Do not rub your eyes, do not restart your phones or laptops, do not pinch yourselves – Wigan Athletic have made two signings in 1 week!
It’s another attacker too as we welcome Centre Forward Ashley Fletcher to the club an a season long loan from Watford. The 26 year old arrives at the DW looking to revitalise his career after a couple of seasons of mediocre performances and has credited Leam Richardson for convincing him to join the club.
Rumours suggested he was off to fellow promoted side Rotherham United but has made the last minute switch to join Latics. The former Manchester United youth prospect brings Championship experience to the side but not many goals, an area of his game that will need to improve this season.
What does he bring to the side?
Ashley Fletcher is a 6’1 striker who possesses good amounts of pace and strength, without being what you’d call ‘rapid’ or ‘powerful’. He’s similar in build to Josh Magennis but is more mobile and probably more suited to being a Championship Target Man than the Northern Irishman. Fletcher can play out wide but I doubt that’s why we’re signing him, to me he’s got to be used through the middle if we’re going to get the best out of him.
He’s not played in the Championship since 2021, a season in which he played just 550 minutes and scored twice. His move to Watford saw him feature very briefly in the Premier League before making a loan move to the MLS where he made 7 appearance for New York Red Bulls without finding the net. He’s not been in good form for several years now so there’s no denying this is a risk.
In our system the striker is tasked with winning aerial duels, holding the ball up and bringing our other forwards into play, so lets take a look at Fletcher’s statistics from his last Championship season.
Fletcher’s aerial duels won % of 24.64% is worryingly low for someone that is coming in as a Target Man in our system. A criticism of Josh Magennis from Latics fans is the fact he doesn’t win enough in the air, so the fact he wins nearly twice as much as Fletcher in the air doesn’t fill me with much confidence.
Fletcher’s pass accuracy isn’t great either and that’s something we really need to be bang on. Retaining possession high up the pitch is only possible when your vocal point is good with the ball at his feet so hopefully Fletcher’s stats improve for us.
He does make a decent amount of smart and key passes per 90 so his vision is clearly pretty good. He’s no worse than Magennis in possession but I also wouldn’t call him a vast improvement.
In front of goal I’d be more confident in Fletcher than I am with Magennis at the moment. The 26 year old has a really good ‘flicked header’ on him and uses clever attacking movement to get in front of his marker at the near post before glancing the ball across goal. His composure in front of goal could do with some work but that’s not to say he’s erratic, his 1 on 1 finishing is impressive.
I think working alongside James Beattie will do him some good. Fletcher seems like the kind of player that needs to be filled with confidence before stepping onto the pitch and under Leam Richardson, James Beattie and Rob Kelly I’m hopeful that they’ll get the best out of him. He brings experience, physicality and decent finishing ability to the side but has work to do with his hold up play.
Where might he play?
As I’ve touched on already I can’t see Fletcher arriving at Latics as anything other than a Number 9. I’d like to think we’ve got enough in wide areas to allow us to utilise our newest recruit in his preferred position which is as a centre forward.
This career heat map shows that on the whole Fletcher is used in central areas but has been put in wide areas at times too. Personally I don’t think he has the pace or creativity to play out wide but would definitely work well as a striker in our system.
His hold up play does need work – there can be no complaints at that comment – but as another option up top I’m happy with the addition. He’s spent the majority of his career (9012 mins out of 11408 mins) as a striker and if we’re going to get the best out of him it’ll be by playing him there.
When you think about the way we ask our strikers to play it sounds as though it’s made for someone like Fletcher. We need aerial ability, technical efficiency and finishing proficiency and you’d say the 26 year old ticks all of those boxes on paper. It’s now time for him to prove to himself and the rest of the footballing world that he’s the top quality player he was expected to be 6 or 7 years ago.
I hope I haven’t come across as completely negative in this article because I do think this could be a really smart bit of business for Latics. This coaching group has a history of revitalising a players career, just look at Will Keane, and I’m really hopeful that Fletcher could take a similar path to his fellow former United youth player.
I have to be honest and say I don’t think it’s a season changing signing but of course I’d love to be proven wrong. I just think there are 1 or 2 holes in his game that will see him struggle at times and with several other strikers at the club you’d imagine he’ll have to impress quicly if he’s going to get a proper run of games in the first team.
A season long loan works well for everyone and assuming we’re not paying the majority of his reported £15,000 a week contract I think it does make sense. Fletcher’s arrival does make me think that another striker is on their way out though, I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Welcome to Latics Ashley Fletcher, I’m looking forward to seeing him rediscover his form for Latics!