It seems an obvious thing to say but at this stage of the season, but when you are in Latics’ position the next game is always bigger than any other. It may not sound right, but the game against Boro is vitally important and as much as some fans may be preparing for relegation we can’t afford for the players to be thinking the same way. There lies the most important job for Paul Jewell this week. He needs to work out which players believe survival is possible and get them to spread the positivity, if that doesn’t work then if needs to weed out the naysayers and keep them as far away from the team as possible.
Jewell is talking about making changes and about asking the players to show, in training, that they want to play. That’s a start, but at the end of the day he needs to go on and look at himself as well. That’s not to suggest he should start doubting his ability to turn things around, such doubts will only cause more problems. He should be able to be critical, without undermining himself.
The starting point is to ask whether he has let the pressure get to him? Have his tactics, and more importantly his team selection, been too cautious? The simple answer seems to be yes and the reliance on Jackson, De Zeeuw and Unsworth is perhaps the biggest example.
If he agrees, then the next question is whether he is prepared to change that? Is it now too late in the season to start taking risks? This is the key decision, the one that could ultimately decide which division Latics play in next season.
Latics have played too much on the percentages this season, and invariably they been against us. Whilst there’s no chance of them turning into Brasil overnight, we do have the personnel to play on the floor and it seems nigh on essential that they do it.
Ultimately that means no place for Lee McCulloch, his presence as much as Heskey’s finds us watching balls lumped into whichever channel he is, invariably there days, hiding in, but it starts with changes at the back. Most importantly with the keeper.
John Filan’s form over April is justification itself to drop him. The tough Aussie may have his plus points, but his weaknesses have been laid bare for all to see. Mike Pollitt proved himself a man for the big occasions last season and, if he is any where near fit, should return between the sticks.
Ryan Taylor’s return against Everton saw an almost immediate change in the pattern of play, his willingness to take the ball and, at least try to, play it gave the keeper and centre halves an option other than the hoof in the general direction of the other goal. His inclusion should see Boyce move over to the centre and leaves Jewell with a choice of partner.
As loathe as he may be to lose one of his leaders, a lack of mobility has cost us defensively in recent weeks. The temptation is to talk about Swedish internationals and otherwise pointless loan signings, but if Granqvist has avoided selection thus far it seems unlikely that he’ll be thrust into the limelight at this stage. It’s safe to assume that Jewell’s continued selection of Hall means that if doesn’t rate the lad as good enough.
In the end, it comes down to needs be as needs must. Jewell’s stubbornness in believing that Scharner is Latics’ answer to Frank Lampard must come to an end.
Whilst the dogs of war approach taken to selecting the defence has been understandable, it has failed. Additionally a lack of stability in the back line may have been the root cause of many of Latics’ problems on the pitch, but the bigger one has been playing ‘proper football’. We need to start playing from the back and this line up seems to be the best way of doing that.
The selection of Scharner in defence causes problems in midfield. It’s easy to say it now, but Haestad should never have been allowed to leave. Mistake against Chelsea aside, he looked a decent player and at least would have offered more energy than what seems to be the only pairing left in the middle of the park.
Whatever Skoko and Landzaat offer, it doesn’t include pace and there’s a need to surround them with players who can offer a bit more of that. Firstly, that means a return from the wilderness for Cotterill. Whatever the reason for his disappearance, it’s time to realise that his pace and direct running can cause problems, he’s also a player that is likely to be at the club no matter what next season, give him the job of proving he’d like that to be in the Premiership.
The other flank is more problematic. McCulloch lacks the quality to create and as much as Kilbane should be a better option, he keeps proving not. Without a left footer to take the slot, I’d plump for Valencia.
His ban is up and despite the feeling that his indiscretion against Villa should rule him out for the rest of the season, now is not a time to be choosy. Of course playing a right sided player on the left is not ideal, but Valencia should be in a better position to play there.
He has proved this season that he is not a get to the by-line and cross it type winger. Instead he prefers cute play with central players and getting in and around the box. To that end it should matter less which side he plays from.
Up front there is a single choice. Whether Henri is not fit or not bothered, if has not been effective in recent weeks. Unless Jewell has clear evidence that his form is about to change then he should start this game from the bench. There is only one realistic option to replace him. Folan may be a willing worker, but he has more potential than ability, McCulloch didn’t have the make up to be a division two striker, let alone to play there at this level.
The counter argument will be that Aghahowa is unproven at this level, but take a look back at the game at the Emirates and it is clear that he’s a threat. His pace matches that of Camara even if he doesn’t score he looks likely to ask questions of a defence.
Now it’s easy to sit behind a computer screen and play manager and much harder to take the gamble and run the risk of failure, but the time has come to go all in. There may be a million reasons why any one of these suggested changes should not be made, and a million more why Jewell believes that Unsworth, Kilbane and McCulloch are the men to pull Jewell out of this plight. Frankly I suspect the fans don’t care.
If Latics are to in down then we’d rather see them do it with a bit of pride. That can’t be achieved with aimless long balls and the odd bit of huff and puff. If pride does come before our fall then that has to be in the style as much as the substance.
Latics’ fans want to see football, they want to see passes and they want to see chances. Providing that for the last two games of the season will in a long way to exorcising the ghosts that have haunted us this term.
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