Five talking points following a high intensity victory over Aston Villa

Wigan Athletic 3 Aston Villa 0

 

It was as if the clock had been turned back. That negative long-ball approach was no longer evident. In its place was the high intensity football that has underpinned Latics’ best performances this season. They did it at Swansea for half a game, but this time they kept it going in the second half, the high press disrupting Villa’s passing game, threatening their defence.

Paul Cook looked to have taken a gamble by including Anthony Pilkington in the starting lineup, given that the player had not made an appearance for Cardiff’s senior side since April 2018. He also made a bold move in bringing in Jamie Jones in goal.

Both players made a difference in an impressive win over the big spending visitors, but a mix up between Jones and Cedric Kipre after 10 minutes ended up with Tammy Abraham missing a relatively easy chance. If Abraham had scored it could have been a killer blow for a Latics side with such brittle confidence. Fortunately for Wigan he didn’t and in the 41st minute a sublime piece of skill from Pilkington saw him dribble past his full back and pass to Gary Roberts who blasted the ball home. Michael Jacobs came on for Pilkington after 60 minutes and within ten minutes he scored with a spectacular diving header from Lee Evans’ long cross. Joe Garner slotted home a “soft” penalty after Josh Windass had gone down following a challenge from Glenn Whelan.

Following the game Paul Cook made the pertinent comment that: “All of the big moments in the games recently have gone against us but today the key moments went for us.”

Let’s look at some points arising:

Jones and Pilkington make a difference

Cook’s boldness in bringing in Jamie Jones and Anthony Pilkington certainly paid off. Apart from the mix-up with Kipre, Jones looked calm and confident in goal. Although the visitors failed to get a single shot on target Jones commanded the penalty box and his handling was excellent.

Pilkington fitted instantly into the style of play, adding an extra dimension to Wigan’s midfield. He was calm in receiving the ball under pressure, showing good control and change of pace. The trickery he showed in getting past his full back to set up Roberts’ goal was spectacular.

Pilkington looks an excellent signing and his versatility will give Cook more options.

Latics can punch above their weight in the Championship

Wigan’s starting lineup contained two loan players and five signed on free transfers. Their wage bill is one of the lowest in the division.

They were competing against players whose salaries dwarf theirs. Yannick Bolasie’s annual salary is around £3.5 m, Tammy Abraham gets some £2.8 m per year. Jack Grealish did not play in this match, but his annual salary is around £2.6 m. Scott Hogan, Ross McCormack and Micah Richards all earn over £1.5million per year. No Latics player earns as much as any of those three Villa substitutes who were not called upon in this match.

Aston Villa are England’s fifth most successful club as measured by winning the top division. But it is 38 years since they last won the old First Division. Last season they were beaten in the Championship playoff final by Fulham.

In their desperation to get back into the top-flight Villa run the risk of breaking FFP rules. In order to comply they could sell their major asset, Jack Grealish, whose market value is around £30 m. However, the HS2 train line cuts through their training ground at Bodymoor Heath, giving them an option of selling it to a property company owned by one of the billionaire owners Wes Edens and Nassef Sawaris. Such a sale would count as income and help them keep within FFP rules.

Villa are one of so many big city clubs in the Championship division who continue to splash huge sums of money into a race to get back into the Premier League. But Latics matched them in the first game at Villa Park, unluckily losing to a goal in time added on. Moreover, they showed on Saturday that they can punch above their weight with that 3-0 victory.

Dean Smith’s post-match comments

Paul Cook is loath to criticise opposing team managers and their tactics. He stands out like a beacon compared with so many managers in the Championship division.

The Villa manager’s post-match comments did not reflect well upon him. Neither did attempts by some of his players to persuade the referee to give Wigan players red cards. Both Joe Garner and Sam Morsy are surely well known to the referees in the division for being robust. But neither deserved a red card in this game. Wigan fans might recall Sam Morsy’s sending off at Brentford in September while Smith oversaw the Bees.

Lee Evans back in form

Like others around him Lee Evans has had a torrid time in recent weeks. He has been a shadow of the player we saw earlier in the season. But on Saturday we saw him back to his best. Evans was excellent in defence and constructive in attack. He is an important creative force for Latics and leads in assists this season, tying with Nick Powell on four.

Evans’ longer passes are so often trademark diagonal balls. That stunning 40-yard cross for Jacobs’ goal was a gem.

Sticking to a winning formula

There had been a ray of hope in the first half display at Swansea a couple of weeks earlier with Latics eschewing the long-ball, building up more patiently from the back, pressing high up the pitch. But for some reason they were not able to maintain it in the second half at the Liberty Stadium.

That same successful formula returned in this game, the difference being that it lasted 90 minutes rather than 45. Playing that kind of high intensity football has significant physical demands on the players and with games coming in thick and fast it can be difficult to keep up.

But in this winter period there are few midweek games. In fact, in the next 8 weeks there is just one for Latics, that being the home game with Stoke on February 13th.

