An Amigo View – Plymouth 1 Wigan Athletic 3 – talking points

 

The trip to Home Park to meet a Plymouth side unbeaten in their last eight matches was not going to be easy. Moreover, the home support had come out in numbers for the Pilgrims’ best crowd of the season of 11,942. But Wigan’s clinical finishing was to enable them to come away with a valuable win that puts them five points ahead of Shrewsbury, who could only draw at home to Doncaster Rovers. In truth, Latics had not played particularly well and the home side’s approach work surely merited a better scoreline than the 1-3 result.

Will Grigg had a good opportunity as early as the 6th minute, but could not show the sharpness needed to put the ball away. Chey Dunkley’s ill-judged tackle Plymouth’s on Graham Carey on 27 minutes led to a home team penalty that the same player converted. But Latics equalised a couple of minutes later when Grigg this time showed the sharpness required to deflect home Nick Powell’s sublime cross. A superb counterattack saw Gavin Massey grab the second on 45 minutes. Although Plymouth continued to threaten Dan Burn’s header was deflected into his own net by a Plymouth defender on 69 minutes. Wigan’s two goal lead was to prove a mountain that the home side could not overcome.

Paul Cook so often displays a refreshing kind of fairness and openness, rare among football managers, in his post-match comments. He was spot-on in his depiction of this match:

I thought it was a very difficult game; Plymouth were excellent in the game, they kept knocking on the door and started well. We never got into our rhythm like we normally do away from home and didn’t dominate the ball and Ryan Taylor caused us a lot of problems.

I felt the second goal came at such a crucial time because we weren’t the better team on the pitch and, makes no bones about it, Plymouth were the more aggressive team and caused us problems but for them the third goal was a hammer blow and they definitely didn’t deserve that on the day. That’s football, though, the lads had to dig in today, which they did, show a lot of character after a tough game on Wednesday and it was great to come down here and go back with the three points.”

Let’s take a look at some talking points arising from the game:

Latics showed physicality

Being unable to impose their customary midfield control, Latics had to fight for possession and to keep Plymouth out of the danger areas. The way they did this did not go down too well with the Home Park crowd, who were unhappy with their physical approach. However, the home team certainly fuelled the crowd’s anger by going down on occasions as if poleaxed, followed by teammates pressurising the referee. It was a difficult game for the official, but although he booked four Latics players to Plymouth’s none, it could have been much worse if he had buckled to the roaring of the crowd.

Latics had that extra quality

Although this was by no means a top performance from Latics, there can be no doubting the team’s willingness to work hard to get a result. But added to that were flashes of real quality that were to prove the difference between the two teams.

Nick Powell had a good game and his pass using the outside of his foot for Grigg’s goal was a pleasure to behold. He also had a hand in the second, winning a tackle around the half way line to pass inside for Max Power who ran forward to put in a slide-rule pass for Gavin Massey to neatly score.

Power is becoming a better player under Cook. Too often in the past he has looked for sideways or backwards passes, but now his play has more emphasis on going forward and he has the technique to thread through quality passes. Moreover, his crossing, from open play and set pieces, has been a joy to behold in recent weeks.

Graham Carey – worth considering

Playmaker, Graham Carey, has been inspirational in Plymouth’s rise up the table. On Saturday he caused problems for the right side of the Latics defence, with his close control and ability to dribble past the opposition. Fortunately for Latics he was moved to the rother flank in the second half where he was less effective, although he was still able to whip in some quality balls with his cultured left foot.

Carey is a 28 year old Irishman who spent four years in Scotland with St Mirren and Ross County before joining Plymouth in 2015, where he has scored 32 goals in 110 appearances. Carey’s best position is in the Nick Powell role, behind the centre forward, but he is often played out wide. Saturday’s goal put him on a total of 11 for the season, the same as Nick Powell.

Paul Cook recognised Carey’s performance by saying: “Credit to Graham Carey, though, he is an excellent player, he is a constant threat and he will cause problems.”

Would Cook consider an approach for the player in the transfer market?

