It was my first visit to the New York Stadium and it proved to be an enjoyable one as a high-energy display by Wigan Athletic saw them overcome the home team. The ground was built in New York Island, so called because of a foundry there that used to export iron and steel to “The Big Apple”. Although it its capacity is only 12,021 it is a pleasant venue for football.
In talking to Latics supporters before the game, Dan Burn’s absence through suspension was high on the agenda. Rotherham had the division’s leading scorer in the 6 ft 5 in centre forward Kieffer Moore. Replacing Burn in the line-up was the 5 ft 11 in Alex Bruce. Moore’s aerial presence was surely going to be a threat, but the general consensus was that Wigan would still win.
So, it turned out to be. Latics had gone into the game with a determined approach and it was no surprise when they were rewarded with goal after 14 minutes. Will Grigg does not score many headers, but he took this one well, evading his marker from Lee Evans’ free kick to glance the ball home. A couple of minutes later Moore rose unchallenged and flicked a header into the path of the skilful David Ball who took his chance with clinical precision. Latics got back ahead in the 28th minute through Alex Bruce’s invention. A clash between Moore and Dunkley saw both leave the field, with the former coming straight back, but Dunkley going off for some time for repairs. Lee Evans filled in at centre back until the big centre back returned. Moore’s physical approach continued to upset Latics, his flailing arms drawing complaints towards the referee. It had become a physical contest, with an element of needle.
Wigan continued in their dynamic, attacking vein as the second half unfurled. Rotherham’s tactics were based on the long ball approach. However, Dunkley’s challenge left Moore writhing in apparent agony, with the home crowd baying for a red card. Dunkley survived it, getting a yellow, but Moore was to prove a diminished force. On the hour mark Rotherham centre back Michael Ihiekwe was dispossessed by Grigg, who looked certain to score, but home keeper Marek Rodak did well to push the ball away, but not so well when Michael Jacobs’ shot passed by him a couple of seconds later.
In the end it was a result well earned by Latics. They had played the better football throughout.
Let’s take a look at some talking points:
A different blend in midfield
Paul Cook continued with his experiment of playing Max Power in place of Nick Powell. It worked well. Power is by no means a direct replacement for Powell, but he linked up really well with Lee Evans and Sam Morsy, the trio dominating the centre of midfield. Since his return to the starting line-up, Power has demonstrated why he was such a key player in Gary Caldwell’s title winning team in 2015-16.
A mixed day for Dunkley
Chey Dunkley remains a rough diamond, needing a little more polish to become a top player. However, he has shown that he can learn from his experiences. He was the obvious choice to keep a close eye on Kieffer Moore. But nobody challenged Moore when he flicked the header that led to David Ball’s goal.
Dunkley is nothing, if not resilient. He reappeared after at least ten minutes off the pitch due to the injury he had picked up in an aerial challenge with Moore. From then on he seemed determined to win his battle with the big man. Moreover, he looked threatening on attack, coming close to scoring.
A weaker referee might have sent Dunkley off for his second half challenge on Moore, but it was not a red card offence. Dunkley had a fine second half.
A positive return for Bruce
Alex Bruce is 33 and is still playing despite an Achilles injury that threatened his career. Although he does not have the pace he used to have, his reading of the game makes him a very useful performer at League 1 level. If Leonel Messi had scored a goal like the one of Bruce it would have made the headlines. Bruce showed great touch and imagination with his goal, not something expected from a centre back. He was also a solid presence in defence.
Despite his extensive experience in higher divisions, Bruce has had to bide his time. He stood in capably when Chey Dunkley was suspended in September, but had not appeared in a league game since.
It is an indication of the strength of Wigan’s squad that players of Bruce’s quality can step in when injuries and suspensions come into play.
Stand up if you love Latics
There is certainly a contrast between the vocal support Latics receive home and away. At the DW the crowd can often be muted, sometimes outshouted by opposition fans. However, away from home the reverse is true.
As a phenomenon it is not peculiar to Wigan Athletic. Other clubs have similar outcomes. But the noise that the visiting support made at the New York Stadium on Saturday surely spurred their team on.
It makes one wonder if the players actually prefer playing away where their support seems so much more vocal than at the DW.
As an away supporter one is confined to one end of a stadium, where it is difficult to follow the play at the other extreme. But it is heartening to be surrounded by like-minded people whose passion for the club is commendable.
What can be frustrating for the more senior supporters is having to stand in an all seater stadium. “Stand up if you love Wigan/Latics” is a rousing chant, but….
The New York Stadium is not in a scenic area, but it has a pleasant atmosphere. Before kick-off the club was selling food and drink from within the stadium, but to fans who were still outside. There was not a hint of trouble.
The Amex Stadium in Brighton is another which offers something different. Home supporters can enjoy food and drink after the game in their main stand and people can stay for an hour or two after the game chewing the cud.
Food for thought maybe?