Five talking points after football is the loser at Rotherham

Rotherham United 1 Wigan Athletic 1

It was a truly awful game of football, but the result was one which helped Latics maintain a six-point lead over the Millers in the relegation dog fight.

Paul Cook opted to bring back Chey Dunkley in the centre of defence for Cedric Kipre. In the absence of Sam Morsy through suspension and Lee Evans through illness he brought in the on-loan Beni Baningime.

Rotherham started aggressively and Latics were under constant pressure. A head injury to Danny Fox after 25 minutes caused him to be replaced by Kipre. Rotherham were playing in a style akin to the Stoke City sides of the Pulis era, a constant stream of crosses being poured into Wigan’s box, aided by the long throw-ins of midfielder Will Vaulks.  It was no surprise when big centre half Craig Robertson headed the Millers in front after 28 minutes with Baningwe and Kipre ball watching. But it was a surprise four minutes later when Josh Windass took his chance with aplomb to level the scores. After being outplayed Latics were fortunate to go to the interval on level terms. They had been overwhelmed in midfield and the hoof dominated their play.

The second half was scarcely any better, although there were a few isolated moments when Latics did put some football together, making Rotherham’s defence look less self-assured.

We have seen some horrible football from Latics away from home this season, but this ranks among the ugliest. Are the defenders playing under orders to hoof the ball away at the smallest hint of danger or is the manager unable to get his players to follow his instructions?

After the game Cook commented: “First of all, I think Rotherham were not far off unplayable in the first-half; they were that good, they were that strong, they put the ball in all of the correct areas. We lost Danny Fox, Lee Evans pulled out ill this morning and we lost a bit of physicality with Lee going out and Beni [Baningime] going in. We knew we were going to have to defend. When Rotherham scored the goal, like most people I wondered if we would buckle under the pressure.”

Let’s take a look at some points arising:

Were Rotherham close to being unplayable in the first half?

Cook’s comment will surely haunt him for time to come. Rotherham have one of the lowest budgets in the division and their squad lacks quality.

Cook is to be commended for openness and honesty in his post-match comments, which so often contrasts to the one-sided, mindless stuff that founts from too many opposition managers.

But he shot himself in the foot with this one.

Rotherham had a game plan: did Wigan?

Rotherham’s game plan was simple, relying on crosses aimed towards the 6 ft 3 in Michael Smith, with the big central defenders coming up for set pieces. On a short and narrow pitch Vaulks’ long throws were akin to corner kicks.

Latics in comparison did not seem to have a plan. So often they played into Rotherham’s hands by kicking the ball out of play in their own half, giving Vaulks a pan-full of opportunities to launch his long throws. Moreover, they gave away too many unnecessary free kicks giving Rotherham the opportunity to bring forward their big guns.

That Latics came away with a point can be seen as a reflection of a willingness to fight, to dig in when under adversity. Effort has rarely been lacking in away games this season, but a genuine game plan has been seemingly absent. The bottom-line yesterday was that Rotherham did not have the quality to make their pressure count.

Latics had a good record against Pulis’ Stoke in the Martinez era. They did not lose any of the eight Premier League games against them. Martinez’ teams always had a plan and the players knew exactly what was expected of them. Aware of the rocket throw-ins of Rory Delap they were careful in possession in their own half, disciplined in their tackling.

Even the best of game plans can come unstuck as the game progresses. But it is disturbing to see Latics going into these away games without any obvious game plan other than gritty defence and hoofing upfield or out of play at the slightest danger.

Another Everton loanee makes his debut

Beni Baningime is 20-years-old and has had one Premier League start and seven substitute appearances for Everton. His first game in the Championship was a baptism of fire.

Baningime looked lost for most of the game, unable to stamp his mark on the play. It was only in the final quarter that he showed the confidence to seek out the ball.

