Latics can win their next penalty shootout

Penalty

Can one single incident define a club’s season?

Blackpool fans might well cite Matt Gilks’ superb save from Martyn Waghorn’s penalty on Saturday as the event that saved them from relegation. Latics had been well on top in that first 20 minutes and if they had scored the Tangerines might well have fallen apart. Waghorn did not hit his penalty badly, but the goalkeeper guessed right and made a spectacular save.

Latics have been awarded 7 penalties in the Championship this season, of which they have scored 4, each taken by a different player. Grant Holt, Shaun Maloney, Ben Watson and Jordi Gomez were the successful scorers. Gomez has had two penalties saved, against Yeovil and Bolton. The opposition have converted 5 out of the 8 penalties they have received.

It was a surprise to many of us when Waghorn took the penalty against Blackpool. Despite his 1 in 3 conversion rate in the league this season, Gomez has a 100% record in cup competitions. He scored one in the Europa League and two famous ones – at the Etihad and Wembley – in the FA Cup. Having scored Latics’ last penalty in the pressure cauldron of an FA Cup semi-final it was expected that Gomez would take the spot kick against Blackpool. Moreover they also had Shaun Maloney who had previously been successful in converting penalties. Waghorn did have previous success as a penalty taker, scoring 2 out of 2 for Leicester City, but it was in the 2009-10 season. He had not taken penalties in competitive football since then.

The fateful penalty shoot-out in that Wembley semi-final continues to haunt Latics fans. If the likes of Holt, Maloney, Watson and even Waghorn had been at hand to join Gomez at the time, maybe Latics would have had a chance of beating Arsenal. But looking at the available players on the pitch at the time there was not much hope for optimism even before the kicks had started.

Should Latics reach a stage in the playoffs where penalties are going to decide the result are they going to be competitive? Uwe Rosler will surely bear this in mind with the players he has on the pitch in a game going into extra time. He will surely find time for his players to get ample penalty kick practice before the event.

Since the formation of the Premier League in 1992 the average conversion rate for penalties has been 85%. Less than 4% were missed, just over 11% saved.

During their eight seasons there Wigan Athletic received 28 penalties, of which they scored 22, a conversion rate of 79%. Ben Watson and Amr Zaki were Latics’ leading goalscorers through penalties, each scoring four. However, Watson also missed two, unlike the Egyptian who missed none and remains Latics most successful penalty taker in top flight competition. There were only two seasons when Latics received more penalties than they conceded, those being in the Steve Bruce era 2007-09. For the full stats see myfootballfacts.com

Of the current squad, in league and cup games, Maloney has converted 2 out of 2. Gomez has scored 7 out of 10, Watson 6 out of 9.

Gary Caldwell was the first to have a penalty saved at Wembley, but later stated that he had taken penalties before, even in the Champions League. The second taker was Jack Collison, whose shot was also saved. However, Collison had been successful earlier on in the season, scoring for West Ham in the 94th minute in a League Cup tie at Burnley.

Collison would not usually have a chance to take a penalty for the Hammers, as Mark Noble would usually take them. Noble has scored every penalty he has taken since 2009. Leighton Baines shares a similar record. However, Rickie Lambert has gone even better by scoring every single one of his 31 penalties in competitive matches for Southampton. Matt Le Tissier remains the most outstanding penalty taker in top flight English football in recent years, having missed only one of his 49 penalties.

Research into penalty shootouts in the World Cups, European Championship and Copa America reveals a success rate of around 87% for the first kick, 82% for the second, 79% for the third, 73% for the fourth and 80% for the fifth. See penaltyshootouts.co.uk for more details.

Clubs typically get an average of around four penalties in regular play per season and they are often taken by the same player. That is certainly the case for QPR, who have had exactly four, all converted by Charlie Austin.

However, the cases of other playoff contenders, Derby and Reading, differ. Referees have awarded Derby 11 penalties, of which they converted 7, but they have conceded only 2. They have used three penalty takers in Bryson, Martin and Russell. Reading have converted 7 of their 9 penalties, whereas the opposition have scored all 6 conceded. The Royals have used four penalty takers in Blackman, Le Fondre, Pogrebnyak and the unfortunate Sharp who missed his penalty against Latics.

Should Wigan Athletic get into a penalty shootout over the coming weeks it could well define their season. If Latics confirm their place in the playoffs then Rosler will surely give his players lots of practice at taking penalty kicks.

