Carson’s kicking – asset or liability?


In the 1960s Latics signed a promising goalkeeper called Gerry Barrett from Fareham Town. According to the Lancashire Evening Post (as it was called then) the young man was renowned in the Hampshire League for his prodigious kicking of a football.

His reputation proved to be justified. Springfield Park had a big pitch but Barrett’s punts would regularly threaten the opposition penalty area. It was an attacking weapon that Latics used to effect.

Sadly Barrett’s other goalkeeping skills did not match up to his kicking. He was unable to firmly establish himself at the club and his career did not take off as was hoped.

Decades later Latics have another ‘keeper who is a powerful kicker of a football. The 29 year old Scott Carson is a highly experienced and capable goalkeeper, with four England caps under his belt.

As a teenager brought up in Whitehaven, Carson was a promising rugby league player, but chose to follow career in football. A Leeds United scout saw him playing for Workington in the FA Youth Cup and Carson was recruited to the Leeds academy. Although only 18 years old and still not having made his debut for the first team, Carson was called into the England under-21 squad. After a couple of years at Leeds he was transferred to Liverpool for of £750,000.

Last year when Latics played at Charlton the big Cumbrian was given a warm round of applause by the home supporters when he came out for the pre-match warm-up. He had been on loan to the London club in 2006-07, putting in a string of fine performances. Sadly on his return to The Valley as he slipped and injured himself in the warm-up, with Lee Nicholls stepping up in his place.

Carson never quite managed to establish himself at Liverpool and that loan at Charlton was squeezed between a previous spell at Sheffield Wednesday, followed by another at Aston Villa. However, he made his England debut against Austria in November 2007, with a clean sheet. A week later he made an error in a crucial European Championship match against Croatia, allowing a long shot from Nico Krancjar to bounce in front of him, then parrying it into the net. England lost 3-2 and manager Steve McClaren resigned the next day.

In January 2008 he joined West Bromwich Albion for a fee of around £3.3m. During a three and a half year stay at the Hawthorns, Carson made 110 appearances for his club and two more for England. In July 2011 he was transferred to Bursaspor for £2m, who were to finish in 8th place in the Turkish league, conceding only 35 goals in 34 games. The following season Carson made 29 appearances as Bursaspor finished 4th and qualified for the Europa League.

With Ali Al-Habsi out with a long term shoulder injury, Owen Coyle signed Carson from Bursaspor for £700,000 in July 2013. Since then Carson has established himself as the first choice goalkeeper, despite competition from Al-Habsi and Lee Nicholls. Few would argue that Carson has not been Wigan’s best player so far this season, even if his form has dipped over the past month like his teammates.

Carson’s supporters would say that he is Latics’ number one goalkeeper and one of the best in the Championship division. His outstanding saves have kept them in the game on so many occasions. His critics would say that he should have stopped the goals scored from narrow angles by Max Clayton of Bolton and Troy Deeney of Watford and should have been in better positions to prevent headed goals by Craig Davies for Bolton and Alex Revell of Rotherham. They will also say that he seems clueless on penalty kicks.

Like Barrett, so many decades before him, Carson has a very powerful kick. Years ago playing in the Cheshire League Latics would use Barrett’s kicks to attack the opposition defence. It was non-league football and the ball was often in the air. Compared with many of the teams they faced Latics played quite sophisticated football and their supporters would brand the styles of the opposing teams as “big boot” or “kick and rush”. But on the sticky pitches of the time a long ball game was often essential and Barrett’s kicking was a real asset.

These days Latics are playing at a much higher level and the pitches they are playing on are far superior. Moreover possession of the ball has become paramount in the upper echelons of English football. Nevertheless the long ball has come back into play following the exit of Roberto Martinez.

With Owen Coyle in charge, Carson would regularly spear long balls up front. Even Uwe Rosler, whose preferred football style was opposed to the tactic, allowed or encouraged Carson to do the same. Usually Marc-Antoine Fortune was the target, but James McClean too would be expected to head the ball from the touchline. Fortune is not the best of centre forwards in terms of goalscoring, but he found a place in Rosler’s teams through his ability to make something out of Carson’s long clearances.

Sadly Carson’s long balls have become a feature of Malky Mackay’s tactics. So often defenders who have been unable or unwilling to play the ball out of defence have passed the ball back to the big ‘keeper. The end result has been the central defenders of the opposition having a field day. The corpulent centre halves of the Championship are ill at ease with forwards who run at them, but long balls are their bread and butter.

Is Mackay encouraging Carson to make those long kicks? Is it part of his footballing philosophy?

Having said that he is the third Latics manager for whom the goalkeeper has performed in that way.

