Five talking points arising from the home win over Bristol City

Wigan Athletic 1 Bristol City 0

Another valuable three points for Latics over a team in the promotion zone. It was by no means a classic but Latics showed the kind of resolve that will serve them well as the season progresses.

“I thought we were defensively sound and we limited Bristol City to very few chances, and by the way, we had very few chances as well. It wasn’t the game we all thought it was going to be. It’s important to stay solid and in the last week we’ve given some teams too much space to run through us. Tonight the full backs were narrower and worked with the central midfielders.”

Paul Cook once more gave his honest appraisal of how a game went. A draw had appeared the most likely result, but a pinpoint cross from Josh Windass was met in style by Nick Powell to get the deciding goal. It was the highlight of a drab game, where the two teams between them mustered only four shots of target.

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

A DW fortress?

The last time Latics were in the Championship they won only five games at home in the whole season. They have already won four out of the five played this season.

Last season saw Wigan amass more points away from home (51) than at the DW Stadium (47). But they lost just two at home to Bradford City in November and Blackpool in February. Latics were a club to be feared in League 1 and visiting teams would so often come to the DW to frustrate rather than try to win the game. Latics had more space away from home and their football was often more entertaining.

Last night we saw a Bristol City attack Latics from the start. City were looking confident in the first half and Wigan had to work hard to keep them from scoring. But a goal can change the psychology of a game and City did not pose the same threat after Nick Powell’s excellent goal after 51 minutes. Nevertheless, Latics still had to work hard to hang on to their lead, not least in the 94th minute when Diedhiou went to close to equalising with a reaction header.

The next home game is on October 2nd when Latics entertain Swansea City.

Three games in six days takes its toll

It was unfortunate for both teams that this match had been chosen by Sky for Friday night viewing. Having played three games in six days neither team was at its best. The outcome was a game low on entertainment.

Lee Evans summed things up after the game:

“We knew with three games in six days we’d have a lot of tired legs out there and that reflected on the game because it was scrappy throughout. There was plenty of hunger in the dressing room. We only have to look back to the Brentford game and everyone was disappointed, not just the fact that we lost the game, but the way in which we played. It was important to bounce back in the two home games. We didn’t play at our most fluent tonight, but we got the three points and got ourselves up to third in the Championship.”

Dunkley leads by example

Sam Morsy was named Man of the Match by Sky following a typical all-action display. The Latics captain is a midfield player who leads by example. But Chey Dunkley was surely also a candidate for MoM, with the kind of solid and determined performance that we have come to expect from him.

It has not been an easy season for Dunkley. Not only was he embarking on just his third season in EFL football, but he was to be surrounded by the youngest defence Latics have had in years, with the combined age of his three teammates in the regular back totalling just 59 years. Dunkley himself is only 26, but like Morsy he has led by example in his leadership of that young back line.

Dunkley is not the most elegant of central defenders, but his no-nonsense approach makes him a force to be reckoned with by opposition forwards. Cook expects his full backs to move forward with freedom, with the holding midfield players providing defensive cover. But sometimes they too are caught forward and the central defenders can be left exposed. Cedric Kipre has made a fine start to his Latics career, making the transition from just one full season of first team football, that being in the SPL. His partnership with Dunkley will be key to Latics’ success this season.

Garner makes his mark

Joe Garner is nothing if not a competitor. Brought into the line-up due to the injuries to Will Grigg and James Vaughan, it was his first start of the season.

The 30-year-old is 5 ft 10 in tall but is not averse to physical challenges on central defenders who are much bigger. Moreover, he has a good leap and can challenge them in the air. He is strong in holding up the ball.

Garner is a different type of player to Grigg and Vaughan. He is certainly combative and last night was perhaps fortunate not to have been given a red card for a crude challenge just before half time.

Garner’s strike record is 0.30 goals per league game (108 goals in 363 appearances), compared with Grigg’s at 0.33 (99 goals in 293 appearances) and Vaughan’s at 0.29 (77 goals in 270 appearances).

The strike rate for Josh Windass is not so far off, at 0.26 (36 goals in 139 appearances), despite often being played out wide despite his preference for a central striking position.

