off with a hamstring injury after 74 minutes with Rob Kiernan moving into his central defensive position. Stephen Crainey came on for McClean after 82 minutes in a left wingback position, with Perch moving to the right and Boyce joining Ramis and Kiernan in a central defensive trio.

The defence held firm and Latics got a well-deserved three points. They had been both technically and physically superior to the home side.

The Good

Midway through the second half when an Ipswich player got the ball in his own half close to the half way line. He was immediately surrounded by three Wigan players and ended up skewing his pass out of play for a Latics throw. It was an indication of the high pressing that Latics had been operating, making it difficult for the home side to get any coherency to their play. It is the hallmark of the Rosler era.

Following a shaky start the back four were excellent. Ramis and Boyce oozed class, with Barnett and Perch being their usual competitive, combative selves.

James McArthur played a valiant defensive role in midfield, partnered by Ryan Tunnicliffe who looked more comfortable than in midweek. The Ipswich supporters hold him in high regard from his time there in the first half of the season. It is going to take him some time to reach the levels of Chris McCann and Ben Watson, but this was a step forward for him.

Gomez has become a new player under Rosler, working as hard as ever, but now more and more resisting the back pass. Some of his passes did not quite come off, but many were made under pressure and were well intentioned.

Waghorn was a hive of industry as always and helped Boyce resist the treat of Cresswell and company on the Ipswich left. The enigmatic McClean was his usual positive self in terms of his running and commitment but this time he got into good scoring positions. His first goal was very well taken, with a right foot he rarely uses. He looked dangerous throughout.

The Bad

Rosler took a gamble playing his three regular defenders whose bodies must have taken a physical toll after so many games in recent weeks.  He clearly wanted to win this match against promotion rivals, but now is paying the price. It is not known at this stage how long Barnett’s injury will keep him out, but Rosler now faces having to disrupt his back four. Boyce, at 34 years of age, is clearly due a rest, as is Perch, so Rosler will face a dilemma for Tuesday’s game against Yeovil.

Player Ratings

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

Emmerson Boyce: 7.5 – in a superb run of form.

Ivan Ramis: 8 – oozed quality.

Leon Barnett: 7.5 – superb in the air, solid no-frills in defence. Will be sorely missed in his recuperation from injury.

James Perch: 7.5 – moved across to the left, but this consummate team player did not let the team down. Very solid in defence.

James McArthur: 7 – did not find much space for his passing game, but his workrate and tackling was important.

Ryan Tunnicliffe: 6 – continues to adjust to the style of play.

Jordi Gomez: 8 – totally committed, commanded the midfield.

Martyn Waghorn: 6 – a team player who gives his all. His defensive contribution was crucial. An important cog in Rosler’s tactical system.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: 8 – a determined display by the central striker. Took on the physical challenge and made two assists.

James McClean: 8.5 – blossoming under Rosler. Fast, direct and physical he poses a threat to defences. His final ball continues to improve and in this match he showed the kind of finishing that can make him a top player.

Substitutes:

Nick Powell: – came on for Waghorn after 63 minutes. Not at his best in a wide right position, but will clearly have a major role in the coming weeks.

Rob Kiernan: – looked comfortable. Likely to be a regular fixture on the bench as he can play in defence or midfield.

Stephen Crainey: – came on after 80 minutes.

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Wigan 2 QPR 2: Frustration setting in

Another opportunity squandered as Latics failed to convert a string of chances to put this game beyond Harry’s energized, but sloppy troops. Wigan were still missing seven senior players against a team with a new manager in desperate circumstances, but frustration is starting to set in as the season shapes closer to another relegation battle than a than a cozy mid-table finish.

The Good:

James McCarthy’s finishing — he was unlucky not to score three — confirmed what we already knew: the lad has everything. Ronnie Stam put in another good display down the right. The team’s response after a poor first half was once again very strong and resulted in an equaliser, although it probably should have resulted in two or three more goals as well.

The Bad:

The result and the scrappy nature of the team’s play at times. The worrying lack of composure from those charged with putting the ball in the back of the net. Koné was poor, and desperately needs a goal. Boselli came on far too late — this game would have suited him as Latics had a lot of possession in the opposition’s box. When Maloney came on, he looked out of place in a left-midfield role instead of around the box where his incision was needed.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 6 — Made a couple great saves and could not be blamed for any of the goals.

