Five talking points arising from a hard-fought win against Hull

Wigan Athletic 2 Hull City 1

 

It was by no means a classic, but the three points gained have put Wigan Athletic in the top half of the Championship table. Hull City had given the Latics defence some early problems, but well taken goals from Sam Morsy and Josh Windass put Wigan two goals up before Jarod Bowen scored for the visitors in the 42nd minute. The second half saw Latics mount a largely rear-guard action, although they still managed to threaten the visitors’ goal in spells.

Although it is early in the campaign Paul Cook’s Latics have already shown that they have the confidence and ability to hold their own in the second tier of English football. After the first 8 games their record is W4 D1 L3. At this stage a couple of seasons ago Gary Caldwell’s team were sitting in 22nd place, with a record of the W1 D2 L5.

Let’s take a look at some points arising from last night’s match:

Nouha Dicko causes problems for Wigan’s defence

Dicko was signed from Strasbourg by Roberto Martinez as a 19-year-old in 2011. After three loan spells for Blackpool, Rotherham and Wolves he signed for Wolves in January 2014. His appearances at Wigan had been confined to cup games. He has now made 172 league appearances, scoring 50 goals.

Dicko’s pace and aggression caused problems for the centre of Wigan’s defence and with a little more poise he might have scored. He remains a force at Championship level. Fortunately for Dunkley and Kipre he was taken off after 61 minutes, his team resorting to long crosses with which the two big centre backs looked much more comfortable.

Cook gets it right

Paul Cook had come under criticism for his team selection at Brentford, having left Will Grigg on the bench and played without a recognised right winger. He later reacted to the criticism, stating “There were key decisions made in terms of selection on Saturday that were always being made with Tuesday and Friday in mind, and I’m excited at the calibre of players we have waiting to come in.”

In the event the calibre players coming in were to be Grigg and Michael Jacobs. Although closely marked Grigg worked hard and it was his unselfish play that led up to Morsy’s goal. Jacobs’ enterprise and flair had been sorely absent at Griffin Park, but it was certainly evident last night. The line-up certainly had a more balanced look.

Following the Brentford game Cook had intimated that Latics might appeal Morsy’s red card. He will be glad he did so because the captain was back on form last night, not only scoring a cracking goal, but showing the kind of industry in midfield that we have come to expect from him.

Cook’s substitutions proved to be effective last night. He took Grigg off after 65 minutes, pushing Nick Powell forward, with Darron Gibson coming on to strengthen the central midfield. Kal Naismith was brought on to replace Windass after 82 minutes and he put Jacobs through on goal five minutes later with a fine run and pass. Powell proved a handful for the Hull defence at centre forward until he went off in the 89th minute.

Gibson’s calm makes a difference

Hull had stepped up the pressure in the second half and Latics had been pushed back into defence. The midfield was being overrun and Wigan just could not seem to hold on to the ball. The introduction of Gibson certainly helped.

Gibson has an aura of calm about his play that can influence those around him. He is resolute in defence and rarely wastes the ball.

Providing Gibson can steer clear of further injury he has the class to be a major player for Latics.

A role for Josh Windass

Josh Windass made his goal in the 37th minute look easy, but how many of his teammates would have taken the opportunity like he did? It was reminiscent of one he almost scored in his debut at Villa Park. A cross into space at the far post from Lee Evans. First time around Windass got his head to the ball, but it went narrowly wide. But guessing what Evans was going to do last night, Windass got into space and firmly headed into an empty net. At first glance it looked like it might have been offside, but the timing of his run was just right.

Windass is not a winger in the orthodox sense. He does not have the dribbling skills of Michael Jacobs, not the searing pace of Gavin Massey, yet Cook plays him in a nominally wide position. In times gone by Windass might have been employed as a twin striker in a 4-4-2 system. However, most managers these days prefer a lone central striker with support from the flanks and central midfield.

