Swansea City 2 Wigan Athletic 2
To coin a much-used cliché: it was a game of two halves.
Latics totally dominated the first half, going into the interval with a two-goal lead that could have easily been more. Their play was a revelation compared with what we have seen over recent months. High tempo attacking football was the order of the day. But the second half was awful, sadly reminiscent of what we have been seeing far to often. The defensive hoof ball approach once again reared its ugly head, the Swans getting back in the game with soft goals from set pieces.
When the team sheet became available prior to the match there were groans from Latics fans on the social media. How could Callum McManaman not be included following his excellent performance at West Bromwich? Why was Will Grigg not starting?
But Paul Cook’s lineup and tactics worked extremely well in that first half. He had brought Darron Gibson in to sit in front of the back four, with Lee Evans and Sam Morsy pushed further forward. But Latics looked sadly short of any constructive kind of tactical approach in the second half as the home team dominated proceedings. Swansea manager, Darren Potter, had brought on Kyle Naughton and Jefferson Montero at half time, changing his team’s formation. Latics just could not seem to master the new Swansea approach.
Following the game Cook once again mentioned that the Championship was “unforgiving”, but also remarked: “We were in complete control in the first-half and Swansea then changed things tactically in the second-half. We tried our best to adapt to things in the second-half but within adapting to it we have gone deeper than we would have wanted but to concede two goals from set-pieces is hugely disappointing because we changed our formation so Swansea didn’t score in open play and they go and get two from set-pieces.”
Let’s look at some points arising:
Why were Latics so Jekyll and Hyde?
Cook deserves praise for his brave approach at the start of the game. Evans and Morsy were pushed well forward, as were wingers Gavin Massey and Kal Naismith. Swansea are a side who like to play the ball out from the back, not keen on going long. With the four midfielders and Joe Garner putting constant pressure on defenders who had the ball in their own half the home team’s game fell apart. For once Latics had a piece of fortune after just 10 minutes when Wayne Routledge, a winger playing as a wing back, made a clumsy challenge on Naismith with Garner sending Mulder the wrong way from the penalty. Garner’s second goal from a corner after 33 minutes was well deserved and no surprise given Wigan’s dominance.
But that successful approach disappeared when the second half began. Latics fell back on dire defence and could not keep hold of the ball. Cook’s decision to move Dan Burn into a back line of three central defenders was perhaps not a bad idea in theory, but in practice it resulted in a back five. With three holding midfielders in front of them there was little attacking threat.
As always, the manager carries the can when things do not turn out as hoped. But Cook’s supporters will say that he was urging his players to move forward in the second half, but to no avail. Playing a high pressing game can be tiring. Was tiredness a factor? Or was it due to the brittle confidence of players reluctant to push forward or to make short passes that might result in losing possession?
Joe Garner’s best performance so far
The high pressing tactics certainly suited Garner. In the first half he had support and service, rather than being left alone to fight giant central defenders for long balls launched from defence. As a result, Garner looked a much better player and his two goals were both well deserved and well taken.
Garner is by no means an elegant centre forward: he is not the most skilful, but he is an experienced player with a proven goal scoring record. Although not particularly tall, at 5 ft 10 in, he can leap high and challenge much taller players. He scored 10 goals in 29 starts and 3 substitute appearances for Ipswich last season.
With Will Grigg, James Vaughan and Josh Windass challenging him for a place he has had to be satisfied with just 6 starts at Wigan to date.
There are fans who continue to question the signing of Garner, for a fee reported to be around £1.2 m. But he is a combative type of centre forward who can unsettle opposition defences, given decent service.
Kal Naismith continues to hold his own
It is the 26-year-old Naismith’s first season in the Championship, having spent most of his career in League 2, although he made 20 appearances for Portsmouth last season in League 1. The player had a difficult pre-season with Latics, struggling after being played out of position at left back. But like other players who have played under the manager at previous clubs, Cook clearly believes Naismith can make it in the second tier of English football.
Naismith is not the kind of winger who uses pace to get past his full back. But he is industrious, has a good left foot and has a good strike record for a wide player. At the Liberty Stadium, with Latics 2-0 up he had the chance to virtually seal the game for his side, but his shot went narrowly wide. But despite the missed chance he was once again one of the consistent performers on the day, playing in his more natural position in left midfield.
After a difficult start to his career at Wigan, playing at a level above he has played before, Naismith continues to develop.
Walton back on track?
Christian Walton, like so many of his teammates, has struggled to maintain the form he showed earlier in the season. But at Swansea he was more dominant in his box and got well behind low shots coming in.
Although he has 100 appearances in league football it is Walton’s first season in the Championship. At 23 he can still develop into a top-class goalkeeper.
Morsy’s contract came through
The news of Sam Morsy’s new contract came through on Christmas Day: odd timing. But it was good news, if rather belated. Morsy is not the most technically gifted player, but his selfless approach and sheer industry, make him a key player in Cook’s team.
But what is of concern is that there have been no announcements of other contract extensions.
What on earth is happening?