Lots of striking options in the new era

Sharpe promised us a 20 goal striker.

Sharpe promised us a 20 goal striker.

David Sharpe is not afraid to make bold statements. Not only did he prophesy that Latics will smash the league with 100 points, but he also promised a 20 goal a year striker.

Given a tally of 10 points from the first 6 league matches, it leaves another 90 points in the next 40 to reach Sharpe’s target. A tall order, if by no means impossible. Up to this point Craig Davies and Will Grigg have each scored two goals, Jordy Hiwula has one. Attacking midfielder Michael Jacobs also has one.

For Wigan Athletic to reach that 100 point target it will need a major contribution from the strike force. Are the strikers that Latics currently have capable of delivering in a way that those of the past years were unable to?

Last season James McClean was the leading scorer with 6 goals from 37 appearances in all competitions, a sad indictment of the team’s performances. In the previous season under Owen Coyle and Uwe Rosler, Nick Powell led the goalscoring with 12 goals from 38 appearances, closely followed by Jordi Gomez with 11 from 43.

With the arrival of Haris Vuckic and Hiwula, Gary Caldwell has lots of striking options. At this moment in time his preferred choice would seem to be in having  Davies and  Grigg as twin strikers, with Jacobs behind them in an attacking midfield role. However, Grant Holt is progressing towards full fitness following an anterior cruciate injury and if all goes well he can be expected to return during October. Holt can add a kind of physicality to the attack akin to that of Davies,while Hiwula can threaten with his searing pace.

The signing of Vuckic might well complete the attacking jigsaw puzzle for Caldwell. The versatile Slovenian can play the twin striker role, or coming in from wide. Moreover he will surely compete for an attacking midfield role. At Chesterfield both he and Jacobs played attacking midfield roles behind the central striker.

Davies’ recent performances have certainly won over most of the skeptics among the fans. Up to this point he has stayed injury-free and he and Caldwell will be praying that he can stay that way.  Grigg too has impressed with his intelligent play and ball skills. Together they form a formidable striking partnership against League 1 opposition.

Shaq Coulthirst is recovering from a muscle injury, but is likely to return at some point. He too can play wide or in a twin striker role. Media reports suggest that Sanmi Odelusi might go on a short term loan to Portsmouth, seemingly pushed down the striker pecking order by the competition he faces. For Odelusi getting a regular game is important at this stage in his career.

Caldwell will be faced with some difficult choices in choosing his attacking options for Saturday’s visit to Port Vale. Will he play with twin strikers or will he opt for a lone centre forward with two attacking midfielders in support?

Caldwell has been adventurous in his recent formations – with three attacking players and the wing backs pushed far forward, the holding midfield and defence will have to be on its guard. Francisco Junior is due to return from injury and he is the natural option for holding midfield together with David Perkins.

The wins against Chesterfield and Scunthorpe have shown us what Caldwell’s new era team are potentially capable of. There have been moments to cherish. However, the players are still continuing to gel and mixed results are likely to come in over the coming weeks.

However, we have already seen enough to suggest that, in the long run, this “new era” team will prove to be a force to be reckoned with. Sharpe’s promise of a 20 goal striker might even come into fruition.



“He should have done better”– striking questions at Wigan


Includes league and cup games. Thanks to ESPN for the raw stats.

“He should have scored.”   “He should have done better.”

How many times have we heard comments like that coming from our television football match commentaries?

Typically it is the ‘expert’ who makes the comment, an ex-player who through his prior experience is assumed to have a grasp of the tactical and analytical side of the game.

Obviously the more shots a player has on goal, the more chance he has to score. But then again it depends on which part of the pitch the player is shooting from.

BSports tells us that, so far this season in the Premier League, Sergio Aguero leads the field in converting shots to goals, with an exceptional conversion rate of 3.43 shots per goal scored. Loic Remy (3.60) and Luis Suarez (3.83) come close behind. However, even players of the calibre of Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney have needed an average of more than 6 shots for each goal.


