Do we show these teams too much respect?

 

“Rotherham were a tough test for us ahead of the last five games, so it was important for us not to get beat.”

The words of Dan Burn after a disappointing performance.

Prior to this goalless draw at the DW Stadium, Rotherham United had lost their previous three away games, conceding eight goals in the process. But they deserved not to lose yesterday. They packed the midfield, pressing Latics into making mistakes and their big lone striker proved a physical handful for the Wigan defence.

Latics looked pedestrian, plodding along, not the dynamic outfit who had scored nine goals in the previous two games. Passes were misplaced, and the build-up was painfully slow. Although it was their third game in the space of eight days, once again Paul Cook resisted the opportunity to freshen up his pack and stuck with the same starting eleven.

Thanks to a Bristol Rovers goal in the fourth minute of stoppage time, Latics remain on top of League 1, ahead of Blackburn on goal difference. They are in pole position, with a game in hand to Blackburn and five-point buffer ahead of Shrewsbury. Latics have five games left: two at home and three away.

Dan Burn emphasised the importance of not having lost to Rotherham, who remain in fourth place. His comment begs the question as to whether Latics were  focused on not losing more than actually winning.

It was the kind of performance that we have seen before in home games against teams from the top ten. In so many of them Latics have seemed unwilling to fully commit men forward, in fear of counterattack. At the DW they have beaten only one team currently in the top ten and that was a tight 1-0 win over Plymouth, who were bottom of the table at the time. On the other side of the coin, they have only lost one, that being against Blackpool prior to the Manchester City epic. They shared the points in the others, five of those being goalless draws.

The counter-argument is that Latics are the prize scalp in the division and that visiting teams come looking for a draw, doing all they can to dull Wigan’s attacking threat. Most of Latics’ best performances this season have been away from home, where the opposition has had to show more attacking intent. The stats show that Wigan have picked up 44 points from 20 games on the road, compared with 43 points from 21 games at home. Against the top ten teams away from home they have a record of W4 D2 L3, whereas at home it is W1 D7 L1.

Cook’s record last season at Portsmouth against the other teams who finished in the top ten makes interesting reading. Like Wigan their results against their closer rivals were not impressive. Pompey’s home record read W4 D2 L3, whereas on the road it was W4 D1 L4. They  failed to score in two of those home games against top ten opposition.

Yesterday Cook resisted the chance to bring on James Vaughan after half time for the injured Nick Powell, instead introducing Gary Roberts. Vaughan had teamed up with great effect with Will Grigg after coming on at Rochdale but Cook chose the more conservative option by making a like-for-like replacement. Cook was clearly concerned about losing further control in the midfield.

After the game the manager commented that:

“We can’t win every game and steam roll every team, football is not like that. It’s a difficult game and every point towards the end of the season is golden.”

Cook was obviously keen to pick up one point if he could not pick up the three.

Wigan’s performance yesterday and in previous home games against top ten opponents begs the question whether too much respect has been shown to such opposition. But for the moment Latics are in a great position to consolidate their promotion to the Championship division. Cook deserves commendation for helping his team get to such a point with only three weeks of the season remaining.

 

Thanks to Jordan for his revealing analysis on Twitter.

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Champagne football returns to the DW –Latics 3 Blackburn Rovers 0 – with match highlights

It was probably Nick Powell's best display in a Wigan shirt.

It was probably Nick Powell’s best display in a Wigan shirt.

It brought back memories of the champagne football of yesteryear. Admittedly Rovers looked a poor side, but the quality of Wigan’s play in the first half was reminiscent of that of those glorious times of the tail end of the 2012-13 season. In those days Shaun Maloney had been at the heart of it: yesterday it was Nick Powell.

Gary Caldwell stuck with the 3-5-2 formation. With Jake Buxton suspended, Stephen Warnock moved to left centre back, with Dan Burn in the middle and Craig Morgan on the right. David Perkins was played as a left wing back, with Nick Powell taking his place in midfield.

