Five talking points following a narrow home defeat by Peterborough

A well-taken goal by forward Jonson Clarke-Harris after 28 minutes was sufficient to send Latics to another defeat. Peterborough’s centre forward had found himself unmarked in Wigan’s box.

With Tom Pearce still injured John Sheridan fielded the same team that started at Charlton with the exception of Matty Palmer making his debut in midfield in place of Dan Gardner.

Peterborough had come to the DW full of confidence following three successive victories. That confidence soon showed as their smooth passing movements put pressure on the home team’s defence. As the match continued Wigan’s front two, Joe Garner and Will Keane, were starved of possession and neither looked like scoring. The poor quality of crosses into the opposition box from open play and set pieces gave them scant opportunities. Keane was replaced by Chris Merrie after 68 minutes and Garner by Ollie Crankshaw after 81 minutes. Thelo Aasgard made his debut, coming on for Palmer after 88 minutes.

Following the game Sheridan commented:

“We try and tell them week in week out to pass the ball and be more adventurous and productive in passing the ball forward and trying to hurt teams quicker and we need to do that put teams on the back foot quicker, instead of allowing them to recover and get back into position.

It’s something we do work on but we need to do a lot better. Scoring goals is a problem at the moment. There are lots of deliveries going in the box at the moment with corners and set plays but our end product isn’t there at the moment.”

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

A rocky period for Latics

After losing the first two league games Latics rallied by winning the next two. The win at Portsmouth was well merited if the home victory against Doncaster owed as much to the visitors’ profligacy in front of goal as the fighting qualities shown by Wigan. The wins were followed by a 3-0 defeat at Crewe where Latics were outplayed. Poor refereeing decisions played a major hand in the narrow defeat at Charlton but Latics never truly looked like scoring in this encounter with Peterborough.

The prime goal for Latics this season is to avoid relegation, but that is by no means an easy task given the limited resources John Sheridan has at his disposal. The starting line-up last night contained five players from last season’s squad and six on short-term contracts which end in January, half of whom are on loan. The seven players on the bench were products of the U23 and U18 teams.

Recruiting players for a club with an uncertain future is always going to be difficult. Moreover, the League 1 salary cap restricts things further. Sheridan has to use the players remaining from last season’s squad as the backbone of the team over the course of the season, although some of those could depart in the January transfer window.

The football we have seen these last couple of months has been reminiscent of that of early last season in the Championship when we saw the bright, flowing side of Cook-Richardson football interspersed with spells where hoofball prevailed. Seeing Joe Garner struggle to receive any kind of service last night brought back memories of Kieffer Moore’s early days at Wigan when his main function seemed to be in chasing futile long balls.

Giving youth a chance

The departures of talented young players such as Alfie Devine, Joe Gelhardt and Jensen Weir for such meagre transfer fees was a bitter pill for us to swallow. However, the funds raised by their transfers helped the club to survive at a critical period in Wigan Athletic’s history. The good news is that the academy system is still intact and the U18 team has won all four of its games so far. There is still an abundance of teenage talent at the club.

It was good to see the 18-year-old Thelo Aasgard make his senior debut yesterday. Aasgard joined Latics in October 2016 and has represented Norway at the U16 level. A skilful player, well suited to the number 10 role, he has been a regular starter in the U23 team this season. He is the fourth teenager to make his League 1 debut this season following in the footsteps of the 19 year olds: Charlie Jolley, Adam Long, Emeka Obe. Divin Baningime was also 19 when made his debut in the EFL Trophy defeat by Port Vale.

Two more 19-year-olds have been making the bench but have yet to make their senior debuts. Both Kyle Joseph and Luke Robinson are Scotland youth internationals. Joseph is a striker with a good goalscoring record. Robinson is a left back who has shown expertise in shooting from outside the penalty box.

The development of home-grown talent is key to the long-term sustainability of the club. Previous managers have been reluctant to bring in young players, preferring to stick with their senior players. In John Sheridan’s case it has been a necessity because of the threadbare nature of the senior squad.  