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Millwall Preview – a cameo role for Maloney in preparation for the FA Cup semi-final?

 

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A cameo role for Shaun Maloney tonight?

Given the sheer volume of fixtures Wigan Athletic have had to play over the past months it is no wonder that their form has been intermittent. There have been matches where they have looked full of energy, playing enterprising football, followed another a few days later where they would appear jaded and placing an over-reliance on the long ball.

The 1-0 win over Leeds on Saturday was typical of the latter. One could say it was because Uwe Rosler made only two changes from his lineup in the previous game, but then again the introduction of three substitutes in the second half did not catalyse any sort of spark. In the event Leeds did not have the quality to seriously challenge a solid Wigan defence and Latics ground out an important win.

If events continue to follow this recent pattern we can expect a more dynamic performance against a Millwall team struggling against relegation. However, there is the by no means small matter of an FA Cup Semi-Final coming up on Saturday. So what is going to happen tonight?

On Saturday Rosler took a risk by using all three substitutes by the 68th minute. Providing Latics are ahead midway through the second half he might do something similar tonight.

One of those coming on later tonight could well be Shaun Maloney, in preparation for including him on the bench at Wembley where he scored a goal in last year’s semi-final, coincidentally against Millwall. The Scot has been on the bench for the last two games, but Rosler felt the intensity of the Leicester match was too high for a player returning from long-term injury, then understandably did not bring him on against an over-physical Leeds.

It is an indication of the rotation policy that Rosler has operated that in the last five league matches twenty players have been employed on the pitch. Three players – Ali Al-Habsi, James McArthur and James Perch have started in all five. Five more – Emmerson Boyce, Jordi Gomez, Rob Kiernan, Ivan Ramis and Martyn Waghorn have started in four of those games. Josh McEachran, Callum McManaman and Nicky Maynard have been underemployed during the five matches, each starting in only one.

Rosler will certainly have to shuffle his pack following the limp display on Saturday. However, Latics have some tricky league fixtures coming up and the Millwall game appears the easiest to win, at least on paper. However, Millwall are locked in a relegation struggle and desperately need points. They can be expected to come out with guns a blazing. Rosler will therefore need to tread with caution, keeping a backbone of his regulars in the lineup, rather than make wholesale changes.

He has already announced that Ali Al-Habsi will be rested, with Scott Carson coming in. James Perch is overdue a rest, having played 43 games this season. Moreover Perch is sitting on nine yellow cards and one more would put him out of the FA Cup semi-final. James McArthur too needs resting, also having played 43 games.

Jean Beausejour is back from suspension. Rob Kiernan, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Martyn Waghorn are ineligible for the Arsenal game so have a good chance of playing, together with McEachran, McManaman and Maynard.

It is not going to be an easy match. Millwall had a crucial 2-1 win at promotion hopefuls Nottingham Forest at the weekend. They sit in 23rd place but still retain hopes of lifting themselves out of the relegation zone. Under the management of Ian Holloway they will not go down without a fight.

Moreover the Lions will recall their 2-1 win over Wigan at the New Den, Latics’ sixth successive defeat at the time. Martyn Waghorn was on loan at Millwall at that time and was one of their top performers in a match watched by Rosler, prior to his taking the reins at Wigan. The Lions wanted to keep Waghorn, but their financial situation would not allow. Will Waghorn be the star player tonight?

It is never easy to predict Rosler’s starting lineups, but given the proximity of the Arsenal Semi-Final, it is all the more difficult this time around.

Which Wigan Athletic will we see tonight – the energetic or the lethargic? It could well be a mixture of the two.

 

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Wigan Athletic 1 Leeds United 0 – little in entertainment but three more points for Latics

 

Martyn Waghorn celebrated his permanent contract with his fourth goal in Latics colours.

Martyn Waghorn celebrated his permanent contract with his fourth goal in Latics colours.

Some say that for teams challenging for promotion at this time of the season it is the points that count, not the entertainment. So it could be said that Wigan Athletic did what was needed by gaining a welcome three points at the expense of visitors Leeds United. Following a run of three league matches without a win, it was important to consolidate a place in the top six. However, entertainment it was not.

Uwe Rosler made just two changes from the side that had lined up in midweek against Leicester. Callum McManaman and Martyn Waghorn came in for Jack Collison and Nicky Maynard.

