Some thoughts: Birmingham City (H) 1-0

 

It had “goalless draw” written all over it, but Lee Camp’s error gave Latics the three points they were craving for. There was only an occasional sprinkling of good football for the home crowd to enjoy, but Anthony Pilkington’s first league goal for the club allowed them to go home grateful at least for the win.

Following the dismal defeat at Fulham Paul Cook brought in Josh Windass to play the number 10 role in place of Lee Evans. Gavin Massey replaced Michael Jacobs on the wing.

Apart from picking up three points from an awful game of football there were some signs of improvement. The defence looked more solid and composed than it has for some time, limiting the visitors to few chances.

Following the game, the manager commented: “This win gives us such a different atmosphere around the club. I didn’t ever think we looked like losing to be honest, but I suppose were a bit fortunate with the goal. We just have to keep going. I think that’s the third clean sheet in a row at home. We need points on the board. I don’t care who scores, but it really is a big step up to Championship level. The standard is so high. This was an important win for us, but we must keep challenging.”

Some thoughts:

A dull game but played in good spirit

Footballers and coaches can be cynical. Diving to gain free kicks and penalties, feigning injuries, exaggerated tumbling to the ground, pressurising of referees by mobbing are all so common in the modern game. The Championship division gets its fair share of such behaviours.

However dull this match was it was played in the right spirit, very well officiated by Tim Robinson. What a pleasure to see two teams not resorting to that ugly side of modern football.

A composed and solid defence

Charlie Mulgrew played his best game for Latics yesterday. His positioning was excellent, and he showed all his experience in stifling Birmingham attacks.

Mulgrew links up well with Antonee Robinson to his left and Chey Dunkley to his right. With Nathan Byrne starting to regain his form the defence is looking much more organised and composed. As the men in front of him have been looking more composed so is goalkeeper David Marshall.

The trip to Hillsborough on Saturday poses the next challenge for that back five.

Put Lowe on the right

Jamal Lowe is struggling to bridge the transition between League 1 and the Championship. But his success at Portsmouth was largely down to his performance as a right winger. He looks uncomfortable on the left and out of place as a number 10.

Cook continues to keep faith in both Lowe and Gavin Massey, although neither has hit form up to this point. None of his wingers have been in consistently good form. Michael Jacobs continues to blow hot and cold, sometimes full of spark, but more often on the periphery of play. It is not clear whether Kal Naismith is primarily regarded as a left winger or as a second choice left back until Tom Pearce gets fit. Pilkington is constantly bothered with injury.

Cook and his coaches may believe that Lowe can evolve into an inverted left winger, cutting in to shoot using his right foot. There has been little evidence so far to suggest it is the best way to employ him.

Why not rotate Lowe and Massey on the right wing?

Moore struggles

Kieffer Moore’s signing from Barnsley went down well with most fans, if not all. At last it seemed that Latics would have a big centre forward to get on the end of the countless crosses that have rained into opposition penalty boxes over the past year. But at the time there were fans who not only questioned the money paid for a player unproven in the second tier, but those who feared the standard of football might plummet even further having a big man up front for defenders to launch long balls to.

On the balance of what we have seen so far, the more cautious view has been the case. In fact, some have even gone on the social media and bulletin boards to suggest that Joe Garner be given preference to Moore in the hope that the long balls would dissipate. It can certainly be argued that Garner has not played as much as he might, given his contributions over the past season.

Being a centre forward at Wigan can be a daunting task. In the Premier League days Latics signed Mauro Boselli to play the lone centre forward role, even though he had played as a twin striker for Estudiantes in Argentina. Rather than pair him with Hugo Rodallega up front Roberto Martinez put the latter on the left wing, with Charles N’Zogbia on the right. On paper it looked a move that could work, with all three capable of scoring goals. But Boselli had to play a role that was not his best and received scant service from the two wide men.  Sadly, he is remembered as a striker who could not deliver the goods at Wigan.