The goal will boost the player’s confidence, as he continues to adjust to the style of play that Cook espouses. In his post-match interview Latics’ coach Anthony Barry stated: “Josh’s goal has been coming; we know what a player and what a talent Josh is and his numbers up in Scotland suggest he will score goals. We have seen him in training and he is taking chances on a regular basis, so we are relaxed about Josh and the goals he will score for us.”

In Latics’ Premier League days Roberto Martinez experimented by putting centre forward Hugo Rodallega on the left wing. It did not work for Rodallega, nor Mauro Boselli who was starved of service in the centre.

However, in this new era wingers are more than ever expected to cut in and shoot. Windass is used to playing wide and with Garner, Grigg and Vaughan competing for the centre forward spot Cook clearly signed Windass to play a wide role.

Latics have so often this season put teasing crosses into the box with no end result. Windass could play a key role in converting them into goals, ghosting inside from a wide position.

James and Robinson to the fore

Once again one wondered if Cook would give the young full backs, Reece James and Antonee Robinson, a rest. But the manager resisted those options, and both were excellent last night. Robinson was back to his more energetic self in supporting attacks down the left, putting in a solid defensive shift. James is such an accomplished player at just 18 years of age that it would seem a matter of when, rather than if, he will make a full international debut for England. He was outstanding last night, judicious in defence and inventive in attack.

What a pity that neither player belongs to Latics!

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

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Five talking points following an insipid performance at Brentford

Brentford 2 Wigan Athletic 0

 

For Latics this season there have been times when the result has not reflected the performance. It was certainly the case at Griffin Park yesterday, although on this occasion the parameters were reversed. Brentford’s two goals hardly reflected their mastery of the game. They could have won by a margin of five or six.

It was a day that Latics might want to forget and instead focus on the next match against Hull City on Tuesday. But it can be argued that there are lessons to be learned from the defeat.

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

Sam Morsy will be getting a rest after all

Whether the captain’s challenge on Yoann Barbet in the 60th minute was a true red card offence is debatable. But given the attention he had received from the referee prior to the incident it was unwise of Morsy to launch himself into such a challenge.

Morsy had not been at his best yesterday, although the same could be said about so many others around him. He had been unable to join the Egypt squad over the international break due to injury. One wondered if he was still suffering the effects of that injury yesterday as his play was distinctly off-key.

Following his stint in the Russia World Cup Morsy came back and was thrust straight into the Wigan team. But given the commitment we have come to expect from the captain it would have been a surprise for him to have been eased back into the team despite his lack of a summer break.

The red card is a bitter pill for Morsy to swallow, but it will nevertheless give him a break that might even prove beneficial over the course of the season.

Another poor performance after an international break

All clubs in the top two tiers must cope with the complications that arise through international breaks. But some seem to cope with it better than others. For Wigan Athletic it has often proved more problematic.

Paul Cook addressed the situation prior to the trip to Griffin Park saying:

“It was great for us to have so many players going across the world, it’s great for me as a manager to see my lads getting recognition in international football. It does give me the worry of if some of them will be in the right place to be picked again for the next match because of the travelling. Do I pick them tomorrow when we’ve got another game on Tuesday? It offers a different challenge, but like our supporters know, we’re going to do our best to meet them head on.”

 Will Grigg and Antonee Robinson were the first team regulars involved in international duty this time around.

Grigg scored an opportunist goal for Northern Ireland in the 92nd minute against Bosnia Herzegovina after coming off the bench after 69 minutes. That was sufficient for him to be named as a starter in the next game against Israel, where he was substituted after 65 minutes with his team already two goals ahead. Both games were played in Belfast.

Robinson was thrust into the USA starting line-up against Brazil at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. By all accounts it was a learning experience for the 20-year-old against such an experienced and capable Brazil side. He came on in the 56th minute in the next game against Mexico in Nashville, being involved in his team’s winning goal after 71 minutes.

Cook decided to rest Grigg yesterday, with James Vaughan in his place. He started Robinson who had played more game time than Grigg over the break and had travelled so many more miles together with having to deal with jet lag.

