Five talking points following an abject display against Sunderland

February 26, 2022: Wigan Athletic 0 Sunderland 3

“I’ve got to be respectful to the players and the staff in that we haven’t lost here since October. The good thing about football is that we’re able to make it right over the next couple of days and we’ve got another game on Tuesday to do that.”

Leam Richardson was as philosophical as usual in his post-match comments.

But Wigan Athletic’s big day in front of a home crowd of over 20,000 was a big let-down. A well taken goal by Bailey Wright after two minutes was followed by two “soft” penalties for a runaway win for the visitors, their third against Wigan this season.

The run of fixtures at Rotherham and Wycombe at home to Sunderland was always going to be demanding. Four points from the three games in the space of eight days against top League 1 opposition is not such a bad tally, but this defeat in front of the biggest DW crowd in a decade really hurt.

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

Latics rely on having high energy levels

Conceding a goal in the first two minutes was a hammer blow, but on previous occasions when Wigan have fallen behind, they have so many times clawed their way back to win. This is certainly the fittest Latics squad for years and among the most physical. They will typically grind the opposition down by attrition, piling on more and more pressure as the other team tires.

That those high energy levels were not evident yesterday was no surprise following demanding trips to Rotherham and Wycombe within the space of just over a week. Richardson had employed a degree of squad rotation for those games, but there were eight players who played in all three.

Richardson is always reluctant to change a winning lineup, unlike Alex Ferguson who invariably made one or two changes, nevertheless keeping the core of the lineup. Midfield is a key area in the battleground of Richardson’s team, but Tom Naylor and Max Power looked jaded yesterday, with Will Keane struggling to impose himself. Richardson has quality and experienced midfield cover in Graeme Shinnie, Glen Rea and Jamie McGrath. The latter seems to have disappeared off the radar despite a promising start to a Latics career. The other two have been used sparingly.

Getting the best out of the flair players

At their best Latics have created their chances from the wings, with Callum Lang and James McClean, constantly attacking opposition defences and Will Keane following through from centre midfield. Latics once more looked over-reliant on Lang and he was well policed by the Sunderland defence. McClean was sadly played at left back and much of his attacking edge was dulled by his defensive responsibilities. At his best Keane has not only scored crucial goals, but he has also provided a link between defence and attack. But Keane has too often been pushed forward, leaving a gap between holding midfield and the attack.

Lang, McClean and Keane are always likely to be among the first names on the manager’s team sheet. Richardson has Gavin Massey available to come in as backup for Lang, Gwion Edwards for McClean and McGrath for Keane.

Lumping it long to the centre forward

Since the arrival of the Cook/Richardson duo in 2017 the style of football at Wigan has been predominantly long ball. At its best it has been a targeted approach with measured long passes to attacking players, putting pressure on the opposition defences, subsequently opening them up from the flanks. At its worst it has deteriorated to hoofball, with the centre forward having a near hopeless task feeding on scraps.

Kieffer Moore is a centre forward who remains well loved by Latics fans for his role in that epic fight against a 15- point deduction in 2019-20. Moore had a torrid time in his early days at Wigan constantly chasing those hopeful long balls and receiving scant service. Although signed in summer it took him until November to score his first goal. He went on to score 10 in 36 appearances, including some real crackers. It could be said that Moore took some time adapting to the Championship after playing in the lower leagues. But more than that, he benefitted from a gradual shift of the team playing the ball more through midfield and defenders cutting down on those balls lumped forward.

Josh Magennis is struggling in the same way that Moore did in his early days. Magennis is an experienced centre forward who has played in the Championship, the Scottish Premier League and the EFL League 1. He can hardly be called a “poacher” with a career record of 76 goals in 413 appearances in those three leagues. But is he the right person to play the target man role in Richardson’s style of play? Is it the best way to employ him?

To be fair on Magennis it is a thankless task chasing hopeful long balls. Richardson replaced an ineffective Magennis after 62 minutes at Wycombe on Tuesday but later stated the player had been “excellent”. His comment beggared belief.

There was a moment in this game when we saw Magennis at his best. He ran down a channel on the right, showing keen acceleration and put in a superb low cross that McClean, running in from the left back position, almost scored. Magennis does make runs into space, but rarely receives the right pass. If he is to be successful at Wigan it is going to be when his teammates play to his strengths.

