Stormclouds loom over Wigan Athletic’s fight to avoid relegation: time for changes?

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.

Courtesy of SkySports.com

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.

Amigo and social media reaction to another narrow defeat for injury-hit Latics

Wigan Athletic 2 Northampton Town 3

 “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.

Arthur_Itis said:

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.

FrancosLoveChild stated:

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.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Seeking the right blend of youth and experience

“Liverpool were a good, talented footballing side but our lads were a lot stronger against Liverpool. Tonight, playing against a very experienced team who have been around the block a bit was a massive learning curve for some of the younger players to know the standard if they want to make a living in the game and that will only stand them in good stead.”

So said John Sheridan following a home defeat by Port Vale in the EFL trophy. In reality the 3-1 scoreline was flattering to a Latics side who were out of their depth on the night.

Sheridan had put out a mixed lineup as he had in the game against the Liverpool U21 side.

The team included seven players who were under 23, together with Owen Evans (23), Tom James (24), Lee Evans (26), Dan Gardner (30).

On first glance the formation looked well balanced, but as play commenced, we saw that Chris Merrie was playing at left back, Tom Pearce on the left wing and Dan Gardner in holding midfield. After conceding a couple of goals due to errors Sheridan reverted to the line-up we would have expected, with Merrie back in midfield and Pearce at full back. Even before the errors the visitors were causing problems to a defence that was all at sea.

Sheridan has let it be known that he is looking for some more experienced players to supplement his squad: to get a suitable blend of youth and experience. Both Gardner and Viv Solomon-Otabor have signed extended contracts until January. Solomon-Otabor has looked impressive in his early Latics career. Gardner, who had worked previously under Leam Richardson at Chesterfield and Sheridan at Oldham, has looked less so. Nathan Cameron’s short-term contract is coming to an end shortly and Sheridan will have to decide whether to offer an extension. He has played in two league games so far but has been suffering from an injury.

The transfer window for EFL clubs closes on October 16. However, due to the economic impact of the Covid-19 virus many clubs have clubs have tightened their belts. The net result is hundreds of free agents available in the football markets.

Gerald Krasner has stated that he expects to be out by the end of the month, assuming the Garrido takeover is completed by that point. Whether the administrators will allow Sheridan to sign more players during that time remains to be seen, but there will still be free agents available beyond October should new ownership give the green light.

Krasner has taken a lot of flak from Latics fans, but if the sale to Jose Miguel Garrido Cristo goes through he and his associates might ultimately be remembered as the people who helped save the club from liquidation.

Jay Whittle has been an outstanding source of information for Latics fans in the times of crisis over these months. His interviews with key people involved in the fight to keep the club afloat have been both revealing and empathetic. This recent one with Gerald Krasner is well worth viewing if you have not already done so: