Will Wigan Athletic’s upsurge in results continue?

Sam Morsy’s well-taken blast into the West Bromwich net has given Wigan Athletic a massive boost. Three wins in the space of a week have propelled them up the Championship table. They now stand in 19th place, two points above the relegation zone. A win against lowly Luton Town on Saturday could see them climb further out of trouble, but there are fans who question whether that will happen despite the recent upturn in performances and results.

Paul Cook must certainly take credit for the upsurge in results. The seeds of the revival were sown following an abject defeat at Kenilworth Road in early December. Following a winless November, it had looked that Latics could get an uplift by picking up three points against a bottom-placed Luton side.

But students of Cook’s Wigan were already citing mediocre results over the previous 16 months against teams in the lower rungs of the table. It was hardly a surprise to them when Luton scored two late goals to secure their win. Once again, we had seen Wigan Athletic players in an away game looking both clueless and legless in the closing minutes. There was only one team trying to play football in this game: it wasn’t Wigan. Fightball/longball once again failed under Cook’s tutelage.

Cook made seven changes for the next game against league leaders West Bromwich Albion. With Chey Dunkley suspended and Charlie Mulgrew injured Cedric Kipre was brought in with Kal Naismith reverting to the centre of defence and Josh Windass was played at centre forward. Naismith’s passing out of defence was a feature of that game, and the long ball approach hardly reared its ugly head in the absence of a combative target man upfront. Kipre  made a succedssful return to the centre of defence.  Latics had to settle for a draw largely due to a goalkeeping error, but they had been the better team throughout.

Although results remained disappointing in the rest of December the performances were much better. Passing the ball out from the back had become more normal, even if the long ball had not disappeared entirely.

Following the memorable victory at the Hawthorns on Saturday captain Sam Morsy commented:

“People will say there has been a change but all season – I know you can’t – but if you take the last five or ten minutes from some of the games, we would be right up the league. It is not a dramatic or drastic change that we have made…. It has been fine margins and we can’t look back, this isn’t drastic change, we have played well for the majority of the season, but if you don’t win games then things get looked at, the reality is that we have done well and not got the points but this week has been a great week.”

What Morsy did not mention was that the transition from longball/hoofball to a more possession-based approach. The long ball remains a feature of Cook’s football philosophy, but it is being counterbalanced by an emphasis on retaining possession. As a result, the players no longer visibly wilt in the closing minutes after constantly having to chase the opposition to regain possession which has been squandered. Moreover, the change in emphasis has given the players more opportunity to express themselves and so many of them look better as a result.

Morsy himself has looked a far better player over the past couple of months. He has not only cut out the unnecessary yellow cards that had been so prevalent but is playing a much more constructive role going forward. His surging runs from deep in midfield have helped open opposition defences and he is showing much more ambition in his passing.

Following a run of games at centre forward Josh Windass left for a loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday in January. With Windass’ departure some of us wondered if it would signal a return to a long ball with Joe Garner and Kieffer Moore on the receiving end. But it was not to be the case, with Moore looking a much better player as a result. With Latics defenders constantly looking to launch long balls in his general direction he was struggling in his first season in the Championship. But over the past couple of months he has received better service, scoring goals, holding the ball up with strength and intelligence.

Cook’s action of putting Naismith and Kipre together in the centre of defence in December was perhaps one of desperation at the time. Naismith had performed admirably in that position in the landmark 2-1 win at Leeds in April 2019, but he had hardly been considered as a centre back since then. Kipre’s performances earlier in the season had been disappointing and the promise he had shown since his arrival from Motherwell in the summer of 2018 seemed to have evaporated. However, playing together the two players really gelled: the passing out of the ball from the centre of defence became much improved and their reading of the game was as good as any we had seen from central defenders all season.

In the last five games loan signing Leon Balogun has played with Kipre in the centre of defence. Despite a patchy career record where he never found himself an automatic starter in the Bundesliga, with Fortuna Dusseldorf and Mainz, the 31-year-old has looked so impressive, with some fans even calling him the Wigan Van Dijk. Kipre has continued to blossom with his new central defensive partner and has been excellent of late.

Since that low point at Luton there has been a gradual improvement in performance, if not always in results. The centre of defence has become increasingly more solid, the midfield more involved in linking up play between defence and attack. The centre forward is getting better service and Latics are pushing more men forward into the opposition penalty box. Moreover, the “rub of the green” has been more in Wigan’s favour, after being against them for so long.

