Clear-out needed – Rotherham (H) match reaction

Will Mackay give the likes of Oriel Riera an extended run in the team?

Will Mackay give the likes of Oriol Riera an extended run in the team?

Once again Malky Mackay kept faith in the “old guard” and once again they let him down. Rotherham had not won a game since mid-October but they were good enough to beat a woeful Latics side. Once again Mackay’s team selection raised doubts, let alone the tactics on the pitch. Latics are going from bad to worse.

Mackay once again stuck with the old guard. There were just two Rosler signings in the starting lineup – Don Cowie and Andrew Taylor – both of whom were part of the manager’s previous old guard at Cardiff. Andy Delort was not even on the bench, after appearing in the 88th and 86th minutes of the previous two games. Was he injured or did his quotes in the French media upset the boss?

Mackay continues to shoot himself in the foot. James McClean has pace and power and cannot be faulted for his physical effort. But does he have the attributes to become a central striker? Physical effort needs to be matched by its mental equivalent, something the hard-working Irishman did not show in the first half when he was caught offside three times.

Perhaps Mackay was yielding to fan pressure when he brought on Marc-Antoine Fortune after 53 minutes for Shaun Maloney. Two central strikers on the pitch at the same time was something so many fans have been hoping for, but was the Rotherham goalkeeper going to be seriously tested by a pairing of McClean and Fortune?

In the event that partnership only lasted ten minutes until Oriol Riera was brought on for Cowie. The Spaniard went close near the end with a header that hit the crossbar, but would be better employed not having to fight for seemingly aimless long balls coming from defence and goalkeeper.

Mackay had chosen a one-paced midfield of Don Cowie, Chris McCann and Ben Watson. Cowie is well into his thirties and the other two have surely been brought in too early after long-term injuries. However, when he took off Cowie he reverted to a 4-2-4 system with two wingers and two central strikers. Not surprisingly the visitors became increasingly dangerous on the counterattack as he second half proceeded.

The time has come for the dissolution of the old guard. It would be true to say that most of the players signed by Rosler have not performed anywhere near the level expected of them. But Rosler created problems by bringing in ten new players over the summer, swelling the first team squad up to thirty. The end result was that he was unable to give so many of them the regular playing time they needed.

Rosler’s signings have come under a lot of criticism for their performances up to this point. Some fans have already written them off. In the podcast recently put on fan sites Mackay talked about the good young players he had at his disposal, including the 25 year old McClean in that category. Interestingly the name of Emyr Huws did not appear in the names he mentioned. The young Welshman made a positive start under Rosler until an ankle injury impeded his progress. Like Adam Forshaw he is a bright young talent. Let’s hope he has not disappeared off Mackay’s radar.

Latics need to start to rebuild a younger team. The old guard has had its day and Latics need to look at the future. The likes of Delort, Forshaw, Huws, Riera and Tavernier need to be given extended runs in the team. Moreover they need to be played in their best positions. For Delort it means playing him alongside another central striker, for Tavernier playing as either a wing back or a wide midfield player.

Although he never played badly for Latics the experienced Denmark captain, William Kvist, has been left out in the cold. Would a midfield of Kvist, Forshaw and Huws have done any worse than Cowie, McCann and Watson yesterday?

Somehow a new manager has come in and nothing much has changed on the pitch. If anything things have got worse and the level of football Latics are playing is poor even compared with the dark days of long ball under Owen Coyle.

Unless Mackay has a paradigm shift in his thinking, things are unlikely to get any better. Dave Whelan is unlikely to trust him with big money in the January transfer window and his new players are likely to be loan signings, plus Grant Holt.

The ball is firmly in Mackay’s court. Following yesterday’s game he was quoted as saying:

“It’s their [the fans] club, we’re custodians and I’ll do everything that I can to make them proud of us, make no mistake about that.”

The patience of those fans is being sorely tested. Is Mackay capable of making them proud of his team?

The jury is out on that one.

Anything could happen – Watford (A) preview

Second from bottom Latics visit sixth placed Watford on Saturday. Looking at recent form the pundits would suggest a resounding win for the home team. That might well happen, but then maybe Latics could win it?

Wigan Athletic’s season so far has been the most disappointing that I can remember as a fan. With a squad good enough to fight for a promotion spot, Latics incredibly find themselves in the relegation drop zone. What is going on?

There is something badly wrong somewhere. Malky Mackay has been appointed to put it right. The problem is that so far he has not made enough visible progress, in terms of getting the on the field commitment that is required to succeed in the Championship division.

Mackay will be keen to get a result at Watford. With just one point from two home games and one away, he needs to make some changes to what has been happening under his management.

However, despite miserable results against mediocre teams, Latics put up two of their best performances of the season against teams flying high. The win at top of the table Derby County was down to solid defence and two opportunist goals from James McClean. Latics were unlucky not to come away with a win in the home game with second placed Middlesbrough. They played some good football, the defence looked pretty solid and Shaun Maloney scored a spectacular free kick.

With their confidence so low there is a chance that Latics will lose the match by a wide margin. However, Latics have lost a lot of games this season, but never by more than two goal difference. In fact six of their nine losses were by a single goal. Moreover Watford’s form had dipped recently after flying high. Last weekend they had a 5-0 win at Fulham, after the home goalkeeper was sent off after 20 minutes. But Watford had lost their previous four games.

When Latics played in the Premier League they were almost always the underdogs. It could be said that a team languishing in the relegation zone of the Championship division fits the same category against a team that is in the playoff zone. However, in terms of the quality of their players, Latics are more than a match for Watford. The question is whether those players are ready to show the physical and mental commitment necessary to win the game.

Mackay has relied on the “old guard” up to this point and the formations have been similar to those of his predecessor. It has been practically the same that we have seen all season. Media reports suggest he has been working on the motivation of his players, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Above all he needs to persuade the players not only to perform their basic functions, but  show desire.

We can expect Mackay to do something different. However, unlike Rosler, he is not likely to make wholesale changes.

Mackay has two main issues to address on the field of play.

First and foremost is to build up a solid defence. Put simply, if the opposition don’t score, you don’t lose. As an ex-central defender he will be keen to do that. To do that he is going to need not only a settled back four, but also midfielders and wide players who come back and help.

Secondly he needs to address the lone centre forward issue. Too often we have seen hopeful long balls sent to a centre forward who is on a hiding to nothing. Even if, against the odds against two big central defenders, he wins the ball, he needs someone to pass it to. The support has been sadly lacking.

Like Rosler, Mackay is a fan of the lone centre forward system. However, against Norwich he brought Don Cowie into right midfield, pushing Callum McManaman inside. Is it a sign that he will look at playing two main strikers?

McManaman is much more effective in a free, supporting striker role than playing on the wing, where he is more easily picked up by defenders. He is Latics’ main attacking threat, but has been ill used most of the time. Playing as a second striker he could be expected to notch upwards of 15 goals per season.

Saturday’s match will provide another indication of where Latics are heading. With the squad they have they are surely too good for relegation.

What is needed is for the manager to deal with issues of squad morale and be ruthless when necessary.

Latics have more than enough quality to get a good result at Watford. But will their confidence be enough to carry them and will the commitment be there?