An Amigo View – Wigan Athletic 3 Doncaster Rovers 0 – five talking points

Last night we saw a Wigan Athletic team keen to put Saturday’s reverse against Bradford behind them. They went at Doncaster from the get-go and were rewarded with a flattering scoreline in their favour. There were several people on the pitch last night seemingly wanting to stand out. Among them were Ryan Colclough and referee Carl Boyeson.

Colclough’s two goals and his rapid departure to the hospital after 60 minutes of the game will be a tale told by Latics fans over future generations. It was such a good story it even made giant American newspapers, USA Today and the Washington Post. From where I was sitting in the Boston Stand it was hard to figure out why the player had left the field of play so early. Indeed some fans were clearly irritated to see him being pulled out of the action when he had just scored his second goal and was up for a hat trick. But it turned out to be a happy ending for both player and club.

Paul Cook had made four changes, bringing in Colclough, Lee Evans, Reece James and Will Grigg.  In the absence of Nick Powell, Max Power started in the number 10 position, but as the match progressed the lines became blurred regarding the positions of players in advanced midfield.

Just before the referee blew his whistle to start the game a spectator sitting close to us offered his view on why Latics had lost to Bradford. His view was that, like other teams Wigan have recently faced, Bradford had figured out the way Latics play and had learned how to deal with it. There may be some credence in that, but I put Saturday’s defeat down to a “soft” goal in the 92nd minute.

Wigan’s plan to compensate for the absence of orchestrator Powell seemed to be working to some degree as they showed urgency and threatened the Doncaster goal. But they looked edgy and gaps were opening up in the home defence that we were not seeing earlier in the season. In the event Latics had Doncaster centre forward john Marquis to thank for missing a sitter with the home defence all at sea. Wigan were to go into the dressing room at half time ahead thanks to a crisp strike from Michael Jacobs which took a deflection on its way home, with another deflection helping Colclough to notch a second.

Perhaps the most noticeable figure on the pitch in that first half was referee Boyeson.  From the start he had drawn our attention through an over-officious approach, allied with some poorly judged decisions. At the beginning of the second half both teams had been lined up for the kickoff for several minutes before the refereeing team made its entrance on the pitch, accompanied by jeers from the crowd. Boyeson continued to annoy the paying spectators for the remainder of the match.

A brave header by Colclough made it three, the win putting Latics within one point of leaders Shrewsbury who lost 1-0 at bottom club Bury.

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

Will Cook’s centre forwards ever score many goals?

Will Grigg looked a forlorn figure last night, his body language hardly suggesting he was going to score. So often he was having to deal with high balls launched in his general direction, with corpulent opposition defenders seemingly being given carte blanche to use their arms to keep   him shackled. Despite Grigg’s frequent appeals the referee continued to allow it to continue. But, opposition fouling withstanding, is Grigg the kind of centre forward to thrive on Cook’s style of play?

Cook employs the flanks to great effect, full backs and wingers being expected to combine and produce crosses into the box. It happened again last night, some crosses being wayward, others posing danger to the opposition goal. But Grigg was mostly a lonely figure trying to latch on to them. Heading is not the player’s strength anyhow.  Grigg feeds on incisive low passes, his movement making him a real threat to opposing defences. He got few of those last night.

Ivan Toney might not so often make the intelligent movements of Grigg, but he can certainly head the ball. But he too has looked out of touch, shackled by rugged central defenders. One of the main criticisms of Toney is that he goes to ground too easily. There is an element of truth there but so often, like Grigg, he has been outwrestled by big centre halves. Not only Boyeson, but League 1 referees in general, permit excessive use of the arms by defenders. Both Toney and Grigg have been on a hiding to nothing, making them look worse players than they are.

Up to this point Grigg and Toney have scored 7 goals between them in 18 league matches. The chance of either reaching the 20 mark by the end of the season seems remote at this stage.