His prior experience did not prepare him for this rough-and-tumble occasion. Only time will tell if Baningime will succeed in his half season at Wigan and make a better impression than previous loan players from Everton have made in recent years.

Cook was unfortunate to lose the experienced and physically more imposing Lee Evans prior to the game. Moreover, he did not have a central midfielder on the bench to replace Baningime if he had wanted to. Neither Shaun MacDonald nor Darron Gibson were in the squad. The latter has been off form of late, but why Cook did not opt for MacDonald’s experience in a tough fixture like that is hard to fathom.

When will Olsson be ready?

It was a surprise to see Jonas Olsson on the bench since the last time he played was for Djuurgardens on November 11. Was some thought given by Cook in bringing on the 6 ft 5 in Swede to counter the aerial threat of Michael Smith? Olsson will be 36 on March 10, but John Terry was playing for Aston Villa last season at 37.

In the event Cook chose to bring on Cedric Kipre who looked solid in defence with Chey Dunkley. However, Fox’s early departure surely had an effect on the football Wigan played. Fox has the skill and confidence to start moves from the back and he adds calm to the defence. Earlier in the season Kipre showed decent passing skills for a big centre half, but yesterday like Dunkley he so often chose to hoof the ball away. Again, the two had opportunities from set pieces which they could not convert. Last season Dunkley scored 7 goals for Latics and Kipre one for Motherwell. One wonders what position Latics would be in now if either had put away some of the chances they have had over these past months.

Kal Naismith had a hard time with Rotherham’s Jon Taylor yesterday and Cook surely needs to take another look at the left back position. Will Antonee Robinson be played there against Stoke on Wednesday? Or will Olsson be brought in to central defence with Fox moving to left back?

Playing to strengths

Creative and skilful players like Michael Jacobs, Gavin Massey and Anthony Pilkington can stretch any Championship defence. They played at Rotherham but were largely wasted with the ball by-passing them so often.

However, with the prospect of Nick Powell returning on Wednesday will we see a change in approach from the manager? Cook has good players at his disposal but to get the best out of them he needs to insist on keeping the ball on the ground much more. Latics are ill-suited to a long ball approach yet they have continued with it despite the poor results.

Can Cook get his team’s head straight to strike a reasonable balance between possession football and a more direct approach?

The jury remains out on this one.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored,com

 

Advertisements

Five talking points from an important win over QPR

Wigan Athletic 2 Queens Park Rangers 1

Wigan Athletic gained an important three points with a tight victory over QPR. Latics had been two goals up with a quarter of an hour to go but a deflected goal for the visitors changed the complexion of the game, Latics hanging on in grim defence until the final whistle. This time Wigan took their chances better than the opposition, having 7 shots on goal compared with 21 for the visitors.

Following the match Paul Cook commented: “I’m delighted with the lads, it’s been a tough week for the club with Will Grigg leaving but with the type of money that was offered there was nothing we could do, it was the correct thing to do. The new lads have come in and done great today, I’m delighted for the owners and for the chairman, for everyone. It was a big win for us today, a much-needed win and I’m delighted for the players. You need a bit of luck and fortune as well as the good players and we’ve done it so we will enjoy tonight, it’s a good night for us after a tough week for everyone but when you win football matches, football clubs are always happy places.”

 Let’s take look at some points arising:

A surprise in the team selection?

The inclusion in the starting lineup of new acquisitions Leon Clarke and Danny Fox came as no surprise. But playing the latter at centre back, leaving Chey Dunkley on the bench, was somewhat unexpected.

One of the frustrations of fans over the transfer window was the failure to sign a specialist left back. Although Fox played in that position so many times in his earlier career his more recent experience has been at centre back. So, Cook decided to continue with Kal Naismith at left back, not a universally popular decision with supporters. In the event, Naismith was one of the better performers on the day. Antonee Robinson is now back in training and will be challenging for a place over the coming weeks. Will Naismith and Robinson be the contenders for the left back position for the remainder of the season? Or will Cook opt for more experience by bringing in Jonas Olsson at centre back and pushing Fox across to full back?

