Wigan Athletic Sensible Transfers – Centre Back Part 2

First things first if you haven’t checked out the first article on Centre Back targets for Latics please have a read of that before coming back to this one. Click the link here to take you there, thanks a lot.

Right now that’s all sorted lets crack on with the second instalment of my Centre Back sensible transfers. The 5 players in this list are right footed players that could do just a good a job on the left side of defence, which as I’ve mentioned before really needs sorting this summer.

Jason Kerr could swap sides but is definitely more suited to playing on the right as he has done for pretty much all of his career. Jack Watmough is just as comfortable using his left foot as he is his right but I couldn’t see him moving out of the middle of our back 3. If we played a 4 at the back I could absolutely see him playing on the left of it which is very handy.

With that in mind this list is going to look at players that would be comfortable in any of our Centre Back positions next season. They’re all options that I believe would improve the depth of our back line be it the left, right or central side of it and should all be available should Latics be interested.

Similar to the other CB article I’ll be comparing the players’ stats with Kell Watts as he played the second highest number of games for Latics last season and is the player we’re having to replace.

Target 1 – Ross Sykes. Accrington Stanley

Accrington Stanley starlet Ross Sykes has enjoyed a wonderful season at the WHAM Stadium and looks ready to make the step up to Championship. The 22 year old has been Stanley’s stand out performer this campaign and I’d be surprised if they manage to keep him around for much longer.

Sykes has played on the right of a back 3 all year so would be more than ready to slot into Latics’ current system, and his physical attributes would make him capable of playing in a back 4 too.

At 6’6 he’s a huge presence and won an average of 6.5 aerial duels per 90 last season which puts him in the top 5% of players in League 1. It also makes him a real threat in the attacking third and Accrington really made use of this from set piece situations in particular. Sykes took 1.62 shots per 90 which is extremely high for a central defender, and if he can improve his finishing ability he’d score plenty more goals than he has in his short career.

Most importantly though he’s been one of the best defenders in the league and has put up some incredible numbers for John Coleman’s side. With 0.99 tackles won per 90 at a success rate of 66% he’s well suited to playing as a wide centre back and is comfortable in 1 v 1 defensive duels.

His height and long limbs make him a difficult player to dribble around too and probably helps bump his numbers up even further. With 0.47 blocks, 2.3 interceptions and 4.23 clearances per 90 he finds himself in the top bracket of EFL defenders for all 3 metrics and given his age you’d expect him to only get better too.

That’s the most exciting thing about someone like Ross Sykes, his performances are already really impressive and there’s still more to come from him. There are still weak areas of his game though but they are things that should improve alongside better players and in a different system.

He’s also slightly rash and picked up 12 yellow cards and 2 reds last season. This is a habit he needs to get rid of but as he matures as a player and person you’d expect him to be a bit more clever when it comes to this type of thing. Accrington play in a way that can leave their defenders exposed so his poor disciplinary record might be slightly skewed by the awkward positions their system leaves him in.

Accrington recently activated a clause in the 22 year olds contract that keeps him at the club until 2023 but you’d have to assume they’ll be open to offers. A 6 figure fee should do the deal and if Latics are looking for a young defender that offers good depth and room for development Sykes could be their man.

Target 2 – Luke McNally. Oxford United.

Another talented 22 year old that’s making a name for himself in League 1 is Oxford United’s Luke McNally. The Irishman has been in wonderful form all season and was unlucky not to reach the play offs with Karl Robinson’s side.

Despite signing for The U’s from St Patrick’s Athletic in January 2021 the defender has had to wait his turn to break into the side but when the opportunity came around this season he’s taken it with both hands.

He’s what many would describe as a ‘modern centre back’ in terms of his composure in possession and willingness to step out of defence and either carry the ball himself or find a line breaking pass forward. The way Oxford United play really suits this type of defender and its brought the best out of McNally this season.

He had a pass completion of 72% last season and averaged 0.25 key passes per 90 which is pretty decent, especially considering most of Oxford’s playmaking responsibilities fall on their midfield players. The most important thing with McNally is he shows composure whenever he’s in possession and whilst that can very occasionally be risky its impressive for a player of 22.

