Sunderland 2 Wigan Athletic 1: five talking points

Charlie Wyke’s brilliantly taken goal after 44 minutes was a rich reward for a Latics side that had held their own with Sunderland’s intricate close passing and their intimidating crowd. If Wigan could hold on to the 1-0 scoreline it would put them in the top six if other results remained the same.

But Tony Mowbray’s more expensively assembled side were to dominate the second half and the final scoreline was not a surprise, given the pressure they had put Wigan under.

It was a disappointing result but there were positives in today’s display that suggest that Latics are making the transition towards being a team capable of holding its own in the Championship.

Let’s take a look at some talking points:

Latics show composure

The composure shown in the first half was a very good sign. Rather than lump the ball long during periods of opposition pressure Wigan made a real effort to keep possession.

There are critics who will say that the players are not up to playing possession football, being a largely a third tier squad playing in the Championship. However, there are lots of teams in League 1 who refute the long ball approach and like to build up from the back. Last season’s MK Dons side was a shining example of how teams can play effective, attractive possession-based football without having a bloated wage bill.

So often in the Cook/Richardson era we have seen hopeful long balls launched forward from defence in an attempt to relieve pressure. The result has been quite the opposite with possession squandered inviting the opposition to continue their pressure.

The composure in the first half was not matched in the second, but it was nevertheless welcoming to see.

Charlie Wyke shows his mettle in the second tier

So much has been said about Wyke’s courage and resilience in facing serious medical conditions and coming back to play his first season in the second tier of English football. Leam Richardson has wisely eased him into the side, giving the player time to adjust back to playing full time competitive football again.

Wyke is by no means a pacey centre forward and can look ungainly, leading to questions as to whether he can be effective in the Championship. Last season we learned that he can effectively play the traditional target man role and he played a major role in the earlier days.

However, Wyke is much more than a target man. He is intelligent and links up well with his teammates. His brilliant pass to set up Nathan Broadhead’s winner at Birmingham was memorable as was his left footed finish today.

Wyke is now 29 and if he can maintain his fitness and health, he will have the chance to show us all that he has the quality to be a successful central striker in the Championship.

Pushed back in defence?

“I just thought in the second half we possibly played the result a little bit. For 15-20 minutes we were maybe five yards too deep…”

Leam Richardson was right. They were way too deep. But was it Wigan’s tired legs that pushed them back in defence? Or could the manager have insisted they play further forward?

Magennis is not a replacement for Wyke

Josh Magennis is a player who gives 100% for the cause, someone who cannot be criticised for his commitment. Such players will always be appreciated by home crowds who recognise that level of involvement and hope that other players would be as full of effort.

However, Magennis is a striker with a poor scoring ratio in his career. He has scored 4 goals in 28 appearances for Latics. 

The pundits will say that Magennis’ signing in January 2022 was a knee-jerk reaction after Richardson lost Charlie Wyke last season.  The manager insists on having a target man upfront and he thought that Magennis was the best choice available on his budget.

The big Northern Irishman was released by Hull City after helping them get promoted the previous season. He had his most successful goalscoring season, with 18 goals from 40 appearances in League 1.  However, he had scored 2 goals in 19 appearances in the Championship when Richardson signed him.

Magennis is not a natural target man. He can outjump defenders, but so few of those defections result in Latics gaining possession. He plays much better in a front two where he has time to use his pace and crossing ability.

Richardson and substitutions

A delay in making substitutions has always been an issue in the Cook/Richardson era. Both have tended to change things much later than opposition managers.

Richardson was too slow to react to Sunderland’s second half dominance. The home team’s half time change of Diallo for Gooch proved to be the catalyst for their second half dominance. Richardson’s first substitution was Magennis for Wyke after 68 minutes and there was no change in shape. That came when there were just 10 minutes remaining.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com
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Wigan Athletic 1 Burnley 5: Amigo and Social Media reaction

Wigan Athletic once again showed their fighting qualities, pulling back Burnley’s two goal lead with a Will Keane penalty after 42 minutes. The visitors had been far superior in the opening half hour, their silky football contrasting with repititious long balls launched from defence by Latics.