Courtesy of differentgame

An excellent piece of research from different game reveals the average number of shots needed to score from the different areas. Their study involves more than 30,000 shots over more than three seasons in the Premier League. The diagram shows what one would expect – that it is easier to score from the green inner zone – with an average of 6 shots producing a goal.

It is much more difficult to score from the amber zone where it takes an average of 18 shots per goal. In fact the stats show that Luis Suarez has had more than double the shots of Sergio Aguero from that area. Wigan Athletic’s Arouna Kone was the most successful in the Premier League last year in terms of turning his shots into goals from the amber zone.

So far this season Latics have scored 72% of their goals within the green zone, 8% in the amber zone and 20% in the red zone. The three amber zone goals came from Jean Beausejour at Derby, Jordi Gomez at home to MK Dons and Marc-Antoine Fortune at home to Bournemouth.

Latics have scored a paltry 30 goals from 27 league games. The ratio of goals per game is actually on a par with that of last season (47 goals from 38 games), although that was against far superior opposition.

There were hopes among supporters that Dave Whelan would open up his wallet during the transfer window and sign an experienced striker with a proven goal scoring pedigree. In the event Latics let Grant Holt go on loan to Aston Villa and signed Nicky Maynard on loan.

Both Owen Coyle and Uwe Rosler have been frustrated by players not taking enough advantage of goal scoring opportunities this season. It could be argued that there have not been enough genuine chances created and this is something Rosler will be working on.

Rosler is also keen for the midfield players to support attacks by getting into the penalty box.  They really need to get into that green inner zone more often. Ben Watson scored two crackers – a header against Maribor and a shot in the recent Crystal Palace cup tie  – by doing so. Watson is the leading goalscorer from holding midfield with four goals. McArthur and Espinoza each have one scored from outside the box. McCann has one scored in the green zone.

The current shots per goal ratio up to this point in the season makes interesting reading. Of the forward players Jordi Gomez has the best record with an average of a goal every 4.8 shots (6 from 29). He is followed by Nick Powell at 7.6 (10 from 76), Marc-Antoine Fortune at 7.3 (4 from 29), Grant Holt at 14.5 (2 from 29), Callum McManaman 26.0  (1 from 26) and James McClean 52.0 (1 from 52).

The table at the top of the page gives the ratio of goals scored to the number games in which a player started for Wigan Athletic forwards over the past decade. It includes league and cup games. There are some spectacular returns there.

It is no surprise to see that wonderful scoring duo Nathan Ellington and Jason Roberts up there, with Henri Camara and Amr Zaki. Comparisons are difficult with Ellington never having played in the Premier League for Latics, Roberts only playing for one year. The Latics careers of Camara and Zaki were controversial and short-lived, but when they were playing they were the best goal scorers Latics have had in the Premier League.

Up to this point in the season Powell leads with a conversion ratio of 40% (10 from 25), followed by Gomez 35% (6 from 17), Fortune 33% (4 from 12), Holt 15% (2 from 13), McManaman 11% (2 from 19) and McClean 5% (1 from 19).

Listening to a television commentary on a Latics game we would surely hear comments such as “He should have scored” or “He should have done better.” The stats show that it is not as easy to score as some experts might think.

The stats on Gomez make interesting reading. Three of his goals have come from the red zone (including two free kicks), two from the amber zone and two from the green zone (one being a penalty). However, he tends not to shoot as much as some. Within roughly the same amount of playing time as Gomez, McClean has had almost twice as many shots.

Of Powell’s 10 goals so far, 5 were scored in cup competitions. All but one was scored within the green zone, with his goal from just outside the box against Rubin being the exception.

Many of the names in the table at the top of the page are strikers who are Wigan Athletic legends. But if Powell continues to score at his present rate his goal scoring statistics will be right up there with them by the end of the season.

With three of his four goals scored in the last five games, Fortune’s stats are looking better than they would have before. In three years  at West Bromwich his conversion rate was around 10%, although he was sometimes played in wide positions. Moreover Fortune is a good footballing centre forward – he holds the ball up well and brings others into play. He leads in assists, with four to his credit.

