Blackburn Preview – Latics to rest key players

A trip to Ewood Park has been known to fill Wigan Athletic supporters with a sense of foreboding. Latics have only won there once and that was at the end of the 2011-12 season when they were miraculously staying up and Blackburn were being relegated from the Premier League. An Antolin Alcaraz header gave Latics a 1-0 win. The next best result was Paul Jewell’s side getting a 1-1 draw there in the 2005-06 season. The other seven confrontations went Blackburn’s way.

But this time around Latics fans will not worry too much about the result. Wigan are already assured of a playoff place and will want to rest their key players ahead of the home game against either Derby or QPR next Thursday or Friday. Blackburn will be hoping that Latics put out their second string, praying that they can get an avalanche of goals and that Brighton and Reading both lose. That far-fetched scenario would be enough for them to leapfrog into a playoff place.

Latics will certainly look at resting key players, but still have enough strength in depth to ensure a fair contest tomorrow. Rosler might well give Honduran left back Juan Carlos Garcia his league debut. Thomas Rogne is also likely to feature in the centre of defence. The big Swede Markus Holgersson still has not featured in the first team and has not played for the development squad for some time. If he is fit will he make his debut at right back?

Nicky Maynard is due to return at centre forward. Jack Collison will step into central midfield. James McClean, Josh McEachran and Nick Powell might reappear, despite not having even made the bench for the match at Birmingham.

The pressure if off Latics, but on Blackburn tomorrow. However, Lancashire derbies can be full-blooded affairs and strange things can happen. Rosler will want his players to stay clear of injuries and disciplinary sanctions, but nevertheless represent their club with pride.

The likelihood is a Blackburn victory, but Latics’ fringe players are a talented bunch who might surprise us tomorrow. It will depend on their willingness to slug it out with the opposition in the true tradition of a Lancashire derby.

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Rosler planning route back to Wembley

 

Uwe Rosler got the result he needed last night when Latics ground out a 1-0 win at Birmingham. He can now focus on the route back to Wembley for the playoff final on May 24th.

Next week Latics are due to play the first leg of the first phase of the playoffs at the DW Stadium. They will entertain either Derby County on Thursday or Queens Park Rangers on Friday, depending on whether they eventually finish 5th or 6th.

Although Latics have limped to secure that playoff spot Uwe Rosler deserves great credit for getting them there. When he took over in mid-December they were in 15th place and had lost their preceding five matches. Moreover he took them to an FA Cup semi -final too.

Latics have looked jaded over recent matches, particularly the key players who played too many matches game over these weeks. Rosler has to rest them for Saturday’s final league match away at Blackburn. A draw or win at Blackburn will guarantee Latics 5th place and a confrontation with QPR. Whether they can get a result with a weakened team remains to be seen.

Both Derby and QPR are fine footballing sides with experienced and capable managers in Steve McClaren and Harry Redknapp. Rosler will have to get his tactics right, no matter which of the two Latics meet.

Last night Rosler played with a backline of three central defenders, with Gary Caldwell returning triumphantly. Both he and Rob Kiernan were preferred to the out of sorts Leon Barnett. That central defensive trio of Boyce, Caldwell and Kiernan could well line up in the first playoff game next week. Ivan Ramis is getting close to resuming training, but it might be a gamble to put him in, probably in place of Kiernan. Jean Beausejour is clearly at his best at left wing back, with James Perch operating on the other side.

None of Josh McEachran, James McClean and Nick Powell appeared in the nominated eighteen last night and one wonders if they will be in Rosler’s plans for what remains of the season. Lots of rumours have been flying around the social media, but there has been nothing from the club.

Rosler’s Latics team have shown the kind of determination to grind out results that will serve them well in the playoffs. From mid-February towards the end of March they went on an unbeaten run of 10 matches, where the football was not always pretty but it was certainly effective. High pressing was a key feature of that run.

Neither McClaren nor Redknapp will be keen to face Latics in the playoffs. They are likely to meet a Wigan team founded on a solid and experienced defence, but with potential match winners in Callum McManaman and Shaun Maloney further forward.

Another trip to Wembley is a distinct possibility.

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Bolton Wanderers 1 Wigan Athletic 1 – woeful Latics almost steal it

 

Rosler consoles Gomez after penalty miss.  Thanks to Latics Officlal for the photo.

Rosler consoles Gomez after penalty miss.
Thanks to Latics Officlal for the photo.