Oxford have used a couple of formations this season and just like Latics there’s been a mixture of 4 and 5 at the back systems. This has allowed McNally to learn both roles that he’d need to know should he join us, and from what I can tell he plays in a really similar way to how Jason Kerr does when on the right of the back 3.

Defensively he looks a really solid player too. With 1.23 tackles won per 90 he’s in the top 5 for Centre Backs in League 1 so just like Sykes he’s more than capable in 1v1 situations that CBs can often find themselves in, especially in a back 3. A success rate of 55% isn’t anything to shout about but he still comes out on top more often than not.

He also averaged 0.35 blocks, 1.83 interceptions and 5.88 clearances per 90 so there’s no doubt he’s a wonderful defender. At 6’4 he’s also a dominant figure in both boxes which as I’ve mentioned with Sykes could be hugely important in a Latics side that uses set pieces very well.

It might be a difficult signing to pull off permanently but I wouldn’t call it impossible. My thinking with this one however is that if McNally joins a Premier League club (which has been heavily suggested recently) they might look to loan him to the Championship for a season to test him at a higher level. That’s where I think we could have a chance of getting him and we’d definitely be sensible to try and get a deal done.

Target 3 – Jack Tucker. Gillingham.

Believe it or not its another 22 year old and another player that spent the 2021/22 season playing in League 1, I’m talking about Gillingham’s academy graduate Jack Tucker.

Despite the Gills relegation to League 2 Tucker performed pretty well in large parts of the season and certainly deserves the chance to play in a better side, and in particular a side that allows him to show the ball skills he possesses.

As is often the case with relegation threatened sides they revert to an old school style of play, much more direct football with little encouragement given to defenders when it comes to playing out from the back. This has left Tucker’s passing stats looking pretty average but when given the chance to play he does so really well.

Another thing he does well is defending and he had a lot of it to do last season as you’d imagine! He won 0.86 tackles per 90 at a success rate of 57%, as well as registering an average of 0.25, 1.89 interceptions and 4.02 clearances all per 90. These are solid numbers and the best in the Gillingham side by some way.

Another important thing to note about Tucker his the experience he’s acquired already in his career despite only being 22 years old. He’s made over 100 appearances for the Gills and seems like he’s a respected figure at the club where he plays alongside some far more experienced pros. We often look for experienced players in their late 20s, but Tucker is an experienced pro despite his youthfulness.

Another tick next to Tucker’s name is the fact that he’s played on the left side of defence as well as his favoured right side this season. I also think he’d do a really good job in the middle of a back 3 and I can see some similarities between him and Jack Watmough. This versatility is a really useful trait, particularly for a defender that might not come in as a first choice player as it means he has a better chance of breaking into the side.

He’s turned down a new contract at Priestfield Stadium which means he’s a free agent this summer and as you’d imagine there are plenty of clubs already rumoured to be interested. MK Dons, Portsmouth and Sheffield Wednesday have been suggested but with all 3 of them playing in the third tier next season you’d imagine he’d favour a move to Latics if we offered him a deal.

Picking up a player like Jack Tucker on a free transfer is exactly the type of deal I’d like to see us focus on this summer. He’s played plenty of first team football in his short career, has a lot of sell on value and most importantly is a really good player too. As a 4th choice Centre Back I think signing Jack Tucker would make a lot of sense for Latics.

Target 4 – Cedric Kipre. West Brom.

A man who needs no introduction, my 4th target is former Latics defender Cedric Kipre. He’s never really had a run of games since joining West Brom in 2020 but the talent is definitely still there for the 25 year old.

Having been part of a Latics side that kept 10 clean sheets in 11 matches back in the infamous 19/20 season he moved to the Hawthorns when we fell into administration, but now feels like the perfect time to bring him back.

As I said he’s been out of favour pretty much ever since he arrived at the club and has only played 13.5 90s this season, much less than the rest of the players on this list. I assure you that this isn’t down to a sudden downturn in form nor is it down to a lack of drive or commitment from Kipre, Albion just have a wealth of CBs that don’t get injured!

When called upon he’s performed pretty well and his per 90 stats are decent. His 1.19 tackles won per 90 is fantastic and puts him in the top 10% for Championship Centre Backs, as is does his 1.85 interceptions per 90. Kipre’s 2.29 clearances and 0.07 blocks per 90 aren’t stand out by any means but still show what an accomplished player he is.