However, Cook has a wealth of options for the centre forward spot, with Joe Garner and Josh Windass also available. He does not have such choices at left back, with Robinson being the only specialist available for the position. Given the physical demands the Everton loanee has faced over the past weeks it was no surprise that he was far from his best yesterday.

With two more games coming up before Saturday, Cook will surely have to give Robinson a rest in at least one of them. His most likely replacement in that position is the right-footed Callum Connolly.

Sticking with a successful formula

Two aspects that have typified Paul Cook’s successful formula at Wigan have been sticking by a winning team and attacking with pace and gusto from wide positions.

Cook largely stuck by the team that beat Rotherham by making one change, Grigg being rested. But there was a distinct lack of pace and directness from the flanks. Losing Gavin Massey for several months is a big blow for Cook. The player not only has blistering pace, but also makes a major defensive contribution. Faced with options of playing the pacey Michael Jacobs, Leo Da Silva Lopes, Callum McManaman or Nathan Byrne on the right he once more chose the more pedestrian option in Connolly. On the left we saw muted displays by Windass and Robinson.

The good news for Cook is that Jacobs is available again after injury. Can we expect him to be on the right wing against Hull?

Kipre continues to develop

Cedric Kipre has had a baptism of fire in English football playing in a new back four. In the early games he had periods of excellence interspersed with moments of seemingly switching off and looking vulnerable. It was a lot to ask for a 21-year-old with just one full season of first team football behind him to step in for a player of the capabilities of Dan Burn.

But Kipre has already shown that he can make a major impact at Wigan. After being ‘Man of the Match’ against Rotherham, he was arguably Latics’ best defender yesterday, other than the outstanding Christian Walton. Kipre was not only looking solid in defence but moving forward to make interventions in midfield.

Worryingly for Cook, Kipre appeared to be carrying an injury in the closing stages. With Burn still unavailable it could be Alex Bruce who lines up against Hull.

Burn’s eventual return to action will give Cook more options in defence, not only providing cover at centre half, but also at left back.

Following the Brentford formula?

Brentford have now moved up to second place and look like genuine promotion contenders. Their football yesterday was a delight to watch, full of movement, pace and invention. They looked light years ahead of Wigan from the get-go.

Despite a staffing budget of around £10 m they are challenging clubs who are spending three times as much. Brentford’s formula is straight forward. They nurture young players and sell them off at a good profit to keep the club afloat. Some of the young players are produced in their academy, but the majority are signed from other clubs. Yesterday’s starting line-up included two centre backs with a combined age of 40 and a front three totalling 65 years of age. One of those players, Chris Mepham, came through their academy but the others came at a combined cost of around £6.5 m from clubs in England and France. The eventual sale of just one of those five could eventually enable the club to cover the initial outlay.

Paul Cook too is trying to build a young team at Wigan. But out of the starting line-up at Griffin Park four of the youngest five were loan players, Cedric Kipre being the exception. Brentford had no loanees in their starting line-up.

The use of loan players at Wigan has been a source of much discussion by fans over recent years. But once more the club is giving young players belonging to other clubs the upper hand over their own loan talent.

The signings of Kipre (21) and Da Silva Lopes (19) are indications that Latics might well move towards a Brentford-style model if they can consolidate themselves in the Championship. Such a model requires infrastructure in having the kind of scouting network that can identify young talent.

Moreover, Brentford are looking not only in England, but in Europe, for their talent.

Cook has built a squad of largely British Isles based players, with Kipre and Da Silva Lopes the exceptions. It contrasts widely to the approach of Roberto Martinez, who was able to bring in players from outside the country and meld them into a working unit. Five of the starting line-up for the FA Cup Final were from overseas.

It will be interesting to see how the new ownership will approach recruitment policy at Wigan Athletic. Will they come in with their cheque books in hand or will they look toward adopting a more systematic long-term plan akin to that of Brentford?

