“There’s signs it’s coming together, then it’s maybe one step forward and two steps back.”
Gary Caldwell was right about that. In reality Latics were lucky to scrape a point out of a game that Doncaster dominated, even if they were denied what Caldwell called a “stonewall” penalty in the final minute of the match.
Despite the defeat in the midweek game against Bury there had been positive signs. The 4-3-3 formation had appeared to be one that the players were comfortable with. It seemed logical that Caldwell would build on that, continuing with that same formation, with largely the same players. It was not to be.
Caldwell made three changes. Jonjoe Kenny came in for Kevin McNaughton at right back and Chris McCann and Francisco Junior were brought in for Jordan Flores and Samni Odelusi. After playing 3-5-1-1 and 4-3-3 in the previous matches, Caldwell once again tinkered with his formation, packing it with midfield players. He started a back four, with David Perkins and Chris McCann sat in front of them and Max Power and Junior further forward in midfield. Will Grigg occupied his lone position as lone centre forward and Michael Jacobs was on the left wing.
Latics started poorly and the visitors spurned a good chance in the second minute, Forrester skewing the ball wide. The home side could establish no rhythm, with the players seeming to struggle in the new formation. Jacobs had a well taken free kick scrape the crossbar in the 17th minute.
The crowd’s frustration was showing as crossfield passes ended up in Doncaster hands and O’Donnell had to deal with awful back passes from his own defenders. Fortunately the goalkeeper was to show his form with two outstanding saves, keeping out shots from Wellens and Williams. Although they had the majority of the possession Wigan produced only sporadic threat to the visitors’ defence, most of their play being either across the field or backwards. The visitors were causing problems for a Wigan defence that was in disarray.
Kenny had been reluctant to move forward out of defence and when he did he was not always well covered. However, we saw the young full back can do when he latched on to a superb defence splitting pass from Power and put in a dangerous cross that was cleared. With nobody on the right wing Latics’ play went through the centre or through James and Jacobs on the left. Junior was looking classy in a more advanced midfield role, but could not produce the kind of defence splitting passes that were needed. A nice move saw James pull the ball back for Power whose shot was well struck but straight at the goalkeeper. But Wigan were to breathe a sigh of relief a couple of minutes before half time when Coppinger went down in the box under James’ challenge, but the referee did not award a penalty.
Doncaster continued to cause problems in the second half, leading to Caldwell making a double substitution after 54 minutes. Junior and McCann were to be replaced by Sean Murray, with Shaq Coulthirst brought on to play wide, with a change to 4-3-3.
The introduction of more width stretched the visitors’ defence a little more, but Wigan could not get midfield control and Doncaster continued to threaten. James cleared a McKenzie header off the line after 58 minutes. Leon Barnett had had a torrid first half, but was dealing effectively with the aerial threat posed by the visitors. Power had a good effort from outside the box saved after 78 minutes, but for the next ten minutes Doncaster put Latics under even more pressure and a goal seemed inevitable.
Somehow they had held out, surviving two more penalty appeals in the second half. Perhaps the referee was to bear those in mind when he denied Latics the opportunity of a last minute winner with Power appearing to be brought down as he burst into the box.
The draw at least helps break a losing sequence. Once again the visiting team had more energy than Wigan as the game progressed, but the Latics’ defence played with a lot of determination in keeping Doncaster out in the second half.
Leon Barnett is not the best passer of a ball and looks ill-suited to the kind of football that Caldwell prefers. However, there is a need to have a dominant header of the ball in the centre of defence against the constant aerial attacks that can be expected in League 1. Barnett is a shadow of the confident, rugged defender he was when Owen Coyle had brought him to Wigan. But without his aerial power Latics’ defence would have been in even more trouble. Barnett was poor in the first half, but his contribution in the second was important, if not pretty to watch.
Jonjoe Kenny is only 18 years old and sometimes it shows. It was a surprise to see him preferred to Kevin McNaughton, who had performed well in midweek. However, with no right winger Caldwell was probably expecting Kenny to move forward and fill the void. Kenny can clearly offer an attacking outlet on the right hand side, with his pace and intelligence. But in this game it was his defensive contribution that was to prove more important, particularly in the second half when he made some crucial clearances.
David Perkins continues to be the midfield dynamo, with seemingly boundless energy and selfless team play.
Richard O’Donnell showed what a superb shot-stopper he can be, as well known to fans of his previous club, Walsall.
The poor performances so far this season can be largely put down to the influx of so many new players and the team’s inability to gel. However, Caldwell’s switching of tactical systems is hardly going to help. Put simply it would be preferable to stick with either 4-3-3 or 3-5-2 as the main formation, using the alternative sparingly.
The pass back to the goalkeeper was a feature of this match that sticks in the mind. O’Donnell is being put under constant pressure by players from his own side who are either unwilling or unable to pass the ball out of defence. The pass backs rarely lead to anything constructive and some in this match were simply ridiculous. It is no wonder that elements of the crowd were incensed by it.
Francisco Junior was taken off prematurely after 54 minutes and being at Wigan on a one month loan one wonders if we will see him again. Junior adds style and poise to the midfield and his departure would be sad to see.
Once again Latics were put under the cosh in the closing minutes, stuck deep in defence, raising further questions about their fitness levels.
Caldwell needs to find an answer to the kinds of aerial bombardments we have seen from the opposition sides up to this point. One way to alleviate it is to prevent the crosses coming in from the wings and cutting down the number of corners conceded, admittedly hard to do. O’Donnell made some fine stops, but is not the kind of goalkeeper to dominate in the air.
Above all there is a need for a central defender with real height and physical power in the mould of Harry McGuire. Donervon Daniels might ultimately be able to provide this, but he is a young player who still has a lot to learn. He has been left on the bench for the past two games. Caldwell transfer dealings are clearly ongoing. Rumours suggest that Leon Barnett is off to Preston. If this is true then Caldwell surely has someone lined up to take his place.
Richard O’Donnell: 7 – made some fine saves.
Jonjoe Kenny: 6 – made some mistakes, but has undoubted quality.
Craig Morgan: 6 – mobilised his defence in the second half to withstand the Doncaster onslaught.
Leon Barnett: 6 – poor in the first half, but made key interventions in the second.
Reece James: 7 – solid in defence and useful going forward.
Chris McCann: 5 – a shadow of the midfield player he once was. Withdrawn after 54 minutes.
David Perkins: 7 – not his best game, but still got through more work than any other Wigan player.
Max Power: 7.5 – showed his class. It was good to see him take a more direct approach towards the goal.
Francisco Junior: 6 – played in a more advanced midfield role. Withdrawn after 54 minutes.
Michael Jacobs: 6 – threatened, but with no end result apart from his free kick.
Will Grigg: 6 – very isolated. So often knocked off the ball by the central defenders. Needs decent service.
Sean Murray: – came on after 54 minutes. Played in a midfield holding role, but could not stamp his authority on to the game.
Shaq Coulthirst: – added width, but is he going to establish himself as a regular starter in a 4-3-3?