George Graham once said: “The goalkeeper is the jewel in the crown and getting at him should be almost impossible. It’s the biggest sin in football to make him do any work.”
His comment reflects the old adage that if the opposition doesn’t score then you don’t lose. But what Graham did not mention is the corollary “If you don’t score you can’t win.”
Wigan Athletic have failed to score in four of their last five home games. All four ended up in defeats. In fact their home record this season of W2 D8 L10 is arguably the worst in the club’s history. They have not won a single home game since Malky Mackay’s arrival in November.
Despite the lack of goals in those home games, Mackay has stuck to the same formula. A 4-4-2 system that is attacking in intent, but ineffective in its execution. Too often the central strikers have not looked remotely like scoring a goal and the wide men have not only been poor in their delivery but also negligent in their defensive duties. The best wide man, James McClean, who both attacks and defends with gusto, has been largely played out of position as a central striker. One can only hope that Mackay will let the Irishman play what will most probably his final six games at Wigan in his natural position.
The 4-4-2 formation has just not worked in home games, but Mackay has stuck with it. On his arrival he had played with a lone centre forward system, which many fans thought was attributing to a low scoring record. Perhaps Mackay’s main concession to the fans was to introduce the 4-4-2 for which many canvassed through the message boards and social media.
However, with just two men in central midfield Latics have too often been outnumbered by the opposition. Moreover the repeated failure of wide men to provide adequate defensive cover has left the defence too often open to counterattacks. Two of the wide men Mackay has used are still novices in first team football, young players learning their trade. Joining a team in a relegation struggle is far from ideal for either them or the club.
Derby County come to the DW Stadium hungry for points following a disappointing run of results. Having been challenging for an automatic promotion spot they now find themselves struggling to maintain a place in the playoff zone, currently occupying sixth position on goal difference ahead of Ipswich and Wolves.
The run has coincided with the absence of leading scorer Chris Martin, although he made a comeback as a substitute in their 2-2 draw against 10 man Watford on Good Friday. It looks like he will make the starting lineup tomorrow.
Derby coach Paul Simpson has let it be known that he expects it to be a scrappy game tomorrow. Given the recent state of the DW pitch and that there was a rugby game on it on Friday he is likely to be right. Derby are a footballing side who resist the long ball that can be the wont of too many Championship teams.They will find the pitch frustrating. But so too will Wigan.
The bad state of the pitch can hardly have helped Wigan Athletic over recent weeks. The old phrase “It’s the same for both teams” rings true in many ways, but to play on a surface like that regularly surely wears you down. So often this season we have seen experienced and capable players fail to control a ball or make an accurate pass. Much of that in the past was down to a lack of confidence in a team with low morale. Now the pitch also plays a part.
Is Mackay capable of making a paradigm shift in terms of his tactics and personnel at this late stage of the season?
The midfield needs to be stiffened up with an extra player if Derby are going to be denied possession. William Kvist surely deserves a place in the starting lineup. Chris McCann is almost a forgotten man but was a lychpin of Rosler’s success last season. Providing he is over his injury niggles he could have an important role to play. A trio of Kvist, McCann and Kim Bo Kyung could provide the balance needed to counteract a strong Derby midfield. Emmerson Boyce has given his all in recent games, but needs a rest. James Perch would drop back to replace him.
McClean should be played in his natural position on the wing and Martyn Waghorn might finally get the nod from Mackay to team up with the controversial MAF.
Whether the unbending Mackay is up to such changes is open to debate. The worst case scenario is that he continues with the same formula that has not worked at the DW for months.
A win tomorrow would put Latics back into contention. A draw or defeat would be a sign that relegation is around the corner.