Early in the second half Keane squandered a golden opportunity. Soon after the visitors made it 3-1 with a goal that had offside written all over it. It was a hammer blow from which Latics were never going to recover and Burnley’s superiority was emphasized with two more goals in the final minutes.

Leam Richardson chose a cautious starting line-up, opting for three at the back but with a 3-5-2 formation, rather than the usual 3-4-3. With three holding midfielders was he trying to nullify the effect of Brownhill, Cork and Cullen in Burnley’s engine room? In the event Brownhill had an excellent game, finding the freedom to score two well-taken goals. Callum Lang and Will Keane received poor service, mainly spending their energy chasing hopeful long balls or aimless punts up field.

Burnley lost many of their best players over the summer following their relegation from the Premier League. However, both Brownhill and defender Charlie Taylor were regulars in their top tier side last season and played yesterday. Burnley have spent some £13 on new acquisitions over the summer. New manager Vincent Kompany has imposed a possession-based style of play. However, their record prior to this game was W1D3L1.

Following a valiant performance at Norwich, Latics were found wanting in this encounter against another team coming down from the top tier. The gulf in class between the two teams in this game looked huge, not only in Burnley’s clinical finishing, but in the flowing football they played.

But Richardson’s teams show resilience and a good performance against West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday would not be a surprise. Wigan’s primary goal this season is to avoid relegation. Providing the manager can continue to keep up his squad’s morale they can probably accomplish that goal.

However, the long-ball style of play that helped Latics get out of League 1 is not the best approach for consolidation at this level. At some point flair players need to be nurtured and a more sophisticated style of play developed. Wigan defenders, facing an opposition press, launch “hopeful” long balls. Most teams in this division better handle the high press.

Our thanks go to the Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum and Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen. Thanks go to all whose contributions are included:

FormbyLatic opined:

I think Leam got the starting formation completely wrong. Far too defensive and too much respect shown to the opposition. THREE strikers and TWO excellent attacking midfielders on the bench.

When he made the changes, albeit far too late, we looked a much better team. We need a big reaction on Tuesday. Today was probably the worst performance for over two years and was very, very hard to watch, not least the repeated missing of clear cut chances……

HudwiganFan commented:

To write it off as ‘Premier League vs League One’ is a bit demeaning and selling us massively short to be honest. Burnley had only won one of their first five, and that was only 1-0 against a Huddersfield team who’ve had an awful start. They’ve failed to win any of their last four and shipped 3 at home against Blackpool last week. Nowhere near good enough and I’m sure Leam and the staff will be communicating that to the players behind closed doors.

I’d rather Leam make changes than be a manager who’s too stubborn but today was a tinker too far. Five at the back and no target-man was just bizarre. We setup and started playing like we were already 4-0 down and it showed in the first 30 minutes of the game.

Leam’s loyalty to Lang and Keane is admirable – and I can see why he’d want to reward them for their contributions last season – but how many more largely anonymous performances can they put in before some others get a go? Likes of Broadhead, Wyke, Aasgaard, Fletcher (who wasn’t even in the squad again) and even Humphrys must be sat there wondering what they have to do to get a start. Zero room for sentiment at this level if we’re serious about stopping up and Lang in particular needs to be told “you’ve got to get going otherwise you won’t get a look-in.”


I’d drop them both on Tuesday, start one of Magennis or Wyke with Broadhead in there and Fletcher as an option off the bench (if fit). Need to go back to the flat back-four with Bennett back at LB because McClean is a much better attacker than defender at this level and Whatmough-Kerr-Tilt was simply took many cooks in the kitchen today. They were getting in each other’s way and you can tell they’re not used to playing all at once.