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Five talking points from the draw with Nottingham Forest

Wigan Athletic 2 Nottingham Forest 2

 

It was another scintillating performance from Wigan Athletic, making Forest look distinctly mediocre. But a soft penalty decision in the 89th minute gave the visitors a point they did not deserve.

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

No team can play at full throttle for 90+ minutes

Latics attacked Forest from the start, their high pressing and high tempo approach causing all kinds of problems for the visitors’ defence. They were quite superb in the first half, the 2-1 score line at the interval not reflecting their dominance.

However, no team can play at full throttle for 90+ minutes. As the second half wore on the intensity and quality of Wigan’s football diminished. Forest got more and more into the game and Latics were penned in their own half for several minutes, a resolute defence keeping out a seemingly interminable series of corner kicks from the visitors.

Uwe Rosler’s team in 2013-14 often played the high press. Although they could rarely keep it going for more than 30 minutes it was often enough to upset the opposition defence and go in for half time with a lead. With experienced and capable goalkeepers and defenders they were so often able to repel the opposition attackers in the second half.

Paul Cook’s Latics are a younger side on a steep learning curve in the Championship. It could be said that the penalty decision robbed them of a well-deserved win, but they could have put the game out of sight from Forest if they had converted more of their chances in that first half.

An eventful afternoon for Sam Morsy

Sam Morsy is an inspirational captain who does so much to enable the smooth running of Cook’s machine. Morsy is a complete player, not only dogged in defence, but enterprising when he goes forward. Cook likes to give his full backs the opportunity to bomb forward and Antonee Robinson is particularly good at doing that.  When Robinson goes forward it is Morsy who covers him. Until yesterday he had done that well, but this time Morsy was dispossessed leaving the left side of the defence open, resulting in Forest’s first goal.

Despite his early error the captain continued to drive his team forward and was unlucky with a fine shot that hit the post. Together with the excellent Lee Evans he continued to control the midfield. Once again we were to see the fiery side of the captain late in the second half in the middle of an altercation between the two sides.

Then came the penalty decision. There are those who would argue that Morsy clearly fouled Cash, others who would say that Cash dived over Morsy’s outstretched leg. But the bottom line is that Morsy was reckless in putting himself in that position.

Strangely enough, without those two incidents that changed the game, Morsy would have been a candidate for “Man of the Match”.

Another side of Ben Watson

Ben Watson is now 33 and he joined Forest in February 2018 after being released by Watford. Latics’ cup final icon found himself on the bench yesterday but came on to applause after 45 minutes. Watson played for Latics from 2008 to 2015, making 107 appearances in the Premier League and the Championship. He was a fine servant for the club, with his positive and cultured approach.

However, what we saw yesterday from Watson was a bit of a surprise for us. Like Morsy he was at the centre of the altercation between the two teams late in the second half, also receiving a yellow card. Mobbing of the referee is something that football continues to tolerate, an ugly side of the great game. Whether the referee was going to award Forest a penalty or not after Cash’s fall before being intimidated by Watson and his teammates was hard to tell. But the vehemence and aggression of Watson and his teammates surely tested the determination of a weak referee. It was an unsavoury way to get a penalty decision and we saw a side of Watson that I do not recall seeing during his seven years at Wigan.

A role for James Vaughan

When James Vaughan came on to replace Will Grigg after 74 minutes it signalled a switch to long ball tactics for the home side. The service the player received was far from ideal, but as always, Vaughan gave his all, fighting for every ball.

No one will fault Vaughan for effort: it is the approach that Latics tend to use when he plays as a lone centre forward that is the issue. Were Vaughan a kind of battering-ram central striker like Atdhe Nuhiu the long ball tactic might be more effective, but it is not the best way to employ him. Vaughan has been most effective for Latics whilst playing alongside or behind a central striker.