The tide really does seem to have turned and some fans are already talking about a final placing in mid-table. Others question whether the revival will continue under a manager who has struggled at this level. They accept that Cook will be at the club until summer at least, but question whether he has learned from his mistakes. The hoofball may have largely disappeared and the players are showing better game management when holding on to leads, but there are other aspects upon which they remain to be convinced.

Under Cook’s tenure as manager Latics have had poor results against clubs close to them in the standings. The League 1 title winning team of 2018-19 had a less than stellar record against promotion rivals and last season’s team performed poorly against teams near the bottom of the table. The manager’s critics will say that he has gone into such games with too much caution, allowing the opposition too much respect.

This season’s team also has a less than impressive record in that respect. Their record against clubs currently below them in the table reads W1 D2 L3. It is for these reasons that there are fans who are not convinced that an in-form Latics will put Luton to the sword of Saturday.

The Luton game is an acid test and could be a turning point in Cook’s tenure as Latics manager. A win would relieve relegation fears but anything less than that would suggest that the manager had still not addressed the issue of poor results against relegation rivals.

Stats courtesy of Soccerstats.com

Social Media reaction to a hard-earned victory over Sheffield Wednesday

Wigan Athletic 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1

Well-taken goals from Kieffer Moore and Jamal Lowe earned Latics three important points in their battle against relegation. They showed the kind of opportunism that has been so lacking over recent months.

At long last Paul Cook decided to start Joe Gelhardt, leaving Joe Williams on the bench, switching Jamal Lowe to the left wing and Kieran Dowell to the right. Gelhardt looked dangerous at times but struggled to get the ball. The switching of the wide players was ineffective. We have seen Lowe struggle on the left before so it was no surprise to see it again. But when Michael Jacobs was introduced on the left wing after 66 minutes Lowe looked much better when moved across. Dowell looked out of place on the right and it was sad to see him stretchered off midway through the second half.

Sam Morsy played one of his best games for Latics at Championship level. He was controlled in his tackling and creative in his passing. His excellent ball to Moore led to Wigan’s first goal. Significantly it was a ball played along the ground, giving the big centre forward the chance to use his strength to hold the ball and turn.

Wednesday took the lead after 32 minutes when a superb pass from Barry Bannan released Morgan Fox who put in an accurate cross for Jacob Murphy to outjump Antonee Robinson and score. Moore’s equaliser came after 56 minutes and Latics continued to press, being rewarded with Lowe’s goal after 89 minutes. The 6 minutes of time added-on saw Wigan continue to take the initiative rather than drop back and defend. But there was a scare in the last minute when Jordan Rhodes latched on to a ball only to put it straight at David Marshall.

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

Our thanks go to the Cockney Latic Forum, 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.

Exiled Tic on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

First of all a bit of praise for Cook,he got the subs exactly right tonight, Gelhardt seemed lost, Dowell obviously injured and Evans sacrificed for an extra forward! First half was forgettable but the last half hour we showed more guts and commitment than Wednesday and the crowd responded to it!!

Morsy a real captain tonight and Moore put a real good shift in! Robinson seemed distracted by the Milan talk, Lowe very poor aside from a well taken goal, Dowell out of position so cannot really judge him just yet! Naismith good again, especially when bringing the ball out of defence, Kipre looking better all the time, The rest all had good and bad moments but we won and just bloody happy about that!!

Th10 on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

Morsy mom for me, he really drove the team on and it was a great pass to Moore for the first goal. Lowe was very poor playing on the left. I thought he looked a different player on the right though. He made some good runs in behind and across the defenders and almost set up a couple of goals before scoring the winner. Hopefully Cook will realise he’s a right winger.

Edwards on the Cockney Latic Forum said:

I thought Morsy was superb seemed to be everywhere, Naismith was quality too.

Lowe seemed to grow 2 ft taller after his goal.

The_Pon on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

Not sure I agree with the poster who said Lowe didn’t know what he was doing… It was a brilliantly taken goal to be fair. Was as much about Garner as Lowe though. Garner should be #1 striker, for absolute sure.

We’ve been playing long balls to Moore all year whenever he’s been on and looked ineffectual doing it. One half trying to play it into his feet and he scores. Good on him. Hopefully may have actually learned something… Though I’ll believe that when I see it happen regularly.

Doesn’t change the fact that he did nothing else of value all game and I stand by the fact he should’ve been subbed off.