Adam Bogdan prevented Latics going away with an undeserved three points with a penalty save in the last minute of added time. Bolton’s Hungarian goalkeeper moved superbly to his right to parry Jordi Gomez’s shot.

Uwe  Rosler made seven changes to his side, with Leon Barnett making a surprise return to the centre of defence, where he was to partner Emmerson Boyce. James Perch and Jean Beausejour lined up in the full back positions. James McArthur, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Jordi Gomez made up the midfield, with a front three of Martyn Waghorn, Marc Antoine Fortune and James McClean.

The match was to prove one-sided. Latics were up against an enthusiastic Bolton side, keen to beat their near neighbours. Bolton are in a fairly safe position in the table, with no chance of reaching the play-offs and this was a big game for them.

Wigan were lucky it took as much as 31 minutes for Bolton to score when lone striker Lukas Jutkiewicz stretched to get a toe to an inswinging free kick from Rob Hall on the right. Al-Habsi could not prevent it reaching the net.

The home team had dominated the match, their wide players Lee and Hall preventing Wigan’s full backs from overlapping and their direct approach causing Latics problems. Bogdan had little to do in the Bolton goal.

The match continued in this pattern for the first hour, with Latics having to rely on the fine goalkeeping of Al-Habsi to keep them in the game. Callum McManaman had been brought on at half time to replace the ineffective McClean. However, Wigan’s main tactical ploy was for the defenders to send in high balls to lone centre forward Fortune who must have been bruised and battered at the end of the match in his efforts to win the ball against the giants in the Bolton defence. In fact the whole display up to that point reminded one of the Coyle era at Wigan.

The introduction of Jack Collison for Tunnicliffe after 58 minutes signaled a slight upturn in the quality of football played by the visitors. The jaded McArthur was finally substituted after 70 minutes, with Nick Powell coming on, but being deployed on the left wing. Wigan had survived a scare early in the second half when Barnett fouled Liam Trotter just outside the penalty box. The Latics defender was lucky to receive a yellow card, rather than a red.

Thanks to the heroics of their goalkeeper Latics somehow survived until the 88th minute when Powell scored a fine opportunist goal from Waghorn’s cross. The tide then turned and it was Wigan who now looked the more dangerous, with McManaman testing left back Tim Ream, normally a central defender. Latics’ pressure continued and it was no surprise when McManaman was pulled down by substitute Alex Baptiste in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

Jordi Gomez’s penalty was by no means a bad one, but in this case the goalkeeper guessed right and made a superb save. It contrasted with the penalty missed by Gomez against Yeovil when the goalkeeper was well off his line in making the save.

The Good

The flair of Powell and McManaman almost won the game for Latics. There were signs of better football from Wigan in the final stages, despite them looking lethargic and jaded for the majority of the time.

Collison continues to look the part in midfield. Providing his knee can withstand the pressure he could prove to be a key player over the coming weeks.

The Bad

The long ball has been rearing its ugly head in Latics’ play in recent matches. Against Watford they utilized it, but on that occasion Latics pushed up to five men forward in attack. However, putting long balls forward to an unsupported lone centre forward smacks of desperation.

All of Bolton’s back four were over six feet tall, with central defenders Zat Knight at 6’6” and David Wheater at 6’5”. The way to get past them was to play the ball on the ground, not give them food and drink by launching aerial passes.

Although Rosler had made seven changes to his lineup, the players still looked jaded. It is the worst game McArthur has played for a long time, but he clearly needs a rest and there is no obvious replacement for him. It is remarkable that he had been able to keep his momentum going until this match, playing so many games without a break.

Sadly Tunnicliffe still does not appear to have the quality Latics need in central midfield. He has been given chances but has not delivered.

The injuries to Ben Watson, Chris McCann and Roger Espinoza and the lack of emergence of Tunnicliffe mean that Rosler has few options available in midfield. The classy Josh McEachran still lacks full fitness and was not even on the bench at the Reebok. However, if Latics can make it through to the playoffs they are going to need players of his quality firing on all cylinders.

In the meantime Rosler might have to continue with Tunnicliffe, assuming that Fraser Fyvie remains out of consideration.

Player Ratings

Ali Al-Habsi: 9 – a superb display.

James Perch: 6 – solid in defence.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 – not at his best, but played with his usual mixture of technique and application.

Leon Barnett: 6 – brave in defence. Woeful in his passing of the ball.

Jean Beausejour: 6 – pressed back into defence by the dangerous Korean winger, Lee.

James McArthur: 5 – poor. Taken off after 70 minutes.

Ryan Tunnicliffe: 4 – poor. Taken off after 58 minutes.

