Mackay gets it right – Post match reaction Leeds United (A)

Our luck was in today”.

So said James McClean, the architect of Wigan Athletic’s first win since October 25th. McClean’s cross led to a Leeds own goal after 11 minutes, then he sealed the win with a powerful finish in the 82nd minute.

Mackay got his tactics right this time around. He brought in James Tavernier in his best position as right wing back, with Andrew Taylor on the opposite flank and a central defensive trio of James Perch, Ivan Ramis and Rob Kiernan. He stuck with the experienced trio of Don Cowie, Chris McCann and Ben Watson in midfield, with McClean and Marc-Antoine Fortune upfront.

Nobody looked happier with yesterday’s win than the beleaguered manager, Malky Mackay. It was a welcome surprise to see him opt for a 3-5-2 formation, after his sterile tactics in previous matches. Fans were wincing at the prospect of him playing with just one striker, but the change in formation allowed him to play with two, whilst providing more defensive stability.

This time Mackay fielded three of Uwe Rosler’s signings in his starting lineup, having brought in Tavernier to join his trusted lieutenants, Cowie and Taylor. He boldly left out the underperforming FA Cup winning trio of Emmerson Boyce, Callum McManaman and Shaun Maloney.

Maloney might well be leaving the club over the coming weeks, as Latics are likely to want to cash in with his contract expiring at the end of the season. Boyce has been a wonderful club servant and played in Wigan’s most famous victories, but has just not looked the same player this season. At 35 he is now unlikely to be able to command a regular place in the starting lineup.

Ironically McManaman was left out when Mackay opted for the formation that suits him best. Playing wide on the flank makes it too easy for the opposition to snuff him out of the game with multiple markers. In a 3-5-2 system he has the freedom to wander, making it hard for the opposition defence to control him. The young player has received criticism over recent weeks from fans who have thought he has not been sufficiently involved in the game. However, unlike with Rosler, who would often only play him for an hour, he is now expected for play the full ninety.

Mackay is the third manager who has tried to play with the two wide men – McManaman and McClean – in the same lineup to find out it does not work. Of the two, McManaman is the more clinical finisher, although McClean hit home his goal with aplomb yesterday. Would Mackay consider playing the two together as strikers in a 3-5-2 formation, rather than as orthodox wingers?

Even in the Martinez days of 3-5-2 (or a modified 3-4-3), Latics played with at least one target man. In the last season in the Premier League it was Arouna Kone and Franco di Santo before that. Yesterday Mackay had Fortune playing there. Moreover over the past months Wigan’s defenders and goalkeeper have grown accustomed to using the centre forward as an outlet for hopeful long punts. But yesterday saw Ramis and Kiernan restored to the centre of defence and both are capable of resisting the hoof and playing the ball out from the back.

At last Wigan’s luck has changed for the better. In so many matches this season they have done enough to win, but thrown it away through defensive laxness or unlucky goals. This time around the remodeled defence held firm during the onslaught from the home team.

They say that one swallow does not make a summer. But at least fans can now see some light on the horizon. The coming weeks are going to continue to be a rollercoaster ride, both in terms of performance on the pitch and in changes in personnel over the period of the transfer window.

A win can do wonders for a team’s confidence and the players will now be looking forward to Tuesday’s home game with Sheffield Wednesday. They will hope that the ill-luck that has dogged them so much this season has gone for good.

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Latics ready for a good second half at Huddersfield?

“I was disappointed that we dropped our intensity at the start of the second half and it started very much from the front…….Also the willingness to get on the ball dropped. We can’t hold the level for 90 minutes in certain positions – and that we have to address ….A football game isn’t 45 or 60 minutes, it’s 90-95, and we have to make sure we can play like we want for 95 minutes.”

Uwe Rosler was speaking with his usual openness about the flaws that were once again evident in his side’s performance, this time at Blackburn.

The first six league games have yielded just seven points for Latics, one less than Owen Coyle’s team had at this stage. Like Coyle’s team the current side has stayed unbeaten in its first three home games. But Coyle’s team started with an away win at Barnsley, before losing the next two on the road at Bournemouth and Leicester. This team has lost all three away games.