Adapting tactics according to the opponent’s style of play

Sunderland manager Alex Neil is a wily tactician and it would be no surprise to see his team perform well in the coming weeks. They have a had a torrid time recently, but yesterday looked well balanced, with a solid defence, a creative midfield and the threat of Ross Stewart up front.

Latics were clearly shaken by the early goal but looked tactically limited. That has been the case on previous occasions when they have faced teams with the ability to keep the ball on the ground and pass through the midfield.

The MK Dons pose a threat to Latics, now being level with them on points, but having played three games more. The Dons play that same kind of skilful football that we saw in flashes from Sunderland. It will be interesting to see how Richardson plans to deal with them in the game at the superb Stadium MK on March 12. Would a change in midfield formation be a possibility?  

Promotion is still on the cards

The immediate task is for Richardson to lift his players for the home game with Fleetwood on Tuesday. It is followed by Wimbledon’s visit on Saturday when MK Dons play at Rotherham. Latics will be keen to get maximum points in those two games before their next fixture at the Stadium MK.

Latics and Rotherham remain firm favourites for automatic promotion. In Wigan’s case it can be done provided the manager effectively uses the talent at his disposal and orders his players to stop that awful lumping of the ball forward.  

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Amigo and Social Media reaction to an exciting comeback at Wycombe

February 22, 2022: Wycombe Wanderers 1 Wigan Athletic 3

“The first half wasn’t like us. We didn’t get enough second balls or hold the ball well enough. But as soon as we got the first goal, we knew we could get three which we did, and I thought the second half was a great performance. We got it wide which is always dangerous when you have pace. Gwion [Edwards] and Humps [Stephen Humphrys] coming on changed the game really as they are direct players.”

Tom Naylor’s comment summed up what happened at Wycombe. It was a classic “game of two halves”, with Latics making an exciting comeback after being a goal behind at half time.

Leam Richardson reverted to his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation with James McClean at left back and Gavin Massey on the left wing. Josh Magennis was once again in the starting lineup with Stephen Humphrys left on the bench.

Once again Latics constantly used the long ball to poor effect in the first half. But in the second period Wycombe could not cope with the football that Wigan played. There is constant debate among fans as to why Latics too often use that long ball/hoofball tactic, given the quality of the players in their squad. Not only is their football better to watch when they desist from the “hoof” but it produces better results.

Richardson brought on Humphrys and Edwards after 62 minutes, in place of the ineffective Magennis and Massey. Magennis continues to struggle in the role of target man: is it the best way to utilise him? It was a pity to see Massey pushed out on the left where he is so much less effective than on the right. Many will say that those two substitutes should have been on from the start.

 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:

King_dezeeuw06 wrote:

Useless long ball as usual to start the game just giving the ball away constantly playing in a way Ainsworth would’ve picked for us to give them the easiest possible time. After plan A gets in trouble again we switch to plan B start to try and play football we absolutely batter them and turn it around magnificently. If you took out the part of the game before we switched style that was possibly the best performance of the season – we were untouchable.

After the switch was flipped and we started to pass the ball rather than hoofing it to no one we were unlucky to not be in the lead at half time. Wycombe went from bullying us to their only touches of the ball was a clearance or a tackle. They were chasing shadows and it was a matter of time before we scored. Totally blew them away after we stopped playing into their hands and played our game that we seem bizarrely reluctant to accept we are so good at. The lads were diabolical going long and utterly immense playing football – can we stop pretending Warren Joyce like 70 yards pumps to the strikers head is remotely justifiable when we are capable of playing like that.

It wasn’t tika taka and it’s not like we were afraid to mix it up and go long on occasion – but we weren’t hoofing and hoping and were looking to try and play whenever possible. That is what loads of fans have been saying all season – it’s not reinventing the wheel or trying to learn a new style – we don’t need time or new signing, we already know how to do it and it suits the players we have – it’s just a case of starting games with those tactics.

When you stop being 1 trick and predictable the opposition can’t set up to deal with your long balls the same so ironically playing more passing football makes the long balls work better too.

But why do we only start trying to playing football after it’s gone wrong, why do we keep insisting on going long when we are woeful at it. We’ve been through this pattern so often – use plan B to try and recover from the mess made by plan A. Why can’t we just start with plan B as we are a really good at it.