The stats suggest that – providing they get regular playing time, keep up their previous form and get in sufficient shots  – the trio of Gomez, Powell and Fortune are the best bet for goals in what remains of the season.

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Koné and change? Tactical formations at Wigan Athletic

Trawling the internet for news on upcoming football transfers can certainly be entertaining, if often misleading. I quite enjoy it, but have learned to take it with a pinch of salt. This is not to denigrate the work of the internet journalists who give us these revelations: quite often they may have received a tip off from a player’s agent, family member or a club. Sometimes even the player himself. What is clear is that only a small proportion of the transfers reported by our sources, actually happen.

Over these weeks I have read  that Wigan Athletic have been interested in quite a few central strikers. The names of Victor Anichebe and DJ Campbell have been banded about more than others. But why would Latics want a fourth central striker, with Di Santo, Boselli and Sammon already on the books? If they played 4-4-2 it would be perfectly understandable, but our knowledge of Roberto Martinez and his tactical preferences precludes that possibility.

Arouna Kone has now arrived.  Although Kone has not played in the Premier League before he has all the attributes to be successful. He is strong and agile and to score 15 La Liga goals for Levante (the “other” team in Valencia) last season means he is sharp.  No league in the world plays the same kind of fast and physical football that we see in England, but La Liga is a highly competitive league, one of the world’s best. None of Latics’ previous acquisitions from Spanish clubs had established themselves as mainline players to the same degree  as Kone and the other acquisition from Mallorca, Ivan Ramis. I view both as potentially excellent signings.

Let’s get back to those internet transfer gossip sites. Today’s digest suggested Conor Sammon was headed for Derby County. The link between Sammon and Derby has come up repeatedly  but now there is talk of a permanent transfer rather than a loan deal. We may well be back to to three centre forwards again. However, is there going to be sufficient playing time for three central strikers, who are going to be on the same par, despite contrasting styles? Di Santo was developing into a fine centre forward last year, with his brilliant hold-up play and superb technique. Boselli is a natural goalscorer who has come back to Wigan motivated to show us his best. He has a fine pedigree. Kone is maybe a cross between the two in the way he plays.

So how do you fit in three quality central strikers, given the manager’s preference for the lone centre forward? Last year Victor Moses was given licence to roam, cutting in from the wings, getting into central positions. If and when Moses goes there will be wealth of players to compete for his role. Crusat,  Dicko, McManaman and the exciting new loan signing Miyaichi are the natural winger-types, who could slot in there. However, given the quality of the three central strikers now at his disposal, Martinez might choose to play one of them in the Moses  position. This would require some tactical adjustments, with a shift towards a more conventional twin striker system. Let’s hope Martinez has this in mind.

The change in tactical formation midway through last year proved to be the catalyst that helped Latics stay up, defying the odds. It helped to get the best out of the players at Martinez’s disposal. Assuming the Moses transfer, he will soon be faced with a similar challenge – how to get the best out of three quality central strikers, while not leaving out the winger-types. An exciting prospect.

From Harry to Hugo — What happened to goalscoring?


Match day at Springfield Park, early sixties. The smell of meat pies and the familiar marching band music before kick off. Standing in the paddock ready to hear the clip-clopping of the boots as the players emerge from the tunnel. That familiar smell of oil of wintergreen. There must be two thousand here today. The excitement is buliding up: will it be Harry Lyon or Peter Higham at centre forward today? It was a cause for debate between me and my Dad at the time. The to-become-legendary Harry had arrived from Burscough and the classy Peter Higham’s place was now threatened. Which one was our manager, Johnny Ball, going to pick? Higham was a fine centre forward, leading his line with determination and skill, his “league” experience showing through. Lyon was a raw recruit from a tiny club on the railway route to Southport. “Leading the line” was not his great strength. Scoring goals was what Lyon was all about. Ball tried something different for a little while by playing Higham at number 9 and Lyon on the left wing. I can remember Harry scoring a header from that position: a cross to the far post and there he was, having drifted in from the wing. The experiment did not last long. Strikers in those days relied on service from the wings and Lyon could not provide that for Higham . Besides he was wasted there. He was to get a Lyon’s share of goals – 68 in one season – so many of them coming from the crosses from wingers like Walter Stanley.