Reverting to three central defenders

Alex Bruce was brought on for Nick Powell after 78  minutes, Cook once again opting for a back line of three central defenders plus wing backs. It could be argued that it was primarily a defensive tactic, but the presence of a third central defender gives the full backs more scope to attack, as we saw in the days of Roberto Martinez.

The manager has been criticised in the past for a lack of tactical flexibility, but this is a  very viable option that he has decided to employ. Bruce might lack the pace of his younger days, but in the centre of a back line of three central defenders, he has the kind of positional sense and reading of the game that can make him a major asset.

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Another point for Latics as takeover looms

It was another of those games when Wigan Athletic had their chances, but just could not put the ball into the back of the net. Although not at their best, Wigan played some quality football at times against a Peterborough side keen to get a result. The visitors gave a good account of themselves, looking better than their current 9th position placing in League 1.

A third consecutive goalless draw at the DW Stadium is hardly the kind of thing that will attract the “floating” fan. Saturday’s attendance was 8,602 which included 399 from Peterborough. The average for the season so far is 9,084.

But despite the goalless draws, Latics have collected 21 points over the past 10 matches.  Although they have scored just one goal in their last four league matches, they have not conceded a goal in the last seven. However, they will be keeping a close eye on Blackburn Rovers, undefeated in 15 league matches. Over the last ten they have gathered 24 points to Wigan’s 21. They had an important 3-1 win over Shrewsbury on Saturday, bringing them to within 5 points of Latics, 2 points behind the Shrews.

When Aston Villa won the First Division title in the 1980/81 season they used only 14 players in a 42-game season. In contrast, Chelsea employed 24 to win last season’s Premier League in a season of 38 matches. In modern day the strength of the entire squad has become of increasing importance, not only in the first tier of English football. When Sheffield United won the League 1 title last season they used 28 players. When Gary Caldwell’s Latics won it the previous season they had 36 players involved.

The key to promotion from League 1 has typically been to have a nucleus of players who are regular names on the team sheet, together with quality back-up. Paul Cook’s recruitment over summer provided him with just that. That Wigan Athletic are top of the division at this stage of the season is no surprise, given the ability and experience of the core players and the quality in depth that they have. Only Blackburn Rovers have the kind of squad that can come close to Cook’s in terms of quality. They too are serious challengers for automatic promotion.

Shrewsbury Town have been the surprise team of the season. They do not have a squad with the depth of those of Latics or Blackburn, but continue to challenge for automatic promotion. Their success has largely been based on the successful chemistry between a nucleus of players largely drawn from the lower leagues. In fact, 10 of their squad have played in 23 games or more of the 26 they have played so far.

Back in 1980/81 Aston Villa employed such a small number of players during the season for several reasons. One is that teams were only allowed to use one substitute in that era. But a key factor is that their key players stayed clear of injury and suspensions. Shrewsbury are a physically competitive team, not afraid to disrupt the opposition’s game. However, they are well disciplined and have received just one red card and 33 yellows in 26 league games.  Should they manage to stay clear of injuries they could well sustain their challenge at the top of the table.

Given the impending takeover of the club by a Far East consortium, it has been hard to predict the short-term effects the potential change would have.  Despite the uncertainty of what will happen under new ownership, Cook has seemingly managed to keep the players focused, judging by the points accrued during an 11-game unbeaten run. Given the scenario, policy in the transfer market was going to be difficult to predict. Would it be driven by the current ownership or the future buyers?

Up to this point the recruitment in the January window bears the hallmark of the current ownership. Lee Evans left for Sheffield United, after they paid Wolves £750,000 for his services. Two other loan players, Matija Sarkic and Ivan Toney, have been recalled by their parent clubs, through lack of game time at Wigan. Cook will be hoping he can cling on to his other two loan players, Christian Walton and Callum Elder. The arrivals of Jamie Walker and James Vaughan will strengthen the squad, their bargain price signings being typical of the Sharpe era. But we have come to expect the club to seek incoming funds to compensate for the £500,000 or so that has been spent. It appears that Jack Byrne is going to Oldham on a permanent contract, although it is unclear how much compensation, if any, Latics will receive. Can we expect more departures?