Wigan soon settled into a positive rhythm, building up from the back, but not averse to launching calculated long balls. The wing backs were lively, the midfield fluid and classy, the two forwards constantly searching for space. Latics’ high pressing caused Blackburn problems from the start and Alex Gilbey might have scored as early as the third minute after Yanic Wildschut had dispossessed centre back Shaun Duffy and rolled the ball into his path. Gilbey fired narrowly wide.

Given Wigan’s dominance it came as no surprise when they scored after 14 minutes. A glorious long diagonal pass from Morgan to Wildschut initiated a move that saw Max Power teed up for a shot from outside the box. Power’s shot was wayward, but Will Grigg instinctively got his head to the ball and it flashed into the net. The champagne football continued, with Powell orchestrating the play, together with his midfield partners, Gilbey and Power. Latics almost went two up after 25 minutes with Wildschut hitting the crossbar but another goal was surely coming. It happened in the 33rd minute when Powell curled in a free kick from the left side of the penalty area, goalkeeper Steele getting hands to it, but unable to keep it out.

Latics went into half time with a two goal lead after playing scintillating football. But one wondered if they could keep it going or whether they would go into their shells as they did at Bristol a week before. Could they keep up that same intensity?

It turned out that they couldn’t. However, although they were to take their foot off the gas they remained in control. As the second half wore on, Powell’s influence was to diminish, as was the high pressing that had characterized their first half display. Powell was to go off after 62 minutes, being replaced by Michael Jacobs.

The visitors had started to come back into the game, but a minute later an own goal by the unfortunate Duffy from a superb cross by Jacobs was to knock them back on their heels. Tim Chow replaced the excellent Luke Burke after 75 minutes, with Craig Davies coming on for an equally excellent Will Grigg after 81 minutes. The game was to peter away with Latics seemingly having Tuesday’s game against Birmingham City uppermost in their minds.

The Good

The signing of Nick Powell a couple of weeks ago was a gamble. Lacking first team football over the past two years and being beset by injuries, Caldwell was nevertheless hoping the player could regain that spark that he showed in Owen Coyle’s days at Wigan. But Powell’s midfield play was a revelation in this match, probably his best display in Latics colours. He looked a complete player in midfield, his technical abilities being allied with a keen workrate. Gary Caldwell later remarked that:

That’s what Nick can do when he has got his mind on it and he’s right. He’s been first class since he came in, worked really hard with the fitness coaches – credit to them for getting him fit – and I’d probably say he’s working at a fitness level of about 60% at the moment and yet you saw today what he could produce.

Alex Gilbey also had a fine game. He is another player with a great technique, but he was to ally that with excellent movement off the ball and a willingness to fight for possession. Although in some ways a similar type of player to Max Power there seems to be room in the Wigan midfield for the two.

Luke Burke continues to impress. He is the complete wing back, intelligent in his distribution, strong in the tackle, with a level of composure that belies his 18 years of age. One wonders how he will fare when used as an orthodox right back when the manager opts for a conventional back four. On the evidence of what we have seen so far he should slot in seamlessly.

David Perkins was also impressive at wing back, constantly supporting attacks, solid in defence. The back three were strong, Craig Morgan being his usual calm influence, with his fine distribution. Dan Burn looked much more comfortable in the centre of the back three, where he was able to use his height to greater effect, winning headers, but he was also effective on the ground. Stephen Warnock was excellent throughout, tenacious in the tackle, thoughtful in his positioning, showing better judgement with his passing.

There have been questions as to whether Will Grigg can perform above League 1 level. On the basis of this performance there is no doubt that he can. Although faced with two uncompromising central defenders he led them a merry dance, his intelligent movement creating space. Yanic Wildschut was also impressive in a role where he has freedom to roam, rather being tied to a wide position which makes it easier for the opposition to nullify his efforts. Moreover the Dutchman is showing an increasing awareness of the positioning of his colleagues, more effective in his passing.

The Bad

Once again the second half performance was a disappointment after the first. Is there something in the players’ mindsets, is it a fitness issue, is it the manager’s desire to drop back on defence and hit on the counterattack? Or is it associated with the natural ebb and flow of a football game?

Whatever it is it needs to be addressed. Not only is it unfair on the fans, who go to a match hoping for entertainment, but it also lets teams off the hook who could have been dead and buried if the intensity had been kept up.

