Stoke 2 Latics 1: Time for a Change

My wife has so often reminded me how much Wigan Athletic results affect my moods. She would tell me how grumpy and depressed I could get when they lose. I cannot argue with her: she is right.

But I grew up in a family in the south of Wigan surrounded by a morass of rugby. My father was a beacon of light for me being one of the few Latics supporters in the area, not afraid to stand up against the rugby hordes of the time and let them know of his love for Latics. He was there for Latics’ first ever game against Port Vale Reserves as a 12 year old in 1932. He passed on his devotion to the football club not just to me but to my son, Ned, who has never lived in the town but simply adores Wigan Athletic.

My son and I started up this site when Latics were in the Premier League. For a couple of years our articles were posted on the site of ESPN, the world’s largest sports media company. There were ups and downs over those years, but we were incredibly proud of our club punching above their weight. Writing for the site was a pleasure.

The years since leaving the Premier League have been topsy-turvy. Awful managerial appointments were made and relegation ensued twice. The names of Owen Coyle, Malky Mackay and Warren Joyce became synonymous with a fightball/long ball approach. The seeds that Roberto Martinez put into place in the Premier League days were firmly embedded until poor ownership decisions brought in managers whose style of play was light years apart from the Spaniard’s football. In comparison Martinez’ legacy at his previous club, Swansea, remains in place. Possession football is not everyone’s cup of tea but for me it is infinitely preferable to the dross we have so often witnessed over the past 15 months.

I watched today’s game with my American son-in-law who quickly pointed out that Latics constantly hoofed the ball forward, only to concede possession. Was that a valid tactic he asked? Giving away possession so easily was surely going to put increasing pressure on their defence as the match proceeded. Even with a one goal lead at half time I told him not to expect Latics to hold it. I told him it has become habitual for Latics to hoof the ball even more in the second half and that a winning goal for the home team would most likely come when the Wigan defence was tired in added time.

I take no pleasure in my predictions becoming reality.  I have become so numbed by the dross I have seen so often since our return to the second tier. I am not grumpy after this performance. It is beyond that.

The football offered by Paul Cook and his coaches belongs to the Stone Age in comparison with that of the likes of Swansea and Brentford. The emphasis is on sweat and toil, rather than on developing footballers’ skills. When Cook was appointed we were supportive as we believed that his teams played good football. But what we have seen is no better than that of Coyle, Mackay or Joyce.

Darren Royle’s problem is exacerbated by the fact that the previous chairman gave an extended contract to a manager with no prior experience in the Championship.

Nevertheless it is time for a change.

Not a sign of it changing: social media reaction to defeat at Hillsborough

Sheffield Wednesday 1 Wigan Athletic 0

Sadly we on this site have to agree with what Craig says. My comments will be fairly brief. I will leave the rest to snippets plucked from the social media.

Over the past 14 months we have seen the worst away performances from a Wigan Athletic team that I can remember as a long-term supporter over a period of decades. So many of those away defeats have been characterised by a seemingly clueless approach from Latics typified by: conceding soft goals, posing little attacking threat, being tactically out of their depth. The main tactic has so often been launching long balls to a centre forward who is isolated with no immediate support.

It was by no means the worst away performance today when Latics could have maybe scraped a draw against a team better set up tactically but always likely threaten with another goal if Latics had equalised.

With wingers Massey and Lowe once again being woefully out of touch the main hope for creativity was Josh Windass. However, home team manager Garry Monk had done his homework and put a man-marker on Windass, effectively playing him out of the game apart from some  moments in the first half. On the other hand, home team playmaker Barry Bannan controlled the game from midfield, his incisive passing causing constant problems. Bannan is one of the best midfielders in the Championship and he was allowed considerable freedom in this game.

Once Wednesday had scored around the hour mark one hoped for a tactical riposte from Paul Cook.

Above posting from Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk forum.

Cook brought on Pilkington and Moore after 64 minutes for Massey and Garner. They were like for like replacements, with no change in shape. Although Latics’ play was crying out for creativity with Windass shackled it took another 14 minutes for Gelhardt to come on for Lowe.

From the Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk forum:

 

 

Some thoughts: Birmingham City (H) 1-0

 

It had “goalless draw” written all over it, but Lee Camp’s error gave Latics the three points they were craving for. There was only an occasional sprinkling of good football for the home crowd to enjoy, but Anthony Pilkington’s first league goal for the club allowed them to go home grateful at least for the win.