If the six league games played so far had finished at half time, Latics would be unbeaten with a record of W3 D3, having scored six goals and conceded one. However, they have lost all three matches so far in which the scores were level at half time. They have conceded seven goals in the second halves of their games, scoring only two. Latics certainly have been a first half team this season.

A win at Huddersfield would put Latics back into mid-table, within striking distance of the top six. Huddersfield have started the season poorly, with just one win so far. They have drawn one and lost two of their three home games. So is the scene set for Wigan to get their first away points of the season tomorrow?

Reading between the lines in what Rosler was saying the loss of intensity at Blackburn was started by the front players not closing down opposition defenders, then players not moving around to make themselves available to receive passes. The result was the Blackburn midfield receiving better service from defence and the Latics backline falling deeper. The cynics would say Scott Carson enjoys making those long kicks from his penalty box for the opposition defence to gobble up. Ali Al Habsi gets criticised for his poor kicking, but he is at least always looking for a teammate to throw the ball to. However, in Carson’s defence, if players are not moving to receive the ball his options are limited.

Were Latics to be able to play at full throttle for the 90 minutes-plus at Huddersfield a win would be on the cards. However, the manager seems caught between two stools. He wants to bring in his new players as soon as possible so that they can gel with their teammates, but all three have been short of match practice. On Saturday only William Kvist was remotely match fit and he only lasted 63 minutes. Andy Delort, who had not played a competitive game for weeks, was given the full 90 minutes. He was expected to press the opposition central defenders when they had the ball, together with doing all the onerous duties of a lone centre forward. Adam Forshaw was wisely only played for the final 10 minutes, given his lack of match fitness.

A player of the calibre of James McArthur is bound to be missed. It was evident at Blackburn. Moreover a central midfield of Don Cowie and William Kvist is not going to provide the kind of invention that Latics had when Auld Mac was there. Both are the kind of players who rarely get the plaudits, covering a lot of ground, making interceptions, winning tackles, making simple passes. Such types of player are essential in any effective and well balanced team.

In the long run we can expect the midfield to consist of either Cowie or Kvist in front of the centre of defence, with Forshaw on the right and Emyr Huws on the left. Chris McCann will eventually come back to challenge Huws for that left midfield position spot where he played so well last year. Ben Watson’s best position is probably in the centre of the midfield three, but he can also do a good job on the right. In the meantime Tim Chow, Roger Espinoza and Fraser Fyvie remain possibilities, but will never prove themselves without being given the chance. Neither will James Tavernier who can play at right back or midfield.

The backline of three central defenders was inevitably going to be tested against Gestede and Rhodes, but they looked ragged and uncoordinated at times in the second half. Perhaps Emmerson Boyce was suffering from his long trip to the Caribbean to play for Barbados, but he has not yet shown last season’s form. Ivan Ramis made some last gasp interceptions and put through some nice passes, but even he was looking short of composure by the end. Rob Kiernan will have to fight for his place, with Leon Barnett breathing down his neck, not to mention Thomas Rogne and Gary Caldwell.

We can expect Oriel Riera to return to the lineup tomorrow. It would not be a surprise to see a reversal to 4-3-3 with Martyn Waghorn returning on the right, with Callum McManaman on the left. James McClean will be keen to get a game, but Rosler really needs to be careful since the Irishman is another who is clearly not match fit. Better to give him a good run out with the development squad first.

Shaun Maloney is another of those players who is still not fully match fit, but Rosler will be tempted to put him in from the start. If Cowie and Kvist can provide the protection in front of the back four the Scot could play an advanced midfield role. Emyr Huws went off injured on Saturday so his participation must be in doubt.

Rosler might well rest Boyce and go for a central defensive pairing of Ramis and Barnett, although Kiernan cannot be discounted despite a disappointing game at Blackburn.

Rosler has lots of permutations and combinations possible for his team selection. However, he will need to provide some continuity and wholesale changes might well make things worse. Moreover he cannot afford to make the gamble of playing too many players whose fitness is questionable.

As always it will be fascinating to see the lineup he puts out. The bottom line is to put out a balanced team that can play with intensity for the 90 minutes plus. A tall order? Let’s hope not.

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Off to Blackburn in a mood of buoyant optimism

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It seems a long time has passed since the last away game. In fact it was a month ago when Latics went to Charlton in an air of uncertainty following a League Cup exit to Burton Albion. Uwe Rosler’s honeymoon period as manager reached its end when Charlton snatched the points with a freaky last minute goal.

