The dedication and sheer hard work of the management team of Leam Richardson and Gregor Rioch has kept Wigan Athletic in with a fighting chance of avoiding relegation from League 1. That Latics are not totally adrift of the teams above them in the table is a testimony to their endeavours. The league table shows the task ahead of them.
After Jamie Jones had somehow allowed an innocuous shot to go through him in the 27th minute on Wednesday evening it was always going to be an uphill struggle for Latics against high flying Hull City. Up to that point they had matched the visitors and had looked solid. However, with five losses in the previous six games Wigan’s confidence was bound to be brittle. Another goal five minutes later was no surprise and as the game continued, with their confidence shot, the Wigan team capitulated. Hull could have scored more than five.
Wigan’s starting line-up against Hull consisted of just one player, Chris Merrie, who had come through their academy. There were five players new to the club over the January transfer window. Much had been said earlier in the season of a young team giving away goals through a lack of experience. In the January window the club had done well to bring in new players who might provide an experienced backbone to the squad. But goals continue to be given away with more seasoned pros having taken the place of U23 players.
With so many new players arriving it was always going to take time for the new blend to gel. The comings and goings of so many players over the course of the season has made things extremely difficult for management. Moreover, the long-term injuries to Kyle Joseph and Tom Pearce have thrown another spanner in the works.
Following poor performances and results against relegation rivals Wimbledon and Swindon, Richardson switched to a back line of three central defenders for the next game at Northampton which was decided by an opportunist strike by Callum Lang. That backline had the experience of Scott Wootton and Curtis Tilt, both 29-years-old, with over 360 career league appearances between them, together with the very capable 22-year-old George Johnston. It looked like a combination that could provide solidity at the back with enough height and muscle to deal with the aerial threat posed by so many teams in the division.
Latics did not perform badly in the following game against an Oxford team in top form, another well taken goal from Lang putting them in front. Sadly they went on to lose the game through goals created by centres into the box.
It was a surprise to see that for the Hull game Richardson had ditched his back three in favour of an orthodox back four, with Johnston pushed to left back. But what was more puzzling was his advanced midfield trio with Viv Solomon-Otabor on the left and Dan Gardner and Will Keane in the centre and on the right. The new shape did not work and all three were taken off after 56 minutes, with Latics already four goals down.
Managers under pressure tend to rely on experienced players and that showed in Richardson’s team selection. Thelo Aasgaard was rested and not in the squad. Luke Robinson and Callum Lang were on the bench and brought on in the second half. Alex Perry, whose range of passing from the centre of the field can be a real asset, has been pushed out by the arrival of the more conservative Funso Ojo. The problem over recent games has been that too many of those senior professionals have been way off form. However, Richardson has stuck with them. Jones in particular has been fortunate to have kept his place despite poor goalkeeping that has cost Latics dearly.
If Latics are to lift themselves for the visit of top-placed Lincoln City tomorrow a shake-up is needed. Having a backbone of experienced players can be of great value in a relegation dog-fight, but some need a break to help them regain their form. There are lots of hungry, talented young players at the club who can step in.
“I think if you watch the first half – other than Dan Gardner having a great strike – we just gifted the opposition chances to score goals and we went in again 2-0 down. It is a pattern of our performances where we have started flat again in the first-half and we go in with a mountain to climb.
We deserved to go in behind but the goals were down to us; we give the opposition so many chances to score goals. I can’t stand getting beat and it really hurts me so much that we are on our bad, bad run. You can see the team we have picked and we have a lot of injuries that have come at a bad time – the team was makeshift and very young but I have to give them credit for the second-half performance because I thought we were excellent.
I said to the lads that chasing the game you have to be brave and not worry about making mistakes and I think we did that. I look at them in the second-half and I see loads of things that weren’t there in the first-half; we were on the front foot, sharp and creating chances.
We got back in at 2-1 and Northampton were clutching at straws whilst we looked to get the equaliser but then we have the killer blow of conceding a silly, silly goal against the run of play. We didn’t stop and there were a lot of things to come from the second-half from a young team as well.”
John Sheridan once again gave an honest appraisal of the game. With seven players out injured the manager had to reshuffle his pack. His starting line-up contained three players from last season’s senior squad, three players on short-term contracts and five from previous seasons’ U23 squad. Ollie Crankshaw and Thelo Aasgard, 18, were given their first starts in a League 1 game. Current youth team forward Harry McHugh made the bench for the first time.
When play commenced the first player to quickly catch the eye was the Cobbler’s Harry Smith, a towering 6ft 5in centre forward who used to play for Macclesfield. Smith may not be among the division’s top strikers, but his height and physicality caused problems to Wigan’s central defenders, Tom James and Adam Long, both around 5ft 11 in tall. After 22 minutes and with Latics two goals down Sheridan took off right back Crankshaw and brought on Emeka Obi. The 19-year-old has a long way to go before he is going to be the finished product but, like Smith, he too is 6ft 5in and his presence helped diminish the big target man’s effectiveness.