Everything that could’ve gone wrong did go wrong today. It will be fascinating to see how they respond against another ‘promotion candidate off to a slow start’ on Tuesday. Can’t just dismiss it as ‘well they’ve got lots of money and a really good squad’ or we’ll get smashed again. The type of negative mindset that Jewell used to trot out in the press before we played top 4 sides in the first couple of Prem seasons and it felt like we’d already been beaten before the games had even started.

True Believer wrote:

TBH I am not overly worried about today’s loss as it is still very early in the season and it was against one of the teams that I would imagine will not be in the bottom half of the division and therefore not a direct opponent.

I think we have to be realistic about this season and be looking to win the games against teams with a similar target as ourselves (avoiding relegation). Any points we pick up against any of the top teams should be viewed as a bonus and losses put down to experienc
e.

JockLatic stated:

Definitely going to be knee jerk comments here. Clearly different class in attacking areas at the moment. They scored all 5 out of 6 on target. Our finishing was terrible.

At 85 minutes we had 3 times as many shots as Burnley. Aside from the 3 goals they struggled to create anything. The first goal was clearly a foul and the 3rd was miles offside and then we are chasing a 2 goal deficit wrongly.

Liam made a mistake going from 3 centre backs to 2 for the last 15 minutes as it left us wide open to the counter as we overcommitted men forward to desperately tried to get a goal back. 2 goals when we were exposed defensively numbers wise and their pace and our sloppy play allowed the scoreline to be something the game didn’t reflect. Would imagine if it was level with 15 minutes to go, Liam doesn’t make those subs and have more players back in defence.

Frustrating as people will just look at the scoreline and think we got battered for 90 minutes, which absolutely wasn’t the case.

C_McNamara added:

Always going to be days like this, even if we signed 11 new players in summer, all who are championship standard, your going to have a bad game or two at some point in a season.

I found Burnley impressive to be honest, liked the rotation in possession, Cullen moving into left back allowing Vitinho and Tella to essentially go 1v1 against Kerr and Darikwa then Gudmundsson staying wide on the other side. Roberts and Brownhill’s positioning themselves in the inside channel as well just dragged us over isolating Tilt. I don’t we will see many teams coming to us this year with this sort of setup. Shades of a City setup with arguably two different sorts of attack going on.

I did feel from our point of view, looking to turn their centre halves was a good idea. Neither were dominating however we just didn’t manage to execute it well enough bar probably the last 10/15 of the first half. Keane not taking that chance early in the 2nd half turned out to be massive in hindsight.

5 down 41 to go I suppose, review it and narrow the focus on what we didn’t do or perhaps something Burnley did well which we could evolve/adapt our system or approach

Disappointed about today however looking forward to Tuesday night now.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Amigo and Social Media Reaction to a heavy defeat against Burnley

Wigan Athletic once again showed their fighting qualities, pulling back Burnley’s two goal lead with a Will Keane penalty after 42 minutes. The visitors had been far superior in the opening half hour, their silky football contrasting with repititious long balls launched from defence by Latics.

Early in the second half Keane squandered a golden opportunity. Soon after the visitors made it 3-1 with a goal that had offside written all over it. It was a hammer blow from which Latics were never going to recover and Burnley’s superiority was emphasized with two more goals in the final minutes.

Leam Richardson chose a cautious starting line-up, opting for three at the back but with a 3-5-2 formation, rather than the usual 3-4-3. With three holding midfielders was he trying to nullify the effect of Brownhill, Cork and Cullen in Burnley’s engine room? In the event Brownhill had an excellent game, finding the freedom to score two well-taken goals. Callum Lang and Will Keane received poor service, mainly spending their energy chasing hopeful long balls or aimless punts up field.

Burnley lost many of their best players over the summer following their relegation from the Premier League. However, both Brownhill and defender Charlie Taylor were regulars in their top tier side last season and played yesterday. Burnley have spent some £13 on new acquisitions over the summer. New manager Vincent Kompany has imposed a possession-based style of play. However, their record prior to this game was W1D3L1.

