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

Amigo and Social Media reaction to a home defeat to Cambridge

April 16, 2022: Wigan Athletic 1 Cambridge United 2

“I thought the game was the old proverbial of a game of two halves. I thought we started the game a little bit slow in possession and you’ve got to give credit to Cambridge who worked hard to create some chances in the first half. They took their chances and we weren’t as productive in the opposition half during the first half. I thought in the second half, we played with a tempo and with a really good flowing mindset that we’ve had for most of the year.”

Leam Richardson was certainly understating what happened in the first half. Latics were outplayed and the visitors were good value for their two goal lead. Wigan clawed their way back into the game in the second half and were unlucky not to equalise in the dying minutes, being defied by a superb double save by Bulgarian goalkeeper Dimitar Mitov.

Richardson had brought in Gwion Edwards and Graeme Shinnie, reverting to a 4-2-3-1 formation. Max Power was put at right back, with Tendayi Darikwa on the left.

It was a surprise that the manager had ditched the 3-4-3/3-4-1-2 system that had served so well in the past weeks. Seeing that it had not worked he reverted to three at the back at half time, with Jason Kerr bolstering the defence against the visitors’ aerial threat and Tom Pearce’s left footedness providing more balance on the left flank.

Let’s take a look at how fans reacted to the match through the message boards and social media. 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 identified below:

Zeb2 wrote:

Credit for the opposition comes in the form of the best centre forward display I’ve seen from any visitor this season ….Ironside isn’t a 6’ 4” monster but he is as strong as a bull and knows exactly how to play the role. Our centre backs were largely powerless against him.
(V Oliver did similarly for Gillingham a couple of months ago but only for the 2nd 45 mins)

Zakky commented:

Taking everything into consideration I think we looked a very very tired team. Our movement was ponderous and our decision making was slow..
The pace at which the Rotherham game and now the MK games are being played is light years faster than our turgid display.

Jeffs right responded:

I don’t think we are tired. It’s just how we play the game. There haven’t been many games at the DW this season where we have played with pace and urgency. Generally we have been pretty boring but made up with the work rate and never say die attitude.

LoudmouthBlue wrote:

It is a little disingenuous to say it was all down to how we played without praising the way Cambridge went about their task. They hammered us with an aerial game from one of the biggest sides I have seen in a while, they won every knock down second ball from their own front two and same from their defensive clearances.

Yes LR got it wrong today and should have started as he lined up for the second half.

To all those slating Darikwa, he was our best player today, he played in front of me both halves and stopped a number of crosses coming in and got forward and linked up well in the second half until he went off, we were sat with a couple who came from Huddersfield but were Sheff Utd season ticket holders, they were there with their family, her brothers lad was one of our juniors who were introduced at half time, they were astounded when Darikwa was taken off.

Dudestalker stated:

How many games did we go unbeaten playing with a back five? Reverts to a back four, and to make matters worse played two full backs out of position. I’ll say it, he’s either f..king thick or scared of upsetting his favourites.
Eternally grateful for him sticking with us last season, and he’s done some decent things this season, but going forward not sure he’s the right man to take us to the next level. My opinion.

All that said, that starting line up and set up was nonsensical….reverting to something that has repeatedly failed already….and all driven by a single absentee ….plain daft

King _dezeeuw06 summarised:

I imagine everyone from our fan base was immediately concerned when they saw the team and change of formation. We all know this formation just means we can’t play out and hoof it to no one. We were playing one of the divisions stronger long ball teams and we know we are useless at long ball. So why are we playing to Cambridge’s strengths and our weaknesses deliberately?

I know we struggled away on a small pitch against Burton but you don’t revert to doing all the bad things that we improved since we stopped doing as a response. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water.

You never get anything out of Edwards. Why start him? You know in advance he’ll be subbed off after doing nothing.

Dealing with Cambridge’s aerial threat (Ironside and Smith) was what cost us at their place so why take out arguably our best defensive header in Kerr?

