A lacklustre display from Wigan Athletic saw them lose their unbeaten home record. Over the past weeks performances like this have been largely excused by the tiredness factor, having had to play too many games in a short period of time. After a two week pause for the international break such excuses cannot apply.
In the 71st minute of a closely matched contest Grant Holt dispossessed Brighton defender Gordon Greer and got into a one on one with goalkeeper Tomas Kuszczak. A goal looked certain. However, the big centre forward put the ball wide.
Within a minute Brighton’s movement once again troubled a disorientated Latics defence. Lee Nicholls made a fantastic save from Jake Forster-Caskey’s header, but the 5’9” Andrew Crofts got in there before Ben Watson and Ryan Shotton to head home the rebound.
Owen Coyle had put out the same starting lineup that won the previous league match at Yeovil.
Latics started the game positively, playing the ball patiently through midfield. They went close several times but the finishing was not accurate enough to seriously trouble Kuszczak.
Brighton right back Bruno Saltor came close for Brighton with a volley in the 8th minute which was well saved by Nicholls. The same player was booked after 27 minutes for pulling down Nick Powell and soon after committed a foul against Callum McManaman. It looked like Bruno was treading on thin ice.
Brighton came out more boldly in the second half with their movement causing problems for a static and ponderous Latics defence. Ashley Barnes’ cross found the head of the unmarked Forster-Caskey who somehow managed to head the ball straight at Nicholls. The previously subdued McManaman put in a powerful long range shot in the 52nd minute, which was well saved by Kuszczak.
The giant Rohan Ince started to boss the midfield, Barnes was giving Shotton a hard time and left winger Craig Conway started to look dangerous.
After 60 minutes Coyle took off an ineffective Marc-Antoine Fortune to bring on Grant Holt, who soon got himself in trouble with referee, Iain Williamson. James McClean came on for Marc Albrighton five minutes later. Soon after Holt earned himself a yellow card after backing under Ince for a high ball, the Brighton midfielder being fortunate to avoid injury as he hit the ground. Once Holt had come on Latics had started to use more of the long ball.
Following Brighton’s goal Latics look shell-shocked and clueless. Conway almost added a second a few minutes later with a powerful right foot shot that Nicholls parried away superbly.
The crowd started to get restless and seeing Latics players arguing with each other on the field did not help. Jordi Gomez was brought on for McManaman after 76 minutes, with Nick Powell being pushed towards the right.
James McClean tried hard to attack the vulnerable Bruno and to inject some life into Wigan. The Irishman put in a good cross in the 90th minute but Holt’s header was saved by Kuszczak.
It just was not Holt’s day.
In the end Latics were beaten by a better team on the day. Brighton had 56% of the possession and had played the better football. Latics committed 22 fouls, way above their normal level.
Coyle had put out a team that had an attacking look about it, with two wide players and two strikers. They played some good football in the first half and were only let down by their wayward finishing.
James McClean gave probably his best performance to date, running at the defence, but more importantly managing to deliver dangerous centres. So often since his arrival the player had flattered to deceive, running up blind alleys and not getting the ball across. If McClean can play like this on a regular basis he will be a threat to any opposition.
Not long after the kickoff a fan sat next to me opined that Latics had played better football in the Northern Premier League than most of what he has seen this season.
Early in the second half he said that it looked like Latics were playing a training match.
He had a point. They were insipid, short of flair, short of ideas. The long ball game had started once Holt had entered the fray and the level of football was dropping by the minute.
The job of a football manager is to make the whole add up to at least the sum of its parts. This is not happening at Wigan.
With one of the best squads in the division Latics look no better than a mid-table team. The chemistry that is missing. This group of players play like they are strangers to each other on the pitch.
In the second half Coyle had the opportunity to energize a central midfield which looked one-paced and sluggish, with quality players on the bench ready to come on and add much needed energy.
In the event he brought on the hapless Holt who is sadly becoming the butt of the crowd’s frustration. Coyle did bring a midfield player on, but it happened to be the one-paced Gomez, who ended up playing too far forward to be effective. Bringing on Gomez to provide constructive passes from midfield is one thing, but he is never a central striker and is not good at leaping for high balls.
It was worrying to see Latics’ central defence once more struggle to cope with the opposition’s movement, like they had in the home game against Rubin. Barnett and Shotton are very effective coping with aerial bombardments but struggle against more mobile forwards who drag them out of position.
Left back remains a problem position. The link-up play on the left hand side is a key element on the tactical side, but it is inhibited by James Perch’s limited passing skills on his “wrong side”. Maynor Figueroa still has not been replaced and Juan Carlos Garcia does not even make the bench.
Lee Nicholls: 8 – easily the Man of the Match. A fine performance.
Emmerson Boyce: 6 – not at his best.
Ryan Shotton: 5- shaky at times in the second half.
Leon Barnett: 5 – good in one to one challenges, but looked uncertain in his positioning.
James Perch: 5 – poor.
Ben Watson: 6 – tried hard, but it was not his best day.
Chris McCann: 6 – did a lot of good defensive work, but could not put his stamp on the game.
Marc Albrighton: 6 – looked lively in the first half.
Nick Powell: 6 – tried hard and put in some nice touches, but things did not come off for him.
Marc-Antoine Fortune: 5 – not up to his usual level.
Callum McManaman: 5 – largely anonymous, apart from one cracking shot.
Grant Holt: – poor.
James McClean: – the best attacker in the second half.
Jordi Gomez: – ineffective.