Sheridan’s main task is to avoid relegation on a budget that is shoestring compared with previous seasons that Latics have spent in League 1 over recent years. However, should he manage to keep the club in the division and give further experience to young homegrown talent, the season could be regarded as a success.

Naismith for number 10?

Since Nick Powell’s departure the number 10 position has been problematic for Latics. Various players have been tried there, including Lee Evans. The Welshman has returned to form in the last three games since returning to his favourite position in holding midfield. In the last couple of matches Sheridan has used Will Keane to support the central striker, rather than as an orthodox number 10. Although it has not been noticeably successful up to this point it remains an option that the manager might use as needs arise.

Kal Naismith has once again proved his flexibility in playing in different positions. When he has played in the centre of defence his creativity has been missed further up the pitch. But there is debate among fans as to what is his best position.

In these days of inverted wingers Naismith found himself on the right wing and Viv Solomon-Otabor on the left. The latter has impressed on both wings this season, although yesterday he was snuffed out of the game by the Peterborough defence. Naismith had some good moments but one cannot help but feeling that he looks uncomfortable playing on the right.

Despite being such an all-rounder Naismith has rarely played in central midfield. But he has all the attributes to be successful in that position. Why not give him a run as a number 10?

The Garrido takeover

The acquisition of the club by Jose Miguel Garrido is awaiting ratification by the EFL. Until that happens we will not be able to discern the direction of the club in the near future.

Garrido will be buying a club that won the FA Cup only seven years ago, has a thriving academy and is not riddled with the levels of debt which typify so many clubs in the higher levels of the EFL. On the downside he will have to support the club financially during an era in which supporters are not allowed into football grounds.

Looking forward to Plymouth on Saturday

The last two games have been tight contests where Latics have lost by the odd goal. With such a small nucleus of experienced players Sheridan will face challenges as the fixtures pile up.

We can assume that Sheridan will stick with that same nucleus of players on Saturday when Plymouth Argyle are the visitors. Let’s hope they can get back on track and pick up three valuable points.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Social media reaction to an honourable defeat at Ipswich

Ipswich Town 2 Wigan Athletic 0

The signings of Josh Clarke and Danny Fox provided Wigan Athletic fans with a fillip approaching this game. With the departure of Nathan Byrne Latics were lacking at right back and it looked like Clarke would step in. Moreover, after starting the Fleetwood game with two 19-year-old central defenders, with no senior experience, we were hoping the return of Fox would stabilise a leaky defence.

However, in the event it was not to be, neither Clarke nor Fox deemed fit to play at Portman Road. When I looked at the team selection it was clear that Kal Naismith would play at the back. I was about to congratulate the Richardson/Sheridan selections, assuming they were giving Emeka Obe and Adam Long support by playing Naismith in between them in a back line of three. Sadly, that did not happen, and the end result was Obe being played at right back where he looked like a duck out of water. Ipswich repeatedly flooded the right side of Wigan’s defence which looked not only unbalanced but short of midfield cover.

Following the game John Sheridan commented:

I thought we started the game very well. We possibly should have been two up, we created some great opportunities. The first goal changes the outcome of games so often, and who knows what might have happened. And their first goal is very disappointing…it’s a cheap foul, people switch off and it ends up in the back of the net.

But while we were disappointed to go into half-time 1-0 down, in the second half we just never got going. I know it’s the first day of the season, it’s a boiling hot day and the pitch was sticky, but we didn’t play with any penetration at all.”

Let’s take a look at how fans reacted to the match through the message boards and social media.

Our thanks go to the Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum and Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen. Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below.

Kendal Blue commented:

We saw last time at this level that there will be many more mistakes and you’ve got to be there to take advantage. Obi’s clearly nervous (2 foul throws, owch), but it’s to be expected. He has Naismith with him and Solomon-Otabor just in front now and they will settle him. Alternatively, Adam Long looks a natural and is ready for this chance. Definitely the right move to put Kal in the back 4 and Fox will also allow him to develop. Tired legs will factor today but we’ve put up enough to show we’re a decent bet at this level from a football side of things.

