An Amigo View – Blackpool 1 Wigan Athletic 3 – five talking points

 

There is something special about Blackpool to many Wiganers, especially those of my generation. For me as a kid it was my favourite place to visit and I recall summer fortnights spent there dodging the rain and the wind, relishing those moments when the sun would prevail.

Over two thousand Wiganers travelled to Bloomfield Road yesterday, huddled together under the cover of the Stan Mortensen Stand to shield themselves from the driving wind and rain that prevailed. There was an odd feel: a football ground being attacked by the elements of climate, with the larger East Stand left vacant and an attendance of less than 6,000 for a north-west derby. The disconnect between the Oystons and the fans continues to fester, but despite their sparse support the Seasiders had a home record of W5 D1 L0 going into this match.

The early minutes were to be a nightmare for Latics, the conditions not allowing them to play their typical brand of football, Chey Dunkley’s header over Jamie Jones gifting an 8th minute goal for the hosts. It will not go down in the history books as an own goal, Blackpool winger Vassell getting a touch on the ball before it went in, but the header back was certainly ill-advised in such conditions.

The conditions were so bad that one wondered if the referee would suspend play, with neither side able to pass the ball with any degree of accuracy. Fortunately, the Bloomfield Road pitch has good drainage and did not churn up as many would have done. But gradually Latics started to build up some momentum as they adapted to the conditions. Dunkley partly redeemed himself in stoppage time at the end of the first half lashing the ball home from close range.

The weather was to improve in the second half, not surprisingly Wigan Athletic’s football too. In the improved conditions they were too good for Blackpool, with another goal from Dunkley and a rare one from David Perkins giving them a 3-1 victory.

Let’s look at some talking points arising from the game.

Exceeding the 100 points mark

A couple of years ago, prior to the start of the season, David Sharpe made his remark about smashing League 1 with 100 points. He has not made such comments this time around.

Latics currently have 35 points from 15 games. Were they to be able to maintain their current momentum over the course of the season, the total would be around 107 points. The highest total in recent years was the 103 points gained by Wolves in 2013-14. Gary Caldwell’s Latics won the title with 87 points.

Is this squad good enough to exceed the 100-point mark over the course of the season? On paper certainly, but injuries and potential changes of ownership could well have an important say.

Preparing for rougher weather

Until yesterday Latics had been able to play their football on decent surfaces without extreme weather coming into play. However, as autumn turns to winter the conditions are going to get tougher, sometimes making it difficult to play flowing football.

Latics had their backs against the wall in the first half yesterday, but still showed the grit to compete physically. In reality the weather prevented both teams playing the kind of football they would have liked, although the home team might have wished the deluge had not abated in the second half.

It is a long, hard season, a marathon and not a sprint. Endurance and determination will be the key to holding a promotion position.

Perkins goal causes celebrations

The celebrations at the Wigan end after David Perkins scored in the 82nd minute showed how much he is appreciated by Latics supporters. Perkins was Player of the Season in the League 1 title-winning side of 2015-16. He was inspirational in the centre of midfield with Max Power. But after a disappointing season in the Championship it was by no means certain that he would be offered a new contract at 35 years of age. In the event he signed on for another season.

Perkins’ last goal had been scored for Barnsley in October 2012 against Crystal Palace. Six months earlier he had scored for the Tykes in a 1-1 draw away to Blackpool.

Perks has started in just one league game this season, that being at Peterborough. Yesterday was his third appearance off the bench. Given Cook’s seeming preference for younger players over the senior pros Perkins’ role will largely be that of a squad player. But although his days of being an automatic choice may be behind him he still has so much to offer.

Will Evans get his place back?

Lee Evans’ indiscipline at Scunthorpe resulting in a red card opened the door to a return to contention for Max Power. After an indifferent season in the Championship we have seen the old Max Power in the last three matches.

Up to the point of his red card, Evans had been excellent in his role as both a midfield anchor and providing the link between defence and attack. Cook is indeed fortunate to have players of the quality of Evans, Power and Perkins competing with captain Sam Morsy for a place in central midfield.

We can expect Evans to return for the Checkatrade Trophy game against Middlesbrough on Tuesday, but it will be interesting to see who gets the nod in right central midfield on Saturday against Blackburn.

Player of the Season

We are only around one third of the way through, but if you were to name a Player of the Season who would it be?

My vote up to this point would be for Nathan Byrne, who was outstanding once again at Blackpool yesterday.

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Five Talking points arising from the performance at Shrewsbury

Will Cook find the best way to employ Grigg’s talents?

The euphoria of recent weeks subsided yesterday when an inspired Shrewsbury Town side overcame Wigan Athletic by a single goal. The Shrews top the League 1 table with a W5 D1 L0 record. Latics now occupy 8th place with a W3 D1 L1 tally, although they have a game in hand on the teams above them.

