Wigan Athletic DO have strength in depth, despite poor EFL trophy performances

Image courtesy of the EFL

“Physically, it’s better than training. The lads got some good minutes in there because they’ve gone weeks without match sharpness.”

So said Leam Richardson following a dull 2-0 defeat at Crewe in an EFL Trophy fixture on Tuesday. Crewe were so much better than Wigan, the scoreline not reflecting the superiority of the home team. A fine display by 19-year-old debutant goalkeeper Sam Tickle had helped keep the score down. Crewe had made 8 changes to their team, Latics making 11. The home team had looked cohesive, Wigan disjointed.

The EFL Trophy is not a priority for most managers these days. Richardson used the fixture to give seven of his first team squad a run-out with players from the U23 squad.

The EFL Trophy was launched as the “Associate Members’ Cup” in the 1983-84 season, when it was won by Bournemouth. The following season Bryan Hamilton’s Wigan Athletic won it (as the Freight Rover Trophy), beating Brentford 3-1 at Wembley in front of a crowd of 39,897.

In 1999 Latics won it again (as the Auto Windscreens Shield), with 55,349 spectators watching Ray Matthias’ side beat Millwall 1-0 at Wembley.

Despite constantly poor attendances in the early rounds the competition’s final has always drawn big crowds, the record being the massive 85,021 for the Portsmouth-Sunderland encounter in 2019.

The introduction of U21 teams to the competition has not gone down well with the fans of clubs in Leagues 1 and 2. Attendances reached an all time low on Tuesday and Latics’ game at Crewe was one of eight matches that night with less than 1,000 paying spectators. Some 185 Latics fans travelled to watch a game in which their team just did not show the kind of commitment that wins games. Wigan still have a chance of qualifying from if they win their last group game at Shrewsbury, but on the evidence of the commitment shown in the games against Wolves U21 and Crewe it would be a surprise.

Richardson’s prime goal this season is to secure promotion. The League Cup and EFL Trophy have been secondary considerations and there are few fans who would argue against that. However, the performances of the second string in the EFL Trophy games and in the Sunderland game in the League Cup have been so below par that some fans are questioning the quality of the first team squad players who were involved. If those games have provided an opportunity for fringe players to stake a claim for a place in the senior team starting line-up, then it has not happened. Wigan’s best player at Crewe was Tickle and Kieran Lloyd, Scott Smith and Chris Sze looked as comfortable as any of the senior players.

However, looking at the first team squad analytically there is lots of depth. There are experienced players who have already been successful at League 1 level or above. However, they may be lacking sharpness due to lack of playing time with the manager keeping faith in a group of players who have got the club off to a fine start to the campaign. In the old days those players would have been sent to get game time in the reserve team. Such entities no longer exist in the modern era, having been replaced by development squads, with the emphasis of grooming young players.

However, first team squad players are sometimes drafted into U23 games from time to time. Both Curtis Tilt and Thelo Aasgaard played against Charlton U23s on September 13. Adam Long and Luke Robinson have played in the last four U23 games. Up this point Richardson has used the cup games, rather than U23 games, to help senior players to keep up their match fitness. The next EFL trophy game is on November 9 at Shrewsbury.

Courtesy of bbc.co.uk

The indifferent performances of senior players in the recent cup games is hard to fathom. There was surely enough ability and experience in those line-ups to put up better performances against the second strings of Sunderland and Crewe and the Wolves U21s. One could not expect those Latics XI’s to gel, but despite the lack of cohesion we might have expected some more memorable individual performances.

But the bottom line is that Wigan do have considerable strength in depth. It can only be truly tested when those fringe players are given the opportunity to play in a first team which has already gelled, making it easy for replacements to slot in.

A Crewe fan’s view of Ryan Colclough

Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail.

Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail.

Wigan Athletic yesterday announced the signing of 21 year old Ryan Colclough from Crewe Alexandra. Although the fee is undisclosed it appears that the basic amount could be topped up, based on appearances, with Crewe receiving a proportion of any future transfer fee.

Given the torn calf injury suffered by Michael Jacobs, Colclough would seem an almost ideal replacement, nominally a winger but scoring his goals from more central positions behind the central striker.

On signing for Latics he told the club’s official site that “I will play anywhere across the front three.  I like to get on the ball, go one v one against a defender and I also like to have a shot and score a goal as well.” Colclough has already scored 8 goals this season in a struggling side.

Gary Caldwell, like many Latics fans, will have been impressed by Colclough’s displays against his club this season.  He is clearly a talented young player with much to offer.

The 6 ft tall Colclough was born in Burslem in the City of Stoke on Trent. He joined the Crewe set up at the age of 7 and progressed through their renowned academy, signing his first professional contract as a 17 year old. He made his senior debut as a substitute in a 1-1 draw with Leyton Orient in September 2012 soon after.

However, Colclough’s career was to be upset by injury. He spent 16 months out of action with a groin injury.

In October 2014 he had told the Stoke Sentinel that:  “It’s been really hard, it played on my mind a lot and I’ve had a lot of down days, but I’m just happy to be back training. Obviously I have got dreams and want to get back to playing, and when I do I’m sure I’ll get back to doing what I was doing before, if not even better. “I’ve overcome my injury now, it’s just a matter of getting fit and I will prove myself, it’s not a matter of if, I will.”

In March 2015 he made his return for the under 21 side, when he won and scored a penalty against Colchester United.

Last summer Colclough had a trial at Wolves, but he went on to sign a two year contract for the Railwaymen. This season he has put the injury worries behind him and been a star performer for Alexandra. He made 40 starts at Crewe, with 28 appearances off the bench, scoring 13 goals.

In order to learn more about Colclough we reached out to Crewe fans on Twitter.

TimT (@Tants_88) comments that:

Wigan have bought a player with great potential in Ryan Colclough. Unfortunately for Crewe Alex fans we haven’t seen as much of him as we liked due to some serious injuries that he’s done very well to overcome.

Colclough can play on either wing or very effectively as a front man and enjoys taking players on and using his skill and pace to beat them. He’s capable of some stunning strikes but as with all younger players learning their trade, be prepared for some shots to be way off the mark when passing could have been the better choice.

I’m inclined to say you’ve got a bargain as the fee is undisclosed. This usually means one party has overpaid or sold too low, in this instance I think Wigan have approached Crewe at the right time but hopefully we’ll benefit from a sell on when he does well for you. He has had some off the field incidents in his life but hopefully those, along with his injuries are behind him now. All in all you’ve bought a good all round attacking player that will only get better with time.

James Tait )

Ryan Colclough. Call him Coco. A few close run-ins with the law involving an assault and a taser. On the pitch, he is inconsistent, raw and frustrating, but he’s also maturing every game and cooling his head.

He’s selfish, but a good kind of selfish, excellent dribbling, pretty quick and I’d always back him score in any game. Injuries have been a concern but he seems past that now. He really has carried us (Crewe) all season and is the only reason we aren’t already relegated.

DavidM (@David Morris26) says:

Ryan has the ability and skill to be a match winner.

Has a good eye for a goal and the pace and tricks to worry defenders. Decision making can be a little wayward and sometimes forgets his defensive duties.He will certainly be a good asset to your team wish him and Wigan all the best for the rest of the season.

This article from the Stoke Sentinel taks about Colclough leaving Crewe.