The_Pon said:

Obi, Long, Merrie. None of them have any significant experience in the league. It’s easy to forget that Tom Pearce has played less than 20 competitive games as well, since we know him already. I’ll take Solomon-Otabor on the chin. I didn’t realise he’d played as many games as he had before joining us; now I’ve looked him up then fair enough, he shouldn’t be overly nervy.

Obi is having a total mare, but to be fair to him, he wasn’t ready yet and we already knew that. Hopefully throwing him in the deep end as we’ve had to do will make him learn faster.

Obi was seen as a great prospect, and with more first team action, he may improve very quickly. Hope he does… Will need some of the older lads to put their arm round his shoulders and pick him up, because this performance can’t have done his confidence any good. I’ll reserve judgement until we’ve seen another ten games or so. Like I said, Dan Burn was embarrassingly bad in his first few games, then it suddenly clicked for him and we know the story after that. I hope Obi can do something similar.

Long looks ready. He’s played well today all things considered and he’ll only get better with more game time. Merrie is no cause for concern either.

I think we’ll be ok this year. No title run, but we’re good enough to stay afloat in this league from what I’ve seen. There are definitely enough worse teams in League One that we shouldn’t be in a relegation scrap. If new owners come on board in the next few weeks and put in a bit of cash, who knows? Honestly, I’d say we only need 3-4 players to be very comfortable at this level. It’s not a strong division.

Skem Tic commented:

I think without Naismith it could have been much worse, however we do look decent going forward, we just need much more time playing as a team. We have to remember that although a fair few players have had plenty of experience it’s only Naismith who would have been a first choice player last season. It’s going to be an up hill struggle for next few months but we have to stick behind them and sadly social media is the only way we can do this at the moment.
It’s certainly not all doom and gloom!

FrancosLoveChild added:

Obi just lacked Fox bo…cking him and keeping him focused, something young players with lack of experience has. Think if he is in the centre next to Fox, he will grow into a decent player, he has the physique for it. He had a howler, a terrible performance, that is reality, and everyone needs to accept that, he will only get strong from it when you learn from mistakes and bad games. Takes shocking performances to learn.

Arthur_Itis stated:

I’m mentally prepared to give all the young un’s a lot of leaway this season. Thought Long looked great today with Naismith at the side of him.
It’s very difficult to judge Obi IMO, out of position and stranded. As others have said, I’ll reserve judgment until he’s had an extended run in his natural position with seasoned pro’s around him.

My original score prediction was 5:0, I’m slightly less pessimistic for the season after today, but we need to pick some (probably scrappy) points up fairly soon just to give everyone a lift and that bit of belief that can work wonders.

 

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Five talking points following a champagne-popping win over Stoke

Wigan Athletic 3 Stoke City 0

Champagne football returned to Wigan last night as Latics blew away Stoke City with the best display of the Paul Cook era. Gone was the hoofball that characterised the worst displays of the season. In its place was champagne football.

Granted, the first two goals were down to poor defensive play, although the third was something special. But the scoreline could have been much greater had Latics taken more of their chances. They were so superior throughout the game.

After the match Paul Cook commented: “That was an absolute top-class performance from us tonight. The only disappointment possibly was that it was only 1-0 at half-time. We created clear-cut chances, we dominated possession, and our appetite for work when we didn’t have the ball was so impressive.”

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

It’s all in the head

Jonjo is right. It is bonkers!

Wigan’s play last night exuded a confidence based upon an impressive unbeaten run.

In November Latics lost 2-1 at Stoke through a Mame Diouf goal in the 93rd minute.

They have come so far since then. But who can explain it?

