Five talking points following a depressing performance at Hillsborough

Sheffield Wednesday 1 Wigan Athletic 0

 

Following the uplifting display against Aston Villa we witnessed another depressing performance at Hillsborough. Two poor teams offered little by the way of entertainment, although the conditions did not make things easy for either side. The game was decided by an excellent strike by Wednesday centre forward Steven Fletcher, aided by a lack of challenge from the Wigan midfield. But the home side were deserved winners, having eight shots on target compared with one from a toothless Latics outfit.

Paul Cook had named an unchanged side. Latics started positively but they were reluctant to push men forward to support the lone striker, Joe Garner. The high tempo, high pressing game that we saw against Villa was not evident. It was the home side who posed the greater goal threat and Jamie Jones was much the busier keeper. Wednesday could well have scored had it not been for superb last-ditch tackles from Chey Dunkley and Cedric Kipre and good goalkeeping by Jones.

But Latics managed to keep it at 0-0 when the teams marched off to the half time interval. The second half revealed that depressing type of play that has been so often the norm in recent months. The “hoof” was very much prevalent, and Wigan struggled to do anything constructive with the ball. After Fletcher’s goal in the 62nd minute one hoped for a riposte from Wigan, but nothing resulted. If another goal was to come in the game, it would most likely be the home team that scored it.

Following the match Paul Cook commented: “At half-time I was thinking there was something there for us but in the second-half Sheffield Wednesday totally dominated the game and fully deserved the victory. We got ourselves into a position to possibly get something from the game but, unfortunately, we fell away in the second-half and Sheffield Wednesday were full value for the win. We never got a foothold in the game or got into positions to hurt them and that is great credit to them.”

Jones once again impresses

But for an excellent display by Jamie Jones the scoreline would have been quite different. Although it is the keeper’s first season in the Championship at the age of 29, he looks far from overawed. In fact, he seems to be relishing it. Again, he was assertive in his box, making some fine saves. Moreover, as soon as he catches a ball, he is quick to step forward, looking for a quick throw to a player in space. Sadly, yesterday there were too few of his teammates moving to make themselves available to receive the ball. Far too often the keeper had to kick long, typically resulting in lost possession.

A product of the Everton youth system Jones joined Leyton Orient as a 19-year-old, spending 6 seasons there, making 161 league appearances. After letting his contract run down at the O’s he joined Preston as a free agent in July 2014. During his two years at Preston he made 14 league appearances, with another 34 on loan at Colchester, Coventry and Rochdale. Jones joined Stevenage in January 2016 and went on to make 53 appearances for them in League 2 before joining Latics as a free agent in August 2017.

An unbalanced midfield

Rather than play side by side in central midfield Lee Evans and Sam Morsy were given different roles. Evans was put in front of the back four with Morsy pushed further forward. Then midway through the first half Gary Roberts was moved from the left wing to play an inside left position. Josh Windass was moved to the wing.

The net result was Evans being swamped by the heavily populated home midfield, with Morsy and Roberts able to create few openings going forward. Windass had played one of his better games against Villa in a mobile number 10 role, but the switch saw him consigned to the wing where he rarely plays his best.

The lack of midfield cover was plain to see in Fletcher’s goal.

What on earth was Cook trying to achieve? Wednesday playmaker Barry Bannan had the freedom of the park.

What happens at half time?

Despite not playing particularly well in the first period Latics went in to the interval on level terms. For many teams playing away such a situation could be seen as a springboard to getting a positive result. But in Latics’ case this season it has rarely happened.

Based on goals scored in the first half of league games this season Latics would be placed in 16th position with 35 points. However, based on goals scored in the second half they would be 22nd with 26 points. Moreover, in away games Latics’ second half goals place them in 23rd position. Tables provided by Soccerstats.com can be viewed here.

Latics were 2-0 up at Swansea after dominating the game in the first half through high tempo, high pressing football. In the second half the intensity just was not there, and the home team came back to level the scores. Like yesterday in the second half Wigan had started employing the hoof.

