Wigan Athletic continued their run of pre-season victories with a win over Atromitos at Leigh Sports Village. The Athens-based team, also competing in Europe, promised to give Wigan a stern test and so it was to prove. Despite standing on a 2-0 lead at half time, Wigan must have been glad to hear the final whistle as the Greek team continued to press in the second half.
Wigan started the game with a patched-up defence, with midfield players Chris McCann and Jean Beausejour playing at left centre back and left full back. Adam Buxton started at right back, with James Perch in the middle. There was a packed midfield with Ben Watson anchored in front of the back four with Fraser Fyvie, Roger Espinoza and Jordi Gomez further forward. Callum McManaman and Marc-Antoine Fortune provided the threat upfront.
In an open and entertaining first half Wigan had their excellent young goalkeeper, Lee Nicholls, to thank for maintaining a clean sheet. Wigan had opened the scoring with a Gomez penalty after 6 minutes, after Fortune had been fouled. The big centre forward was to make it two in the 34th minute , when he turned and hit a rocket left foot shot into the right hand corner of the net. The Greeks had their fair share of chances, but Nicholls’ positioning and agility was to deny them.
Atromitos made a raft of changes at half time and the fresh legs of their substitutes challenged a Wigan side that had begun to look lethargic after that bright first half. The Greek team’s approach in the second half was over-physical for a friendly game, with McCarthy being the main recipient. Three yellow cards were handed out as a result, although more serious consequences would surely have resulted had this been a match with more at stake.
Owen Coyle had tried to bring back some spark to Wigan by bringing on James McCarthy, James McArthur and Stephen Crainey after 54 minutes, but the midfield continued to be dominated by the Greek team. Bringing on two new front players – Nouha Dicko and Grant Holt – after 60 minutes also failed to wrest the initiative from Atromitos.
Given their constant pressing, it was no surprise when Karamanous scored a well taken goal for Atromitos after 76 minutes.
In the end a tired Wigan held on to seal a 2-1 win.
Marc-Antoine Fortune is clearly enjoying playing in the lone centre forward role at Wigan. It suits him much more than the supporting striker role he has had to play at previous clubs. He is strong and has good technique, which he demonstrated through the 54 minutes he was on the pitch. Fortune is not a striker who has a good goalscoring record throughout his career, but he has scored in each of the last three games for Latics. Moreover each goal he has scored has been well taken.
It was revealing to see Lee Nicholls get the nod once more ahead of Scott Carson and Mike Pollitt in goal. Nicholls is a very accomplished young keeper and has a bright future ahead. With Ali Al Habsi due to return in the near future, Wigan will have a surfeit of goalkeepers. There remains the possibility of Nicholls once again being sent off on loan, but the departure of Al Habsi would not be a surprise.
In the absence of experienced defenders, James Perch once more stepped up to the plate and delivered. He has been an ever-present in the starting lineup and looks like he is going to be a real force in the centre of the defence this season.
The starting lineup revealed the need for experienced, specialist defenders. Coyle might be able to get away with playing midfield players in defensive positions in friendly games but they are likely to get found out in the harsh reality of the Championship division.
This is surely something that Coyle is working on.