Following a valiant performance at Norwich, Latics were found wanting in this encounter against another team coming down from the top tier. The gulf in class between the two teams in this game looked huge, not only in Burnley’s clinical finishing, but in the flowing football they played.

But Richardson’s teams show resilience and a good performance against West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday would not be a surprise. Wigan’s primary goal this season is to avoid relegation. Providing the manager can continue to keep up his squad’s morale they can probably accomplish that goal.

However, the long-ball style of play that helped Latics get out of League 1 is not the best approach for consolidation at this level. At some point flair players need to be nurtured and a more sophisticated style of play developed. Wigan defenders, facing an opposition press, launch “hopeful” long balls. Most teams in this division better handle the high press.

Our thanks go to the Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum and Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen. Thanks go to all whose contributions are included:

FormbyLatic opined:

I think Leam got the starting formation completely wrong. Far too defensive and too much respect shown to the opposition. THREE strikers and TWO excellent attacking midfielders on the bench.

When he made the changes, albeit far too late, we looked a much better team. We need a big reaction on Tuesday. Today was probably the worst performance for over two years and was very, very hard to watch, not least the repeated missing of clear cut chances……

HudwiganFan commented:

To write it off as ‘Premier League vs League One’ is a bit demeaning and selling us massively short to be honest. Burnley had only won one of their first five, and that was only 1-0 against a Huddersfield team who’ve had an awful start. They’ve failed to win any of their last four and shipped 3 at home against Blackpool last week. Nowhere near good enough and I’m sure Leam and the staff will be communicating that to the players behind closed doors.

I’d rather Leam make changes than be a manager who’s too stubborn but today was a tinker too far. Five at the back and no target-man was just bizarre. We setup and started playing like we were already 4-0 down and it showed in the first 30 minutes of the game.

Leam’s loyalty to Lang and Keane is admirable – and I can see why he’d want to reward them for their contributions last season – but how many more largely anonymous performances can they put in before some others get a go? Likes of Broadhead, Wyke, Aasgaard, Fletcher (who wasn’t even in the squad again) and even Humphrys must be sat there wondering what they have to do to get a start. Zero room for sentiment at this level if we’re serious about stopping up and Lang in particular needs to be told “you’ve got to get going otherwise you won’t get a look-in.”


I’d drop them both on Tuesday, start one of Magennis or Wyke with Broadhead in there and Fletcher as an option off the bench (if fit). Need to go back to the flat back-four with Bennett back at LB because McClean is a much better attacker than defender at this level and Whatmough-Kerr-Tilt was simply took many cooks in the kitchen today. They were getting in each other’s way and you can tell they’re not used to playing all at once.

Everything that could’ve gone wrong did go wrong today. It will be fascinating to see how they respond against another ‘promotion candidate off to a slow start’ on Tuesday. Can’t just dismiss it as ‘well they’ve got lots of money and a really good squad’ or we’ll get smashed again. The type of negative mindset that Jewell used to trot out in the press before we played top 4 sides in the first couple of Prem seasons and it felt like we’d already been beaten before the games had even started.

True Believer wrote:

TBH I am not overly worried about today’s loss as it is still very early in the season and it was against one of the teams that I would imagine will not be in the bottom half of the division and therefore not a direct opponent.

I think we have to be realistic about this season and be looking to win the games against teams with a similar target as ourselves (avoiding relegation). Any points we pick up against any of the top teams should be viewed as a bonus and losses put down to experienc
e.

JockLatic stated:

Definitely going to be knee jerk comments here. Clearly different class in attacking areas at the moment. They scored all 5 out of 6 on target. Our finishing was terrible.

At 85 minutes we had 3 times as many shots as Burnley. Aside from the 3 goals they struggled to create anything. The first goal was clearly a foul and the 3rd was miles offside and then we are chasing a 2 goal deficit wrongly.