The surprise up to this point is that there have been no rumours linking Latics to a right full back, as back-up for Nathan Byrne. Walker will effectively take Jack Byrne’s place in the squad, with Vaughan replacing Toney. Another winger would certainly strengthen the squad and Latics have been linked to Morton’s Jai Quitongo, who could be picked up at a bargain price since his contract expires in summer. Having already lost three loan players, Cook will surely also be scouring the loan market to add to his squad.

Should Alan Nixon be correct in his estimate of 10 more days, the takeover will happen before the ending of the transfer window. However, by then we can expect most of Cook’s adjustments to the squad to have been finalised. He will continue to focus on promotion back to the Championship. Should that happen, and Cook continue to be in charge, we can expect major transfer activity in summer.

We can only hope that the new ownership will invest more seriously in the squad than the current incumbents did in the summer of 2016. It remains to be seen whether the consortium would be willing to go a stage further by putting up the kind of money needed to challenge for a place back in the Premier League.

 

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A Hearts fan’s view of Jamie Walker

Reports suggest that the 24 year old midfielder Jamie Walker will sign for Wigan Athletic today for a fee of £300,000. The 5 ft 9 in tall Walker was in the final year of his contract.

Robbie Neilson, MK Dons manager, was in charge at Hearts from 2014-16. In a recent interview with The Scotsman newspaper he commented on Walker’s imminent move to Wigan:

“I’d expect him to score a few goals there and play some games, and hopefully make that step up to the Championship. The team he’s going to dominate a lot of the games so I think that will definitely help him in the way they play. They’ve got guys who are similar to Jamie and that’s the way they play, so it would be a good one for him.

I thought he was excellent when I had him as a player. When I came in I spoke to him about his work rate and I think he’s done that, he’s looked after himself fitness-wise. He’s earned himself a move and I’m sure he’ll kick on because there is no doubting his technical ability, that’s for sure.”

Jamie Walker grew up in Edinburgh and came up through the youth ranks at Hearts.  At the age of 18 he was sent to Raith Rovers on loan to get first team experience. He went on to make 23 appearances, scoring 3 goals in the 2011-12 season. He made his first team debut for Hearts as a substitute in November 2012 against Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Tynecastle. By the end of the season he had made 24 appearances for Hearts in the SPL, scoring 2 goals, being voted the club’s “Young Player of the Year”.

Last summer Walker was the subject of two bids from Rangers, who were eventually unwilling to meet the Edinburgh club’s asking price of £1m. The club reported that Walker had asked for the move, although the player himself denied it, causing a rift between him and Hearts fans. In October The Daily Record reported on the abuse that not just the player, but also his immediate family, suffered as a result.

Walker can play on either flank, or behind the centre forward. In his five years of first team football at Hearts he has made 125 league starts and 29 appearances as a substitute, scoring 37 goals. He has represented Scotland at U15, U16, U17, U19 and U21 levels.

In order to learn more about Walker’s time at Hearts we contacted the Jambos Kickback (http://www.hmfckickback.co.uk) fan forum. The responses we got were multituidinous, but below you will find a selection of them:

Debut4 commented:

Fresh start for him. I don’t think the Cathro period helped him and became frustrated. Its been clear recently that under a proper manager (Levein for the OPs info) he’s found a little bit of his previous self again.

 A lot of Hearts supporters don’t like him because he was angling for a move to Rangers. No matter how he played he was dismissed as having lost it or not committed to Hearts latterly.

 You are getting a decent player, good brain, dangerous around the box when it falls to him but injury has plagued him which should concern you.

Davidkeye said

Overall as above really, plenty natural talent but certainly a bit inconsistent. Overall disappointed to lose him but it was inevitable and a fair chunk of Hearts fans think the same (have a read of the long thread as mentioned above on this forum).

 Will he do ok at Wigan? Who knows, he will need to get a little stronger for English football i’d say and there is also the issues of him and his family settling off the park (think he has a little kid etc now) and although its only a few hours down the road moving away from where you’ve been brought up with friends and family etc is never easy).

