Five talking points arising from the win against Walsall

 

Result: Wigan Athletic 2 Walsall 0

In the end it was a comfortable victory over a Walsall side that is as good as any we have seen at the DW this season. It was a scrappy game, with Latics playing their best football in flashes, but they did enough to pick up three more points.

The result keeps Wigan in second place, with Shrewsbury beating Scunthorpe 2-0 to maintain their impressive start to the season.

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

When was the last time Wigan’s home record was so good?

It was this time of year in 2015 when Gary Caldwell’s team played out a goalless draw with Walsall. Their record at home following that match was W3 D3 L0, whereas on the road their record was W1 D1 L3.

This season’s home record is W5 D1 L0. Latics fans will be scratching their heads to remember a better start of a season. However, it has not all been plain sailing and Latics have had to show a lot of patience in breaking down teams who have come to avoid defeat. There have been excerpts of champagne football, mingled with solid defensive play.

Away from home they have fared less well, although there have been several fixtures against teams that were high-flying at the time. The defeats at Shrewsbury and Peterborough were tight affairs. The away record up to this point is W3 D0 L2.

Are Shrewsbury going to be like Burton a couple of years ago?

Burton Albion were formidable in League 1 in 2015-16, a seemingly modest club towering above larger competitors, topping the table for months until Caldwell’s team overtook them in the latter part of the season. By Christmas they were topping the table, with Wigan eight points behind in fifth place. At the time people were questioning whether Burton could maintain their momentum, but they did to a large degree. They had gained 48 points in the first 23 games of the season, going on to accumulate 37 points more in their final 23 outings. That was enough to secure second place to ensure automatic promotion. With shrewd moves in the transfer market they went on to avoid relegation in the Championship last season playing against clubs with budgets that made their own look miniscule in comparison.

Can Shrewsbury do what Burton did? In fact, the Shrews have already made a better start than the Brewers did a couple of years ago. Shrewsbury narrowed their pitch in the summer of 2016 in a move their manager at the time, Micky Mellon, saying that “We had one of the biggest pitches in England and now we have the same size as everyone else, so everybody who we play against will have the same size pitch.” In fact, the current pitch at the New Meadow measures 110 by 72 yards, the same as that of the Pirelli Stadium in Burton. Not many teams will relish a trip to New Meadow these days.

A year ago, Shrewsbury were bottom of League 1, but Paul Hurst arrived in late October and managed to keep them out of relegation, eventually finishing in 18th place. Over the summer Hurst made 8 new signing with 6 players brought in on loan. The transformation has been remarkable.

Jones reaches the 300 mark

When Christian Walton was injured in early September there were concerns about Jamie Jones coming in. However, Jones has done well, giving confidence to his defence through his positioning and handling. Moreover, his intelligent distribution has helped Latics launch rapid attacks. Although he has made 300 career appearances, Jones is still only 28 years old.

Not on fire but getting warmer

Will Grigg’s brace of goals will certainly be good for his confidence. Latics need an “on-fire” Grigg to finish off their often-excellent approach work.

Latics have strength in depth

Michael Jacobs went off at half time, presumably through injury. He had certainly not been his usual self in the first half. But with Ryan Colclough injured, Cook called on David Perkins, who was to prove as lively and industrious as ever.

Reece James had been rested for the game, with Callum Elder having his first home league start. The Australian was excellent, his superb cross leading to the first goal.

Lee Evans has been a key player, but he was taken off after 68 minutes yesterday, Max Power stepping comfortably in to his natural position.

Having a bench which includes the likes of Perkins, Power and Elder, plus Ivan Toney who did not come on, illustrates the strength in depth that Cook possesses.

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Five talking points arising from the home win against Plymouth

 

Result: Wigan Athletic 1 Plymouth Argyle 0

Wigan Athletic did not play badly, but found a massed Plymouth defence difficult to penetrate. Despite having 23 attempts on goal it took a penalty to break the deadlock and give Latics a single goal victory.

The three points gained from the match enabled Wigan to move up to second place, still four points behind a Shrewsbury side which continues to play out of its skin. The Shrews record of W8 D2 L0 is highly impressive. But do they have the quality in the squad to keep it going?

Let’s take a look at some points from yesterday’s game.

Was Nick Powell kept on too long?

Nick Powell had not completed 90 minutes in a competitive match for so long. He did yesterday and it could be seen as an indicator that he is on the way to overcoming those fitness issues that have beset his career. But the player was clearly in discomfort as he was helped off the field in the 90th minute to be substituted by Noel Hunt. Up to that point Paul Cook had been judicious in the amount of time he was giving Powell in each game. But was 90 minutes too long?

