Incohesive Latics let down the fans– Wigan Athletic 0 Brentford 0

Scott Carson was Wigan's best player.

Scott Carson was Wigan’s best player.

That goalkeeper Scott Carson was Wigan’s best player was a reflection on the mediocrity of Latics’ performance. It was a display so lacking in cohesion that an outsider might wonder if Wigan’s players had ever played together before. Brentford will probably be happy with a mid-table spot at the end of the season, after coming up from League 1, but it never seemed like Latics would beat them.

Uwe Rosler chose the kind of lineup that could be labelled “attacking”. He left James Perch on the bench to put in James Tavernier, left William Kvist out to include Adam Forshaw, and put in Oriel Riera for Marc-Antoine Fortune, Callum McManaman for Emyr Huws. The 4-3-3 lineup would have pleased those fans who have been demanding a more attacking lineup, but one wondered if it would have the right balance.

Both sides were cautious early on, but Brentford looked more dangerous. However, in the 12th minute Riera found Don Cowie on the edge of the box with a shooting opportunity that was deflected wide. Brentford continued to threaten Wigan up front and the Latics’ defence was at sixes and sevens keeping them out. The “light” midfield of Adam Forshaw, Don Cowie and Shaun Maloney was not able to repel the visitors forward movement. Callum McManaman looked disorientated, not seeming to know where he was meant to be playing, hardly in the game.

However, on the half hour mark Riera did well to put through Maloney, whose low shot was pushed wide by Brentford goalkeeper David Button. But Brentford continued to press and Andre Gray found himself clear of Wigan’s defence but chipped his shot over the bar.

Brentford had been the superior team in the first half against a Wigan team that looked rock bottom in terms of confidence.

The game continued in a similar vein. In the 55th minute McManaman’s good work caused a goalmouth scramble, but no Latics player was able to force the ball home. Then the ball came to Leon Barnett close to the goal but he was surrounded by defenders and the opportunity was lost. Brentford then really tested the Wigan defence, Scott Carson having to make two fine saves to keep out efforts from Pritchard and Jota, and then Douglas shot into the side netting.

In the 63rd minute Rosler had brought on Andy Delort for Riera and Fortune for McManaman. Kvist replaced Cowie in the 78th minute. A couple of minutes later Latics were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box, but Maloney’s well struck shot was well saved by Button. Then five minutes later Tavernier put in a superb trademark cross on to James McClean’s head but the Irishman put it wide.

That was to be the final chance for Latics and the game finished as a goalless draw, which Latics might have just about deserved. The fans had given the team terrific support throughout the game and they deserved more than this.

The Good

Despite playing so poorly, Latics could have won the game if they had taken the limited chances they created.

Tavernier did not have an easy first start for Latics in the Championship, but he nevertheless conjured up that superb cross in the 85th minute that McClean was unable to convert. Despite having a fine pre-season the ex-Rotherham and Newcastle man had to wait for his chance to get into the starting lineup. In this game he had to play in a flat back four, but he is more likely to prosper as a wing back, where he has more freedom to go forward.

Carson once more proved what a fine keeper he is. Not only was he Latics’ best player in this game, but he has been the most consistent all season.

The Bad

On paper and man-for-man, Latics looked a much stronger team than Brentford, but Rosler’s lineup just did not work. Although it looked like a bold attacking move, the end result was something different.

The centre backs, Barnett and Ramis, deserve credit for their perseverance. Brentford sensibly put a man on Ramis when Carson had the ball. The result was Barnett having to distribute the ball from the back, which is not his strong point. The midfield did not support him sufficiently and too often the ball was wasted.

Forshaw struggled in the role of holding midfielder and Cowie looked pedestrian. Maloney certainly did not look the same player who had done so much for Scotland over the international break, although he forced a couple of good saves from Button.

Playing Forshaw and Maloney together in central midfield role is unlikely to work, as both need a lot of the ball to be effective. Leaving a ball-winner like Kvist on the bench until the latter part of the game was a mistake.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 8 – a fine performance. He kept Latics in the game.

James Tavernier: 5.5 – looked exposed at times, unable to attack in the way he would have liked.

Ivan Ramis: 7 – solid defensively, but Brentford seldom allowed him to display his fine passing skills.

