Some thoughts: Nottingham Forest (H) 1-0

Wigan Athletic confounded the media with a well-deserved victory over an over-hyped Forest side. The television commentary had given us a vision of a resurgent Forest, unbeaten in 10 games, heading for a return to the top tier of English football where they surely belonged. But in the end, they had to acknowledge that Latics were worthy victors and that their record at the DW Stadium over the calendar year was impressive.

Paul Cook had surprised us by leaving Josh Windass on the bench, playing Gavin Massey in the number 10 position. It was Massey’s fine link-up play with Jamal Lowe that produced the winning goal after 35 minutes.

Following the game Paul Cook commented: “I thought we were good in the game, I enjoyed watching us play. It’s another very strong home performance, and you’d struggle to name our best player because we had so many good performers. We looked a threat against a very strong Forest side. And at the other end, we defended very, very well. They’re not so much big wins, they’re just wins because every game is so tough.”

Let’s look at some points arising:

Lowe gets his breakthrough

Jamal Lowe’s protracted arrival from Portsmouth in summer was well received by Latics fans. Lowe scored 17 goals for the south coast club in League 1 last season although he played mainly on the right flank. The question was whether he could bridge the transition to Championship football.

Until yesterday Lowe had struggled, looking a shadow of the confident, skilful player he had been at Portsmouth. At Wigan he had largely been employed on the left flank, sometimes in the middle of the advanced midfield three.

But at last Lowe was given the chance to play in his more “natural” position on the right wing. Gavin Massey had been pushed across to a more central role where he had been effective around the end of last season, linking up with the big man up front. The result was that the big centre forward in this game, Kieffer Moore, received more support than he has been accustomed to.

In scoring his goal Lowe had taken a blow to the knee and it clearly affected his mobility. But the goal had given him renewed confidence and he began to show the kinds of skills that had been muted in previous appearances. Lowe left the field after 65 minutes to the applause of the home crowd. He had made his breakthrough.

Williams thrives in Morsy’s absence

Sam Morsy’s absence through suspension gave a fresh opportunity to Lewis Macleod, who had appeared in the opening two games, but not since. Macleod is a fine footballer whose career has been thwarted by constant injury problems. However, he looked fit enough in this game, defending with vigour, showing his ability moving forward. That he went the whole 90 minutes-plus is a testament to how his rehabilitation is succeeding.

Joe Williams is a tenacious tackler who has a range of passing skills. He was Wigan’s outstanding performer in this game. Williams is still only 22 years old and looks an excellent signing for Latics.

Both Williams and Morsy can play the role of midfield destroyer. They had been playing together in holding midfield, providing solid protection for the defence. However, the introduction of Macleod for Morsy gave the centre of midfield a more fluid look. There will be times when Latics will need the steel provided by a Morsy-Williams duo, but the option of including a fluid passer of the ball like Macleod is one that Cook will surely consider.

A more measured long ball approach

The “hoof” has been an ugly and ineffective aspect of Latics play since their return to the Championship. All too often defenders have launched hopeful long balls, usually in the general direction of an outnumbered and isolated central striker, sometimes simply to clear the lines. The net result has typically been to concede the ball to the opposition, inviting them to build up moves from the back and pressurise Wigan’s defence further.

The long ball is not going away as long as Paul Cook is in charge at Wigan. It was frequently applied yesterday, interspersed with spells of keeping the ball on the ground. However, in this game most of the long balls were at least “measured” with Kieffer Moore able to receive and shield the ball on some occasions.

A mixed day for Kieffer

Kieffer Moore came into this game on the back of two fine performances for Wales, for whom he looked a much better player than we had seen playing for Latics. Would the big centre forward be able to get his first goal for Wigan after he had notched his first at international level in Slovakia?

Sadly, it was not to be and, as in so many of his previous Latics appearances, he did not look like scoring. Moore was as committed as ever and posed a physical challenge to the Forest defenders, not so isolated up front with Massey providing support.

