Have the loan players let Latics down?

 

 

Last night’s bore draw against Queens Park Rangers leaves Latics with a mountain to climb in the return game on Monday. After 61 matches this season can Uwe Rosler motivate his players to find sufficient energy and motivation to give it a real go at Loftus Road?

Significantly there were no loan players in the starting eleven to face QPR. Nick Powell and Josh McEachran were not even named in the squad. Jack Collison and Nicky Maynard were on the bench and the latter was called into play with less than 20 minutes to go.

The situation last night was calling for someone to come off the bench and do something special, as the game drifted towards a goalless draw. Maybe Powell could have chipped in with one his spectacular goals and McEachran’s passing might have unlocked QPR’s dogged defence? It was not to be.

When Uwe Rosler took over in December he inherited a squad with an average age of around 28. There were ten players who had been signed over summer by Owen Coyle, together with those brought in during the Martinez era. Two of Coyle’s initial signings had been loan players, Nick Powell and Ryan Shotton. Both made favourable impressions during Coyle’s tenure. The Scot also brought in Marc Albrighton and Will Keane on short term loans. The former looked useful, but the latter could not establish him. Ironically Keane is now on loan at QPR.

Once the January transfer window opened, Rosler too, was busy in the loan market.

His first acquisition was young defender Tyias Browning from Everton on a one month loan. Browning had a good debut after coming on after half time in a 3-0 home win over Bournemouth. However, he gave away a penalty in the 3-0 defeat at Doncaster and never appeared again.

Nicky Maynard, aged 26, was signed on-loan from Cardiff in mid-January. The striker had been dogged by injury and was in need of playing time. He made his debut in the 3-0 home win against Doncaster. Since then Maynard has started in 13 games, coming on as substitute 5 times. He has scored 4 goals and made one assist. Maynard has struggled with the physical demands of the lone centre forward role and is probably better suited to a twin striker system.

The 21 year old Josh McEachran was then signed from Chelsea, on loan until the end of the season. He made a fine start coming on in the 57th minute against Charlton. His exquisite pass in the 88th minute led to Marc-Antoine Fortune getting an equalizer, which was later converted into a victory through a Jordi Gomez free kick. McEachran had successful prior experience in the Championship division, having played 38 games on loan at Middlesbrough last season. At the time he looked a very good loan signing. Since then he has made 8 starts for Latics, with four appearances off the bench. In 6 of his 8 starts he was substituted on or before the 68th minute.

The 24 year old Martyn Waghorn made an immediate impact on joining on loan from Leicester City. He made his debut in the 1-0 defeat at Huddersfield on February 8th. Waghorn was soon to become a key player in Rosler’s set up with his versatility and his ability to take set pieces. Waghorn has made 15 starts, with just one appearance off the bench in last night’s match. He has scored 5 goals and has 5 assists. He has now been given a long term contract.

Ryan Tunnicliffe, aged 22, was signed on loan from Fulham at the end of February. He had a successful loan spell at Ipswich in the first half of the season. He made his debut as a substitute in the 4-1 win at Nottingham Forest on March 1st. He made his last appearance against Bolton at the end of March. Tunnicliffe struggled to adapt to Rosler’s system. He started in three games and came off the bench in two.

The 26 year old Jack Collison was signed in mid-March on loan from West Ham. His debut was off the bench after 61 minutes in the 2-1 home win over Watford. Collison came with a lot of Premier League experience with the Londoners. After initially looking like he could slot into Rosler’s style of play, his performances have been disappointing. He has made 5 starts, with 6 appearances off the bench.

In the 61 matches that Wigan Athletic have played this season they have used 35 players, out of which 10 were signed on loan. Only Powell has been on a season long loan, the remainder being half season or less.

The most successful of the loan players have been Powell, Shotton and Waghorn. But it would be fair to say that Albrighton impressed in his brief stay.