Latics fans will be hoping that Moore will have more success than Boselli and lots of other centre forwards at Wigan over recent years. Moore has not looked particularly sharp in the opposition box, but it is going to take some time for him to adjust to the second tier. Moreover, genuine goal chances have been few and far between, with Wigan’s creative players having been somewhat muted by the long-ball approach. When he has been able to retrieve the ball in promising positions, he has so often lacked support from teammates.

It has been a frustrating start of the 2019-20 season for the big striker, as it has for the team in general.

Windass offers something different

Josh Windass does not have universal approval as far as Latics fans are concerned. Nevertheless, he has been missed during his absence through injury.

Windass gives Latics different options. He was lively yesterday, probing from midfield, linking up with Moore. Unlike so many of his teammates Windass is not shy of shooting and his ability to spot gaps in opposition defences makes him dangerous.

Windass is by no means the finished article, but with good coaching and being one of the first names on the team sheet he could become something special.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

 

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Five talking points following a home draw with Barnsley

Wigan Athletic 0 Barnsley 0

Following a spineless display in the defeat at QPR last we saw a spirited Wigan Athletic side fight for a point against Barnsley. The energy was there, but sadly the football was not. It was poor entertainment for the crowd of around 10,000.

After the game Paul Cook commented: “It was a fair result. Both teams were nervous, there was a little bit of nervous energy and tension around the stadium and you can understand that. We’ve had our first clean sheet of the season and it’s so important for me as manager that you give these lads the belief and confidence to go and play. We showed at times today the really good sides and today we had a real appetite to not get beat and that pleased me.”

Let’s look at some points arising from the game:

Another disappointing result in a six-pointer

Barnsley came into this match a point above Wigan. Like Latics they had won only one game on the opening day of the season. The Tykes will do well to avoid relegation. A win for Latics would have seen them leapfrog over the Tykes out of the relegation zone.

The more optimistic of Latics fans were expecting their team to pick up three points against a Barnsley team that was struggling. However, for others it was not a surprise to see Wigan once again disappoint in a “six-pointer”. During Cook’s reign Latics have so often disappointed when playing against teams close to them in the league table.

Cook keeps faith with Marshall

David Marshall has been in poor form in recent weeks and fans were clamouring for him to be replaced by Jamie Jones. However, without his fine performance Barnsley would surely have walked away with three points. Cook was justified in keeping faith with the goalkeeper.

Mulgrew can add an extra dimension

Charlie Mulgrew was a surprise signing. Yesterday was his first league start for Latics.

Mulgrew may be 33 years old and lacking the pace he had when younger but could prove to be a very useful signing by Cook. Yesterday he looked solid in the centre of defence and we got a glimpse of what he can do from set-pieces. Last season he scored 11 goals for Blackburn.

The Glaswegian can also play in the centre of midfield, which gives Cook another option. He can do a solid job defensively but having someone who can threaten from set-pieces is a bonus.

Are the new players settling in?

In midweek Cook talked about the settling in of new players: “The international break will be big for us because we get to train for two more weeks. That is something we did not get in pre-season. Our squad was put together very late. That is not a criticism. It is just how it is, to the point now where lads are still making their debuts and formations are coming up with players playing together for the first time.”

The starting line-up for the opening game against Cardiff City contained two new signings: David Marshall and Lewis Macleod. Yesterday there were four: Marshall, Charlie Mulgrew, Jamal Lowe and Joe Williams.

There is much debate on the message boards and social media about the quality of Latics’ players. Is this current squad better than the one that struggled in avoiding relegation last season?

The departures of Reece James and Nick Powell over the summer have hit Latics hard. James was way ahead of any other player in terms of talent, consistency and commitment. Powell had an injury-plagued season, but when he was fit and on-form he made a big difference to the team. Cook was always unlikely to get a like-for-like replacement for Powell, given the high price such a player would cost. He has experimented with other players in that role, but Powell’s creativity has been sorely missed. But the player continues to be plagued by injury and has only played one game for Stoke City in their opening game against QPR.