Cook had kept Powell on the field much longer than usual, presumably because he needed the kind of spark that the ex-Man U player could provide to break down a stubborn Plymouth defence. But after Powell had put away the 82nd minute penalty one expected Cook to withdraw him.

It could prove a costly mistake.

The centre forwards need to score goals

Wigan Athletic have scored 18 league goals up to this point. The two centre forwards have scored a combined total of three of those.

But Grigg just has not got back to his best since his injury. Grigg’s key strength is his movement. We have seen that, but the end-result has not been forthcoming. One goal in six starts and four appearances off the bench is unimpressive from a striker who has passed the 20 goal per season mark three times previously.

Toney has more physical presence than Grigg and is more likely to score headed goals. But his two goals so far have been a perhaps fortunate deflection and a tap-in. He has come close so many times but has not been able to put the ball in the net with enough regularity.

Grigg is the first to admit that he is not yet up to peak fitness. He speaks with confidence about his ability to get another 20 goal haul this season. Toney has looked lively in his approach play and fits well into the style of play. Toney has a career record of 0.23 goals per league game, having scored 26 goals from 70 starts and 43 appearances off the bench. Grigg’s average is 0.31 goals per game, with 82 goals from 173 starts and 87 appearances off the bench.

Most League 1 managers will envy Cook for having both Grigg and Toney at his disposal. Both are good players at this level. It appears to be a matter of time until one or the other starts firing on all cylinders. Cook is fortunate that his advanced midfield trio of Michael Jacobs, Gavin Massey and Nick Powell have already notched a combined total of 12 goals in 10 matches up to this point.

Goal threat from corner kicks

Latics had 15 corners yesterday. With Dan Burn and Chey Dunkley coming forward into the box and with good headers of the ball like Powell and Toney also there, could we not expect more of a threat from corner kicks? Lee Evans usually takes them, from the right and left. His delivery is by no means bad, but could more variety be introduced? Using left footers Reece James or Callum Elder could be a possibility.

Is it something that Cook and his coaches will be working on during training?

The full backs are important in Cook’s system

Nathan Byrne’s form has been a revelation this season. His attacking down the right hand side has been a pleasure to watch and he has worked hard on the defensive side of his game. The problem is that Cook has no back-up right back if Byrne gets injured.

On the left-hand side Reece James has been impressive since his long lay-off from injury. Callum Elder looked lively yesterday when he came on for James. He is a naturally attacking left back with a sweet left foot.

Cook expects a lot physically from his full backs, being expected not only to be solid in defence, but to race forward almost like wingers. They have been a key part of the good football we have been seeing so far this season.

Expect more parking of buses

In 2004 Jose Mourinho coined the term “parking the bus” following a match between his Chelsea team and Tottenham. It has come to convey a team using all of its players defensively when they want to draw a game or defend a narrow margin. Wigan Athletic’s Warren Joyce tried it several times last season.

Both Northampton Town and Plymouth Argyle came to Wigan to park their buses. Their tactics were ruined by a spectacular goal (by Michael Jacobs) and giving away a “soft” penalty.

With Latics being the favourites to win the League 1 title we are likely to see lots more teams come to the DW to park their buses. In the last two home games Latics have certainly had to show patience against massed defences.

The key to such games lies in Wigan getting an early goal, forcing the visiting team to change its tactics. It remains to be seen if Walsall will try to park the bus on Saturday. From an entertainment point of view one hopes not, but an early Wigan goal could be the signal for more to follow later.

 

 

Five talking points arising from the Peterborough game

 

Result: Peterborough United 3 Wigan Athletic 2

It was a classic game of two halves. Latics played some scintillating football in the first half, when they could and should have wrapped the game up. With even half decent finishing they could have had three or four goals. In the event they went into half time just one goal up, that being from a lucky deflection.

Posh manager, Grant McCann, later commented on what had happened in the first half: “I congratulated the players for being only a goal down. And I wasn’t being sarcastic. We hadn’t played well, but we had created two great chances of our own so I knew we were still in the game as our fitness levels are so good. Staying in touch with a very good side was crucial.”

McCann’s mention of fitness levels was certainly relevant as the home side seemed to have so much more energy in the second half than Wigan. Gone was the away team’s swagger of the first half. For the first time this season we saw signs of panic in Latics’ defence as the protection from midfield dissipated. In the end Peterborough’s win came as no great surprise.

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

Wigan are the team the others want to beat

Peterborough’s lap of victory in front of their supporters at the end of the game showed how important the victory was to them. Wigan Athletic are the bookmakers’ favourites to win League 1 and it makes them a team all the others want to beat. Like Shrewsbury previously, the Posh raised their game, punching above their weight in order to beat Latics.