Times have indeed changed. Latics were in the Cheshire League then, after having left the Lancashire Combination with its “big boot” approach. We would deride teams like Chorley for playing “kick and rush”. Latics were more sophisticated than that: they tried to play good football (although not always succeeding). Alf Ramsey was to step in and win the World Cup for England with his 4-4-2 system: the wingless wonders. The winger became a dying breed, wide midfielders becoming the norm. The game became more defensive worldwide and the number of goals per game in the old First Division dropped.

So what’s new? Well the Latics are now in their seventh season in the Premier League. Hugo Rodallega is our most recognized centre forward. He has scored 22 goals in 89 appearances for the Latics and rumour tells us that Arsenal now want him. But he only scores one goal every four games, a far cry from the days of Harry Lyon. Yes the game has changed since Harry’s time but shouldn’t our centre forwards be scoring more? Jason Scotland couldn’t score goals for Latics, neither could Mauro Boselli, despite their previous successes in other leagues. Henri Camara could but then he lost it. Even the legendary Emile Heskey only scored 15 goals in 82 appearances for us. Why can’t our centre forwards score more goals? Are they not good enough or are they not getting the service they need?

The role of the lone central striker is not much fun. You have two giant and speedy centre halves ready to crunch you as soon as you get the ball. You have to be super-fit and resilient. You have to ”lead the line”, holding the ball up for teammates. Then when you are wiped out from doing that you are expected to score goals too! Latics’ tactics are not dissimilar to those of Barcelona. Even David Villa plays on the left wing sometimes, as does Hugo. But Barcelona score around three goals per game in a pretty strong league. Villa scores a few, whether he plays centrally or wide. So why can’t Rodallega (or Sammon or Di Santo) get more goals? Is the most important aspect of the role of the Latics centre forward to score goals or to lead the line? Di Santo is pretty good at the latter, but one never expects him to score. Sammon poses more of a goal threat but is raw and does not have the Argentinian’s ball skills. Rodallega can do both, but so many times he looks a forlorn figure.

Unlike Lyon, Rodallega is unlikely to get lovely crosses from wingers to get goals (don’t get me wrong, Harry also scored a lot of goals by getting in where it hurts). The wingers are there to turn inside and shoot. The overlapping full back is the better bet. Boyce’s passing and crossing has hugely improved since Martinez took over. Figueroa too can put in a nice cross. What a beauty he put in for Rodallega at Stoke last season! If you put more men forward you have more chance of scoring. However, when you have a porous defence you need to hold back your midfielders for protection. Look at Barcelona – they do not have the best defenders around, but their defensive record is excellent. I read a statistic recently that their right back, Dani Alves, spent more time last season in the opponents’ half of the field than his own. I doubt that will be the case with Boyce and Figueroa. So how do Barcelona defend so well? They defend from the front, often pressing defenders in their own half. They attack and defend as a block. Their movement is fantastic. Every time one of their players has the ball there is a player in space, ready to receive it. They retain the ball and by about sixty minutes the opposing team is tiring from chasing it. They also have players like Xavi and Iniesta who can put in that defence-splitting pass, something we sadly lack. The hope is that players like McCarthy and Diame will eventually have the poise and confidence to do this. Maybe David Jones? If not then I cannot see Rodallega or whoever plays centre forward getting a better goal ratio.

The Martinez project remains a work in progress. He has changed the approach and shows great long-term vision for the club. Latics players have clearly learned something about “movement” (aka “running off the ball”). Hopefully they will mature this season and really get it together as a unit. There has been so much promise but we have lacked consistency in the delivery. Oh for that telling pass or cross for the centre forward!