Wigan Athletic 1 SV Zulte Waregem 2 – late stunner downs brave Latics

Leon Barnett celebrates his goal

Leon Barnett celebrates his goal

A superb 88th minute shot from Bernard Malanda broke Wigan hearts .

It had been a rollercoaster evening for Latics – who had blown hot and cold – but the game looked to be heading for a draw until the 19 year old Malanda struck.

Wigan knew they were going to be in for a tough match, given the Belgian team’s recent form.  The stark fact was that a team standing mid-table in the second tier of English football needed to beat a team currently second in the Belgian Jupiler League.

But then again Latics fans have become accustomed to giant killing, so maybe in some cases it was taken for granted that Wigan would win.

However, Latics started well.  Owen Coyle had put out a well-balanced starting lineup, omitting his two out-of-form central strikers and playing Nick Powell upfront. Callum McMananan and James McClean were on the wings and Jordi Gomez in his natural advanced midfield role.

The four were to link up very well at times in the first half, showing the kind of movement and mutual understanding that had been sadly lacking for big chunks of the Brighton game.

Coyle had brought back the tall Thomas Rogne at centre back who was to dominate the aerial game in defence. Stephen Crainey was brought in at left back and offered good support to McClean on the left, even getting to the byline himself to put over useful crosses.

Surprisingly for the neutral, Roger Espinoza was once again left on the bench for Chris McCann to continue in midfield, this time paired with James McArthur.

In the opening minutes Wigan’s wingers were looking lively and there was much more chemistry in the attack than we have seen for months. It was therefore no surprise when McManaman made a great run to the byline in the 7th minute to pull back for Gomez who fluffed his shot, but Leon Barnett stepped in and volleyed home with aplomb.

Latics continued to use the wings, with Gomez and Powell the catalysts in the middle.

But the Belgian team gradually clawed back control. They  had not seriously troubled the Latics defence until a  37th minute breakaway saw the excellent Thorgen Hazard hit a shot from the right that Lee Nicholls made a complete hash of, pushing the ball into his own net.

Coyle made no changes at half time. Gomez had a bad start to the second half, with poor deliveries from set pieces followed by the crowd voicing their frustration with him after being caught unawares as an opponent robbed him of the ball.  He was to be substituted after 64 minutes for Marc-Antoine Fortune.

Nicholls’ error had proved the turning point. Latics confidence had visibly wilted and it was an uphill battle from then on. However, they hung in there and gradually clawed their way back into the match. There were times when Latics looked thoroughly abject, but they showed resolve.

In the end Latics had held their own against a strong side. They had played good football at times and created more chances than the visitors.

The result was a huge disappointment after hopes had been so high.

However, against technically superior opposition Latics had done enough to win.  The margin proved to be due to a goalkeeping error and a spectacular finish that would have been good enough to decide the result of any match.

The Good

Coyle made a bold move by leaving out both of his experienced central strikers, putting Powell up front. The young player was excellent in the centre forward role, linking up well with the wingers and Gomez.  It was hard to understand why later in the game, Powell – who was the main threat to the Belgian team’s defence – was pushed out to the right wing.

It was refreshing to see the wing play of both McManaman and McClean in the first half. Both played with energy and commitment and no mean level of skill. Crainey at left back also gave support to the attack in a much improved performance by him.

If it had not been for the error after 37 minutes who knows what might have happened? Latics had been playing well and Coyle’s tactical plan seemed to be working. The movement that had been sadly lacking in the Brighton match was plain to see in that first half.

The Bad

There was a moment in the second half when Nicholls had the ball and there were at least seven Latics players static not far outside their own penalty area. It was a manifestation of how tired and dispirited Latics had looked at times.

Questions remain as to the level of fitness of the players. So often this season we have seen severe dips in their athletic performance during a match. Critics would say that this was something that occurred to Coyle’s teams at Bolton and that he is too easy on players during training. Others would criticize the conditioning staff.

In this case it might well have been mental rather than physical. That first goal had an enormous impact on the morale of a team that is brittle in terms of self-confidence. Despite Coyle’s utterings that morale is good it does not manifest itself on the field of play.