Emmerson Boyce: 7.5 — Once again a strong performer on the right of the back three.

Adrian Lopez: 6 — Ryan Nelsen lost his mark for the first goal and a sloppy pass from the Spaniard led to the second. He was very good otherwise, but…

David Jones: 7 — Called upon to fill the left centre-half position and did his best. Got forward occasionally too, deserves credit.

Jean Beausejour: 6 — Despite providing the cross for the second goal, this was not one of his stronger performances.

Ronnie Stam: 7.5 — Full of running and endeavour down the right. May be one to keep his place when all the injured players return to the squad.

James McArthur: 6 — Ok on the ball, but not as dominant as usual.

James McCarthy: 9 — Excellent. Drove the team forward in the second half. Capable of scoring regularly — sadly will end up at one of the big clubs if he does.

Jordi Gomez: 6.5 — Poor first half, faded in and out of second, but looked to be the only attacking player with the composure to score. Latics’ biggest threat and was unlucky to hit the crossbar.

Franco Di Santo: 6.5 — Some good running with the ball, was fouled a lot, but didn’t ever look like scoring.

Arouna Kone: 5 — His touch let him down on numerous occasions, and he failed to get his shot off when through in the second half. Needs a goal.

Subs:

Shaun Maloney: N/A — Brought on in a strange left midfield role and looked a little off the pace. Still, if he made it through without injury setback

Mauro Boselli

WIGAN ATHLETIC 3 WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS 2 – CHAMPAGNE FOOTBALL IN A PARTY ATMOSPHERE

What a pleasant way to end a season – champagne football played by Latics, with an appreciative home crowd lapping it up. How strange that after 8 minutes with the home crowd celebrating an upcoming 8th year in the Premier League, Matt Jarvis should dampen the party atmosphere by scoring a peach of a goal. Receiving a ball from Steven Ward he cut in from the left and put a peach of a shot beyond Ali Al Habsi’s reach.

Latics came back in the 12th minute with an opportunist goal from Franco Di Santo, kicking the ball between the legs of a Wolves defender into the left hand corner, after James McCarthy had dispossessed Stephen Hunt in midfield. The Jimmy Macs and Shaun Maloney were running the midfield and it came as no surprise when Emmerson Boyce scored two minutes later with a towering header from a Jean Beausejour corner. Latics dominated the remainder of the first half with their excellent movement and silky skills, but could not further add to their tally.

Wolves came out with more resolve in the second half and the Wigan defence had to be on its toes. Al Habsi produced an excellent save from Kevin Doyle, but Gary Caldwell was ruling the roost at the back. Wigan continued to produce waves of classy football, with Shaun Maloney orchestrating the play, giving the Wolves defence a torrid time. The lively Albert Crusat came on for Victor Moses after 58 minutes and Hugo Rodallega for Franco Di Santo after 79 minutes. Within the first minute of coming on it was Rodallega who headed the ball for Boyce to hit a screamer of a half volley into the net. Jordi Gomez came on for Shaun Maloney after 82 minutes.  In the 84th minute Boyce went through the Wolves defence with the chance of a hat trick. However, he unselfishly tried to square the ball to Rodallaga and the chance was lost. Steven Fletcher got a consolation goal for Wolves on 86 minutes, after Adrian Lopez – in for the injured Antolin Alcaraz – got caught in possession on the edge of his penalty area. In another sweeping move Rodallaga was unlucky to see his shot hit the post in the final minute of added time. The final whistle signaled a pitch invasion by delighted fans.

The Good

The scoreline did not truly reflect the gulf between the two teams. This was champagne football from Latics, with Shaun Maloney being at the core of practically all of our best attacking moves. The Latics fans have been fantastic over the past few months, in sharp contrast to the doom and gloom that pervaded the earlier part of the season. The belief shown by the fans has galvanised a team previously lacking self confidence.

