An Amigo View – Wigan Athletic 1 Bradford City 2 – talking points

 

“We can’t really complain about the result. We were second best for the majority of the game and we would have taken a point in the end with the way the game was going.  We didn’t look threatening enough, we weren’t at the races and we go punished” said Max Power after the game.

For the neutral fan it was a terrific advertisement for League 1 football, with both sides trying to win the game, neither resorting to long ball or cynical tactics. Only 12 fouls were committed in the whole game, with just one yellow card, possession divided almost equally between the two sides. It had looked like ending up a draw until the 92nd minute when Jamie Jones could only parry Tyrell Robinson’s powerful , swerving long distance shot into the net.

Bradford City had come to the DW Stadium on the back of a 1-0 home defeat to bottom club, Plymouth. Latics had been undefeated in their last seven league games. A Latics win was clearly the expectation of the home supporters, but Bradford had shown from the get-go that they wanted to win all three points. Their football was good to watch, with lots of movement and a willingness to thrust players forward. Other than occasional renderings of the current favourite “Blue White  Army” from a section of the East Stand, the home support was strangely muted, with the noise of the 3,000 Bradford fans dominating.

The combination of Tony McMahon and Alex Gilliead on the visitors’ right flank posed problems for Callum Elder and Dan Burn from the start, as Wigan found it hard to get into the game. Centre forward Charlie Wyke put away a chance after 14 minutes, with Wigan’s defence all at sea. It was cancelled out by a Chey Dunkley header ten minutes later. The home team’s chances for winning the match was to take a hammer blow when a distressed Nick Powell limped off with a hamstring injury on the half hour mark. Gary Roberts made an immediate impact in his place, making a couple of fine passes, but his effect was to diminish as the game wore on.

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

The substitutions

Powell’s replacement by Roberts was to be expected. The substitution of David Perkins for Gavin Massey after 54 minutes was hardly so. Massey had struggled to impose himself on the game and at times seemed isolated as Nathan Byrne held back on moving forward. But the substitution was made earlier in the second half than we have come to expect from Paul Cook. Was Massey injured or was it a tactical switch? Ryan Colclough was the expected replacement, but David Perkins was brought in to play on the left flank, with Michael Jacobs moving to the right. Perkins’ presence certainly helped reduce the menace of McMahon and Gilliead, but Colclough would surely have offered more of an attacking threat.

But the strangest occurrence yesterday was the arrival of Will Grigg after 93 minutes. Ivan Toney had been struggling throughout the game and it had seemed only a matter of time until Grigg would replace him. But it was not to be. Toney stayed until the end and despite Grigg being seen warming up well before his final arrival, it was Michael Jacobs who he was to replace.

Let’s take a look at some talking points arising from the game.

The keyboard warriors are rearing their heads again

Any football manager is a potential target for abuse on the social media and message boards. Wigan Athletic managers are no different than any others in that respect. The social media offers the opportunity to state our opinions and, as such, can be a force for the good.

However, there is a dividing line between critical opinion and downright cynical abuse.

Football managers can be forgiven many things providing they get the results. Paul Cook had enjoyed  a reasonably easy ride until this weekend, when the desired result did not work out. The cancellation of the Rochdale game was frustrating for so many fans who were looking forward to a trip to Spotland. Cook shot himself in the foot with the fans by giving his senior players needed a break. Not only did he get the Rochdale game postponed, but he fielded a woefully inexperienced team in the Checkatrade Trophy against Accrington, at a time when at least half a dozen of his fringe  senior players needed a competitive game to keep up their match sharpness.

Cook might have made some unfortunate decisions in recent weeks, but Latics remain in second place in League 1 and have played the most positive football we have seen for years. He deserves support.

Powell’s injury

Even a half-fit Nick Powell can make a big difference for Latics at League 1 level. The player has not been at his sharpest in recent weeks, but has remained the main creative force within the team. Powell has left the field with hamstring niggles before and returned in upcoming games, but what we saw yesterday suggests it might be a more serious strain than some previous.

The jury remains out on Gary Roberts as Powell’s natural replacement. He certainly started well yesterday, but Roberts needs a run of several games in the starting eleven to be able to perform at his best.