Reece James should be offered a new contract

James came back last night in his first league appearance since late September. He once again showed what a good player he is. James has been kept out of the team by the fine form of Callum Elder, on loan from Leicester City. With the diminutive Nathan Byrne at right back, the 6 ft tall Elder has added height to the defence as well as being an excellent attacking full back at League 1 level. However, of the two James is arguably stronger defensively and his crossing is at least as good as Elder’s, if not better. Cook will count himself fortunate to have such talent at hand for the left back position.

James was recruited from Manchester United by Gary Caldwell in the summer of 2015, on a three year contract. Like Elder he has had his ups and downs with injuries. But assuming that James is now fully recovered from a long term foot injury, Latics would do well to tie him into a new contract.

Can Colclough become a regular starter?

Ryan Colclough had his first league start yesterday under Paul Cook. The 22 year old only made two starts for Latics last season. He made 7 starts in the 2015-16 season after being signed by Gary Caldwell in January 2016.

In fact Colclough has a career record of 58 starts and 49 appearances off the bench for Wigan, MK Dons and Crewe Alexandra.  Will he ever become a regular starter under Cook?

Colclough’s goals came at the time of the arrival of his second child, not an easy time to focus upon claiming a regular place in the team. But he is a talented player, having already scored 5 goals in all competitions, despite limited game time.

Can Cook get the best out of him?

Is there room for Evans, Morsy and Power?

Lee Evans was excellent last night, strong in defence and distribution. He has been a key player in a successful season so far.

Evans was signed on loan from Wolves in summer when it looked like Max Power was leaving. The Welshman’s suspension for a red card at Scunthorpe gave Power the chance to get back into the starting lineup, which he did successfully. With Sam Morsy seemingly being an automatic choice, Cook made the decision to include all three last night.

Should Powell be fit to play on Saturday, Cook will face a difficult decision to make.

Jack Byrne to be back?

Byrne is a gifted footballer, naturally suited to that number 10 role behind the centre forward. The 21 year old was signed by Warren Joyce from Manchester City in January 2017 on a three year contract. However, Byrne received scant favour from the manager, making just two substitute appearances over four months. Rumours suggested that there were issues with both temperament and fitness. Byrne was to receive no favours from Cook either, the new manager sending to train with the youth team before dispatching him off to Oldham Athletic on loan until January.

However, the 21 year old Dubliner has enjoyed a highly successful loan stint at Boundary Park up to this point. He has been an inspiration behind a team that was struggling in the relegation zone, but has now climbed up to 16th place. Byrne has made 17 starts, scoring 5 goals with 3 assists. In terms of fitness, Byrne has completed the full 90-minutes-plus in the majority of games he has played and when he has been substituted it has typically been in the closing minutes.

Cook has already hinted that there will be some additions to the Latics squad in January. Assuming Byrne continues to impress at Oldham a recall looks probable. Byrne is certainly a young talent, potentially capable of not only impressing in League 1, but in higher divisions.

 

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Five talking points arising from the Peterborough game

 

Result: Peterborough United 3 Wigan Athletic 2

It was a classic game of two halves. Latics played some scintillating football in the first half, when they could and should have wrapped the game up. With even half decent finishing they could have had three or four goals. In the event they went into half time just one goal up, that being from a lucky deflection.

Posh manager, Grant McCann, later commented on what had happened in the first half: “I congratulated the players for being only a goal down. And I wasn’t being sarcastic. We hadn’t played well, but we had created two great chances of our own so I knew we were still in the game as our fitness levels are so good. Staying in touch with a very good side was crucial.”

McCann’s mention of fitness levels was certainly relevant as the home side seemed to have so much more energy in the second half than Wigan. Gone was the away team’s swagger of the first half. For the first time this season we saw signs of panic in Latics’ defence as the protection from midfield dissipated. In the end Peterborough’s win came as no great surprise.

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

Wigan are the team the others want to beat

Peterborough’s lap of victory in front of their supporters at the end of the game showed how important the victory was to them. Wigan Athletic are the bookmakers’ favourites to win League 1 and it makes them a team all the others want to beat. Like Shrewsbury previously, the Posh raised their game, punching above their weight in order to beat Latics.