In contrast Latics go to Blackburn tomorrow in a mood of buoyant optimism. Ewood Park has rarely been a happy hunting ground for Latics and there might well be another adverse result, but fans are now more confident about what lies beyond. As a result of recent transfer activity Rosler has built a formidable squad, with quality players competing for places in every position.

One of the questions fans are now asking is whether Rosler will revert to his squad rotation mode after keeping a consistent starting lineup in the last three matches. Moreover will he stick with that same 3-5-2 formation that has produced improved results? Will he bring in his new signings: Andy Delort, Andy Forshaw and William Kvist?

Squad rotation is a prickly issue with many supporters. Those opposed to it will cite the example of Burnley who won promotion after sticking to a consistent starting eleven throughout the course of the season. In fact, Burnley used 23 different players in league games last season. However, three players – Tom Heaton, David Jones and Jason Shackell – started in all 46. Moreover another seven started in 37 games or more.

In contrast Wigan used 34 players in the league last year. However, in all competitions they played 11 matches more than Burnley over the course of the season. Leon Barnett and Emmerson Boyce both started in 39 games, James Perch in 38 and James McArthur in 37.

Rosler will cite the example of Alex Ferguson, who never picked the same team twice. He remains a fan of squad rotation, dating back to his formative years as a player under Otto Rehhagel at Kaiserslautern. Rehhagel is one most successful coaches in German football history, but perhaps better known as the coach of the dour Greek side that won the European Championship in 2004. However, Rehhagel won the Bundesliga with Kaiserslautern in 1998 with a newly promoted team that attacked with verve and seemed to have hidden depths of energy. Rehhagel operated a rotation system, with the result that all players in the squad felt involved and had a part to play. The result was a strong team spirit.

Given his previous history and the fact that he now has a very strong and well balanced squad, Rosler is likely to continue his rotations. However, most fans will hope that he will not be making wholesale changes in consecutive matches. There is the alternative of giving a player a run of games, then resting him.

For tomorrow’s match Rosler will most likely field a similar lineup to the team that beat Birmingham some two weeks ago. If he continues to opt for 3-5-2 he will probably choose between Ivan Ramis and Leon Barnett to play alongside Emmerson Boyce and Rob Kiernan in the back line of three. The heading ability of Barnett could be a useful tool against Blackburn who play with two big men upfront.

Kiernan continues to have the backing of the manager, having kept his place despite more experienced central defenders challenging him for a place. The ex-Watford player is particularly strong in coming forward to intercept balls before they reach the strikers. Moreover his passing from defence is getting better and better. Last time Latics played at Ewood at the end of last season they were undone by the central strikers, the 6’ 4” Frenchman Rudy Gestede and the 6’1” Scot Jordan Rhodes, whom they are likely to face again tomorrow.

Of the new players neither Delort nor Forshaw is likely to be match fit, although one or both could appear on the bench. However, William Kvist has played two games in the past week for Denmark. He played a full 90 minutes in the friendly against Turkey, followed by 74 minutes in the European Championship win against Armenia.

Despite the loss of James McArthur, Rosler has options in midfield. He might be tempted to put a solid wall in front of his defence by including Kvist alongside Cowie in holding midfield, pushing Emyr Huws further forward.

James McClean has recovered from injury, although he is not yet fully match fit. He could well come off the bench for Callum McManaman at some stage of the proceedings.

Blackburn have beaten Latics in 6 of the last 7 matches at Ewood Park, in all competitions. They are currently level with Wigan having 7 points from 5 games.

Given past history and the strength of Blackburn’s squad, tomorrow is likely to prove a difficult test. Latics can expect a strong physical challenge from the home side with balls raining in to their penalty box.

Physical fitness has been problematic for Rosler’s squad so far this season. Tomorrow represents an acid test.

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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 at Loftus Road – will Uwe park the bus?

Bus

Thanks to WiganWorld for the photo.

In September 2004 Chelsea and Tottenham played a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge. After the match Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho commented “As we say in Portugal they brought the bus and left it in front of the goal. I would have been frustrated if I had been a supporter who paid £50 to watch this game because Spurs came to defend. I’m really frustrated because there was only one team looking to win, they only came not to concede – it’s not fair for the football we played.”

