Doncaster Rovers were already 1-0 up in the 43rd minute at the DW Stadium on Tuesday when the 6’2” Bonjani Khumalo crossed the ball to the 6’7” Rob Jones. Jones headed the ball into the path of 6’1” Chris Brown who headed home. Soon after half time Khumalo saw his header strike the post. Then after Wigan’s last minute equalizer a header from 6’1” substitute Billy Painter hit the crossbar in time added on.
To be fair Doncaster’s football is not only about aerial power. Their first goal came from 5’9” striker Theo Robinson who turned and slotted the ball home in style. On the other hand when a team has a defence as tall as Doncaster’s they are less likely to concede headed goals from crosses or set pieces.Latics please take note.
Wigan Athletic’s tallest defender in that match was Leon Barnett, at 6’2’. Both Emmerson Boyce and James Perch are 5’11”, while Stephen Crainey is 5’9”. This is not to say that Wigan didn’t have tall players in their squad. Chris McCann is 6’1”, although not well known for his heading ability. Central strikers Grant Holt and Marc-Antoine Fortune are both 6’.
Surely the best way to unlock a defence like Doncaster’s is to run at them and not to loft the ball in the air. In order to do that Wigan need to win those 50-50 balls in midfield and use the ball intelligently. The central striker needs support from the flanks and the midfield.
It needs a lot of graft and hard work to overcome teams like Doncaster who can be uncompromising, well organized and industrious. An interesting statistic was that no Latics player received a card, while Doncaster got three yellows.
The Bournemouth and Doncaster games have given Wigan Athletic a wakeup call. Latics are in a period of transition and are struggling to find a consistent style of play. Ideally they should be able to switch from the possession-mode to the direct-mode as required, but this is still a work in progress.
In that final Premier League season the opposition had started to realize that the stylish football played by Roberto Martinez’s teams could be disrupted by “high pressing”, preventing them from stroking the ball around in their own half.
Championship teams will surely follow suit with Owen Coyle’s teams. When this happens Wigan are going to need more ‘off the ball’ movement from players further forward, allowing defenders to bypass the press. This is a different matter to what we have seen so far when defenders have too often put in hopeful punts which have been gratefully received by the opposition defence.
Not all teams in the Championship will pose an aerial threat like Doncaster and the understanding between Leon Barnett and James Perch in the centre of defence will surely grow as the season moves on. But there will be competition for defensive positions.
The Honduran, Juan Carlos Garcia, 6’2” , can play left back or centre back and is likely to be pushing for a place. The 6’4’ Thomas Royne and 6’2” Ivan Ramis remain on the injury list, but their aerial power is going to be useful once they get back to full fitness. If Gary Caldwell can fully recover from hip surgery he will be a real force at this level.
Let’s hope that the last two games have been a learning experience for Latics. The squad is laden with players with the quality to excel at Championship level, but they need to be physically and mentally tougher if they are to regularly beat teams like Doncaster.
The aerial threat of the opposition is minimised when you cut off their supply lines. Doing so requires hard work and commitment.
Only time will tell if this talented Latics squad has the steel to match its skill. The Middlesbrough game on Saturday will give Latics the opportunity to show that they can learn from adversity.