The good news is that we have not played a team that looks like it has the quality needed to challenge Latics for automatic promotion. But we have not played Blackburn, Bradford City or Scunthorpe yet.

Fixture congestion continues to take its toll

Although Latics had played on Tuesday, Peterborough had a week between fixtures. After struggling to beat Northampton it was going to be a struggle to fire on all cylinders for 90 minutes against the Posh.

The return of Nick Powell helped bring more rhythm into Wigan’s play in the first half. But the opposition know that Powell is going to be substituted around the 60-70 minute mark and the player just could not make the same impression in the 18 minutes he played in the second half.

Whether Peterborough’s rousing second half display was inspired by tactical changes instigated by their manager or heavy legs on the part of Wigan players is open to conjecture. But Paul Cook will be anxious to get home wins tomorrow against Plymouth and on Saturday versus Walsall. He might well look at resting some tired legs for the first of those games at least. The good news is that there is a week’s break after the Walsall game until Latics have a difficult away game at Scunthorpe.

Profligacy in front of goal is a concern

The failure to convert clear-cut chances into goals is losing Latics points. In the first half Gavin Massey, Nick Powell and Ivan Toney failed to convert when in good positions. Michael Jacobs’ approach play, movement and dynamism is a joy to behold and the only blemish on his performance was that he missed three clear chances on goal. The player repeatedly gets into great positions, but so often is found wanting in his final touch. His defected goal gives him four for the season, including that superb winner against Northampton in midweek, but it could have at least doubled that tally with more incisive finishing.

David Perkins is back

The past year has been a difficult one for Perkins, who was “Player of the Season” in 2015-16. He had made 45 league starts. Niggling injuries might have played their part, but he made only 27 league starts last season in the Championship. Perkins is now 35 and falls behind Lee Evans and Sam Morsy in the midfield pecking order, also having to compete with Max Power for a place.

It was his first league appearance of the season at Peterborough. Perkins looked bright in the first half, but like so many others, struggled somewhat in the second.

Cook’s change of shape did not work

Cook brought on Power for Powell after 63 minutes, putting him into a midfield anchor role like that occupied by Shaun MacDonald last season, pushing Evans and Perkins further forward. We have to assume the manager was trying to provide more protection for his defence. Sadly it did not work.

Power is a fine passer of the ball and in his previous season in League 1 he scored 6 goals. He can hold his own in the tackle, but is not a ball-winner in the mould of MacDonald or Sam Morsy. Perhaps he should have been played further forward with Perkins playing the anchor role?

 

An excellent, well-balanced report on the match was provided by Alan Swann of the Peterborough Telegraph. Click here if you would like to read it. It is an example of high quality sports journalism for a local newspaper.

Five talking points arising from the win against Northampton

 

He has only been at the club for some two weeks but Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has already stamped his mark upon Northampton Town. Well organised, tight in defence, looking for a breakaway goal they were the spitting image of his Burton Albion side a couple of years ago.

Gary Caldwell’s team lost at home to Burton in November 2015, after they could not find a way through the visitors’ defence and conceded a 74th minute goal through counterattack. But against Northampton, Latics were to win, courtesy of a stunning 55th minute goal from Michael Jacobs and resolute defence, which included a brilliant reaction save from Jamie Jones from Leon Barnett’s effort in the 75th minute.

Latics had not played well, but the three points gained from the 1-0 victory propelled them up to second place in the league table.

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

The orchestrator was sorely missed

Gary Roberts was on a hiding to nothing when making his first Wigan Athletic start in the absence of Nick Powell. When Roberts signed from Portsmouth to join his old teammate, Noel Hunt, there was talk of cronyism on the part of Paul Cook. But although Hunt’s role this season is likely to be largely peripheral, Roberts is likely to feature on a regular basis. Roberts had been criticised at Pompey for being over the hill, no longer having the legs to make an impact on a game. But he proved his doubters wrong in this match, putting in a solid shift for 84 minutes, despite having so little time on the field in recent weeks.

