Cleverley does it as Santo comes to town.

Di Santo Joins WiganAfter several weeks of rumours, trials and training ground bust-ups, the 2010-2011 summer transfer window has drawn to a close. So now that the silly season is over, where exactly are we as a squad, and have we actually strengthened our team?

Out: Stojkovic & Kingson
Kingson performed well when asked to take up position between the sticks, but his lack of height really meant he would never be number one choice, even a spectacular World Cup perfomance wasn’t enough to convince Martinez. Stojkovic on the other hand just struggled at this level. His shot stopping was okay, but his catching was abysmal.

In: Al Habsi (loan from Bolton)
What a cracker we have here. After just a couple of games in the nets, fans have been calling for Roberto and co to sign him up permanently. Whilst this has not happened yet, it would seem Ali is happy to be part of the Latics family and has been vital to our progression in the Carling Cup and our win at Spurs. I just hope we don’t improve his game and fail to capture his signiture on a longterm basis.

Conclusion – Strengthened.
No doubt about it. The only way this could improve is if we sign Al Habsi on a permanent deal and make him the official number 1. Sorry Kirky, but the back problems have caught up with you.

Out: Mario Melchiot
It was with a heavy heart that we waved off our trusty cap’n. Sure he was slowing down a bit but had experience in bucket loads and played every game with passion.

Out: Titus Bramble
Anyone but bloody Sunderland! I was rather gutted to see Bramble head off after several successful seasons at Wigan. Sure he had his bad games, but Wigan fans knew just how good he was when on form. With Mario gone and rumours of increasing interest in Figueroa, this didn’t look good.

In: Ronny Stam
It was once thought that Stam would never make it as a pro due to his small height, despite praise from best friend and fellow country man, Van Persie. Having just won the Dutch league with FC Twente, he came to Wigan with a lot of expectations placed upon him and he has certainly impressed in his first few days, particularly when playing in the unfamiliar position of right wing.

In: Steve Caldwell
Brought in for his character and wealth of experience, the ex-Burnley man will be an interesting addition to the squad. Personally, I see him as more of a fringe player and someone who can pass on their knowledge (and hopefully tighten defence) rather than a first teamer, but time will tell. Burnely fans seem happy to have released him, but I’m happy for an extra body in defence.

In: Antolin Alcaraz & Steve Gohouri
Okay, we had Gohouri last season so we kind of knew what to expect from big Steve, but getting him on a permanent deal was key for us. Alcaraz’ signiture before the World Cup  left Martinez grinning from ear to ear, even more so after his headed goal against Italy. He comes with experience at the top level but is new to the Premier League and no doubt it will take time for him to settle.

Conclusion – Strengthened.
Alcaraz has had a mixed first few games. Sometimes his marking has been pretty poor, but on the other hand, he is new to the Premier League and has already nearly scored against Tottenham not to mention completely marking out Crouch and Defoe. Good at the moment, but will certainly get better.

Melchiot was great in his hey day but lacked pace last season, however new RB Stam seems to have all the qualities required to fit into Martinez’ attacking minded back four system.

Out: Jason Koumas
So much promise, so little performance. Currently running out his contract with Cardiff.

Out: Olivier Kapo
Bruce felt Kapo could add some flair and agression to the squad. In reality there was very little to shout about. Never really settled in and constantly talked to the press about how in demand he was.

Out: Paul Scharner
Defender come Midfielder, the madcap Austrian was a Latics legend despite never really being that spectacular. He ran out his contract at the end of last season and left on a free to join West Brom.

In: James McCarthur
Joining fellow ex-Accy McCarthy, this youngster is one for the future. He has only played bit parts so far but seems destined for greatness if Hamilton fans comments are anything to go by. It will take some work to break into the first team, but a bit of work and passion is exactly what we need.

In: Tom Cleverley (loan from Manchester Utd)
Like them or loathe them, when you see Manchester Utd on the CV, you’ve got to take notice. The youngster will be fighting alongside a whole host of other young talent to get into the Wigan midfield, but with 11 goals in 33 appearances for Watford last season, and winning the ‘Reserve Player of the Year’ award for Manchester Utd, he has as good a chance as any.

