Aston Villa 3 Wigan Athletic 2
It was a spirited performance by Wigan Athletic, another five-goal feast of entertainment following the Sheffield Wednesday encounter. Latics attacked Villa from the get-go and to lose to a goal in the 93rd minute was heart-breaking.
Let’s take a look at some points arising from the game:
Connolly preferred to Evans
With Darron Gibson ruled out by injury most of us would have expected Lee Evans to replace him in the starting line-up. Was Callum Connolly preferred because of his defensive qualities in an effort to contain Jack Grealish?
By all accounts Connolly impressed in holding midfield when on loan to Ipswich last season, more so than in his more regular role at full back. In the event Grealish went on to dominate the proceedings. Neymar was so heavily criticised for going down too easily in the World Cup, but in this game Grealish proved equally adept at falling to the ground and getting free kicks. The result was that Wigan players were reluctant to engage him. Villa fans might say that Grealish is a skilful player who should be protected by referees, but in this case, it went too far.
Evans came on in the 53rd minute and immediately fitted in to the style of play. Connolly was moved to the right wing and a couple of minutes later scored Wigan’s second goal meeting Nick Powell’s cross ahead of Alan Hutton.
Cook clearly rates Connolly and we can expect to see him in a variety of roles this season.
A rookie defence
Despite good individual performances the defence had looked all-at-sea on occasions against Sheffield Wednesday. It was a rookie defence composed of players who had never previously played together as a unit. Between the four of them the number of seasons played in league football totalled the same number, just four.
Before the game one wondered how that defence would cope with the experience and ability of Aston Villa’s attack. Not surprisingly they looked wobbly throughout.
Injuries to Dan Burn and Nathan Byrne have come at a difficult time. Burn appears to be out for some time, but Byrne seems to be taking a long time to get over what was originally referred to as a minor injury.
Cook recognises the need for defensive reinforcements having stated: “I think defensively, probably in the centre of the defence, we’re going to need something. Hopefully we’re going to look at and be able to address that before the loan window closes.”
In the meantime, he could look at the option of bringing in the experienced Alex Bruce and playing with a back line of three. The young full backs Reece James and Antonee Robinson would surely thrive in wing back positions.
Naivety or simply positive?
Once again Latics kept pressing forward in the final quarter of the game, rather than slow things down and look at securing a point. Most of the pundits we hear on television would probably lambast Paul Cook, call him naïve, citing a need for better “game management”.
But over the course of the season how many draws can be turned into wins if Cook continues to have his team play like this?
In the Premier League years Latics fans would talk about facing the twelve men prior to going to support their team at Old Trafford. So many awful decisions were made in the home team’s favour, whether it were due to the roars of the large crowd or the manager at the time.
Now Steve Bruce is hardly a Ferguson. His teams have typically played with a physical approach, but not particularly cynical. But for some reason Latics got the rough end of the stick with the officials at Villa Park. It was not only allowing theatrics from Grealish, but so many decisions went the home team’s way.
How will Cook use Windass?
It was a surprise when Latics paid some £2.5 m for Josh Windass. But it was no surprise to see him come off the bench to replace Nick Powell after 67 minutes. Now Windass does not have the silky skills of Powell, but he is fast and direct.
A couple of minutes after Windass came on Lee Evans launched one of his trademark long diagonal crosses. Windass reached it with a diving header at the far post which went narrowly wide. What a pity it did not go in!
Rangers used Windass in a variety of positions. Will Cook use him as a winger, central striker or as an alternative to Powell in the number 10 role?