“They are the best team in the league. I know we have done well against them but they have recruited fantastically well. They are a very, very good team. Their subs’ bench is absolutely incredible. They are a top team and it’s one we can look forward too. I’m really looking forward to this week to get a game plan together to compete with them.”
It is the final sentence in David Flitcroft’s comments that is the important one. The Bury manager will surely have more tricks under his sleeve when his side visit the DW Stadium tomorrow. With two wins and a draw under his belt against Latics already this season, can he do it again? What tactics will he employ?
The likelihood is that Flitcroft’s main tactic will be to adopt a physical approach in an attempt to put Latics off their game.
The same can be expected from Millwall on Tuesday. Latics were mauled by the opposition players and their crowd at the New Den in a key relegation match in mid-April last season. It was early days in Gary Caldwell’s new managerial position and Millwall manager Keith Harris’ intimidatory tactics worked. The 2-0 victory to the Lions proved to make no difference in the long run, with both clubs being relegated.
Neither Bury at home, nor Millwall away, is a particularly comfortable fixture for Latics. The Lancashire derbies have their own special feel and the competition can be fierce. Playing away at Millwall is never going to be easy, given the fiercely partisan crowd. Bury have only won one of their past ten, but Millwall have won four out of the last six and are serious challengers for a playoff place.
Latics have not played at all well against Bury this season. The League Cup tie in mid-August was decided by a controversial penalty given against Craig Morgan, the Shakers winning 2-1. But Morgan was to have his revenge by getting a last minute equaliser at Gigg Lane in early October in a 2-2 draw. Wigan’s performance in the 4-0 FA Cup defeat at Gigg Lane in early November was woeful, although it did leave one wondering how interested they were in progressing further in the competition.
But the Wigan team that faced Bury in the first half of the season, during the gelling process with so many new players, is a different kettle of fish than the current one. Latics are second in the table, on an 11 game unbeaten run, scared of nobody.
The win at fellow promotion hopefuls, Walsall, pushed them above the midland team for the first time. Wigan were much the better team on the day, but only won the game in the closing minutes. Will Grigg missed a handful of clear opportunities. Had he scored at least one of them he could have out the game out of reach for the home side. However, it must have been a bittersweet return to the Bescot Stadium for him with the home fans jeering his every touch. Grigg is a fine centre forward at League 1 level, but such profligacy cannot continue if Latics are to attain that automatic promotion spot.
A home win for Latics tomorrow is most likely, but they must be careful to avoid complacency. But then again they have good reason to make a big effort in retaliation for the bad results against Bury so far. Flitcroft claims a long injury list, but it remains to be seen what side he will put out tomorrow. One thing is for certain – Latics can expect a rough reception from the visitors.
The Millwall game is another against a promotion hopeful and will not be easy. The Lions are now in fifth place, but surprisingly their home record has been poor, having a record of W7 D2 L7, whereas away they have the second best stats in the division behind Walsall. But Neil Harris will surely once again rile up his players and his crowd to give Wigan a hard time.
Gary Caldwell has used 33 players this season, six of whom were on loan and have gone back to their parent clubs. Two players – Grant Holt and Richard O’Donnell – departed over the January transfer window. Four players are injured or in recuperation – Michael Jacobs, Reece James, Kevin McNaughton and Sanmi Odelusi.
But Caldwell has a squad that is the envy of the other League 1 managers. The ability to bring players off the bench of the quality of Craig Davies and Yanic Wildschut gives Caldwell that added factor that the other managers do not have.
Wigan Athletic have the quality to win the division. But much will depend on avoiding complacency and being willing to slug it out with teams like Bury and Millwall.
Neither match is easy. Both are winnable at a physical cost. It would be no surprise if Caldwell once more rotates his team or changes its shape in the next two games. A return of four points from the two would keep Latics on track. More would be even better.