In the days of Martinez that kind of distribution from a goalkeeper was anathema. His goalkeepers were expected to conserve possession. A short or long throw from the goalkeeper was the norm. Defenders were encouraged to play the ball out of defence, even if on occasions things went awry.

The football currently played by Wigan Athletic under Mackay is close to that which was played under Coyle. The difference was that Coyle had flair players like Jean Beausejour, Jordi Gomez and Nick Powell who made the difference.

Carson is a fine goalkeeper, but his distribution is dire. Rarely does he make a long throw to find an unmarked teammate. So often he launches the long ball that rarely proves successful in moving the team forward.

However, a goalkeeper is dependent on players moving into good positions in order for him to find them accurately with a pass. In a struggling side that is often not the case.

Mackay’s sides have not been known for their flowing, attacking football. However, that does not mean to say that he encourages a route one approach.

Central strikers like Andy Delort and Oriol Riera have struggled with the service they have received since joining the club. It has consisted mostly of long hooves from either the back four or the goalkeeper. One wonders if they would ever have joined the club if they had known that was going to be the norm.

Scott Carson is a quality goalkeeper. However, his distribution of the ball needs to be seriously addressed. So does the low quality distribution he all too often receives from defenders who find it all too easy to pass the ball backwards rather than take the responsibility of building up from the back. Moreover there needs to be more off the ball movement from players willing to accept the burden of possession from a goalkeeper’s pass.

Let’s not put the clock back to Gerry Barrett’s day when Latics were a non-league team. There is no excuse for an excessive use of the long ball in high level football in this day and age.

Malky Mackay please note.


Is Latics’ squad lacking in quality?


Some say that results in pre-season matches are not important. But then again, a 2-1 loss at Rochdale was hard for Wigan Athletic supporters to swallow, let alone a 4-1 drubbing in Dusseldorf yesterday.

Latics’ worst ever pre-season performance will surely be that of five decades ago, when fourth division Southport smashed non-league Wigan 10-2. My father told me at the time that friendly matches can produce strange results and do not really have much bearing on the season to follow. Strangely enough the same two teams met again four days later at Springfield Park and Latics went on to win 3-0. In the event it turned out to be a mediocre season for Latics, who finished in mid-table in the Cheshire League. That 10-2 scoreline proved to be an indicator of defensive weakness as Latics were to concede 82 goals in 42 league matches.

Following the 2-1 win over Besiktas, thanks largely to Ali Al-Habsi’s brilliance, we seemed to be looking forward to a good season ahead. Granted there were concerns over the departures of two of Latics’ most creative players – Jordi Gomez and Jean Beausejour – but Uwe Rosler had been moving shrewdly in the transfer market and was building up a stronger squad. Most fans have now accepted that Dave Whelan is not going to wave his cheque book around in the way he did to get Latics into the Premier League last time. Austerity has not yet set in, but stringent financial management is the order of the day at the club.

Rosler is used to working under tight budgets, through his experience with his previous clubs. He will bring in a mixture of youth and experience. The experienced Andrew Taylor and Don Cowie have played in the Premier League and been part of a Championship division winning team. James Tavernier and AaronTaylor-Sinclair are clearly the kind of youngsters who have the potential to develop into quality players. The 19 year old loanee, Emyr Huws , is an exciting young player who can play in the creative midfield role that Gomez used to enjoy. A good central striker at an affordable price is something that hardly exists in modern day English football, but Rosler has done well to bring in Oriel Riera from Osasuna. Riera scored 13 goals in La Liga last season for a team that was relegated, making an interesting comparison with Arouna Kone who scored 15 for Levante before arriving at Wigan.

In order to sign another central striker Rosler will need to raise funds by selling off one of his assets. Stories of Latics courting another goalkeeper might seem far-fetched, but both Ali Al-Habsi and Scott Carson are likely to be transfer targets for other clubs. A possible scenario is for one of them to be sold, with the exciting, but inexperienced, Lee Nicholls once more sent out on loan.

Rosler’s squad is not yet complete. We can expect more incomings and possibly outgoings over the coming weeks. But when the squad is finally completed will there be sufficient quality there to mount a serious challenge for promotion?

After playing for ten clubs in six countries in over a decade, Jean Beausejour has gone home to Chile. He will play in Santiago for Colo-Colo, the country’s historically most successful club. When Roberto Martinez signed him from Birmingham City in January 2012, Latics were struggling. Moreover fans were disappointed with Martinez’ lack of activity in that January transfer window. However, the arrival of a specialist left wing back blew fresh air into Latics’ play, helping them to produce the best quality of football and the best results in their history over the next three months. He was the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle that Martinez was putting together. A team player, he was solid in defence. When Latics had the ball he was always available, hugging the touchline, stretching the opposition defence. He rarely lost the ball and had a few tricks up his sleeve with quick footwork. Beausejour is probably the best crosser of a ball who ever played for Latics, although some more senior supporters might also cite Walter Stanley whose sublime crosses helped Harry Lyon become a household name in Wigan.