Gelhardt’s role

Joe Gelhardt captained England’s under 18 side last week and once again showed what a good player he is on the international stage. He would have been full of confidence coming into this game. Surely, he would be brought on at some stage. But no. He remained on the bench once more.

Cook has continued to laud the 17-year-old’s ability and temperament, insisting that he is up to the rigours of Championship football, but the stats show that Gelhardt’s opportunities have been severely limited. He has been on the field for a total of just 73 minutes of the 12 league games played.

Rumour suggests that Gelhardt will be in the centre of a bidding war between elite Premier League clubs in the January transfer window. The more experience he gets at Championship level the higher his potential transfer fee is likely to rise.

There are critics who suggest that Cook is largely paying lip service to treating Gelhardt as a fully- fledged member of the first team squad and that his main role will continue to be as the “home- grown” player that the EFL insists must be included in every match-day squad. They cite the example of Callum McManaman who last season was on the pitch for a total of 439 minutes, which included just one start. He was on the bench 34 times.

Given the lack of creativity in Latics’ and their lack of goals from open play it has been disappointing to see a player of Gelhardt’s flair left so often on the bench. Should he leave in January Cook will have to look for someone else to fulfil the home-grown requirement.

 

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

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

 

Another away defeat: can Cook stop the hoofball?

Fulham 2 Wigan Athletic 0

“We won’t sit off Fulham in any way, shape or form.”

So said Paul Cook before the match.

The manager’s statement of intent had a degree of credibility in the opening minutes when Latics attacked the home team. But Fulham were soon to take over the running of the game as any initial attempt to play football from Wigan was nullified as they resorted to the hoofball that has been all too typical in away games under Cook’s management. When Latics won the ball they so often gave it back to the home team by launching speculative long balls.

Wigan’s beleaguered defence did well to keep the home team at bay in the first half, despite Fulham’s dominance of possession. The game was goalless at half time, although it had looked like it was going to be a matter of time until Fulham scored. The London team had had twelve shots to Wigan’s one in that first half. Could Cook make some changes for the second half to nullify the home team’s dominance?

The manager did surprise us by making an immediate substitution. Michael Jacobs had once again been ineffective under the regime of hoofball and he was replaced by Kal Naismith.  But within a couple of minutes the seemingly inevitable happened, with Joe Bryan opening the scoring for Fulham.

Needing a goal Latics did at least try to play some football, although they did not convince, with Fulham still looking dangerous. Tom Cairney’s fine goal in the 83rd minute finished it off.

Few of us expected anything other than a defeat at Craven Cottage, given Latics’ miserable record there, facing a Fulham side full of players who played in the Premier League last season. There have been far worse away performances than this over the past twelve months. Neither of the Fulham goals was “soft”; the referee was weak and easily convinced by the home team’s writhing in apparent agony after tackles and he allowed himself to be mobbed by Fulham players pleading their case; the Wigan defence did not crumble and there was no capitulation.

But what is depressing is that Cook, his coaches and his players have still not learned that you cannot play hoofball in the Championship and get away with it for very long. It is “an unforgiving league” in that respect.

There has been a scarcity of discipline in Wigan’s play away from home, together with a lack of tactical awareness on the part of the manager and his coaches. Latics are one of the most physical sides in the division and the home teams are prepared for that. Combative players like Sam Morsy and Joe Williams can expect the referees to be looking out for them. This is not to say that it is right, but it is a reality. Such players need to show self-discipline, or they will soon find their way into the book.

The hoofball that we typically witness away from home is surely not something the manager instructs his players to do. It is more likely down to the lack of a footballing philosophy at the club. It is not only the player who hoofs the ball forward but those who should be helping him when under pressure by getting into positions to receive the ball.

The manager has his tried and tested playing formations and they can work well when the players are showing the kind of discipline required.

How much longer will this continue? We had hoped that the manager and his staff would have addressed these issues by now, but the kind of stuff we saw in the first half at Fulham would have been embarrassing for us when we were a non-league team, pre-1978.

It is simply not good enough for a team in the second tier of English football.

 

 

 

 

 

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