The results so far this season have been disappointing. It is last season’s players who have been largely involved. Will those new players make the difference over the coming week and help pull Latics out of the relegation zone?

Getting the best out of the more skilful players

The manager reverted to his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation yesterday after experimenting with a backline of three central defenders. The creative trio behind the central striker consisted of Gavin Massey, Jamal Lowe and Michael Jacobs.

On paper Cook had chosen a well-balanced line-up with Sam Morsy and Joe Williams protecting the back four and genuine pace and creativity further forward. However, the reality was something different. In a game where there was more “fightball” than football there was little chance for the creative trio to shine.

The manager would have been pleased with the commitment of his players yesterday. Following that insipid display at QPR he got the team to put in lots of sweat and toil this time around. But football was the loser in this game, and it was not the scenario for the creative trio to show their skills.

A chance for Gelhardt

It was a pleasant surprise to see the 17-year-old Joe Gelhardt come off the bench after 63 minutes. He and Jensen Weir were called up for the England U18 squad this week.

Cook deserves credit for giving youth a chance in a  fiercely competitive match. But what a pity that Gelhardt was played on the right wing, rather than in the number 10 position behind the central striker.

 

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

A Portsmouth fan’s view of Jamal Lowe

 

Jamal Lowe made his debut for Wigan Athletic on Saturday following a transfer from Portsmouth for a fee estimated to be around £2.6m. The 25-year-old winger scored 17 goals in League 1 last season.

Lowe was born in Harrow and joined the Barnet academy. He made his League 2 debut as a substitute for Barnet in August 2012 as an 18-year-old in a 3-1 defeat by York City. Lowe signed a professional contract in October 2012, going on to make 10 appearances until he was loaned out to Hayes and Yeading United in December 2012, followed by a series of loans to Boreham Wood, Hitchin Town, St Albans City, Farnborough and Hemel Hempstead Town. In January 2015 Lowe left Barnet permanently to re-join St Albans, then moving back to Hemel Hempstead. He moved on to Hampton and Richmond Borough where he made 48 appearances, scoring 29 goals before Paul Cook signed him for Portsmouth for an undisclosed fee in October 2016 on an 18-month-contract.

In January 2018 Lowe signed a further 3 years contract with Pompey, being Kenny Jackett’s first choice right winger. He made on to make 119 appearances, scoring 30 goals for the south coast club.

To learn more about Lowe’s time at Portsmouth we contacted Jim Bonner (@FrattonFaithful) of the Fratton Faithful fan site.

Here’s over to Jim:

Jamal Lowe will undoubtedly improve the Wigan squad and he is reunited with a manager who should be able to get the best out of him having initially taken him from non-league. His improvement over the last few years has been rapid, and it could be argued that he was the best winger in League One last season. Jamal is quick, can beat a man and has an eye for goal whilst never shying away from tracking back and helping his team mates to do the defensive work when under the cosh.

 Whilst he is unproven at Championship level you won’t find many Pompey fans thinking he wasn’t good enough for them. However, as much as we’ll have fond memories of his time at Fratton Park, his exit (much like Paul Cook’s) could have been handled better and his dig at the staff on his statement when he signed for Wigan was unnecessary. There are some Pompey fans who question why Lowe has left a club that are favourites for promotion for a team who may swap places with them at the end of the season but a footballer’s career is short and it’s understandable that he wants to test himself at a higher level and get paid much more money for it.

If Wigan are to fight a relegation battle again this season, then Lowe could be the difference between survival and the drop. He’s tenacious and has enough quality to succeed in the Championship so he should be a hit for the Latics, especially given that he should fit perfectly into the system and style of football that Cook employs. We (perhaps begrudgingly) wish him all the best.