Result: Wigan Athletic 3 Southend United 0
It was not the most exciting of games, but a three-goal win over a team that was lying in mid-table is not to be sneezed at. Moreover, the three points gained propelled Latics to the top of the table.
A sending-off in the 59th minute certainly helped Wigan cruise to a win, but in reality they were already in control before that. Southend had just never looked like scoring and it seemed that perhaps Latics had an eye towards Tuesday’s trip to Gillingham. Two goals in the last ten minutes proved to be the icing on the cake as Wigan had stepped back to allow the visitors to come forward and leave spaces at the back.
After the match Wigan coach Anthony Barry commented that: “We never really got into top gear and never found our rhythm. It’s day like this where we have to grind out a win and it’s important. It was a competitive game, and Southend came with a good game-plan. While we were never in danger of losing the game, we were never at our best.”
Let’s take a look at some points arising from the game:
Gary Roberts is making his mark
Since his arrival from Portsmouth, Roberts has found it hard to get a place in the starting line-up. He had been a regular starter over the past four years with Portsmouth and Chesterfield. Roberts is, first and foremost, a creative player although he has already shown his willingness to put in a shift for the team.
His two assists yesterday showed what the player is capable of. His perfectly timed through ball allowed Nick Powell to run from the halfway line to score the second goal. Then a perfectly weighted low cross from the left gave Ivan Toney an easy task to slot the ball home.
Roberts can play in any position in the advanced midfield three. He is best in the centre, but although he lacks pace to play wide his delivery can be accurate and cause difficulty for opposition defences. Roberts scored 19 goals in 58 league starts and 16 substitute appearances for Portsmouth. We can surely expect some from him over the coming months.
Are expectations too high?
Shrewsbury remain unbeaten after 13 league matches, but Latics have overtaken them in the best start the club has had since joining the Football League in 1978. Although not looking on top form yesterday they were streets ahead of Southend. One sensed that if they had reached full throttle they would have put half a dozen in the Shrimpers’ net. But are expectations already too high?
In early April last season Doncaster Rovers had already achieved promotion from League 2 and were 6 points ahead of second placed Plymouth and 10 points ahead of third placed Portsmouth, with just 5 games remaining. Doncaster went on to draw their next match, then lose their final four. They finally finished third.
Anthony Barry remarked after yesterday’s game that “It’s nice to be top of the league but we just need to keep on going. We need to carry on with our habits and discipline in training every day and our standards must stay the same too.”
It is that kind of level-headedness that will serve Latics in their quest for promotion. The dangers of complacency and over-confidence will need to be addressed as the season progresses.
Cook is building for the future
The average age of Wigan’s starting line-up yesterday was 25 years. The eldest is Jamie Jones, at 28. The youngest are Callum Elder, 22, and Nick Powell, 23.
The squad does have more senior players. David Perkins is 35, Noel Hunt is 34, Alex Bruce and Gary Roberts are 33 and Craig Morgan is 32. Morgan has a two-year contract, the others being signed for a year.
The starting line-ups so far, this season, have been dominated by younger players. Should Latics get promoted they will have a backbone of players in their mid-twenties. It remains to be seen whether Reece James (23) will be offered a new contract or whether Cook will seek to sign loan players, Elder and Lee Evans (23), on permanent contracts. At this stage Christian Walton (21) looks certain to return to Brighton at the end of the season.
Michael Jacobs must surely be set to sign a new contract
Jacobs is, almost certainly, playing the best football of his career this season. He made a welcome return to action yesterday after absence through injury. His pace and creative talent make him a key element in Cook’s team. He is surely thriving under the new management; his confidence being lifted after a frustrating season in the Championship.
Given the importance of the player to the team it would be no surprise to hear that Jacobs has signed a contract extension over the next few days.
Another deflected goal, another sending off
There was an element of good fortune in Jacobs’ first half strike, the ball hitting a defender to deceive the goalkeeper. But given the willingness of players in Cook’s team to shoot it is likely that we will see even more deflected goals over the coming months. Last season confidence was low and players were reluctant to try their luck from outside the box, as Jacobs did yesterday. Not so now.
Much has been said about the four red cards picked up by Latics players so far. The first might have been unlucky, but the other three should have been avoided. On the other side of the coin the opposition have also received a total of four red cards, all for aggressive play rather than retaliation.
Given the attacking style of play that is Cook’s expectation, we are likely to see many more opposition red cards and penalties this season than we saw under the dour regime of Warren Joyce last year.
Nathan Byrne – man of the match
Byrne was outstanding yesterday, the best man on the pitch. He has come so far since being jettisoned off to Charlton in January by the hapless Joyce.
Interestingly the Wigan Athletic club web site lists Byrne as a midfield player. But he has certainly shown us that he can cope admirably with the physical demands of constantly pacing up and down the wings as Cook pushes his full backs forward.
Byrne is certainly not an archetypal full back, but he fits the role that the manager requires. He has played an important role in Latics’ fine start to the season.