All four strikers have something different to offer, giving Cook lots of options.

Why does Michael Jacobs rarely get penalties?

In the 22nd minute Michael Jacobs was clearly pushed from behind as he was running inside the penalty box. Jacobs fell in theatrical style but did not impress the referee enough to be awarded a penalty.

It has happened so often for the player over the past three seasons. Jacobs’ pace and directness frequently troubles opposition defences who sometimes resort to negative tactics to stop him. But despite going down so many times following dubious challenges in the box, Jacobs rarely wins the penalty.

Some players are experts at fooling referees in giving penalties. Jacobs is the opposite, much to his team’s disadvantage.

Like so many of the best wingers in the modern game, Jacobs has the ability to cut in from the flanks at full throttle. Running at pace it does not take a lot of contact for the winger to be unbalanced and fall to the ground. That is what has so often happened to Jacobs, but whereas other wingers in similar situations often win penalties, Jacobs rarely does.

Would Jacobs have won the penalty last night if he had not fallen so theatrically? It is a hypothetical question but Cook and his staff might want to look at video replays of previous incidents involving Jacobs running into the box. Whether the player is over-reacting or whether it is his natural fall in such circumstances is hard to say, but last night he was denied a penalty that was merited.

The Takeover

It seems to be an endless saga. Will the takeover actually happen?

The Sky commentary team told us last night that it will be concluded in the next three months.

Why the deal is taking so long is puzzling to so many of us as fans.

Will all be revealed in the end, when and if, the takeover happens?

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

 

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Five talking points arising from a hard-fought win against Hull

Wigan Athletic 2 Hull City 1

 

It was by no means a classic, but the three points gained have put Wigan Athletic in the top half of the Championship table. Hull City had given the Latics defence some early problems, but well taken goals from Sam Morsy and Josh Windass put Wigan two goals up before Jarod Bowen scored for the visitors in the 42nd minute. The second half saw Latics mount a largely rear-guard action, although they still managed to threaten the visitors’ goal in spells.

Although it is early in the campaign Paul Cook’s Latics have already shown that they have the confidence and ability to hold their own in the second tier of English football. After the first 8 games their record is W4 D1 L3. At this stage a couple of seasons ago Gary Caldwell’s team were sitting in 22nd place, with a record of the W1 D2 L5.

Let’s take a look at some points arising from last night’s match:

Nouha Dicko causes problems for Wigan’s defence

Dicko was signed from Strasbourg by Roberto Martinez as a 19-year-old in 2011. After three loan spells for Blackpool, Rotherham and Wolves he signed for Wolves in January 2014. His appearances at Wigan had been confined to cup games. He has now made 172 league appearances, scoring 50 goals.

Dicko’s pace and aggression caused problems for the centre of Wigan’s defence and with a little more poise he might have scored. He remains a force at Championship level. Fortunately for Dunkley and Kipre he was taken off after 61 minutes, his team resorting to long crosses with which the two big centre backs looked much more comfortable.

Cook gets it right

Paul Cook had come under criticism for his team selection at Brentford, having left Will Grigg on the bench and played without a recognised right winger. He later reacted to the criticism, stating “There were key decisions made in terms of selection on Saturday that were always being made with Tuesday and Friday in mind, and I’m excited at the calibre of players we have waiting to come in.”

In the event the calibre players coming in were to be Grigg and Michael Jacobs. Although closely marked Grigg worked hard and it was his unselfish play that led up to Morsy’s goal. Jacobs’ enterprise and flair had been sorely absent at Griffin Park, but it was certainly evident last night. The line-up certainly had a more balanced look.

Following the Brentford game Cook had intimated that Latics might appeal Morsy’s red card. He will be glad he did so because the captain was back on form last night, not only scoring a cracking goal, but showing the kind of industry in midfield that we have come to expect from him.

Cook’s substitutions proved to be effective last night. He took Grigg off after 65 minutes, pushing Nick Powell forward, with Darron Gibson coming on to strengthen the central midfield. Kal Naismith was brought on to replace Windass after 82 minutes and he put Jacobs through on goal five minutes later with a fine run and pass. Powell proved a handful for the Hull defence at centre forward until he went off in the 89th minute.