Leon Barnett: 7 – a defensive rock.

Andrew Taylor: 6 – worked hard.

Don Cowie: 5 – poor.

Adam Forshaw: 5 – poor.

Shaun Maloney: 5.5 – disappointing.

Callum McManaman: 5.5 – disappointing and substituted after 63 minutes.

Oriol Riera: 5.5 – apart from a couple of good passes he looked peripheral. Substituted after 68 minutes.

James McClean: 5.5 – energetic as always, but ineffective.

Substitutes:

Andy Delort: – came on after 63 minutes, but apart from one delightful flick he was unable to impose himself on the game.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: – also came on after 63 minutes, tried hard but with little effect. Why was he not on from the start following his performance at Wolves?

William Kvist: – brought on after 78 minutes.

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Huddersfield Town 0 Wigan Athletic 0 – Latics get their first away point in scrappy game

A return to form for captain, Emmerson Boyce. Photo courtesy of the Huddersfield Examiner.

A return to form for captain, Emmerson Boyce.
Photo courtesy of the Huddersfield Examiner.

Latics claimed their first away point of the season, but were unable to convert their superior possession into goals. Many Latics fans will consider this an opportunity lost, that Huddersfield were there for the taking, with three points going begging. However, some will point to last season when a Huddersfield side no better than the current one, beat Rosler’s Latics by a single goal. A point away from home to any team in the Championship is not such a bad result.

Uwe Rosler shocked us all with his team selection, starting with the same eleven as at Blackburn.

Huddersfield were lively in the first ten minutes, Andrew Taylor blocking Danny Ward’s cross shot on the goal line and Scott Carson making a good save from the same player. But Latics then started to control possession, albeit without much penetration. Don Cowie and William Kvist were controlling the centre of midfield and the defence was looking sharp. Andy Delort had a rasping shot from distance saved well by Smithies. Then Callum McManaman collected a fine through ball from Cowie and rounded Smithies but a couple of defenders got back to block his shot. On the half hour mark McManaman went down for what looked like a penalty, but was instead rewarded with a yellow card from the referee for simulation.

Emyr Huws was looking lively in the more advanced midfield role and threatened the home team’s goal twice in the first couple of minutes of the second half. However, as one might have predicted Latics dropped back and Huddersfield started to show more attacking threat, mainly through half time substitute Sean Scannell. However, the back three of Emmerson Boyce, Ivan Ramis and Rob Kiernan were on their toes and managed to keep the home team at bay.

After 63 minutes Rosler took off Latics’ main goal threat McManaman and put on James McClean who had not played competitive football since May. Delort had a powerful drive go wide, but other than that Latics rarely looked dangerous. Their possession football just did not have any cutting edge and too often ended up in coming back for the defence to put a long ball forward.

James Tavernier came on for Taylor after 72 minutes, with James Perch moving to the left. Tavernier added some energy to the right of the attack and put over some quality crosses. Oriel Riera came on for Delort after 76 minutes and a few minutes later he came close with a volley from a Tavernier cross.

Huddersfield looked threatening in the closing minutes and Jonathan Stead almost squeezed a late winner past Carson. In the end a draw was probably a fair result in a scrappy game. Huddersfield had achieved their first clean sheet in 20 games.

The Good

The stats show that Latics largely controlled the game. They had 61% of the possession, with 15 shots (4 on target), compared with Huddersfield’s 9 shots (3 on target). The back three of Boyce, Ramis and Kiernan were excellent throughout. They were provided solid protection by Cowie and Kvist. Despite the knock he received against Blackburn, Huws was lively throughout. A pity his set pieces continue to be disappointing.

Although there was a lull in early stages of the second half Latics’ legs were much more willing this time around. They were able to keep going for the 90 minutes, if not playing a full pressing game of high intensity. It was a step forward.

Andy Delort worked hard up front and had four shots on goal, one forcing a fine save from Smithies. Delort has the style of a typical old fashioned bustling centre forward, with a powerful club of a right foot. Once he gets his first goal he will surely get plenty more. Riera came on for the last 15 minutes and went close with a volley. He is a more subtle kind of player and is continuing to adjust to the hurly burly of the Championship.

