Turning the tide – Latics v Norwich

Tide2

The arrival of a new manager so often spurs a team in to playing better. With the improved performances come better results.

Malky Mackay will be hoping that is the case when Latics face Norwich tomorrow. He had a positive start when he recalled the old guard against Middlesbrough, who did well but could not quite get the win they hoped for. But his second match saw two defensive errors give away three points against a mediocre Sheffield Wednesday side.

Like Latics, Norwich come off a run of bad results. In fact their records over the last six games are identical W1 D2 L3. The Canaries started the season well and new signings Cameron Jerome and Lewis Grabban were banging the goals in. However, since then they have found the Championship division harder than perhaps they had anticipated.

As Callum McManaman and Shaun Maloney will testify, referees in this division do not protect skillful players like they do in the Premier League. The Norwich playmaker, Wes Hoolahan, has only played 12 games this season and is still carrying an ankle injury. However, given his importance to the team, manager Neil Adams might risk the little Irishman tomorrow despite not being fully fit. Norwich can be expected to field an attacking lineup with winger Nathan Redmond joining Grabban and Jerome up front.

Ben Watson made his first start in nine months at Sheffield and looked understandably rusty. However, Mackay is likely to continue with him and Chris McCann in central midfield. Shaun Maloney is expected to return following illness. Should he be given a central midfield role then Adam Forshaw will find himself on the bench. However, Maloney could be played wide on the left with Forshaw continuing. Don Cowie is fit again and will challenge for a place, either in central or right midfield.

Mackay fielded two wingers- Callum McManaman and James McClean – at Sheffield. But he will surely have found, as did Uwe Rosler and Owen Coyle previously, that playing the two wide men at the same time just does not work.

Emmerson Boyce moved into the centre of defence in the second half at Sheffield with Leon Barnett. The lack of form of central defenders in recent games is a cause for concern, but Mackay will most likely stick with the two Bs, with James Perch and Andrew Taylor at full back.

The performance at Sheffield once again highlighted the need for a goalscoring centre forward, who receives the necessary support. McManaman and McClean ended up putting in crosses that were too often uncontested.

Mackay’s preferred formation at Cardiff was based on a version of 4-5-1 that was close to the 4-3-3 preferred by Rosler. Like Rosler, it has not been his wont to play with twin strikers. However, given the repeated failure of Latics to put the ball into the back of the net, will he is willing to change his formation? The exciting McManaman is much more effective in a free role than marooned out on the right wing where he it is easier for opposition defenders to pick him off.

Various combinations exist for a twin strike force – choose any two from Delort/Fortune/McClean/ McManaman/Riera/Waghorn. A switch to 4-4-2 would certainly be worth a try.

Once again this is a match that Latics can certainly win. Perhaps Lady Luck might be on Wigan’s side this time? There have been so many times this season when Latics have been within a whisker of getting a crucial goal.

Perhaps the tide will turn tomorrow?

WIGAN ATHLETIC 2 STOKE CITY 2

Perhaps we Latics fans were getting a little over-confident. A couple of encouraging performances at Southampton and Nottingham Forest over the past week, plus a great record against Stoke in the Premier League. Did we really think it was going to be easy to beat Stoke? It proved not to be. Despite going behind twice the visitors showed a fighting spirit and deserved their point in an entertaining game.

Latics went ahead after only 5 minutes, a shot from James McCarthy hitting Robert Huth’s hand and the referee, Martin Atkinson, giving a penalty. Up stepped Shaun Maloney who dispatched it calmly and accurately, sending Begovic the wrong way. After 15 minutes Di Santo appealed for a penalty after being sandwiched between two Stoke defenders , but not given. Latics were playing attractive football, but Stoke still looked lively.