With a less hectic schedule allowing players more recovery time the timing is right for Cook to employ the high intensity approach on a regular basis. Not only does it nullify attacking options for expensively assembled teams like Aston Villa, but it also provides a spectacle for fans who have had scant entertainment in recent months.

If Cook can stick to this winning formula and the injury situation continues to improve, we will surely see Latics climb back up the table in the coming weeks.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Paderborn game is important for injury-hit Latics

The Benteler Arena, Paderborn.

The Benteler Arena, Paderborn.

On Friday Wigan Athletic travel to face SC Paderborn, newly promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time in their history. In May, Paderborn clinched second place in the Bundesliga second division with a 2-1 win in the last game of the season at home to Aelen.

As with Latics entering the Premier League in 2005, the skeptics are not expecting Paderborn to survive for long in the higher league. Paderborn play in the Benteler Arena, which has a capacity of 15,300. They will be keen to prove their critics wrong by holding their own in the Bundesliga.

Over recent seasons Wigan Athletic have had more than their fair share of injuries and Uwe Rosler will be keen to get his squad in good physical shape for the opening Championship match against Reading on August 9th. Although they are convalescing well from major injuries, neither Chris McCann nor Ben Watson is going to be available over the coming weeks. Shaun Maloney has not played a single minute in the five pre-season matches up to this point and James McArthur’s only action has been coming on as a 72nd minute substitute at Dusseldorf. On top of that, Marc-Antoine Fortune, Rob Kiernan, James McClean and Andrew Taylor have picked up injuries in the pre-season preparations.

However, apart from the injuries, Rosler has managed to share out the playing time among the rest of the squad. Most of the senior players have amassed between 220-250 minutes of playing time in the pre-season games with Havelse, Walsall, Besiktas, Rochdale and Fortuna Dusseldorf. With so many midfield players unavailable the 21 year old Fraser Fyvie and 20 year old Tim Chow have stepped up to the plate and have amassed 375 and 369 minutes of playing time respectively. Another young player, James Tavernier, has played 332 minutes. Of the senior pros Leon Barnett has had the most playing time, 290 minutes. The three goalkeepers have shared the playing time, with Ali Al-Habsi having slightly more than Scott Carson or Lee Nicholls.

The last pre-season match typically provides indicators as to the manager’s preferred starting XI from the players available. Rosler will be keen to get his most experienced players ready for the beginning of the league season, but will have to tread lightly in the case of James McArthur, who is still trying to overcome an injury suffered at the end of last season. Rosler will look for experience in midfield and Don Cowie is likely to be a starter. Fraser Fyvie has come in from the cold and it will be hard for Rosler to leave him out of the starting lineup, given his good recent performances.

In defence the injury worry is Andrew Taylor, likely to be the preferred left back against Reading. Given the inexperience of Aaron Taylor-Sinclair, Roger Espinoza might be retained as a left wing back. There are good options in the rest of the defence. Ivan Ramis has played in all five pre-season matches, with 272 minutes of game time. Rosler will be hoping to get the Spaniard to the level of fitness he had before that cruciate knee injury at Fulham. He is likely to line up in the centre of defence with Emmerson Boyce. Leon Barnett and Thomas Rogne have both played in all five games and will challenge for a place, together with Rob Kiernan, if he is fit. The solid and dependable James Perch is likely to start at right back, with the more attacking option of James Tavernier available later in the game.

It could be anyone’s guess who will start in goal. Latics are blessed with two experienced and highly capable ‘keepers in Ali Al-Habsi and Scott Carson, with the huge potential of Lee Nicholls breathing down their necks.

Up front we can expect Oriel Riera to play as the target man. Callum McManaman has been getting fitter and fitter and the 90 minutes he put in at Dusseldorf is something he has not been able to do for a long time. McManaman is typically played on the flanks, but might well find himself in a more central role, effectively as a second striker. Latics have been so short of players with the ability to finish, but Riera and McManaman are players who can show the kind of coolness and poise needed to put the ball in the back of the net. Martyn Waghorn scored two goals against Besiktas and will challenge for a starting spot.

Following a poor defensive display at Dusseldorf, Latics will be keen to tighten up at Paderborn. Once again Rosler will employ his high pressing, high intensity tactic in the hope that Latics can sustain it throughout the match.

The Paderborn match is an important one for Rosler in that he needs to get his key available players as match fit as possible. Paderborn will provide tough opposition, but Rosler will be looking at the performances of individual players more than at the result of the game. Last year Owen Coyle’s squad enjoyed success in terms of results in their US tour, but were to be palpably short of match fitness as the season progressed. Rosler and his conditioning team are clearly demanding more of the players and despite the current injury situation, they will are unlikely to be deterred. The success of the high tempo style that Rosler seeks is dependent on the players’ physical abilities to meet its demands.

It promises to be a fascinating contest and an indication of what we can expect over the coming weeks.

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