Cook’s popularity rating rises

There have been times over the past two seasons when Paul Cook’s popularity rating has hit rock bottom. At times the football has been either awful or too frustrating to watch.  Comments on the social media have been brutal at times.

However, since embarking on this unbeaten run in mid-February his popularity with the fans has been gradually increasing. People want results and they have been coming. Some of the previous performances were abysmal, others quite the opposite even if the results did not always correlate with the performances.

The manager summed things up well following the victory over Blackburn at the weekend:

It’s hard to be a manager at this level, because you get abused for much of the time. But then all of a sudden because your team wins a few games, you’re suddenly a good manager again.

The brutal reality is you’re only as good as your player and my players have never, ever let me down, over anything other than inexperience, naivety. When it comes to passion, desire, determination, attitude, they’ve always given me everything. I’ve never had a problem with any of them this season, never had a dressing-room row when I’ve had to question that side of things.”

I’ve certainly had plenty of rows questioning some of the stuff we’ve done, but that’s football. To see them now playing against such strong sides, and limiting them to not many clear-cut chances, is great credit to them.”

Last night we saw a performance matched by a result. It is when the two coincide that we can begin to see a brighter future ahead.

Butland has an off night

Peter Schmeichel once said: “Every player makes mistakes; every goalkeeper makes mistakes. Every manager does, every broadcaster – every person in life makes mistakes. But for goalkeepers, often when they make a mistake, it leads to a goal.”

Jack Butland’s own goal and assist for Kal Naismith’s first goal certainly helped Latics on their way.

Butland is 27 years old and has 9 caps for England. He is by no means a rookie goalkeeper, but his mistakes were costly for his team last night.

Naismith’s second goal was a stunner

When Kal Naismith came on for an injured Michael Jacobs after 32 minutes he went to the right wing. The Glaswegian has played in so many different positions for Latics and opinion is divided as to which is his best. Many would say he has had his best performances at centre back. But he had hardly shone in the past on the few occasions he had been employed on the right wing.

However, he had a fine game last night, giving veteran full back Stephen Ward a torrid time. Ten minutes after coming on he chested down a high ball and unleashed a tremendous effort from over 30 yards which was somehow pushed wide by the ‘keeper. Naismith’s first goal was a tap-in, but the second was the kind that will stick in the mind for years to come. The sheer power of the strike showed the excellent technique that the player has.

(Naismith’s second goal after 1:56 min)

It was a surprise not to see Naismith take the field in the first two games of the season restart. It will be even more of a surprise if he does not feature more regularly in the six games that remain.

Brentford – the acid test

Can Latics keep up their form for the trip to Brentford on Saturday?

The Bees have won their last four games and are only two points away from an automatic promotion place. However, Wigan have already notched up wins away against the teams above Brentford: Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion.

Keeping up an unbeaten run of nine games against another team in fine form is not going to be easy. The encounter will provide an acid test for Cook’s Latics.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Naismith gives Latics inspiration and hope

Naismith gives Latics inspiration and hope. Photo courtesy of WiganAthletic.com

Players in teams that are struggling in the relegation mire tend to play safety-first, being afraid to make mistakes or draw derision from the fans for a shot goes miles wide or a pass that seems to go nowhere.

We saw that in the Bristol City game on Saturday, as we have so often since Latics returned to the Championship under Paul Cook. Things are better now than a few weeks ago. At least the central defenders no longer hoof the ball when under the slightest pressure.

When a team is low on confidence, as Latics are, despite the propaganda to the contrary, it takes courage to stick one’s neck out and not take the easy way out, putting the onus on someone else.

The reborn Kal Naismith bucks the trend. When Cook put the Glaswegian at centre back following Cedric Kipre’s red card at Leeds in April 2019, who would have thought that he could do so well? A flash in the pan most of us were probably thinking.

Naismith had been used at left back in the injury-enforced absence of Antonee Robinson and had played with enthusiasm but was looking suspect when genuine right wingers faced him. It was reminiscent of Kevin Kilbane in the Steve Bruce days: a left sided midfielder playing at left back.

