Five talking points following a draw at Bolton

Bolton Wanderers 1 Wigan Athletic 1

The result was not what many Latics fans had hoped for against a Bolton side mired in the relegation zone, low on confidence. But a week ago Latics broke a run of four consecutive defeats with a home draw against Reading. The win against Blackburn in midweek raised our spirits. The draw at Bolton put a halt to a run of seven consecutive defeats away from home.

Paul Cook made two changes in his starting line-up, bringing in Josh Windass and Will Grigg for Nick Powell and James Vaughan. He stuck with the 4-4-1-1 formation.

The referee, Simon Hooper, set the tone in a potentially explosive derby game by handing out two yellow cards in the first three minutes. Bolton were playing the type of football that one has come to expect of them, with an emphasis on long balls and crosses. Lee Evans spooned a good shooting chance wide of the goal in the opening minutes following an accurate cut back from Windass. But Bolton were ahead soon after when, in the 7th minute, a long cross to the far post reached Will Buckley who evaded Reece James and squeezed the ball into the gap that Christian Walton left between himself and the near post. Wigan’s goal came in the 25th minute with a controversial Grigg penalty after had been felled in the area.

Bolton came out in the second half making more of an attempt to play passing football, but their main danger came from crosses. Wigan had opportunities in attack, but their final touch let them down. Bolton had a strong penalty claim turned down in the closing minutes as the ball hit Sam Morsy’s arm.  But in the end a draw was a fair result.

Bolton manager, Phil Parkinson, was far from happy with the referee: “I think everyone in the ground knew that Hobbsy’s challenge wasn’t a penalty, apart from two people. That’s very disappointing. The second one, I thought the rule was that if your arms are in an un-natural position it was a penalty and that’s what happened. You’d just like to think that after the referee knows he’s given a very contentious decision in the first half, that one, which is 60-40, we would have got it. I am disappointed with the referee’s performance again, and I don’t think the supporters will think ‘oh he’s moaning about the refs again’. They all watched the same game and knew he was very poor.”

Paul Cook commented: “I haven’t seen it (Hobbs on Grigg) but their bench wasn’t happy about it. Hindsight in football is a wonderful thing. The first challenge of the game the referee could easily have given a red. They are the debatable points in football. Both teams were committed trying to win the game so I think the referee did a decent enough job.”

On the claim against Morsy he added: “You could have seen why he might have given it. You are thinking I need to see that again.  But I really didn’t see it because I was staring at the floor praying at the time.”

Let’s take as look at some talking points arising:

The keyboard warriors are back

A couple of months ago Paul Cook was the toast of the town, as Latics were heading towards the playoff zone of the Championship. But now some of those fans are already talking about him being sacked. “Football managers are judged on results” is an old adage, but the keyboard warriors are already rearing their heads through the social media and message boards, despite an upturn in results leaving Latics unbeaten over three games for the first time in the Championship since 2014.

The Reading game was disappointing, but to follow it with two local derbies in the space of three days was always going to be a tough test. To come away with four points from those two games was something that one might not have predicted a week ago.

Latics are currently in 15th place after 20 games played. In both 2014-15 and 2016-17 they were second from bottom at the same stage, eventually finishing in the same position at the end of each season.

In both of those relegation seasons Latics had sacked their previously successful managers, Uwe Rosler and Gary Caldwell, after a run of poor results, replacing them with the inept Malky Mackay and Warren Joyce.

It is to be hoped that the new IEG ownership will use better judgement than the Whelan family did in those instances. Cook is building a young team to provide a backbone for the future. At times many of us have been disappointed with overuse of the long ball, but the positives outweigh the negatives and it is the time to support the manager rather than make blanket attacks on him in the social media.

Quality of crossing lets Wigan down

 Latics found it hard to play fluent football, given the physicality of the opposition. But on too many occasions when they managed to get in wide behind the Bolton defence the final cross was way off target. Nathan Byrne was particularly guilty in this respect.

Against Blackburn we saw some high-quality crossing, two gems from Kal Naismith particularly coming to mind. Naismith might not be the epitome of a flying winger, but his crossing from the left is reminiscent of that of Jean Beausejour. But Bolton had certainly done their homework, giving neither Naismith, nor his partner on the left, Gary Roberts, little space in which to deliver crosses.

The stats on the match from the Wigan Athletic site reveal that Bolton put in 26 crosses and Latics 25. But the crossing accuracy stats show 20% for Bolton and a meagre 4% for Latics.

Wildschut or McManaman?

Over the summer the rumours were flying around that Latics were going to sign one of their old favourite wingers. Fans debated the merits of Callum McManaman and Yanic Wildschut.

