Filed: Tuesday, 5th December 2006
By: Matthew Coker
Well, after the disappointment at Everton, we all head back to the Boleyn for the first midweek home fixture in a very long while. The visitors are Wigan Athletic and on Wednesday night at 7.45pm we kick off as we aim to improve our league position.
Our visitors are recovering from something of a bad time recently, having suffered a 3-1 defeat at Shite Hart Lane on their last away fixture followed by a 0-4 home trouncing by Liverpool where they were already losing by the final score by half time. The two defeats were slightly unexpected, prior to that they had gone on a five game unbeaten run where they had kept four clean sheets so to let in seven in a week was unexpected, though injuries have played a part.
Their home form has generally been good, victories over Reading, Man Ciddy and Charlton and draws with Watford and Villa have netted them points and only Man Yoo and Liverpool have gone home from the JJB with all three points. They have managed victories on their travels at Bolton and Fulham and a draw with Everton but have been beaten by Newcastle, Portsmouth, Blackburn and Sp*rs. Their start was particularly slow with the first seven games netting just five points but prior to the very recent wobble, things were looking back on track. This leaves them in thirteenth place, four points clear of us.
The gaffer is Paul Jewell, a thoroughbred Scouser who worked miracles by keeping Bradford City in the Premier League for a season back in the late nineties and proved it wasnít a fluke by guiding Wigan to mid table safety and a League Cup Final last season. He does have the support of a good chairman but if I was him I am not sure that I would feel too secure in my job. Last season, Dave Whelan, was touting his employeeís services to the FA when the England job became available by publicly agreeing to let him go. This year, he has repeated the offer to any of the big four clubs. The likelihood of that happening is slimmer than Terri Hatcher but nice to know that your boss can imagine life without you.
In goal is Chris Kirkland, signed from the Mickeys after a season long loan last campaign. He has continued his decent form this campaign and has contributed to the run of clean sheets in recent weeks. He will be delighted to have just beaten his career best run of games without injury by making his 11th consecutive appearance last month.
The shining star of the back four is the England U21 left back, Leighton Baines. He has been in excellent form when in his own half, is confident when attacking and recently notched up a screamer when on international duty. The Wigan fans feel that he has done enough to earn a full squad call up on current form, especially with Ashley Cole out of the next England squad.
The centre backs are likely to be struggling, Matt Jackson and not fully fit £3m summer signing, Fitz Hall, though it is possible that Arjan De Zeeuw will have returned from a toe injury to feature. Emerson Boyce should feature on the right and the second defensive player to be signed from Palace this summer has begun to replace Pascal Chimbonda in the fanís affections with an ever improving series of solid defensive performances and a few decent crosses.
The midfield is slightly unbalanced at present with the choice of a defensive midfielder, Australian, Josip Skoko in the midfield alongside a central defender being used as a playmaker in Austrian, Paul Sharner. This leaves them fairly solid but with only a limited amount of creative flair. Former Evertonian, Kevin Kilbane should be the left footed player chosen feature in on the right flank though youngster, Kevin Cotterill deputised for him in the second half at the weekend and may get a start against us.
With the absence of Gary Teale through a hamstring injury, the left side will probably be filled by Scot, Lee McCulloch, though his miss in front of the right goal and his conversion in his own goal on Saturday does not mark him out as too much of a threat.
The fans are suggesting that the re-instatement of Dutchman, Danny Landzaat may have a part to play in balancing up the attacking side of the midfield. Swede, Andreas Johannson has appeared on the bench in a midfield that is missing the creative influence of Luis Antonio Valencia.
The most popular striker at the club is the yellow booted Henri Camara. The Senegalese striker clearly doesnít come from the same gene pool as former Hammer, Titi, as Henri is pacy and skilful and weights under 20 stone. He has already contributed 5 Wigan goals this season and is one up front to watch out for.
He has tended to feed off the headed down balls from Emile Heskey, his strike partner. We all know what to expect from Heskey, he is very much a team player, an experienced professional, who while he is not prolific (3 goals in 13 appearances this campaign) puts in enough unselfish work for his team mates to support his contribution. Svetoslav Toldorov is with the club on a year long loan but has yet to make much contribution, partly because of injuries.
Ooh Ah Ooh Ooh Ah You should be a WiganerĒ
Wigan chant. Your guess is as good as mine.
Recent tradition (well the last two seasons) have seen a pattern of us rolling over and giving the points to Wigan at the Boleyn and them returning the favour when we make the trek up there. Last seasonís performance was particularly bad, a brutally cold December night and an abject team effort that saw us gift them two goals and fail to create anything of note. You can at least console yourself that this season could not reach the depths of last.
Although there were undoubtedly a number of disappointing features of our performance at Everton (the sloppy goals conceded, the weak corners, firing yet another blank), there were some positives, particularly during the first half when we took the game to them and Pards attitude at least was right with the subs at the end. Our away form is a concern but we will only ever realistically win five games away from home in a season, and Goodison Park is unlikely to be one of those places, so a sense of perspective is required.
However, our home form of late has been good and I can see no reason why we canít compete on Wednesday night. There are signs that they are entering the second mini slump of the season and I would like to think that we could take advantage of their weaknesses at the back and their lack of creativity in midfield and that goals could be ours for the taking.
One concern for me is that Wigan have a habit of starting games quickly and are currently the Premiershipís best side for scoring early goals. We need to make sure that players and fans alike start the game in the right manner and ensure we donít concede early. I think that their style will suit us as they can be caught on the break and we have the players to take advantage of this.
Iím going to take the unusual step of predicting against tradition by thinking that we can win this. Our star Argentinean is starting to get the hang of this league and although the physical approach of Wigan and the cold weather will not be quite what he is used to, Iíve seen enough fight in him to back him for his first West Ham goal on Wednesday as part of a 2-1 victory.
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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