Gibson’s calm makes a difference

Hull had stepped up the pressure in the second half and Latics had been pushed back into defence. The midfield was being overrun and Wigan just could not seem to hold on to the ball. The introduction of Gibson certainly helped.

Gibson has an aura of calm about his play that can influence those around him. He is resolute in defence and rarely wastes the ball.

Providing Gibson can steer clear of further injury he has the class to be a major player for Latics.

A role for Josh Windass

Josh Windass made his goal in the 37th minute look easy, but how many of his teammates would have taken the opportunity like he did? It was reminiscent of one he almost scored in his debut at Villa Park. A cross into space at the far post from Lee Evans. First time around Windass got his head to the ball, but it went narrowly wide. But guessing what Evans was going to do last night, Windass got into space and firmly headed into an empty net. At first glance it looked like it might have been offside, but the timing of his run was just right.

Windass is not a winger in the orthodox sense. He does not have the dribbling skills of Michael Jacobs, not the searing pace of Gavin Massey, yet Cook plays him in a nominally wide position. In times gone by Windass might have been employed as a twin striker in a 4-4-2 system. However, most managers these days prefer a lone central striker with support from the flanks and central midfield.

The goal will boost the player’s confidence, as he continues to adjust to the style of play that Cook espouses. In his post-match interview Latics’ coach Anthony Barry stated: “Josh’s goal has been coming; we know what a player and what a talent Josh is and his numbers up in Scotland suggest he will score goals. We have seen him in training and he is taking chances on a regular basis, so we are relaxed about Josh and the goals he will score for us.”

In Latics’ Premier League days Roberto Martinez experimented by putting centre forward Hugo Rodallega on the left wing. It did not work for Rodallega, nor Mauro Boselli who was starved of service in the centre.

However, in this new era wingers are more than ever expected to cut in and shoot. Windass is used to playing wide and with Garner, Grigg and Vaughan competing for the centre forward spot Cook clearly signed Windass to play a wide role.

Latics have so often this season put teasing crosses into the box with no end result. Windass could play a key role in converting them into goals, ghosting inside from a wide position.

James and Robinson to the fore

Once again one wondered if Cook would give the young full backs, Reece James and Antonee Robinson, a rest. But the manager resisted those options, and both were excellent last night. Robinson was back to his more energetic self in supporting attacks down the left, putting in a solid defensive shift. James is such an accomplished player at just 18 years of age that it would seem a matter of when, rather than if, he will make a full international debut for England. He was outstanding last night, judicious in defence and inventive in attack.

What a pity that neither player belongs to Latics!

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

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Five talking points arising from the win against Rotherham

Wigan Athletic 1 Rotherham 0

It was akin to a throwback to the days in League 1. The visiting team had come to “park the bus” and rely on long balls and set pieces as their outlet for threatening the Wigan goal. The previous home games against Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest had been so entertaining. This one was much less so.

Rotherham manager Paul Warne commented after the game that: “We were pleased to get them in at 0-0 at half-time. I thought Wigan were the better side without making our ‘keeper make too many saves. At half-time, we made our defenders play a lot higher up the pitch and our midfielders play higher to give some support to Smithy. I thought we were the better side in the second half. We were pushing for the goal and we had plenty of set-pieces. There was a block here and a block there and it just didn’t drop for us today against an excellent Wigan side, who played Stoke off the park last week.”

Warne summed up the first half well and the Millers certainly threatened in the closing stages with their aerial bombardment, but the Latics defence held firm. Wigan fans might debate Warne’s assertion that Rotherham were the better of the two sides in the second half, using their “direct” approach. It was not pretty to watch but caused some worrying moments for the home crowd.

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

Cook chooses Connolly on the right

A refreshing aspect of Paul Cook’s tenure as Latics manager has been in the balanced starting line-ups he has selected. It has been like a breath of fresh air for Latics fans who had to endure the Warren Joyce playing four holding midfielders across the middle of the park. Cook has placed an emphasis on playing the ball wide, with the full backs bombing forward to link up with speedy wingers.