In reality there were few moments of good football in this game. Latics appeared tired and were clearly not relishing the task of taking on a very physical Leeds side. Michael Brown typified the visitors’ approach. The 37 year old riled the home crowd with a series of challenges and niggles, reminiscent of his time at Wigan in the Steve Bruce era. He had managed to largely shackle Jordi Gomez until the Spaniard produced Latics only worthy effort on goal in the first 30 minutes, a fine shot from distance curling narrowly wide.

Latics were to go ahead in the 33rd minute after James McArthur slalomed around the edge of the area, going down under a Leeds challenge. However, from the loose ball Waghorn scored with a low shot which goalkeeper Jack Butland should have stopped. Ten minutes later, and much to his displeasure, Brown received a yellow card for a foul on Gomez.

Latics started the second half with James Perch having a good shot deflected over the top by Stephen Warnock. Latics brought on Collison for Nick Powell after 55 minutes, James McClean for McManaman after 62 minutes and Marc Antoine Fortune for Waghorn on the 68 minute mark. However, the substitutions were to have little effect and the mediocre football continued until the final whistle.

The match statistics reflected the way it had gone – Ali Al-Habsi having to make just one save, Butland two. Leeds had committed sixteen fouls, to Latics’ seven. Ironically it was Wigan who received more yellow cards, with three against Leeds’ two.

Swelled by the away support, the attendance of 16,443 was the largest at the DW Stadium since the visit of Burnley in December. They deserved better entertainment than this.

The Good

The three points puts Latics nine points ahead of Bournemouth, Brighton, Ipswich and Nottingham Forest who head the pack just below the play-off spots, all on 58 points. With only six games to go, Wigan are getting closer to securing a top six finish.

The Bad

After the match Rosler admitted his mistake of making only two changes from the lineup that had run themselves into the ground against Leicester. Too many players were clearly not up to it physically.

Once again Shaun Maloney was left on the bench, but given the way the skilful Gomez had been treated by the visitors, Rosler was probably right not to bring the Scot on.

Leeds showed themselves to be one of those uncompromising physical teams that are scattered around in the Championship division. Were this to have been a Premier League game there would have surely have been oodles of yellow cards issued. Championship referees are clearly more lenient.

Player Ratings

Ali Al-Habsi: 6 – largely unemployed.

James Perch: 5 – has not been at his best recently. Maybe still troubled by injury?

Emmerson Boyce: 6 – solid in defence.

Ivan Ramis: 6 – ditto.

Rob Kiernan: 6 – ditto.

Stephen Crainey: 5 – lacks the finesse and vision of Jean Beausejour at wing back, but worked hard.

James McArthur: 7 – despite playing an excessive number of games without a break he continues to be a key performer. Let’s hope he can stay fit and sharp for the play-offs, assuming Latics get there.

Jordi Gomez: 5 – a marked man, not on top of his game.

Callum McManaman: 5 – disappointing. Taken off after 62 minutes.

Martyn Waghorn: 6 – celebrated receiving his permanent contract with an opportunist goal. Worked hard as usual. Now has 4 goals and 4 assists in his 10 starts. Taken off after 68 minutes.

Nick Powell: 5 – clearly not yet fully match-fit. He will not be able to reach the crowd’s expectations of him until he regains full fitness. Went off after 55 minutes.

Substitutes:

Jack Collison, James McClean, Marc Antoine Fortune – could not make much impact on the game.

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Wigan Athletic 2 Watford 1 – a well-earned win for Latics

Waghorn celebrates Wigan's second goal.

Waghorn celebrates Wigan’s second goal.

Wigan Athletic’s undefeated run goes on, this time with a narrow, but well-earned win over a cultured Watford side. Despite a miserable away record and a position in mid-table the visitors proved to be worthy opposition, being well organized and playing good football. In Ikechi Anya – born in Scotland from a Nigerian father and Romanian mother – Watford were to have the outstanding performer on the day.

Uwe Rosler sprung a surprise in his starting lineup, bringing in Rob Kiernan to make his first league start for Latics against his former club. Kiernan formed a central defensive trio with Emmerson Boyce and Ivan Ramis. James Perch and Jean Beausejour occupied the wing back positions, with James McArthur and Jordi Gomez in the centre of midfield. James McClean and Martyn Waghorn played further forward supporting Marc Antoine Fortune.

The common misunderstanding about a team playing with three centre backs is that they are playing light on defence. The reality is that the wing backs typically come back to complete a back line of five. However, as soon as the game started Latics’ wing backs, Beausejour in particular, were pushed far forward. Rather than playing 3-4-3 it became more akin to 3-2-5.