The eventual loan move of Wildschut to Bolton was a surprise, given the kind of salary he was receiving at Norwich and Bolton’s precarious financial situation. He scored an 89th minute winner for the Trotters at West Bromwich on the opening day of the season, then the winning goal in a 1-0 defeat of Reading a couple of weeks later. But Wildschut has only started in four league games, with 11 appearances off the bench. He came on after 77 minutes yesterday, but apart from one good cross, made little impression.

McManaman also came on as a substitute yesterday after 68 minutes but had little impact. He has made one league start this season, with 12 appearances off the bench, scoring one goal.

The season is nearing its half way point. Will Wildschut and McManaman be able to claim regular places in the starting line-ups before the season ends?

Do controversial refereeing decisions even themselves out over the course of the season?

Cook’s comment that Joe Williams could have had a red card in the second minute brings to mind the Blackburn encounter when James Vaughan’s tackle on Jack Rodwell early in the game left the player in distress. Vaughan went on to have his best game for Latics. If he had received a red card for his dubious challenge, would Latics have won the game? In the same vein, would a struggling Bolton team have survived if Williams had been given his marching orders?

Such incidents would seem to fall in line with the theory that controversial refereeing decisions even themselves out in the course of the season. However, those of us who watched Latics in their Premier League years might dispute that. The number of “dodgy” decisions that went against Wigan, especially against the elite clubs, surely outweighed those that went the other way. Indeed, it became a common phrase among fans that

Latics were going to play the 12 men when visiting Old Trafford.

The Championship is a different kettle of fish. A loss for the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool makes the headlines in the Premier League, but in the Championship, it is rarely a surprise for a team near the bottom to beat a team at the top. Moreover, with 46 games to play, compared with 38 in the first tier, the Championship is physically more demanding over the course of a season.

So many games in the Championship are finely poised and it can take just one adverse refereeing decision to tip the balance. But the division itself is by no means homogeneous, with the larger clubs, with bigger fan bases, tending to occupy the higher positions. Aston Villa and Leeds average over 30,000, Brentford and Rotherham less than 10,000. The effect of a large, partisan crowd on refereeing decisions cannot be discounted.

Apart from yesterday’s game, the “margins” have not been favourable for Latics away from home. Those little bits of “luck” have rarely gone their way. But with two penalties in their favour in the last two games is the tide turning?

More changes coming in January?

Alan Nixon has once again been busy with Latics news on Twitter. Given the impending departure of Dan Burn in January and the lack of cover for Antonee Robinson at left back, much of what Nixon is saying makes sense. But is Cook really looking for another striker when he already has Will Grigg, Joe Garner, James Vaughan and Josh Windass? Is one or more of them likely to be leaving?

Given the lack of information from the club about extending players’ contracts today’s tweet about Sam Morsy makes interesting reading:

But on the other side of the coin:


Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

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High turnover but what’s changed? A perspective on Wigan’s latest window

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Management hates it, the media loves it, fans have little choice but to be glued to it in hope and trepidation. Transfer deadline day is bigger business every year that goes by. It’s one of the ways – the lack of a winter break being the other obvious one – in which the British game likes to make things that bit more complicated (and profitable) than the rest of the world.

For clubs that swapped managers during the first half of the season, the January transfer window has become an opportunity for the new regime to stamp its authority on the squad. Ship out players that don’t fit the tactical model; replace them with players that do; balance the books by shedding big earners and reinvesting in problem positions. It’s a pattern that has become all too familiar at Wigan, with last year’s success in League 1 the notable exception.

There are a couple problems with this approach. First, you have less time in January than in the summer, not only to recruit good players and find a home for high-earning misfits, but just as importantly to provide incomings the tactical and personal adaptation period they need to succeed. On top of that, you have to navigate an inflated market to negotiate fair prices for players, which can be particularly challenging if you appear desperate, as one does in a relegation fight, for example.

Another unpleasant feature of the January transfer window well known to Latics, particularly in the Premier League days, is the risk of losing your most successful players. It tends to be instigated by agents or players themselves, and to materialize in the dying hours of the window, preventing the club from finding an adequate replacement. Sometimes, these decisions become of huge financial importance to the club, and their approval is beyond the manager’s control.

Add to this Wigan’s very limited spending power compared to its Championship competitors – and you realize what a big ask we as fans are making of the manager. It’s worth pausing to put oneself in Warren Joyce’s shoes. There are plenty of arguments claiming the manager should only be judged after a window. I’d take them a step further to suggest that’s still nowhere near enough time. The new players haven’t had a pre-season with him; many will need to adjust to playing at a higher level; all will have to adapt to new surroundings and teammates; and Joyce himself will need to adapt his tactics, having lost his most valuable player.

