Opportunity knocks for out-of-favour stars
WILL this be second chance Saturday for the Wanderers players who found themselves out of the reckoning in the final weeks of Owen Coyle’s reign?
Speculation may still be rife as to who will succeed the ousted Glaswegian in the hot seat, but there is no shortage of interest in this part of the world for which direction the caretaker management team intend to take on what will be their first big test at 3pm on Saturday.
All eyes will be on the starting line-up against Bristol City and whether any of the names frozen out in recent months will come in from the cold?
Coyle was criticised in some quarters for remaining too loyal to certain players – something that won’t apply to Jimmy Phillips and Co, who need to hit the ground running if they are to stake a claim for the job full-time, or hand over a team that is upwardly mobile.
Their new lease of life under Coyle offered Wanderers a fresh look in those early days, and you can expect the same to happen again as the new men make their mark.
For some players, you could argue a first chance would be enough.
Gregg Wylde, signed in a blaze of publicity from Rangers last season only to find that paperwork prevented him from playing, has been longing for a first-team debut and scored for the development team this week against Reading.
The 21-year-old was seemingly kept out of the frame by top scorer Chris Eagles, but there is no guarantee Jimmy Phillips will stick with the narrow midfield that seemed to struggle in long spells at Millwall last time out.
Martin Petrov is in the same boat – and the Bulgarian winger is known to be keen on the continental coaching style that has been implemented at Euxton in the last week.
His below-par performance against Burnley on the opening day saw him cast out of the team under Coyle, but many feel he was denied a fair chance to make amends in the games that followed.
Marvin Sordell has been through his trials and tribulations since signing from Watford in January, but very few of them have come on the pitch.A costly Coyle signing at £3million, the England Under-21s international impressed for his country in their two-legged victory over Serbia to qualify for next summer’s European Championships, but found himself embroiled in yet more ugly scenes, where racist behaviour aimed towards players spilled over into violent scenes after the final whistle.
Sordell had reported racist language being aimed towards him and other Wanderers substitutes at The Den in the final match of Coyle’s reign, and one wonders how heavy a toll the two experiences have had on the young striker.
Benik Afobe is another striker pressing for a place in front of Kevin Davies and David Ngog, and is known to be highly rated by Phillips and Sammy Lee.
The on-loan Arsenal striker has started just one league game and could supply the pace that seems to have been lacking in recent games.
In midfield, Chung-Yong Lee has been out of the frame for the last few games but whether his midweek international excursion to Tehran, where South Korea were beaten 1-0 by Iran, again plays a part in his exclusion remains to be seen.
Darren Pratley is another who would argue he deserves a shot in a midfield that has not weighed in with enough goals from the central areas so far.
Also, it cannot have escaped Phillips’ attention that since the opening day victory over QPR in August, 2011, Wanderers have kept just three clean sheets in league football.
Much of the work at Euxton this week has been on team shape and defensive drills, so improvement will be expected, especially against a Bristol side who have won just once away from home this term.
Waiting for their chance at the back will be a fit-again Marcos Alonso, Joe Riley – another who impressed for the reserves in midweek – Tim Ream and Sam Ricketts. Even Andy Lonergan will feel he could have a claim to Adam Bogdan’s keeper slot.
But the question is, will the current back five, which has remained relatively unchanged in recent games, and certainly since the arrival of Stephen Warnock on loan from Aston Villa, get another chance?
Answers on a piece of paper to be handed in to the referee’s room by 2.20pm on Saturday.