A solid performance by the centre of defence

It has been a tough start for Cedric Kipre, being thrust into Championship football after just one full season of league football in the SPL. If Dan Burn had been available, Cook would have been able to nurture Kipre into being his replacement when “Superman” leaves in January. Instead he has had to throw the Ivorian in at the deep end.

Chey Dunkley too has had a baptism of fire in his first season in the second tier. With three less experienced players alongside him in the back four he has had additional responsibilities thrust upon him at a time when he too has been adjusting to playing in a higher division.

Both were solid yesterday, reacting well under pressure and starting to show that kind of mutual understanding that is so important in a central defensive line.

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Lang signs new contract – but who will be the next?

The announcement of a new two-year contract for the 19-year-old Callum Lang came at an opportune time. It left Wigan Athletic time to consolidate their investment in a player who has the potential to play in the upper tiers of English football. Lang is to be sent off on loan until January to Oldham Athletic, who were last season relegated to League 2.

It was in mid-May that the media reported that Everton were interested in signing Lang, who was in the Liverpool academy until he joined Latics at the age of 14. He made his Wigan debut in a League Cup game against Blackpool in August 2017 before being loaned to Morecambe for the season.

The 5 ft 11 in tall Lang had a successful loan with the Shrimps, making 14 starts, 16 substitute appearances and scoring 10 goals. Although regarded as a centre forward at Wigan, Lang would often play behind the central striker at Morecambe.

In modern football the majority of the clubs in the top tiers rarely give their young players an extended run in their senior team. The norm is that they are sent on loan to clubs in lower divisions, giving them first team experience in a competitive environment, thereby maximising their value in the transfer market. It is a minority who go back to their parent clubs and establish themselves as first team regulars. So, what are the chances of Lang becoming a major player for Latics?

Wigan Athletic has sadly been a graveyard for young players over recent years. The most recent success story was Leighton Baines and he left for Everton in 2007. So many youngsters have shown promise at youth level and looked destined for higher things, only to depart to clubs in the lower tiers. Latics managers, under pressure for results, have been reluctant to throw youngsters into the fray. But finding suitable loans for young players has never been easy for Wigan.

Last season saw Latics sending six homegrown youngsters on loan to non-league clubs. Three of those have since left the club. Sam Stubbs went to Crewe Alexandra until January, then to AFC Fylde. He too has departed the club. On the club website Callum Lang is listed with the development squad, but the 16-year-old Joe Gelhardt listed with the senior squad.  Gelhardt is clearly a bright young talent, already on the radar with big Premier League clubs.

Providing Gelhardt is not snapped up can we seriously expect him to contend for a place in the senior team? Admittedly, he came on as a substitute in the League Cup defeat at Rotherham, but would Cook even think of giving him an opportunity in a league game?

Lang clearly benefitted from his time in League 2, playing at a club that was struggling to avoid relegation. At the time it was at a level just one tier below where Latics were. Should he make a success in the first half of the season at Oldham, could he contend for a first team place at Wigan in January?

Latics currently have four centre forwards in their senior squad. Given that one is likely to leave there would remain three who would be above Lang in the pecking order. If Lang were to become a candidate for the number 10 role he would compete with Nick Powell, Gary Roberts and possibly Jamie Walker. The probability is that Lang would be sent off on loan again in January.

Given that Lang has been offered an extended contract, what will happen with the senior squad players whose current deals expire next summer? They include Nathan Byrne, Gavin Massey, Shaun MacDonald, Sam Morsy, Nick Powell and James Vaughan. Having already lost Dan Burn in the last year of his contract, can we expect more departures via the loan-to-buy route? Why are the futures of these players still left hanging?

Some fans will cite the change in the ownership as the main issue involved in the contract renewals, but it could amount to more than that. There is a possibility that at least one of those players will leave in the next couple of weeks, together with loans and loan-to-buy deals for those on longer contracts. Cook’s squad is currently unbalanced with a wealth of midfielders and forwards, but a lack of experienced defenders. He can be expected to rebalance the squad.

