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West Ham Utd v Wigan Athletic

Filed: Thursday, 14th August 2008
By: Preview Percy

With our normal preview correspondent currently unavailable we asked “Preview Percy” to jot a few lines about Saturday’s season-opener at the Boleyn……

So an enjoyable Euro 08 is history and all those matches that the papers like to refer to as “traditional curtain raisers” are safely out of the way and it’s time for the real thing. It’s fair to say that there is a large element of gloom, doom and despondency amongst our support at present. Following a season, in which the plus points of a 10th place finish were largely ignored as a result of the less than inspiring manner in which that result was achieved, any cause for optimism rested on getting last season’s injury absentees fit and running for the new term.

At one stage the official site was optimistic that Alan Curbishley would just about have a full squad to select from. Fate duly tempted, the injuries started to mount up. The likes of McCartney and Ferdinand have been largely absent pre-season, Etherington and Ashton were in and out of the friendly side and the luckless Dyer’s return now seems as far away as ever. Also, and possibly crucially, after a promising pre-season, Craig Bellamy’s hamstring went. Add to that a failure to make any significant additions to the squad (Behrami apart), the Ljungberg fiasco, disciplinary problems with backroom staff and the rise in ticket costs and the fans’ current lack of enthusiasm for the coming season is understandable – even if some have perhaps been guilty of reading too much into pre-season results.

So to the weekend. As with last season, selection in certain areas will largely be a matter of availability. In defence, during pre-season Davenport has been given his longest run-out in claret and blue since the promotion season, largely due to the absence of Ferdinand, Gabbidon and Collins, and he will probably line alongside Upson in the middle. Much of the starting XI will depend on whether McCartney has recovered from injury and sickness. Neill has failed to convince at left-back so far but with the “Thatcher experiment” seemingly – and thankfully – going no further, if Linda is still poorly expect to see the Aussie out left with Behrami filling in on the right. This would leave us with a midfield of Parker and Noble in the centre and Etherington and Faubert on the left and right respectively. On the other hand, if McCartney is fit Faubert is likely to start on the bench as Neill reverts to his more usual right-back spot and Behrami is pushed up to fill the right-back berth.

Up front the lack of variety is something of a worry. In this writer’s opinion Bellamy is the key player to our playing the sort of crisp and incisive football we like to see. Without that sort of player making the sort of runs that sort of player makes we are left with a strike-force of Cole and Ashton and a tendency to hit the ball long. Though playing Freddie Sears instead of Cole or Ashton would restore some balance to the forward line, the youngster is a long way from being the finished article and, unless there is a sudden change of mind on the part of the boss I expect to see Sears on the newly expanded bench this weekend.

Our opponents are currently below us in the league table by virtue of alphabetical order. Their pre-season has been fairly humdrum, the best result being a 6-0 win at Barnsley – though I did raise an eyebrow at their result at Hannover when a typo suggested that they had conceded 962 goals. The actual result was a 2-2 draw - the 96 actually being part of the German club’s full name. Their most recent run-out was a 2-0 win last weekend at Dutch side Utrecht. Pre-season? Make of it what you will.

Wigan, it is fair to say, are not a club that one would normally associate with attractive football. Last season the pitch at the (usually half-empty) JJB stadium was poor by today’s standards (though those of us old enough to remember the Boleyn of old or the Baseball Ground will allow ourselves a wry grin at the memory), and we were not the only club to leave with suspicions that the home side had done little to improve matters as teams with a passing game struggled to cope with a surface pitted with more divots than a municipal golf course.

Chris Kirkland is expected to be between the sticks for the visitors though there is an injury doubt at the time of writing. Expect Carlo Nash to step in if Kirkland’s back is still playing up. In front of the ‘keeper, the squad also has a couple of fitness problems. Austrian defender Paul Scharner, often a danger in attack from set-pieces, has been struggling with an ankle problem and has been rated as “doubtful” as I write. The likely replacement will be the much-derided Titus Bramble, of whom Latics assistant boss Eric Black recently said “he has shown without a doubt that he is a Premier League centre-back,” though the quote notably omitted to mention which country Black had in mind. Fellow defender Ryan Taylor is also a doubt. Former Chelsea defender Mario Melchiot is still about. If he plays, expect an aerial barrage from long throws. On past experience, not all of Melchiot’s throws will actually be legal and keep an eye out for the lifted back foot – the assistant referee is unlikely to. The defensive line-up has recently been bolstered by the extension of the loan of Honduras international Maynor Figuerola who impressed in his one and a half appearances for Wigan.