With the excellent start to the season that Paul Cook’s Wigan side had made, hopes were high for the visit to the New Meadow. But Shrewsbury were an in-form team too, with an impressive record, playing at home. They were always going to be difficult opponents to play.

So it was to be. Latics had started brightly and could well have scored in the first quarter of the game. But the Shrews manager, Paul Hurst, had clearly done his homework and his team were to stifle Wigan’s midfield, with a well organised defence capably coping with the high balls that were coming at them. Their pressing, strong physical approach and possibly systematic tactical fouling had gone on to disrupt Wigan’s game.  Sam Morsy and Lee Evans were to be under siege in central midfield and Nick Powell had to retreat back to get the ball, leaving the lone centre forward isolated. The end result was Latics resorting to long ball tactics reminiscent of last season.

On paper Shrewsbury’s squad does not look particularly impressive, packed with players who have spent their careers in modest clubs. Whether they can maintain such form is questionable, but at the moment they are punching above their weight, inspired by Hurst who had previously done a fine job at Grimsby.

Latics go on to face Charlton Athletic on Tuesday. Their previous record at the Valley has been miserable and the Addicks are now in second place in the division and clearly promotion rivals.

Max Power travelled with the squad yesterday, although he did not make the bench. Power had a difficult time in the Championship last season and his desire for a move back to that division hardly endeared him to the fans. However, Power played a pivotal role in Gary Caldwell’s League 1 title winning side. He has shown himself to be a fine player in the third tier of English football. It would not be a surprise to see him back at Charlton.

But Cook will hope that his players have learned from yesterday’s loss and will regain their momentum. Nevertheless it will be a tall order.

Let’s take a look at some main points arising from yesterday’s game.

Does Paul Cook have a plan B?

In the second half yesterday the game plan certainly was not functioning in the way that the manager would have liked. Would a change in tactical formation have been the catalyst to remove the shackles that the home team had imposed on Latics?

Portsmouth fans will tell you that the lack of tactical flexibility was one of the frustrations in Cook’s tenure there. In this case Cook chose to stick to his 4-2-3-1 system, hoping the players brought on off the bench could provide the missing spark. It did not work and the introduction of Ryan Colclough, Will Grigg and Gary Roberts for Gavin Massey, Ivan Toney and Nick Powell did not produce the desired effect.

Will Grigg is not best employed chasing high balls.

Unless Toney had an injury, his substitution by Grigg on 62 minutes was puzzling. Some had hoped that Grigg would have been brought on alongside Toney to pose a different kind of threat to the Shrews defence. That was not to be. At that time of the match Latics had resorted to more frequent use of the long ball, as their passing movements in midfield were being disrupted. But Grigg is a striker who thrives on movement, who is not as strong in the air as Toney. With time Cook must learn how to use him most effectively.

Lee Evans is an important player for Wigan.

Up to yesterday Evans had not only provided defensive stability, but his concise passing had been a feature of Latics’ build-up play. However, Shrewsbury clearly realized that and disrupted the Welshman’s game with methods sometimes fair, sometimes foul. The end result was less quality passing for the forwards.

Given the inability of Morsy and Evans to dominate a packed midfield, would the introduction of a third central midfielder, such as David Perkins, have helped to restore the equilibrium?

Did postponing the Northampton match have any impact on this one?

The postponement of the home match against the bottom team last weekend did not go down well with supporters.  Granted, Cook would have been without Evans and Morsy on international duty, but wouldn’t a midfield of Perkins and Power been sufficient against a team in such poor form?

The end result was a loss of momentum that might have had an effect on yesterday’s performance.

Red cards are a cause for concern.

Ryan Colclough’s red card at the closing of the match was the third shown to a Wigan Athletic player in just five league games so far. Although the dismissal of Callum Elder at MK Dons could be deemed unfortunate, the dismissals of both Chey Dunkley against Portsmouth and Colclough yesterday do not fall into that category.

It remains to be seen whether Cook will be taking any disciplinary action against Colclough for what happened yesterday. But what is clear is that the current tally of red cards is a cause for concern and needs to be addressed by the manager.

 

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Five talking points arising from an uplifting win at MK Dons

Milton Keynes celebrated its 50th birthday this year. It is a city of 260,000 inhabitants, unlike any other of its size in the UK with its wide open spaces and network of roads and shopping malls giving it an almost American feel. It is not everyone’s cup of tea as a place to live, but the city continues to grow as foreign investment continues to come in.

A prior review of the MK Stadium had forewarned us that, from the outside, it looked more like a hotel than a football ground and that it was far too big for a club in League 1. But maybe it was planned in the same way as the city itself, with attendances expected to grow in parallel with the surrounding population. It is a fabulous stadium, better than many in the Championship and even some in the Premier League. The presence of some 1,100 Latics fans yesterday swelled the attendance to over 9,000.

