As one of the two Wigan supporters stateside, Ned and his brother-in-law John felt it was their duty to answer the question presented in last week’s pod – mainly, where has this Wigan team been all season? Born in the UK, but residing in Boston, Ned writes for the Wigan fansite Los Three Amigos and the ESPN Soccernet Wigan blog. If other GFOPs ever feel inclined to respond to the deep, penetrating analysis presented by Sammy and the Toilet, email us at meninblazers (at) gmail (dot) com.
For now, here’s the Wigan boys’ response…
1) Adapting to life without N'Zogbia
We all knew N'Zogbia would leave, but it took until deadline day to replace him. Shaun Maloney and Albert Crusat came in, neither a direct replacement, but both decent attacking players that could help the cause. Unfortunately, Maloney had been on the scotch egg diet and has taken most of the season to reach match fitness. His introduction has transformed our team in the attacking third. Replacing Jordi Gomez, who tends to pass the ball sideways 9 out of 10 times, Maloney has been a breath of fresh air. His movement is direct, he’s willing to run at people, full of clever flicks, bends a nice corner, and can shoot. He’s made a difference.
2) Struggling with defensive injuries in first half of season
Our recent success is in large part down to the defense. Al-Habsi is quality, but Caldwell, Alcaraz and Figueroa have been a revelation as a back three. Alcaraz missed much of the first half of the season through injury, and was several times rushed back to fitness due to our lack of cover in that department. Antonio Lopez and Steve Gohouri played far too many matches, they are simply not good enough. Emmerson Boyce is a very important figure for us on and off the pitch, and also missed almost the entire first half of the season. Our return to form coincided with his return to the pitch.
3) Adjusting to new tactics
It was very clear that our defending was not good enough. Roberto switched things up from his traditional 4-5-1 / 4-3-3, to a wing-back based system, close to a 3-5-2. The switch gets the best out of players like Ronnie Stam (decent going forward, crap at defending) and Jean Beausejour (an all-rounder, perfect for wing-back). Using Emmerson Boyce as the right wing-back allows Roberto to switch back to his 4-5-1 system if we need to, as he did to great effect against Chelsea when we went 1-0 down, or against Liverpool when we went 1-0 up – without making any substitutions (Boyce drops back, Beasejour plays on the wing). It has been very effective.
4) Hugo Rodallega
Injured at the beginning of the season, then playing but not match fit, then injured again. Then he got fit but reached an agreement with Fulham only for Andy Johnson to back out of a part-swap deal. Then he got injured again. Losing N'Zogbia AND Rodallega this season has meant we’ve struggled to score goals. We weren’t used to committing many bodies forward because Hugo or Charley could pinch us a goal. But we’ve had to change that. The whole team attacks and the whole team defends nowadays. Di Santo doesn’t score like Hugo would, but his hold up play and work-rate are second to none.
5) Bad finishing, bad luck
We really have been unlucky. If Pedersen hadn’t run the ball in from the corner flag and equalized that crucial match against Blackburn, we’d have an extra 3 point advantage over them. If we’d not been robbed at Chelsea last weekend we’d have an extra 1 or 3 points. If we’d not hit the post 3 times and failed to score from 21 shots against West Brom, we’d have an extra 2. The list goes on. Goals cost money that we don’t have. There have been some bad performances in there, plenty of them. But we’ve often played well and failed to get the points necessary. We’re getting goals now because the players are confident and committing more bodies forward (as a duo Caldwell and McArthur have actually scored more than Di Santo and Sammon!) Lets hope it continues. Might be a reality check at Arsenal on Monday, our players looked pretty knackered at the end of the ManYoo match. But if we maintain this level of football, we should be safe. Newcastle (H), Fulham (A) both tricky, but we end on Blackburn (A) and Wolves (H). It’s do-able.