But Powell was sorely missed. He is the orchestrator of Wigan’s best football, his intelligent passing and movement being the catalyst for bringing out the creativity of his teammates.

Thank goodness that Dan Burn stayed

There were rumours over the summer that Burn might be going to a Championship club. But if any one player is crucial to Wigan’s promotion hopes it is he. Burn does not only provide an aerial presence, but his anticipation and timing make him a formidable player in League 1. Cook is not a manager to applaud individual player’s performances, but even he had to comment that the player was “absolutely outstanding” against Northampton.

7,777 turned up for the match

It was the lowest league attendance so far this season, the best having been 9,685 against Portsmouth. Prior to the season starting there had been grumbles about ticket prices, some suggesting that attendances would plummet as a result.

However, after four home games up to this point the average attendance is 8,828. After four home games in the 2015-16 season the average was 8,464.

3 goals conceded in 8 games

Cook’s approach is the most attacking that we have seen since the halcyon days of Paul Jewell. However, a measly 3 goals conceded from 8 games shows that they can certainly defend too.

Sam Morsy is suspended

Morsy is the first player in the four tiers of English football to be suspended this season for an accumulation of five yellow cards. Moreover there have been times when it has looked like the player would receive a second yellow in the same game.

Cook clearly believes that Morsy is being targeted by opposing teams. However, he also concedes that “if you take that competitive edge away from Sammy, he wouldn’t be the same player.”

The result is that the captain will not be available for the difficult trip to Peterborough on Saturday. Max Power is the most likely to take his place.

Five talking points arising from the draw with Portsmouth

The stats don’t always reflect the balance of football games.  On Saturday Wigan Athletic had 18 shots, with 9 on target, while Portsmouth had 5 shots with 2 on target. In this case the stats do actually reflect Wigan’s dominance of the game as they made Pompey look a very ordinary side. The visitors were insipid for most of the proceedings, until Chey Dunkley’s foolishness perked them up. The red card changed the nature of the game and Portsmouth were to get a 76th minute equaliser as Dan Burn left Conor Chaplin unmarked to head the equaliser.

On the day Latics did not capitalise on the wealth of chances on goal that materialised. On another day they could have won by a margin of at least two.

If you finish above Wigan this season, you are probably going to be automatically promoted,’ said Portsmouth manager, Kenny Jackett after the game, as he recognised the quality of Wigan’s current squad. In the meantime we need to hold our breath. Four days remain in the transfer window, during which Latics fans will hope that key players are not sold off.

1. If Michael Jacobs could improve his finishing he could still make it at the highest level. Once again, the admirable Jacobs was full of energy and invention, his electrifying running causing constant headaches for the Pompey defence. Jacobs stands out in League 1, but has never really convinced in his four seasons in the Championship. But the player is still only 25. He gets himself in great positions for scoring or making goals. With a little more self-belief could he possess the poise to make that final touch more effective?

2. A new centre half could be arriving this week. Up until Saturday the Burn-Dunkley partnership had functioned well. But Chey Dunkley’s red card means a three-match ban. Terell Thomas looks a fine young prospect and plays in a style somewhat reminiscent of John Stones, but he lacks EFL experience. Donervon Daniels is fit again, but is not making the first team squad. Reports suggest Latics are interested in the 21-year-old central defender Lloyd Jones from Liverpool. In the meantime we can only keep our fingers crossed that Dan Burn will not be sold off if a new player comes in.

3. Nathan Byrne is becoming an important player in Cook’s team. It has been a surprise to see Byrne establish himself in the problematic right back position. He has made it clear in the past that he did not see himself as a right back and doubts remain about his defensive abilities. But Cook encourages his full backs to attack and Byrne is so well suited to such a role. Moreover he has clearly been working hard on the defensive side of his game.

4. This is the most entertaining side we have had for years. On being appointed Paul Cook had said “I want to attack, pass the ball well, go forwards quickly and excite our own fans.” What a pleasure it is watching a Wigan Athletic side so willing to commit players forward. The transformation from the sterility of last season’s football to what we are seeing now is remarkable, especially given the short amount of time Cook has been in charge.