Are the reasons for the disappointing second half performances due to physical reasons? Or are they psychological? Or the result of tactics discussions during the interval? After a fine performance against Aston Villa, where the intensity did not diminish in the second half, we were hoping for something similar yesterday.

Injuries hit hard again

After making an excellent debut last week Anthony Pilkington had to leave the field of play at half time after turning his ankle over. Cedric Kipre continued to play despite an ankle niggle. But it was Will Grigg’s injury that looked the more serious.

Cook is having no luck on the injury front and he remarked after the game that: “That’s what the league is, you get injuries, we were in a bit of fog but getting towards clear light and now it looks like we are heading back into that fog – that’s the way it is, though.”

Grigg to Sunderland off

The constant media barrage of “Grigg to Sunderland” has been wearing thin with Wigan Athletic supporters. But if Grigg’s injury is as serious as it appeared, he surely will not be leaving this month.

Will Grigg remains a favourite of so many Latics fans, though there are those who do not consider him to be a Championship level striker. His season has been riddled with injury, but even when fit he has often been left out of the starting lineup.

In the meantime, Devante Cole has returned from his loan spell at Burton Albion after making 6 starts and 7 substitute appearances, scoring 2 goals. If Grigg is out long-term will Cook look for a replacement in the transfer window or will he give Cole the genuine opportunity he was denied in the second half of last season?

 

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

 

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A back three for Cook at Bramall Lane?

Three at the back for Latics?

“I’ve been speaking to a few people and the best way of getting into the Brighton team would be on the left-hand side of a back three.”

Dan Burn was thinking ahead of his expected move to Brighton in January. But was it in the back of his mind that he might be playing there too for Latics over the next couple of months?

Paul Cook reverted to a line of three central defenders in the final third of the Millwall game, Burn looking so much more comfortable there after a difficult time as a makeshift left back.

Most managers have a favourite formation and Cook is no exception. The 4-2-3-1 that has been the default system during his tenure as Latics manager has enabled not only good results, but good football too. Under that formation Latics have used the flanks to great advantage, stretching the opposition defences wide. Sadly, Cook has lost his most favoured wingers – Michael Jacobs and Gavin Massey – to injury. The two were able to not only attack with pace but play a key role in dropping back to help regain possession. Their all-round team play been sorely missed.

Another feature of Wigan’s best performances this season has been the high press, with the defence pushing up in a high line and Christian Walton playing an important role as keeper/sweeper behind the defence. Although still evident in home games it has been not the norm on the road since the attacking performances in the first two away games at Aston Villa and Stoke, where Latics’ play was a joy to watch.

Some managers are stubborn in sticking to the same formation, come what may. It has advantages in that recruitment can be built around the needs of that system, with players knowing precisely the role they are playing. The disadvantage is that the opposition know exactly what to expect and can find ways of shutting it down.

At Portsmouth Cook was criticised for not having a “Plan B”. But at Millwall he started out with a version of 4-4-2 and switched to 3-5-2 in the second half. Wigan’s football at the New Den could be best described as “direct”. Last season in League 1 we had witnessed similar occurrences, with long balls being launched forwards in a Plan B mode.

Not many teams play 4-4-2 these days, but some do, and they can use it successfully. Like any other system its successful functioning depends on having the right players in the right positions. It could be argued that 4-4-2 lends itself better to a more direct approach than 4-2-3-1, with defenders able to put in weighted long passes to twin strikers. The problem with the version of 4-4-2 we saw at Millwall was that the long passing was rarely well weighted.

Some managers will change their starting formations according to the opposition. Uwe Rosler did that very successfully in his first season at Wigan, switching between 4-3-3 and 3-4-3/3-5-2. Is Cook now looking at doing something similar?

Burn has shown himself to be an accomplished central defender at Championship level. However, Cook will be loath to break up a blossoming central defensive partnership of Dunkley and Kipre. Cook can solve some of his headaches by operating a 3-4-1-2 system, with full backs James and Robinson able to push forward with more security behind them. Nick Powell could play a similar role as before between the holding midfield and the forwards. We have seen so little of Callum McManaman so far, the pundits suggesting that he is still not fully fit and does not track back from the wing in the style of Jacobs and Massey. McManaman thrived in Roberto Martinez’ 3-4-3 where had a free role.