Once again the midfield was looking one-paced and sluggish in the second half, crying out for an injection of pace and energy. The player who could have provided that – Roger Espinoza – was left on the bench until the 83rd minute.

This is not to suggest that Espinoza is a better player than McArthur and McCann, but the blend was wrong. It was a similar situation to the Brighton game when the pairing of McCann and Ben Watson had looked one-paced.

Once again the defence was unable to pass the ball effectively.

According to Squawka  “A no-nonsense attitude at the back for Wigan also gave rise to 50 clearances, something which allowed Zulte to rather consistently regain possession in order to launch new attacks, and at two crucial moments in the last few minutes of each half the Wigan defence was caught.”

When the centre backs get the ball they will play it across to each other or the full backs. More often than not it is returned to them and they either hoof the ball forward or pass it back to the goalkeeper for a long clearance. Nine times out of ten the end result is the other team getting possession.

Player Ratings

Lee Nicholls: 5 – a learning experience for the young player.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 – solid, but just not the player at full back that he was at wing back under Martinez.

Leon Barnett: 6 – took his goal really well and was solid in defence. Poor in his distribution.

Thomas Rogne: 6 – ruled the air in the centre of defence. What a pity such a potentially good young player has not been coached into using the ball more effectively.

Stephen Crainey: 6 – a much improved performance. Made some good overlapping runs.

James McArthur: 6 – although he played with his usual commitment and got through a lot of work he seems a pale shadow of his former self. Some might say he misses his old partner, James McCarthy, but Coyle just does not seem to be getting the best out of this Latics stalwart.

Chris McCann: 6 – once again did a lot of work behind the scenes, supporting the defence.

Jordi Gomez: 6 – although he made mistakes at times he was a key link player in the first half. Taking him off after the crowd got on his case is not going to help the player’s level of confidence. He needed a better level of support from a manager who had put him in the starting lineup.

Callum McManaman: 6 – looked like his old self in the first half but looked tired and dispirited in the second. Taken off after 83 minutes.

Nick Powell: 8 – looked the part as the centre forward, full of endeavour and showed his skill.

James McClean: 7 – the best game I have seen him play for Latics. Full of drive and energy and showed a level of skill that we have not seen before.

Substitutes

Marc-Antoine Fortune: – came on after 64 minutes. Poor.

Roger Espinoza: – clearly not one of Coyle’s  favourite players, being brought on after 83 minutes.

Grant Holt: – brought on for the long balls in the 90th minute.

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Zulte Waregem Preview – Coyle Needs a Win

Tomorrow’s home tie with Zulte Waregem is an historic occasion.

A win for Wigan Athletic will put them into the round of 32 of the Europa League, providing Rubin Kazan do their duty by dispatching Maribor.

But a failure to win would put mounting pressure on manager Owen Coyle.

It is not the best time to play Zulte Waregem.

Despite their indifferent form in the Europa League they have moved up to second place in the Belgian Jupiler League, losing only one game in the sixteen they have played. They are unbeaten in their last six matches in all competitions.

The storm clouds were gathering at the DW Stadium on Saturday when Latics lost their unbeaten home record to Brighton.

It was a particularly frustrating afternoon, Grant Holt’s miss being the straw that broke the camel’s back for many fans. The marquee signing just was not able to put away a one-on-one chance against the keeper in the 71st minute.

The fact that Brighton broke away to the other end and scored within a minute was hard to bear, particularly as the Wigan defence casually watched as Lee Crofts headed in. That Holt was not able to put away a header from an excellent James McClean cross in the 90th minute merely rubbed it in.

Holt’s miss was not the worst we have seen this season. It was through his own efforts that he got the goal scoring opportunity, dispossessing Brighton defender Greer and getting himself into exactly the right position to score.

Holt’s second opportunity was a rarity – a cross from the wing that reached him and gave him at least an even chance to score. Latics wingers just have not done that enough this season. Holt may look clumsy and slow at times, but where has his service been?

