A Portsmouth fan’s view of Noel Hunt

Wigan Athletic today announced the signing of 34-year-old striker Noel Hunt on a one year contract. The 5 ft 8 in tall Irishman was a free agent who spent last season at Portsmouth.

Following the announcement of Hunt’s signing Paul Cook said: “Noel is a top pro whose experience, commitment and quality has already started rubbing off on the squad. He’s a player who trains as he plays, at 100% level, and he will make a significant contribution on and off the field.”

Noel Hunt was born in Waterford and joined Dublin club Shamrock Rovers as an 18-year-old. He was soon to be loaned out to Waterford United where he went on to score 5 goals in 9 appearances. Hunt went on to make 25 appearances for Rovers, scoring 11 goals.

Hunt signed for Dunfermline Athletic in January 2003 for £100,000. He spent three years there, injuries limiting him to making 80 appearances, scoring 8 goals, before moving to Dundee United for £50,000. He went on to make 64 appearances, scoring 23 goals in two years. In July 2008 Hunt was transferred to Reading for £600,000. He went on to spend five years there, making 145 appearances, scoring 33 goals.

Hunt left Reading as a free agent in July 2013 after they had been relegated from the Premier League to re-join Brian McDermott who had taken over at Leeds United. In November 2014, he joined Ipswich Town on a short-term loan. Hunt’s time at Leeds had been blighted by injuries and he made 22 appearances, without scoring a goal, before terminating his contract by mutual agreement in January 2015. He then went back to Ipswich but was released at the end of the season, after scoring 2 goals in 7 appearances. He went on to play for Southend in 2015-16, making 21 appearances, scoring 4 goals. Last season, on a one-year contract at Portsmouth, he scored 1 goal in 20 appearances.

In order to learn more about Hunt’s time at Portsmouth we contacted Jim Bonner  (@FrattonFaithful) of the Fratton Faithful fan site.

Here’s over to Jim:

Noel Hunt will be a positive influence off the pitch. His experience will be valuable to some of the younger players and he was popular amongst Pompey fans last season for his attitude and willingness to talk to fans. I suspect he has signed with a view to be having some coaching role when he retires in the next year or two.

However, in terms of on the pitch contribution he only scored once for us (a tap in against the nine men of Mansfield) and barely saw any playing time in League Two, so he is likely to have even less of an impact on a team pushing for promotion in League One, although his willingness to run around despite his age does give him some nuisance value up front. 

If he has signed to be a replacement for Omar Bogle, Wigan fans are going to be very disappointed. Hunt was a player all Pompey fans expected to leave this summer regardless of who the manager was.

 

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A Reading fan’s view of Jem Karacan

 

It appears that Wigan Athletic are about to sign 27 year midfielder, Jem Karacan. Karacan is a free agent, having been released from his contract at Galatasaray by mutual consent.

Jem Karacan was born in London to a Turkish father and English mother. In his early teens he played at Wimbledon, declining an offer to join Galatasaray, his father’s favourite club in Istanbul. He went on to join the Reading youth system.

Karacan signed  a professional contract with Reading as an 18 year old in the summer of 2007, but spent most of the 2007-08 season on loan at Bournemouth and Millwall. He went on to make 155 appearances for Reading between 2008 and 2015, scoring 11 goals. This included 21 appearances in the Premier League in 2012-13.

In September 2013 Karacan had been badly injured in a game against Leeds, suffering damage to his anterior cruciate and medial ligaments. The injury kept him out of action for a year. He returned to first team action in January 2015, but received another injury set back that put him out for a couple of months. He went on to make 8 appearances in that 2014-15 season.

On the expiry of his contract in the summer of 2015, Karacan joined Galatasaray. He made one start and one substitute appearance for Gala before being sent on loan at Bursa, some 2 hours drive from Istanbul. Karacan went on to make 6 starts and 3 substitute appearances for Bursaspor after joining them in February 2016.

Should Latics sign Karacan it will be a gamble, given the player’s past injury problems. However, Karacan was held in high regard at Reading and if he could regain the form of those earlier years could prove a shrewd signing.

In order to learn more about Karacan we asked Dan Wimbush, editor of Reading fan site The Tilehurst End Blog (@TheTilehurstEnd) to respond to a few questions. Here is Dan’s response:

1. What type of midfield player is he?

He’s great at a variety of roles but ideally he’s the terrier in a pair or a three through the middle. Jem brings real energy and passion to the side but he’s more than just a dogsbody to do the running as he’s got a tough tackle in him as well as being able to grab the odd goal. 

I wouldn’t have him sitting in front of the defence or in a 10 role but in old-world terms he’s a perfect No 8. 

2. Strengths/weaknesses

Strength wise, his energy and passion are certainly up there. He formed a great partnership with Mikele Leigertwood between 2010 and 2012 that saw us reach a play-off final and win the league and if you can find the right partner for him at the DW he’ll do really well. As mentioned he’s not to be ignored creatively either and in his final seasons at Reading he was just beginning to show what he could do when given more freedom, until a horrific injury against Leeds nearly ended his career. 

