CONOR McAleny has been backed to have a ‘massive role’ between now and the end of the season after marking his Wigan Athletic debut with a goal in the 2-0 win at Sheffield United.
The 23-year-old only joined Latics on loan from Everton last Monday.
But he was thrown straight in at the deep end at Bramall Lane - and capped an impressive all-round display with the match-clinching second goal to add to Will Grigg’s opener from the penalty spot.
“I said when he signed that we’d got a player with real quality,” gushed Latics boss Gary Caldwell.
“He’s obviously come from a massive club in Everton, and had a few loan clubs at a higher level than this, and he showed his quality.
“He kept the ball well in tight areas, and every time he gets near the box he looks dangerous and looks like he can score a goal.
“As soon as he shifts it on to his right foot, he’s accurate with his shooting.
“But I thought his all-round game was superb - the way he drifted in off the flanks and understood our possession game.
“He’s got a massive role to play between now and the rest of the season.”
Caldwell also handed Sam Morsy his first start in the engine room, in a new 4-1-2-2-1 formation that worked a treat.
“I thought Sam did great on his first start,” recognised Caldwell.
“We changed it tactically to combat Sheffield United’s full-backs, and it worked well.
“We had two days to work on it, and considering we’d only just put it to the players I thought they did really well.
“As always we want to improve and we want to get better, and we will.”
Caldwell was also delighted with the clean sheet - Wigan’s second on the spin - that saw them become the first team to nil the Blades on their own ground this term.
“It’s something we’ve done since we last lost away from home, at Port Vale back in September,” revealed Caldwell, whose side could have won even more comfortably had Grigg not seen a second penalty attempt saved by goalkeeper George Long.
“We’ve been able to adapt and go to a back four, and be a bit tighter, and you have to do that.
“You have to respect the opposition, the grounds you’re playing in and big crowds like this, and be tight at the back first and foremost.
“That was important, and we are the first team to stop them scoring at home this season - which is a credit to the defenders and also the whole team.
“At one point I saw Yanic Wildschut running back, tracking a full-back.
“When you get that sort of commitment from everyone, that’s what gets you clean sheets.”