Is Gary Caldwell’s team starting to click?
It certainly looked like that as they demolished mid-table Colchester by 5-0. Some fans thought Colchester were poor, but that was also said about Scunthorpe after Latics had outclassed them in August, a 3-0 scoreline being flattering to the visitors. In fact Scunthorpe are not a poor side at all, judging by their current 12th place position in League 1.
Hopes had been high after that performance against Scunthorpe and a strong contingent of fans made the long journey for the next match at Gillingham, only to be disappointed by a 2-0 reverse. Caldwell had only made one change to his starting lineup, bringing in Kevin McNaughton for Jonjoe Kenny. The team that had played so well in midweek just could not hack it some three days later.
However, should we really have expected Caldwell’s fledgling team to get a good result at Gillingham? The Gills had been unbeaten in their first three matches and the victory was to put them to the top of the table. Now after 13 games played they are top again. They are clearly a side to be reckoned with in League 1.
Gillingham are one of the three teams currently in the top ten of the division that Latics have played away from home. The other two are Coventry (a 0-2 loss) and Bury (2-2 draw). They have only played one top ten team at home, that being Walsall (a 0-0 draw). Moreover Latics have played the two bottom clubs at home – Doncaster (0-0) and Crewe (1-0 win).
There has been much talk about Latics not having being able to play as well away from home as they do at the DW Stadium. Players and management are keen to talk up the prospect of playing at home being a fortress where away teams will flounder. In reality, apart from the games against Scunthorpe and Colchester the performances have been largely uninspiring. However, the psychology of having an unbeaten home record in the league not only gives the players confidence but also puts some degree of trepidation into the minds of visiting teams.
However, it would be fair to say that Latics’ away form has been frustrating. A lack of penetration upfront has been matched by leaky defence. Caldwell has been criticised for his team holding back, affording too much respect to the opposition. So often there has been a lone centre forward starved of good service. However, there have been remarkable rallies in the second halves of matches where Latics have come back from being two goals down. Three goals in the last 10 minutes at Chesterfield (a 3-2 win), two in the final third at Port Vale after being two goals behind (a 3-2 loss to a 90th minute winner) and two in the last 5 minutes at Bury (a 2-2 draw).
Those late rallies were aided by Caldwell changing his formation and pushing more players forward. It is something that fans advocate Caldwell doing from the start in future away games. Can we expect such an approach at Peterborough tomorrow? What kind of team selection and tactics can we expect?
The Peterborough game is the third of four over a two week period. A few weeks ago Latics’ squad would have been stretched to manage such a schedule. However, the injury situation has alleviated significantly, with only Kevin McNaughton out of contention.
Caldwell has the advantage of having probably the best squad in the division, being able to refresh his lineups with quality back-up players. Some of the teams currently riding high in the division will most probably feel the pressure over the next couple of weeks, as tiredness and injuries creep in. If Latics could get good results in the away games at Peterborough and Bradford, then at home to Swindon they would surely edge towards the promotion zone.
For the Peterborough game tomorrow Caldwell will most likely go for an unchanged team, or something close to it. He took off key attackers Michael Jacobs and Yanic Wildschut after 61 minutes and 67 minutes respectively against Colchester to save them for the next match. Donervon Daniels, who is developing into a fine young player, came off after 77 minutes for Donald Love. Daniels has adapted surprisingly well to the right wing back position, but Love will also stake his claim.
Against Colchester Latics scored an early goal after just 5 minutes through Daniels, which surely helped them towards a flying start. Daniels scored because he was in a very advanced position for a wing back. Caldwell has persistently tried to push his wing backs forward, but to see Daniels in the six yard box to slot home was surely a surprise. It will take a lot of courage on Caldwell’s part to push his wing backs so far forward in an away match.
Caldwell’s preferred formation at the moment is 3-4-3 with Jacobs and Wildschut supporting the centre forward. Will Grigg’s two well taken goals against Colchester showed what a key player he is likely to be in Latics’ bid for promotion. Caldwell is in the strong position of having the talented Haris Vuckic close to fitness again and he can comfortably settle in to either of the positions behind or to the side of the centre forward.
Moreover Caldwell now has the experience both Grant Holt and Craig Davies at hand if he wants to switch to using twin strikers. Add to those Jordy Hiwula and Sanmi Odelusi. No other club in the division is blessed with such attacking riches. Caldwell will pray that all his attacking players stay fit to give him a big competitive advantage over other League 1 managers.
However, it is not the formation that Caldwell employs that determines whether Latics go out in attacking mode or sit back and invite the opposition to come forward. It seems more to do with the state of mind of the players. However, Latics have now gone six games unbeaten and morale is surely on a high.
Whether Caldwell’s team achieves promotion this season depends on a number of factors. Injuries and refereeing are major factors, as is the maturation of the younger players who are an integral part of his plans.
However, the key question is whether the squad can truly “believe” in its ability to dominate the division. There is a lot of ability in the squad and they have shown the kind of fighting spirit that was sadly lacking last season. There will be times when they will need to grind out results, when not playing at their best.
The game tomorrow will give us an indication of how far Caldwell’s team has come so far. They have started to gel and he seems to have identified the players who will form the backbone of his team, week after week.
Let us hope that Latics will go to Peterborough with the intention of taking the game to the home team. They have more than enough quality to come away with a victory.
However, we must also remember we are only thirteen league games into the season, with a brand new squad, learning to play football the Caldwell way. There will surely be some hiccups along the way.