Uwe Rosler had a successful track record in using loan players at Brentford. In fact they had four players in the squad that recently won promotion to the Championship, who the German signed on loan. Forward Marcello Trotta, on loan from Fulham, made 37 league appearances for them this season. George Saville, midfielder from Chelsea, made 40 appearances. Blackburn’s Alan Judge made 22.

When Rosler first started bringing in loan players at Wigan it added an extra dimension to the squad, let alone lowering its average age. However, as the season progressed and games came in thick and fast, so many of the loan players disappointed. That led to Rosler having to be over-reliant on his key players, who have struggled to maintain their high performance standards after being overloaded with playing time.

That was evident yesterday as a starting lineup without loan players looked jaded and unable to raise their tempo.

There has been criticism of Latics’ current crop of loan players from fans who say they do not have their hearts in the club and think they are above it. They cite the perceived lack of effort from talented individuals like Powell and McEachran who will go back to their elite clubs, Manchester United and Chelsea. However, Collison is unlikely to survive the end of contract cull at West Ham and Maynard faces another season in the Championship with relegated Cardiff.

Why those loan players have not played up to potential is hard to determine. Maybe some of the criticism is valid, but injuries and physical fitness might also be factors. The bottom line is that, Waghorn excepted, they have not performed up to expectations.

Ideally Powell and McEachran in particular will come back on Monday and show us all what they are capable of. They are both talented individuals who could make a difference in the pressure cauldron of Loftus Road on Monday.

The likelihood is that they have played their last games for Wigan.

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Bolton Wanderers 1 Wigan Athletic 1 – woeful Latics almost steal it

 

Rosler consoles Gomez after penalty miss.  Thanks to Latics Officlal for the photo.

Rosler consoles Gomez after penalty miss.
Thanks to Latics Officlal for the photo.

Adam Bogdan prevented Latics going away with an undeserved three points with a penalty save in the last minute of added time. Bolton’s Hungarian goalkeeper moved superbly to his right to parry Jordi Gomez’s shot.

Uwe  Rosler made seven changes to his side, with Leon Barnett making a surprise return to the centre of defence, where he was to partner Emmerson Boyce. James Perch and Jean Beausejour lined up in the full back positions. James McArthur, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Jordi Gomez made up the midfield, with a front three of Martyn Waghorn, Marc Antoine Fortune and James McClean.

The match was to prove one-sided. Latics were up against an enthusiastic Bolton side, keen to beat their near neighbours. Bolton are in a fairly safe position in the table, with no chance of reaching the play-offs and this was a big game for them.

Wigan were lucky it took as much as 31 minutes for Bolton to score when lone striker Lukas Jutkiewicz stretched to get a toe to an inswinging free kick from Rob Hall on the right. Al-Habsi could not prevent it reaching the net.

The home team had dominated the match, their wide players Lee and Hall preventing Wigan’s full backs from overlapping and their direct approach causing Latics problems. Bogdan had little to do in the Bolton goal.

The match continued in this pattern for the first hour, with Latics having to rely on the fine goalkeeping of Al-Habsi to keep them in the game. Callum McManaman had been brought on at half time to replace the ineffective McClean. However, Wigan’s main tactical ploy was for the defenders to send in high balls to lone centre forward Fortune who must have been bruised and battered at the end of the match in his efforts to win the ball against the giants in the Bolton defence. In fact the whole display up to that point reminded one of the Coyle era at Wigan.

The introduction of Jack Collison for Tunnicliffe after 58 minutes signaled a slight upturn in the quality of football played by the visitors. The jaded McArthur was finally substituted after 70 minutes, with Nick Powell coming on, but being deployed on the left wing. Wigan had survived a scare early in the second half when Barnett fouled Liam Trotter just outside the penalty box. The Latics defender was lucky to receive a yellow card, rather than a red.