With Lee Evans unable to play against his parent club, Callum Connolly will most probably move into central midfield tomorrow. Were Cook to decide to play with three at the back we could see a lineup something akin to: Walton – Kipre, Dunkley, Burn – James, Connolly, Morsy, Robinson – Powell – McManaman, Windass.

Cook’s dilemma rests in whether to switch to three at the back – which is really five when under pressure – or to stick with the 4-2-3-1 system that has served him so well.

No matter which formation the manager adopts the discerning fan will be looking for an attacking approach following the lack of ambition shown in recent away games. Seeing Latics adopting the high press early on would be a good sign. Keeping the hoofing to a minimum would also mean less pressure on the defence as more possession is retained.

Cook deserves great credit in bringing Latics through to a mid-table position at this stage of the season. They have already shown they can compete with the top teams. Should Latics adopt an attacking approach at Bramall Lane tomorrow and get badly beaten the manager will suffer some degree of flak. On the other hand, were they to be as negative as in recent away games and still lose he would suffer even more.

 

 

Five talking points following an insipid performance at Brentford

Brentford 2 Wigan Athletic 0

 

For Latics this season there have been times when the result has not reflected the performance. It was certainly the case at Griffin Park yesterday, although on this occasion the parameters were reversed. Brentford’s two goals hardly reflected their mastery of the game. They could have won by a margin of five or six.

It was a day that Latics might want to forget and instead focus on the next match against Hull City on Tuesday. But it can be argued that there are lessons to be learned from the defeat.

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

Sam Morsy will be getting a rest after all

Whether the captain’s challenge on Yoann Barbet in the 60th minute was a true red card offence is debatable. But given the attention he had received from the referee prior to the incident it was unwise of Morsy to launch himself into such a challenge.

Morsy had not been at his best yesterday, although the same could be said about so many others around him. He had been unable to join the Egypt squad over the international break due to injury. One wondered if he was still suffering the effects of that injury yesterday as his play was distinctly off-key.

Following his stint in the Russia World Cup Morsy came back and was thrust straight into the Wigan team. But given the commitment we have come to expect from the captain it would have been a surprise for him to have been eased back into the team despite his lack of a summer break.

The red card is a bitter pill for Morsy to swallow, but it will nevertheless give him a break that might even prove beneficial over the course of the season.

Another poor performance after an international break

All clubs in the top two tiers must cope with the complications that arise through international breaks. But some seem to cope with it better than others. For Wigan Athletic it has often proved more problematic.

Paul Cook addressed the situation prior to the trip to Griffin Park saying:

“It was great for us to have so many players going across the world, it’s great for me as a manager to see my lads getting recognition in international football. It does give me the worry of if some of them will be in the right place to be picked again for the next match because of the travelling. Do I pick them tomorrow when we’ve got another game on Tuesday? It offers a different challenge, but like our supporters know, we’re going to do our best to meet them head on.”

 Will Grigg and Antonee Robinson were the first team regulars involved in international duty this time around.

Grigg scored an opportunist goal for Northern Ireland in the 92nd minute against Bosnia Herzegovina after coming off the bench after 69 minutes. That was sufficient for him to be named as a starter in the next game against Israel, where he was substituted after 65 minutes with his team already two goals ahead. Both games were played in Belfast.

Robinson was thrust into the USA starting line-up against Brazil at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. By all accounts it was a learning experience for the 20-year-old against such an experienced and capable Brazil side. He came on in the 56th minute in the next game against Mexico in Nashville, being involved in his team’s winning goal after 71 minutes.

Cook decided to rest Grigg yesterday, with James Vaughan in his place. He started Robinson who had played more game time than Grigg over the break and had travelled so many more miles together with having to deal with jet lag.

However, Cook has a wealth of options for the centre forward spot, with Joe Garner and Josh Windass also available. He does not have such choices at left back, with Robinson being the only specialist available for the position. Given the physical demands the Everton loanee has faced over the past weeks it was no surprise that he was far from his best yesterday.

With two more games coming up before Saturday, Cook will surely have to give Robinson a rest in at least one of them. His most likely replacement in that position is the right-footed Callum Connolly.