However, yesterday Cook chose to play without an orthodox right winger although he had both Nathan Byrne and Callum McManaman available. Perhaps he felt that Callum Connolly deserved another run-out and the Everton player certainly reinforced the midfield. But there was not the same degree of pace on the right-hand side as a result.

On the left Josh Windass is in the process of adapting to the role that Michael Jacobs has played over the past year. Windass did not play at all badly and provided the pass to McManaman that led to Wigan’s goal. He also showed his ability on set pieces with a fizzler of a free kick in the first half which sent narrowly wide. Cook will be expecting that Windass’ shooting ability will add an extra dimension to Wigan’s play. However, yesterday Wigan lacked the kind of creativity on the left that Jacobs can provide.

The football took a nose-dive when Grigg and Powell went off

Will Grigg and Nick Powell were taken off after 60 minutes, with James Vaughan and Callum McManaman replacing them. The result was a deterioration in the level of Wigan’s football, with hopeful punts gradually becoming the norm rather than the controlled passing game we had seen up to that point.

Powell is the pivot in midfield through which so much of Latics’ best football flows. As the second half progressed Latics just could not hold on to the ball, putting undue pressure on the defence. Vaughan’s arrival once more coincided with more long balls. One wonders if the players are playing under orders to launch them towards Vaughan, or whether it is the player’s willingness to chase seemingly lost causes that affects the style of play. Or is it simply that in the final third of the game the players tire and just cannot keep that passing game going?

Walton – the most composed player

Christian Walton continues to grow in confidence, after looking nervy in the opening games. Yesterday he looked the most composed player on the pitch, excellent in his anticipation of opposition breakaways, reliable in his box.

Unnecessary free kicks

So many Championship teams are dangerous from set pieces. League 1 teams certainly had tall players who could threaten in the air, but in the second tier the delivery is superior. Following Wigan’s goal, the Millers brought on Kyle Vassell (6 ft) and Jamie Proctor (6 ft 2 in) to join the 6 ft 4 in centre forward Michael Smith.

The Wigan defence looked distinctly wobbly in the past quarter facing an aerial bombardment. It was not helped by the concession of unnecessary fouls giving the visitors the opportunity to launch dangerous crosses.

Powell stays

It was a relief for Wigan Athletic supporters for the loan transfer deadline to pass without the departure of Nick Powell. The next step is for the club to negotiate a new contract for a player whose market will soar if he continues to stay fit.

Reports suggest that the prospective new owners were present at the DW Stadium yesterday. Will the takeover actually happen soon?

Nathan Byrne, Gavin Massey, Shaun MacDonald, Sam Morsy and James Vaughan are in the same position as Powell, with their current contracts expiring in summer. It will be interesting to see how many of them are offered contract extensions.

 

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Five talking points following on from the QPR game

QPR 1 Wigan Athletic 0

Queens Park Rangers are so-called because when they were formed in 1886 most of their players came from Queens Park, which is some three miles away from where they currently play.

Loftus Road is situated in the buzzing, multi-ethnic White City area of Shepherd’s Bush. It is a fascinating place to visit, with lots of sporting history, the old White City Stadium having hosted the 1908 Olympics and a match in the 1966 World Cup.

Some three weeks ago, on the train traveling to Wigan for the first game of the season I was talking to some QPR supporters on their way to Preston. They said it was going to be a tough season for their club and that they would be happy to avoid relegation. They also told me that the view from the elevated tier of the visitors end at Loftus Road is as good as any at the ground.

They were right on both counts. The view was as good as I can remember from an away end, being so close to the pitch. QPR looked a struggling team yesterday, barely able to pass the ball with any degree of fluency. But they got a break from a goal that should not have been allowed and they played with determination and with a well organised defence.

It was enough to see off a somewhat lacklustre Wigan Athletic team.

Loftus Road has rarely been a happy hunting ground for Latics

In midweek Latics had extended their undefeated run against Stoke City to nine games with a stunning 3-0 win.