It was refreshing to see Latics playing some good football in the first half, with their movement causing Brighton problems. It was that final touch that eluded them.

The further it went into the second half that movement got less and less.  Latics started to revert to that ‘Coylesque’ approach – hopeful long balls from defence, with Holt being expected to outjump the two central defenders each of whom was taller than him.

What happened to the approach of crossing from the flanks?

There were more than just murmurings of “Coyle Out!” this time around. The Latics faithful have been more than patient, realising that Coyle had a hill to climb in rebuilding a squad that had been decimated at the end of least season. In that respect he has surpassed expectations.

It is the poor quality of football the team has produced and Coyle’s perceived loyalty to players he has brought in that has made many supporters’ blood boil. Most supporters will even tolerate a less attractive style of play providing it brings results. An early exit from the Europa League would not go down well with them.

Once again Coyle has the opportunity to shuffle his pack. Saturday’s line up is probably his first choice, but with the strong squad he has built he has players on the bench who are more than adequate replacements. But then again, on Saturday the players looked like strangers to each other at times, so bringing in another set is hardly going to help the “chemistry”.

Jean Beausejour,  Stephen Crainey, Jordi Gomez,  James McArthur and Thomas Rogne are due to come back into the rotation. Given the indifferent form of both of his experienced central strikers against Brighton, Coyle might be tempted to start with Nick Powell at centre forward. 

Wins at Wigan and at home to Rubin Kazan will put Zulte Waregem through to the next round. Latics can therefore expect a very difficult game tomorrow night.

Much will depend on Coyle’s tactics. One hopes we will not see the woeful stuff that was served up in Kazan.

Latics fans deserve better than Route One football.

There is enough talent in this Wigan Athletic side to overcome the Belgian visitors.

Let’s hope Coyle gets it right.

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Zulte Waregem 0 Wigan Athletic 0 – an historic point gained

A gritty display helped Wigan Athletic gain a valuable point away from home in their first Europa League match.

Owen Coyle made seven changes to the lineup that faced Leicester last weekend. Latics started the game without a recognized centre forward and with a couple of centre backs – James Perch and Ryan Shotton – who had never played together before.

Stephen Crainey returned at left back. In midfield James McArthur played in the holding role in front of the back four, with Jordi Gomez to the right and Chris McCann to the left. Nick Powell was thrust into the unfamiliar role of centre forward, with Callum McManaman and James McClean on the wings.

Latics had made a bright start, with a rasping drive from James McArthur hitting the post in the 3rd minute. For the first 20 minutes they had their fair share of the ball, but from then on the home side asserted themselves in midfield. The Wigan defence had to work hard as Zulte Waregem pressed in the remainder of the first half.

Latics had a scare on 35 minutes when McClean headed on to his own crossbar. Soon after McCann was dispossessed outside the penalty box and Carson had to make a fine save from Conte.

The home team dominated the second half with over 70% of the possession. However, Wigan kept their shape, with the midfield dropping back to make a solid line in front of the penalty area.

Latics finally announced their attacking intentions by bringing on Marc-Antoine Fortune after  66 minutes, together with Ben Watson. Gomez and McManaman went off. Fortune was to have few opportunities as the home side continued in the ascendancy.

There were several close calls around the Wigan goal before James Perch had a snap shot well saved by goalkeeper Sammy Bossut.  Zulte Waregem continued to press throwing everything they could at the Latics defence, which somehow kept them out.

Nouha Dicko replaced Nick Powell after 82 minutes, only to have a penalty claim against him not long after. The Polish referee, who had been excellent all night, ignored the home team claims.

In the 86th minute McCann threw his body in the way of a shot that had ‘goal’ written all over it – a remarkable block. Somehow Latics survived the 90 minutes plus 3 minutes of time added on.

Zulte Waregem were disappointed with the result, but Coyle was clearly delighted. His patched-up team had played with real endeavour and worked so hard to get this historic result.

The Good

Following the shambles of the Leicester match Coyle changed his tactical system, playing with two wingers. This time around every player knew his role and was 100% involved in the game.