5. This is a better balanced and stronger squad than Gary Caldwell had a couple of years ago. It was only in the second half of the season that Caldwell’s team really started to gel, but they went on to win the division. Man for man, the current squad appears stronger overall. Yanic Wildschut was crucial to Caldwell’s side, a player who could unbalance the opposition defence. Nick Powell can do likewise, although from a different position. But will he be staying?

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Will Grigg go?

The rumours of departures from Wigan continue to rear their ugly heads. With the summer transfer window due to close on August 31st Wigan Athletic fans will be desperately hoping the club does not shed its best players in the craziness that will abound over the coming week. How many of the likes of Will Grigg, Dan Burn and Nick Powell will still be with us come September?

Paul Cook is currently basking in the luxury of having a strike force that is the envy of other clubs in the League 1. Grigg is now fit after relatively long-term injury to compete with Ivan Toney for the centre forward position. Nick Powell has been playing just behind the central striker up to this point, but is equally adept in that number 9 role.

However, the departure of Powell is seemingly inevitable, given that his salary is reputed to be around £16,000 per week. Put simply it would be hard for a club which needs to reduce its budget from around £18 m to somewhere close to £6 m to hold on to a player on that kind of salary. Moreover, given the player’s past injury record it would appear even more of a risk in keeping him on the books. The romantics among us will continue to hope that David Sharpe will stick his neck out and keep the player at the club, knowing that a fully fit Powell could be pivotal to promotion.

So the likelihood is that Powell will be gone within a week, but what about Grigg? Both he and Michael Jacobs have one year left on their contracts. Will they be offered new contracts or will the club cash in its assets by selling them in the coming week?

Some three weeks ago Cook was quoted as saying “Certainly we know who is in the last year of their contracts, and the big effort is nurturing the squad into the start of the season. Once we start the season, with the squad we want in place, we can start to look at lengths of contracts. And I’m sure once we get into August, September, October, you’ll start to see some movement on that score.

The rumours of Charlton offering in excess of £1m for Grigg are certainly credible, knowing that the player has exceeded the 20 goals per season mark three times previously in League 1. So many Latics fans see Grigg’s continuity at the club as crucial to the promotion push. But if the bid has been made and Latics have rejected it, is it a sign that they intend to keep the player and will not allow him to go to another club from the same division competing for promotion? Or are they expecting a higher fee for the player?

Jacobs too would be an important player in the promotion push. Although his form last season in the Championship was disappointing the player has been electric in the opening games. Jacobs is a quality player at League 1 level and Cook would be loath to see him go.

Cook’s words regarding extended contracts do not give anything away. However, the manager recognises that Latics are a “selling club” and if the right offer comes up a player is likely to be released.

Given his importance to the defence, Latics fans will be hoping that such an offer does not come in for Dan Burn. The loss of Craig Morgan for several months due to a hip injury is a blow to Cook. It appears that Latics are actively looking for another central defender. The immediate assumption is that it would be someone to replace Morgan, but some would argue that Cook has Donervon Daniels fit again and ready to step in and it is a sign that Burn might be leaving.

In the meantime it appears that Jack Byrne has now left the club. Cook has suggested that more departures are on their way, although it is not clear if they would be mainline or fringe players. We can also expect some new ones coming in.

Having a transfer window still open when the season has started can cause serious disruption to football clubs. It is something that might well be rectified a year from now. The immediate danger for Wigan Athletic is of key players leaving the club over the next week, unbalancing a squad that looks strong enough to challenge for automatic promotion.

But at this stage, the underlying reasons for selling players or moving them on are largely economic. The burden lies on the shoulders of David Sharpe and owner Dave Whelan. It is they who will ultimately decide whether players like Grigg, Burn and Powell will be Wigan players come September.

In the meantime, Paul Cook will surely be making contingency plans to cover all possible scenarios.

 

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