“Parking the bus” has since become a well-used term in football vernacular. Ironically Mourinho himself has become an expert in having his teams do exactly that same thing when he has felt a 0-0 draw would suit him.

Despite making noises about playing an attacking line-up, Harry Redknapp parked the bus on Wigan Athletic on Friday night. The wily East Londoner had clearly made up his mind that a 0-0 draw was what he wanted. With an away record of W8 D5 L10 Redknapp’s team had the least number of points away from home of the top six in clubs the Championship division. In comparison their home record was bettered only by champions, Leicester City.

Latics go to Loftus Road tomorrow to play a team that has lost only two league games all season on their home ground. One of those was to Leicester and the other was to play-off contenders Reading.

Loftus Road has never been an easy place for visiting teams. The pitch measures 102 by 66 meters, on the small side compared with the standard dimensions of 105 by 68 meters stipulated by the Premier League and UEFA. The stadium itself is small, with a capacity of 18,360. The stadium feels tightly enclosed as all four stands meet with no gaps and fans are closer to the pitch than at other stadia. Away teams can easily feel intimidated as the crowd noise reverberates in a compact space.

It is a difficult task for Rosler’s team, which has played 61 games this season. However, Latics are used to playing against the odds. In March they went to the Etihad Stadium to defeat a Manchester City side that had won 12 of its 13 home matches in the Premier League, scoring 43 goals. Rosler might be right in saying that QPR have three times the wage bill of Latics, and they do have some quality players, but they pale in comparison with the might of Manchester City.

Redknapp might well have done his homework prior to Friday’s game. If he had then he would have expected Latics to struggle against a massed defence. They have done so all season. During Rosler’s tenure they have had most of their best results away from home, where they have more room to play. They won 4-1 at playoff rivals Nottingham Forest, 3-0 at Sheffield Wednesday and had hard fought wins at Brighton, Derby and Reading.

Despite what seemed to be a bad result on Friday, Rosler did not seem over concerned. He acknowledged that his wing backs had not pushed forward sufficiently. It could be because Redknapp had planted Hoilett and Traore in wide positions as a tactical ploy to hold back Perch and Beausejour. Or maybe Rosler had wanted to keep things tight and not push them as far forward as usual.

Rosler saying that the pressure is now on QPR might be playing mind games with Redknapp, but could also be a statement he genuinely believes. So what will Rosler’s tactics be tomorrow?

It would be ironic if the German were to turn the tables on Redknapp by parking the bus too. Allowing the home team to do the work of breaking down a massed defence, at least in the first half, would conserve the energy of his players for a concerted push later in the game.

But then again Rosler might go for broke by blitzing QPR from the start. To do so he would be asking a lot from players with already tired legs. However, with vigorous high pressing from the start Latics could disrupt the home team’s play and possibly secure an early goal. Getting that goal could be psychologically huge for a Latics side that has lost some of its self-confidence through a string of indifferent results.

It will be interesting to see if Rosler continues to operate with a back line of three central defenders and wing backs. He did so in the victory at the Etihad, but reverted to a flat back four in the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal. When Latics visited QPR in March he played a back line of Rogne, Ramis and Kiernan. It was a tight game, with Latics a little unfortunate to lose 1-0.

Unfortunately it looks like Latics will be without the excellent Ivan Ramis tomorrow. Rosler’s gamble of playing him at Blackburn misfired, with the Spaniard going off injured at half time. Ramis could make a huge difference in the centre of defence if he were fit.

Gary Caldwell looked comfortable on Friday, but the defence were put under little pressure by a defensive QPR side. Playing him tomorrow would be another gamble and it could misfire. However, Rosler boldly thrust the Scot into the FA Cup semi-final and it came off.

This could prove to be one match too many for Latics at the end of a marathon season. They have done so well to get into the playoffs after a poor managerial appointment in summer left them heading towards the lower reaches of the table by December. Win or lose, the fans will continue to back Rosler.

If Wigan were to lose tomorrow it might well be the last match for the club for a number of players recruited in the Premier League era. Another year in the Championship would mean tightening the purse belts and letting the larger wage earners move on.

However, having seen what Latics have done before when the odds were stacked against them, only a fool would count them out.

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