Last season was not a good one for the Chilean, except for a memorable goal in the World Cup finals. Beausejour was frequently played at left back, rather than his natural wing back position. Like Gomez, he is another player who never got the recognition that he probably deserved from sections of the DW crowd.

During that late season rally in 2011-2012 and the FA Cup run in 2012-13, Latics beat the top teams in the country on merit, through playing quality football. The stats show that in winning the FA Cup final they committed only 5 fouls, compared with their opponents 11. Is it possible that they will ever be able to raise their football to that level ever again?

Since then lots of quality players have left the club. However, Emmerson Boyce, Shaun Maloney and James McArthur still remain. They are the pillars upon which Rosler will build this season’s team. Boyce is getting no younger, but at centre back he still has years ahead of him. The fitness of the two Scots will be of paramount importance and Rosler is nurturing them very carefully through the pre-season physical conditioning programme. Moreover the skilful Ben Watson and Chris McCann are making good progress in their recuperation from major injuries.

On the tactical front Rosler continues to demand the high tempo, high pressing style that he espouses. They did it for half an hour at Dusseldorf, but once again could not keep it going. It remains to be seen whether Rosler will ever enjoy that level of intensity he seeks from the players at his disposal.

In the meantime Rosler will scour the loan market to complete his squad. Maybe even that additional central striker will be a loan player? A return for Nick Powell continues to be touted by the media.

The name of Grant Holt continues to pop up in the social media and fan forums, the comments usually being derogatory. If no other club is willing to take the player off the club’s hands will Rosler be able to turn him into an asset? Would Holt be able to fit into Rosler’s style of play if he could regain full fitness?

Holt has proved in the past that he can deliver the goods by scoring key goals that win matches, but last season was one he will want to forget. During the reign of Owen Coyle he was used in a similar way that Bolton used Kevin Davies for so many years, a human battering ram posing a physical threat to the defence. That probably did Holt no favours and moreover it led to defenders constantly launching long balls in his direction. Given Rosler’s preferred style of play Holt would not be a regular starter, even if fully fit. However, he could have a role to play as an impact substitute.

Providing his ventures in the transfer market go well over the coming weeks, Rosler will have a squad good enough to challenge for promotion. Enough quality players remain, but the moot point is whether they can they stay fit.

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A good time to play Forest

Getting a result at the City Ground against a Nottingham Forest side that has lost only two home matches in the league is not going to be easy. Billy Davies is a formidable foe, a manager for whom the players give their all and one not averse to using negative tactics to get a result. However, Forest have lost some momentum in recent weeks and injuries to key players are disrupting their game. It would appear to be a good time to play them.

Forest will go into this game without playmaker Andy Reid, who scored a superb free kick in Wigan’s win at the DW Stadium in late August. They will also be without central defender Jack Hobbs, who was courted by Uwe Rosler in the transfer window. Dexter Blackstock, Chris Cohen and Henri Lansbury are also likely to miss the game. Forest had gone on a 16 match unbeaten run until February 16th when they were knocked out of the FA Cup by two added time goals from Sheffield United. Since then they have drawn 2-2 at home to Leicester and lost 3-1 at Burnley.

In contrast Wigan Athletic have won 5 of their last 6 matches. Latics know all too well about injuries and have Gary Caldwell, Shaun Maloney and Ben Watson unavailable. However, there is a possibility of both Scott Carson and Nick Powell returning at long last.

New signing Ryan Tunnicliffe will probably make an appearance at some stage tomorrow. If Latics play with a flat back four he will compete with Josh McEachran for the Ben Watson role of deep-lying playmaker. However, given Forest’s playing style, Uwe Rosler might decide to strengthen his aerial defences. The big Swede Markus Holgerrson will be ready to step into a backline of three central defenders.

If both Callum McManaman and Nick Powell are back from injury, Rosler will face a hard choice on whom to play upfront. He got away with a win against the odds at Brighton where a couple of well taken, opportunist goals gave his team a win against a profligate home side. After taking James McClean off at half time the German was take off a second forward after 73 minutes in Martyn Waghorn. Playing the final 17 minutes light on attacking power invited the opposition to pressurize Latics’ defence.

It was a great result at Brighton, but it was achieved with a tad of good luck. There is a saying that good teams make their own luck, but also another that says fortune favours the brave.

Rosler has built team spirit within his group of players. These Latics players have the “character” to grind out results if need be.  Although one hopes to see a fluid, attacking approach it might well be the qualities of doggedness and resilience that are to prove paramount in getting Wigan a good result at the City Ground tomorrow.

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