But Naismith is clearly a learner.

Since then Naismith has established himself as a first-choice central defender the quality of football played by the team has really improved. The hoof has disappeared and there has been a huge improvement in the play of Cedric Kipre, his central defensive partner. The Frenchman had fallen way down the pecking order of central defenders at Cook’s disposal. His early promise on arrival from Motherwell at the beginning of last season had seemed to evaporate.

But it is not only Naismith’s ability to move forward and play meaningful passes to the midfield and forwards that has impressed. His reading of the game, the timing of his tackles and interceptions have been a revelation. Some said he would have a hard time facing the more physical centre forwards, but that has not been the case.

Naismith has had real lows at Wigan in his 18 month stay. Having followed the manager from Portsmouth some of the crowd frustration at the manager has fallen on him. Nominally a left winger he rarely had a run of games to make his mark, so often being brought off the bench at difficult times or played out of position.

Some fans compare Naismith with Jordi Gomez, who was the whipping boy for too many so-called fans but went on the win “Player of the Year”. It would be no surprise to see Naismith follow in the same way.

This site was set up by my son, Ned, in 2011.

He invited me to write alongside him. I had never written football stuff before. He asked me what nickname I would like to use I suggested “Jakarta Jack”, living in Indonesia at the time. After a quiet start Three Amigos Wigan took off. With Latics in the Premier League the top media companies were interested.

It was a surprise to me when ESPN, the world’s top sports media site, invited us to join them, giving feedback on Roberto Martinez’ Latics. We had to write 3-4 articles per week, published on their site and we also put it on Amigos.

Since those early days Ned has had a change in circumstances, with a young family and a demanding job. I am in regular contact with him and he so often gives me ideas for my articles. I asked him to give me his thoughts on Kal Naismith and here they are:

I think he is fascinating, and I love watching him — particularly now that his transformation is complete from winger to centre back. I didn’t like him as a winger; I did like him as a wingback, and full-back, after his performances in the second half of last season. And now I love him as a centre-back.

Cook has made some appalling tactical decisions over the years, but he actually deserves giant praise for Naismith. The same criticism that has been levelled at his recently for sticking by senior pros out of stubbornness and loyalty, was levelled at him in the early days of Naismith. That was largely because he was being deployed as a left-winger and proving largely ineffective.

You can make an argument that Cook only discovered Naismith’s best position (at this level) by accident. First, Antonee Robinson’s injury last season, forcing him into deploying Naismith as an emergency left wing-back and left-back; and then as a centre-half, to most famous effect in that incredible away with at Leeds. But Cook had seen something in him, to warrant signing him for the Championship despite unimpressive statistical contribution at L2 level. And he has been proven right, eventually. He was a good signing.

In retrospect, I think he clearly lacked pace and dribbling to be a successful winger in the modern game. It’s easy to make comparisons in terms of playing style to David Beckham to justify his existence as a winger, but the game has changed dramatically since Beckham’s days, and there are few players of his kind playing on the wing these days. In fact, many are playing at full-back. It makes David Moyes look quite astute in his deployment of Leighton Baines as a playmaker from that position. Baines too, never had fantastic pace — but sublime technique, poise and intelligence.

So where does he go from here? The sky is the limit, in his new position. He has the athleticism and physique to cope as a centre back. The poise and passing range to play a modern game. And the versatility to prove incredibly useful to managers looking to rotate between a back four and back five, a bit like how Emmerson Boyce gradually became a vital cog in Roberto’s machine. He has the added benefit of being a model pro; content to sit on the side-lines, but performing to a high level when called upon, in a variety of positions.

He’s due a mistake at some point, but his transformation has been dramatic.