Lowey on the Cockney Latic Forum said:

Lowe was absolutely dross for 80 mins then suddenly got involved looked dangerous and scored he winner. How he wasn’t subbed was staggering but cook can stick two fingers up to us all for once. However worth noting first time he’s thrown a second striker on rather than swap like for like and hey presto.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Some thoughts: Nottingham Forest (H) 1-0

Wigan Athletic confounded the media with a well-deserved victory over an over-hyped Forest side. The television commentary had given us a vision of a resurgent Forest, unbeaten in 10 games, heading for a return to the top tier of English football where they surely belonged. But in the end, they had to acknowledge that Latics were worthy victors and that their record at the DW Stadium over the calendar year was impressive.

Paul Cook had surprised us by leaving Josh Windass on the bench, playing Gavin Massey in the number 10 position. It was Massey’s fine link-up play with Jamal Lowe that produced the winning goal after 35 minutes.

Following the game Paul Cook commented: “I thought we were good in the game, I enjoyed watching us play. It’s another very strong home performance, and you’d struggle to name our best player because we had so many good performers. We looked a threat against a very strong Forest side. And at the other end, we defended very, very well. They’re not so much big wins, they’re just wins because every game is so tough.”

Let’s look at some points arising:

Lowe gets his breakthrough

Jamal Lowe’s protracted arrival from Portsmouth in summer was well received by Latics fans. Lowe scored 17 goals for the south coast club in League 1 last season although he played mainly on the right flank. The question was whether he could bridge the transition to Championship football.

Until yesterday Lowe had struggled, looking a shadow of the confident, skilful player he had been at Portsmouth. At Wigan he had largely been employed on the left flank, sometimes in the middle of the advanced midfield three.

But at last Lowe was given the chance to play in his more “natural” position on the right wing. Gavin Massey had been pushed across to a more central role where he had been effective around the end of last season, linking up with the big man up front. The result was that the big centre forward in this game, Kieffer Moore, received more support than he has been accustomed to.

In scoring his goal Lowe had taken a blow to the knee and it clearly affected his mobility. But the goal had given him renewed confidence and he began to show the kinds of skills that had been muted in previous appearances. Lowe left the field after 65 minutes to the applause of the home crowd. He had made his breakthrough.

Williams thrives in Morsy’s absence

Sam Morsy’s absence through suspension gave a fresh opportunity to Lewis Macleod, who had appeared in the opening two games, but not since. Macleod is a fine footballer whose career has been thwarted by constant injury problems. However, he looked fit enough in this game, defending with vigour, showing his ability moving forward. That he went the whole 90 minutes-plus is a testament to how his rehabilitation is succeeding.

Joe Williams is a tenacious tackler who has a range of passing skills. He was Wigan’s outstanding performer in this game. Williams is still only 22 years old and looks an excellent signing for Latics.

Both Williams and Morsy can play the role of midfield destroyer. They had been playing together in holding midfield, providing solid protection for the defence. However, the introduction of Macleod for Morsy gave the centre of midfield a more fluid look. There will be times when Latics will need the steel provided by a Morsy-Williams duo, but the option of including a fluid passer of the ball like Macleod is one that Cook will surely consider.

A more measured long ball approach

The “hoof” has been an ugly and ineffective aspect of Latics play since their return to the Championship. All too often defenders have launched hopeful long balls, usually in the general direction of an outnumbered and isolated central striker, sometimes simply to clear the lines. The net result has typically been to concede the ball to the opposition, inviting them to build up moves from the back and pressurise Wigan’s defence further.

The long ball is not going away as long as Paul Cook is in charge at Wigan. It was frequently applied yesterday, interspersed with spells of keeping the ball on the ground. However, in this game most of the long balls were at least “measured” with Kieffer Moore able to receive and shield the ball on some occasions.

A mixed day for Kieffer

Kieffer Moore came into this game on the back of two fine performances for Wales, for whom he looked a much better player than we had seen playing for Latics. Would the big centre forward be able to get his first goal for Wigan after he had notched his first at international level in Slovakia?

Sadly, it was not to be and, as in so many of his previous Latics appearances, he did not look like scoring. Moore was as committed as ever and posed a physical challenge to the Forest defenders, not so isolated up front with Massey providing support.

Gelhardt’s role

Joe Gelhardt captained England’s under 18 side last week and once again showed what a good player he is on the international stage. He would have been full of confidence coming into this game. Surely, he would be brought on at some stage. But no. He remained on the bench once more.

Cook has continued to laud the 17-year-old’s ability and temperament, insisting that he is up to the rigours of Championship football, but the stats show that Gelhardt’s opportunities have been severely limited. He has been on the field for a total of just 73 minutes of the 12 league games played.