The penny surely has to drop now – scrap trying to be sh.t Tony Pulis era Stoke tribute act and be the best team we can be. Let’s stop grinding out wins playing to our weaknesses and start blowing teams away playing to our strengths. When we pass the ball we are hands down the best team in the league by miles.

Richardson has built a superb team, their fitness, spirit, battle and quality are unmatched at this level but he hides it by keeping going back to long ball. He needs to show off the absolute beast he’s created by switching patently to the passing game and we’ll start smashing teams.

Hampton commented:

First half hoofball – terrible
Second half football – terrific

Got to start with the finishing 11 and associated tactics Saturday – haven’t we ?

Tree and Crown added:

We wouldn’t have won that game tonight if Magennis and Massey had stayed on!

Humphrys and Edwards offered much more, must be due a start Saturday the pair of em.

Roy Race opined:

Awesome performance that. Reminded me of earlier in the season. Apart from the first 20 mins we were by far the better team.

Should have gone in at half time in the lead and second half stepped it up a couple of gears.

Mixed it up well, went long when needed and played some neat stuff as the game was stretched.

It was the change in tempo that did it plus the fact that Humphrys won more aerial challenges in his first 5 mins than Magennis did all night.

Special mention to Edwards, was a live wire when he came on. Seems to do well as an impact sub but struggles when starting.

Up the long ball Tics!

Hindleymon summarised:

When we play football on the deck nobody gets near us.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Latics rally as the DW crowd gets behind them – Wigan Athletic 2 Charlton Athletic 1

February 12, 2022: Wigan Athletic 2 Charlton Athletic 1

“The character and response were fantastic. I felt the fans gave us a real big lift during the game today and we’ll need them more than ever going into the midweeks and the fixture list coming. We need this place bouncing and rocking because the lads need all of the energy they can get.”

Leam Richardson and the club in general constantly remind us of the importance of vocal fan support to the morale of the team. The loud, fanatical away support, buoyed by a strong element of younger fans, has proven a key factor in Latics’ success on the road. But that kind of raucous support has rarely been the norm in home games.

Much has been said in the past about a lack of atmosphere at the DW Stadium, particularly from fans of visiting teams. Theories abound as to the reason why, ranging from the fickleness of Wiganers to the stadium being too big, rarely being half filled. Supporters preferring the East and South Stands shun the West Stand, perhaps the bastion of the more fickle.

But the home crowd really got behind their team yesterday, as Latics rallied after a very poor start.

Portents were looking ominous in the opening quarter with a weakened Charlton side looking a cut above Latics. The warning signs were there, with those awful hoofballs coming from the defence and a lack of cohesion among the team in general. Elliot Lee’s 7th minute opening goal from Adam Mathews’ cross looked so easy, both players given so much space by the home side. They almost scored a second eight minutes later when Jack Whatmough blocked a low drive from Lee, with Alex Gilbey hitting the crossbar from the rebound.

But with the crowd behind them Latics started to claw their way back into the game. The home team and its fans were equally incensed when Josh Magennis was clattered to the ground. The initial contact was on the edge of the penalty area. Some referees might have awarded a spot kick, others a free kick, but this official simply offered neither. However, the referee was more decisive minutes later when he gave Latics a “soft” penalty after Callum Lang had gone down in the box. Will Keane converted with aplomb.

As the game had progressed Wigan had cut back on the hoofball, playing the ball more through midfield. Jack Whatmough has been an ever-present in the league 1 lineup this season and his solidity in defence has been key to his team’s success. Whatmough has the ability to play at a higher level and it was a masterstroke from Wigan’s recruiting team to get him on a free from Portsmouth. However, if Latics were to step up into the Championship next season he would need to improve his distribution.

Whatmough may have been playing under orders but he has pumped forward so many of those “hopeful” long balls which have made life easier for opposition defences. He did it again in the opening minutes yesterday until we later saw a most welcome change in approach. Instead of taking the easy option Whatmough stepped forward with the ball, using his pace to approach the half-way line where he was able to find a teammate close at hand. Whatmough also poses a threat on set pieces and his header back to Stephen Humphrys created Wigan’s winner after 74 minutes.