Without wanting to write Jamal Lowe off — I do believe think with better man-management and a more gradual introduction he’d be thriving as an impact player off the bench at this stage — Kal is in some ways the anti-Jamal Lowe. He is not blessed with pace or trickery on the ball, or bells and whistles. But he exudes calm and presence of mind. And the impact on those around him is very positive. Instead of rushing or panicking, he is thoughtful and cultured. Those, slightly more intangible skills, should in theory help his further development, should a team higher up the league(s) take note and come calling.

 

 

 

 

Five talking points following an away win at Birmingham

Birmingham City 2 Wigan Athletic 3

Wigan Athletic’s first away win since April was another nail-biting affair, but this time they held out to gain an invaluable three points to lift themselves off the bottom of the table. The celebrations of the players at the end showed how important the win was for them.

Paul Cook made just one change in the starting lineup with Michael Jacobs coming in for Gavin Massey. That meant Josh Windass continuing at centre forward with Joe Williams in the number 10 position.

The irony is that Latics won the game without playing as well in recent matches, but still showed enough pace and movement to trouble a suspect Birmingham defence. Once again they let in soft goals, but the home side can also be accused of the same, with all three Wigan goals coming from defensive errors. For once Latics capitalized on their opponents’ errors.

Windass proves his worth

Cook kept faith in the enigmatic Josh Windass, who went on the score the first goal and have a hand in the other two. Playing without a big man up front means puts an onus on defenders and midfielders to be more creative. Windass has genuine pace that allows him to pounce on well-hit long passes. It is so refreshing following the mindless long-ball approach that characterized Wigan’s away performances for so long.

He had his best performance for the club today.

Naismith provides composure in defence

Kal Naismith has been excellent in the centre of defence in the past six matches. He provides the composure that has been so lacking for so long. Given his limited experience playing in the position we could have expected him to have made some major gaffes, but that has not been the case. Naismith has an ability to read the game, not to panic and to make the right tackle at the right moment. His distribution of the ball from defence has been outstanding.

Sadly Naismith had to go off at half time with what has been reported as a thigh injury. When he left the composure dissipated.

It is no coincidence that Cedric Kipre has looked much more comfortable since teaming up with the Scot in the centre of defence. When the combative Chey Dunkley came on after the interval Kipre was moved across to the left to accommodate him.

Nathan Byrne has a tough one

It has not been an easy season so far for Nathan Byrne. He had a torrid time this afternoon against the speedy French winger Jeremie Bela, then later with the likewise pacey Ecuadorian Jefferson Montero.

The 20-year-old Chelsea loanee Dujon Sterling has competed with Byrne for the right back position, making 9 appearances compared with 19 for the latter. Sterling did not make the bench today.

Full back is not an easy role in Cook’s style of play. Full backs are not only expected to perform their full defensive duties but to bomb forward in attack. Byrne certainly put a lot of effort into his runs forward but at times looked exposed when Birmingham attacked.

Latics have enough quality to climb out of the relegation zone

Latics have shown repeatedly that there are few teams in the division for them to fear. Most of their defeats have been of their own making, in squandering chances or giving away goals through defensive errors. Nottingham Forest are now fourth in the table and Wigan made them look distinctly ordinary three days ago, even if the final scoreline did not do them justice.

Despite the rare away win the manager still remains unpopular with a majority of fans. Many still believe they will get relegated if Cook stays. However, at this stage it looks like he will be here at least until the end of the season.

However, although the manager continues to frustrate fans with his loyalty to certain senior pros as far as team selection is concerned, together with his use of substitutions, there have been improvements. The standard of football we have seen in recent away games has been light years ahead of the mindless stuff we saw for so long.

There is some light at the end of the tunnel, but it is not going to be an easy ride.

A trip to Leicester

Few of us have any expectations for the trip to face Leicester City this weekend. The likelihood is that Latics will receive a tonking. But on the other hand Leicester can be expected to put out a weakened lineup and Cook’s Latics have a surprisingly good record against Premier League teams in the FA Cup.

The bottom line is that Wigan will go into the game with nothing to lose, except maybe a little pride.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com