The good news is that we have not played a team that looks like it has the quality needed to challenge Latics for automatic promotion. But we have not played Blackburn, Bradford City or Scunthorpe yet.

Fixture congestion continues to take its toll

Although Latics had played on Tuesday, Peterborough had a week between fixtures. After struggling to beat Northampton it was going to be a struggle to fire on all cylinders for 90 minutes against the Posh.

The return of Nick Powell helped bring more rhythm into Wigan’s play in the first half. But the opposition know that Powell is going to be substituted around the 60-70 minute mark and the player just could not make the same impression in the 18 minutes he played in the second half.

Whether Peterborough’s rousing second half display was inspired by tactical changes instigated by their manager or heavy legs on the part of Wigan players is open to conjecture. But Paul Cook will be anxious to get home wins tomorrow against Plymouth and on Saturday versus Walsall. He might well look at resting some tired legs for the first of those games at least. The good news is that there is a week’s break after the Walsall game until Latics have a difficult away game at Scunthorpe.

Profligacy in front of goal is a concern

The failure to convert clear-cut chances into goals is losing Latics points. In the first half Gavin Massey, Nick Powell and Ivan Toney failed to convert when in good positions. Michael Jacobs’ approach play, movement and dynamism is a joy to behold and the only blemish on his performance was that he missed three clear chances on goal. The player repeatedly gets into great positions, but so often is found wanting in his final touch. His defected goal gives him four for the season, including that superb winner against Northampton in midweek, but it could have at least doubled that tally with more incisive finishing.

David Perkins is back

The past year has been a difficult one for Perkins, who was “Player of the Season” in 2015-16. He had made 45 league starts. Niggling injuries might have played their part, but he made only 27 league starts last season in the Championship. Perkins is now 35 and falls behind Lee Evans and Sam Morsy in the midfield pecking order, also having to compete with Max Power for a place.

It was his first league appearance of the season at Peterborough. Perkins looked bright in the first half, but like so many others, struggled somewhat in the second.

Cook’s change of shape did not work

Cook brought on Power for Powell after 63 minutes, putting him into a midfield anchor role like that occupied by Shaun MacDonald last season, pushing Evans and Perkins further forward. We have to assume the manager was trying to provide more protection for his defence. Sadly it did not work.

Power is a fine passer of the ball and in his previous season in League 1 he scored 6 goals. He can hold his own in the tackle, but is not a ball-winner in the mould of MacDonald or Sam Morsy. Perhaps he should have been played further forward with Perkins playing the anchor role?

 

An excellent, well-balanced report on the match was provided by Alan Swann of the Peterborough Telegraph. Click here if you would like to read it. It is an example of high quality sports journalism for a local newspaper.

Five talking points arising from the win against Northampton

 

He has only been at the club for some two weeks but Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has already stamped his mark upon Northampton Town. Well organised, tight in defence, looking for a breakaway goal they were the spitting image of his Burton Albion side a couple of years ago.

Gary Caldwell’s team lost at home to Burton in November 2015, after they could not find a way through the visitors’ defence and conceded a 74th minute goal through counterattack. But against Northampton, Latics were to win, courtesy of a stunning 55th minute goal from Michael Jacobs and resolute defence, which included a brilliant reaction save from Jamie Jones from Leon Barnett’s effort in the 75th minute.

Latics had not played well, but the three points gained from the 1-0 victory propelled them up to second place in the league table.

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

The orchestrator was sorely missed

Gary Roberts was on a hiding to nothing when making his first Wigan Athletic start in the absence of Nick Powell. When Roberts signed from Portsmouth to join his old teammate, Noel Hunt, there was talk of cronyism on the part of Paul Cook. But although Hunt’s role this season is likely to be largely peripheral, Roberts is likely to feature on a regular basis. Roberts had been criticised at Pompey for being over the hill, no longer having the legs to make an impact on a game. But he proved his doubters wrong in this match, putting in a solid shift for 84 minutes, despite having so little time on the field in recent weeks.

But Powell was sorely missed. He is the orchestrator of Wigan’s best football, his intelligent passing and movement being the catalyst for bringing out the creativity of his teammates.

Thank goodness that Dan Burn stayed

There were rumours over the summer that Burn might be going to a Championship club. But if any one player is crucial to Wigan’s promotion hopes it is he. Burn does not only provide an aerial presence, but his anticipation and timing make him a formidable player in League 1. Cook is not a manager to applaud individual player’s performances, but even he had to comment that the player was “absolutely outstanding” against Northampton.

7,777 turned up for the match

It was the lowest league attendance so far this season, the best having been 9,685 against Portsmouth. Prior to the season starting there had been grumbles about ticket prices, some suggesting that attendances would plummet as a result.

However, after four home games up to this point the average attendance is 8,828. After four home games in the 2015-16 season the average was 8,464.