In this formation Keane always ends up playing too high up and we get nothing creatively out of him when he’s not linking up play the side falls down. He was too high against Burton and he was even higher tonight.

Naylor and Shinnie are too similar and in this formation drop too deep and combine that with Keane being too high you completely vacate the middle of the pitch making winning second balls and linking up attack and defence very difficult.

Power is key in key to our midfield as he runs the game so why move him out of centre mid when Darikwa is in the side to play 2 players out of position? You knew Power would almost certainly end up back in centre mid out of necessity.

Darikwa is no use at left back why is he not at right back or one of our 2 good left backs starting? It didn’t need any hindsight to know Darikwa would have to swop sides for us to get any threat from left back.

Magennis up front on his own never works, constantly long balling in at him loses it but that’s all we did.

The change of formation suited none of our players it made everything worse all over the park. The changes only suited Cambridge who probably couldn’t believe their luck at our inexplicable decision to abandon what worked on our unbeaten run and revert back to the tactics that gave us our last loss.

Richardson said he didn’t think the change in formation and tactics cost us in that first half but he is clearly just trying to deflect as his changes at half time subbing on 2 defenders to undo all his changes tells it’s own story. He has got a lot of plaudits but he deserves massive critisism for setting us up to fail today – it was just completely counter intuitive. He is always very slow to make changes, it was obvious from the first minute it wasn’t working so how it took conceding 2 goals and 45 mins to do anything about it was beggars belief. If we started with the usual wing backs we’d have probably been alright but needless and bizarre tinkering gave them a 2 goal head start and the damage was done.

Blame certainly falls on the coaching staff but a lot of the players just shirked responsibility. When we were crying out for players to get control of the centre of the pitch and show for the ball most of them went and stood up front in a big long line waiting for a long ball that none of them had a chance of winning. Only Power really tried to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and most of the other players just gave it to him and stood back and left him to try and do something on his own. I know the tactics in the first half were awful but in the second half there were a lot of bottlers unfortunately.

Tactically we were poor against Burton but I still got the train of thought, so you are disappointed and accept it as a bad night. If we played a coherent team and tactics tonight and we lost then you’d be frustrated but it happens – but no one in that ground except the coaching staff would’ve picked that starting line up. Not because everyone is super clever it’s because it was super obvious it was wrong. It’s so frustrating we’ve dropped 5 points from our 2 easiest remaining games that would’ve seen us pretty much up when so much of that is completely self inflicted.

Sheffield Wednesday and Pompey did us big favours this past week, we’ve made a mess at our end but it could’ve been much worse. 3 hard games coming up now – got to get back to playing football and getting control of the midfield or we’ll blow this golden chance.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Amigo and Social Media reaction to a home defeat to Cambridge

April 16, 2022: Wigan Athletic 1 Cambridge United 2

“I thought the game was the old proverbial of a game of two halves. I thought we started the game a little bit slow in possession and you’ve got to give credit to Cambridge who worked hard to create some chances in the first half. They took their chances and we weren’t as productive in the opposition half during the first half. I thought in the second half, we played with a tempo and with a really good flowing mindset that we’ve had for most of the year.”

Leam Richardson was certainly understating what happened in the first half. Latics were outplayed and the visitors were good value for their two goal lead. Wigan clawed their way back into the game in the second half and were unlucky not to equalise in the dying minutes, being defied by a superb double save by Bulgarian goalkeeper Dimitar Mitov.

Richardson had brought in Gwion Edwards and Graeme Shinnie, reverting to a 4-2-3-1 formation. Max Power was put at right back, with Tendayi Darikwa on the left.

It was a surprise that the manager had ditched the 3-4-3/3-4-1-2 system that had served so well in the past weeks. Seeing that it had not worked he reverted to three at the back at half time, with Jason Kerr bolstering the defence against the visitors’ aerial threat and Tom Pearce’s left footedness providing more balance on the left flank.