Wigan had a blow on 28 minutes when Jean Beausejour went off injured, David Jones coming on in his place. This and the introduction of the skilful, if abrasive, Charlie Adam for Stoke soon afterwards changed the flow of the game. Adam had come on to replace the combative Andy Wilkinson. Cameron had a good effort go narrowly wide, then a wicked free kick from Adam caused mayhem in Latics’ defence until it was cleared. Stoke were to get back in the game after 4o minutes when the ball hit Maynor Figueroa’s hand and Walters scored from the resulting penalty. Wilson’s volley was then pushed on to the bar by Al Habsi. 1-1 at half time.

Latics started the second half well as Arouna Kone broke away in the 49th minute, being chased by Stoke defenders. He held the ball up before unselfishly putting in a neat pass to Franco Di Santo, who scored with the panache of a natural goalscorer. Stoke then really started to control the midfield and put latics under a lot of pressure. They play a little more football than they used to – no more rocket throws from Rory Delap – some neat midfield play these days. However, the end result is still a lobbed ball aimed at Crouch or one of their other many corpulant players.

Despite the lack of sophistication to their approach Stoke did have several half chances before Crouch got his goal in the 76th minute after outjumping Figueroa to a pretty good lob from Walters. Al Habsi was to produce two great saves, one to deny Cameron Jerome, another to somehow get his fingertips to a free kick from Adam that had taken a wicked deflection off Gary Caldwell.

At the other end the substitute Ryo Miyaichi was subject to a debatable slide tackle in the box from another abrasive Stoke player, Ryan Shawcross. In many countries such tackles would be penalized. In this case, the referee decided it was fair.

In the end, honours even.

The Good

Franco Di Santo is clearly coming of age. Martinez has stuck by him and his belief in the young Argentine is paying off. Di Santo proved himself to be a top class central striker last season in terms of his foraging and hold-up play, scoring some spectacular goals along the way. However, there were times when one doubted he had the finishing power that he has shown in the past two Premier League games. His goal at Southampton was finished with aplomb and he made this one look easy.

It was a pleasure to see Di santo and Kone operating as twin strikers, something new in the Martinez era. The tactical adjustment needed following the departure of Victor Moses is looking good. There remains the possibility of a wide player replacing one of the two big central strikers to provide variation.

The Bad

The midfield lost its way in this match. The two Jimmy Macs have been fantastic for so many matches over the past months. This time around they were not at their best. The admirable James McArthur is still not physically at his peak, following injury. He went off after 76 minutes to be replaced by Ben Watson. Latics had already lost the central midfield battle by then. James McCarthy was relatively subdued in this match, but it is hard to criticize a player who week in, week out gives his all for the team.

The loss of Beausejour halfway through the first half disrupted Latics’ rhythm. He is a key player in the system they play. David Jones tried hard but the Chilean was missed.

Player ratings

Ali Al Habsi: 9 – without his superb goalkeeping Stoke would have won.

Ivan Ramis: 7 – looking increasingly comfortable in the Premier League. Strong in the tackle, with excellent distribution.

Gary Caldwell: 8 – played a captain’s role in holding the defence together during Stoke’s second half onslaught..

Maynor Figueroa: 6 – the tenacious Honduran could not quite keep up his outstanding recent form.The penalty decision against him, was a little unlucky, although last season luck tended to favour him in similar sitiuations.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 –solid in defence, supportive in attack.

Jean Beausejour – went off injured in first half.

James McCarthy: 6 – unusually subdued. Howev er, it must be difficult to maintain his intensity of play, match after match.

James McArthur: 6 – worked hard as always. Put some nice passes through. Has become a key player.

Shaun Maloney: 7 – took the penalty with authority. Worked hard.

Franco Di Santo: 8 – an excellent all round performance. Worked very hard, taking his goal really well.

Arouna Kone: 7.5 – a hardworking performance, showing commitment and good technique.

Substitutes

David Jones: 5 – after after a solid performance in central midfield at Nottingham during the week he looked uncomfortable at wing back.

Ben Watson – came on after 76 minutes for James McArthur, but failed to put his stamp on the game. A lack of regular first team football may be the root cause.

Ryo Miyaichi – came on for the last 1o minutes. The Stoke defence did n0t allow him the time and space to make use of his electrifying speed. More to come from this potential match winner.