McManaman looked dangerous until he was taken off early in the second half. Huddersfield clearly considered him a threat and he was heavily marked.

The introduction of Tavernier for the last 20 minutes gave Latics more cutting edge on the right hand side. He is able to consistently deliver high quality crosses, something that his team mates are rarely able to do. In terms of his crosses and set piece deliveries Tavernier is reminiscent of Ryan Taylor. However, if Tavernier is to claim a regular place in the team he will have to work on the defensive side of his game. In an old 4-4-2 system he could have been effective in a right midfield position.

Apart from the McManaman incident, Latics had two other penalty claims, which were for hand ball, either of which could have been given. Such matters change the course of a match and Latics can consider themselves unlucky in that respect.

The Bad

Once again the lone centre forward was looking very isolated. The midfield players were just not giving enough support. James McArthur is being desperately missed in the build up from the back. Neither Cowie nor Kvist can be faulted for their effort and their defensive cover, but far too often they were passing the ball sideways or backwards. There is room for one such player, but having the two there led to Latics being too predictable.

Adam Forshaw could provide the key, but his ten minutes against Blackburn was his first competitive football since May. There was a development squad game against Preston on Monday, but the Liverpudlian did not appear, presumably because Rosler wanted him in the squad at Huddersfield. With no more development squad matches coming up for a couple of weeks, will Rosler risk him as a starter in the next league match against Ipswich?

At times Latics seem confused about their style of play. The possession football in this match was reminiscent of the Martinez days, but many bouts of possession ended in a final pass going back to the defence for a hoof forward.

One of the main criticisms of Owen Coyle’s reign was that there was no set style of play, too often resulting in giving the ball away through aimless long passes. It was particularly noticeable after the consistency – and maybe rigidity – of Martinez’s teams. Rosler’s current team seems to alternate between the two approaches. We are yet to see the high pressing, high tempo approach with rapid counterattacks that the German espouses.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 7 – confident in his handling. Distribution remains an issue. The high diagonal balls to the wings don’t seem to work.

James Perch: 6.5 – solid defensively.

Emmerson Boyce: 8 – back to his best. Made some key interventions.

Ivan Ramis: 8 – a class act.

Rob Kiernan: 8 – a much better performance than against Blackburn. More aggressive, with good use of the ball.

Andrew Taylor: 6.5 – worked hard up and down his flank. Substituted after 72 minutes.

William Kvist: 7 – provided good defensive cover and rarely wasted the ball.

Don Cowie: 6 – cannot be faulted for effort and shielded his defence. The final pass was too often disappointing.

Emyr Huws: 7 – growing into a fine player. Full of industry, with a great left foot. Needs to work on his set pieces.

Callum McManaman: 7 – heavily marked, but remained a threat. Substituted after 63 minutes.

Andy Delort: 7 – combative and brave. Managed to get in some powerful shots although heavily marked. Substituted after 76 minutes.

Substitutes:

James McClean: – energetic as always, but looked rusty.

James Tavernier: – added energy and threat to the opposition’s defence.

Oriel Riera: – being left out of the starting lineup in the last two games is not going to help his confidence. The best is yet to come.

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Rosler is the man to take Latics forward

Rosler4

What a difference results make. A couple of weeks ago Uwe Rosler was the flavour of the month and had almost universal support from the Latics faithful. But now after three disappointing performances dissent is becoming rife.

This is not unusual at a football club in England or any other part of the world. The manager is only as good as the team’s next performance and his time in the job is finite. If the results do not improve, he goes, as was the case with Owen Coyle at Wigan last year. But there are exceptions.

The long-term reigns of such as Ferguson and Wenger and their triumphs are well documented. You can add to that the likes of the unsung Dario Gradi and the miracles he worked at humble Crewe.  All three had enough support from their chairmen to be undeterred by the naysayers and snipers who would undermine most managers at football clubs.

So it was with Roberto Martinez at Wigan. Martinez had to shield all kinds of criticism from a hostile minority who were uncomfortable with him as manager. The criticism came forth in his early days as in charge and continued for four years. It was based on the team’s style of play, but if the results had been better would there have been so much dissatisfaction?