Let’s take a look at how fans reacted to the match through the message boards and social media. 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 identified below:

Zeb2 wrote:

Credit for the opposition comes in the form of the best centre forward display I’ve seen from any visitor this season ….Ironside isn’t a 6’ 4” monster but he is as strong as a bull and knows exactly how to play the role. Our centre backs were largely powerless against him.
(V Oliver did similarly for Gillingham a couple of months ago but only for the 2nd 45 mins)

Zakky commented:

Taking everything into consideration I think we looked a very very tired team. Our movement was ponderous and our decision making was slow..
The pace at which the Rotherham game and now the MK games are being played is light years faster than our turgid display.

Jeffs right responded:

I don’t think we are tired. It’s just how we play the game. There haven’t been many games at the DW this season where we have played with pace and urgency. Generally we have been pretty boring but made up with the work rate and never say die attitude.

LoudmouthBlue wrote:

It is a little disingenuous to say it was all down to how we played without praising the way Cambridge went about their task. They hammered us with an aerial game from one of the biggest sides I have seen in a while, they won every knock down second ball from their own front two and same from their defensive clearances.

Yes LR got it wrong today and should have started as he lined up for the second half.

To all those slating Darikwa, he was our best player today, he played in front of me both halves and stopped a number of crosses coming in and got forward and linked up well in the second half until he went off, we were sat with a couple who came from Huddersfield but were Sheff Utd season ticket holders, they were there with their family, her brothers lad was one of our juniors who were introduced at half time, they were astounded when Darikwa was taken off.

Dudestalker stated:

How many games did we go unbeaten playing with a back five? Reverts to a back four, and to make matters worse played two full backs out of position. I’ll say it, he’s either f..king thick or scared of upsetting his favourites.
Eternally grateful for him sticking with us last season, and he’s done some decent things this season, but going forward not sure he’s the right man to take us to the next level. My opinion.

All that said, that starting line up and set up was nonsensical….reverting to something that has repeatedly failed already….and all driven by a single absentee ….plain daft

King _dezeeuw06 summarised:

I imagine everyone from our fan base was immediately concerned when they saw the team and change of formation. We all know this formation just means we can’t play out and hoof it to no one. We were playing one of the divisions stronger long ball teams and we know we are useless at long ball. So why are we playing to Cambridge’s strengths and our weaknesses deliberately?

I know we struggled away on a small pitch against Burton but you don’t revert to doing all the bad things that we improved since we stopped doing as a response. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water.

You never get anything out of Edwards. Why start him? You know in advance he’ll be subbed off after doing nothing.

Dealing with Cambridge’s aerial threat (Ironside and Smith) was what cost us at their place so why take out arguably our best defensive header in Kerr?

In this formation Keane always ends up playing too high up and we get nothing creatively out of him when he’s not linking up play the side falls down. He was too high against Burton and he was even higher tonight.

Naylor and Shinnie are too similar and in this formation drop too deep and combine that with Keane being too high you completely vacate the middle of the pitch making winning second balls and linking up attack and defence very difficult.

Power is key in key to our midfield as he runs the game so why move him out of centre mid when Darikwa is in the side to play 2 players out of position? You knew Power would almost certainly end up back in centre mid out of necessity.

Darikwa is no use at left back why is he not at right back or one of our 2 good left backs starting? It didn’t need any hindsight to know Darikwa would have to swop sides for us to get any threat from left back.

Magennis up front on his own never works, constantly long balling in at him loses it but that’s all we did.

The change of formation suited none of our players it made everything worse all over the park. The changes only suited Cambridge who probably couldn’t believe their luck at our inexplicable decision to abandon what worked on our unbeaten run and revert back to the tactics that gave us our last loss.