Following the dismal defeat at Fulham Paul Cook brought in Josh Windass to play the number 10 role in place of Lee Evans. Gavin Massey replaced Michael Jacobs on the wing.

Apart from picking up three points from an awful game of football there were some signs of improvement. The defence looked more solid and composed than it has for some time, limiting the visitors to few chances.

Following the game, the manager commented: “This win gives us such a different atmosphere around the club. I didn’t ever think we looked like losing to be honest, but I suppose were a bit fortunate with the goal. We just have to keep going. I think that’s the third clean sheet in a row at home. We need points on the board. I don’t care who scores, but it really is a big step up to Championship level. The standard is so high. This was an important win for us, but we must keep challenging.”

Some thoughts:

A dull game but played in good spirit

Footballers and coaches can be cynical. Diving to gain free kicks and penalties, feigning injuries, exaggerated tumbling to the ground, pressurising of referees by mobbing are all so common in the modern game. The Championship division gets its fair share of such behaviours.

However dull this match was it was played in the right spirit, very well officiated by Tim Robinson. What a pleasure to see two teams not resorting to that ugly side of modern football.

A composed and solid defence

Charlie Mulgrew played his best game for Latics yesterday. His positioning was excellent, and he showed all his experience in stifling Birmingham attacks.

Mulgrew links up well with Antonee Robinson to his left and Chey Dunkley to his right. With Nathan Byrne starting to regain his form the defence is looking much more organised and composed. As the men in front of him have been looking more composed so is goalkeeper David Marshall.

The trip to Hillsborough on Saturday poses the next challenge for that back five.

Put Lowe on the right

Jamal Lowe is struggling to bridge the transition between League 1 and the Championship. But his success at Portsmouth was largely down to his performance as a right winger. He looks uncomfortable on the left and out of place as a number 10.

Cook continues to keep faith in both Lowe and Gavin Massey, although neither has hit form up to this point. None of his wingers have been in consistently good form. Michael Jacobs continues to blow hot and cold, sometimes full of spark, but more often on the periphery of play. It is not clear whether Kal Naismith is primarily regarded as a left winger or as a second choice left back until Tom Pearce gets fit. Pilkington is constantly bothered with injury.

Cook and his coaches may believe that Lowe can evolve into an inverted left winger, cutting in to shoot using his right foot. There has been little evidence so far to suggest it is the best way to employ him.

Why not rotate Lowe and Massey on the right wing?

Moore struggles

Kieffer Moore’s signing from Barnsley went down well with most fans, if not all. At last it seemed that Latics would have a big centre forward to get on the end of the countless crosses that have rained into opposition penalty boxes over the past year. But at the time there were fans who not only questioned the money paid for a player unproven in the second tier, but those who feared the standard of football might plummet even further having a big man up front for defenders to launch long balls to.

On the balance of what we have seen so far, the more cautious view has been the case. In fact, some have even gone on the social media and bulletin boards to suggest that Joe Garner be given preference to Moore in the hope that the long balls would dissipate. It can certainly be argued that Garner has not played as much as he might, given his contributions over the past season.

Being a centre forward at Wigan can be a daunting task. In the Premier League days Latics signed Mauro Boselli to play the lone centre forward role, even though he had played as a twin striker for Estudiantes in Argentina. Rather than pair him with Hugo Rodallega up front Roberto Martinez put the latter on the left wing, with Charles N’Zogbia on the right. On paper it looked a move that could work, with all three capable of scoring goals. But Boselli had to play a role that was not his best and received scant service from the two wide men.  Sadly, he is remembered as a striker who could not deliver the goods at Wigan.

Latics fans will be hoping that Moore will have more success than Boselli and lots of other centre forwards at Wigan over recent years. Moore has not looked particularly sharp in the opposition box, but it is going to take some time for him to adjust to the second tier. Moreover, genuine goal chances have been few and far between, with Wigan’s creative players having been somewhat muted by the long-ball approach. When he has been able to retrieve the ball in promising positions, he has so often lacked support from teammates.

It has been a frustrating start of the 2019-20 season for the big striker, as it has for the team in general.

Windass offers something different

Josh Windass does not have universal approval as far as Latics fans are concerned. Nevertheless, he has been missed during his absence through injury.

Windass gives Latics different options. He was lively yesterday, probing from midfield, linking up with Moore. Unlike so many of his teammates Windass is not shy of shooting and his ability to spot gaps in opposition defences makes him dangerous.

