Wigan Athletic: an assessment after 9 games in the Championship

Courtesy of bbc.co.uk

It has been a pretty solid start to the season, with 13 points from 9 games. The home record of W0D3L2 strongly contrasts with that of W3D1L0 away from home. Leam Richardson has kept faith in players who were part of last season’s squad, new signings being used sparingly up to this point.

On their return to the Championship in 2018-19 under the Cook/Richardson management team Latics took 16 points from their first 9 games. But their fine early form dissipated as they gathered only 10 points from the next 16 games until the end of December. Their record was W2D4L10.

The current team still has a winning mentality and togetherness from winning L1 but that can soon dissipate after a run of losses as happened four years previously. With fixture congestion in October before the World Cup, Leam Richardson will have to rotate more than he is comfortable doing, or their competitive edge of fitness and work rate will count for nothing as they tire. 

My main concern is the style of play and the lack of invention. The long ball will always be part of this manager’s tactics, but it offers an easy way out for defenders under pressure, rather than short passing their way out of trouble. When the opposition play a high press Latics defenders look ill-equipped to cope with it. It so often leads to a loss of possession. There have been recent signs that Latics are trying to play the ball out of defence and midfield rather than simply launching it long. The presence of Graeme Shinnie in midfield is paramount to keeping the ball on the ground. Up to this point the play through midfield from the back has been slow and repetitive, but it is to be hoped that Richardson will persevere. Wigan must resist those hopeful long balls to an isolated centre forward which rarely achieve anything constructive.

The lack of invention is something that must be dealt with, especially in home games where the opposition sits back in defence. Richardson has players in his squad who are capable of unlocking defences, but he must get the balance right in his team selections. Nowhere is the lack of invention so apparent than from throw-ins. So often they result in either giving the ball back to the opposition or sending it backwards sometimes even ending up in the hands of the goalkeeper.

Of the new signings, Nathan Broadhead has the look of a player who can make a mark this season. Richardson might give him a chance on the wing in place of Thelo Aasgard, who is immensely talented and should get a start every few matches but is still making naive mistakes. Using him as an impact sub for another half a season seems prudent with a view to earning his place in the second half of the season. Having said that, Richardson should be rotating them more often in the coming weeks which creates the opportunity to rest Will Keane every 3-4 matches and play Aasgaard centrally. 

Charlie Wyke has been used sparingly: appropriately after coming back from a life-threatening event. We are surely rooting for him, so to speak, but it would be good to see more of Ashley Fletcher and his mobility. Fletcher has a much higher ceiling than Wyke or Magennis if he can find form and fitness and click with Latics. That’s a big if, of course. 

It is not surprising that Latics better away from home because they lack guile in the attacking third. Lang needs to sharpen his finishing which has been wasteful, but also promising, in the last few games. Magennis won’t score much. Keane was unlucky with header in his last outing but has struggled to make a major impact, although he remains Wigan’s most likely goalscorer. Aasgard will score some crackers but Broadhead may be a more reliable source over a season. What’s been missing is set piece goals! There is better defending on set-pieces in this division; but Latics are due one.

Ryan Nyambe has already shown his quality and will push Tendayi Darikwa for his place. Nyambe is physically strong, capable of rock-solid defence and surging runs forward, although he needs to work on his crossing. Darikwa is naturally attacking full back, well suited to a wing back role.

The situation on the other flank of defence appears uncertain. James McClean has lots of experience for Latics and Ireland in the left wing-back position, but there are question marks over his ability to play as a left full back. Both Joe Bennett and Tom Pearce have disappeared off the radar. Bennett has not played since being sent off at Birmingham, which is strange since his suspension was rescinded by the EFL. Pearce’s only league appearance was as s substitute in the first game against Preston.

There are rumours linking Latics to players available as free agents. Danny Rose has been touted as a possible signing. Should this happen McClean will compete with Anthony Scully and Gwion Edwards for the left wing position. McClean and Scully are very different types of player, Scully being an inverted winger who will cut in and shoot. He scored 25 goals in 61 starts and 25 substitute appearances for Lincoln. Edwards too will cut inside on his right foot, but his strike record is not as impressive as that of Scully.