Dunkley has so often been the stalwart of Latics’ defence, so it was a surprise to see him left out. However, his distribution in recent games had left much to be desired. It is the part of his game that he needs to work on, if he is to prove himself as a quality player at Championship level. Dunkley made his entrance after 77 minutes for Fox.

The other surprise was to see Reece James replacing the suspended Sam Morsy in midfield, rather than Darron Gibson or newcomer Beni Baningime. But James had been pushed forward late in previous encounters and had looked comfortable there. After an uncertain start James grew into this match, showing his great range of skills.

The result of those selections was some degree of improvement in the passing of the ball from the back and added creativity and drive in midfield.

Clarke to be Cook’s first choice striker?

The departure of Will Grigg caused a lot of ripples among the Latics faithful. Grigg’s goals twice propelled Wigan out of League 1 and were a major feature in last season’s FA Cup run. But more than that it was his combination with players like Michael Jacobs, Gavin Massey and Nick Powell that led to Latics playing their best football in recent years.

The signing of Leon Clarke for the second time and the departure of Grigg did not go down well with many fans. Clarke had been unimpressive in his previous spell under Malky Mackay in 2015, scoring just one goal in ten games. Earlier in the transfer window rumours had linked Latics with big target men such as Gary Madine and Tom Eaves. It was therefore no surprise that the 6 ft 2 in Clarke was signed. Neither was it a surprise that Grigg was sold, having been consistently snubbed by Cook in his team selections.

Clarke was arguably Wigan’s best performer against QPR, scoring a goal and providing an assist. Moreover, his hold-up play was excellent. Although we did see intermittent spells of good football from Latics in this game the approach was largely direct. It would not have suited Grigg.

With the departures of Grigg to Sunderland and James Vaughan to Portsmouth we can expect Clarke and Joe Garner to be the main choices for the central striker position, although Cook still has the option of using Nick Powell in that position when he is fit. For the moment it looks like Clarke will be the first-choice. His linking up with Josh Windass was a feature of this game and holds promise for the future.

Experience has been brought in

While the January 2019 transfer window will be immediately memorable for the departure of a Latics icon it might well prove to be successful in terms of bringing in experience. Leon Clarke (33), Danny Fox (32), Jonas Olsson (35) and Anthony Pilkington (30) are seasoned professionals at Premier League and Championship levels. Cook has talked about needing leaders in the dressing room. His choice of Fox as captain in his first game for the club underlines that.

Alex Bruce (34) departed for Kilmarnock, but despite that there is now a better balance in the squad in terms of youth and experience.

A nervy finish

Osayi-Samuels’ deflected 74th minute goal gave QPR new impetus. Cook’s reaction was to bring on Gibson and Garner for Pilkington and Clarke, then Dunkley for Fox three minutes later. The substitutions were most likely due to fitness issues. The outcome was Latics being very much under siege, frequently hoofing the ball away only for it to return very quickly.

In the end Latics did survive although the visitors hit the crossbar and had a strong penalty appeal turned down. The substitutions hardly improved things, Gibson in particular having a torrid time. But Latics’ confidence is still brittle, and they did not have the confidence to patiently build up moves from the back and manage the game more effectively. Nevertheless, aimless long balls to nobody in particular hardly help such game management.

Discipline on the field

Latics picked up three yellow cards to QPR’s one. It takes their yellow card tally to 66 for the league season so far, with 3 reds.

Only Nottingham Forest have a worse disciplinary record with 75 yellows and 5 reds. Neighbours Bolton closely follow Wigan with 61 yellows and 2 reds.

On the positive side it could be said that the stats indicate a team putting in lots of effort in a fight to avoid relegation. On the other hand, how many of those cards could have been avoided by a more controlled aggression?