Latics fans will remember that he possesses an impressive range of passes and that hasn’t changed in his time away. He completed 73% of his passes for Albion last season and considering the fact they’re a side that looks to go direct more often than not that’s a really impressive return.

Something I mentioned in the other Centre Back article is the regularity and effectiveness of Latics’ use of diagonal balls or mid/long range passes into our forwards. Kell Watts did these really well and Kipre is capable of doing the same, as well as having the ability to play out from the back when needed too. In my opinion he’s one of the most comfortable defenders on the ball I’ve seen in a Latics shirt.

Another important thing to note is that he can play on the left side of a Centre Back duo/trio and did so for the majority of his time at the DW. He’s predominantly right footed but isn’t against using his left and could definitely do a job in the position left absent by Kell Watts’ return to Newcastle.

We probably would have a good chance of getting Cedric Kipre back on a permanent or temporary basis given the lack of first team football he’s getting in the West Midlands. Steve Bruce seems to prefer other players and I can’t see him being against letting Kipre go, and I’d love him back. He still engages with the club on social media regularly and I really think he’d welcome a return to the club.

Target 5 – Jamie Hamilton. Hamilton.

My 10th and final transfer target for Latics’ vacant Centre Back spot is Hamilton Academical’s Scotland youth international Jamie Hamilton. He’s been quietly going about his business north of the border for a few seasons now and I’d love to see him join Latics.

He’s leaving his boyhood club at the end of his current contract and I expect plenty of interest in his services. He’s a versatile defender but his best position is as a wide centre back in a back 3 and that’s exactly what we need.

The 20 year old has 2 years of Scottish Premiership experience as well as the full season of Scottish Championship football he’s played this season following Hamilton’s relegation. This has meant he’s had to grow up fast in a professional football environment and should hopefully mean he wouldn’t find the transition to English football too big a challenge.

In the Scottish Championship last season he played 24.5 90s in a mixture of positions, occasionally as a right back but more often than not on the left or right of a back 3. As you’ll have seen with the previous players those that play wide of a back 3 are often tasked with lots of tackles to make and Hamilton won 0.89 tackles per 90 at a success rate of 54%. Nothing special but not bad for a young defender.

He also made 0.2 blocks, 1.43 interceptions and 2.49 clearances per 90 in a mid table side which are all numbers that put him in the top 25% for CBs in the league. It’s difficult to say how those numbers will translate to the higher level football in England’s Championship but they do suggest Hamilton is a talented young defender in the making.

Like many young defenders his decision making can be a bit off and at times he can find himself in no mans land when defending. This often results in him being beaten or with him having to commit a foul to prevent the attacker getting away. He averages 1.1 fouls per 90 and was sent off once last season so that’s something we’d hope to see less of if he arrives at Latics.

We’d also probably like to see an improvement in his ball playing skills, he only completed 69% of his passes last season which is about average for the division. The thing with Hamilton is he’s still young and there’s definitely a lot of room for growth, and the signs are there that he has the potential to make it far in the game.

As I mentioned earlier he’s out of contract this summer and seems to be open to offers from new clubs. Hamilton Academical might be due to a small amount of compensation but for a player with as a high a ceiling as Hamilton the fee would be more than worth it. He wouldn’t be a first team regular to begin with but I reckon he’d offer us good depth and could develop into a real key player. For the price it would be a very sensible transfer to make.

Final Thoughts

This summer I think we need to bring in at least 2 Centre Backs, preferably 1 left footer from the first list and 1 right footer from this list. The names I’ve suggested probably wouldn’t cost too much money and given the recent rumours around our transfer targets it looks like we have a bit to spend.

Centre Back is a vital area and if we put a lot of money aside to solve our problems there it could go a long way to ensuring our league survival. Again don’t be surprised if we go a completely different route to these signings, these are simply options I believe make the most sense for the club both on and off the pitch.

Most importantly what do you think? Let me know your thoughts on which of these players you think would be the most sensible transfer, and if you have any other players you’d like us to sign let me know on my Twitter below.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and I hope you’ll be back soon!

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