Wigan Athletic 1 Doncaster Rovers 0
Who would have thought that a Wigan Athletic team built around the bare remnants of Paul Cook’s squad could be in mid-table after four games played? This win over an in-form Doncaster side who had been unbeaten in their first three games was the result of a well-taken goal by Joe Garner together with no mean amount of grit and determination.
There were surprises in John Sheridan’s opening line-up, with Nathan Cameron on the bench and Danny Fox in discussions with Robbie Fowler, manager of East Bengal, who play in Calcutta. Kal Naismith was moved back into the centre of defence with Darnell Johnson making his debut, on loan from Leicester City.
Darren Moore’s Doncaster looked a useful outfit in the first half, their movement and fluidity constantly challenging Wigan’s defence. But thanks to profligate finishing and fine saves from Jamie Jones the game was goalless at half time. Latics were much better in the second half, buoyed by Garner’s excellent header from Viv Solomon-Otabor’s cross after 59 minutes.
Following the game Sheridan commented: “I am very pleased with the result. It was a really tough game, which I expected because they’ve got a very good footballing side and they gave us a lot of problems in the first half. We were probably fortunate to go in level at the break because we didn’t really get going and we were a bit sloppy in the way we started the game. I felt we should have got up the pitch a bit further and got in and around people but what we asked of them at half-time they have gone and done in the second-half and I thought we were magnificent in the second-half; we created problems, got in and around them and played some excellent football ourselves, scoring a great goal to get the three points.”
Let’s take a look at some points arising from the game:
Maintaining a style of play
John Sheridan’s appointment was hardly heralded by Latics fans. Most of us had expected Liam Richardson to take over as manager. However, the combination of the two has helped to stabilise things on the field of play.
The starting line-up from this match contained six players from last season’s squad, two who have stepped up from the U23 squad, the remainder being loan players or those on short-term contracts.
However, the style of play developed during Paul Cook’s three-year tenure has remained in place. This is something that has so often not been the case in the past.
Dave Whelan’s mistake of appointing Owen Coyle as successor to Roberto Martinez is the most memorable. A group of players weaned on patient possession football struggled to adapt to a long-ball approach from a new manager.
It is to Sheridan’s credit that has not tampered with the style and method of play that had been previously established.
A captain who leads by example
Sam Morsy’s departure from the club was a bitter blow. Morsy was not only a key player in midfield, but a captain who led by example.
Joe Garner was the obvious choice for the captaincy when Morsy departed, a senior professional, known for his gritty determination to succeed.
With five goals in six games the new captain has been in fine form. For the first time since joining Latics in August 2018 he is now the undisputed first-choice central striker at the club. He is thriving on it.
Garner is a combative figure on the field of play, not afraid to mix things physically with powerful central defenders who tower above him. He clearly relishes playing in the target-man role, but Garner is also capable of making killer passes as we saw yesterday when he put Solomon-Atabor through with a pass that should have led to Latics taking a two goal lead.
Joe Garner is now 32. He has had made more than 470 career appearances at nine clubs. Nevertheless, he retains an enthusiasm that must surely rub off on the less experienced players around him.
A young centre of midfield
Two young Liverpudlians, Chris Merrie and Alex Perry, have certainly caught the eye in recent weeks in establishing themselves as an option in the centre of midfield. Having operated together in the U23 team they know each other’s games and gel as a partnership in that key area.
Chris Merrie is 21 and a product of the Wigan Athletic academy. He joined Latics in 2013 after previously being part of the Everton youth system. Prior to this season his Latics appearances had been limited to cup competitions. In the 2017-18 season he went on loan to both Southport and Altrincham, making a total of 25 appearances. A regular at U23 level Merrie has stepped up to the senior squad. He is strong in the tackle and is an accurate passer with his trusted left foot.
Alex Perry is 22 and a product of the Bolton Wanderers academy. Latics acquired him from as a free agent with Bolton suffering financial difficulties in September 2018. Prior to this season Perry’s only first team experience had been during a month’s loan at Northern Premier League side Sutton Coldfield in November 2017 and a single appearance for Bolton in the Checkatrade Trophy.
Perry was a regular in the Latics U23 team and has made an impressive step-up to the senior level this season. He is an energetic midfielder, strong in the tackle, who shows vision in his passing.
Put Massey on the right
Gavin Massey is now 28. He joined Latics in July 2017. At his best he has used his searing pace to cut apart opposition defences, and he has scored spectacular goals. His partnership with Nathan Byrne on Wigan’s right was a key factor in Latics winning League 1 in the 2017-18 season.
Last season was not Massey’s best. He is an exclusively one-footed player, most effective on his “natural side”, the right. So often last season Cook would frustratingly play him on the left. Massey has always been willing to work hard for the team and does not shirk in his defensive duties. However, playing him on the left wing has hardly helped him be at his incisive best.
When yesterday’s team sheet came out one hoped in vain that Massey would be played on the right with Viv Solomon-Atabor on the left. The latter has shown is ability to play effectively on either wing. Although being predominantly right footed he can use his left to good effect.
Using Massey as a “workhorse” left winger has never got the best out of the player. Being so one-footed means he constantly passes the ball inside or backwards, lacking the option of going on the outside past the full back.
It can only be hoped that Sheridan will see this and employ the player in his most effective role.
Evans must gain more self-belief
Lee Evans is now 26 and should be nearing his peak as a midfield player. Evans is physically strong and possesses a fine technique and the vision to make a killer pass or score goals. With such attributes Evans should be further on in his career than he is.
Last season was tough for the Welshman with Sam Morsy and Joe Williams forming a formidable partnership in the centre of midfield. At times Evans played in the problematic number 10 role, sometimes looking good, but could not establish himself as the first choice for that position.
There is debate among supporters as to Evans’ best position. Before Williams’ arrival he would often partner Sam Morsy in central midfield. Although defensively solid he does not have the tenacity of such as Morsy and Williams, but his ability to launch pinpoint long passes from the centre of the pitch was a useful tool for the team.
We know that Evans can be an effective holding midfielder in League 1, but Sheridan has given him the chance to show what he can do as a number 10. In the opening games of the season he was somewhat anonymous, possibly shell-shocked like many others by what was happening off the field of play at the club. He has since improved.
Evans has the ability to be among the top midfield players in the third tier. But too often he makes the square pass rather taking the more incisive option which he is capable of. Moreover, he has scored spectacular goals in the past, but does not shoot often enough.
With belief Lee Evans can be a top player. He has the attributes necessary to be so. If Sheridan and his staff can continue to give him a good run of games and help instil more self-belief in the player, he could be key to Latics’ success in the near future.