Jordi Gomez: 6 – the main creative outlet and worked hard. A shame he could not convert the penalty.

Martyn Waghorn: 6 – hardworking as always.

Marc Antoine Fortune: 5 – received woeful service, having to fight for high balls most of the time. Wastefully fired wide near the end when a goal was on the cards, but probably exhausted by that stage.

James McClean: 5 – not in the game. Taken off at half time.

Substitutes:

Callum McManaman: – came on after half time. Looked dangerous when switched to the right and caused panic in the Bolton defence.

Jack Collison: – keeps the game simple, but makes himself available to receive the pass. A quality player at this level.

Nick Powell: – isolated on the left wing but showed his quality with a superb opportunist equalizer.

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Yeovil Preview – Goliath versus David

Over recent years Wigan Athletic have typically been cast as the underdog, but nevertheless capable of slaying the biggest of giants. A second successive FA Cup victory over that Goliath of English football, Manchester City, shows what Latics can continue to do when the odds are stacked against them.

However, in tonight’s encounter at the DW Stadium it is Latics who will be the giant Goliath, with little Yeovil playing the role of David.

Like Latics, Yeovil have come a long way over the years. In fact their path up the ladder has been somewhat slower. It took them 108 years to get into the Football League after being founded in 1895. However, they  got promoted to League 1 at the end of their second season  there. They finished fifth in their first season in League 1, but languished in the bottom half of the table for the next six years.

Under manager Gary Johnson Yeovil won the League One play-offs last season. Remarkably they did that on an average crowd of 4,071 and with a budget reputed to be less than £1m.

“We’re definitely going in as the underdogs, but we said that in League One let alone the Championship. We’ve got to embrace it as a club and we’ve got to be excited about it.” said Johnson in summer.

The odds are that Wigan Athletic will be too good for a Yeovil team which stands in 23rd place, three points away from Millwall, the nearest club above the drop zone. Figures have been bandied about the social media contrasting the vastly different budgets of Latics and Manchester City. It would be interesting to get a comparison between tonight’s two clubs. Underpinned by parachute payments Latics have a large squad of players who are relatively well paid for the Championship division. The combined salaries of a handful of those players probably exceeds that of the whole Yeovil squad.

However, Lady Luck has once more stricken Wigan Athletic with a series of injuries. The excellent Leon Barnett limped off at Ipswich on Saturday and could be out for weeks with his hamstring injury. However, Latics have adequate cover in central defensive positions and Thomas Rogne will probably step in. Ivan Ramis had another good game at the weekend, but Uwe Rosler will have to weigh up whether he wants to risk the Spaniard in his second game in three days. Emmerson Boyce and James Perch are due to be rested, but Rosler will not want to disrupt the understanding that has developed in a settled defence by making too many changes. However, his hand may be forced.

It is in midfield that injuries are hitting hardest with Ben Watson, Chris McCann and Roger Espinoza unavailable. The press reports that Rosler is about to sign Jack Collison on loan from West Ham.  Although still only 25 years old Collison has made over 100 appearances for the Hammers. Not only is Collison experienced but he can play in either wide or central midfield. It is understood that Collison’s contract is up at the end of the season and that West Ham will probably release him. The situation parallels that of Martyn Waghorn, signed under similar circumstances on loan from Leicester in January. It appears to be another shrewd move by the East German.

Callum McManaman and Nicky Maynard are due to return, forming two of the front three. Nick Powell is likely to join them some time during the match. Josh McEachran is due to return in midfield and Jean Beausejour at left back.

It is unusual for Wigan Athletic to be playing the role of Goliath in a league match. They will need to roll down their sleeves to carve out a victory against a Yeovil side that has nothing to lose. Nobody expects the Somerset team to come out with a result, but Latics will surely know how Yeovil feel as the underdogs.

It promises to be a fascinating encounter.

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Wigan Athletic 1 Sheffield Wednesday 0 – jaded Latics scrape out a win

Ali Al-Habsi was lucky not to receive a red card.

Ali Al-Habsi was lucky not to receive a red card.

Following the herculean performance at the Etihad on Sunday, a hung-over Latics team struggled to beat a team low on flair. Wigan scraped out a win in controversial circumstances, the winner coming in the 88th minute from a superbly executed Jordi Gomez penalty.

