In the mid 1960’s Allan Brown’s Wigan Athletic team played a really entertaining brand of football. The excellent wingers, Les Campbell and Walter Stanley, would put over a stream of tantalizing crosses for the twin strikers to feed on. No wonder that Latics scored 121 goals in the 1964-65 season, when they won the Cheshire County League. Centre forward Harry Lyon led the scoring with 67 goals in all competitions.
How would a player like Lyon do these days in the era of the inverted winger? Lyon was a superb header of the ball, who could shoot with both feet. Sometimes one seemed to know that a goal was coming as soon as a cross was launched from the wing.
Playing on the widest position on the pitch, wingers must have near perfect ball control and the ability to make plays in tight spaces without playing the ball out of play. The winger spends much of his time running down balls played ahead of him, racing by fullbacks with the ball at his feet and tracking back down the wing to defend.
A good winger will also have a consistent and threatening cross. After passing a fullback, the winger needs a quick and accurate trigger foot to feed the strikers. Many of the great wingers have been great dribblers, but there are effective wingers who are not necessarily world class dribblers but have lightning speed. Others are somehow able to squeeze out crosses in the tightest of spaces without beating their man.
Given the above it appears logical to play a winger on his ‘natural foot’. Having the strong foot closest to the sideline provides more control and enables the delivery of dangerous outswinging crosses. Strikers with a physical presence, who are strong in the air and know where to position themselves for crosses are best served by natural wingers.
The role of the winger has changed in recent years, and gone are the days when all the winger had to do was make runs up and down the lines as they try to outmanoeuvre the full-back and cross into the penalty area.
An inverted winger (inside-out winger) shows more diagonal movement than a natural winger. A left-footed player will occupy a position on the right flank and a right-footer will play off the left. The tactic that has become commonplace in football over the past decade or so.
With the centres of defences so heavily policed, players Gareth Bale and Arjen Robben on the right and Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez on the left have been so effective. The frequent attack pattern of an inverted winger is cutting inside from the wing, which can be completed by shooting with the strong foot or an accurate through ball played at an angle of ninety degrees. Scrappy, poaching strikers content to drop back and pick up loose balls in the box can thrive playing alongside inverted wingers.
hold back and pick up loose balls in the box can thrive playing alongside inverted wingers.
In Paul Cook’s first season as manager at Wigan wingers played key roles in both attack and defence. With natural wingers Gavin Massey or Ryan Colclough on the right and inverted winger Michael Jacobs on the left Latics had a real cutting edge. Jacobs went on to score 13 goals, Colclough and Massey each notching 5 in that 2017-18 season in League 1.
Colclough left at the summer of 2018 and Jacobs and Massey both had injury problems in the course of the 2018-19 season. But Jacobs went on to score 4 goals in 22 appearances in the Championship, Massey notching 5 from 17.
It has been sad to see the wingers struggle this season. Massey was injured when the season started and found his place occupied by new signing Jamal Lowe. Since his return he has not been able to reach the levels he attained previously. Being played so often on the left wing, where he looks like a fish out of water, has hardly helped.
Jacobs has once again been bugged by injuries and has looked a pale shadow of what we have seen before. His critics will say that he is a League 1 player who is not up to it at Championship level. However, under Gary Caldwell and Warren Joyce in the Championship in 2016-17 he was one of the first names on the team sheet, going on to make 46 appearances.
Lowe has certainly enjoyed the backing of the manager. Despite his indifferent form he has made 33 appearances up to this point. Lowe arrived with some hype, having scored 15 goals for Portsmouth last season. His critics consider him too lightweight in possession and he has not yet made the transition to the second tier.
Anthony Pilkington has proved himself in the Premier League and his quality is there for all to see. But fitness is a major issue for the player. Pilkington was signed after making just one start in the 2017-18 Championship season for Cardiff. He has made only 13 starts in the Championship since joining Latics in the summer of 2018. Pilkington is rare among modern wingers in that he is genuinely two footed and can look as effective on the left as the right.
Kal Naismith originally joined Latics as a left winger but his versatility has seen him being used as a left back and centre back. It is in the latter position that he has impressed most and was becoming one of the most consistent performers until the Preston game when things did not go well for him, among others. With the inclusion of Leon Balogun at Cardiff and the impending return of Chey Dunkley from suspension it appears that Naismith’s chances of resuming his blossoming partnership in the centre of defence with Cedric Kipre are numbered. Will Cook return him to his original left wing role?
Kieffer Moore’s signing last summer was met with general approval by Latics fans last summer, although there some who questioned whether the manager’s intention was to sign a player who would further enable him to continue with his long ball tactics. Moore has had a torrid time with the lack of service from the wings hardly helping. Moore is the kind of old-fashioned centre forward who would have thrived in the era of natural wingers. But his tally of one headed goal in 23 appearances indicates the quality of crosses he has received. With the wingers frequently moving diagonally it has often been the full backs who have made the crosses into the box.Moreover too much of Moore’s effort has been wasted in chasing long balls some thirty yards from the opposition goal with his back to it.
The wingers should be playing key roles in not only creating chances but scoring too.
Last season wingers scored 13 league goals for Latics, at an average of one every 3.5 games. So far this season wingers have scored 5 league goals in 33 games, an average of one every 6.6 games.
Cook needs wingers who are fully fit, played in their best positions and in-form. Given the indifferent form of so many of them there is a case for giving Bournemouth loan player Alex Dobre an opportunity.