The visit to Milton Keynes proved to be enjoyable, not least due to an uplifting display from Paul Cook’s Wigan Athletic team. The referee almost spoiled it with a first half red card decision against Latics, but he even things up in the second period when he sent off a home player.

In the end Latics thoroughly deserved their 1-0 victory. They were much the better team, with a solid defence protected by a strong and creative midfield. Cook’s starting lineup had looked ambitious, with so many new players drafted in. But despite that there was a look of cohesion, with every player seemingly knowing his role and willing to put in the required amount of sweat and toil for his team. It was instantly noticeable how much movement there was compared with last season, with Latics able to break out of defence with strength and purpose.

The display certainly gave us lots to talk about:

1. Dan Burn must stay. Burn was formidable yesterday, his head seemingly a magnet for the ball. The Dons are by no means a long-ball team. They try to play good football, but whenever the ball did go into the air in the box it was soon snaffled up by Burn or Chey Dunkley. But Burn looked assured in all aspects of his play yesterday and must rank among the best central defenders in the division. He will prove invaluable against teams who prefer the aerial approach above all.

However, despite the departures of Jake Buxton, Matt Gilks, Jack Hendry, Mikael Mandron, Billy McKay and Sanmi Odelusi and with Kaiyne Woolery close to a move back to Forest Green Rovers the clear-out continues. Jack Byrne, Omar Bogle and Max Power are being pushed out and not allowed to train with the senior squad. Nick Powell’s goal yesterday helped to put him back into the shop window, with a loan move to a Championship side a likely outcome.

Burn has become one of Wigan’s major assets. Were he to be sold off by the end of August it would be a massive blow to Cook’s plans.

2. Recruitment up to this point is looking pretty good. The starting lineup yesterday included six new players, four of whom are on loan. Christian Walton continues to exude authority in his box, Chey Dunkley was excellent in the centre of defence. Callum Elder looked lively at left back until his premature departure. Lee Evans is a very important signing: a rock in front of the defence, but with the ability to spray passes around from the back. He and Sam Morsy looked a formidable partnership, willing to scrap it out when necessary, but both capable of launching attacks. Gavin Massey showed flashes of skill, together with a willingness to work hard for the team. Ivan Toney was lively up front, willing to drop back into midfield, his movement causing the home defence some headaches. Terell Thomas came on at left back following Elder’s dismissal, very solid despite being a naturally right-sided central defender playing out of position.

Noel Hunt was on the bench, as he was 19 times last season at Portsmouth. In fact, Hunt only made 3 starts last season and can hardly bear expected to challenge for a regular starting place in Cook’s  starting line-up.

3. Michael Jacobs has been rejuvenated. His display yesterday was a revelation following his disappointing season in the Championship. Jacobs worked tirelessly, showing no mean amount of flair, his performance marred only by his finishing on occcasions. He is an essential component in Cook’s tactic of rapid counterattack. With one year remaining on his contract will he be offered an extension?

4. Will Grigg is back. After so many months out because of injury he looked lively when coming on as a second half substitute. With Bogle seemingly on his way out, will Grigg be offered a contract extension? Or will he be sold off this month? The option of Grigg or Toney, or even both, is something Cook will want to retain. But is David Sharpe going to support his manager by retaining key players, despite Cook’s admission that his squad is still too big and that Latics are a “selling club”?

5. Cook will be hoping his long-term injured players will soon be match fit.  Alex Gilbey and Will Grigg are back in contention, but none of Donervon Daniels, Reece James or Andy Kellett were in the squad.

Nathan Byrne is trying hard at right full back despite it not being a position he enjoys. He steadily improved yesterday after looking a little uncomfortable early on. But is Cook going to bring a specialist right back from outside or is he going to rely on Byrne, Daniels or Luke Burke to cover the position?

With Callum Elder due to be suspended, Cook will need to assess the fitness of James. After 18 months out through injury, James needs to be brought in cautiously, but the team’s needs could push things along. Kellett too can play at left back, but is more productively employed in midfield.

 

 

A Wolves fan’s view of Lee Evans

Photo courtesy of Wigan Athletic.

A few days ago we published a Bradford City fan’s view of Lee Evans. Since then we have been in contact with Tom Baugh of the Wolves Blog (http://www.wolvesblog.com/)

Evans can be expected to be a key player for Latics this season in a midfield holding role. On signing for Wigan he said:

“I am delighted to be here. It’s taken a couple of weeks to get everything sorted at both ends. I knew I didn’t really have a future this season at Wolves so to join a club like Wigan, who are pushing for promotion this season, is a perfect opportunity for me. It’s part of football, different managers have different opinions; under Paul Lambert I was playing quite a bit and he gave me a new contract but now the new manager has different ideas. That’s fine, they told me soon enough so I had plenty of time to get things sorted, I had plenty of options but I felt like Wigan was the best opportunity for me.”

