Malky Mackay has a tough job ahead of him, judging by this performance. In the end a battling Wednesday side might have just about deserved their win, having constantly nibbled away at Wigan’s defence throughout the ninety plus minutes.
But in reality Latics threw the game away. Poor defending presented the home team with two goals and once again they spurned opportunities at the other end.
Mackay made two changes from the team that played against Middlesbrough. The ill Sean Maloney not even on the bench, but Roger Espinoza found himself there. Ben Watson made the starting lineup for the first time in nine months and James McClean was brought in on the left wing.
One wondered if a midfield with Watson and Chris McCann – both in their early days after returning from long-term injuries – was going to cope against a combative Wednesday midfield. In the event they played the holding midfield roles with Adam Forshaw in the more advanced role.
Latics started with energy and enthusiasm, but it was clearly going to be a physical contest against a robust Wednesday side. In the second minute Adam Forshaw went down in the box after an untidy tackle by Glenn Loovens, but the referee did not see it as a penalty.
For once Callum McManaman was seeing his fair share of the ball and he was not afraid to take on defenders. After a good run he had an effort saved by Kieron Westwood. Then Jose Semedo’s powerful shot hit the post, with Scott Carson doing well to block Chris McGuire’s effort from the rebound.
Wigan were to take the lead in the 26th minute when a right wing corner from James McClean was powerfully headed in by Chris McCann, who had been their outstanding performer so far. One wondered if they could hold it, but as has been too often the case they could not do so. In the 28th minute none of the three defenders marking the 6 ft 6 in Atdhe Nuhiu could dispossess him and the unmarked Steve May who scored an easy goal from the Kosovan/Austrian forward’s intelligent pass.
Ex-Everton and Real Madrid winger Royston Drenthe was causing some problems on Latics’ right and he got clean through behind Emmerson Boyce but Carson did well to block his shot. Latics retaliated and McManaman, Fortune and Forshaw all had decent efforts on goal. There had been worrying signs for Latics in the performance of the centre of defence, which looked particularly vulnerable. Ivan Ramis was way off his usual level and Leon Barnett was looking shaky under pressure. The towering Nuhiu and the more mobile May were causing them problems.
Mackay was to take Ramis off at half time, with James Perch moving to right back and Boyce to the centre of defence. Latics could have taken the lead after 53 minutes when Marc-Antoine Fortune headed back a corner for James McClean whose header was blocked on the line. Wigan had been dominating possession, but Wednesday scored in the 70th minute when May out jumped Barnett. His flicked header hit both posts before Andrew Taylor hacked it away. However, the assistant referee indicated that the ball had crossed the line.
Latics fought back. Adam Forshaw was somehow unable to reach a McManaman cross that had ‘’goal” written all over it. Then McManaman‘s drive from inside the box went narrowly wide. However, there had opened up a big gap between defence and midfield and Wednesday’s long balls were catching Latics out. May was clear once again, but Perch managed to make a partial block and Carson saved his effort. Latics pressed right to the end but could not convert their possession into goals.
The effort was there, but to no avail in the end.
Mackay took a gamble playing both McCann and Watson in midfield. He is clearly looking long term. Watson looked comfortable on the ball, but the frenetic pace of the game did not make it easy for him. However, he will be delighted at playing the full game. McCann was excellent in the first half, but faded in the second.
Mackay had chosen two pacey wingers in his lineup and they looked dangerous on the counterattack in the first half. Callum McManaman was given the licence to take on the multiple defenders who marked him in numbers. He did well to force the goalkeeper into a couple of saves.
Wigan’s centre of defence was vulnerable throughout. Ivan Ramis had his worst ever game in a Latics shirt and was substituted at half time. It was sad to see such a classy player so out of touch. Leon Barnett is an experienced and capable central defender, but has had some hard times in recent matches. It is a sign of Wigan’s lack of confidence that such experienced and capable players as Barnett and Ramis could be so out of touch. However, the lack of protection from the midfield surely played a part in it.
There have been concerns over Carson’s distribution since he arrived last year, but in this game it reached almost rock bottom. Carson is a fine shot stopper and did well to keep Latics in the game with important saves. But with three successive managers he has persisted in hoofing the ball for the opposition centre of defence to gobble up. Not only did he do that again yesterday, but also put several clearance kicks into touch.
Once again Fortune toiled alone upfront, chasing long balls. Despite his high workrate he rarely threatens the opposition’s goal and one wonders why Mackay is persisting with him. Delort and Riera sat on the bench throughout. It looked like Mackay had given his two wingers instructions to get the ball across more often. This they did, but there was often nobody near the ball when it came.
Many fans continue to lobby for two men up front, with Delort and Riera being touted as a possible duo. However, Mackay too is an adherent to the one central striker system. At Cardiff he had Helguson, then Campbell in that role. Helguson scored just 8 goals in 38 appearances in 2012-13, when they won the Championship division.
Flowing attacking football is unlikely to be a feature of Mackay’s reign at Wigan. But a solid defence is to be expected. That was not the case yesterday.
Scott Carson: 6 – made some good stops, but dire in distribution.
Emmerson Boyce: 5.5 – struggling to get back his form of last season.
Ivan Ramis: 4.5 – sad to see such a quality player perform so poorly. Was he 100% fit?
Leon Barnett: 5 – shaky, nervy.
Andrew Taylor: 6 – good in the first half, but Wednesday closed down his attacking moves in the second.
Ben Watson: 5 – did well to complete the 90 plus minutes after such a long layoff.
Chris McCann: 7 – resilient and creative.
Adam Forshaw: 5 – struggled.
Callum McManaman: 6 – looked dangerous, but well watched by the Wednesday defence.
Marc-Antoine Fortune: 6 – full of effort, but no real goal threat.
James McClean: 5.5 – full of his usual effervescence and energy, but his finishing remains poor.
James Perch: – came on after 45 minutes. Solid and hard working.
Roger Espinoza: – brought on too late.