3 goals conceded in 8 games

Cook’s approach is the most attacking that we have seen since the halcyon days of Paul Jewell. However, a measly 3 goals conceded from 8 games shows that they can certainly defend too.

Sam Morsy is suspended

Morsy is the first player in the four tiers of English football to be suspended this season for an accumulation of five yellow cards. Moreover there have been times when it has looked like the player would receive a second yellow in the same game.

Cook clearly believes that Morsy is being targeted by opposing teams. However, he also concedes that “if you take that competitive edge away from Sammy, he wouldn’t be the same player.”

The result is that the captain will not be available for the difficult trip to Peterborough on Saturday. Max Power is the most likely to take his place.

Five talking points arising from the home win against Bristol Rovers

 

What could, or should, the score have been? It could be said that Latics had been profligate in front of goal, but who can complain about a 3-0 scoreline in this period where games are coming in thick and fast?

It had looked like Wigan Athletic could have scored a panful of goals against Bristol Rovers well before Ryan Sweeney’s sending off on 30 minutes. The home side were head and shoulders above the visitors, but that initial impetus was to gradually dissipate in a second half where perhaps Latics had their minds on the next game against Northampton. The 10-man Rovers were not content to go down with a whimper and if it were not for a penalty save by Jamie Jones late in the game, Wigan could have had some anxious moments in the closing minutes. In the event we were to see the goal of the game in time-added-on as Gavin Massey slalomed through the Rovers’ defence, coolly slotting  the ball home after a give-and-go with Gary Roberts.

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

Should some players have been rested?

In December 2013 Uwe Rosler took over a Wigan Athletic side that had fallen below mid-table in the Championship under Owen Coyle. By the end of the season he had guided them to 5th place, taking Arsenal to penalties in the FA Cup semi-final and narrowly losing to QPR in the playoffs. Rosler was a firm adherent to a rotation policy which allowed him to rest key players in the hectic times of the season when the games were coming in thick and fast. It was not a policy that was universally popular with fans, but at the time it really brought results.

Paul Cook has a different approach. He prefers to stick to a settled line-up, allowing the players to build up kind of mutual understanding of each other’s game that can provide the team with increased cohesion. It is an approach that goes down well with most fans.

However, there are complications that can arise from an approach like Cook’s. Having a settled team certainly has its benefits, but it can marginalise the players who stand outside it. Moreover, by the admission of assistant manager, Leam Richardson, players were looking “leggy” on Saturday.

Cook has already hinted that Chey Dunkley might take the place of Alex Bruce either against Northampton or Peterborough. He had waited until the 70th and 82nd minutes to make his last two substitutions on Saturday. Will he make them earlier tonight against Northampton, with a difficult game at Peterborough looming on Saturday?

Will Grigg is not yet on fire

By his own admission, Grigg could have scored multiple goals on Saturday. He is not yet firing on all cylinders and his 49th minute goal on Saturday was his first for a year. It was an important goal for a player who has previously shown himself to be a master goal scorer at league 1 level. Grigg has exceeded the 20 goal per season mark three times previously. Should he steer clear of injuries we can expect a similar tally over the course of the current season.

Max Power is back

When Power came on for Sam Morsy after 82 minutes there were boos from sections of the home crowd. Paul Cook has since addressed the issue saying that:

“I am a great believer that supporters pay their money, and they can do whatever they want. But at the same time, you’ve got to remember this is our club, and these are our players. Being disappointed in Max’s actions…yes, I get that. But carrying out the disappointment like that…it’s a no from me. I’m certainly not having a go at the supporters who did boo, because it’s up to them.”

The reality is that Power is back in contention for a first team place. He is a player with much to offer at League 1 level who has always showed commitment on the field of play for Latics. Jeering him will not help the player produce his best.

Jamie Jones has made his mark

When Jones was signed, basically as cover for Christian Walton, it hardly impressed the majority of fans. The 28-year-old had played for six clubs, the last one being Stevenage. However, Jones has made an impressive start to his Wigan Athletic career, not only in his fine penalty save on Saturday. He has looked comfortable under pressure and his distribution has been better than that of many goalkeepers we have seen over recent years at Wigan.

Is Nick Powell essential?

Cook’s team bubbles with initiative and invention. Powell fits perfectly into that style of play. But Powell is not the sole source of creativity on the field. He is surrounded by teammates who seem to be enjoying their football, playing with style.

Powell sets the example in terms of his creativity on the pitch. He simply oozes class, particularly at League 1 level. He can so often be the catalyst for the kinds of flowing moves that we have been seeing.

Cook will be hoping that Powell will be able to last the course of the season, even if it means he plays for a limited amount of time in each game.