Conclusion – Strengthened.
Getting Koumas and Kapo off the wage bill was a priority, we didn’t really need replacements as they barely stepped foot on field anyway, but Roberto is clearly trying to build a youthful team for the future.

Out: Jason Scotland
The big fella came with one hell of a goals to games ratio but never really matched his Championship record whilst at the club. Moved on to Roy Keane’s Ipswich and scored on his debut!

Out: Tomasz Kupisz & Tomasz Cywka
Never really broke into the first team squad, but Cywka seems to be developing well at Derby.

In: Mauro Boselli
32 goals, 57 games. The hugely impressive Argentinian could be just what Wigan have lacked since the Roberts / Heskey / Camara era…an out and out goalscorer. Nothing fancy, just someone who knows how to put the ball into the back of the net. At £6m he hasn’t come cheap, and whilst his fitness levels are still relatively low, he impressed in the pre-seaon friendlies with two goals on his debut and three more in the remainding games.

In: Franco Di Santo
The 21 year old Chelsea forward spent last season on loan with Blackburn. After a poor term, the loan was not extended – either he wasn’t quite ready for the pace and strength required in the Premier League, or his style did not suit the hoofball tactics of big Sam Allerdyce. Di Santo joined Wigan with two minutes left before the transfer window closed.

Conclusion – Strengthened.
One forward is young and ambitious with some experience at this level, the other comes with high expectations. In the absolute worst case scenario, neither perform to their potential and we are basically in the same position as last season with Scotland.

Strengths & Weaknesses
We are building a team for the future with plenty of youth players on the books, but will this lack of Premier League experience and leadership qualities hamper our progression? We have some excellent potential talent, but do we have enough quality cover when needs be?

Most of us would have had a left back on our wishlists to create some competition for Figueroa, but this has not materialised. Their are rumours that we will sign a Mexican free agent in the next few weeks, but if needs be, Boyce, Gohouri, Alcaraz, Stam, hell, even N’Zogbia could fstep in as emergency cover. Not ideal, so let’s keep our fingers crossed on some real competition for this place.

But let’s look at the bigger picture here. If at the start of the season you were told that you won’t be signing Tuncay or a left back, but you will keep hold of Rodallega, N’Zogbia, Diame and Figueroa, would you be happy? I know I would be. Our key players are still here. Maybe some will leave in January, but for now, they are still here and that is a real achievement for our club. It is time to forget what has happened in the past, what might happen in the future and get behind our team.

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1-0 to the empty seats!

Me and Boycey at White Heart Lane, Aug 2010

2:45, Friday 27th August. After a particularly stressful few weeks and having read many people’s negativity towards all of the recent behind the scenes activity at DW Towers, the missus and I decided to ring our pals at the WAFC ticket office and sort ourselves entry to White Heart Lane.

Fast forward 24 hours and we have arrived (grabbing the obligatory ‘pick and mix’ on the way of course). We pick a seat towards the back end of the 134 other fans, like naughty school kids in a classroom, with the lively latics supporters.

After a ten minute spell of Wigan on the constant attack with Latics cult hero, Emmerson Boyce playing right back and linking up wonderfully with new boy Ronny Stam playing out on the right wing, we grab three corners in quick succession and hit the bar from a powerful volley by big Steve Gouhuri.

Harry shouts over at his players and Spurs calm it down, eventually taking control of the game. Both teams are well balanced despite the absence of wantaway Chales N’Zogbia, but a fantastic set up for Defoe and some poor marking leaves a clear shot on goal, but recently appointed no.1 keeper Ali Al Habsi palms a shot out for a corner to chants of ‘Ali…Ali…Ali!’

Panic sets in. “Why the hell do we have no-one on the posts? And how much space has Crouch got?!” I scream at the mrs. Bale whips the corner in and we clear with confidence. The game started to open up with posession evening out and some great decision making from Al Habsi, the fans are chanting his name and commenting about how confident he looks between the sticks, plucking the ball from oncoming striker’s heads on numerous occassions.

