Gary Caldwell has hailed the impact at Wigan Athletic of Shaun MacDonald since the Wales midfielder’s arrival from Premier League Bournemouth last month.
The 28-year-old has quickly established himself as an integral part of the engine room at the DW Stadium with a series of consistent displays, the most recent being Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Wolves.
Indeed, after this afternoon’s trip to Brentford, MacDonald will link up his international colleagues for back-to-back World Cup qualifiers against Austria and Georgia, after forcing his way back into the squad.
And Caldwell admits he couldn’t be happier with the way the Swansea-born ace has started the campaign.
“I think ‘vital’ is the word I’d use to describe Shaun,” gushed the Latics boss.
“We have a lot of good midfield players, but the majority of them are attacking players, very technical, forward-thinking, wanting to get into the box.
“For him to have that understanding of the defensive side, and be somebody who can win the ball back for us, and plug gaps that we maybe leave when we’re attacking, and make us less exposed, he’s going to be vital moving forwards.
“He also has that experience of playing at a higher level, which I think is important, and will allow him to control others around him.”
MacDonald gives Latics great balance, which allows the likes of Jordi Gomez, Max Power and Nick Powell licence to support the attack.
After struggling at both ends of the field in the opening weeks of the campaign, Caldwell feels his side may finally have cracked it.
“We got the attacking part right at the start of the season, but we didn’t get the defensive side right,” he acknowledged.
“We then sorted the defence out, but the goals dried up a little bit.
“Against Wolves, I thought we had a good balance of both, especially in the second half.
“In the first half we were a little bit exposed on the counter attack, but after the break we sorted that.
“It’s getting that balance, and getting players in the team that are aware of their defensive responsibility, and can win the ball back for us, and also having that open, expansive game that suits us. It’s something we work on every week, in terms of how we attack and how we defend.
“Brentford are a totally different proposition to what Wolves were, and we have to regroup and be fully prepared for another big challenge.”
Latics will be tested this afternoon against a Bees side that went fourth in the Championship thanks to a 4-1 midweek win over Reading.
“They are a very good football team,” added Caldwell. “They have technical players, they can all look after the ball, they pass it quickly and they rotate really well, they don’t just stick to a rigid formation.
“They also have a striker who can score goals. They’re a dangerous side.”