It has certainly ended slightly on a sour note but he has had success overall with Hearts and been here pretty much his entire playing career, he leaves us with a half decent fee as he said he would. it could have been a lot more if he was a bit more consistent imo. Good luck to him, hope he does well for you.

BigHenry added:

The boy’s got bags of ability. Likes to run with the ball. Takes players on and gets fouled regularly due to his quick feet. His finishing is decent but still needs improvement. A difficult player to fit into your team because he likes to play in behind the strikers, sniffing out openings. I don’t think he can play wide as he’s not got real pace ,although quick over the first few yards.  He’s went off the boil recently due to the nonsense surrounding the transfer saga. If you get keep him fit and fit him  into your system then you could have a bargain on your hands. A right good player at our level anyway.  

Hughsie27 said

He has been a promising prospect since he was about 15/16. Comes from a Hearts family background. He joined the first team quite young and impressed for the first couple of years in the team but suffered from a lot of injuries which seems to have hampered his development somewhat. 

On his day he is brilliant. He hasn’t really been on his day for about 18 months though. Still young enough where a fresh start might help him but I’d be willing to bet you lot will have him back up here at Rangers (on loan or otherwise) by this time next year.

Sadj commented:

Fantastic football brain , makes good choices , cracking player when his heads in it. Has had a tough 18months with injuries needs a change to move forward as has stagnated at Hearts recently. 

The Apprentice opined:

A fit and ‘at it’ Jamie Walker would no doubt be an asset for Wigan but has others have said his last couple of injuries seem to have robbed him of any pace he’s had before. Widly inconsistent, drifts in and out of games but if he plays to his full potential then he’s a match-winner on his day. IMO I reckon a change of scenery could do him the world of good. 

Jambos_1874 said

I would say the majority of comments on here are overly critical. Jamie has plenty of natural ability and early on his Hearts career that wasn’t matched with workrate and effort. However, in recent years (when injury free) this definitely improved and there is no doubt he can score goals when given the chance but that depends on the type of football Wigan play and whether he’ll suit their style. For me his lack of pace is his main negative and I think that will definitely count against him in England. Jamie was a fans favourite but this season a lot of fans appear to have tirned against him. 

 To those fans who criticise his derby peformances, I agree to an extent. But there were several recent derbies, particularly under Cathro, where I think he really was trying but there was zero effort from the players around him.

 

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An Amigo View – Northampton Town 0 Wigan Athletic 1 – five talking points

It was not the most inspiring display of the season, but a fifth minute goal from Nick Powell, combined with resolute defence, was enough to collect three points at Sixfields. Paul Cook had once again resisted rotating his squad, making just one change to his starting lineup, despite it being Latics’ fourth game in eight days. Reece James had returned to the left back position, where he once again performed well. It is a mystery why the 24-year-old has still not been signed on an expended contract.

After a pretty bright first half, Latics did what is colloquially known as” a professional job” in the second, restricting the home team. It looked like their tired legs were just not up to keeping up the degree of intensity of the first 45 minutes.

Despite their humble league position, the Cobblers proved to be worthy opponents. They had some bright spells in the first half, then came out in the second determined to get back into the game. That they did not is a reflection on both Wigan’s capable defending and a lack of conviction in their finishing.

Let’s look at some talking points:

Another clean sheet

Wigan Athletic have conceded just 12 goals in 25 league matches, with 16 clean sheets. Yesterday saw their sixth consecutive game shutting out the opposition from scoring.

Those last six matches coincide with the return of Christian Walton between the posts, following injury. Yesterday he was excellent, not only in his confident handling but in his role as “sweeper” behind the defence, racing out of his box to clear danger from through balls.

Dunkley excels

Dan Burn is usually the one who wins the plaudits for his defensive work, but Chey Dunkley too has proved himself to be an excellent acquisition. Like Burn, he was signed as a free agent, having run his contract down at Oxford.

Dunkley was Man of the Match for me yesterday. He was as powerful as always in the air, resolute in the tackle, showing excellent positional sense. Although a physical type of player he has conceded only 9 fouls in 22 league starts, a commendable statistic for a big central defender. His sending off against Portsmouth in August distorts an otherwise excellent disciplinary record, with just one yellow card to his name this season.