The whistle blows and the players go off to chants of ‘You are my sunshine’, ‘Wigan ’til I die’ and ’10-9, we’re gonna win 10-9′. Sammie grabs a hotdog but I’m just too nervous to eat…even the fizzy cola bottles hadn’t been touched.

The second half starts and the fans get straight back into it. It’s another even looking half with chances going each way. With Boselli coming towards us, it is easy to see he is off pace. He’s carrying a strapped up knee and isn’t making any runs or real attempts at aerial challenges. It’s not the he isn’t trying, he just doesn’t look fit enough yet.

Diame, Thomas and McCarthy look solid in midfield. Time after time, each make stunning tackles to retrieve the ball, and more importantly, all cover each other without bunching too tightly.

With ten minutes to go, throats aching from all the cheering, a long ball comes in to the wing, it’s rocketed over to Alcaraz on the far post, Cudicini has missed it, and with one foul swoop at the ball, practically standard on the line, Alcaraz hit’s it over. Faces are in hands, but we all cheer him on.

Suddenly, Spurs look all out of sorts. Pavlyuchenko and Kracjar came on at half time and neither have really seen the ball. Gomez has been brought on for Bosselli and Roddallega has taken up the loan striker position. Another long ball and Hugo is through. Gomez runs into the box and receives the ball at an awkward height, he attempts a volley and get’s it slightly wrong, hitting it over. The fans applaud the effort and even though chances are coming, I can’t help but notice a twinge in my stomach, the kind of twinge you get when you think something pretty crappy is about to happen.

Diame is playing a blinder, a ball comes through to Roddallega on the left. He cuts in once, twice, gets into the box amidst screams of ‘shoot!’ He takes a pop, straight past Cudicini and hits the back of the net. 1-0, Wigan! “HUUUUGOOOO! HUUUUGOOO!” chant the fans, a conga line starts and we basically ‘all have a disco’.

With minutes to play the ball is at the other end, Spurs blast a shot that looks to be heading into the roof of the net, but stunning Al Habsi makes a fingertip save for another corner.

Bale sends another curler into the box and Wigan clear their lines, Roddallega ends up with the ball and takes it into the corner, right below the Wigan fans. ‘Surely time must be up?’ we all thought. Roddallega and Gomez cleverly force 4 corners to waste time, until the ball is lost and sent into our own half to the on-rushing Spurs strikers.

“The fourth official has indicated a minimum of 5 added minutes”

“How many? How the hell? There have bearly been any fouls!”

Those were possibly the longest five minutes I have ever had. The final whistle blows and the Wigan fans jump for joy. Within the last two hours we had destroyed the memory of the last visit to ‘The Lane’. All of the players applaud the fans and Hugo Roddallega, Emmerson Boyce and Ali Al Habsi come over to thank the supporters, waving as they leave the pitch.

We leave the ground and wait outside the front to wave our boys off after a wonderful performance. Diame comes over, signs a few shirts and has his photo taken. The rain starts, huds are up and the coach is heading towards us. As it passes, Martinez and Jones wave to Sammie and I, the last standing Wigan fans. Now, I’ll be honest, I was feeling rather happy and sent a few air kisses in Roberto’s direction, but I’m glad to report he laughed, grabbed an air kiss and punched the air with delight at the result…or my attention…

The coach drives off with all of the players waving at us. Job done.

An excellent game, much improved from the recent performances and actually looking like a team. The link up play between Boyce and Stam was amazing. It is great to see a winger who will chase back to tackle, but can’t half send a cross ball. The centre of the park played incredibly well, held their lines and looked after one another. Defensively, credit where credit is due, we were bang on.

Man of the match though quite simply has to be Ali Al Habsi. Save after save, shouting at the defence, keeping our heads up, he was truly brilliant. But the fan’s certainly let Martines know what we thought of him with the contstant chants of “Bobby, sign him up, Bobby, Bobby sign him up!”

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