What a difference a change in shape can make. A reversion to a genuine 3-5-2 with twin strikers proved the catalyst for a wonderful performance from Latics. The 3-0 scoreline did not flatter Latics – in fact they could have had six, such was their superiority. Champagne football at long last has returned to Wigan.
Gary Caldwell had brought in Donervon Daniels in place of Leon Barnett, to play in a back three together with Craig Morgan and Chris McCann. Jonjoe Kenny and Reece James operated as wing backs, with Francisco Junior and David Perkins in holding midfield. But the key was bringing in Craig Davies to partner Will Grigg up front, with Michael Jacobs having a free role in midfield.
A goal within four minutes certainly settled Wigan’s nerves, Grigg expertly putting away the penalty he had gained. It was no surprise when Latics scored a second after 27 minutes, when Daniels struck the ball home with the aplomb of a centre forward. Latics were stroking the ball around at the back, with the midfield linking well to receive the ball and launch attacks. The wing backs were pushed high up the pitch, stretching the visitors’ defence. The constant movement of Jacobs, Grigg and Davies was causing real problems for Scunthorpe.
Latics went in to the interval with a two goal lead. They had had 61% of the possession in the first half and constantly threatened the Scunthorpe defence. However, one wondered how long Davies could stay on the pitch, given his fitness issues. The big striker had been on fire, causing constant problems for the Scunthorpe defence, not least with his physical presence. Grigg too was thriving, given the extra space Davies was creating for him.
Davies did actually stay on until the 73rd minute, but three minutes before his departure he latched on to a great through ball from Grigg for Wigan’s third goal. Shaq Coulthirst replaced Davies in that striking role, with Sean Murray replacing Jacobs in the 76th minute and Max Power coming on for Junior five minutes from time.
The level of football Latics played in this match made David Sharpe’s bold statement about smashing League 1 seem more realistic. But consistency is the key and Latics will face sterner tests than Scunthorpe. The style of play resembled the more heady days of the Martinez era, but was much more pragmatic. Probing long balls were mixed in with short passes. Above all it was the movement off the ball that enabled a spectacular display.
Davies silenced his critics and showed that he is much more than a big target man, with a superb all-round performance. Grigg’s intelligent play was a real headache for Scunthorpe. Jacobs was all-action, not afraid to run at the opposition defence, playing the creative role in midfield with great effect.
Perkins and Junior were a formidable partnership in the centre of midfield, making interceptions, winning tackles and being constantly available to receive the ball from defenders. Morgan looked calm and self-assured all night in the middle of the back three. McCann had looked insipid against Doncaster but was back to his best in this match. He was solid on defence, accurate in his passing and made the kinds of surging runs out of defence that he used to make under Uwe Rosler. Daniels not only scored a goal but looked solid throughout.
Thrust forward, almost operating as wingers, both wing backs played well. The 18 year old Kenny looks particularly suited to the wing back position, where he has less defensive duties than playing as a full back.
As has been the case this season, the goalkeeper saw a lot of the ball. O’Donnell is effectively playing the role of goalkeeper/sweeper, if at times the passes he receives put him under undue pressure. It is a far cry from the constant long punting of Scott Carson.
It is hard to fault a performance as good as this. Caldwell got his tactics right and it worked to great effect.
However, once again the wing backs were pushed a long way forward. There were times when O’Donnell was in possession but both Kenny and James were stood marked at the half way line. They were probably playing to orders, perhaps a tactic designed to draw opposition defenders forward. However, it means that they are not readily available to receive the ball from a goalkeeper or defender under pressure. In this match it was not a problem, given the impotence of the Scunthorpe attack, but it is something that would need adjustment playing against stronger opposition.
Richard O’Donnell: 8 – largely untroubled by the Scunthorpe attack, but played an important part in the build-up from the back.
Jonjoe Kenny: 8 – has the makings of an outstanding wing back.
Donervon Daniels: 8 – took his goal well and played with confidence.
Craig Morgan: 8 – solid in defence and excellent in distribution.
Chris McCann: 8 – looked rejuvenated. Can he maintain this level of performance?
Reece James: 8 – an excellent young player learning the position of wing back.
Francisco Junior: 8.5 – showed his class and poise.
David Perkins: 8.5 – another all-action performance.
Michael Jacobs: 8 – full of running and a constant threat to the opposition defence.
Craig Davies: 9 – a complete performance showing not only a strong physical presence but good link-up play with teammates. Deservedly given a standing ovation when leaving the field of play.
Will Grigg: 8.5 – bright and full of invention.
Shaq Coulthirst: – came on for Davies.
Sean Murray: – came on for Jacobs. Looks better in a more advanced midfield role.
Max Power: – came on for the closing minutes.