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

A Nottingham Forest fan’s view of Danny Fox

 

Wigan Athletic have announced the signing of Danny Fox from Nottingham Forest for a fee of around £300,000. The 32-year-old has been signed on an 18-month contract.

The 6 ft tall Fox can play at centre back or left back. Given Antonee Robinson’s continued unavailability we can expect Fox to be drafted in at left back against QPR on Saturday.

Following the signing Paul Cook commented:

“Danny has great experience in the Premier League and Championship and is a great addition to our squad. Great credit to Danny for joining us after captaining Nottingham Forest in their promotion push in the Championship. .I think our supporters would appreciate that leadership and experience amongst our very young back five has been something we have been searching for and we are delighted to have found it in Danny.”

Danny Fox was born In Winsford, Cheshire, and played in the Everton academy. As an 18-year-old in the 2004-05 season he was sent out on loan to Gateshead and Stranraer. In the summer of 2005 he signed for Walsall and went on to make 99 appearances over two and a half seasons for the Saddlers.

In January 2008 Fox joined Coventry City, then in the Championship. He went on to make 57 league appearances there before signing for Celtic for £1.5m in July 2009. Fox made 15 appearances before signing for Premier League Burnley in January 2010 for £1.8m. After making 49 league starts for Burnley he signed for Southampton, then in the Championship in August 2011. The Saints were promoted at the end of the season and Fox went on to make a total of 64 league appearances before joining Nottingham Forest on loan in January 2014. The loan became a permanent deal in the summer. He went on to make 101 league appearances for Forest.

Fox represented England at U-21 level but opted to play for Scotland at senior level, qualifying through having a Scottish grandfather.

In order to learn about Fox’s time at Forest we contacted a couple of their fan sites. Thanks to Matt at Forza Garibaldi (www.forzagaribaldi.com) and Rich Ferraro at his Forest Ramble site (www.forestramble.com) for their contributions.

Matt commented:

An injury crisis at centre half aside this is probably a deal that suits everyone. And I do genuinely wish Danny Fox all the very best.

 He had his knockers at Forest and for most of his time in Nottingham he was far from appreciated. He was signed as a left back, but it was his conversion to the middle of defence which brought about a rather surprising renaissance. For the last season and a half, he’s been a good player for us. Sometimes brilliant. And he demonstrated some much-missed leadership which may be exactly what Wigan are after I suspect.

 He took the captains armband for a period and found himself a fan favourite. We appreciated his desire and his tenacity and I for one admired how he had overcome a rough early few years at Forest and earned himself a bit of cult status.

 He has a tendency to be a little daft as demonstrated by his second yellow card at Reading for running 40 yards to partake in a melee. And he was part of a Forest defence that could not stop goals from crosses. But it will not surprise me at all if he is a terrific signing for you. He certainly still has something to offer and he is a dependable pro who won’t go missing in a battle.

 Good luck to Danny and Wigan for the rest of the season.

Rich wrote:

Danny Fox has been a curious figure at Nottingham Forest; signed as a left-back at a time when Forest were struggling to fill the position, he never really impressed. He became a target for the boo boys and the resident scapegoat at the City Ground (and let’s be honest, there were plenty of candidates at the time). Under Dougie Freedman he was frozen out of the team, but the local press went out of their way to praise Fox’s professionalism – apparently, he was training hard, not moaning about his lack of opportunities, and sure enough, other opportunities came his way.

 However, it has really been in the last twelve months that Fox has come into his own; a few years ago, Stuart Pearce had played him as an emergency centre-back, and we did comment that he looked better there than as a left-back. Aitor Karanka obviously thought the same, as Fox played as a central defender from his first match and has rarely been left on the bench since.

 Fox has captained Forest for much of this season and has been a warrior at the back. He is not scared of sticking his head in where it hurts, his reading of the game is much better in a central role, and he is capable of a good raking ball out of defence. I am surprised to see him leave the City Ground and wish him good luck at the Latics.

 

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.