In midfield the visitors have recently signed Lee Clattermole from Boro’ and, eventually, Olivier Kapo from Bruce’s old club Birmingham City. The Kapo deal was delayed as a “minor problem” believed to be connected with unpaid disciplinary fines raised its head. The pick of the Wigan midfield however is probably winger AntonioValencia who spent half the summer being linked with big-money moves to the likes of Man Utd, Barcelona and Liverpool. However it seems that he is likely to stay for one more season (or at least until the January window) and if fit, selected, and on form he is likely to prove a handful as long as Wigan ensure he sees plenty of the ball.

Up front, Marlon King is out of favour and, by time you read this he is likely to have completed a deal to spend the season on loan at Hull. Having already spent part of his career at Gillingham, King seems intent on going through the book of “Crap Towns” – either that or his agent really hates him. Of those left in the squad we are most likely to see Emile Heskey featuring alongside another recent loan addition Amr Zaki. Whilst Heskey is a known, if nonetheless awkward, quantity, Zaki has eluded Premiership radar up to now and the whisper from the JJB is that they are quite excited by the signing of the Egyptian who has pitched in with a couple of pre-season goals. Also in the squad is former Irons’ loanee Henri Camera though, if the comments attributed to Bruce to the effect that he didn’t realise that Camera was actually still a Wigan player when the Senegalese striker turned up for training are to be believed, we shouldn’t expect him to play too much of a part in Saturday’s proceedings.

Of course we couldn’t let any mention of the visitors pass without reference to “Honest Dave” Whelan whose hypocritical – and, frankly, often false – comments on the Tevez affair did so much to entertain us a while ago. Given his somewhat chequered reputation in just about every area of business in which he has been involved, it seems that he may have finally grasped the meaning of the phrase “people in glass houses” and, having abandoned Sheffield United to the Championship, he has largely kept schtum in recent months. Last year he elected to stay on holiday rather than watch Wigan’s August visit to the Boleyn and it’ll be interesting to see if he has better things to do this weekend.

In last season’s corresponding match we scrambled a point at home despite dominating for large periods of the game. This was in those heady opening days of the season when the full injury crisis had yet to wreak its terrible effect on the squad and, more cruicially, the type of game we were trying to play. Although in Valencia (the player that is, not the Spanish city of the same name!) Wigan have a player who can turn a match with his inventiveness, the rest of their squad does not suggest we will be seeing a team who will come to batter us with all out pace and skill. Instead, expect to see the sort of thing we saw an awful lot of in the second tier a few years back as the visitors “set out their stall” to “silence the home crowd.” A good start is crucial to our plans for the season and, if we try to play decent football, three points should be there for the taking. My concern is that, in the absence of Bellamy, we might resort to the sort of stuff we saw far too much of last year as aimless long balls are pumped forward in the often forlorn hope that Ashton or Cole might get on the end of something. If we play that way this Saturday I fear that we will be merely playing into the hands of our opponents. Cole’s goal against Villareal was proof, however, that it doesn’t have to be that way – though it would have been more heartening had we tried such a move more than once in the remaining 44 minutes of the half.

However, the first game of the season is not the time for doom and gloom. It is the only time really when one can indulge in a spot of totally blind and unthinking optimism so I’ll plump for a 2-1 home win on this occasion despite the depressive air about the place - and I’ll throw in a win for Essex in the cricket for free!

Enjoy the match!

Last season: 1-1

Danger Man: Antonio Valencia

Keep an eye out for: Wigan fans with megaphones (yes, really!), Honest Dave Whelan

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.

Your Comments

by Tony Anderson
12:24PM 15th Aug 2008
''Well a win at 2-1 will do me! But I must take you up on the point about 'crap towns'. I am London born and bred but I now live in East Yorkshire (near Hull). Although I love my place of birth, I wouldn't live in London again if you paid me! Too much traffic, Too much crime and too many bleeding foriegners!

Bye bye Curbs and hello Bilic, or Brooking, or anyone who likes attacking football!''

by Tim Hine
03:26PM 14th Aug 2008
''I think Bellamy's injury is a real problem with Curbishley having foolishly sold Bobby Zamora. Carlton Cole does not inspire confidence and I hope AC gives Freddie Sears some good game time.

With McCartney and Dyer out injured and maybe Ferdinand too, it seems that much depends on solid performances from their stand-ins.

Looks like we should just about squeeze out a win and that is my hope and prediction. Unless Wigan's impeding tactics bring them a draw or even a win. I shudder to think... we have to get all 3 points from this game.''

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