So often in a match preview a journalist will refer to the history of matches between the two clubs. Many would argue that past history is irrelevant to the current day. In this case an on-form Wigan were facing a pointless QPR, fresh from a 3-0 midweek drubbing by Bristol City at Loftus Road.

The last time Latics won at Loftus Road was in March 2003 in a Division 2 (fourth tier) confrontation. Nathan Ellington scored the only goal of the game in the 47th minute to extend Wigan’s lead at the top of the table.

But yesterday’s result means that Wigan have lost 6 and drawn one of their last 7 visits to Loftus Road. They have won only 2 of their 16 home and away encounters with the West London club.

Cook resists the opportunity to freshen his line up

We can rarely expect Paul Cook to tamper with a winning team. But prior to this match he had said:

“The likelihood is it will be a changed team for Saturday, which is on one hand disappointing because the lads are doing smashing. But on the other hand it gives the lads an opportunity to come and play. Some changes have been forced upon us, possibly one or two are due to the weight of fixtures as well.”

In the event he made only two changes, resting the 18-year-old Reece James, bringing back Nathan Byrne, replacing the injured Michael Jacobs with Josh Windass. Should he have made more changes after two demanding games in just over a week?

Yesterday’s performance was by no means a bad one. The defence looked strong enough to deal with what the home team could muster, and the midfield play was neat enough, if the wingers did not make such an impact. When Gavin Massey limped off after 31 minutes most of us expected Callum McManaman to come on, but instead James was introduced with Byrne moving to the right wing. James made an uncharacteristically hesitant start but improved as the game went on. On the left side of Wigan’s attack Antonee Robinson was not showing the kind of spark that we know he is capable of, with Windass tucking inside.

Cook was able to give James a rest – at least for the first third of the game – because he had an experienced and capable specialist right back to replace the Chelsea youngster. He did not have that option on the left. Playing with a right footed left winger Cook’s system relies on a left footed full back to provide variety. Kal Naismith was tried there in pre-season but struggles defensively. Callum Connolly can certainly play there, having done that for Everton U23s when Jonjoe Kenny would occupy the right back position. Connolly is a fine young player and Cook will most likely use him sometimes in the left back position. But with Connolly being right footed the balance could only be retained by playing a left footer like Naismith or Gary Roberts on the left wing.

Whether Latics would have done better if Cook had rested more weary legs, both during the latter part of the game at Stoke and in yesterday’s game, is academic. But the manager was more able to stick with his low rotation formula in League 1 where the combined mental and physical load is less demanding than in the Championship. Moreover, he faces dealing with disenchanted players in his squad if he does not rotate more.

Evans shines

Lee Evans was excellent again yesterday, solid in defence and a force going forward. Moreover, his quality delivery from set-pieces threatened the home defence. It was a pity that Chey Dunkley could not put away another of Evans’ sumptuous deliveries in the closing minutes.

Bringing back Evans to the club could prove to be the best piece of business the club did over summer.

VAR and Latics

While the Latics were playing at QPR, Barcelona were winning 1-0 at Valladolid until the home team had thought they had equalised in stoppage time. But as in all the major European football leagues bar two (the English Premier League and Championship), La Liga uses VAR. In this case the video assistant referee ruled that the goal had come from an offside position.

Were VAR to have been used last weekend at the DW Stadium, Cash’s 89th minute dive would surely not have resulted in a penalty. Moreover, the follow up by the encroaching Soudani to Walton’s save from the spot-kick would have been spotted. The blatant push on Dunkley yesterday, leading to Hamed’s goal would also have been picked up by VAR.

VAR will most likely be introduced in England’s top two tiers next season. In the meantime, there will be those that argue that major refereeing decisions, for and against a team, balance out over the course of a season. Judging by the balance of the major decisions made during Wigan’s eight seasons in the Premier League does this really hold true? One doubts that. Too often the balance of refereeing decisions have been unduly influenced by bigger clubs which have more “clout”, at the expense of smaller clubs.

Moreover, with VAR referees can feel under greater scrutiny.

Welcome news that Joe Gelhardt has signed a professional contract

The 16-year-old had been linked with possible moves to Everton, Liverpool and Manchester United, before signing a 3-year professional contract for Latics in midweek.