The centre of defence has been most problematic for Sheridan. Eight players have been used there so far and the disruption has prevented the gelling of the back four. Darnell Johnson and Curtis Tilt started four games together, giving them a chance to gel a partnership, but both are out of action due to injury.
The second half saw Kyle Joseph make his debut, coming on after 73 minutes. The 19-year-old Scotland youth international striker was among the young players touted by big clubs over the summer when Latics went under administration. He gave us a glimpse of his sharpness in the penalty box as he turned and was unlucky to see his effort hit the post in the 84th minute.
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:
Kenny Morris commented:
Obi got slated the last time he played because everyone said he was out of his depth, so would you have had him on from the start? Everyone said we couldn’t play two youngsters at CH
James does play Centre half, as he himself said in his interview this week. It wasn’t working so Sheridan changed it. Hindsight is a wonderful thing that seems to be here in abundance.
Negatives have been covered in previous posts, a few positives for me: Showed great fight in the second half, Gardner had his best game by a mile, although faded late on.
Perry looked assured on the ball and played some lovely through balls. Aasgaard seems to have a great first touch and great balance, reminded me a bit of Gelhardt.
Jones pulled off some good (and crucial) saves. Obi will have gained a lot of confidence from today, and a lot of experience playing against a beast like Smith. Long looks great on the ball and has the confidence to show for it.
Pearce never stopped running and his surge into the box for the penalty showed great positivity. Hopefully that will do his confidence some good as well. James also never stopped running once back at right back. We have 2 decent full backs for this level.
The second half high press was very effective and we need to employ this approach from the first minute, not the 46th.
Finally, there are teams as bad as us in this division, but we will hopefully have time and resources to improve and avoid relegation if the takeover goes through. If it doesn’t we have more things to worry about than losing a football match.
It’s still early days yet.
There is a good team in here but we sadly don’t start games anywhere near the standard for league football which cost us because we always seem to start playing well after going 1 or 2 down. Still some time
You are my sunshine opined:
Back 4 team selection/1st 25 mins cost us that game!
At least he binned Tuesdays negative formation but Sheridan should be playing players in their best position. Crankshaw is not a RB ,he is a RW! It’s a big step up for these lads as it is, let alone in an unfamiliar role. As soon as James went to RB to deal with Adams and Obi came on to get to grips with big Harry Smith we improved,as those 2 in particular caused us all sorts of problems that 1st 25 mins.
2nd half I thought we were superb, especially considering how many young lads we had out there. We were really unfortunate not to get a point in the end when Joseph, who was lively when he came on hit the post. Although not always with great quality, we put a lot more crosses in today and showed much more attacking intent than MK.
Pearce mom for me. Gardner has been poor this season, but I thought he had a much better game today. Obi did well when he came on, using his height and physicality to deal with Smith. Perry was tidy again.
Those lads showed today they can play and have good character to keep fighting despite the setbacks. This gives me some encouragement and hope going into another big game at the bottom on Tuesday at Blackpool.
“We shuffled the team around to match them up and we did that until half time, but it was a massive downer how the penalty came about to give them their first goal. The injuries aren’t something we need at this moment in time when we’re after results and trying to win games, especially when most of our injuries are to experienced players.
“It’s given other players opportunities and I’ve put a team out that I thought could get something from the game. We’ve had another couple of injuries again tonight, so it’s difficult for us. Viv’s injury is quite a serious one. With one or two of the others they’re being monitored so we’ll just have to see how they are. We’re short on bodies, but I can’t sit here crying, we’ve got to get back to performing and winning football matches.”
John Sheridan’s thoughts after his shuffled-around team struggled at the MK Dons Arena.
Already without Darnell Johnson and Viv Solomon Otabor who left the field early against Plymouth it was a shock to learn that Lee Evans and Kal Naismith were also unavailable due to injury. Sheridan reacted by changing to a 3-5-2 formation, with full back Tom James at the centre of a back three.
Latics looked uncomfortable from the start and Will Keane’s injury forcing him to leave the field of play after 9 minutes complicated things even further. Although he had two central strikers and a natural number 10 on the bench Sheridan elected to bring on winger Ollie Crankshaw is the second striker role.
The Dons were much the better team in the first half and Latics were fortunate to go into the interval with a 0-0 scoreline. But the seemingly inevitable happened in the first ten minutes of the second half with the Dons going ahead thanks to a soft penalty awarded against Tom James and a poor clearance from Curtis Tilt gifting a second.
Thelo Aasgaard came on for a distraught Gavin Massey after 64 minutes and Tilt was replaced by Alex Perry five minutes later. The latter part of the game saw Latics look a little better, with Perry looking calm and composed in front of the defence as the Dons retreated into a less attacking mode.