Should Powell be out for some time, Cook will have to decide whether Roberts is up to being a regular starter in the “number 10” position. However, Michael Jacobs would be an obvious option. Although his pace on the flanks would be missed, he has the ability to make the number 10 position his own.

Ryan Colclough might also be considered. Colclough is not a natural winger, perhaps lacking the pace to go outside the full back, but he has considerable technical ability, packing a powerful shot. He is a player whose career has drifted since joining Latics and is in need of a kick-start. Playing him in the centre of the midfield three is an option worth looking at.

Walton is back in action

Christian Walton played for Brighton’s under-23 team at Stoke yesterday. He had been Latics’ first choice between the sticks until his leg injury in late August.  One can only speculate whether Walton would have punched away Robinson’s shot yesterday had he been there and not Jamie Jones.

Up until yesterday Jones had been the automatic first choice goalkeeper, showing the doubters that he was a capable, experienced player.

But how long he will retain his first team place, with Walton challenging him, remains to be seen.

 

 

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Five talking points arising from the win against Walsall

 

Result: Wigan Athletic 2 Walsall 0

In the end it was a comfortable victory over a Walsall side that is as good as any we have seen at the DW this season. It was a scrappy game, with Latics playing their best football in flashes, but they did enough to pick up three more points.

The result keeps Wigan in second place, with Shrewsbury beating Scunthorpe 2-0 to maintain their impressive start to the season.

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

When was the last time Wigan’s home record was so good?

It was this time of year in 2015 when Gary Caldwell’s team played out a goalless draw with Walsall. Their record at home following that match was W3 D3 L0, whereas on the road their record was W1 D1 L3.

This season’s home record is W5 D1 L0. Latics fans will be scratching their heads to remember a better start of a season. However, it has not all been plain sailing and Latics have had to show a lot of patience in breaking down teams who have come to avoid defeat. There have been excerpts of champagne football, mingled with solid defensive play.

Away from home they have fared less well, although there have been several fixtures against teams that were high-flying at the time. The defeats at Shrewsbury and Peterborough were tight affairs. The away record up to this point is W3 D0 L2.

Are Shrewsbury going to be like Burton a couple of years ago?

Burton Albion were formidable in League 1 in 2015-16, a seemingly modest club towering above larger competitors, topping the table for months until Caldwell’s team overtook them in the latter part of the season. By Christmas they were topping the table, with Wigan eight points behind in fifth place. At the time people were questioning whether Burton could maintain their momentum, but they did to a large degree. They had gained 48 points in the first 23 games of the season, going on to accumulate 37 points more in their final 23 outings. That was enough to secure second place to ensure automatic promotion. With shrewd moves in the transfer market they went on to avoid relegation in the Championship last season playing against clubs with budgets that made their own look miniscule in comparison.

Can Shrewsbury do what Burton did? In fact, the Shrews have already made a better start than the Brewers did a couple of years ago. Shrewsbury narrowed their pitch in the summer of 2016 in a move their manager at the time, Micky Mellon, saying that “We had one of the biggest pitches in England and now we have the same size as everyone else, so everybody who we play against will have the same size pitch.” In fact, the current pitch at the New Meadow measures 110 by 72 yards, the same as that of the Pirelli Stadium in Burton. Not many teams will relish a trip to New Meadow these days.

A year ago, Shrewsbury were bottom of League 1, but Paul Hurst arrived in late October and managed to keep them out of relegation, eventually finishing in 18th place. Over the summer Hurst made 8 new signing with 6 players brought in on loan. The transformation has been remarkable.

Jones reaches the 300 mark

When Christian Walton was injured in early September there were concerns about Jamie Jones coming in. However, Jones has done well, giving confidence to his defence through his positioning and handling. Moreover, his intelligent distribution has helped Latics launch rapid attacks. Although he has made 300 career appearances, Jones is still only 28 years old.

Not on fire but getting warmer

Will Grigg’s brace of goals will certainly be good for his confidence. Latics need an “on-fire” Grigg to finish off their often-excellent approach work.

Latics have strength in depth

Michael Jacobs went off at half time, presumably through injury. He had certainly not been his usual self in the first half. But with Ryan Colclough injured, Cook called on David Perkins, who was to prove as lively and industrious as ever.

Reece James had been rested for the game, with Callum Elder having his first home league start. The Australian was excellent, his superb cross leading to the first goal.

