Marc Albrighton could be thrust into the crunch match with Queens Park Rangers at the DW Stadium tonight.
The 23 year old has been signed from Aston Villa on what must be one of the shortest of loan periods – reported to be just 28 days. However, the winger has had injury problems and has fallen out of favour with Paul Lambert. If he can prove his fitness and fulfill his potential he might well become a player that Latics want to keep. The possibility remains open for a permanent deal when the transfer window opens up again in January.
The QPR match is the acid test for Owen Coyle’s Wigan Athletic revolution. Failure to win will be viewed as a failure by most fans who feel that Latics need to build more momentum for a promotion challenge. They face an expensively assembled QPR team that is currently on track in 3rd place, with only one defeat so far.
At this point Latics stand in 14th place with a record of won 4, drawn 3 and lost 4 matches. The games they have lost have all been away from home to teams above them in the table – Leicester (in 2nd place), Blackpool (4th), Watford (7th) and Bournemouth (11th).
Up to this point Latics are unbeaten at home, a considerable improvement given the terrible record they have had at the DW Stadium, albeit against much stronger opposition over recent years. However, Coyle will be keen to make the DW a fortress for visiting teams to scale as the promotion battle unfolds.
Given the indifferent form of Latics’ wide players it could be that Albrighton will find himself in the starting lineup. Coyle has already shown he is not afraid to throw in new players at the first instance, after doing the same with Leon Barnett and Nick Powell earlier in the season.
It will be interesting to see how Coyle deals with the squad rotation for this game. On Sunday, Ben Watson looked tired, but was withdrawn only after 72 minutes. The man best known for his famous header has been a key component of Coyle’s lineups in recent weeks.
Roger Espinoza came on and looked useful at Charlton and it could be that he will see more playing time tonight, but one doubts that he will make the starting lineup ahead of Watson. Moreover Jordi Gomez is higher up in the pecking order and is due for a return.
Leon Barnett is the outfield player who has played most matches this season, only missing the game at Zulte Waregem. If Coyle is willing to risk resting Barnett he will have the option of bringing in Ryan Shotton to partner Thomas Rogne in the centre of defence, although the big Stoke man might come in at full back for Emmerson Boyce. Another option would be to move James Perch across and bring in Stephen Crainey at left back.
The risk with too much rotation in defence is that in a radically new formation the players are not going to have that mutual understanding built up through regularly playing together.
Up front Coyle has to decide whether he wants to play with twin strikers – any two of Marc-Antoine Fortune, Grant Holt and Nick Powell – or play with two wingers. Latics actually played with two strikers and two wingers – an old fashioned 4-2-4 system – for a period in the defeat at Blackpool. Coyle is unlikely to risk it against a midfield as strong as that of QPR . His other option would be to play Powell in what is his best role, in attacking midfield behind the central striker.
Latics will want to narrow the 12 point gap between themselves and QPR. Although they look good on paper the visitors are by no means invincible.
If for once Latics take their chances and the ball does not keep crashing against the woodwork there is no reason why they should not come away with three points tonight.
Whether they can do that will depend largely on Coyle’s tactics and how he rotates his squad.