The new look centre of defence held up well, no doubt helped by a midfield that dropped back to shield them as needed. The two starting  wingers worked hard and covered a lot of ground. Only once was one of them able to  get behind the opposition defence – Callum McManaman putting in a dangerous cross in the first half – but both did more than their fair share of defensive duties.

It is rumoured that Coyle is close to getting a third central striker on loan. It was not an easy debut for Nick Powell, having to play in the centre, then later being pushed wide on the right. His natural position is the same as that of Shaun Maloney, in the hole between the midfield and the central striker. We may well see them alternate in that position as the season progresses.

The Bad

Rubin Kazan announced themselves with a 5-2 win at Maribor. Two of the five goals were scored in time added on, but the Russian team remains favourite to win the group.

Player ratings

Scott Carson: 7 – once again an important player. Very solid defensively and his distribution was much better than in previous games.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 – solid.

James Perch: 6 – restored to the centre back position and staked his claim.

Ryan Shotton: 6 – a solid debut.

Stephen Crainey: 6 – his distribution was much better. Still adjusting to the change from being at Blackpool.

James McArthur: 7 – fitted in well to the ‘McCarthy role’. Full of endeavour and unlucky with a superb shot early on.

Jordi Gomez: 6 – a few passes went astray but showed a lot of commitment and covered a lot of ground.

Chris McCann: 6 – gradually adjusting to Latics’ style of play. Some nice touches and solid in defence in the second half especially.

Callum McManaman: 6 – worked hard and played for the team. His more spectacular moments will come.

Nick Powell: 5 – played out of position and clearly not match fit. His best is yet to come.

James McClean: 6 – industrious and involved. With time his final pass should improve.

Substitutes:

Ben Watson: – pegged back into his own half most of the time. Worked hard.

Marc-Antoine Fortune:- isolated as Latics were pegged back in defence.

Nouha Dicko: – given a chance at last, albeit brief.

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A look at Latics’ Europa League opposition – Part 1: Zulte Waregem

Europa

Wigan Athletic’s first match in their Europa League campaign commences on September 19th, with a trip to Belgium  to play Zulte Waregem.

SV Zulte Waregem lie in second place in the Belgian Pro League, currently known through its sponsor’s name as the Jupiler League. They are unbeaten in the first six league games, beating Anderlecht  4-3 at home this afternoon. In a stormy game Anderlecht had two men sent off compared with one for the home team for whom Thorgan Hazard – brother of Eden – was on the score sheet.

Last season Waregem finished in second place behind Anderlecht in the Jupiler League play-offs. That put them into the third qualifying round of this season’s  UEFA Champions League but they were to be defeated by PSV Eindhoven of Holland.

Waregem is a Flemmish-speaking town about 40 miles west of Brussels. Its population is around 36,000.

The original club from the town, TSV Waregem, was founded in 1925. Their major achievements were to win  the Belgian Cup in 1974 and to reach the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup in 1985-86. In 1996 they were relegated to the second division, falling down into the third division in 1999.

In 2001 financial problems led to the Waregem club merging with Zultse VV, from the neighbouring town of Zulte. The new club was to be called Sportvereniging Zulte Waregem.

The new club was soon to climb up the leagues, winning promotion to the first tier in 2004-05.

Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, Brussels

Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, Brussels

Zulte Waregem play their home league matches at the Regenboog Stadium, the home of their predecessors TSV. It has a capacity of 10,200. However, the ground is not up to UEFA standards and they have played their recent Champions League and Europa League games at Anderlecht’s ground, the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium in Brussels. Their home kit is all red.

Zulte Waregem come to the group stages of the Europa League following their exit from the Champions League. In the third qualifying round of the Europa League they made resolute performances against  APOEL of Nicosia.  A gutsy display gave them a somewhat fortunate 2-1 away win in the first leg in Cyprus. A tight 1-1 home draw was then enough to see the Belgian team through to the group stage.

Although Zulte Waregem are not well known at international level they will be hard to beat They have prior experience in Europe and are excelling in the Belgian Pro League.

It will be a demanding opening game for Latics in their first European campaign.

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