How the Championship hasn't seen the best of ex-Portsmouth pair Jamal Lowe and Matt Clarke following Wigan and Derby moves
Having been booed after entering as a substitute in his previous outing, Kal Naismith found himself back in Wigan’s side.
Still, needs must, particularly when afflicted by first-team absences – so the Scot served at centre-half against West Brom.
The Wednesday night outcome was a highly credible 1-1 draw, sufficient to aid Paul Cook in his ongoing battle to remain in the job amid escalating pressure.
Although there remain issues elsewhere in the Latics side, namely their costly summer recruit – Jamal Lowe.
The former Pompey man fulfilled the 90 minutes, completing his 22nd match in all competitions for the Championship side.
Worryingly for Wigan, he has returned just the single goal during that time, despite Cook’s unflinching faith in his attacker’s talents.
Lowe has featured in all their 21 league matches this season, primarily in the number 10 role which eluded him at Fratton Park.
His attacking contribution has also been negligible in terms of assists, yet admirably retains his manager’s backing.
Similarly, former Pompey team-mate Matt Clarke has also endured a frustrating introduction to the Championship at loan club Derby.
Presently sidelined for the last four weeks through a knee injury, his campaign has been described as ‘stop-start’, nonetheless there have been 14 appearances.
In the meantime, over at the DW Stadium, supporters are waiting for the once-coveted Lowe to ignite.
‘Jamal has not quite got going. He has flitted around, put the effort in, but it has not quite happened in front of goal,’ said Wigan Observer sports reporter Paul Kendrick.
‘Probably only a couple of other players have played more than him, he has consistently been on the team sheet. Whether it’s a case of finding his feet at his level or adapting to a new team which is struggling to score goals at the moment.
‘He has mostly played in that number 10 role. Jamal has switched to either flank on occasions, but predominantly operating behind the centre-forward.
‘After arriving, he wasn’t eased in gently, it was straight in from the start. Some senior players behind him have been edged out, so I don’t think Cook could have shown any more faith or given him more encouragement.
‘There are mitigating factors, of course, it’s obviously going to be a step up for him, while he has moved his life up here from the south coast.
‘As Cook has also said with Kieffer Moore, it’s going to happen, he will come good, his quality is not in doubt, he’s finding his feet, he’s getting better every game.
‘However, he needs something to happen for him to kick on, we’re almost waiting for him to catch fire.
‘The fans have been supportive, they’ve probably expected a little bit more in terms of output goals-wise, but aren’t getting on his back. Yet they are thinking “When is it going to happen?”.
‘Cookie was desperate for him this summer, a top target, he went totally out for him and has his full support. Most fans are thinking if Cook wants Jamal that badly there must be some substance to him.
‘We are just waiting for that. As a forward player, he needs to score a few more and display more creativity.’
At Derby, Clarke had been enjoying a six-match spell in Philip Cocu’s starting XI.
Then he sustained a first-half knee injury in a 1-0 Championship victory at Nottingham Forest on November 9.
By all accounts, the 23-year-old is ahead of schedule for his return, with boss Cocu refusing to rule out availability before the end of the year.
Following the departure of Richard Keogh, sacked for his involvement as a passenger in a car crash during a team bonding night, Clarke is competing with Curtis Davies and Craig Forsyth for two centre-half spots.
Before his injury, the former Pompey favourite amassed 12 Championship starts and one substitute appearance.
Derby Telegraph’s chief football writer, Steve Nicholson, has sympathy for Clarke during a fitful season following his loan arrival from Brighton.
He added: ‘Matt is out injured at the moment, which sums up his season so far, very stop-start.
‘He had a very good debut at Huddersfield on TV, although a lot of players have good debuts, very few have shockers, it doesn't happen often.
‘Anyhow, he looked comfortable and played in the opening four Championship games, doing really well.
‘Although in that run there was a game at Stoke where he started in a back four, with it switching to a back three at half-time, then he didn’t look comfortable.
‘Following defeat in the next match against Bristol City, he was left out of the league side and that, for me, seemed to knock his confidence.
‘Now I don’t know whether that view is right or wrong, only he will be able to say, but when he came back for a couple of games he didn’t look how he did before.
‘There was a period through October and November where he started six-successive games and was looking himself again, Phillip Cocu was also pleased, he was beginning to settle, then unfortunately picked up a knee injury.
‘It has been stop-start for Clarke, yet that also reflects Derby’s season, so patchy, up and down, they’ve not had back-to back wins, nor back-to-back defeats.
‘Many players’ form is also patchy, put that together and that is why we are seeing them where they are at the moment – 16th.
‘I suppose we forget how young Matt is and this level is new to him. A new club, feeling his way in a new division, in and out of the team before getting injured, that’s a lot going on for him in the first half of the season.
‘I feel a bit sorry for him because it is stop-start. Having arrived at a new club, you just want to show what you can do.
‘The fans certainly liked what they saw from Matt very early on – and there were signs again before his injury.’
As for Naismith, he was involved in West Brom’s equaliser on Wednesday night.
Delivering a back pass from some 30 yards, he didn’t anticipate keeper Jamie Jones failing to pay attention and opting to pick it up.
The subsequent indirect free-kick was touched to Charlie Austin to hammer home and make it 1-1.
Currently second from bottom of the Championship, how Wigan – and Cook – need Lowe to fire soon.