Richardson said he didn’t think the change in formation and tactics cost us in that first half but he is clearly just trying to deflect as his changes at half time subbing on 2 defenders to undo all his changes tells it’s own story. He has got a lot of plaudits but he deserves massive critisism for setting us up to fail today – it was just completely counter intuitive. He is always very slow to make changes, it was obvious from the first minute it wasn’t working so how it took conceding 2 goals and 45 mins to do anything about it was beggars belief. If we started with the usual wing backs we’d have probably been alright but needless and bizarre tinkering gave them a 2 goal head start and the damage was done.

Blame certainly falls on the coaching staff but a lot of the players just shirked responsibility. When we were crying out for players to get control of the centre of the pitch and show for the ball most of them went and stood up front in a big long line waiting for a long ball that none of them had a chance of winning. Only Power really tried to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and most of the other players just gave it to him and stood back and left him to try and do something on his own. I know the tactics in the first half were awful but in the second half there were a lot of bottlers unfortunately.

Tactically we were poor against Burton but I still got the train of thought, so you are disappointed and accept it as a bad night. If we played a coherent team and tactics tonight and we lost then you’d be frustrated but it happens – but no one in that ground except the coaching staff would’ve picked that starting line up. Not because everyone is super clever it’s because it was super obvious it was wrong. It’s so frustrating we’ve dropped 5 points from our 2 easiest remaining games that would’ve seen us pretty much up when so much of that is completely self inflicted.

Sheffield Wednesday and Pompey did us big favours this past week, we’ve made a mess at our end but it could’ve been much worse. 3 hard games coming up now – got to get back to playing football and getting control of the midfield or we’ll blow this golden chance.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Burton Albion 0 Wigan Athletic 0: Some Talking Points

A stunning last-ditch clearance by Kell Watts in the dying moments denied the home side of a win that they probably merited. Despite not playing well Latics held on for a valuable point that edges them closer to automatic promotion, buoyed by Rotherham’s 3-0 pasting at Portsmouth.

After the game Leam Richardson commented:

“It was always going to be challenging and you have to meet them for the fight, and hope then your bit of quality comes through. Fair credit to Burton, I thought they defended resolutely, as we did for large parts. We’ll take our point and move on.”

Latics had started in a lively manner, the wing backs pushing forward, the midfield winning the second balls. After looking in control in the first 25 minutes they gradually moved to that familiar default mode of hopeful long balls as the first half progressed. That continued for the rest of the match. Burton’s “give and go” football gave them the edge and they went close on several occasions, with Latics looking short of creativity further forward.

It was a difficult night on a narrow pitch and difficult conditions. A point was a good result for an error-strewn Wigan team unable or unwilling to string passes together. During the second half the midfield was struggling, with the wing backs reluctant to push forward. The situation was crying out for a substitution that would strengthen that midfield, but it never came.

Richardson made a substitution on 73 minutes with Stephen Humphrys replacing a tiring Joe Bennett. That involved putting Callum Lang to right wing back with Tendayi Darikwa switching flanks. Bennett had done well to play the full 90 in the previous two games after such a long recuperation period from an ACL injury. He is a conservative option at left wing back compared with Tom Pearce or James McClean who will assertively attack an opposition defence.

The substitution did not improve things and may of us were left wondering why Pearce had not been introduced or why the midfield had not been bolstered by the introduction of Jordan Cousins or Graeme Shinnie.

Richardson tends to be very cautious with substitutions, preferring to stick with his starting XI unless injury or tiredness force his hand. However, he deserves praise for temporarily deserting his favoured 4-2-3-1 to playing with three centre backs, a change that has produced results.  Jason Kerr has gone from strength to strength through his regular selection to the starting XI. He was probably Wigan’s best performer in this game.

Latics are now unbeaten in their last nine league games. The manager has done well in getting his team to where they currently are. His next immediate challenge is to prepare his players for the visit of Cambridge United on Easter Saturday. Cambridge’s away record this season reads W6 D5 L10.