Thanks to the heroics of their goalkeeper Latics somehow survived until the 88th minute when Powell scored a fine opportunist goal from Waghorn’s cross. The tide then turned and it was Wigan who now looked the more dangerous, with McManaman testing left back Tim Ream, normally a central defender. Latics’ pressure continued and it was no surprise when McManaman was pulled down by substitute Alex Baptiste in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

Jordi Gomez’s penalty was by no means a bad one, but in this case the goalkeeper guessed right and made a superb save. It contrasted with the penalty missed by Gomez against Yeovil when the goalkeeper was well off his line in making the save.

The Good

The flair of Powell and McManaman almost won the game for Latics. There were signs of better football from Wigan in the final stages, despite them looking lethargic and jaded for the majority of the time.

Collison continues to look the part in midfield. Providing his knee can withstand the pressure he could prove to be a key player over the coming weeks.

The Bad

The long ball has been rearing its ugly head in Latics’ play in recent matches. Against Watford they utilized it, but on that occasion Latics pushed up to five men forward in attack. However, putting long balls forward to an unsupported lone centre forward smacks of desperation.

All of Bolton’s back four were over six feet tall, with central defenders Zat Knight at 6’6” and David Wheater at 6’5”. The way to get past them was to play the ball on the ground, not give them food and drink by launching aerial passes.

Although Rosler had made seven changes to his lineup, the players still looked jaded. It is the worst game McArthur has played for a long time, but he clearly needs a rest and there is no obvious replacement for him. It is remarkable that he had been able to keep his momentum going until this match, playing so many games without a break.

Sadly Tunnicliffe still does not appear to have the quality Latics need in central midfield. He has been given chances but has not delivered.

The injuries to Ben Watson, Chris McCann and Roger Espinoza and the lack of emergence of Tunnicliffe mean that Rosler has few options available in midfield. The classy Josh McEachran still lacks full fitness and was not even on the bench at the Reebok. However, if Latics can make it through to the playoffs they are going to need players of his quality firing on all cylinders.

In the meantime Rosler might have to continue with Tunnicliffe, assuming that Fraser Fyvie remains out of consideration.

Player Ratings

Ali Al-Habsi: 9 – a superb display.

James Perch: 6 – solid in defence.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 – not at his best, but played with his usual mixture of technique and application.

Leon Barnett: 6 – brave in defence. Woeful in his passing of the ball.

Jean Beausejour: 6 – pressed back into defence by the dangerous Korean winger, Lee.

James McArthur: 5 – poor. Taken off after 70 minutes.

Ryan Tunnicliffe: 4 – poor. Taken off after 58 minutes.

Jordi Gomez: 6 – the main creative outlet and worked hard. A shame he could not convert the penalty.

Martyn Waghorn: 6 – hardworking as always.

Marc Antoine Fortune: 5 – received woeful service, having to fight for high balls most of the time. Wastefully fired wide near the end when a goal was on the cards, but probably exhausted by that stage.

James McClean: 5 – not in the game. Taken off at half time.

Substitutes:

Callum McManaman: – came on after half time. Looked dangerous when switched to the right and caused panic in the Bolton defence.

Jack Collison: – keeps the game simple, but makes himself available to receive the pass. A quality player at this level.

Nick Powell: – isolated on the left wing but showed his quality with a superb opportunist equalizer.

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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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A look at Jack Collison

Colison

Once again Uwe Rosler has made a shrewd move in the loan transfer market with the signing of Jack Collison from West Ham. The midfielder joins Josh McEachran, Nicky Maynard, Nick Powell, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Martyn Waghorn as loan players at the club.

Collison is only 25 years old, but has made over 100 appearances for the Hammers since his debut on January 1st, 2008. He can play in either centre or wide midfield. During his time at West Ham he made 49 Premier League starts, with 25 appearances off the bench, scoring 7 goals with 4 assists. If it had not been for injuries Collison would surely have made more appearances at Premier League level.

Although born and raised  in England, Collison qualified to play for Wales through his Welsh maternal grandfather. He has made 17 appearances for Wales. Earlier this season he spent the month of October out on loan at Bournemouth, where he made four appearances.

