Wigan Athletic 2 Blackburn Rovers 0
“I genuinely felt Blackburn had taken control of the game in the second half, and then we go and score the first goal at a vital time. Great credit to my players, they’ve got this never-say-die attitude at the minute, and they deserve all the credit for digging in. The second goal at the end gives in my opinion a totally false scoreline, it was never a 2-0 comfortable victory for Wigan. But we’re delighted with the result and delighted with the three points.”
Paul Cook’s honesty in his post-match comments continues to put other managers to shame. He was certainly spot-on in what he said.
The first half was even with the teams paying each other maybe too much respect. When the half time whistle blew the game looked like it was heading for a goalless draw. But Blackburn started to dominate in the second half and Latics were forced back into defence. It took an error from Christian Walton in the Blackburn goal for Latics to open the scoring, as he made a mess of Antonee Robinson’s cross, the ball falling to Lee Evans to hammer home. Then in the last minute of added time Joe Williams put through a wonderful long pass for Michael Jacobs to run past Rovers’ diminished defence to score with aplomb.
Let’s look at points arising:
Another clean sheet for Wigan
Latics are now unbeaten in the last eight games. After sharing four goals with both Middlesbrough and Cardiff City in February they have not conceded in their last six matches.
Only Middlesbrough have scored less goals than Wigan, but Latics’ defensive record places them in the top half of the table. It is that defensive solidity that will keep Latics in the Championship for another season, barring any unforeseen calamities.
When Evans scored in the 80th minute one wondered if Blackburn would pull one back. If it had been earlier on in the season that might well have happened, but a feature of Wigan’s upsurge in form has been in their game management. Rovers certainly pushed men forward in an effort to equalise, but the Wigan defence held firm. Moreover, rather than hoof the ball to safety Williams put that beautifully weighted pass forward for Jacobs to seal the game.
Latics have matured as a team and are making less mistakes collectively, making it harder for other teams to get back into the game.
Cook and substitutions
With Blackburn dominating possession as the second half progressed one wondered if the manager would bring on Joe Gelhardt to provide some much-needed creativity and goal threat. But once more it was not to be, Cook sticking with his senior pros.
However, on this occasion the manager deserves credit. Lee Evans was brought on for Anthony Pilkington after 56 minutes and he went on to score the goal that broke the deadlock. Moreover, Michael Jacobs came on for Kieran Dowell after 73 minutes, going on to score a very well-taken goal in the 94th minute.
A feature of Cook’s strategy in the two games since the season restarted is that he has used less substitutions than the opposition managers. Tony Mowbray used five yesterday whereas Cook used three, with Joe Garner coming on in time-added-on. The upside of Cook’s approach is that it has caused less disruption to the flow of Wigan’s play. The downside is that there is another match coming up on Tuesday and some players, Jamal Lowe and Kieffer Moore in particular, looked very tired in the closing minutes.
The full backs play a key role
Both Nathan Byrne and Antonee Robinson had fine games, solid in defence and supportive in attack.
Watching Robinson yesterday gave us a glimpse of the reasons why he is being coveted by other clubs. He looked a complete player, worthy of a step up into a higher level of football whether it be Serie A or the Premier League.
Nathan Byrne is now 28 years old. Latics signed him from Wolves for an undisclosed fee in August 2016. However, he struggled in the Championship under Gary Caldwell and Warren Joyce dispatched him on loan to League 1 Charlton Athletic in January 2017. However, he came back to Wigan for the 2017-18 League 1 season under Paul Cook making 51 appearances, being voted “Player of the Season”. It looked like Byrne was going to be the first choice right back in the 2018-19 season back in the Championship but Latics signed the impressive Reece James on loan from Chelsea. Later in the season James was moved into the centre of midfield with Byrne returning to his best position at right back.
This season Byrne has established himself as the first choice right back for Latics in the Championship. He has had his ups-and-downs but as the season has progressed, he has looked more composed and established at this level. Byrne’s form has been integral to Wigan’s unbeaten run in the past eight matches.
Looking forward to Stoke
Over the coming weeks all clubs in the Championship are going to find it tough with regular midweek games sandwiched between the weekend fixtures. There are seven matches remaining before the regular season ends on July 22. The managers are going to have to make good use of their squads, given the physical demands on the players.
Stoke City have had a difficult season and are under threat of relegation. Their wage bill far outweighs that of Latics, but they have struggled. The home loss to Middlesbrough yesterday was a tough one for them and they will come to Wigan anxious to pick up points. However, they will come without the services of Nick Powell, who was sent off in the 89th minute.
It remains to be seen how Cook will use his squad over the coming weeks. Once again, he stuck with a winning lineup yesterday and he is likely to do the same on Tuesday, barring injuries. He is not a fan of the kind of squad rotation that some managers employ. However, he must be wary of burnout from his key players.
The Stoke encounter could prove tougher than it looks on paper. Much will depend on the energy levels of Wigan’s key players.