The need for another winger

The rumours of Latics trying to sign winger Jamie Walker from Hearts are no surprise. Walker is on the final year of his contract and Wigan could get a bargain price on the player.

Ryan Colclough was once again conspicuously absent from the team sheet yesterday and when Gavin Massey went off after 70 minutes it was central midfielder, Max Power, who came on to replace him.

Massey had started with some promise but faded out as the game progressed. But it was a surprise that Michael Jacobs was not taken off. There had been media coverage of the player’s return to his home town club, but it turned out to be another indifferent performance from Jacobs.

It really needed wingers with fresh legs out there yesterday, but both Massey and Jacobs looked jaded. Massey is a hard-working team player who relies on rapid acceleration to get past defenders. That is what happened in the 5th minute, when he latched on to Sam Morsy’s excellent crossfield pass, before putting in a measured cross for Powell’s opportunist goal.

Jacobs is a different type of player, a right footed left winger encouraged to cut inside to shoot. He has already scored 7 goals in the league this season in addition to being a major creative force in the team when on-song. However, the player’s all-action style means he burns up so much energy. Jacobs has looked far from energised in recent games, which is no negative reflection on him, but on the lack of alternatives available to Cook.

In the meantime, we will await news from the club on Colclough and Walker.

The importance of Powell

Nick Powell’s languid style sometimes gives people the impression he is not giving his all for the team. Moreover, there are fans who berate him, suggesting he thinks he is too good to play at Wigan. Others will say the team has played better as a unit when he has not been available. However, Powell’s performances speak for themselves. He not only orchestrates the midfield, but is the leading goalscorer with 11 from 22 starts. Moreover, his manager has emphasised that Powell does have the right attitude, despite his critics.

Rumours of an impending departure to Aston Villa are worrisome. Powell is an essential cog in a very effective team unit, his creativity catalysing Wigan’s best football. Put simply, although he has to play within himself due to hamstring problems, he is a class above any other player at the club.

A time of uncertainty

The projected takeover of the club by the K8 consortium was due to happen before Christmas, if one can believe media reports. Recent theories suggest it has not happened yet because no agreement has been made regarding the continuation of David Sharpe, and possibly Jonathan Jackson, at the club.

In the meantime, Paul Cook and his players will continue to focus upon getting Latics back in the Championship division. Having such a degree of uncertainty revolving around the ownership of the club is hardly conducive to Cook’s efforts.

The transfer window

The rumours regarding Jamie Walker fit in with what we have come to expect over recent years at Wigan. Latics have made a number of important signings of players whose contracts have been running down.

Neither is it a surprise to hear that Jack Byrne might be going to the Edinburgh club. The talented young Irishman seemed to be doing well at Oldham, but their manager, Riche Wellens, unleashed a stinging attack on the player, saying:

“I’ve given Jack Byrne a free role for a number of games but I’ve been disappointed with Jack. He looks good on the ball but his end product is no assists. He got two goals against Northampton and a goal at Crewe, but that’s a long time since he’s scored a goal. For the position and the amount of freedom I give him in a game, I would expect more. That deal is down to whether we want to do it or not, so we’ll make a decision. Jack is speaking to a couple of other clubs anyway, which is his right to do.”

Byrne is certainly a talented player, but Cook appears reluctant to bring him back, even with the possible departure of Nick Powell. There have been rumours about the young Irishman being difficult to manage, but the more likely factor is an unwillingness on Cook’s behalf to give any player a free role.

An exchange plus cash deal might be in the pipeline.

However, the shadow of a possibly imminent takeover of the club looms above the transfer window. Some cynics even go so far as suggesting Sharpe will sell off prized assets to make a quick buck for the Whelan family prior to a takeover. But the more positive among us will say that the pursuit of Walker is a sign that Sharpe continues to run the club in his familiar style.

The sale of Yanic Wildschut in the last January window severely weakened the Latics’ attack. We can only hope that something similar does not happen this time around.