Given the current state of limbo prevailing at Wigan Athletic the limp performance did not come as a surprise. Sheridan has done his best to meld together a disparate group of players but the undercurrents in the club have surely affected all concerned. Those remaining from last season’s senior squad have seen the departure of so many teammates, their salaries reduced, their immediate futures uncertain. New players have been brought in from outside. Some have come and already gone and none of them have a contract beyond January.
However, there is room for optimism for the future. Earlier yesterday the U17 team beat Manchester United’s U17s in the Premier League Cup. They were invited to participate because Latics’ U18s won the U18 Professional Development League North in 2019-20. The current U18 team is again top of the table with five wins in five games.
The critics will say that there is a massive gap between football at youth level and that of the senior level. Indeed, over the years at Wigan we have seen so many bright young players disappear, many going into non-league football. However, with the upgrading of the academy to category 2 status last season both the U18 and U23 teams are playing against much stronger opposition on a regular basis.
Although they did not win their division the U23 team performed well last season. Eight have them have already played for the senior team this season, largely as a result of the club’s precarious financial situation. In contrast last season only Joe Gelhardt from the U23s appeared in league games.
It is rumoured that the Garrido consortium see the development of homegrown talent as important to the future of the club. Their potential acquisition of Wigan Athletic remains in the hands of the EFL. We can only hope that the process will be completed sooner rather than later. Maybe before the home game with Northampton on Saturday?
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.
1st half ……. I’d rather forget.
2nd half, goals aside, we showed a little promise at times. Like Glasgow says, the decline in our line-up from the 1st minute on Saturday to the point tonight when Keane went off shows our plight.
The kids give us hope, but they need confidence. There’s little point at this time comparing ourselves to any other club, regardless of position in the league. What we need to do is to concentrate on playing as a team, working hard, supporting each other, keeping the heads up. As fans, that’s all we can ask of them right now.
You are my sunshine commented:
Yep agree with the fact Jones had a good game as well as Long, especially 1st half, keeping it 0-0 at HT with some decent saves!
For me, I just think Perry is the best suited player to replace Evans, with his ability to get on the ball and keep possession. He is a very neat and tidy player. Whereas Merrie, who can also pick a good pass,is more of a tough tackler. That crunching one in the 1st half was a cracker. Palmer seems more similar to Merrie than Perry. So I’d have Evans or Perry with Palmer or Merrie in the 2 cm slots.
We are desperately lacking an experienced natural number 10 to play just behind Garner. Aasgard is the only one in the entire squad,so it’s good to see him involved recently. The less said about Massey tonight the better. His body language was appalling at times and he seemed frustrated at being so deep. No excuses though,he needs to do much better!
For me, tonight for 70 minutes we didn’t get on the ball no were near enough. Due to the 532 formation, we had no width in the final third, which also resulted in a lack of crosses into the box for Garner to attack.
King _deZeeuw06 opined:
At the end when we had more of the kids on were looked a bit better, granted MK had already got the win and were happy to sit back and hold onto it, but there was a bit more enthusiasm and energy in the way we tried to go at them at least.
Crankshaw really struggled, thought Palmer looked quite good but had very little to work with. Thought Perry and Aasgaard showed more than some of our senior players. Gardner even showed a bit towards the end, but it was too little too late. Massey shouldnt play again even if he is fit – not sure if it’s confidence, attitude or whatever but he has been one of our worst performers, taking zero responsibility and going hiding this season when he should be one of the ones leading the charge.
It seems like our senior players are dropping like flies so i assume the kids will be playing on mass on Saturday – it can’t be any worse. But Sheridan needs to stop mucking about with players out of position and 5 at the back – it’s making a tough job even harder.
Still not in the bottom four (somehow). The goal now (other than still having a club) is to get to January without being cut adrift. Do that and we still have a good chance of staying up assuming a takeover has been completed by then and we can bring bodies in.
You are my sunshine also added:
I know we had injuries to key players but we are still better than that disappointing display! IMO Sheridan got it wrong tonight playing that negative 532 formation,with too many players out of position.We were too deep from the start and it set the tone for the rest of the game.
As soon as Perry came on,who can get on the ball and spray it around in our familiar 4231 formation we improved that last 20 minutes.
I’d give Long mom tonight.
I agree with you But thought Jamie Jones also played well tonight – I s as Lao agree wrt Alex Perry, in fact from what I can see, Matt Palmer & Chris Merrie can also “get on the ball and spray it around”
My starting midfield would have been Palmer, Merrie & Perry and I would have told Pierce & James to play it through midfield who would then get it up field by means of control & passing rather than the current methodology being employed by Sheridan of hoofing it up and relying on luck !
I also would have subbed Aasgaard for Massey at half time !