Another free agent who might be interesting Richardson is Dale Stephens. The midfielder now 33, born in Bolton, was released by Burnley. With the fitness of Jordan Cousins remaining uncertain and the announcement of Scott Smith being released on loan to Torquay, a new arrival may be imminent.

On paper there is an easier run of fixtures coming up. We can only hope that Richardson rotates prudently enough to sustain that positive momentum and winning mentality!


Wigan Athletic 1 Bristol City 1 – five talking points

August 13, 2022: Wigan Athletic 1 Bristol City 1

It was a “game of two halves” but much credit is due to Wigan Athletic for the way they clawed themselves back into the game following an early reverse.

 With Curtis Tilt injured, Jack Whatmough returned to his usual position as right centre back, Jason Kerr being moved to the left, a less familiar position for him.

The Robins had scored in the 6th minute, a big gap being open on the left -hand side of Wigan’s defence, after Latics had lost the ball up field. Tommy Conway’s cross found Andreas Weimann at the far post, who notched his fourth goal of the season. Wigan’s main mode of attack was to launch hopeful long balls towards an isolated Josh Magennis up front. It was a largely ineffective ploy, but when the big striker got into the penalty box, he had three chances to score, although none of them were easy. Latics went into the half time interval a goal behind.

There was a surprise at the beginning of the second half with Thelo Aasgaard replacing Joe Bennett, who had had an off-day being fortunate not having received a red card following a scuffle with Joe Williams. Aasgaard moved to the left wing with James McClean taking over at left back. Aasgaard’s arrival coincided with a change in approach from Wigan, with controlled football gradually replacing the long ball.

An injury to Ben Amos caused him to be replaced by Jamie Jones after 54 minutes. Wigan were playing much better. Will Keane equalised in the 62nd minute after a goalmouth melee. Mark Sykes, a bargain signing from Oxford United, had been a thorn in the side for Latics on the right wing. Soon after Keane’s goal he launched a superb long cross to the six-yard box, but Conway somehow headed wide of a gaping net. Latics continued to press and looked dangerous, but the visitors also threatened with their rapid counterattacks.

In the end a draw was a fair result, Wigan’s third in the first three games.

Kerr stakes a claim

Jason Kerr, signed from St Johnstone in January, has had to bide his time to stake a claim as a frequent starter. Last season he was played on the right of a block of three central defenders, a position in which he had excelled when helping the Perth club to win both the Scottish Cup and the Scottish League Cup.

Kerr had come on to replace Jack Whatmough in a flat back four in the Preston game, growing more self-assured as the game went on. He continued in that right centre half position at Norwich where he was arguably Latics’ Man of the Match. This was the first time we have seen him on the left side of defence. Once again, he got better and better as the game progressed and was excellent in the second half.

Lang can make it in the Championship

It is Callum Lang’s first season in the Championship and the early stages have been testing for him. Faced against left sided defenders of superior quality to League 1, Lang has not been able to find the same amount of space and freedom as last season. Yesterday he was heavily policed by big defender Robert Atkinson, giving him no turning space, particularly in the first half. But as the game progressed, he began to find space and managed to threaten the opposition defence and goalkeeper.

Lang has been a key player for Latics, his goals being vital in their fight to avoid relegation, then to win the division. He is still only 23 and his best is ahead of him. At times he falls rather too easily, and he has done himself no favours with referees with his frequent arguing over decisions. But he has been a superb finisher at League 1 level, and this will surely translate into goals in the Championship. Lang ‘s willingness to run at the defence can unsettle them and create opportunities for teammates.

It is still early to make any judgements as to how effective Lang will be in this division. Much will depend on the help he receives from the coaches and his willingness to embrace it.

Magennis shows his commitment

The DW Stadium crowd have always liked a trier: a player willing to give his all for the team. Josh Magennis certainly did that yesterday and deserved the applause he got when he left the field after 76 minutes for Nathan Broadhead.

Magennis was signed in January as a direct replacement for Charlie Wyke at the time. Although 32 years old he was given a two and a half-year contract, an indication of the club’s keenness to sign him. He made a slow start to his Latics’ career but his game improved as he approached genuine match-fitness. As Wyke’s replacement it was a hard act to follow. Yesterday he showed that same sort of willingness that Wyke had shown to play the target man role, a physically demanding task against big central defenders.