 It is not only the prospect of an 8th season in the Premier League that makes me look forward to the resumption in August. More than that it is the prospect of Latics playing this brand of football and not being afraid of the rich and bloated clubs who dominate the league. We have to shed the image of “Little Wigan” and move up a notch in our own estimation. If Bob and Dave both stay for a few years longer we will not be perennially looking to avoid relegation, but towards being in the top half of the table, seeking a Europa league place.

The Bad

After being outstanding in recent games Antolin Alcaraz suffered a thigh injury in training. Estimated time of recovery is 6 weeks so let’s hope all will be well for him at the start of next season. He was missed in defence.

Player Ratings


Ali Al Habsi: 8 – Did all he could to keep Wolves out.  A top class ‘keeper.

Emmerson Boyce: 9 – This defensively minded player has become a real attacking option in the right wing back position. Has scored three cracking goals in recent matches.

Adrian Lopez: 6 – Tried hard to impose himself physically, but looked nervy. His lack of match fitness and practice probably contributed to him losing the ball for Wolves’ second goal.

Gary Caldwell: 9 – Superb at the back once again.

Maynor Figueroa: 8 – Excellent yet again.

Jean Beausejour: 8 – Played more of an attacking role than usual. Put in some lovely crosses that might have led to more goals.

James McCarthy: 8 – Excellent yet again.

James McArthur: 8 – Probably our most under rated player. Excellent performance.

Shaun Maloney: 9 – A brilliant performance from the Little Magician.

Victor Moses: 6 – Ineffective, taken off after 58 minutes. Maybe unsettled by transfer talk?

Franco Di Santo: 8 – Must be one of the best in the Premier League in his skilful hold-up play. Scored an opportunist goal.

Substitutes

Albert Crusat: 8 – Made a major impact as a substitute, coming close to scoring on at least three occasions. Promises well for the future.

Hugo Rodallega – Has been a great servant for Wigan Athletic. What shame he was unlucky in the last minute, hitting the post as his Latics career was coming to a close.

Jordi Gomez – Worked hard and put through some nice passes. This has been his best season at the club and he has managed to silence many of his critics.

WITHIN STRIKING DISTANCE OF SALVATION – END OF YEAR REVELATIONS – A LOOK BACK AT WIGAN ATHLETIC IN 2011

Christmas is past and it is the time of year when we reflect back on events of the past twelve months and make our resolutions for the coming year. As a Wigan Athletic fan I have to admit that 2011 has been an extremely stressful, frustrating year. But the fact is that we are still in the Premier League – even if the establishment might not want us there and is doing us no favours. It is going to continue to be an uphill battle for us to hang in there, but we are within striking distance of salvation. We have got through an horrendous December fixture list with pride intact and have maintained our status quo in the table.

What revelations we have seen since the Wolves defeat in November. Revelation number one was Roberto Martinez changing his tactical system in a way that has got better performances from the players he has at his disposal. However, for me the biggest revelations have been the form of the previously unfavoured Ronnie Stam and the much maligned Jordi Gomez.

Ronnie Stam joined Latics after helping FC Twente win their first ever Eredivisie championship in 2009-2010. He was their player of the year that season. He was called up for his first Netherlands cap at the end of the season but was unable to make it through injury. Clearly an accomplished player noted for his strong motivation and work ethic. Taking over from his fellow Dutchman – the elegant Mario Melchiot – was never going to be easy and Stam was unable to provide the level of combative tackling required for a Premier League full back. However, at wing back he has the energy and drive to shield his central defenders whilst making surging runs upfield and providing tantalizing crosses. What a transformation!