Liam made a mistake going from 3 centre backs to 2 for the last 15 minutes as it left us wide open to the counter as we overcommitted men forward to desperately tried to get a goal back. 2 goals when we were exposed defensively numbers wise and their pace and our sloppy play allowed the scoreline to be something the game didn’t reflect. Would imagine if it was level with 15 minutes to go, Liam doesn’t make those subs and have more players back in defence.

Frustrating as people will just look at the scoreline and think we got battered for 90 minutes, which absolutely wasn’t the case.

C_McNamara added:

Always going to be days like this, even if we signed 11 new players in summer, all who are championship standard, your going to have a bad game or two at some point in a season.

I found Burnley impressive to be honest, liked the rotation in possession, Cullen moving into left back allowing Vitinho and Tella to essentially go 1v1 against Kerr and Darikwa then Gudmundsson staying wide on the other side. Roberts and Brownhill’s positioning themselves in the inside channel as well just dragged us over isolating Tilt. I don’t we will see many teams coming to us this year with this sort of setup. Shades of a City setup with arguably two different sorts of attack going on.

I did feel from our point of view, looking to turn their centre halves was a good idea. Neither were dominating however we just didn’t manage to execute it well enough bar probably the last 10/15 of the first half. Keane not taking that chance early in the 2nd half turned out to be massive in hindsight.

5 down 41 to go I suppose, review it and narrow the focus on what we didn’t do or perhaps something Burnley did well which we could evolve/adapt our system or approach

Disappointed about today however looking forward to Tuesday night now.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Wigan Athletic 1 Bristol City 1 – five talking points

August 13, 2022: Wigan Athletic 1 Bristol City 1

It was a “game of two halves” but much credit is due to Wigan Athletic for the way they clawed themselves back into the game following an early reverse.

 With Curtis Tilt injured, Jack Whatmough returned to his usual position as right centre back, Jason Kerr being moved to the left, a less familiar position for him.

The Robins had scored in the 6th minute, a big gap being open on the left -hand side of Wigan’s defence, after Latics had lost the ball up field. Tommy Conway’s cross found Andreas Weimann at the far post, who notched his fourth goal of the season. Wigan’s main mode of attack was to launch hopeful long balls towards an isolated Josh Magennis up front. It was a largely ineffective ploy, but when the big striker got into the penalty box, he had three chances to score, although none of them were easy. Latics went into the half time interval a goal behind.

There was a surprise at the beginning of the second half with Thelo Aasgaard replacing Joe Bennett, who had had an off-day being fortunate not having received a red card following a scuffle with Joe Williams. Aasgaard moved to the left wing with James McClean taking over at left back. Aasgaard’s arrival coincided with a change in approach from Wigan, with controlled football gradually replacing the long ball.

An injury to Ben Amos caused him to be replaced by Jamie Jones after 54 minutes. Wigan were playing much better. Will Keane equalised in the 62nd minute after a goalmouth melee. Mark Sykes, a bargain signing from Oxford United, had been a thorn in the side for Latics on the right wing. Soon after Keane’s goal he launched a superb long cross to the six-yard box, but Conway somehow headed wide of a gaping net. Latics continued to press and looked dangerous, but the visitors also threatened with their rapid counterattacks.

In the end a draw was a fair result, Wigan’s third in the first three games.

Kerr stakes a claim

Jason Kerr, signed from St Johnstone in January, has had to bide his time to stake a claim as a frequent starter. Last season he was played on the right of a block of three central defenders, a position in which he had excelled when helping the Perth club to win both the Scottish Cup and the Scottish League Cup.

Kerr had come on to replace Jack Whatmough in a flat back four in the Preston game, growing more self-assured as the game went on. He continued in that right centre half position at Norwich where he was arguably Latics’ Man of the Match. This was the first time we have seen him on the left side of defence. Once again, he got better and better as the game progressed and was excellent in the second half.

Lang can make it in the Championship

It is Callum Lang’s first season in the Championship and the early stages have been testing for him. Faced against left sided defenders of superior quality to League 1, Lang has not been able to find the same amount of space and freedom as last season. Yesterday he was heavily policed by big defender Robert Atkinson, giving him no turning space, particularly in the first half. But as the game progressed, he began to find space and managed to threaten the opposition defence and goalkeeper.

