Huddersfield Town 0 Wigan Athletic 2
The Championship table shows how important this win was for Latics. They now have seven teams below them, grappling with the threat of relegation. It was a win based on solid teamwork. Despite having only 30% possession Wigan were solid in defence and offered threat going forward.
Paul Cook put out a well-balanced side, with Kieran Dowell played in the number 10 role behind Kieffer Moore. Prior to receiving a long-term injury in January Dowell had been played out wide in the few games he had played since joining on loan. Two other players who had been out of action long-term, Danny Fox and Antonee Robinson also returned.
Following the game Cook commented: “It was important that we came away from here with something and I felt a point would have been a good point because Huddersfield are a good side with good players. To get a 2-0 win we’re delighted with that. The reality was there wasn’t many chances at both ends of the pitch but fortunately we’ve come out on the right side. We travel back knowing that five home games and three away and everything’s in our own hands which is great.”
Let’s look at some points arising from the game:
Wigan looked fitter
It was worrying to see five players out of the Latics squad through injury. But apart from the first quarter of an hour when they struggled to get any fluency to their play, Wigan looked so much sharper than the home side. Huddersfield were trying to build up moves from the back, with Latics taking a more direct approach.
Huddersfield visibly tired and manager Danny Cowley made five substitutions by the 72nd minute. Cook had only made one by then and three of his five changes came in the 86th minute.
The long-term injured players made impressive returns. Antonee Robinson had not played since January 28, but he looked comfortable on his return. Danny Fox had not played since November 9 but slotted in seamlessly alongside Cedric Kipre in the centre of defence. Kieron Dowell’s ankle injury in January had been a blow to Cook at a time when Latics were lacking in creativity. He is a natural number 10, capable of scoring goals and making assists.
A funny old game
As the saying goes “football is a funny old game”. Both Wigan goals were aided by deflections. Kieffer Moore’s cross in the 24th minute was deflected by the Huddersfield left back Harry Toffolo for Jamal Lowe to score. Then in the 48th minute Anthony Pilkington, surrounded by defenders, managed to squeeze out a shot that took a major deflection off home team midfielder Lewis O’Brien.
A few months ago, the opposite was much more likely to happen. Latics were not getting “the rub of the green” and deflections were so often working against them.
Jamal Lowe’s fourth goal of the season was opportunistic. He reacted more quickly than the Huddersfield defenders to reach Moore’s cross. Following the game Cook commented on Lowe: “He’s had the chances throughout the season, Jamal could easily have a lot more goals, but he’s no different to every player because confidence is key. If you keep getting in the correct areas, the correct thing will happen and Jamal gets into those areas regularly, so there are a lot more goals in him.”
It has been a struggle for Lowe to adjust to the play in the Championship division. At times he has looked lightweight, losing the ball too easily, short of confidence on his finishing. But the player’s confidence had been growing and he was looking better when the season was curtailed in March. Yesterday he looked strong and determined in possession. It was his run down the left and his intelligent cross to Pilkington that led to the second goal.
Cook has shown a lot of faith in Lowe, sometimes playing him when performances hardly merited it. But Lowe is now starting to look like the kind of player we were hoping for following his much-hyped arrival from Portsmouth in summer.
Almost safe by the end of June?
With two home games by the end of June Latics have a chance to really consolidate their place in the Championship. Back to back victories would give them 50 points. Last season 41 points would have been enough to stay up, 42 points in 2017-18. But totals like that will not be sufficient this season with the third from bottom team Hull already having 41 points with eight games to go.
Blackburn Rovers and Stoke City will be no pushovers. Rovers games can be fiercely competitive and Stoke are in the relegation zone and desperate for points.
A crucial week
This coming week is not only crucial to what will follow in July, but also for the coming season. All 24 clubs in the division have significant numbers of players whose contracts expire at the end of this month.
Cook has a dozen players who are currently available only up to the Stoke game on June 30. The club have come to an agreement with Leon Balogun to continue into July, his contract with Brighton expiring at the end of June.
Clubs have until June 23 to either offer a new contract or release the player. If a player is not offered a new contract for the 2020-21 season he can be recruited by another club from June 24.
Not going to lie, I was a bit concerned to see Dowell, Fox, and even Robinson to an extent, all in the starting XI. Spot-on decisions by Cook however. Given the circumstances, I thought Saturday marked one of his finest managing performances of the season.
Blackburn will offer a much tougher test but I like us to raise our play at the DW.