This was an important win for Wigan who have edged closer to Rotherham who have a difficult game today at Sheffield Wednesday. It was a spirited comeback backed by a vocal home crowd. It was the opener to a tough week for Latics who are at home to Crewe on Tuesday, with a trip to Rotherham on Friday.

For this game Richardson utilised a back three and resisted the temptation to resort to the habitual 4-2-3-1 in the second half. By doing so he was able to put out possibly his strongest lineup, although many would say that Humphrys should have been the central striker, rather than Magennis, at the start.

Magennis has had a difficult start at Wigan, looking ineffective in the target man role and lacking the sharpness needed to convert chances into goals. His career record reveals a strike rate of around 0.2 goals per game, his best season being in 2020-21 when he scored 19 goals for Hull City in League 1 from 29 starts and 11 appearances off the bench. However, Magennis was recovering from injury when Latics signed him from Hull and may need more game time to regain his sharpness. Moreover, he could have had two penalties yesterday, with a more blatant one near the end when the giant central defender Inniss pushed him as he was about to score.

It will be interesting to see how Richardson shuffles his pack for the Crewe game with that tough trip to Rotherham to follow. Given his history it is unlikely that the manager will make many changes for Crewe, but if he does not make at least a few how fresh are his players going to be at the New York Stadium?

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Amigo and Social Media reaction to Latics’ bubble bursting at Sheffield

February 8, 2022: Sheffield Wednesday 1 Wigan Athletic 0

Wigan’s unbeaten run of 12 league games has come to an end. An awful penalty decision given against them after 53 minutes proved to be a psychological blow from which they could not recover. Latics had played well in an entertaining first half, holding a strong Wednesday side goalless, but for some reason Leam Richardson saw a need to reshuffle his team half way through.

Switching Tendayi Darikwa from left to right, pushing Max Power into midfield and dragging James McClean backwards to left back had worked well recently against Oxford United. In that game Latics had started poorly and were a goal behind until Richardson made those bold changes. However, the situation at Sheffield was not the same. The result this time was that Latics lost midfield control, with the creative McGrath switched from the number 10 position to the left flank, where he looked lost.

Wigan had created chances in the first half, largely down to the excellence of Callum Lang on the right flank. Their defence had held up well to Wednesday’s probing, led by the classy Barry Bannan. Sadly, Latics regressed to that awful hoofball in the second half which made things so much easier for Wednesday.

The left back position has been problematic for Wigan all season. Joe Bennett’s recuperation from serious injury has been slow. Tom Pearce has signed a new contract but is again injured. Darikwa has done his best to fill in on the left, but it is not his best position. Pushing McClean to left back in the second part of the game meant that Wigan lost much of his attacking thrust. Lang thrives on Max Power’s accurate long passes down the right wing from the full back position. That stopped when Power was pushed into midfield.

Richardson has options for dealing with Bennett and Pearce’s absences without playing Darikwa out of position.

Luke Robinson made 25 appearances in League 1 last season, but has been used just once, being taken off after 56 minutes against Rotherham. There were reports of him being sent out on loan in January, but that did not happen. Although he remains a member of the senior squad his appearances have been limited to cup games.

The manager also has the option of playing with a back three with wing backs. McClean has lots of experience as a left wing back and his attacking flair is not lost. Moreover, Richardson has the option of Power, Darikwa or the more attacking Gavin Massey at right wing back.

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:

King_dezeeuw06 commented:

Performance was the same as we’ve been doing for months only difference is the opposition weren’t so much worse than us that we could pull out a moment of magic and get away with it.

The warning signs have been there for ages that we needed to cut the hoofing out if we were going to get results against the better sides and we just persisted with our Pulis era Stoke tactics – but without the players to make it work.

There’s no excuses for us not learning our lesson especially after the Oxford game. We all know what we are good and bad at and we just constantly play to our weakness.

We have possibly the best player in the division in Lang, then McClean and a very classy looking McGrath – give the ball to their feet in the opposition half and they’ll do damage. But they are reduced to running around chasing the opposition as nearly every ball they are watching flying over their heads to a completely isolated striker who’s got 2 defenders on him every time and zero support or service.

You can’t keep playing badly and expect to win and we’ve not put in a good 90 mins since Plymouth away. We are still in a very good position but we will blow it if we don’t finally learn the lesson that should’ve been learned a long time ago – long ball doesn’t work.