Martinez was courageous and strong in his beliefs about the way football should be played. He never let the naysayers sway him, although it must have been tough for him. He had taken over at a time of austerity within the club after Steve Bruce had done a fine job at stabilizing Latics’ position in the Premier League, but at a financial cost. His achievement in winning the FA Cup will be hard for any future Latics manager to emulate.

It was Dave Whelan’s spoken and unspoken support that gave Martinez the backing to go ahead and continue to do what he considered right. Martinez not only won the cup, but kept Latics in the elite league until a cruel injury situation proved his undoing and led to him moving on from the club.

Dave Whelan has made Wigan Athletic into a dream come true. Who could have dreamed twenty years ago that Latics would have a superb stadium and compete with teams that were household names? Whelan’s success has been through appointing the right man at the right time and giving him support. Without Paul Jewell, Steve Bruce and Roberto Martinez where would Latics be now?

But then again, Whelan also appointed Chris Hutchings and Owen Coyle, both of whom he dispatched when he realized he had made the wrong decision.

So what of Rosler? Will he get the support from Whelan that Jewell and Martinez enjoyed?

Rosler maintains the support of the majority of fans who are not fazed by indifferent early season results. He did a remarkable job last season, lifting a team that was drifting down towards the lower layers of the league table. To go into extra time in an FA Cup Semi Final and reach a playoff spot would have beggared belief months before.

Like Martinez, Rosler has a clear view how football should be played. If he had been appointed to take over from the Spaniard the changeover might have been easier to handle. In appointing Coyle, Whelan damaged much of the legacy left by Martinez in one fell swoop. Football at Wigan took a nosedive and it still has not fully recovered.

At the risk of repeating myself from a previous article, it took Martinez some two and a half seasons to get his players to fully respond to his ideas. Fans will remember those wins over Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United for years to come, as they will Ben Watson’s header at Wembley. But it is not just the results, but the style in which Latics gained those victories.

Injuries in the pre-season have severely hampered Rosler’s plans. Critics will say the players were “overtrained”, leading to niggling injuries for too many. But only time will tell if Chris Haslam’s routines pay dividends over the coming weeks, with Latics physically outperforming the opposition.

The loss of free agents Jean Beausejour and Jordi Gomez over summer was a body blow for the German. Both were able to provide a certain poise that has been lacking since their departure. The lack of creativity in midfield is a cause for concern, although a fit Shaun Maloney would go a long way to solving those problems. It remains to be seen whether the Adam Forshaw saga will be resolved, but the Brentford player would also add creativity if Rosler could get him.

Rosler continues to scour the market for central strikers to add a third to his squad. Marc-Antoine Fortune remains an option in attack despite his poor goalscoring record. Oriel Riera just could not get into the game in the first half at Charlton, where there was a disconnect between midfield and the big forwards. One hopes he will not go the way of Mauro Boselli who was starved of service with Charles N’Zogbia on the right flank and Hugo Rodallega on the left, both of whom were going to go for goal themselves, rather than supply the central striker. Boselli’s demise is a chilling reminder of what can happen to central strikers at Wigan.

Rosler’s new signings will take time to settle in. Andrew Taylor was troubled by injury in pre-season and is clearly not at his best. Don Cowie made a useful contribution at Charlton and with time he will become an important player. Despite having a good technique, Cowie keeps things simple, harrying the opposition, tacking, intercepting, and making sure his passes reach his teammates. Emyr Huws has already made a positive impression. Strong in the tackle, with a cultured left foot, he is playing in the Chris McCann position. The young full backs, James Tavernier and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair will be gradually eased in, more often used as wing backs where the defensive duties are less onerous.

Rosler will continue to demand that his players embrace his high tempo, high pressing game. It has been unrealistic to expect a team that has been palpably unfit up to this point to perform at that level of intensity. The end result has too often been hoofing the ball out of defence, although football returned to their play at The Valley.  The team was clearly playing under orders to play the ball out of defence and build up through midfield. With two new players in the middle of the park it is going to take time to develop the mutual understanding that will make the midfield tick like a well-oiled machine. Cutting out the hoofing is the important step.

Only two teams in the division – Bournemouth and Millwall – have won both of their opening league games. There are four teams who are pointless. Latics have not made the worst start, but expectations are high and they have disappointed so far. But there are another 44 matches to go.