Latics lineup was close to what had been expected, but Uwe Rosler decided not to rest his trusted defenders James Perch and Emmerson Boyce. They lined up together with Leon Barnett and Jean Beausejour in a flat back four. Ryan Tunnicliffe took over Chris McCann’s normal position on the left of central midfield, with James McArthur in centre-right and Jordi Gomez playing the linkman role.  Martyn Waghorn and James McClean played wide up front with Nicky Maynard in the centre forward position.

The game started scrappily and Wigan struggled to get any coherency to their play. The visitors had clearly done their homework and used their own high pressing tactic to disrupt the build-up of Latics moves from the back. James McClean provided some much needed energy for lethargic Latics and got behind the big full back Buxton, only to squander a good opportunity to blazing the ball across the goal.

Wednesday were proving to be a hard nut to crack – a big physical team who had clearly come to claim at least a point. But their finishing left much to be desired and they rarely threatened Ali Al-Habsi until the 37th minute when they won a penalty.  Maghoma was put through by Best to be felled by the Omani as he went through on goal. It was a clear penalty and many of us in the crowd were expecting a red card for the goalkeeper. To the relief of the Latics faithful the big Omani was to receive only a yellow and made a great save from Leon Best’s penalty.

Latics perked up a little after the penalty save and the largely anonymous Tunnicliffe warmed goalkeeper Martinez’s hands with a shot from 25 yards. Then Boyce got in a downward header, but it was saved by ‘keeper Martinez.

Latics limped into half time, looking like they needed a new infusion of players to bring them to life. The movement that typifies Rosler’s style of football was hardly evident and changes were clearly needed. It was disconcerting to see Latics resort to using long balls in their frustration of not getting quality possession.

Those changes came in the 54th minute when Rosler brought on Callum McManaman for an ineffective Waghorn and Nick Powell for the tiring McArthur. This put some extra life into Latics play and Powell soon put McClean through on the left, but his disappointing cross went into Martinez’s hands. Apart from that there was a lack of quality in their build-up as Wednesday held firm. The visitors’ physical approach and the laxness of referee Andy Haines frustrated the home crowd.

Marc-Antoine Fortune replaced McClean after 72 minutes and his physical approach helped liven things up. Latics were now playing a 4-4-2 formation with McManaman and Powell playing wide and Fortune and Maynard in the middle. In the 79th minute one of the few moves of quality saw Fortune put McManaman through on the right with a clear run on goal. With a calmer head the winger might have scored but he blazed his low shot past the far post.

Latics continued to press and were rewarded with a hotly disputed penalty after Perch had gone down after Lavery’s challenge. Gomez put away the penalty and Latics somehow had salvaged three points.

The Good

Rosler acknowledged after the game that “Yes, we didn’t play our best and yes, we can definitely do better, but in terms of guts and belief I can’t really ask for any more from my players”.

It is the ability of Rosler’s sides to show that kind of resilience that makes Latics promotion hopefuls. The football was reminiscent of that of the dark days under Owen Coyle, but the usual style of play had broken down and Latics were left to take a more pragmatic approach.

The defence was strong throughout and limited Wednesday’s goal scoring opportunities to a minimum.

The Bad

Chris McCann was sorely missed and his replacement, Tunniicliffe, could not get to grips with the game. This led to the midfield being disjointed despite the usual hard work of McArthur and Gomez.

Rosler has lost the option of choosing his preferred midfield trio of Watson, McArthur and McCann.Moreover Roger Espinoza was not even on the bench.

Player Ratings

Ali Al-Habsi: 7 – lucky not to get sent off, but made a great penalty save and otherwise looked comfortable.

James Perch: 7 – once again his run from defence created a goal. He has added another dimension to his game. Solid as ever in defence.

Leon Barnett: 7 – superb in the air and formed a strong central defensive partnership with Boyce.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 – continues to perform consistently well.

Jean Beausejour: 7 – did not get forward as much as usual, but excellent in defence.

James McArthur: 6 – as busy and involved as ever. Taken off after 54 minutes.

Jordi Gomez: 6 – worked hard and his penalty won the game for his team.

Ryan Tunnicliffe: 4 – looked disorientated. Surely a much better player than he looked in this game.

Martyn Waghorn: 5- lacked incisive thrust. Playing wide on the right and being naturally left footed he invariably passed the ball inside.

Nicky Maynard: 5 – struggled throughout against Wednesday’s giant central defenders.

James McClean: 6 – promised but did not deliver.

Substitutes

Nick Powell: – good to see him back, but clearly not yet match fit.

Callum McManaman: – received little protection from a lenient referee. Looked dangerous on occasions.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: – added more muscle up front and almost laid on a goal for McManaman.

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