Jeffs right added:

What ever happened to the art of the dribble? Attacking defenders and getting crosses in or shooting?
Allegedly we have players that can do this so why don’t they? Sheffield played on Saturday and we had a rest. We should have been at them from the off. Is that eight shots we have had on target in the last four games? That is diabolical even for bottom of the league never mind promotion challengers.

 Magennis or Humphrys for Saturday. Well it needs to be Humphs. He is younger, stronger, fitter and works harder. One thing though if we carry on the same garbage tactics please don’t expect to win on Saturday. Leam please look at the Jewell tactic book and burn Cook’s book.

FrancosLoveChild opined:

We didn’t deserve to lose according to the happy clapping commentators, worst second half all season, Leam needs to change up his sh.te hoofball without Wyke.

SwedishLatic wrote:

Sadly this is looking more and more like Cook’s tactics, kick and rush and hope for individual brilliance to save the team. Switching to two up front offered no difference either, we don’t have to be Man city with the ball but come on a bit more than this is surely possible?

FormbyLatic commented:

The thing that really worries me is our inability to keep the ball on the ground and to play it forward to feet. I cannot recall a single shot on their goal in the entire second half. Leam needs to change things and fast.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Stoke performance reveals strength in depth

Wigan Athletic’s Gavin Massey (Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

On paper the Wigan Athletic starting lineup at Stoke City looked good enough to compete with the Championship team on an even keel. This was despite the fact that only two players who had started the previous League 1 game against Oxford United were included, those being Gavin Massey and Max Power.

In reality Leam Richardson had used his squad to put together a team that looked well- balanced. But being so hastily cobbled together it was always going to struggle to show the cohesion needed to seriously threaten the home team. Jason Kerr’s slip was unfortunate, but it gave the home team an early lead that was going to be hard for Latics to pull back. Wigan held their own until a very well taken goal by Jacob Brown after 62 minutes was to seal Stoke’s victory.

Newcomers Ben Rea and Jamie McGrath made good starts to their Wigan careers. Rea worked hard in central midfield and certainly let Nick Powell know he was around. Since Sam Morsy’s departure Laics have not had a player of his ilk in their line-ups. McGrath slotted in comfortably and could well compete with Will Keane for the number 10 role, although he can also play in the wide positions.

Tom Bayliss has had a hard time since his arrival in Wigan but had one of his better games yesterday. Josh Magennis toiled with little end-result until being replaced by Stephen Humphrys after Stoke’s second goal.

Gavin Massey was excellent throughout, working hard, rarely wasting the ball and, most notably, showing the bursts of acceleration that were the hallmark of his game before he was dogged by a series of hamstring injuries. Richardson has faced criticism for his loyalty towards Massey, so often playing him ahead of others who were knocking on the door for selection. However, if Massey can display this kind of form, staying fit, he can play a key role in the bid for promotion.

Joe Bennett completed a full 90 minutes plus for the first time since playing for Cardiff City against Middlesbrough in late February last year. It has been a long recuperation for Bennett following the ACL injury that threatened his career. Yesterday he showed us glimpses of the player who made over 300 appearances in the two highest tiers of English football. However, it is going to take time before we see the player approach anything like his best.

The current squad is certainly well blessed with central defenders. Curtis Tilt and Jack Whatmough are the current first choice pairing. Jason Kerr (24) and Kell Watts (22) were a young centre back duo yesterday. With the full backs so often pushing forwards the centre backs can be stretched when the opposition counterattacks. That was the case for Stoke’s first goal, but both players have shown that they can be fine players in League 1 level and possibly at a level above. Given the quality of the centre backs he has at his disposal it is to be hoped that Richardson will more frequently go for a line-up of three central defenders with wing backs.

Latics have another 20 league games to play before the season ends on April 30. It is a tough and demanding schedule, but much will depend on how the manager utilises his full resources and adjust his tactics according to the situation. Richardson is not a manager known for his squad rotation, but if he does not rotate players, he runs the risk of injuries that will prove costly in the long run.

Richardson’s decision to reshape his team’s formation during the first half of the Oxford game was a welcome surprise. The changes he made had an immediate effect.

Promotion is in the air at Wigan, but much will depend on the manager’s ability to choose the right players at the right times, adjusting his tactical approach when needed. He has a very strong squad at his disposal.