Windass is by no means the finished article, but with good coaching and being one of the first names on the team sheet he could become something special.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

 

Five talking points following a well-deserved victory against Charlton

Wigan Athletic 2 Charlton Athletic 0

Two well-taken goals by Chey Dunkley were enough to see off a Charlton side that had been flying high in the table. There was much more composure in Latics’ play than we have seen for some time. Their victory was well deserved.

After the game Paul Cook commented:

“That’s the second home game in a row now with a clean sheet, albeit great defending by Chey Dunkley and a great save by David Marshall at the end. He had to make a big save, it was a great save from Marshy. It was a really pleasing performance and we were excellent in the first half. We were unfortunate to come in only one goal up and when it’s one there always a chance, but great credit to the players because they’re worked ever so hard on the training ground. We looked a lot more like our old selves today and that’s really pleasing for me.”

Let’s look at some points arising:

Dunkley praises Barry

Chey Dunkley had probably his best game at Championship level, not only scoring a brace of goals but playing a strong role in defence.

After not scoring for some 42 matches he has now scored three in two games.

In an interview on LaticsTV he gave credit to coach Anthony Barry: “We have been talking about Charlie Mulgrew being a set-piece specialist and Crackers [Michael Jacobs] also put some good balls in today. We have been working on it and the staff have said to me that I am getting so many first contacts, we need to start converting them into goals. I have to give a special mention to Anthony Barry [first team coach] because he has been working a lot with me and long may that continue. If I can chip in with goals here and there and I can help the team then that’s a good thing. Anthony has given me lots of stats, he works hard and does his research and comes to me and tells me areas where I am most likely to get my first contacts and even second balls as well.”

But the big central defender admitted that last year he didn’t work on (attacking set pieces) too much.

Last season both Dunkley and Cedric Kipre would so often get into good positions in the opposition box but neither could score. Between them they now have three goals in eight games.

A more solid defence

It was reassuring to see Nathan Byrne regaining some form after a sticky patch. The back four looked more solid than of late. Goalkeeper David Marshall did not have a lot to do until the closing minutes when he made a couple of good saves.

In front of them Sam Morsy and Joe Williams were terriers in the centre of midfield, providing a level of protection that the back four had not enjoyed for some time. Williams looks a fine signing: solid in defence and fluid in his passing.

Dangerous on set-pieces

The arrival of Charlie Mulgrew into the team has added an extra dimension to Wigan’s play. His ability to precision-launch a free kick or corner into danger areas has made Latics look a threat from set-pieces.

In fact, in this game Latics looked more dangerous on set-pieces than in open play.

Robinson is so exciting

The money spent in summer on securing Antonee Robinson on a permanent contract could prove to be one of the best investments Latics have made in recent years. He was at his exciting best in this game, solid in defence and electric in attack, making a series of memorable runs.

Robinson is only 22 and is still a work in progress. Defensively he needs to be more robust and aware, although he has made improvements in these areas since arriving on loan in the summer of 2018. Going forward Robinson is a menace to any defence. He has blistering pace and a great left foot. What he is currently lacking is composure. So often he can get into great positions but either the final pass is lacking, or he has not chosen the best option for his pass. Running at such a pace makes it more difficult to make that killer pass or shot on goal.

In his early career Mo Salah was somewhat similar before he developed the composure to finish with precision. Let’s hope Anthony Barry can coach Robinson into improvements in these areas.

Aim for mid-table

Darren Royle and IEC have been busy investing in the club since the takeover. Their aim is for Latics to get back into the Premier League with a thriving academy to supply potential first team players. They have already spent money on facilities for the stadium and the academy. Moreover, they spent around £10m on summer transfers.

Wigan’s start has certainly been disappointing, but Royle/IEC have continued to back the manager and his staff. The win against Charlton takes Latics out of the bottom three, which makes a difference psychologically, but avoiding relegation is not enough this season. The ownership are expecting an incremental rise up the second tier over the coming seasons.

Latics have a well-balanced squad with lots of competition for places. It is at least capable of getting them a place in mid-table. But to do this the management has to instil the belief in the players that they belong in the division and can beat any other team on their day. This means an end to the “unforgiving league” comments that have so frequently been quoted by the manager. Granted, there are clubs with budgets so much higher than Wigan, but so often those clubs are lumbered with players who have the security of long contracts with high salaries. They do not always perform as one could expect on paper.

Cook has had a learning experience in the second tier. We have to hope that he has learned from it and can set the bar higher for his players.

Stsats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Some talking points following Joe Gelhardt’s sensational equaliser at Hull

Hull City 2 Wigan Athletic 2

 

A moment of inspiration from the 17-year-old Joe Gelhardt helped Wigan Athletic share the points. It had been a scrappy game between two mediocre teams.