Lang has been a key player for Latics, his goals being vital in their fight to avoid relegation, then to win the division. He is still only 23 and his best is ahead of him. At times he falls rather too easily, and he has done himself no favours with referees with his frequent arguing over decisions. But he has been a superb finisher at League 1 level, and this will surely translate into goals in the Championship. Lang ‘s willingness to run at the defence can unsettle them and create opportunities for teammates.

It is still early to make any judgements as to how effective Lang will be in this division. Much will depend on the help he receives from the coaches and his willingness to embrace it.

Magennis shows his commitment

The DW Stadium crowd have always liked a trier: a player willing to give his all for the team. Josh Magennis certainly did that yesterday and deserved the applause he got when he left the field after 76 minutes for Nathan Broadhead.

Magennis was signed in January as a direct replacement for Charlie Wyke at the time. Although 32 years old he was given a two and a half-year contract, an indication of the club’s keenness to sign him. He made a slow start to his Latics’ career but his game improved as he approached genuine match-fitness. As Wyke’s replacement it was a hard act to follow. Yesterday he showed that same sort of willingness that Wyke had shown to play the target man role, a physically demanding task against big central defenders.

After just 12 minutes of the live feed yesterday Tommy Gore remarked that Magennis had won 70-80% of his headers but there had been no teammates close by to take advantage. Magennis is not the first Latics centre forward to lack support. Indeed, I recall an old article of mine on this site where I brought up a commentary by ex-number 9, Gary Birtles, during the Martinez era where he lamented the lack of support for Connor Sammon. His most cutting comment was that “He (Sammon) was chasing his own flick-ons at times. When a system is just not working: change it!!”

Leam Richardson changed it in the second half yesterday and Latics looked a better team for it.

Last season Magennis scored three goals and made one assist in 17 games for Latics. His goals were all headed. He has a career record of 0.18 goals per game, compared with Nathan Broadhead (0.29), Ashely Fletcher (0.16) Stephen Humphrys (0.22), Callum Lang (0.30) and Charlie Wyke (0.33). It should be noted that almost half of Humphry’s career appearances have been made coming in off the bench.

Magennis is by no means an instinctive goalscorer. His strong points are his aerial threat in the penalty area and his commitment to the cause.

Big refereeing decisions going Wigan’s way

Joe Bennett was fortunate not to receive a red card after lashing out at Joe Williams who had fouled him and stamped on him. In such circumstances it tends to be the victim rather than the initial aggressor who is disciplined. Justice is not often served. However, the likelihood is that most referees would have sent Bennett off yesterday. In the event he received a yellow.

Latics also got the benefit of the decisions at Norwich, who had five penalty appeals turned down. The validity of each appeal may be up to debate, but it takes a strong and confident referee to stand up to the baying of the crowd in such circumstances.

Timewasting rears its ugly head

Modern football abounds with gamesmanship: blatant diving seeks rewards in free kicks, penalties, cards for opponents; teams mob referees to pressurise them into decisions in their favour; systematic professional fouling neutralises opposition attacks.

Time-wasting is rife. Players take their time with throw-ins, goal kicks, in walking their way off the pitch when being substituted. But one that particularly denigrates the game for the spectator is the feigning of injury. In football-talk it comes under the banner of “managing the game”. It is a ploy that is used by practically all teams to varying degrees. In the closing periods of the game, with the opposition gathering momentum a player goes down “injured”. Sometimes those injuries can be genuine, sometimes they can be cramp induced as players tire, but they can also be fake. A stoppage of say, three minutes, can be enough to dampen the momentum the opposition had built up. Repeated stoppages make it very difficult for the attacking side.

I am unaware of any stats that detail the amount of time consumed by teams when their players go down in the final 20 minutes of a game. If they were to be available on a cumulative team by team basis it would make fascinating reading.