Rumour suggests that Gelhardt will be in the centre of a bidding war between elite Premier League clubs in the January transfer window. The more experience he gets at Championship level the higher his potential transfer fee is likely to rise.

There are critics who suggest that Cook is largely paying lip service to treating Gelhardt as a fully- fledged member of the first team squad and that his main role will continue to be as the “home- grown” player that the EFL insists must be included in every match-day squad. They cite the example of Callum McManaman who last season was on the pitch for a total of 439 minutes, which included just one start. He was on the bench 34 times.

Given the lack of creativity in Latics’ and their lack of goals from open play it has been disappointing to see a player of Gelhardt’s flair left so often on the bench. Should he leave in January Cook will have to look for someone else to fulfil the home-grown requirement.

 

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Some thoughts: Birmingham City (H) 1-0

 

It had “goalless draw” written all over it, but Lee Camp’s error gave Latics the three points they were craving for. There was only an occasional sprinkling of good football for the home crowd to enjoy, but Anthony Pilkington’s first league goal for the club allowed them to go home grateful at least for the win.

Following the dismal defeat at Fulham Paul Cook brought in Josh Windass to play the number 10 role in place of Lee Evans. Gavin Massey replaced Michael Jacobs on the wing.

Apart from picking up three points from an awful game of football there were some signs of improvement. The defence looked more solid and composed than it has for some time, limiting the visitors to few chances.

Following the game, the manager commented: “This win gives us such a different atmosphere around the club. I didn’t ever think we looked like losing to be honest, but I suppose were a bit fortunate with the goal. We just have to keep going. I think that’s the third clean sheet in a row at home. We need points on the board. I don’t care who scores, but it really is a big step up to Championship level. The standard is so high. This was an important win for us, but we must keep challenging.”

Some thoughts:

A dull game but played in good spirit

Footballers and coaches can be cynical. Diving to gain free kicks and penalties, feigning injuries, exaggerated tumbling to the ground, pressurising of referees by mobbing are all so common in the modern game. The Championship division gets its fair share of such behaviours.

However dull this match was it was played in the right spirit, very well officiated by Tim Robinson. What a pleasure to see two teams not resorting to that ugly side of modern football.

A composed and solid defence

Charlie Mulgrew played his best game for Latics yesterday. His positioning was excellent, and he showed all his experience in stifling Birmingham attacks.

Mulgrew links up well with Antonee Robinson to his left and Chey Dunkley to his right. With Nathan Byrne starting to regain his form the defence is looking much more organised and composed. As the men in front of him have been looking more composed so is goalkeeper David Marshall.

The trip to Hillsborough on Saturday poses the next challenge for that back five.

Put Lowe on the right

Jamal Lowe is struggling to bridge the transition between League 1 and the Championship. But his success at Portsmouth was largely down to his performance as a right winger. He looks uncomfortable on the left and out of place as a number 10.

Cook continues to keep faith in both Lowe and Gavin Massey, although neither has hit form up to this point. None of his wingers have been in consistently good form. Michael Jacobs continues to blow hot and cold, sometimes full of spark, but more often on the periphery of play. It is not clear whether Kal Naismith is primarily regarded as a left winger or as a second choice left back until Tom Pearce gets fit. Pilkington is constantly bothered with injury.

Cook and his coaches may believe that Lowe can evolve into an inverted left winger, cutting in to shoot using his right foot. There has been little evidence so far to suggest it is the best way to employ him.

Why not rotate Lowe and Massey on the right wing?

Moore struggles

Kieffer Moore’s signing from Barnsley went down well with most fans, if not all. At last it seemed that Latics would have a big centre forward to get on the end of the countless crosses that have rained into opposition penalty boxes over the past year. But at the time there were fans who not only questioned the money paid for a player unproven in the second tier, but those who feared the standard of football might plummet even further having a big man up front for defenders to launch long balls to.

On the balance of what we have seen so far, the more cautious view has been the case. In fact, some have even gone on the social media and bulletin boards to suggest that Joe Garner be given preference to Moore in the hope that the long balls would dissipate. It can certainly be argued that Garner has not played as much as he might, given his contributions over the past season.

Being a centre forward at Wigan can be a daunting task. In the Premier League days Latics signed Mauro Boselli to play the lone centre forward role, even though he had played as a twin striker for Estudiantes in Argentina. Rather than pair him with Hugo Rodallega up front Roberto Martinez put the latter on the left wing, with Charles N’Zogbia on the right. On paper it looked a move that could work, with all three capable of scoring goals. But Boselli had to play a role that was not his best and received scant service from the two wide men.  Sadly, he is remembered as a striker who could not deliver the goods at Wigan.