Uwe Rosler used the high pressing tactic to great effect during his better days at the club, although his players were unable to sustain it beyond the first half. Yesterday it was enough to unbalance the Blackburn defence in the early stages, but it dissipated as the game progressed.

It would be refreshing to see a Latics team, in the lead at the interval, come out and attack the opposition as soon as the second half starts. One can understand a team taking its foot off the gas in the final quarter, given another encounter being just three days away. But the second half slump is something that needs to be addressed.

Player Ratings

Adam Bogdan: 7 – had a fairly quiet time.

Luke Burke: 8 – excellent.

Craig Morgan: 8 – an understated, consistent performer and a calming influence on the defence.

Dan Burn: 8 – his best game so far.

Stephen Warnock: 8.5 – seems to relish that left centre back position. Influential.

David Perkins: 8 – as selfless as ever, but showing no mean level of skill too.

Max Power: 8 – getting back to his old form. Will he claim an assist for Grigg’s goal?

Alex Gilbey: 8.5 – looks a class player.

Nick Powell: 9 – a terrific display.

Will Grigg: 8.5 – a fine performance. His goal bore the stamp of a true poacher.

Yanic Wildschut: 8 – very good.

Substitutes:

Michael Jacobs: – came on after 63 minutes. Worked hard.

Tim Chow: – on for Burke after 75 minutes.

Craig Davies: – it was good to see the big man come on in the last 10 minutes for a tired Grigg. There have been rumours that he is on his way out of the club, but his physical presence gives Caldwell more options.

 

 

Blackburn 3 Wigan Athletic 1 – Opportunist goals stun unfit Latics

Ramis2

Ivan Ramis was surprisingly given a penalty kick to take.

Playing a strong Blackburn side at Ewood Park was always going to be a tough match. It needed Latics not only to play with intensity, but to do so for 90 minutes. In the event they did so for 51 minutes, gaining the lead. But within a space of five minutes Blackburn got two opportunist goals that knocked the stuffing out of Wigan. A further well taken goal in the 81st minute for the home team did not come as a surprise.

Guessing Rosler’s starting lineup is never easy to do. He was to make two changes from the team that beat Birmingham. The inclusion of William Kvist, who had made two appearances for Denmark in the past 10 days, was quite logical. Adam Forshaw has not played for weeks, but took a place on the bench. Kvist moved into the midfield space vacated by James McArthur. Kvist and Don Cowie took the holding midfield roles, with Emyr Huws pushed further forward. The surprise was the inclusion of Andy Delort, with Oriel Riera left out on the bench.

In the first half, Latics’ high pressing was unsettling the home team and Wigan were looking comfortable. In the 39th minute Callum McManaman won a penalty at the expense of Alex Baptiste. But without regular penalty takers Gomez, Maloney or Watson in the team, who was going to take it? Surely it would be Delort, who had scored penalties for Tours? It turned out to be Ivan Ramis, who kicked it over the bar.

Despite the penalty miss Latics continued to cause problems for the Blackburn defence. James Perch skillfully set up Delort, who blasted wide. McManaman had a good effort saved. Then in the final minute of the first half McManaman put in a beautifully weighted cross but Emmerson Boyce somehow headed over the bar.

Latics started the second half positively. In the 51st minute Huws showed his silky skills, making a great run into the box before the ball fell for Perch to hit the net with a daisy cutter from outside the area. It was his first league goal for Latics.

But a couple of minutes later Ben Marshall latched on to a loose ball outside the box and hit a shot that bounced ahead of Carson’s dive. Two minutes later Jordan Rhodes headed a long free kick into the net via the ground, as he evaded Wigan’s three central defenders.

The two goals in such a short space of time clearly stunned Latics who were to lose their thread. The substitution of Kvist for Shaun Maloney after 63 minutes appeared an attacking move, but the midfield was to lose the dominance it had enjoyed earlier in the game. The high pressing that had been effective in the first half had disappeared and Latics could not raise their intensity. A telling sign was the return to the long hooves by goalkeeper Scott Carson, which achieved little.