 

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An Amigo View – Wigan Athletic 0 Charlton Athletic 0 – five talking points

 

On paper it looked like a home banker, but a low-energy Latics struggled to find their way around Karl Robinson’s parked bus. With his squad ravaged by injury the normally more positive Charlton manager decided to make it as difficult as possible for Wigan to score.

After the game Paul Cook opined that:

“We have to respect that when teams come to the DW now, they are going to come with different ways to frustrate us. Tonight was no different to Plymouth and Northampton, but in those games we managed to get a goal, unfortunately tonight we didn’t and that can be football. If we would have won tonight and it would have been 1-0 we’d have all been euphoric and we would have been delighted.”

Sam Morsy had almost given Latics that crucial goal in stoppage time, but his deflected shot hit the post. It just was not to be Wigan’s night.

Let’s look at some talking points arising from the game:

A need for some degree of rotation

Cook decided to rest Reece James, bringing in Callum Elder. But despite playing their third game in a space of six days, there were no other rotations.

So many players looked jaded and the high-energy approach that has produced Wigan’s best performances of the season was sadly absent. In its place was a ponderously slow build up, interspersed with hopeful long crosses.

Uwe Rosler might have been nicknamed “Tinkerman” for his constant squad rotations, but Cook goes to the other extreme. Not only did he fail to freshen up his starting lineup, but he introduced his second and third substitutes five minutes before the end.

Home entertainment

Given the way so many visiting teams this season have “parked the bus”, the entertainment value for home fans at the DW Stadium has not been the best. An early goal for Latics can open up the game, but that does not always happen. A flying start is crucial and it is important that Wigan employ the high press from the start, putting the visiting defence under intense pressure. But high pressing requires a physical demand that the players were not up to yesterday.

Away games have generally been more entertaining this season. Latics have scored 28 goals on the road and 21 at home, although they have played two more games at the DW than away from home.

The other night I was watching Newcastle parking the bus in a home game against Manchester City. I felt sorry for the home crowd. Heaven help us if League 1 sides consistently do that when hosting Latics.

Too many games

As Paul Cook would say, League 1 is an endurance, a marathon. Each team plays 46 games, which means that they always have their eyes on the next one coming up. A team that is two goals up in a game will so often look to consolidate its lead, rather than extend it. Moreover, key players might be removed from the field of play before the 90 minutes are up.

The Christmas/New Year period highlights the issue. In a space of eight days, between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, Latics will have played four games. Historically the holiday season has been the one in which attendances soar, but with so many fixtures condensed in a short period few teams will be able to excel in all the matches.

Wigan have won one and drawn two since Boxing Day. A win at Northampton would be welcome in maintaining the momentum at the top of the table.

Two strikers

Cook is no fan of a twin striker formation, but he brought Ivan Toney on for a jaded Gavin Massey after 59 minutes, putting him up front with Will Grigg. It allowed the option of launching long balls to the two. It was a gambit worth trying and they did get heads on to some of the long balls, but with no end result. Despite Grigg’s uplifting hat trick against Oxford, he has not delivered in the last couple of games.

So many Latics fans remember the days of Ellington and Roberts with affection. Since then the game has changed, although some teams still play 4-4-2. But would you give a duo of Toney and Grigg  preference over the 4-2-3-1 system that has served Latics so well under Cook?

Parking the bus

Playing with ten or eleven men in massed defence is, unfortunately, a far too common sight in the modern game. Professional football is basically an entertainment sport, but such tactics detract from the game. Roberto Martinez’ men showed in the 2013 FA Cup Final that a team of underdogs can beat the most expensively assembled squad in the world by sticking to their principles and trying to play good football. But how many managers have the bravery and belief of Martinez?

Paul Cook deserves to be commended for his comments on “parking the bus”:

“With the greatest respect, Christian hasn’t made a save again, but the emphasis…and we’re seeing it a lot in the modern game…and we’ll never do it, I don’t care who we play, we’ll never park the bus. While I’m manager of this club, I don’t care who we play, at home or away, we won’t do it.”

If only there were more like PC and RM…….

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