Paul Cook had named an unchanged side from the one that had started in a goalless draw with Barnsley.

Chey Dunkley put Latics ahead after 7 minutes after Hull keeper, George Long, had spilled Kieffer Moore’s header. But that early lead was thrown away within a couple of minutes by inept defending with Jarrod Bowen slotting home. Polish winger Kamil Grosicki had been causing Latics problems on the right side of their defence and it was he who scored a fine goal from a free kick after 20 minutes. Wigan went into the half-time interval trailing by a 2-1 margin.

Grosicki had another excellent free kick hit the post as Hull were getting on top. Wigan’s attacking was far from convincing and the game seemed to be heading towards a home win. But Joe Gelhardt was brought on after 72 minutes, playing in a more central role this time. After 75 minutes he turned past a defender in the penalty box and scored at the near post with Long rooted to the spot.

The point gained takes Latics to 5 points from 7 matches, third from bottom.

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

A goal for Dunkley – at last

Chey Dunkley is in his third season at Wigan. In his first, in League1, he was part of a formidable centre of defence with Dan Burn. Not only was Dunkley defensively solid, but he also scored 7 goals over the course of the season.

The transition to the Championship was difficult for a player who had not played at that level before. Like so many other players last season he certainly had his ups and downs, one minute making a superb last-ditch tackle, the next losing concentration. His goals also dried up. So many times, he seemed likely to score, getting himself in good positions, but he just could not put the ball home.

Dunkley’s goal yesterday will do his confidence the world of good. Now he has broken his duck in the Championship we can expect more goals from the big man.

Can Gelhardt seize the number 10 role?

Replacing Nick Powell was never going to be easy for Paul Cook. Lee Evans and Josh Windass have both stepped in with mixed results. Yesterday Cook played Jamal Lowe in a more central role in the advanced midfield trio. Lowe did not do badly but was not particularly convincing.

Powell usually played a classical number 10 role, receiving the ball in deep midfield, linking up with the forwards and overlapping full backs. But sometimes he would be pushed further forward, playing as a second central striker.

Joe Gelhardt certainly has an eye for goal, and he is not deterred by playing at this level. Not only does he have a great left foot, but he also has an eye for a pass. Will Cook be tempted to put the young player in the starting line-up against Charlton, playing behind the central striker?

Is football returning away from home?

Wigan Athletic’s poor away performances over the past twelve months have been typified by a reliance on the long ball. Moreover, signing a 6ft 5in centre forward has further invited under-pressure defenders and midfielders to lump the ball forward.

However, at Hull we saw signs of football returning, albeit riddled with errors. The possession stats showed Wigan at 58.3% and Hull 41.7%. Moreover 74% of Wigan’s passes were successful compared with 65% for the home team. In the previous game against Barnsley Latics’ successful pass stat stood at 64%.

The long-ball approach away from home has been woefully unsuccessful and we can only hope that the manager will insist that his defenders and midfielders minimise their use of the long ball. Nevertheless, it will take courage from players to play the ball out from the back, who have so often taken the easy way out.

The Byrne-Massey axis

The attacking play of Nathan Byrne and Gavin Massey was crucial to Latics’ winning the League 1 title in 2017. Indeed, Byrne went on to be voted Player of the Year. Last season was a difficult year for each of them, with Byrne losing his place to Reece James and Massey having a lot of time out injured. However, with James later being moved to midfield Byrne was able to reclaim the right back position. Massey’s return to the team saw him renew the link-up with Byrne, the two players knowing each other’s games so well.

The Byrne-Massey partnership has had a difficult start to the current season. Neither player has been at his best up to this point. Much of the opposition threat has come from their side of the pitch and their build-up work has not been at its best.

Recovering from injury Massey missed pre-season and still does not look like he is firing on all cylinders.

None of the wingers in Cook’s squad has shown real consistency this season. Michael Jacobs has blown hot and cold, Jamal Lowe has looked out of place on the left, Anthony Pilkington continues to be bogged by injury and Kal Naismith has been used sparingly.

Given the physical demands on the wingers, being expected to track back to help the full backs but also to go sprinting forward, Cook might be well advised to rotate them on a regular basis. With either Massey or Lowe on the right and Jacobs or Naismith on the left he has good options.

In the meantime, Cook will have to decide whether to stick with a below-par Byrne, in the hope that he will regain form, or bring in the young Chelsea loan player, Dujon Sterling, who has not even been appearing on the bench.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com