Sticking with a successful formula

Two aspects that have typified Paul Cook’s successful formula at Wigan have been sticking by a winning team and attacking with pace and gusto from wide positions.

Cook largely stuck by the team that beat Rotherham by making one change, Grigg being rested. But there was a distinct lack of pace and directness from the flanks. Losing Gavin Massey for several months is a big blow for Cook. The player not only has blistering pace, but also makes a major defensive contribution. Faced with options of playing the pacey Michael Jacobs, Leo Da Silva Lopes, Callum McManaman or Nathan Byrne on the right he once more chose the more pedestrian option in Connolly. On the left we saw muted displays by Windass and Robinson.

The good news for Cook is that Jacobs is available again after injury. Can we expect him to be on the right wing against Hull?

Kipre continues to develop

Cedric Kipre has had a baptism of fire in English football playing in a new back four. In the early games he had periods of excellence interspersed with moments of seemingly switching off and looking vulnerable. It was a lot to ask for a 21-year-old with just one full season of first team football behind him to step in for a player of the capabilities of Dan Burn.

But Kipre has already shown that he can make a major impact at Wigan. After being ‘Man of the Match’ against Rotherham, he was arguably Latics’ best defender yesterday, other than the outstanding Christian Walton. Kipre was not only looking solid in defence but moving forward to make interventions in midfield.

Worryingly for Cook, Kipre appeared to be carrying an injury in the closing stages. With Burn still unavailable it could be Alex Bruce who lines up against Hull.

Burn’s eventual return to action will give Cook more options in defence, not only providing cover at centre half, but also at left back.

Following the Brentford formula?

Brentford have now moved up to second place and look like genuine promotion contenders. Their football yesterday was a delight to watch, full of movement, pace and invention. They looked light years ahead of Wigan from the get-go.

Despite a staffing budget of around £10 m they are challenging clubs who are spending three times as much. Brentford’s formula is straight forward. They nurture young players and sell them off at a good profit to keep the club afloat. Some of the young players are produced in their academy, but the majority are signed from other clubs. Yesterday’s starting line-up included two centre backs with a combined age of 40 and a front three totalling 65 years of age. One of those players, Chris Mepham, came through their academy but the others came at a combined cost of around £6.5 m from clubs in England and France. The eventual sale of just one of those five could eventually enable the club to cover the initial outlay.

Paul Cook too is trying to build a young team at Wigan. But out of the starting line-up at Griffin Park four of the youngest five were loan players, Cedric Kipre being the exception. Brentford had no loanees in their starting line-up.

The use of loan players at Wigan has been a source of much discussion by fans over recent years. But once more the club is giving young players belonging to other clubs the upper hand over their own loan talent.

The signings of Kipre (21) and Da Silva Lopes (19) are indications that Latics might well move towards a Brentford-style model if they can consolidate themselves in the Championship. Such a model requires infrastructure in having the kind of scouting network that can identify young talent.

Moreover, Brentford are looking not only in England, but in Europe, for their talent.

Cook has built a squad of largely British Isles based players, with Kipre and Da Silva Lopes the exceptions. It contrasts widely to the approach of Roberto Martinez, who was able to bring in players from outside the country and meld them into a working unit. Five of the starting line-up for the FA Cup Final were from overseas.

It will be interesting to see how the new ownership will approach recruitment policy at Wigan Athletic. Will they come in with their cheque books in hand or will they look toward adopting a more systematic long-term plan akin to that of Brentford?

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Five talking points from the draw with Nottingham Forest

Wigan Athletic 2 Nottingham Forest 2

 

It was another scintillating performance from Wigan Athletic, making Forest look distinctly mediocre. But a soft penalty decision in the 89th minute gave the visitors a point they did not deserve.

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

No team can play at full throttle for 90+ minutes

Latics attacked Forest from the start, their high pressing and high tempo approach causing all kinds of problems for the visitors’ defence. They were quite superb in the first half, the 2-1 score line at the interval not reflecting their dominance.