Latics fans will be hoping that Moore will have more success than Boselli and lots of other centre forwards at Wigan over recent years. Moore has not looked particularly sharp in the opposition box, but it is going to take some time for him to adjust to the second tier. Moreover, genuine goal chances have been few and far between, with Wigan’s creative players having been somewhat muted by the long-ball approach. When he has been able to retrieve the ball in promising positions, he has so often lacked support from teammates.

It has been a frustrating start of the 2019-20 season for the big striker, as it has for the team in general.

Windass offers something different

Josh Windass does not have universal approval as far as Latics fans are concerned. Nevertheless, he has been missed during his absence through injury.

Windass gives Latics different options. He was lively yesterday, probing from midfield, linking up with Moore. Unlike so many of his teammates Windass is not shy of shooting and his ability to spot gaps in opposition defences makes him dangerous.

Windass is by no means the finished article, but with good coaching and being one of the first names on the team sheet he could become something special.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

 

A Barnsley fan’s view of Kieffer Moore

Barnsley FC yesterday announced the transfer of the 6ft 5in centre forward Kieffer Moore to Wigan Athletic. The 26-year-old has signed a three-year contract.

Kieffer Roberto Francisco Moore was born in Torquay and came through the youth system of Torquay United. After the club folded their youth team, he played in the South Devon league for a couple of seasons before going on trial for Truro City in the summer of 2012. Moore made 22 appearances, scoring 13 goals, for Truro in the Conference South before joining Dorchester Town in the same division in February 2013. He made 17 appearances for Dorchester, scoring 9 goals, before joining Yeovil Town then in the Championship in the summer of 2013.

Moore made 50 appearances for Yeovil, scoring 7 goals, before being released as the club were relegated to League 2. In the summer of 2015 season, he went to Norway and played for Viking Stavanger, making 9 appearances, before signing for Forest Green Rovers in January 2016. He helped them reach the National League play-offs, missing the final defeat by Grimsby Town due to a ruptured appendix the night after the semi-final second leg against Dover Athletic. In November 2016 Moore joined Torquay United of the National League on a 28-day loan, scoring 5 goals in 4 appearances.  In January 2017 he signed for Ipswich Town for a fee of £10,000. Moore spent the first half of the 2017-18 season on loan at Rotherham United, scoring 13 goals in 22 appearances. In January 2018 he signed for Barnsley for an undisclosed fee. He went on to score 21 goals in 51 appearances for the Yorkshire club.

In order to learn more about Moore’s time at Oakwell we contacted Barnsley fans CraigIsRed (@CraigIsRed) and FourFourTarn (@FourFourTarn) through Twitter.

CraigIsRed commented:

He’s an absolute workhorse upfront – never stops running. He does tend to have fouls awarded against him on a regular basis due to his 6’6 stature, though, which you’ll undoubtedly come to find quite frustrating because in most cases it’s a fair aerial challenge he puts in.

I could make a case for him being unproven at Championship level, but to be honest the games he played for us in The Championship a couple of seasons ago were under a god-awful manager who changed the line-up, formation, and system every single game, so in my view he can’t be judged on that.

 He’s always been a standout player in League One, though, and definitely deserves his chance to play in a settled Championship team. I believe a big reason we’ve opted to sell him is because he doesn’t quite fit the new style of play Daniel Stendel has brought to Barnsley FC, so he would have been a little wasted at Oakwell had he stayed this season. I think he’ll do well for The Latics this season. Be excited! You’ve gained a great player and a great personality.

 Look after ‘Big Kieff’, and all the best for this season!

 FourFourTarn said:

Most Barnsley fans will be sad to see Kieffer go, he was excellent for us in our promotion season last season but the reality is he doesn’t fit the way Stendel wants to play and the £3-4mill price tag is very fair.

 Despite his size Kieffer isn’t the most dominant in the air when playing direct however he’s excellent when the ball is played into his chest or feet. He’s also very quick for a big man when his legs get going. He’s excellent at getting himself good chances but also pretty good at missing them but by law of averages he bags a fair few. The biggest criticism is probably is engine, it’s not his fault but carrying that massive frame around can’t be easy and that’s probably why he’s moving on.

 Can’t fault his work rate, always works as hard as he can, fans absolutely loved him. He had a song within a couple of weeks and I think for now this is his level, I don’t think he’s good enough technically for the prem but could be a top Champ striker in the right system.