Like any manager Rosler will be judged on results. With the signing of another creative midfielder and another central striker he will have a squad that will be the envy of most other clubs in the division. As the squad gets fitter and his key players raise their levels of performance the results will surely come.

For the moment Rosler needs the continued support of the fans and the owner. Latics are lucky to have such a talented and bright manager.

Despite the poor start, promotion remains a distinct possibility. Uwe Rosler is the man to lead Latics back into the Premier League.

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Latics’ midfield – the key to promotion

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McArthur and Maloney – key players for a promotion push.

“Before the World Cup started there were a few rumours about McArthur and Maloney, but I have spoken to them and they know they are two of the cornerstones of the team. Both players will be massively important in my plans going forward and I made that very clear to both of them.”

It was heartening to hear Uwe Rosler this week dismiss transfer speculation regarding the two.

New signings apart, it is to be hoped that Latics will be able to resist approaches from other clubs for quality players such as Maloney and McArthur. Maloney was sadly missed last season and can play a key role, whether playing in “the hole” or in a wide role. Maybe we expected too much of him at the end of the season after a long layoff through injury.

Rosler will be hoping that Ben Watson and Chris McCann will be back in action following a double leg fracture and a damaged knee cap. Rosler clearly had faith in the midfield trio of McArthur, McCann and Watson. He had already lost Watson, when he lost McCann in the FA Cup win at Manchester City. It was McCann’s injury that proved to be the turning point and from then on results fell significantly.

One continues to ponder the future of Roger Espinoza, one of Honduras’ best performers in an albeit disappointing World Cup campaign. Despite being a fan-favourite Espinoza has failed to establish himself under three managers during his time at Wigan. He was played at left midfield for Honduras and looked effective in that position. Having been in the shop window during the World Cup it is possible that other clubs will bid for him. It will be interesting to see what develops.

Rosler continues to impress as Wigan Athletic manager. He has analysed the weaknesses in his squad and already made four signings, all of whom look like they can fit into the system the German likes to employ. They are already in training at the Latics camp in Germany.

Left back was a problem area last season, with wing back Jean Beausejour often having to play in that position, excellent when going forward, but sometimes unconvincing in defence. Stephen Crainey struggled to cope initially, but thrived when Rosler took some defensive responsibility away from him, allowing him to play at wing back. However, at 32 and on a one year contract it was unlikely the Scot would be staying. In their place Rosler has brought in Andrew Taylor and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair. Taylor is an experienced and very capable left back, who can also play left midfield. Taylor-Sinclair is clearly a bright young talent from Partick Thistle who might well follow in the paths of James McCarthy and James McArthur, who came from a similar type of background at Hamilton.

The signing of James Tavernier from Newcastle gives Rosler more options at right back. James Perch is an excellent defensively and over the course of last season he improved greatly in his attacking. His goals at the Etihad and Loftus Road showed his willingness to thrust himself forward. When Ryan Shotton left in the New Year Latics were short of options at right back, Emmerson Boyce having been drafted into the centre of defence. Perch continued to be the consummate team player, sometimes playing when he was not 100% fit. In Tavernier, Rosler has a more attacking option and the young player certainly has some flair.

Oriel Riera might well prove to be an inspired signing. Although he has spent most of his career in the lower leagues in Spain he proved himself last season in the La Liga first division at Osasuna. There was speculation among supporters that Dave Whelan was going to get out his cheque book and spend big money on a couple of quality strikers. However, Whelan was unlikely to undermine the wage structure that was in place and he is unwilling to pay over-inflated transfer fees for English-born strikers. Riera fits the bill. Another foreign-based striker remains on the cards.

There is a strong likelihood that more of the players remaining from the Premier League days will leave over the coming weeks. Jordi Gomez has already gone and Jean Beausejour will move soon. Ivan Ramis is Latics’ best centre back, but his high salary and questions over his fitness lead us to believe he will be on his way. One of the goalkeepers too is likely to depart. There has been no statement from the club regarding a new contract for Gary Caldwell. The Scot has his detractors, but if fully fit, he could be a force in the Championship.

A lot could happen over the coming weeks, but Rosler clearly has a plan forward. Under his astute management, promotion is a distinct possibility.

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