On the other hand, Will Grigg and Michael Jacobs were in a similar position this time last year. Both went on to sign contracts to bind them to the club until summer 2020, Grigg’s deal being announced in early September and Jacobs’ in mid-October 2017.

Offering Callum Lang, a new contract was a good move by the club. We can only hope they can be equally judicious in their dealings with those key senior squad players whose contracts are winding down.

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The stats behind Latics’ rise to the top

The table tells no lies. The stats show us that Wigan Athletic not only top League 1, but they have not only scored more goals than the other teams in the division, but they have conceded only 12 in 21 games, a ratio unequalled in the four tiers of English football.

Paul Cook’s strategy as a manager has differed from those of his recent predecessors. Uwe Rosler did a fine job in the 2013-14 season, getting Latics to the Championship playoffs and an FA Cup semi-final. He did it with a rotation policy. It was not universally popular with the fans but his results that season were outstanding. Cook certainly does not adhere to a philosophy of rotation for rotation’s sake, largely preferring to stick with a nucleus of players who play week in, week out in the League 1 competition. He has saved his major rotations for cup games.

The stats show that seven players have made a minimum of 18 starts in the 21 games so far. Nathan Byrne has been ever-present, with Dan Burn and Michael Jacobs missing just one game each. Chey Dunkley missed three games, through suspension. Sam Morsy missed one through suspension and another due to international duty. Nick Powell has already started in 18 games, which is remarkable considering that he had not started a league match for two seasons until rejoining Wigan last season and making just 10 starts. Gavin Massey has also started in 18 matches.

Goalkeeping duties have been shared between Jamie Jones (15 starts) and Christian Walton (6). The left back position too has been shared between Reece James (13 starts) and Callum Elder (8). The most equitable sharing has been for the centre forward position with Will Grigg making 11 starts and Ivan Toney 10. Lee Evans has made 16 appearances in central midfield.

Goalscoring

In Cook’s 4-2-3-1 system the advanced midfield three are expected to play a leading part in not just the creation of chances, but in scoring goals. Nick Powell is Latics’ leading scorer with 9 goals, followed by Michael Jacobs with 8. Gavin Massey has scored 3, as has Ryan Colclough.

Goalscoring has not been easy for the centre forwards, Grigg and Toney notching 4 each. The centre backs have helped out with Chey Dunkley scoring 3 goals and Alex Bruce and Dan Burn 2 each. Of the central midfielders Morsy has scored 2, with Evans, David Perkins and Max Power 1 each.

Assists

Lee Evans’ excellent delivery has him leading the assists with 6. Cook pushes his full backs well forward, expecting them to shower the opposition penalty box with crosses. Nathan Byrne has 3 assists and Reece James 2. Gary Roberts has not featured as much for Latics as he did for his previous clubs, making just 2 starts and 9 substitute appearances, but retains an eye for the killer pass, making 3 assists to date. Jacobs, Massey, Perkins and Toney have 2.

Foul counts

Given his combative approach it is no surprised that Sam Morsy has conceded the most, with a total of 38. However, he has also had 34 committed against him. In contrast Lee Evans has committed 18 fouls, receiving 33.

Given his key role in orchestrating play one would expect Nick Powell to receive a lot of fouls and he leads the field with 38. But Powell is not afraid to “get stuck in” and has committed 23. Michael Jacobs is also a main creative source and he has received 35 fouls, committing 22.

The foul counts for the two mainstay centre backs make interesting reading. Chey Dunkley has committed only 8 fouls in 18 starts (albeit one foul resulting in a red card), receiving 6. But Dan Burn has committed 23 fouls and suffered 16 in his 20 starts.

Card Counts

Latics have received 4 red cards – one each for Colclough, Dunkley, Elder and Evans.

Sam Morsy has accumulated 7 yellow cards, Dan Burn 5, with Nathan Byrne, Nick Powell and Ivan Toney on 4.

Stats courtesy of espnfc.com

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