“He’s not great running back as a wide player, but you look at what he’s good at and he’s hard to stop.You look at the GPS stuff – his top end pace is quicker than Nani and Ronaldo.That’s a fact. It’s a hell of an attribute to have.”
So said Warren Joyce after Yanic Wildschut’s pace destroyed Huddersfield.
Joyce had been pilloried by so many of the Latics faithful for leaving three centre forwards on the bench in the 0-0 draw at Barnsley, using the Dutch winger in the main striker position. He stuck his neck out even further last night by not even including Will Grigg on the bench, although the striker had travelled with the squad.
But Joyce was to have the last laugh as his game plan worked to a tee, his team defending en masse and counterattacking with gusto. Within the space of three weeks he has instigated a paradigm shift within his squad. The possession-based football of Gary Caldwell has been thrown out of the window for a more pragmatic style based on rugged defence and pace in attack.
Faced with the absence of the suspended Craig Morgan the manager moved Stephen Warnock across into the centre of defence, something that would have been risky against a team with more height up front. But Huddersfield play a smooth brand of football based on possession and pressing, rather than pumping long balls to a big target man. The captain once again had a major role to play, even though he was booked in the opening minutes for a crude foul on winger Sean Scannell who later had to be substituted. He also survived a strong second half penalty claim after pushing Elias Kachunga to the ground. Earlier in the second half an unsighted referee had waved away home team penalty appeals after Luke Garbutt had tripped Nakhi Wells in the box.
During Caldwell’s brief reign as a manager in the Championship refereeing decisions tended to go against Latics, rather than for them. At times Latics had looked plain unlucky. But over the last couple of games under Joyce the tide has seemed to turn.
Latics had been poor in the first quarter of the game, the home side looking superior. But they gritted their teeth and were rewarded by a superb goal from Reece Burke. The young defender had won the ball in his own half, releasing it to Wildschut who sprinted past the Huddersfield defence to put in a superb cross for Burke who had run through the centre forward channel to score. It would be rash to suggest that this was part of Joyce’s game plan. Full backs don’t normally move into positions like that. But there were other occasions when players made long runs from their own half to support the attack. It did not happen so often, but when it did it was refreshing to see.
Wildschut had been a constant threat to the home team defence who found it hard to cope with his searing pace. Huddersfield had equalised in the 50th minute but ten minutes later the Dutchman raced past three defenders from the half way line before rounding the goalkeeper and slotting home. It proved to be the winner, thanks to a dogged rearguard action in the final half hour.
The statistics showed that Huddersfield had 70% of the possession with 19 shots, of which 5 were on target. Latics had 9 shots with 4 on target. Wigan’s style of play was the polar opposite of what we had come to expect under Caldwell, where so much emphasis was put on possession. Since the humbling experience of being beaten 3-0 at home by Reading in his first game at the helm, Joyce has tightened up defensively, with the midfield providing better cover and the back four playing no-nonsense football. However, there have been some hairy moments at both Barnsley and Huddersfield when the home teams have squandered goal scoring opportunities. Barnsley had enjoyed 62% of the possession, Huddersfield 70%. The pressure on the defence was inevitable given the amount of possession of the opposition.
Joyce’s next challenge will be to prepare his tactics for Saturday’s game against Derby County. Playing at home is a different scenario and he can be expected to introduce at least one more attacking player. However, it is unlikely to be Grigg.
These are still early days for Warren Joyce at Wigan. He now has four points from his three matches in charge, but will be looking for an even better rate of return in the coming weeks. The players who have been chosen in the past couple of matches have shown the kind of fighting spirit that can lift the club out of the relegation zone. It has not been pretty to watch, but with time we can expect a better style of football to come. Although we saw a glimpse of something at Huddersfield the manager still has not clearly enunciated his preferred playing style, preferring to talk about what his players should do on and off the ball.
Caldwell’s teams were stamped with his philosophy, sometimes to the irritation of fans who preferred a faster and more direct approach. It will be interesting to see how the playing style gradually unfurls under Joyce. The Derby match will provide us with further insight.