One wonders where Nigel Pearson’s Bristol City would appear in such a table of such stats.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Portsmouth 3 Wigan Athletic 2: Latics limp towards promotion with mathematics on their side

In purely mathematical terms Wigan Athletic took a further step towards promotion last night. Losing by a one goal margin means that they go into the final game of the season at Shrewsbury with a +6 goal difference advantage over MK Dons. The odds against MK overcoming that goal difference are very high as they must travel to Plymouth to face a team eager to cement a place in the layoffs.

Courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Following the frustrating defeat for Wigan the Portsmouth manager, Danny Cowley, commented:

“A great way to end the season at Fratton Park. I am just pleased for the supporters and proud of the players for the way they responded, because we had played well first half. We just had two difficult moments, but Wigan, to be fair, are a really good team and they capitalised on them.”

It is hard to disagree with Cowley’s comments. Pompey were the better team in the first half, despite Latics scoring two stunning goals. As the game progressed, Latics reverted to their default mode – hoofball. There was to be little respite for the beleaguered Wigan defence with those “hopeful” long balls throwing away possession, inviting further Portsmouth pressure. It was reminiscent of the worst of the Paul Cook days when Latics could not hold on to a lead away from home.

 The trip to Fratton Park was always going to be difficult. The home crowd can be passionate and raucous, and they were keen to beat Latics. Portsmouth were the form team with three wins in a draw from their previous four games. In contrast Latics had not won in their previous four.

Despite the run of poor results Latics remain in pole position. A draw at Shrewsbury will mathematically ensure promotion, with MK Dons unable to catch them. Rotherham have a tricky away game at Gillingham who need a good result to stay in the division. If Latics can match the Yorkshire team’s result on the day, they will almost certainly win the division (providing MK Dons do not win with an avalanche of goals at Plymouth).

Leam Richardson merits his selection as EFL Manager of the Season. In the future he will likely reflect upon his successes over the past two seasons. Which would be the greater success: avoiding relegation with the club in administration and a threadbare squad or gaining promotion the following season?

However, Latics are limping towards promotion with the players looking jaded and stale. The decisions to seek cancellation of games during international breaks put undue physical pressure on the players in the second half of the season. Moreover, the manager has not rotated the key players who form the backbone of the team. The result has been that they have looked short of energy, not at their best, if able to show moments of quality in flashes. Any players coming in have struggled due to lack of game time. On Saturday Tom Pearce looked out of touch, but last night he made two brilliant crosses that led to goals.  

Team selection in recent games has been puzzling. In the home defeat to Cambridge the manager ditched the 3-4-1-2 system that had served so well in a positive run of results, only to reinstall it at half time. Will Keane’s opportunistic brace contributed to a precarious draw at Ipswich. Prior to the Plymouth match Richardson admitted he had a selection problem. Jordan Cousins, a key player earlier in the season, was back to fitness. The manager duly found a space for Cousins by pushing Max Power into the number 10 position. That pushed will Keane upfront, which is not his best position. Moreover, Joe Bennett was moved to left centre back with Tom Pearce at left wing back. The net result was having two left backs on the field and two specialist strikers, Stephen Humphrys and Josh Magennis, on the bench.

The use of substitutes continues to baffle. It was refreshing to see Richardson make bold changes at half time in the Cambridge game bringing on two substitutes off the bench to revert to 3-4-1-2. The manager generally prefers to make changes late in the game, which is fine if things are going well. However, the changes tend to unimaginative or reactive to changes made by the other team, rather than proactively making the changes to rest tired legs or change tactics as the opposition cause threats.

What can be expected on Saturday? Will Richardson bring in a central striker and push Keane back into midfield where he is most effective? Will he continue to use Bennett as a left centre back? Or will he bring back Kell Watts for his last game before returning to Newcastle?  

The most important thing on Saturday is not to concede goals that can help narrow the gap between Wigan and MK Dons. Will Richardson go in with a defensive formation or will he be bold and try to win the match and the title?

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com