Chief Executive Jonathan Jackson commented: “Joe is a player with huge potential, who has starred on the international scene for England’s youth teams in recent years as a result of his natural talent and dedication to football. Having joined the club in 2013, Joe is an example of the excellent work we see at the academy daily.”

Following the contract extension for the 19-year-old Callum Lang, this is another welcome move by the club.

However, with the loan transfer window still one for another five days we await news on the permanence of key players in the senior squad, whose contracts expire in June 2019.

 

 

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Five talking points following an exciting performance at Villa

Aston Villa 3 Wigan Athletic 2

 

It was a spirited performance by Wigan Athletic, another five-goal feast of entertainment following the Sheffield Wednesday encounter. Latics attacked Villa from the get-go and to lose to a goal in the 93rd minute was heart-breaking.

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

Connolly preferred to Evans

With Darron Gibson ruled out by injury most of us would have expected Lee Evans to replace him in the starting line-up. Was Callum Connolly preferred because of his defensive qualities in an effort to contain Jack Grealish?

By all accounts Connolly impressed in holding midfield when on loan to Ipswich last season, more so than in his more regular role at full back. In the event Grealish went on to dominate the proceedings. Neymar was so heavily criticised for going down too easily in the World Cup, but in this game Grealish proved equally adept at falling to the ground and getting free kicks. The result was that Wigan players were reluctant to engage him. Villa fans might say that Grealish is a skilful player who should be protected by referees, but in this case, it went too far.

Evans came on in the 53rd minute and immediately fitted in to the style of play. Connolly was moved to the right wing and a couple of minutes later scored Wigan’s second goal meeting Nick Powell’s cross ahead of Alan Hutton.

Cook clearly rates Connolly and we can expect to see him in a variety of roles this season.

A rookie defence

Despite good individual performances the defence had looked all-at-sea on occasions against Sheffield Wednesday. It was a rookie defence composed of players who had never previously played together as a unit. Between the four of them the number of seasons played in league football totalled the same number, just four.

Before the game one wondered how that defence would cope with the experience and ability of Aston Villa’s attack. Not surprisingly they looked wobbly throughout.

Injuries to Dan Burn and Nathan Byrne have come at a difficult time. Burn appears to be out for some time, but Byrne seems to be taking a long time to get over what was originally referred to as a minor injury.

Cook recognises the need for defensive reinforcements having stated: “I think defensively, probably in the centre of the defence, we’re going to need something. Hopefully we’re going to look at and be able to address that before the loan window closes.”

In the meantime, he could look at the option of bringing in the experienced Alex Bruce and playing with a back line of three. The young full backs Reece James and Antonee Robinson would surely thrive in wing back positions.

Naivety or simply positive?

Once again Latics kept pressing forward in the final quarter of the game, rather than slow things down and look at securing a point. Most of the pundits we hear on television would probably lambast Paul Cook, call him naïve, citing a need for better “game management”.

But over the course of the season how many draws can be turned into wins if Cook continues to have his team play like this?

The Refereeing

In the Premier League years Latics fans would talk about facing the twelve men prior to going to support their team at Old Trafford. So many awful decisions were made in the home team’s favour, whether it were due to the roars of the large crowd or the manager at the time.

Now Steve Bruce is hardly a Ferguson. His teams have typically played with a physical approach, but not particularly cynical. But for some reason Latics got the rough end of the stick with the officials at Villa Park. It was not only allowing theatrics from Grealish, but so many decisions went the home team’s way.

How will Cook use Windass?

It was a surprise when Latics paid some £2.5 m for Josh Windass. But it was no surprise to see him come off the bench to replace Nick Powell after 67 minutes. Now Windass does not have the silky skills of Powell, but he is fast and direct.

A couple of minutes after Windass came on Lee Evans launched one of his trademark long diagonal crosses. Windass reached it with a diving header at the far post which went narrowly wide. What a pity it did not go in!

Rangers used Windass in a variety of positions. Will Cook use him as a winger, central striker or as an alternative to Powell in the number 10 role?

 

 

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