Huws went off injured after 80 minutes to be substituted by Adam Forshaw, with Martyn Waghorn coming on for McManaman. Marshall scored his second goal a minute later, with another beautifully taken effort. In the last minute Andrew Taylor found himself inside the six yard box, but he skewed the ball wide.

The stats show that Blackburn had 15 shots and Latics 13. However, the home team had 8 of those on target and Latics only 2. Blackburn had 51% of the possession.

The result was decided on finishing. Ramis, Delort and Boyce all had clear cut chances to score in the first half, Taylor in the second. Perch scored an opportunist goal for Latics, but Blackburn opportunely scored three.

The Good

The intensity was there for 51 minutes and Latics looked good value for their lead. Delort somehow got through 90 minutes despite his lack of match practice. Kvist came in and looked comfortable on his debut. The Dane is clearly not a replacement for McArthur, his role being primarily defensive. However, he and Don Cowie managed to get a foothold in the centre of midfield during the first part of the match.

McManaman looked dangerous, winning a penalty in the process. A pity he did not receive more of the ball.

It was a game of what might have been. Had Latics taken their chances in the first half the result could have been sealed. They were good enough to beat Blackburn, but once they fell behind their confidence dipped.

The Bad

Not for the first time this season Latics looked lethargic in the second half. Fitness remains an issue within the squad as a whole, especially with the new signings coming in. Moreover there had been a development squad fixture in midweek that would have given Delort, Forshaw and Kvist some playing time, but they were not involved.

Delort is to be commended for completing the 90 minutes, but could hardly be expected to perform at his best after not playing for so many weeks. Putting him in there straight away and leaving Riera on the bench was puzzling.

Kvist had played international football recently, but went off after 63 minutes. Fraser Fyvie had more time on the pitch in pre-season than anybody else and has done well with the development squad, but continues to be left out in the cold. Once again there was no sign of Roger Espinoza.

Forshaw was given his debut in the closing minutes, but it is going to take some time before he gets match fit.

Playing the first half with intensity and not being able to maintain it in the second has been a common occurrence this season. Having played a consistent lineup over the past few games, it looked like some cohesion was developing. However, putting two new signings into the starting lineup was not going to help.

Missing the penalty probably did not help Ivan Ramis’ game, but Rosler’s explanation that the Spaniard impresses with the spot-kick in training hardly holds water. Both Delort and Riera took penalties for their clubs last season and are the obvious candidates.

With Blackburn having two big central strikers who are strong in the air they was always going to be a threat from crosses. However, Wigan’s two best headers of the ball from defence – Leon Barnett and Thomas Rogne – did not make the starting lineup. Moreover the back three of Boyce, Ramis and Kiernan seemed to lack cohesion. Boyce is well below his form of last season and Ramis did not look his usual composed self at times. Kiernan is a fine young prospect, but is still learning the game at this level. Barnett was an outstanding player for Latics last season until he suffered a hamstring injury at Ipswich. Since then he has not commanded a regular place. Rogne seems to have disappeared off the radar.

Player Ratings:

Scott Carson: 7 – made some good saves. A class goalkeeper, but too prone to making long hopeful punts upfield.

James Perch: 7 – looked lively, particularly in the first half. Scored an opportunist goal and made a good pass that Delort might have converted in the first half.

Emmerson Boyce: 5.5 – just not at his best.

Ivan Ramis: 6 – made a number of good interceptions and quality passes, but not at his best.

Rob Kiernan: 5.5 – not at his best.

Andrew Taylor: 5.5 – did not attack as much as usual due to the threat on the Blackburn right side. Scored a cracker against Birmingham but missed a much easier one in this match.

William Kvist: 6 – a decent debut from the Danish tackler. Substituted after 63 minutes.

Don Cowie: 6 – worked hard throughout the 90 minutes. Much of Cowie’s work is unheralded. He covers a lot of ground and is a real team player. Better in a defensive midfield role than going forward.

Emyr Huws: 6.5 – the most creative outlet, but like most young players he lacks consistency. Needs time. Went off injured after 80 minutes.

Callum McManaman: 8 – easily Latics’ best player. He would be even more dangerous if he could get more of the ball.

