Owen Coyle’s revolution at Wigan Athletic took a firm step forward on Saturday with a rousing win at Barnsley. Not only was the result impressive, but Latics did it in such a style that it will send shockwaves to all teams in the Championship who consider themselves promotion contenders.
In a short amount of time Coyle has built on the style of play that was developed over a period of four years by his predecessor, Roberto Martinez. That silky approach is still very visible, but this Latics side can also mix its possession football with a directness that adds an extra dimension to their play.
Latics lineup was a mixture of the old and the new, with five new signings starting. In contrast to the Martinez era only one of them was a player without links with the British Isles, that being Chilean winger Jean Beausejour.
The switch from Martinez’s tactical system based on a central defensive trio and wingbacks into a fluid 4-3-3 system has been smoothly implemented. Ben Watson played in front of the back four, giving James McArthur and James McCarthy the licence to push further forward.
Jean Beausejour – used as a wingback by Martinez – was able to play a more attacking role on the left wing, not having to worry so much losing the ball and his defence being stretched as a result. Grant Holt is going to get a lot of goals from his sublime crosses this season.
Although best employed in a creative central midfield role, in the hole behind the centre forward, Shaun Maloney can also operate wide on the right or left.
Latics latest signing, Leon Barnett, came out with flying colours after only joining the club in midweek and not having had a real pre-season under his belt. Barnett is another shrewd signing by Coyle, not only having Premier League experience, but having played the three Championship winning sides at West Bromwich, Norwich and Cardiff. To put the icing on the cake he was to score the third goal.
With quality target men like Grant Holt and Marc-Antoine Fortune to aim at, Latics are able to play the long ball forward when needed. However, given the large number of matches ahead Coyle will surely continue to look towards acquiring a third central striker for his squad.
Looking at the starting lineups and the players on the bench for each team it was clear that Latics were going to be technically way ahead of Barnsley, who have struggled against relegation for the past couple of seasons. The question was whether Wigan were able to put in the hard graft to withstand a physical Barnsley barrage.
One of the major criticisms of Martinez’s Latics teams over the years was that they were not always up for the physical side of the game. This game showed that Coyle has put together a squad that can battle and “get stuck in” when the going gets tough.
Both James Perch and Leon Barnett in the centre of defence are strong tacklers, capable of ‘mixing it’ with opposing forwards. The starting midfield trio of Watson, McArthur and McCarthy are formidable at this level , not to mention Chris McCann, Roger Espinoza and Jordi Gomez who were on the bench. The highly promising Fraser Fyvie also awaits his opportunity in midfield.
Barnsley have another difficult season ahead. There will be much stronger opposition for Wigan to face, with a plethora of games to play over the course of the season.
However, it is not just the emphatic scoreline that will give Latics fans optimism for what is to come. More importantly, new players have already started to gel with those from last year’s squad . Moreover Wigan showed in this match that they have the necessary tenacity to blend with their technical ability. It is a mixture of the two that is needed to get out of a tough Championship division.
Owen Coyle’s revolution still has a long way to go, but it has already taken one further step forward.