Filed: Wednesday, 28th December 2005
By: Matthew Coker
Wednesday 28th December sees us meet up with old adversaries, Wigan Athletic, for the next leg of our Premiership adventure. Many people predicted that Wigan and ourselves would be in similar league positions this year but perhaps 10 places lower in the league. However, both clubs have been an advert for gung ho attacking football and have been winning plaudits (and a few games) all season.
I am writing this before the Boxing Day fixtures have been played so at the moment they are three places and three points better off than us. To get to this lofty position, they have beaten Sunderland, Bolton, Newcastle, Fulham and Charlton at the JJB and West Brom, Everton, Aston Villa and Portsmouth on the road. They have only been beaten at The Valley, though that was in Week 2 when Charlton were at their peak, Anfield, Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge which is a commendable track record to bring to our place.
The gaffer is Paul Jewell who started his playing career at Anfield before moving to Wigan and onto Bradford City. He moved into management with the Yorkshire club, who he led to the Premiership and kept up for two seasons. He left the club after the subsequent relegation and spent an unhappy period at Sheffield Wednesday, lasting just eight months in the hot seat. He took over at Wigan in 2001 and has taken them from Division 2 to the Premiership in just over four years.
Jewell performed near miracles to keep Bradford up and looks as though he is going to defy all odds this year and do the same, probably long before the last day of the season. The positive environment at Wigan and the encouragement of a reasonable chairman has helped the team to thrive. Positive is a word that can easily be applied to Jewell who is clearly a motivator but he has admirably kept a level head despite the early lofty league positions. At 41, he has his best years ahead of him and stands every chance of continuing to remain a success in the game.
In goal will most likely be Mike Pollit, a keeper signed from Rotherham in the summer. He is a former Manchester United trainee who has spent the majority of his career in the lower leagues. He started the season as first choice keeper but was replaced after five games by former favourite, John Filan. However, a disappointing performance against Arsenal saw the Aussie shot stopper back on the bench and Pollit has remained between the sticks ever since.
The back four has kept seven clean sheets to date including four in a row. The first choice centre back pairing are both summer signings, Swiss Benny from Abba impersonator, Stephane Henchoz and Dutchman Arjen De Zeeuw. The latter was picked at as one of the Prime Minister’s favourite footballers in a totally spontaneous Football Focus interview. It may prove that the PM has long since stopped thinking for himself but credit where its due, the advisor who scripted that answer knows his stuff. In short, the pairing are strong on experience but lack pace, a weakness that we can hopefully expose. Matt Jackson deputised for the injured Henchoz at the last game.
Pascal Chimbonda has been something of a revelation this season, especially amongst fantasy football managers. The Frenchman joined from Bastia in the summer and has impressed with his displays on the right hand side. His speed and attacking tendencies have led to 2 goals this season. On the left side is Leighton Baines, a 20 year old academy product who has been ever present this season.
The midfield should feature Chelmsford born, Jimmy Bullard, who started his career at West Ham but failed to make the cut. A move to Peterborough led to Wigan spending £275k on him in 2003 and he has exerted an attacking influence on the team with his passing and vision. He must have been one of the players that the fans may have been unsure of making the jump to the top flight but he has turned in a number of solid performances and 2 goals to boot.
Republic of Ireland international Graeme Kavanagh has established himself as a key player in the centre of the park. He will be well known to Danny Gabbidon and James Collins as they will have all played together at Cardiff before he departed at the end of last season.
Scotsman, Lee McCulloch is likely to start on the left, he has been with the club since a 2001 transfer from Motherwell and opened his Premiership account in the defeat by Spurs earlier this season. Fellow Scotsman Gary Teale should start on the right; he joined in the same year from Ayr United. The general consensus is that the post broken collar bone version has not quite reached his previous form. Strength in depth is provided by Australian, Josep Skoko, former Norwich and Wimbledon man, Damien Francis and Irish winger, Alan McMahon.
Striker Jason Roberts has enjoyed a welcome return to the Premiership with 4 league goals before Christmas Day. He is not overburdened with too much finesse but has pace and power a plenty and this attributes make him a difficult man to stop. His partner, Henri Camara took something of a gamble when joining Wigan. His previous two seasons had seen two relegations, first with Wolves, then with Southampton and he can’t have been oblivious to the possibilities this year. However, he has settled in well, recently capturing a hat trick in the win over hapless Charlton. Journeyman and former Hammer, David Connolly warms the bench.
Wigan as a unit have many of the attributes that our own team does. They play the game to win and the aim is to score goals to achieve that aim. The three pronged attack at Old Trafford earlier in the month showed that they do not fear anyone and although with hindsight that looks a little naïve, the philosophy should be applauded. The midfield tend to make things very difficult for you by operating well as a unit and putting the opposition under lots of pressure and the full backs are comfortable going forward.
On initial impressions, you would think that Wigan should shade it. The games that they lost, although they all came in a row were against better opposition and they came back strongly against Charlton. However, I think that it will be a game that Pardew has targeted as one to take. I suspect that his pride will have been slightly wounded by the home defeat last season, that was the game that effectively stopped him publicly talking about winning the league. I also suspect that he will be concerned about the last two home games; the pair of defeats will not be too much of a problem if we get back to winning ways. There will be goals in it, I’ll go for 2-1 Irons, though 3-2 or even 4-3 are not out of the question.
Enjoy the game.
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
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