Jordi Gómez is a product of the superb Barcelona youth system. He left the club when 22 years old in 2007 to join their city rivals Espanyol. He was later recruited by Swansea in a season-long loan in summer 2008, scoring 14 goals in the Championship division. Steve Claridge provided a scouting report of Gomez for the Guardian newspaper in February 2009 where he quotes that “Roberto Martínez has certainly used his knowledge of Spanish football to get Jordi Gómez on loan for the season from under the noses of three La Liga sides. Languid was a word that sprung to mind after I watched Gómez play as he is rarely rushed into doing anything, even in tight situations, and instead remains cool, calm and collected on the ball, making at times a difficult game look easy.” It is that languidity of style that has helped make Gomez the butt of frustrated fans who demand a more high action approach. In his first Premier League season at Wigan he was constantly fouled, prompting comments that he was slow on the ball. He was lambasted for his lack of tackling ability. Earlier this season he was asked to play on the right wing, clearly not his best position. This did not help him look good in front of the fans. However, I would challenge anyone who could criticise the man after his recent performances, where he has looked every ounce a Premier League player, playing the midfield general role with panache, but also covering a huge number of yards in each December game. I once heard a quote that we would only see Gomez show his real self when Latics were playing well. Hats off to Jordi for hanging in there, despite the pressure on him.

Going back to our tactical lineup. Having three central defenders is really helping to provide more stability in defence. Some weeks ago there were many who questioned the class of our captain, Gary Caldwell, some suggesting that he was a Championship player out of place in the Premier League. His recent performances have proved so many people wrong. It is no coincidence that the stats place him among the highest in the division for interceptions made: who is more likely to put his body in the way to save his team but this determined Scot? Maynor Figueroa had a difficult start to the season, playing as an orthodox centre half, but has been excellent in his new position of left centre half. Antolin Alcaraz has had a topsy turvy season, but for me, remains our best defender. The best is yet to come from him.

So what is our revelationary new system? How does it work and who plays where? We seem to have a legion of midfield players, a lone centre forward and another player with licence to roam in Victor Moses. In the Chelsea game I recall seeing Victor Moses haring down the left wing with David Jones running on his inside. Although one might have expected Jones to be the one going down the left wing and Moses inside the whole thing seemed to work. No matter what the system you have to have players coming into the penalty box for you to score most of your goals. Our old friend, Garry Birtles, pointed out the lack of support for the lone centre forward in the Arsenal match. Since then there has been a significant improvement, the midfield players getting further forward in support. However, the question remains whether the implementation of the system provides a consistent and adequate level of support for the central striker. Moreover orthodox wingers do not fit into that system, so one wonders whether the role of Albert Crusat is nullified by the system. It has been disappointing not to see more of Shaun Maloney, but this system may well suit him, if he can get back in there. However, Martinez retains the option to move to the old 4-3-3 setup, if the situation demands. All in all, a good situation where you have tactical flexibility. Well done, Roberto!

What kind of quality do we have in the Latics’ squad? A tough question to answer, but the bottom line is that we have enough to be edging towards mid-table. We have a lot of players who can be considered “a work in progress” . Some of them are good enough to play for a top four team with comfort. Our goalkeeper, Ali Al Habsi, competes with the best in the division. James McCarthy has become an excellent “Makelele” although we miss his attacking prowess. Ben Watson is a fine footballer who has fallen foul in some way – maybe the perception that he would not fit so well into the new system or perhaps something off-field? Victor Moses is potentially an international class player, but is young and lacks definition to his exciting runs. He needs more time. Mohammed Diame has probably been our best outfield player this season. A complete player who would fit comfortably into any of the top four teams. We have players like Franco Di Santo, with wonderful technique, but not the confidence to go with it. Alcaraz is potentially a class above his partners in defence, although this is not yet fully proven. The on-loan Van Aanholt is clearly a class player and we may well see him step into the left wing back position, as a stronger player defensively than David Jones. We have no real problem players in the squad – a far cry from recent years when we have had some people who were happy to pick up fat cheques for minimal work. Over the past two years Martinez has patiently unloaded such players. There are some real good pros there who work hard and do their best. Callum McNanaman will challenge for a position following a successful loan spell at Blackpool. Roman Golobart, a potential defensive giant, is doing so well at Inverness they want to extend his loan until the end of the season. Still only nineteen he could be the revelation a year from now.

Well done, Roberto Martinez, in sticking to your guns and having an expectation of good football. Your long term planning is exceptional and you have managed to keep Wigan Athletic in the Premier League despite the financial restraints you have had to deal with. You are to be commended on your faith in players, such as Stam and Gomez, and in your belief that we can compete at this level. We remain the in the mire, but there remains more than a glimmer of hope that we will be in the Premier League again next season. A week or two back I was getting pessimistic about our chances of hanging in there. Now we are within striking distance of salvation and there have been genuine revelations in player performances. My New Year Resolution must be to “KEEP THE FAITH” and not waiver. We can do it, despite the obstacles the Premier League puts in our way.