With so many men pushed forward Latics were able to launch long passes, putting pressure on the visitor’s defence. McClean fired wide from a good position then Gomez put Beausejour through with a great ball but the Chilean could only fire straight at goalkeeper Almunia. McClean again failed to convert a chance shooting straight at the goalkeeper.  With a little more composure Latics could have been 3-0 up in the first fifteen minutes. In the 18th minute Ramis rose to Waghorn’s corner but header was cleared off the line.

At the other end Wigan’s defence had held firm, despite Anya looking a threat. The Scotland international had an effort go past the post, and then could not find the target after a swift counterattack caught out Latics’ defence. McClean had another shot saved by Almunia, then his final ball let him down with Waghorn waiting at the far post.

Wigan should have had the game done and dusted but their profligacy was letting them down. In a way it did not come as a surprise when the visitors took the lead with a beautifully struck low shot from Lewis McGugan in the 36th minute. But Latics were back in the game four minutes later when Ramis’ long pass found Beausejour whose volley was blocked by Almunia, but the Chilean headed home the rebound.

Wigan took the lead on 55 minutes, Waghorn turning and firing home after McArthur had scuffed his shot. Latics brought on Jack Collison for Waghorn after 61 minutes, then Nick Powell for McClean eight minutes later. Gomez and Beausejour had efforts go wide before Watford started to apply concerted pressure in the last 15 minutes with Latics tiring. Anya had a chance go narrowly wide of the post, then could not finish a good opportunity after getting behind Thomas Rogne who had come on for Kiernan.

McArthur was to miss a sitter near the end as the ball had been pulled back to him.

Despite having to play five minutes of added time Wigan held on for a deserved win.

The Good

Rosler launched Latics into this game with their guns a blazing. Rarely over these past years have we seen Latics push so many men forward from the very start. His tactic of pushing the wing backs well forward led to Beausejour finding himself practically in  a centre forward position on a couple of occasions.  Unfortunately the wing back does not have the clinical finishing abilities of a good centre forward, being unable to put away his first opportunity, but scoring his second from the rebound.

With the wing backs coming forward McClean and Waghorn were given the opportunity to play more central roles, supporting Fortune. We have seen great improvements in the Irishman’s finishing over these past weeks, but in this match it was lacking. However, he remained a threat to the Watford defence before being taken off midway into the second half. Fortune was his usual self, full of endeavour, linking up well with teammates.

Gomez proved that he can do a good job in a midfield holding role, together with the industrious McArthur. The Spaniard must have covered every blade of grass on the pitch, tackling, intercepting, and receiving. He is benefitting from as long a run of matches as he has received in his five years at the club. Apart from his industry, his touch was excellent and he sprayed out some great passes.

Kiernan looked comfortable in the role on the left hand side of the line of centre backs. He made a few misplaced passes in the first half but showed his worth defensively. Collison came off the bench and soon looked at ease. He could prove a valuable loan signing.

The Bad

Once again Latics flagged in the last 15 minutes and were put under pressure by Watford. Powell came on to play in a wide position, where he overindulged at times. Hopefully Rosler will use him in a central striking position over the coming matches.

Player Ratings

Ali Al-Habsi: 7 – did all that was asked of him. Could not be faulted for the goal.

James Perch: 7 – as hard working and dependable as ever.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 – he and Ramis formed a formidable partnership in the centre of defence.

Ivan Ramis: 7.5 – see above. Unlucky with his header on goal and his passing as good as ever, including the pass for Latics’ first goal.

Rob Kiernan: 6 – solid in defence.

Jean Beausejour: 8 – an excellent performance in his favourite position as wing back. Must have impressed his family who were over from Chile and at the game.

James McArthur: 7 – a model of consistency in the middle of the park.

Jordi Gomez: 8.5 – superb in midfield.

Martyn Waghorn: 6 – took his goal well, but otherwise rather subdued.

Marc Antoine Fortune: 7 – full of running and endeavour.

James McClean: 6 – got himself in great positions but could not deliver. Nevertheless a handful for the Watford defence. Substituted after 61 minutes.

Substitutes:

Jack Collison: -came on after 61 minutes. Looked the part.

Nick Powell: – came on after 69 minutes. Frustrating.

Thomas Rogne: – came on after 79 minutes.

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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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