Wigan Athletic 1 West Bromwich Albion 1
What a transformation: the long ball approach hardly reared its ugly head. In its place we saw Latics building up moves from the back in the manner of yesteryear. If it had not been for a woeful lack of concentration by keeper Jamie Jones Wigan would have surely won this game against the league leaders. They were the better team throughout.
Paul Cook made seven changes, mostly through injuries. Kal Naismith reverted to the centre of defence and Josh Windass was played at centre forward in preference to Joe Garner.
What caused the transformation?
The style of play was a revelation compared with the awful stuff we have seen so often over these months. Rather than launch long balls the defenders passed the ball to midfielders who made themselves readily available to receive it. Was Cook’s absence from the side-lines through suspension a factor?
The fourth official was possibly relieved to find out that he did not have to listen to Cook’s constant ranting and raving. It is an ugly side of a manager who otherwise behaves with dignity compared to most of his counterparts from other clubs. There is much to be said for a manager’s passion, but one wonders whether Cook’s attention to detail on the pitch has been distracted by a constant need to berate that fourth official.
The big question is whether the return to playing good football was due to Cook’s match strategy or whether it was down to Liam Richardson directing the team from the side-lines.
Energy levels not a problem
The stats show that Latics had 44% of the possession. Their pass completion rate was 82%, the highest for some time. The players did not look leggy in the closing stages as they so often have this season.
The long ball approach that has been so often used has typically ceded possession, causing Latics players to have to constantly press to get the ball back. Not surprisingly their energy would sap as the games progressed.
The message is clear: Cook must insist that his defenders eschew the easy option of launching long balls. They must take responsibility in building up moves from the back.
Why Windass for Garner?
It was a welcome surprise to see Josh Windass played at centre forward. It was reported that Kieffer Moore was injured but Cook did have an orthodox target man available in Joe Garner. With Windass playing up front, the defenders were less likely to launch long balls. Windass has the pace that Garner and Moore do not have, although he does not have their physicality.
Round pegs in round holes
One of the criticisms of Cook’s management has been his habit of putting round pegs in square holes. Last night we saw Gavin Massey look so much more comfortable playing on the right wing rather than looking like a duck out of water out on the left. Through playing Jamal Lowe at number 10 Cook was able to include both players in positions that suited them.
What will happen when Dunkley and Moore return?
Chey Dunkley has been one of the mainstays in Cook’s teams since he arrived at Wigan. At his best he is strong in the air and can make stunning last-ditch tackles. However, he is prone to kicking the ball out of play at the merest hint of danger and nobody has launched more long balls than he.
Kieffer Moore’s presence on the pitch almost invites defenders to send long balls in his direction. Sadly, he has rarely been able to do what is more important: getting into right place in the penalty box to score goals. For once he got a good cross when he headed home against Luton. The quality of crossing from the flanks has so often been woeful.
If both are available for Saturday’s game against Huddersfield will they be in the starting eleven? If so, what style of football can we expect?