The point gained in this game could well prove important to Latics as they, MK Dons and Rotherham come under pressure as the season nears its close.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Five talking points after Wigan Athletic earn a draw at Milton Keynes

March 12, 2022: MK Dons 1 Wigan Athletic 1

Wigan Athletic significantly strengthened their bid for an automatic promotion place in League 1 by gaining a point at the MK Stadium. The result means that the teams remain level on points, MK having 8 games left to play and Wigan 11.

Courtesy of FootyStats.com

Leam Richardson described it as “a commendable performance” by his players, citing how they had worked tirelessly hard in and out of possession. It was what could be termed a “professional performance” with Wigan’s work rate, energy and physicality dulling the keen edge of the home team’s usual style of smooth football.

MK manager Liam Manning summed it up in saying: “Wigan had a game plan to come here and stop us playing and when you’ve got a team as experienced and physical and well set-up as they are, it made things difficult. They came here well structured, well drilled and difficult to break down.”

Tom Naylor’s 59th minute goal had looked yards offside at the time, although video replays suggest it was a borderline decision that went in Latics’ favour. The home team’s equaliser in the 88th minute was a frustrating one for Wigan to concede, with a free header from a corner.

In the end a draw was a fair result.

Richardson gets it right

Leam Richardson opted for a backline of three central defenders, with wing backs, matching the formation of the home team. It worked well, the shape and energy of the Wigan team stifling the MK Dons’ usually smooth-flowing football, forcing them into errors.

Madley stays strong

When it was announced that Bobby Madley was to officiate this game there were groans from Wigan fans. He had made some decisions in previous Latics matches that were both puzzling and infuriating.

However, Madley stayed strong. It was a tense affair between two teams vying for automatic promotion, each having a contrasting style of play. Madley’s decision to allow Naylor’s goal was pivotal, as was his strength in resisting simulations from the home team.

Unnecessary Yellow cards

One of the frustrations of Wigan’s play this season has been the accumulation of unnecessary yellow cards. Yesterday Latics were without Tendayi Darikwa, James McClean and Graeme Shinnie through suspension. Callum Lang picked up another one yesterday and will miss the next two matches.

Fortunately for Richardson, Latics have a strong squad. However, they have lost important players through long-term injury, on top of the normal shorter-term injury toll. To lose more players through suspensions which could have been avoided by better self-discipline adds to the pressure.

Lang will miss the next two games

Callum Lang has been such a key player since his return to Wigan in January 2021. Without his opportunism and drive Latics would almost certainly have been relegated last season. This season he has become an automatic starter in a strong Latics side heading for promotion.

In recent matches Lang has not been on his best form. Reports have suggested that he has been carrying an injury. Yesterday he was heavily policed by the MK Dons defence, giving him little space to work in, dulling his effectiveness.

The yellow card he received yesterday means that Lang will be suspended from the next two league games. It is a blow for Latics even if they face lowly opposition in Crewe and Morecambe this week. However, in the long run an enforced rest might prove beneficial to a player who has put so much energy into the team that he risks burning himself out.

Darling’s equaliser

Wigan’s ability to repel aerial threats has been key in their rise as a promotion-chasing team. They have four quality centre backs to choose from and tall midfielders and attackers who come back to help defend set-pieces. Moreover, Ben Amos has shown his ability to punch the ball away in a crowded goalmouth.

MK Dons central defender Harry Darling scored his eighth goal of the season yesterday. Given his goal tally one would have expected him to be better policed from the corner kick that led to the equaliser.

Wigan’s last League 1 title winning team had Dan Burn and Chey Dunkley marshalling the centre of defence, a robust duo who were superb in the air. Richardson’s preferred centre back pairing has been Jack Whatmough and Curtis Tilt, their physicality and ability in the air akin to that of Burn and Dunkley. Together with Jason Kerr they got the better of the home team forwards yesterday until two minutes from normal time. Amos could be blamed for missing his punch away, but where was his cover?

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com