Weakness wise and he’s not amazing in the air, and his recent injury struggles can’t be ignored. However, as he told us himself, he never picks up small niggles, it’s always big nasty injuries, so I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing!

3. Effort/Popularity with the fans

Jem was well loved by the Reading fans and was a popular choice for Captain despite being injured at the time. He came through the Reading Academy and always gave 100% for the club. He had a few minor moments in his youth where he rubbed fans up the wrong way on social media but that’s very much in the past, he’s grown up and has a very mature outlook for someone still in their late 20’s. He’s happy to engage with fans on social media and always spoke well in the media. 

4. Why did he leave Reading? Effect of injuries?

Injuries and finances really. He’d been out for 15-months and Reading were waiting to test his fitness before offering him a significant long-term deal. By the time they were convinced, one of his boyhood teams, and his Dad’s team, Galatasaray had offered him a big deal he just couldn’t refuse. The two sides parted on good terms though and fans understood his decision to take financial security and the chance to play in the Champions League.

5. Would you re-sign him for Reading?

In a heartbeat, though I’d be wary of a long-term deal until he’s got some regular game time back under his belt. If he gets back to the level of play we saw just before his injury in 2013 then he’ll be one of the best in this division but after injuries and barely any game time in Turkey it might take him a while to get back up to speed. 

 

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Latics face QPR next Friday

Table

Wigan Athletic went down 4-3 to Blackburn Rovers in an entertaining game at Ewood Park this afternoon. However, Reading’s failure to beat Burnley left Latics in fifth place.

This means that they will play fourth placed QPR at the DW Stadium next Friday, May 9th.  The return game in west London is scheduled for Monday, May 12th. Both games will start at 7:45 pm.

Leonardo Ulloa’s header after two minutes of added time was enough to help Brighton win 2-1 at Nottingham Forest. The three points helped them to leapfrog over Reading into the playoffs at sixth place. Brighton entertain the in-form third placed Derby County on Thursday, May 8th with the return match on Sunday, May 11th at 5:15 pm.

Uwe Rosler will be pleased with the spirit shown by his team in the second half, but there will be questions asked as to his tactical approach which left a three man defence far too exposed.

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It’s them or us – a look at the Premier League relegation battle

table

How soon optimism can dissipate. A momentous 3-0 win at Reading had given Wigan Athletic a real boost and lifted them out of the relegation zone, albeit on goal difference. Then came that painful 4-0 home loss to Liverpool, a horror movie in the making. Can Wigan Athletic pick themselves up, repair their wounded morale and get back into the fray?

The next game for Wigan is one that no realist would expect them to win. The FA Cup 6th round tie at Everton is likely to be largely attended by Latics’ second string. The cup competitions have been the saving grace for Wigan this season, with heartening performances that have helped lift morale within the club. However, Roberto Martinez would be unwise to risk senior players for an FA Cup tie, given Wigan’s precarious league position. If Everton put out their strongest lineup the scoreline could prove scary. The prospect of two consecutive really bad results looms.

That kind of scenario could pose a real challenge for morale within the club, but history shows that Wigan Athletic are resilient. Even after the most disturbing of horrow shows they have shown the soldier’s ability in not looking back.

It’s tight this year. With 10 games to go it is possible for both Sunderland and Newcastle to get sucked into the relegation battle. Both lie 6 points above the relegation zone. However, Sunderland do have some quality and an experienced and capable manager in Martin O’Neill. Newcastle have even more quality players, including transfer window signings and it is unlikely they will get relegated. Norwich above them do not have as much quality, but they are two points ahead of the north east clubs. It would take a calamitous fall for the Canaries to be dragged into the mire.

We are therefore looking at the teams currently in the bottom five – a mini-league between QPR, Reading, Aston Villa, Wigan and Southampton, with the top two surviving.

Let’s take a look at the opposition for Wigan:

Queens Park Rangers won only their third game of the season last weekend, dragging Southampton back into the danger zone. Despite having quality players they have been woeful this season. However, with that kind of quality and a manager as seasoned as Harry Redknapp, don’t count them out. They were lucky to survive last season and fortune could smile on them again. They have yet to play 3 games against the bottom five five teams and 2 against the top five.

Reading looked poor and low on quality against Wigan, but what they lack in class is compensated by their workrate and determination. That spirit has helped them produce last ditch rescues in matches where they have looked down and out. They play 3 games against bottom five and 3 against the top five.

Aston Villa have gambled on youth and their inexperienced defence is very vulnerable. However, senior players such as Charles N’Zogbia and Gabriel Agbonlahor, together with the exciting young striker Christian Benteke pose an attacking threat. They play 3 games against bottom five and 2 against the top five. Their next two games are against QPR and Reading and failure to win at least one of those will put them under great pressure.

Southampton’s bubble is now starting to burst. They had been punching above their weight in lifting themselves out of the relegation zone. A positive, attacking team with a great disciplinary record they don’t deserve to go down. A lot will depend on their resilience. They play only one game against the bottom five and 2 against the top five.