Andy Delort: 5.5 – gave his all, but it was not his day. Lacks match fitness.

Substitutes:

Shaun Maloney: – came on for Kvist after 63 minutes and played in the centre of midfield. What will his role be in Rosler’s system?

Martyn Waghorn: – unable to create an impression in the last 10 minutes other than receiving a yellow card.

Adam Forshaw: – made his debut in the last 10 minutes in right midfield. How long will it take him to get match fit?

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Latics face QPR next Friday

Table

Wigan Athletic went down 4-3 to Blackburn Rovers in an entertaining game at Ewood Park this afternoon. However, Reading’s failure to beat Burnley left Latics in fifth place.

This means that they will play fourth placed QPR at the DW Stadium next Friday, May 9th.  The return game in west London is scheduled for Monday, May 12th. Both games will start at 7:45 pm.

Leonardo Ulloa’s header after two minutes of added time was enough to help Brighton win 2-1 at Nottingham Forest. The three points helped them to leapfrog over Reading into the playoffs at sixth place. Brighton entertain the in-form third placed Derby County on Thursday, May 8th with the return match on Sunday, May 11th at 5:15 pm.

Uwe Rosler will be pleased with the spirit shown by his team in the second half, but there will be questions asked as to his tactical approach which left a three man defence far too exposed.

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Wigan Athletic vs. Swansea City: Moment of truth

It’s business time at the DW, as Latics kick off the survival run-in with a must-win fixture against Roberto’s old flame, Swansea City.

The reverse fixture in Wales back in August was an interesting 0-0 draw in which Latics were twice denied by the post, either side of a Ben Watson penalty miss. Had any of those gone in, Latics would be sitting above the relegation zone in 17th.

The Welsh team has enjoyed a fine season, claiming a few famous scalps and impressing with their (extremely familiar) passing style of football. Liberty Stadium has been a real fortress for them, achieving a 5W, 6D, 2L record there. Away results, however — 2W, 3D, 8L — are a bit more encouraging.

Logic says we should be able to go one better and beat them on our own ground, but Wigan Athletic’s seasons often defy logic. Our away record is three times 0ur home record, when it comes to winning. The last time it happened at the DW was in August, though we’ve certainly come close — a lot.

Last weekend was one of those occasions, as Villa took a point home with them despite being bombarded by 14 corners, the most I can remember us getting against anyone. One suspects tomorrow’s match will be a lot more open. It’ll be interesting to see how the cut-up pitch affects two teams who like the ball on the ground. Lets hope the weather cooperates.

In team news, just about everyone should be fit although Antolin Alcaraz and Maynor Figueroa both had long journeys back after 90 minutes for Paraguay and Honduras respectively. James McArthur and Gary Caldwell played the full 90 for Scotland as well, with the Latics captain sustaining a gash to his ankle requiring stitches. Victor Moses made a 30-minute debut for Nigeria, while Momo Diame played an hour for Senegal. Ali Al-Habsi kept a clean sheet for Oman, who are on course for World Cup qualification — while James McCarthy did not feature for Ireland.

It’s hard to guess whether Martinez will tweak his XI. Many of us would like to see Momo Diame back in the team, but with James McArthur in excellent form and James McCarthy fresh having not played in midweek, it’s hard to see either being dropped. Jordi Gomez would be another candidate, but he was quite effective against Swansea in the previous match and will be itching to play against his former club. Ronnie Stam has been unlucky to lose his place to Emmerson Boyce and could return, although the defensive insurance Boyce provides may be considered a higher priority in the first half. If the lineup were to remain unchanged, second half attacking options such as Rodallega, Diame, Stam and Crusat look very strong. Swansea has a near-full squad to choose from.

Keep an eye out for:

Andre Marriner, who makes his return to the DW for the first time since the ludicrous piece of refereeing (0:47 seconds into the video) that lost Latics two points against Blackburn. One would expect him to treat Latics kindly after essentially gifting Blackburn a goal.

Prediction:

There’s just no other way to see this one, we have to win. But I’m sure it will not be without drama. It’s 2-1 to Wigan Athletic.