The counter argument, of course, is that Joyce brought some of these challenges upon himself. Too much turnover is bad for any organization, specially in a short period of time, and the high number of ins and outs will breed instability. Was it really necessary to bring in so many people, so many loanees in particular? Right when the team was gaining some consistency and producing results on the pitch? Plenty to debate. In the meantime, here are some ups and down on another busy window:

Good News: The whopping fee received for Yanic Wildschut (£7.5 million according to Sky,£7 million elsewhere.) It’s hard to take, given his status as Latics’ best attacking threat, with pace and strength to burn, and room to improve. But his finishing was often frustrating, he was inconsistent, and very much rough around the edges. If he had to go, credit is due the club for gaining such a huge profit on their investment.

Bad News: Yanic again. Being gone so late in the window. It’s hard to ignore that Wigan have scored three goals fewer than Rotherham, and yet just sold their most effective attacker.

Good News: In Gabriel Obertan, the club have found as close to a direct replacement as could be expected. We’ll be left to imagine what Joyce’s team might have looked like with two pacey wingers on the pitch. But at least Obertan’s defining attributes are similar to Wildschut’s: pace and strength, some trickery, abundant potential yet inconsistent finishing. He should be entering his peak years, has something to prove, and lots of experience at a higher level. Joyce knows him, he’s apparently a good professional, and they have said encouraging things about each other. The term of contract is short, therefore financial risk is too. All in all, a gamble worth taking.

Bad news: The squad feels unbalanced and bloated. There are a lot of midfielders, but few wingers or attacking playmakers given Nick Powell’s absence. With Obertan almost certain to start, it’s likely Michael Jacobs (in desperate need of a goal) on the other wing, with Colclough, Weir and Browne all unproven backups. Meanwhile, in the centre of midfield, Joyce has Power, Morsy, Perkins, MacDonald, Gilbey, Tunnicliffe, Hanson, Byrne, and Laurent to keep happy. Perhaps some of these players will be used in different positions (Hanson as defensive cover, etc.), but it’s a bloated, uneven squad that Joyce may have a hard time keeping happy.

Good News: Welcome Omar Bogle! He may need time to adapt. But the club beat out competitors to get him, and on paper, he has everything he needs to succeed at Championship level. A lot of hope is resting on his inexperienced shoulders, but if his teammates can provide him service, there is reason to believe. The option of a little-and-large Grigg and Bogle parternship is also intriguing. He’s left-footed, too.

Bad News: Banking on lower division signings is playing with fire. If Grigg is to become injured, Latics are left with Bogle, and Mikael Mandron to lead the line. Both have potential, but their success has come in League 2 and the Conference, respectively. They are completely unproven at this level, and playing with new teammates.

Good News: Alex Bruce appears an astute short-term signing, with potential for a longer stay. Dan Burn and Jake Buxton have developed a useful partnership in recent games, but Bruce is a dependable and experienced head to provide backup, who should also be good to have around the place.

Bad News: He hasn’t played all season due to an Achilles injury.

Good News: Keeping Sam Morsy and Max Power. Much of the attention has been on keeping Morsy, who has performed very well since his return. Power may not have started strongly, but has been steadily improving and remains a player of undoubted potential. Had rumours of his departure materialised, Latics would have lost an opportunity to reap the rewards of blooding him at this level. Good things should come of establishing Power and Morsy as a partnership.

Bad News: Too many loanees. In order to secure loan signings, managers often have to pledge a certain number of game time to the players’ parent clubs. Given the maximum of five loan signings per match-day squad, it looks an impossibility Latics’ recent loan signings will all get their wish to show what they can do. Jakob Haugaard may find himself sacrificed given the arrival of Matt Gilks. Callum Connolly is certain to play. That leaves Jamie Hanson, Marcus Browne, James Weir, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Bruce and Haugaard to vie for the other berths. Presumably, borrowing players and not giving them a game reduces the chances of players being borrowed from the same clubs in the future. Given many of these players are expected to be fringe players anyway, might Latics have been better off without a few of them?

Good News: Joyce appears to have both a short-term, and long-term plan. Signings like Gilks, Bruce and Obertan point to survival needs, while the signings of Jack Byrne, Mandron, and Josh Laurent show a continued desire to invest in youth and capitalize on Joyce’s wealth of experience in the area of player development. Byrne, in particular, was highly rated at City and appears a good long-term signing.

Verdict

Despite the high turnover, it doesn’t appear likely there will be immediate, dramatic changes to the starting lineup – Obertan in for Wildschut, perhaps the goalkeeper, and a new striking option in Bogle off the bench. This should prove a blessing, given the progress made in recent weeks. But it also calls into question the need for such a high number of incomings and outgoings. Joyce would do well to resist the urge of upsetting the players who have recently given him good commitment and results.

As supporters, patience is going to be important. Demanding instant impact from players adapting to a higher level is unfair, as is demanding instant adjustment from a team that became dependent on Wildschut to create for it. But if the new signings can add to the promising form shown of late and provide cover for injuries, we can be cautiously optimistic that, with a new crew of Joyce-loyal players and relative stability in the starting XI, we’re better off than before the window.

Full squad can be seen here