However, no team can play at full throttle for 90+ minutes. As the second half wore on the intensity and quality of Wigan’s football diminished. Forest got more and more into the game and Latics were penned in their own half for several minutes, a resolute defence keeping out a seemingly interminable series of corner kicks from the visitors.

Uwe Rosler’s team in 2013-14 often played the high press. Although they could rarely keep it going for more than 30 minutes it was often enough to upset the opposition defence and go in for half time with a lead. With experienced and capable goalkeepers and defenders they were so often able to repel the opposition attackers in the second half.

Paul Cook’s Latics are a younger side on a steep learning curve in the Championship. It could be said that the penalty decision robbed them of a well-deserved win, but they could have put the game out of sight from Forest if they had converted more of their chances in that first half.

An eventful afternoon for Sam Morsy

Sam Morsy is an inspirational captain who does so much to enable the smooth running of Cook’s machine. Morsy is a complete player, not only dogged in defence, but enterprising when he goes forward. Cook likes to give his full backs the opportunity to bomb forward and Antonee Robinson is particularly good at doing that.  When Robinson goes forward it is Morsy who covers him. Until yesterday he had done that well, but this time Morsy was dispossessed leaving the left side of the defence open, resulting in Forest’s first goal.

Despite his early error the captain continued to drive his team forward and was unlucky with a fine shot that hit the post. Together with the excellent Lee Evans he continued to control the midfield. Once again we were to see the fiery side of the captain late in the second half in the middle of an altercation between the two sides.

Then came the penalty decision. There are those who would argue that Morsy clearly fouled Cash, others who would say that Cash dived over Morsy’s outstretched leg. But the bottom line is that Morsy was reckless in putting himself in that position.

Strangely enough, without those two incidents that changed the game, Morsy would have been a candidate for “Man of the Match”.

Another side of Ben Watson

Ben Watson is now 33 and he joined Forest in February 2018 after being released by Watford. Latics’ cup final icon found himself on the bench yesterday but came on to applause after 45 minutes. Watson played for Latics from 2008 to 2015, making 107 appearances in the Premier League and the Championship. He was a fine servant for the club, with his positive and cultured approach.

However, what we saw yesterday from Watson was a bit of a surprise for us. Like Morsy he was at the centre of the altercation between the two teams late in the second half, also receiving a yellow card. Mobbing of the referee is something that football continues to tolerate, an ugly side of the great game. Whether the referee was going to award Forest a penalty or not after Cash’s fall before being intimidated by Watson and his teammates was hard to tell. But the vehemence and aggression of Watson and his teammates surely tested the determination of a weak referee. It was an unsavoury way to get a penalty decision and we saw a side of Watson that I do not recall seeing during his seven years at Wigan.

A role for James Vaughan

When James Vaughan came on to replace Will Grigg after 74 minutes it signalled a switch to long ball tactics for the home side. The service the player received was far from ideal, but as always, Vaughan gave his all, fighting for every ball.

No one will fault Vaughan for effort: it is the approach that Latics tend to use when he plays as a lone centre forward that is the issue. Were Vaughan a kind of battering-ram central striker like Atdhe Nuhiu the long ball tactic might be more effective, but it is not the best way to employ him. Vaughan has been most effective for Latics whilst playing alongside or behind a central striker.

A solid performance by the centre of defence

It has been a tough start for Cedric Kipre, being thrust into Championship football after just one full season of league football in the SPL. If Dan Burn had been available, Cook would have been able to nurture Kipre into being his replacement when “Superman” leaves in January. Instead he has had to throw the Ivorian in at the deep end.

Chey Dunkley too has had a baptism of fire in his first season in the second tier. With three less experienced players alongside him in the back four he has had additional responsibilities thrust upon him at a time when he too has been adjusting to playing in a higher division.

Both were solid yesterday, reacting well under pressure and starting to show that kind of mutual understanding that is so important in a central defensive line.

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Latics fans react to recent events on the social media

The social media and message boards have been particularly busy recently following a trio of signings the day before the first game of the season, each doing well in a wonderfully entertaining win over Sheffield Wednesday. But a lot more could happen before the transfer window closes on Thursday, with speculation abounding in the media. Moreover there has also been a rumour that the takeover will be announced on Thursday too.