Given the loss of midfielders Ben Watson, Chris McCann and Roger Espinoza through injury the signing of Collison is well-timed. He will immediately compete for a place in the starting line-up. Collison has already played in the Championship for West Ham in 2011-12 when he made 28 starts, with 5 appearances as a substitute, scoring 6 goals with 3 assists.

West Ham have a dozen players whose contracts or loans expire in June 2014. The fan site West Ham Till I Die  suggests that only three of those players – who include not only Collison, but the likes of Joe Cole and Jussi Jaaskelain – will be offered further contracts, as the London club aims to cut £9 million off its wage bill.

As such as Ryan Tunnicliffe and Josh McEachran have discovered it can take loan players some time to get used to the style of play preferred by Rosler. However, providing Collison can maintain a good level of fitness he will be an important member of the squad. Should he impress there will surely be a strong possibility of him continuing at Wigan next season.

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Ipswich Preview

portmanroad2

Wigan Athletic travel to Portman Road tomorrow to play their third game in six days. They will face an Ipswich Town side currently sitting in 9th place, with ambitions of reaching the play-offs.

On Wednesday Latics scraped out a win against a physical Sheffield Wednesday outfit, courtesy of an 88th minute penalty. However, they have won their last seven matches.

Ipswich will be a tough nut to crack. They have a home record of W9 D4 L4 and under Latics’ old adversary Mick McCarthy they will pose a strong physical threat. He has former Wolves players Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Christophe Berra and Stephen Hunt in his squad. They will be out to avenge a 2-0 defeat at the DW Stadium in September.

The key Ipswich man to watch is full back, Aaron Creswell. The 24 year old Liverpudlian has two goals and a remarkable eleven assists in the 31 league games he has played this season. He has also had 28 shots on goal, a high figure for a full back. Not surprisingly there has been talk in the past of Latics trying to secure his services. Uwe Rosler will be keen to curb Cresswell’s attacks and will almost certainly place a winger on the left hand side to peg him back.

Latics have had good news this week with Gary Caldwell and Shaun Maloney each playing 45 minutes for the development squad. The bad news was that Chris McCann, a key figure in Uwe Rosler’s plans, will be out for the rest of the season with an injury to the knee cap. McCann was badly missed on Wednesday when Latics midfield could not maintain the quality of possession that one has come to expect. To lose the Irishman so soon after losing Ben Watson is a harsh blow for Rosler.

Rosler will look to field a well-balanced and competitive midfield at Ipswich. It will be interesting to see if he will field Ryan Tunnicliffe against the team for which he made 24 appearances in the first half of the season. Tunnicliffe struggled against Sheffield Wednesday, but he is clearly the type of player Rosler needs to replace Watson and McCann.

There remains the possibility of playing Jordi Gomez in a holding role, something he did at times under Roberto Martinez. Josh McEachran too is in contention, but like Gomez lacks the physical edge that Tunnicliffe might be able to provide. Roger Espinoza remains largely marginalized and Fraser Fyvie’s career has gone backwards this season. Rosler is going to need a midfield enforcer – someone who can help close down a match – and might well choose to employ Rob Kiernan in that role.

Both Markus Holgerrson and Thomas Rogne played for the development squad in midweek. One of them is likely to lineup in the centre of defence, given Rosler’s rotation policy. Emmerson Boyce is due for a rest and Ivan Ramis is likely to step in. Rosler might well revert to a system with three central defenders.

With the return of Nick Powell, Rosler now has a wide range of attacking options available to him. Up to this point he has managed to keep his forwards fresh through shrewd use of the rotation system.

Scott Carson made a successful return from injury at the Etihad and will challenge Ali Al-Habsi for a starting spot. Rosler has the luxury of being able to rotate two quality goalkeepers as he pleases.

Once again Latics will go up against a physical team keen to beat them. In order to match the Tractor Boys physically they are going to have to do a lot of running and much will depend on the ability of a patched-up midfield to give the forwards the service they need.

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