Up to this point results between the “mini-leaguers” put Wigan in front:

1. Wigan Athletic – Home W1 D2 L0 Away W3 D0 L0 – 14 points (from 6 matches)
2. Southampton – Home W1 D2 L0 Away W2 D1 L0 – 13 points (from 7 matches)
3. QPR – Home W0 D2 L1 Away W1 D1 L0 – 6 points (from 5 matches)
4. Aston Villa – Home W1 D0 L2 Away W0 D1 L1 – 4 points (from 5 matches)
5. Reading – Home W0 D0 L1 Away W0 D1 L3 – 1 point (from 5 matches)

Much is going to depend on results in games played between the bottom five. Bad results in two or more of these matches could prove fatal for any of those teams, barring Southampton who only have one remaining, at Reading. The Royals also have home games left against QPR and Aston Villa.

Wigan Athletic have been in this position before and showed the resilience and mental strength to get out of it. Last year’s miraculous type of recovery is unlikely to happen again. It will be more a matter of grinding out results and keeping their heads above water. Wigan will face 2 games against the bottom five and 3 against the top five, a difficult run-in.

Latics fans will hope that survival will still remain a possibility when they face Aston Villa in their final match of the season at the DW Stadium. It would not be the first time that they reached salvation on the final day.

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Reading 0 Wigan Athletic 3: Latics rising

figgy

While the pre-match league table suggested it was Wigan Athletic destined for football in the second tier next season, the emphatic nature of their 3-0 triumph over Reading this afternoon indicated the Premier League is a far more suitable home. The gulf in class was apparent early on, and the match was effectively over after 50 minutes with a perfect trio of headed, right-footed and left-footed goals. What ensued would best be described as a keep-away training ground routine for Roberto Martinez’s charges.

The Good:

The manager got his tactics right. The flexibility and fluidity of the team’s shape was a huge asset. He started the game with a hugely experienced back four, all of whom displayed the kind of calm and level-headed defended we’ve seen too little of this season, and earned a morale-boosting clean sheet for their troubles. Jean Beausejour, in a more advanced role on the left, was more influential than in recent times, playing the stunning through ball for Arouna Koné’s second goal. The second half switch to his customary wingbacks in the second half was seamless, while the tactical change also afforded Shaun Maloney greater freedom, who in turn orchestrated proceedings for the rest of the game.

Arouna Koné has returned from the African Cup of Nations refreshed. He has now scored four goals in two games, and his expert chipped finish for the second goal was the mark of a confident striker. Despite missing several fixtures in January and February, he is on track to be the club’s top scorer by some distance.

What an astute signing Paul Scharner is turning out to be. His experience and versatility were just the tonic for Latics’ ailing back line. He has slotted into various roles seamlessly, and it will be a surprise if anyone dislodges him from the starting lineup.

Emmerson Boyce made a welcome return after missing several matches through injury, while it was a great pleasure to see Antolin Alcaraz make his return after missing the bulk of the season. Word is Ryo Miyaichi is approaching full fitness — Martinez will soon have a near-full squad to choose from.

The Bad:

Despite escaping the bottom three, the league table is still frighteningly tight. But today’s was a performance to celebrate.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 6 — Didn’t have to make one save. Dealt with crosses well.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Got beaten once or twice in the first half, but improved as the game went along and made some dangerous runs down the right in the second half.

Gary Caldwell: 7 — Composed and patient.

Paul Scharner: 8 — Made some outstanding tackles in the first half, used the ball well, and enjoyed his final ten minutes making forays down the right wing.

Maynor Figueroa: 7 — Scored a lovely goal following excellent interplay with Di Santo, and you could see what it meant to him. Almost scored a follow-up cracker, denied by Reading keeper Adam Federici.

Jean Beausejour: 7 — A decent outing for him. The advanced, more traditional wing role he played in the first half allowed him to be more influential. By the time he reverted to the wingback position in the second, Wigan were firmly in control, and he continued to play dangerous curled balls into the box.

James McArthur: 6 — A few misplaced passes and got caught in possession a couple times — possibly affected by the mask he was wearing. It wasn’t his best first half, but he was comfortable in the second.

James McCarthy: 6 — Quiet, but efficient and kept things ticking. Never once lost the ball.

Shaun Maloney: 7 — Strangely, was not directly involved in any of the goals. Was his usual nippy, creative self though, and he very controlled the second half.

Franco Di Santo: 7 — As against Chelsea, he deserved a goal for a strong performance full of inventive running and passing. His flick for Figueroa’s goal was sublime. Was inches from connecting with driven crosses across a couple times.

Arouna Koné: 8 — Very good. Strong in possession, unselfish but hungry for goals. Got two, almost made it a hat-trick.

Subs:

Jordi Gomez: Game was over by the time he came on, but he was happy to play tikki-takka until the clock ran down.

Antolin Alcaraz: Great to see him back. Slotted back into his right of center position and got ten minutes under his belt.