Once again we trawled the social media following Saturday’s game. Our thanks go to the Cockney Latic Forum, the Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum, The Boulevard of Broken Dreams on Facebook,  and also Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen. Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below.

Will Jones picked up Alan Nixon’s tweet about who was sitting behind Dave Whelan in the directors’ box on Saturday:

Studds40 on Latics Speyk commented:

If that’s not Cheng it’s his spitting image.

If it is him, and his family still own a minority stake in IEC, it can only be a positive to see him taking in a Latics game. Better still by all accounts he enjoyed it. Whether it’s direct involvement, or a passing interest, these things can lead to other business associations such as sponsorships and what have you.

It was also good to see all of the current owners and board members sat with the prospective owners. At the very least it suggest a cordial working relationship. Same goes with seeing Royal and his son in the directors box. Better to have a smooth transition.

Hampton on Latics Speyk stated:

It was Cheng (straight fm the owners suite horses mouth) he is not fronting up the transaction but is underwriting it hence some of the corporate validation delays. How much he will lump on tics is of course open to question.

Pemblue1932 on the Cockney Latic Forum commented:

Been in wigan all week, and at the training ground, already paid for the new pitch (6 million), moved the worriers out of the offices and into Robin Park, initially investigating 80 million to get us in the prem, was behind Cook signing new contract.

Horc responded to Pemblue:

Nobody will shoot the messenger pemblue, I just hope you are right on the third part.
BTW, I heard it will be announced before the deadline and there could be further additions to the squad.

Trent_Wigan on the Cockney Latic Forum commented on player performances on Saturday:

Gibson was MoM for me today. His 1st touch passes were excellent. Always made himself available for the ball.

Robinson gave him a run for MoM. If he carries on like that he will be the best left back we have had since Baines. Not only can he cross a ball he can do it with both feet.

HudWiganFan on Latics Speyk commended the players:

Excellent performance – its great to see players like Jacobs and Massey proving their critics wrong and showcasing their skills to great effect.

A fast-paced, enthralling attacking performance that produced countless chances against sturdy championship opposition and easily warranted more goals than the three scored.

Not bad for a team filled with ‘League One players’ that allegedly lack the quality to play at the level above!!

Bigroy on the Cockney Latic Forum commented:

Lots of reasons to be optimistic. For his first professional game Reece James was fearless and settled well despite the odd mishit pass, Kipre was a revelation and like a rock at the back, Robinson looked quick on the break, set up the first goal and has bags of potential whilst Gibson controlled the midfield, played some great balls, broke up play and made a terrific goal saving block in the second half. Jacobs was MOTM, scored two good goals, hit the bar with a cracking effort and got an assist for the third and you couldn’t say any of the players didn’t play well. All round a great game and thought the scoreline flattered the opposition given the chances we created. If we keep that level this season should be a cracker.

GazLatic on Latics Speyk opined:

Kipre is only 21, a million is a snip of he develops. It’s a good example of the business plan buying young players to look at selling on for a profit.

Studds40 on Latics Speyk expects further turnover:

I imagine 4 or 5 will be on the way out to streamline the squad and make room on the wage bill. Even if we are flush with cash you don’t want established players never in with a chance of making the bench. Cole, Colclough, Walker, MacDonald, plus Flores & Lang, maybe on the market.

Apparently we’ve left the No.10 squad number free. So that could be for an outright striker or someone to sit just behind. At this time all clubs are open to in’s and out’s. Quality players may become available we weren’t in for that we take an interest in.

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WafcHarvey on Latics Speyk revealed:

I was chatting with Walkers family in Glasgow. They was saying that Jamie wasn’t happy with his involvement and had asked his agent to speak with the club. He was told that he was too small and weak when he arrived which he has been working on. I can only imagine Cook has been miffed by his agents involvement and decided to freeze him out. His Instagram showed him at the training ground Saturday and he has removed Wigan Athletic from his Instagram and changed his picture to him in a Hearts top. Shame as I thought he would do well this season, but I also said Gilbey would be one of our best players last season and he left on deadline day so what do I know!

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