After just 12 minutes of the live feed yesterday Tommy Gore remarked that Magennis had won 70-80% of his headers but there had been no teammates close by to take advantage. Magennis is not the first Latics centre forward to lack support. Indeed, I recall an old article of mine on this site where I brought up a commentary by ex-number 9, Gary Birtles, during the Martinez era where he lamented the lack of support for Connor Sammon. His most cutting comment was that “He (Sammon) was chasing his own flick-ons at times. When a system is just not working: change it!!”

Leam Richardson changed it in the second half yesterday and Latics looked a better team for it.

Last season Magennis scored three goals and made one assist in 17 games for Latics. His goals were all headed. He has a career record of 0.18 goals per game, compared with Nathan Broadhead (0.29), Ashely Fletcher (0.16) Stephen Humphrys (0.22), Callum Lang (0.30) and Charlie Wyke (0.33). It should be noted that almost half of Humphry’s career appearances have been made coming in off the bench.

Magennis is by no means an instinctive goalscorer. His strong points are his aerial threat in the penalty area and his commitment to the cause.

Big refereeing decisions going Wigan’s way

Joe Bennett was fortunate not to receive a red card after lashing out at Joe Williams who had fouled him and stamped on him. In such circumstances it tends to be the victim rather than the initial aggressor who is disciplined. Justice is not often served. However, the likelihood is that most referees would have sent Bennett off yesterday. In the event he received a yellow.

Latics also got the benefit of the decisions at Norwich, who had five penalty appeals turned down. The validity of each appeal may be up to debate, but it takes a strong and confident referee to stand up to the baying of the crowd in such circumstances.

Timewasting rears its ugly head

Modern football abounds with gamesmanship: blatant diving seeks rewards in free kicks, penalties, cards for opponents; teams mob referees to pressurise them into decisions in their favour; systematic professional fouling neutralises opposition attacks.

Time-wasting is rife. Players take their time with throw-ins, goal kicks, in walking their way off the pitch when being substituted. But one that particularly denigrates the game for the spectator is the feigning of injury. In football-talk it comes under the banner of “managing the game”. It is a ploy that is used by practically all teams to varying degrees. In the closing periods of the game, with the opposition gathering momentum a player goes down “injured”. Sometimes those injuries can be genuine, sometimes they can be cramp induced as players tire, but they can also be fake. A stoppage of say, three minutes, can be enough to dampen the momentum the opposition had built up. Repeated stoppages make it very difficult for the attacking side.

I am unaware of any stats that detail the amount of time consumed by teams when their players go down in the final 20 minutes of a game. If they were to be available on a cumulative team by team basis it would make fascinating reading.

One wonders where Nigel Pearson’s Bristol City would appear in such a table of such stats.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Burton Albion 0 Wigan Athletic 0: Some Talking Points

A stunning last-ditch clearance by Kell Watts in the dying moments denied the home side of a win that they probably merited. Despite not playing well Latics held on for a valuable point that edges them closer to automatic promotion, buoyed by Rotherham’s 3-0 pasting at Portsmouth.

After the game Leam Richardson commented:

“It was always going to be challenging and you have to meet them for the fight, and hope then your bit of quality comes through. Fair credit to Burton, I thought they defended resolutely, as we did for large parts. We’ll take our point and move on.”

Latics had started in a lively manner, the wing backs pushing forward, the midfield winning the second balls. After looking in control in the first 25 minutes they gradually moved to that familiar default mode of hopeful long balls as the first half progressed. That continued for the rest of the match. Burton’s “give and go” football gave them the edge and they went close on several occasions, with Latics looking short of creativity further forward.

It was a difficult night on a narrow pitch and difficult conditions. A point was a good result for an error-strewn Wigan team unable or unwilling to string passes together. During the second half the midfield was struggling, with the wing backs reluctant to push forward. The situation was crying out for a substitution that would strengthen that midfield, but it never came.

Richardson made a substitution on 73 minutes with Stephen Humphrys replacing a tiring Joe Bennett. That involved putting Callum Lang to right wing back with Tendayi Darikwa switching flanks. Bennett had done well to play the full 90 in the previous two games after such a long recuperation period from an ACL injury. He is a conservative option at left wing back compared with Tom Pearce or James McClean who will assertively attack an opposition defence.

