The third part of our season review looks at the most heavily loaded part of our squad. The midfield is also the part of the team that Jewell has chopped and changed the most the season, often causing confusion amongst fans, and in Mr Teale contains the one player in the squad guaranteed to cause debate amongst ‘tics. It’s hard to be critical of the midfield as a unit, after what we’ve achieved, but as individuals each of the payers as his weaknesses, and they’ll need addressing over the summer.
The only midfielder that we have, with the genuine pace to cause problems in the Premier League, the problem is that, half the time, he doesn’t know how to use it. Is he the most frustrating player to pull on a Latics jersey? Possibly, this season has seen the frustration turn to despair for many this season. It’s seems to have gone past the ‘he’s got a lot to prove stage’ and people are sick of waiting for him to prove it. I’ll stick my neck out and say that I think he’ll still be with us next season, his next last chance, but this will be one area that Jewell looks to improve.
Jimmy’s season has been a mixed bag, shown how to do it by Frandsen; a golden period of energy and excitement along side Mahon and then finally shoved out wide in an attempt to steady the ship. In between all that he’s partnered every midfielder bar Teale and pushed his way past 100 consecutive appearances. But how did he do? Perhaps not quite up to the high standard he set the year before, pundits still rate him as one with top level ability. He plays through his personality and his bubbly enthusiasm is enough to lift both team mates and crowd, but this season has perhaps shown him up for a lack of end product. That said he’s still one of our best players and will play a big part next season, how well he makes the step up could be key to our fortunes.
Mahon’s contribution has been important this season. Faces were pulled when he was drafted in alongside Bullard, to replace Frandsen, but he went and proved us wrong. We went on what was probably our best run of the season and got some important results that without which we wouldn’t have got to where we are now. He also managed a decent whack of goals; 8 in 23 starts for a midfielder is good going by anyone’s standard. The faces pulled were even more surprised when Whalley replaced him over Christmas and questions have been asked about his lack of sustained action since. Is it another Dinning situation (whatever that was), has Jewell fallen out with him? Simple answer is that we’ll probably never know and unless you’re in it for the gossip, it’s probably best to assume that Jewell just prefers a holding player in the centre, thinks Bullard is better and likes a big Scottish lad playing on the left wing. Mahon will be here next season and his energy, touch and vision will be more than useful.
Did he make the difference? I’m not certain, I’d like to think we would have made it anyway, but Kav certainly steadied a few nerves after joining from Cardiff. It seems that Jewell struggled to fill the gap made by Frandsen’s injury, but in Kavanagh he found the sort of player that does the simple things well and steadies the ship, that the big Dane looked. He was worth the transfer fee, if only for the fact that it showed that someone other than Jimmy could take set pieces. What role he’ll play next season will depend on who Jewell can pick up in the summer, if he had a little more pace about him then Whelan’s cheque book could stay in his pocket.
The forgotten man of this season, Whalley sneaked into the club and will probably sneak out again this summer. Not that he did much wrong when he made the team. HE had a run of a few games over Christmas and helped steady the side, but with Jewell rumoured to be looking for a holding midfielder, his time was always going to be limited. Kavanagh’s signing; Jarrett’s late season form and the likelihood of summer additions to midfield don’t bode well for Whalley.
It’s been an eventful season for JJ. A broken leg pre-season followed by a loan spell at Stoke seemed to spell the end for him as a Latic. However his inclusion in the team since the Cardiff game has seen him replicate some of the form that made him a regular in our second division team. It’s a big step up from the bottom division to Premier League in as short a time as Jason has managed it and given the fact he initially struggled at this level there’s little chance of him making a big impression early on next season (if at all) although he should be around for the party.
Is it a case of most improved player or has Jewell found the ideal position for Lee? One thing is for certain for a player tipped to be at best a fringe player this season, the Scot has done ok. The timing of his goals this season has been almost as important as the number he’s got. The goals against Preston (home and away) and Reading spring to mind but his tendency to get the early goal for us to build on has been invaluable this season. I’m still not convinced he has top level quality and for what he gives us in heart he lacks in creativity, but Jewell likes him, the players voted for him and Craig Brown is giving him a go, so he’s doing something right. One thing is for certain he’ll definitely get a chance to prove me wrong again next season.
There’s plenty of energy and heart in our midfield, but the four lads that finished the season are somewhat lacking in creativity. It’s difficult to see that line up being good enough for next season. Alan Mahon has a little more creativity, but seems to be a second or third resort in the middle of the park. Teale could manage a job, but his performances have been, at best, patchy this season and he needs a long hard think this summer.
Of these lot there’s probably only Whalley on his way out. Yet, even with Johanssen to come in, it’s an area we need to strengthen. As with the defence, we could do with a little more pace and if Teale isn’t capable of producing then we’ll need something out wide. I know it’s asking a bit much, but how’s about someone who can thread a killer ball through a defence as well?
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