Defence of the Realm

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Five years ago, Wigan Athletic conceded a mere 25 goals all season on the way to the Second Division championship.  This season in eight games less, they conceded 59, we almost got relegated.  The conclusions are easy to make and it’s a simple fact of football that the more you concede the less likely you are to win games.  So, apart from the obvious, how did the defence fare?

Arjan de Zeeuw
Great expectations were placed at the feet of the big Dutchman, but for one reason or another he failed to meet them.  At his age, whilst playing with injury, it was too much to ask him to carry partners who weren’t up to the task.  It was also too much to expect him to shine when partnered by another member of the Dad’s army that our back line became over the course of the season.

To say that Ary’s form was a poor show is a little strong, we just become used to him being without peer.  He showed that he can still be a rock at the back, and is still a fine leader of men.  It’s easy to come out with such platitudes after the fact, but it’s hard to see Latics’ backline being such a shambles had a fully fit de Zeeuw been available throughout.

We now know that Ary won’t be at the club next season, and he’s another that won’t be short of offers.  Chris Hutchings will be hoping that his decision not to offer possibly his best centre half a new contract doesn’t come back to bite him.

Emmerson Boyce
Marlene may have made it as many people’s player of the season, but some people have got short memories.  The fact is that Boyce got off to a stinker and in tandem with his old mucker from Palace, was culpable for quite a few of the goals Latics conceded early on.  Premiership football grew on him though and by the time he cracked his ribs against Man City, Emmerson had turned himself into a regular fixture in the team. 

In those early games he struck many as being too slow to make a mark at full back and it is in the centre that he’s had most impact.  One of the few members of the squad deemed good enough to keep, but not at risk of being nicked, a lot will be expected of Boyce next season, with the departure of de Zeeuw he’s got big boots to fill. 

Matt Jackson
Yet again the season started with Jacko being seen as back up, yet again he has been called upon more than expected and yet again he didn’t let anyone down.  Ok, he was shown up for pace more than you would like, but more often than not his nous made up for it.

With the exception of the home game against Liverpool, Jacko maintained his reputation as someone you can rely on, as a leader by example and did more than enough to warrant the offer of a new contract.  In the end, it wasn’t enough and the time is probably right to say goodbye.

Leighton Baines
It’s been a difficult season for, at the moment of writing, only left back.  His continued improvement over previous years has been as part of a successful side with a strong defence.  This season’s struggles may have denied him the opportunity to shine, but will have done wonders for Baines-y both as a player and a person.

Whether he’ll get the chance to show us just how much good it’s done him is another matter.  With Newcastle circling and big cubs watching events with interest it’s probably too much to hope that he’ll be turning out for Latics next year.

Whatever your thoughts on the lad’s performances this year, if has impressed enough to be considered for a full England cap.  In truth if probably deserved it more last season, and it’s right that he’s looking forward to the U21 Championships instead of qualifiers with the full squad.

Ryan Taylor
After missing the start of the season with injuries Ryan joined a struggling squad as a substituted in the home game against Everton.  His impact was immediate, providing a link between defence and attack other than the predictable balls over heads of midfield that had blighted our play up until that point.  Unfortunately it did little to help us on the day and the change in style didn’t last as the team reverted to type when results didn’t go their way.

Whilst Taylor has continued to show the promise that earned him praise in the first half of 05/06, he has done little to suggest that he is about to turn that into consistent results.  When you take into account his injuries and the team’s form that is hardly a surprise.  Ryan remains one for the future, and once the right back/winger debate has been resolved he can go about improving himself.  In either position, a full pre season and a run of games should bring him out of his shell a little and maybe he can build on his U21 caps.

Rumours of interest from other clubs will on doubt provide a distraction over the summer and we can only hope that the first team opportunities will keep him at Latics, if could turn out to be a key player next season.  

David Unsworth
Go on, who didn’t laugh when they saw we’d signed Unsworth on a short term deal?  If you didn’t laugh, did you cry?  Now, how many of you were glad that we had signed him come the 13th May?   As the season progressed, Unsworth was one of the few who showed the steel required for such a situation and even without considering his last day contribution he deserves our praise.

That’s not to say that he added anything to Latics’ style of play, but that’s not the job he was brought into do.  Instead he brought experience and strength and showed them in buckets.  Without meaning any disrespect, here’s hoping we never need to call on his like again. 

Fitz Hall
You’ll have heard some ridiculous things about One Size this season.  You may have even read some on this site.  The reality is that the lad isn’t a terrorist, isn’t taking the piss and is far from being the worse defender to pull on the shirt.  For whatever reason, things haven’t worked out for Hall at Latics.  He should be a decent centre half, but has consistently failed to produce the goods.  His major crime seems to be a lack of concentration that gives him a propensity to make vital mistakes.

This started as early as the second game of the season and has carried on throughout.  His partner in crime in those early days, Emmerson Boyce has turned things around but Hall hasn’t. If he’s still at the club next season then you’re more likely to find him boy racing in his Aston Martin, on Halfords car park, than on the pitch.

Andy Webster
You get the feeling that there’s still loads to come out about this deal.  The first player to move after handing his notice in and he chooses little old Wigan to move to.  Everybody knows that Rangers are watching but the rules don’t let him stay in Scotland.  Almost as soon as the deal goes through, hey presto, he’s signing on loan at Ibrox.  Suspicious?  Obviously not.

On the pitch, Webster came highly rated, however the transfer shenanigans got him off on the back foot and it was a while before he got a run out.  When he did Latics managed four wins out four, despite that his reputation isn’t great.  He might have made a couple of high profile errors in those games, but he did plenty else as well and if you ask me the record speaks for itself.

Personally I’d like to see him back here next season, but I doubt that very much.  Then again if Hearts win their appeal against the compensation payment, you never know.

Andreas Granqvist
The Swede only managed one game (at Pompey in the cup) but didn’t exactly look out of place.  The reasons why he failed to feature after that will no doubt remain a myste

ry.  I would imagine that lack of Premier League experience and the club’s dire straits come into play, and after that it’s anyone’s guess.  Chris Hutchings must have seen something has the young lad has been offered a two year deal, but with PSV allegedly interested you can guess how that’s going to turn out.

Steve Macmillan
The perennial “Where’s Wally” of the end of season reckoning has left the building.  It’s always a pity to see a player have to retire from injury, especially when he had as much promise as Studs.

In all, the defence hasn’t been our strong point this season but, Hall apart, that’s not necessarily been done to individuals’ performances.  Injuries to De Zeeuw, Jackson, Boyce and Taylor (and Scharner, who, by special request from Paul Jewell has been included in the midfield section) have meant that Jewell struggled to pick a consistent back line for more than a couple of games at a time and it shows.

Even if the class of 2007 had it in them to perform at this level, half of them have graduated (or look like doing shortly) and there’s likely to be plenty of work required in this area.  Any successful team is based on solid foundations and as things stand at the moment, Chris Hutchings’ team doesn’t have them.

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