Wigan Athletic 3 Cardiff City 2
A rousing second half performance, capped by three well taken goals saw Wigan Athletic take the three points against a combative Cardiff City side. It was a well-deserved win against a team loaded with players who had played in the Premier League last season.
Paul Cook stuck with his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, largely keeping faith with players who kept the club in the Championship division last season. David Marshall in goal and Lewis Macleod in central midfield for the unavailable Sam Morsy were the new faces in the starting line-up.
Latics started brightly, despite their play being disrupted by the visitors’ physical approach and their ability to counterattack at speed. Wigan looked so much better when they played the ball on the ground, their high crosses being gobbled up by Cardiff’s big central defenders, the 6ft 6in tall Aden Flint and the 6ft 4in Sean Morrison. Although both teams had threatened it was the visitors who scored first, after 20 minutes, Marshall fumbling the ball with midfielder Joe Ralls hitting it home amid a chaotic Wigan defence. Ralls had been lucky not to receive a red card after an awful challenge on Lee Evans. Cardiff went into the interval one goal ahead having conceded 11 fouls to Wigan’s 4, with 3 yellow cards compared with none for the home team.
Wigan came out in the second half with spirit and intensity, building up with skill, challenging Cardiff’s giant defenders on the ground where they were less comfortable. Josh Windass had already been a thorn in the visitors’ side and soon after the interval he outpaced Morrison who nudged him to concede a penalty. It was a surprise to see Windass step up to take the spot-kick, Joe Garner being the normal penalty taker. Unfortunately, Windass could not convert it, the ball striking the post. But in the 59th minute the same player’s deflected free kick fell into the path of Michael Jacobs who slotted it home. Four minutes later Windass gave Wigan the lead, beating Morrison, before finishing with aplomb.
Cardiff continued to pose a threat and Wigan’s defence was exposed when Omar Bogle scored an equaliser after 70 minutes. But within five minutes Wigan were ahead again after Evans had cut in from the left and unleashed a superb right foot curler into the top right-hand corner of the Cardiff goal. Cook then brought on Cedric Kipre for Macleod, changing to a back three. It took brave defence to hold off waves of Cardiff pressure in the closing minutes.
Paul Cook had been awarded a yellow card in the first half, protesting Cardiff’s over-robust approach. He felt that Ralls “shouldn’t be on the pitch. My initial reaction was it wasn’t a hard decision to give a red. We spoke at half-time not to let anyone, including myself, lose their discipline.”
Let’s take a look at some points arising:
Windass in the number 10 role
Nick Powell’s departure for Stoke was a blow for Cook. The burning question has been who he would place in that key number 10 role behind the central striker. Reports have linked Latics to Preston’s creative midfielder Daniel Johnson, who played under the manager at Chesterfield. It was Josh Windass who was chosen to play in that role yesterday.
Windass has played the role before, with limited success. But in this game, he really stepped up to the plate, his mobility and pace causing all kinds of problems for the opposition defence. Windass cannot match Powell in terms of creativity and passing ability: he is a different type of player with different attributes.
Windass can be a frustrating player, seemingly losing concentration at times, misplacing passes, not being aware of those around him. But at his best he can be a real asset, his directness unsettling the opposition.
Macleod could be a key player
Lewis Macleod is a talented midfield player whose career has been dogged by injury. He played for 75 minutes yesterday before making way to Cedric Kipre. Macleod is gradually adjusting to Cook’s style of play, which is quite different than what he was used to at Brentford.
Should he manage to steer clear of injury he could be a key player this season.
Evans back to his best
Lee Evans had a disappointing time last season but has all the attributes to become a top-class midfielder at Championship level. He has good positional sense, is strong in the tackle and has a good technique. He had a fine game in a holding midfield role yesterday, capping it off with a superb goal that was to prove to be the match winner.
During the course of last season Reece James took over Evans’ regular duties of taking free kicks and corners. Yesterday Josh Windass took most of the set pieces. However, Evans is very capable in that area and in crossing the ball into space in open play.
One wonders if Evans lacks the self-belief that he should really have given his footballing abilities. He is such a capable player.
The challenge for Paul Cook is in how to get the best out of the Welshman.
Using a back three
Cook’s continues to prefer a 4-2-3-1 system that has served him so well in the past. He pushes his full backs forward, relying on holding midfielders dropping back to support an exposed defence. At times yesterday the centre of defence looked vulnerable with Cardiff breaking out with pace. Had they taken more of the chances they created they might well have come away with the three points.
Given the way that Cardiff play the manager might well have considered using three centre backs in his starting line-up. Instead he waited until the final quarter. It was certainly the right thing to do to counter the visitors’ aerial threat.
Cook deserves credit for his willingness to try other formations. However, so often when Latics have changed to a back three to close down a game they have dropped too deep in defence, giving the ball back to the opposition so cheaply. Keeping the ball is key to defending under pressure but Latics tend to launch long balls far too freely when a counterattack is on with the opposition pushed so far forward. It is something that the manager and his coaches need to work on with their players.
Looking for a big target man
Joe Garner is 5 ft 10 in tall. Given the height of the central defenders he had to compete with he did remarkably well to challenge for high balls. Garner is a capable centre forward to gives his all for the team, but he plays at his best when the ball is played to his feet.
Following failed attempts to sign big target men in Sam Gallagher and Jordan Hugill it is no surprise to hear that Cook is now trying to sign the 6ft 5in Kieffer Moore from Barnsley. Moore does not have a lot of experience at Championship level but has a better scoring rate than Gallagher or Hugill.
Signing a big centre forward who poses a big aerial threat would add an extra option for Cook. But Latics have enough creativity in midfield not to rely on the long ball which we saw too much of last season.
Let’s hope that the arrival of a tall centre forward is employed to give Latics extra options, rather than a signal to by-pass a capable midfield with long balls.