The substitution did not improve things and may of us were left wondering why Pearce had not been introduced or why the midfield had not been bolstered by the introduction of Jordan Cousins or Graeme Shinnie.

Richardson tends to be very cautious with substitutions, preferring to stick with his starting XI unless injury or tiredness force his hand. However, he deserves praise for temporarily deserting his favoured 4-2-3-1 to playing with three centre backs, a change that has produced results.  Jason Kerr has gone from strength to strength through his regular selection to the starting XI. He was probably Wigan’s best performer in this game.

Latics are now unbeaten in their last nine league games. The manager has done well in getting his team to where they currently are. His next immediate challenge is to prepare his players for the visit of Cambridge United on Easter Saturday. Cambridge’s away record this season reads W6 D5 L10.

The point gained in this game could well prove important to Latics as they, MK Dons and Rotherham come under pressure as the season nears its close.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

A Cardiff fan’s view of Joe Bennett

Courtesy of Wales News Service

Wigan Athletic last week announced the signing of 31-year-old Joe Bennett from Cardiff City. The left back has over 300 appearances in the Premier League and Championship and looks an outstanding signing for Latics in League 1.

Bennett had been offered a new contract at Cardiff prior to Mick McCarthy’s arrival in January, the player suffering a serious ACL injury in March. By early August Bennett was still training with Cardiff although no new contract had been offered, prompting McCarthy to comment:

“He is in the building and he is going to train. I am more than happy for him to train, he has been a great servant to the club. I think there was an offer made to him prior to me coming in and it didn’t get signed. That’s just the way it is. Contracts run out. Sadly for him he got injured.

If he hadn’t have been injured he would have left, played for someone else and we wouldn’t be having this discussion. I was quite sad about it because I spoke to Benno when I came in, I knew his contract was running out. I discussed with him about staying, then injury comes and it changed it all.”

On signing for Latics, Bennett commented:

Im delighted to get a chance to come to a massive club like this and get the opportunity to play. Hopefully I can come here, help the team and get promoted and thats why Ive come here – to get promoted and Im sure a lot of the lads and staff want that as well.

For me there was a good feel about the club and we’ve had a good start. We’ve got a good squad and a good team. If I can add my experience and some of my attributes to the team as well, then itll bode well. I think I fit into that, and I want to help the team and help the squad if I get the opportunity to play. Ive come here to get promoted and hopefully thats what we can do.”

Born in Rochdale, Joseph Bennett graduated through the Middlesbrough academy, signing a professional contract as a 19-year-old in the summer of 2008. He went on to make 78 starts and 7 appearances off the bench over four seasons in the Premier League and Championship. Bennett signed for Aston Villa for £2.75m in August 2012. He made 25 appearances in the Premier League in 2012-13. He had injury problems in his second season, limiting him to 7 appearances in all competitions. In 2014-15 Bennett played for Brighton and Hove Albion on loan, making 45 appearances. Following further loan spells at Bournemouth and Sheffield Wednesday he left Aston Villa for Cardiff after amassing 30 league appearances for Villa.

Joining Cardiff City in August 2016 he went on to make 164 league appearances for the Bluebirds over 5 seasons, scoring 5 goals.

In order to learn more about Marshall’s time at Cardiff we reached out to Benjamin James of the View from the Ninian fan site (http://www.viewfromtheninian.com/).

Here’s over to Benjamin:

Joe Bennett has great teeth and is a great left back. He joined Cardiff, unheralded, in 2016 and we no longer needed to worry about the left back position. It was like he was what we had always been looking for.

Solid, good going forward, even better at defending. When we got promoted to the premier league, he was a key player in the promotion run and in the year at the top where he really didn’t look out of place. 

If I’d had my choice, we would have kept him but a difference in opinion on wages and then his injury put paid to that. It feels like a changing of the guard for us. A player who had spent five years with us and was a big part of our successes during that time is moving on.

No offence to Wigan, but I’m surprised he’s dropped down to league one. Maybe he’s not sure his body is up to the rigours of the Championship after an ACL injury but I won’t doubt his ability. He’s a quality, consistent left back and you’ve got a gem.