What a difference a week can make. An abject defeat at Bury, followed by a 4-0 trouncing of Blackpool, then this 2-0 win at Rochdale. Gary Caldwell’s “new era” squad shows the kind of resilience that can surely send Latics on the road to promotion.
Caldwell had read the riot act to his players following the Bury fiasco, then made ten changes for the Blackpool game. Granted, the Seasiders were poor opposition on Tuesday night, but the performance nevertheless highlighted the strength in depth that Latics now have. Yesterday Caldwell fielded what must be pretty close to his first choice starting lineup, but still had players of the quality of Will Grigg, Francisco Junior and Chris McCann on the bench.
We have seen various tactical formations from Caldwell this season and one is never quite sure what he will do next. In the event he put out a 4-2-3-1 lineup, meaning that he had four specialist attack-minded players on the field. Jason Pearce and Craig Morgan formed an experienced partnership at the centre of defence, with the young Donervan Daniels and Reece James at full back. David Perkins and Max Power have now established themselves in the holding midfield positions and they played behind an advanced midfield trio. New signing Alex Revell started wide on the right, Yanic Wildschut on the left, Michael Jacobs in the centre. Craig Davies played the lone centre forward role. The 40 year old Jussi Jaaskelainen was once again preferred to Richard O’Donnell in goal.
Latics totally dominated the first half, the home team not managing a single shot on target. The running of Jacobs and Wildschut in particular was causing constant problems for Rochdale. Wigan’s tackling was crisp and they really took the game to the opposition. Pearce’s header from Jacobs’ free kick after 16 minutes had put Wigan in the driving seat, but they were unable to add another goal before half time, despite their dominance. Moreover James went off injured after 37 minutes to be replaced by Chris McCann.
One wondered at half time if Latics could continue to subdue the home team in that same way. Surely Keith Hill would make some changes at some stage in an attempt to wrest back some of the initiative for his team. If Rochdale were to get an early goal it would change the whole complexion of the match.
It almost happened early on in the second half when Jaaskelainen made a mess of a cross, the ball falling to Rochdale centre forward Joe Bunney, who spooned the ball over the bar to Wigan’s relief. Rochdale had pushed Wigan back deeper and were enjoying more possession. However, Latics’ pace was a threat on the counterattack. On 61 minutes a long pass from Daniels found Wildschut on the left. The Dutchman used his electrifying pace to get past the full back to the by line. His pull back found Jacobs who steered the ball home expertly. Rochdale then brought on two substitutes, with Latics introducing Don Cowie for Davies, Revell moving to centre forward.
However, that second goal had knocked the wind out of Rochdale’s sails. Although Jaaskelainen was forced to make a fine save from Bunney’s shot, Latics proved worthy winners in the end.
It had been a hard fought game with some full blooded physical confrontations. But unlike some of their near neighbours in League 1 Rochdale are a footballing side, as are Wigan. The foul count was to read 10 against the Dale, 6 against Latics. Having a Premier League referee, Neil Swarbrick, officiating helped keep things under control and the football flowing.
Despite yet another change in shape Latics looked well organised, particularly in defence where Pearce and Morgan were formidable. At the beginning of the season it looked like the two were going to be the bastions of the Latics defence. But injuries to both players, Pearce in particular, have meant they have played together less than a handful of times. Pearce had a typical all-action performance and showed how much he has been missed. Daniels once more showed that he can do a good job at full back, not only strong defensively, but showing a considerable amount of skill for a big man more used to playing in the centre of defence.
Latics appeared a well-oiled unit with all the players showing their commitment, a far cry from the dark days of last season. Power and Perkins have become the lynchpins of the midfield, full of energy and enterprise.
Wildschut’s direct running and lightning speed continues to be a constant threat to opposition defences. In the past he has been criticised for a lack of vision, in not delivering an end-product. However, his pass for Jacobs’ goal after skinning his full back revealed a maturity that belies such criticism. Will Caldwell be able to hang on to this dynamic player when his loan runs out in January?
Jacobs returned to form yesterday. Since Wildschut’s arrival he has seemed out of sorts. Some have questioned whether the two could both play effectively in the same team, given their need for a significant share of the ball. However, Jacobs reveled yesterday in the role just behind the centre forward, with Wildschut wide on the left. With an assist and a goal Jacobs stood out.
It is to be hoped that the injury to James is not serious. McCann did a good job coming on at left back, but he was fortunate in not having a speedy winger on his side. Andy Kellett had a fine game against Blackpool in midweek at wing back, but there are question marks about his defensive abilities as a full back. Should James not be fit for the next match Caldwell will have to decide between the two.
Jussi Jaaskelainen: 7 – good distribution and a fine save from Bunney, but his error in making a hash of a cross could have led to an equalizer.
Donervon Daniels: 7 – solid in defence and bright in attack. Had a good shot parried by the goalkeeper early on.
Craig Morgan: 7.5 – looks a good player at this level. He has had to play with a lot of different partners at centre back this year, but his partnership with Pearce seems the best option.
Jason Pearce: 8.5 – a well taken goals and a towering defensive performance.
Reece James: – injured. Went off after 37 minutes.
David Perkins: 7.5 – as industrious and determined as ever. Also put in some good passes and had a rasping drive saved near the end.
Max Power: 7.5 – has matured rapidly over the past weeks. He always had the skill and technique, but now he has learned how to graft and tackle. Looks like a top player for the future.
Alex Revell: 6 – worked hard in his first appearance.
Michael Jacobs: 9 – an excellent all round performance from an accomplished footballer.
Yanic Wildschut: 8.5 – a constant threat to Rochdale. Also worked hard in his defensive duties.
Craig Davies: 7 – worked hard in the lone centre forward role. Unlucky with a run in the first half, his shot with the outside of his right foot going narrowly wide. Went off after 62 minutes.
Chris McCann: – did a good job at left back.
Don Cowie: – came on for Davies after 62 minutes.
Tim Chow: – came on for Power after 82 minutes.