Ipswich Town 1 Wigan Athletic 0
The windy, wintery conditions were always going to make it difficult to play good football. The outcome was two poor teams unable or unwilling to overcome the weather. It was a dire game of football decided by a bizarre goal after 66 minutes. Neither team deserved a point from their performances, but the home team won only their second game of the season against a Wigan side unrecognisable from that which started the season in style.
Paul Cook commented: “It was a horrible, tough day with a swirling wind and it wasn’t a great game in any shape or form but for me I felt we were the better team for large parts, especially in the second-half when we did take control. Taking control of games doesn’t get you points, though, and unfortunately it was a really disappointing away result.”
Let’s take a look at some points arising:
Results against teams in relegation zone
Millwall, Reading, Bolton and Ipswich are the bottom four teams in the Championship table. Wigan’s performances against them have been particularly poor as reflected in a results statistic of W0 D2 L2.
Latics’ primary aim this season is consolidation, which basically means avoiding relegation. Improved results against such teams in the second half of the season will be necessary for Latics to achieve their aim.
Cook’s “Plan B”
The injury to Nick Powell is a major blow to Cook. At Portman Road the manager did not even try Josh Windass in the number 10 position but played him alongside Will Grigg upfront. As is the usual case when Latics play 4-4-2 the defence resorted to long balls, so often by-passing the midfield. But the quality of so many of those long balls was poor, the “hoof” predominating.
The use of the long ball was anathema to Roberto Martinez, who insisted on a patient, possession-based style of play. However, Cook is not averse to it. When Cook’s teams play at their best, they control the game in the opposition’s half, using the wings to pepper the penalty box with crosses, looking for through passes, whether delivered over short or long distances. But with conditions making it difficult to play a passing game Cook reverted to his “Plan B”, scrapping for possession, playing a kind of “direct” football akin to that at Bolton.
Cook’s team played very poorly. Their passing was abysmal, inferior to that of a home team desperately low on confidence.
Much has been discussed in the social media and message boards regarding Cook’s choice of players in wide positions. Rather than use the flair and pace of Callum McManaman and Leonardo Da Silva Lopes he continues to rely on Nathan Byrne and Gary Roberts. Byrne was outstanding last season at right full back but looks ill at ease in the wide attacking role he has been occupying. Roberts has a cultured left foot and a good football brain, but at 34 lacks the pace needed to get behind a defence.
Return of injured players
Gavin Massey and Chey Dunkley were on the bench, although they were not used. Michael Jacobs is a few weeks behind in terms of recuperation. We await further news on Nick Powell. Antonee Robinson will be out until February at the earliest.
Jacobs and Massey will add pace and creativity to the flanks when both are match fit. Dunkley will take the place of Dan Burn when he moves to Brighton a couple of weeks from now.
Despite an awful run of results, with two wins in the last 13 league games, Latics remain 6 points above the relegation zone. That is mostly down to the poor form of the teams in the lower reaches.
But would Wigan have maintained their initial momentum if it had not been for injuries to key players?
Rotating centre forwards
Chelsea regularly rotate their two centre forwards, Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata, and it seems to work to some degree. But Cook’s rotation of Joe Garner, Will Grigg and James Vaughan has not produced the desired result, let alone his insistence in regularly playing Josh Windass, as a number 10/twin striker despite indifferent performances.
Garner’s signing appeared to make sense at the time. Despite being 5 ft 10 in tall he can challenge towering central defenders in the air. Given the crosses raining in from the flanks we could have expected Garner to get on the end of some. But the player has lacked sharpness having had a small amount of game time.
Vaughan had his best game for Latics against Blackburn. He constantly pressured Rovers’ defence. But his arrival on the pitch has so often courted hopeful punts from defenders. If anything, Garner is better suited to that kind of role. Vaughan plays best alongside a centre forward. He cannot be faulted for effort, but Cook has not got the best out of him.
Grigg has had injury problems, but despite not having level of the upper tier experience of Garner or Vaughan, he can provide more balance when Latics desist from the long ball and build up from the back. His intelligent movement helps him link up with the skilful probing of Powell and Jacobs. But Grigg is hardly a Cook-style centre forward. He is not particularly good at heading in long crosses from the wings.
At times one wonders if Cook would prefer a giant centre forward of the ilk of Atdhe Nuhiu of Sheffield Wednesday. So, it is no big surprise that rumour suggests he wants to sign Gary Madine from Cardiff City on loan. Madine does not have a good strike ratio but poses a physical presence.
But then again, if the rumours of Jermain Defoe are true, how would the manager use the 36-year-old? Defoe has been a fine player, but at his age, with only four starts last season at Bournemouth, would this be a good short-term signing?
At least one of Garner, Grigg or Vaughan are likely to be leaving in January, if the rumours have any substance.
Still no contract announcements
We heard this week that negotiations are in effect to renew Nathan Byrne’s contract that expires in summer. But without even mentioning Nick Powell there were three others who played at Ipswich who are in the same boat: Sam Morsy, Gary Roberts and James Vaughan. To those can be added Alex Bruce, Jamie Jones, Gavin Massey, Callum McManaman, Shaun MacDonald.
Such uncertainty can hardly help squad morale.
Let’s hope for some announcements this week.