The departure of Paul Lambert and the arrival of ex-Porto coach, Nuno Espirito Santo, saw the player move down the pecking order at Wolverhampton. The loan arrangement appears to be in the interests of both Latics and Evans.

Here’s over to Tom to tell us about Evans’ time at Wolves:

Lee Evans could easily have been lining up for Wolves this weekend. He’d probably fit nicely into our new 343 system. But we’ve shelled out £15 million on Ruben Neves from Porto and he’s found himself frozen out despite only signing a new contract a few months back. There’s probably not much between him and Jack Price who remains contention at Wolves, but we’ve got a bloated squad meaning someone had to go.

His obvious strength is an excellent passing range. He can ping accurate balls out wide for fun and deliver searching forward passes. He’s combative, decent in the tackle and can get forward to chip in with the odd goal.

I don’t think he’s particularly mobile. You’re certainly not going to see him going past players or embarking on mazy dribbles. He’ll hold a position and feed balls into attackers who can make something happen.

He did well in League One for Wolves and Bradford so it’s a no-brainer signing for Paul Cook. His quality at that level is undisputed. After we got promoted he was briefly instrumental in our Championship promotion push the following season but faded away.

If the plan is to get the ball on the deck and play, I think he’ll do very well for Wigan and with his best mate Michael Jacobs there I’m sure he’ll hit the ground running.

Best of luck for the season guys.

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A Bradford City fan’s view of Lee Evans

Photo courtesy of Wigan Athletic

Wigan Athletic yesterday announced the signing of the 23-year-old Lee Evans from Wolverhampton Wanderers on a season-long loan. The 6 ft 1 in tall Welshman is a central midfield player.

On signing Evans Latics manager Paul Cook said: “Lee’s a classy player and somebody who has been playing at a good level for a number of years. We do have a number of players in midfield at the moment but I feel you can never be too strong in that department, especially over the course of a season in which we’re going to play over 50 games. I am sure once he’s settled in, Lee is the type of player the fans will really warm to.”

Lee Evans was born in Newport and made his debut for his home town club as a 17 year old in March 2012. shortly after he went on to play in the FA Trophy Final in which Newport County were beaten 2-0 by York City. The following season he had made 23 appearances in the Football Conference before being signed by Wolves in January 2013.

Evans made his Football League debut for Wolves in August 2013, going on to make 28 appearances as the midland club went on to claim the League 1 title. In  August 2015 he went to Bradford City on loan, making 41 appearances and scoring 4 goals.

Evans has made 48 league starts for Wolves with 11 appearances as a substitute. He has made 13 appearances for Wales at U21 level.

In order to learn more about Evans time at Bradford we contacted Bantams’ fan Stuart Black (@blackmeister).

Here’s over to Stuart:

Lee Evans joined Bradford City on 20th August 2015 under Phil Parkinson.  We had made a poor start to the season and were playing two defenders in central midfield in Tony McMahon and Chris Routis and quite frankly it was very weak.  We took only 1 point from the first nine with defeats away at Swindon and at home to Gillingham and it was obvious to all that Central Midfield needed strengthening badly.

When Evans joined on loan from Wolves at least we had a square peg in a square hole and immediately our fortunes turned around.

In our first match we played away at a very good (and ultimately promoted) Barnsley and got a hard fought 0-0.  We then picked up 8 points from the next 4 games to get us to 12th. Evans had a big hand in the fact that by the end of November we had risen from 22nd to 6th in the table.

Evans has a lot of ability and can certainly find a pass. He has average pace but is physically strong albeit slightly reckless but will get you occasional goals.  He is not bad in the air which you would expect at 6’1 tall and can take a good set piece.

Bradford City hit a flat spot in November and drifted back towards mid table as Evans needed better quality next to him.  That quality arrived in early February when City signed Josh Cullen on loan from West Ham.  As a midfield pair they excelled and the team rose to 3rd in the league but ultimately failed in the play-offs when beaten by Millwall.

Lee Evans scored 4 goals for us in 2015-16 from 35 appearances with 3 assists.  He was only 21 at the time so should be stronger and wiser now. He got 9 yellow cards and 1 red in that same time but looks to have improved those figures in the Championship.

I suspect most Bradford City fans would still like him in the team as we look rather weak as a squad at the moment as we look to rebuild following our late Wembley defeat once again against Millwall and the subsequent loss of some of our better players to other clubs.

Best wishes for the new season to all Wigan supporters.

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