West Brom – Wigan Preview: Living in hope

Let’s start with an admission. I don’t have the faintest clue what is going to happen at the Hawthorns tomorrow.

Since Roberto’s tactical switch three matches ago, we’ve seen all shades of Wigan. The best attacking performance of the season came in the Blackburn draw, which would have been a win but for Andre bloody Mariner. The best defensive performance came in the away win at Sunderland. The worst performance full-stop, began the second Mikel Arteta scored Arsenal’s first.

Football has way of clouding one’s judgement. Having most recently watched 65 minutes of capitulation against an Arsenal team at their imperious best, co-starring ourselves at our demoralized worst, it’s hard to view this next fixture with any real optimism. And yet, in the first 25 minutes of the game against that same Arsenal side, we played some of our best football all season. How would I feel if Arsenal had gone 4-0 up and Latics had finished with those excellent 25 minutes of football. Ok, still probably not great, but certainly a bit more optimistic.

If Latics were a craft beer, it would be high gravity stuff. One week I’m blabbering about turning points and the next I can’t see a way out.

The encouraging thing about this Latics side, that separates it from most sides doomed to relegation is that, in more matches than not, we look capable of winning. We haven’t been getting the points yet, obviously, but we didn’t last year either. I had an exchange with a fellow supporter on Twitter earlier today, during which we discussed the lack of goals from our forwards. He felt that Rodallega was on his way and wasn’t too sad to see the back of him. So I asked him who he’d rather see up front, Franco Di Santo or Conor Sammon? His response pretty much sums up what it’s like to be a Wigan supporter these days: “Probably Franco, but it’s hard. Sammon looks like he can score goals but isn’t. Franco doesn’t look like he can, but has.” In recent times, the match we actually won was one of the few (against beatable opposition) that we didn’t deserve to. On the other hand, quite how we didn’t beat Blackburn, Newcastle, Fulham, Norwich, Swansea is beyond me. If we’d managed even two wins out of those, we’d be 14th, the position West Brom is currently in.

So off we go to the Hawthorns, living in hope. Or faith? West Brom away was an exciting fixture last year. It may have even been the one that got Roberto Di Matteo the sack (not beating us has proven to be the final straw for quite a few teams over the years). They are usually fairly open affairs, 2-1s or 2-2s. There is obviously a lot of pressure, in last place, with fixtures against Chelsea, Liverpool, Man United, and a resurgent Stoke away coming up. But did the walloping by Arsenal lift some of it?

Most everyone is fit, to my knowledge. Emmerson Boyce and Antolin Alcaraz will be welcome returnees. Roberto has been answering a lot of questions about Hugo Rodallega, who has still not signed a new contract and has presumably been spending his time begging someone else to sign him. Which in fairness is some task since he is a striker but hasn’t scored since May. But there have been hints in there that suggest the Colombian will make an appearance at some point tomorrow. Lets just all hope it’s not on the left wing. That said, I don’t think Conor Sammon has done anything to deserve losing his place — he did well against Blackburn and Sunderland, starved of service against Arsenal. Nor has Franco Di Santo, for that matter, he remains the only Latics striker to score a goal this season.

I won’t predict a lineup this time, but will instead suggest one (assuming the same tactical system with wingbacks):  Ali Al-Habsi, Figueroa-Alcaraz-Boyce in the middle, Stam and Jones as wingbacks; McArthur & Diame in the centre of midfield; Jordi & Moses, but only if they are allowed to roam, rather than getting stuck on the wing. What’s the point of having wingbacks if it doesn’t allow these two to cut inside; Franco Di Santo up top.

Heart says: West Brom are organized and committed as all Roy Hodgson teams (except Liverpool) tend to be. But they aren’t particularly creative, so our defence holds strong and we run out 2-0 winners. C’mon Latics!!

Mind says: Hard to see a clean sheet here, but we should be good enough to score a goal. 1-1.