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

 

Table

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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Latics ready to pick up 3 points against Leicester

Leicester City come to the DW Stadium tonight on the crest of a wave, sitting at the top of the Championship table, following on from a 2-0 away win at second placed Burnley.

Nigel Pearson has built a team that plays good football and has picked itself up since losing out to Watford in the playoffs last season. They looked impressive at Burnley, inflicting on the Clarets theirv first home defeat of the season.

However, Pearson has indicated that he will be making changes to a lineup that has been unchanged for the past six matches. Forward Jamie Vardy is injured and Pearson will have to look at making some rotations given the fixture congestion over the coming weeks.

Uwe Rosler knows all about fixture congestion and up to this point he has juggled his squad effectively. However, one player who has been a permanent name on the team sheet in the Rosler era is James McArthur. The Scot has been a model of consistency, but looked jaded in the Bolton game on Saturday. McArthur is in the engine room of Latics midfield and denies the opposition space as well as being the instigator of much of the good football that they play. Rosler will have to rest him soon. It could be tonight or against Leeds on Saturday.

Jean Beausejour is out with a two game suspension and Rosler will look towards either Stephen Crainey or James Perch to cover the left of defence. The German prefers utilizing Crainey as a wing back, rather than full back. Perch is a solid left back, but is not able to support attacks as effectively on his “wrong foot”.  In any case Ivan Ramis is likely to return and we might well see Rosler employing a 3-4-3 system with Emmerson Boyce, Leon Barnett and Ramis forming a formidable central defensive line.

Josh McEachran is due to return in midfield and Nicky Maynard at centre forward. Martyn Waghorn is unable to play against his parent club, but Rosler has a wealth of attacking options available. Callum McManaman looked more like his old self when coming on as a substitute against Bolton and remains relatively fresh, not having played so many games recently. Nick Powell scored a cracking equalizer at Bolton and will probably make the starting lineup. If he does it will be interesting to see if Rosler once again plays him in a wide position.

Latics will be keen to keep up with their quest for a play-off position by collecting three points from tonight’s game. Having beaten three Premier League teams, including title chasing Manchester City, in their FA Cup run they will not be overawed by playing the top team in the Championship.

It promises to be a fascinating contest tonight and a win against the league leaders would send shock waves to the other clubs contesting for play-off positions.

Maybe we will see Shaun Maloney coming off the bench in the later stages. A fully fit Maloney could be key to promotion back to the Premier League.

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Watford and beyond – Latics and promotion

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At half time during the Ipswich match last Saturday the Wigan Athletic substitutes came on the pitch to play ‘Piggy in the Middle’. Latics had gone into half time 2-1 ahead  after James McClean’s well taken equalizer and Leon Barnett’s header .

The quality of players in that group was impressive . Carson, Crainey, Kiernan, McEachran, Maynard, McManaman, Powell – a strong bench that most Championship clubs would envy. But it was more than that – there was an almost tangible atmosphere of camaraderie among those players. Football clubs these days are experts in telling fans that there is a team spirit among their players. In fact even Owen Coyle would tell us the same thing, although one seriously doubted that was the case.

However, there can be no doubt that Uwe Rosler has built up a strong team spirit at Wigan. The German’s preferred style of football is as physically demanding as it could possibly be for the players. But the players have adjusted and since his arrival fitness levels have improved.

Rosler made five changes for the midweek match against Yeovil, but the team spirit was still there when they were 2-1 down five minutes from the end. It led to two goals before the end of regular time and it reminded one of that late comeback against Charlton when the three points seemed to be lost. However, this time it was not to be as Yeovil got a scrambled equaliser in the last minute of added time.

Over the last couple of weekends Latics had been full of running and energy in victories at Manchester City and Ipswich. However, in the midweek games against Sheffield Wednesday and Yeovil they have looked jaded and lethargic. Which Wigan Athletic will we see against Watford tomorrow?

In the next six weeks Wigan Athletic have to play twelve matches. That kind of schedule needs a strong squad with a rotation policy that involves adjustments, rather than wholesale changes. Much of Latics’ defensive stability in recent weeks has been underpinned by the presence of James Perch on the right, with various combinations of Leon Barnett, Emmerson Boyce and Ivan Ramis in the centre of defence. The mutual understanding among those players has helped to them to play as a very solid unit.

When Perch went off injured after 27 minutes on Tuesday it caused a disruption to that smooth running unit. With no recognized right back on the bench Rosler was forced to move Boyce across. Thomas Rogne, who had not played since December, paired up with Ivan Ramis in their first game as a central defensive partnership. Rogne is a fine young player and Ramis possibly the best central defender in the division, but Yeovil centre forward Ishmael Miller proved too much for them on the night, scoring two well taken goals and missing an easier chance before that.

Even if Perch is available tomorrow Rosler will have to think hard about playing Boyce. Although 34 years old the captain has already played 46 matches this season, more than any other player. Boyce is a key player for Rosler and has been in great form, but badly needs a rest. Playing too many matches in a condensed period of time puts the player at higher risk of receiving an injury, let alone burnout.

Rosler has been unlucky with long term injuries to Ben Watson and Chris McCann, who were part of the nucleus around which his team was built. Moreover the consistent and reliable Leon Barnett is out with a hamstring injury, hopefully for not too long.

A strong defence has been the key to Wigan Athletic’s surge under Rosler. He now has to shuffle his pack and some coherence in defence will be lost. Thomas Rogne and Markus Holgersson will probably have a part to play over the coming weeks. Jean Beausejour continues to play at left back, not his natural position, but outstanding in attack.

In the absence of Watson and McCann in midfield much of the pressure will be on the admirable James McArthur. A midfield without the Scot is hardly worth contemplating, as like Boyce in defence, he is a lynchpin of the team.

Jordi Gomez has been excellent in recent matches and deserves his place. He has adjusted to Rosler’s style of play. Josh McEachran is a quality player, but has struggled to meet the physical demands of Rosler’s pressing style over 90 minutes. But watch out for him in the coming weeks. Ryan Tunniciffe has struggled to adjust to that system, but has high ratings from Ipswich fans from his time there. He is clearly not short of confidence and should get better. New loan signing Jack Collison could have a major part to play, although playing  multiple games in a week is probably beyond what his knee can withstand.

Rosler has a wealth of players available to him upfront, although he lacks a natural goalscorer. Both Marc-Antoine Fortune and Nicky Maynard are capable centre forwards, of differing styles. Callum McManaman remains a potential match winner, despite his indifferent form so far. Martyn Waghorn has a great left foot, is excellent in the delivery of corner kicks, and a team player who complies at both ends of the pitch. James McClean is a much better player under Rosler. He is now lifting his head at key moments and becoming a more mature player. If he continues in his current vein of form he will attract interest from the big clubs. Nick Powell remains a wild card, the position in which he will play being uncertain. Being played wide is not his best position, but Rosler has the option to play him at centre forward or in the hole in midfield, which might be his best position.

Latics have the luxury of quality goalkeepers with not only the excellent Ali Al-Habsi and Scott Carson, but the exciting young Lee Nicholls waiting for another chance. Al-Habsi and Carson can be expected to rotate over coming weeks.

Given the injuries and the hectic schedule, Latics are likely to experience some ups and downs before the end of the season. It will be hard to maintain the level already established by the German.

Rosler has built up a fine team spirit and a strong squad. The aim is for Latics to be in the top six at the end of the season. If they can do that they have the players to take them back to the Premier League.

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

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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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