Lee Evans has been a key player, but he was taken off after 68 minutes yesterday, Max Power stepping comfortably in to his natural position.

Having a bench which includes the likes of Perkins, Power and Elder, plus Ivan Toney who did not come on, illustrates the strength in depth that Cook possesses.

Five talking points arising from the home win against Bristol Rovers

 

What could, or should, the score have been? It could be said that Latics had been profligate in front of goal, but who can complain about a 3-0 scoreline in this period where games are coming in thick and fast?

It had looked like Wigan Athletic could have scored a panful of goals against Bristol Rovers well before Ryan Sweeney’s sending off on 30 minutes. The home side were head and shoulders above the visitors, but that initial impetus was to gradually dissipate in a second half where perhaps Latics had their minds on the next game against Northampton. The 10-man Rovers were not content to go down with a whimper and if it were not for a penalty save by Jamie Jones late in the game, Wigan could have had some anxious moments in the closing minutes. In the event we were to see the goal of the game in time-added-on as Gavin Massey slalomed through the Rovers’ defence, coolly slotting  the ball home after a give-and-go with Gary Roberts.

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

Should some players have been rested?

In December 2013 Uwe Rosler took over a Wigan Athletic side that had fallen below mid-table in the Championship under Owen Coyle. By the end of the season he had guided them to 5th place, taking Arsenal to penalties in the FA Cup semi-final and narrowly losing to QPR in the playoffs. Rosler was a firm adherent to a rotation policy which allowed him to rest key players in the hectic times of the season when the games were coming in thick and fast. It was not a policy that was universally popular with fans, but at the time it really brought results.

Paul Cook has a different approach. He prefers to stick to a settled line-up, allowing the players to build up kind of mutual understanding of each other’s game that can provide the team with increased cohesion. It is an approach that goes down well with most fans.

However, there are complications that can arise from an approach like Cook’s. Having a settled team certainly has its benefits, but it can marginalise the players who stand outside it. Moreover, by the admission of assistant manager, Leam Richardson, players were looking “leggy” on Saturday.

Cook has already hinted that Chey Dunkley might take the place of Alex Bruce either against Northampton or Peterborough. He had waited until the 70th and 82nd minutes to make his last two substitutions on Saturday. Will he make them earlier tonight against Northampton, with a difficult game at Peterborough looming on Saturday?

Will Grigg is not yet on fire

By his own admission, Grigg could have scored multiple goals on Saturday. He is not yet firing on all cylinders and his 49th minute goal on Saturday was his first for a year. It was an important goal for a player who has previously shown himself to be a master goal scorer at league 1 level. Grigg has exceeded the 20 goal per season mark three times previously. Should he steer clear of injuries we can expect a similar tally over the course of the current season.

Max Power is back

When Power came on for Sam Morsy after 82 minutes there were boos from sections of the home crowd. Paul Cook has since addressed the issue saying that:

“I am a great believer that supporters pay their money, and they can do whatever they want. But at the same time, you’ve got to remember this is our club, and these are our players. Being disappointed in Max’s actions…yes, I get that. But carrying out the disappointment like that…it’s a no from me. I’m certainly not having a go at the supporters who did boo, because it’s up to them.”

The reality is that Power is back in contention for a first team place. He is a player with much to offer at League 1 level who has always showed commitment on the field of play for Latics. Jeering him will not help the player produce his best.

Jamie Jones has made his mark

When Jones was signed, basically as cover for Christian Walton, it hardly impressed the majority of fans. The 28-year-old had played for six clubs, the last one being Stevenage. However, Jones has made an impressive start to his Wigan Athletic career, not only in his fine penalty save on Saturday. He has looked comfortable under pressure and his distribution has been better than that of many goalkeepers we have seen over recent years at Wigan.

Is Nick Powell essential?

Cook’s team bubbles with initiative and invention. Powell fits perfectly into that style of play. But Powell is not the sole source of creativity on the field. He is surrounded by teammates who seem to be enjoying their football, playing with style.

Powell sets the example in terms of his creativity on the pitch. He simply oozes class, particularly at League 1 level. He can so often be the catalyst for the kinds of flowing moves that we have been seeing.

Cook will be hoping that Powell will be able to last the course of the season, even if it means he plays for a limited amount of time in each game.