Burton Albion 0 Wigan Athletic 0: Some Talking Points

A stunning last-ditch clearance by Kell Watts in the dying moments denied the home side of a win that they probably merited. Despite not playing well Latics held on for a valuable point that edges them closer to automatic promotion, buoyed by Rotherham’s 3-0 pasting at Portsmouth.

After the game Leam Richardson commented:

“It was always going to be challenging and you have to meet them for the fight, and hope then your bit of quality comes through. Fair credit to Burton, I thought they defended resolutely, as we did for large parts. We’ll take our point and move on.”

Latics had started in a lively manner, the wing backs pushing forward, the midfield winning the second balls. After looking in control in the first 25 minutes they gradually moved to that familiar default mode of hopeful long balls as the first half progressed. That continued for the rest of the match. Burton’s “give and go” football gave them the edge and they went close on several occasions, with Latics looking short of creativity further forward.

It was a difficult night on a narrow pitch and difficult conditions. A point was a good result for an error-strewn Wigan team unable or unwilling to string passes together. During the second half the midfield was struggling, with the wing backs reluctant to push forward. The situation was crying out for a substitution that would strengthen that midfield, but it never came.

Richardson made a substitution on 73 minutes with Stephen Humphrys replacing a tiring Joe Bennett. That involved putting Callum Lang to right wing back with Tendayi Darikwa switching flanks. Bennett had done well to play the full 90 in the previous two games after such a long recuperation period from an ACL injury. He is a conservative option at left wing back compared with Tom Pearce or James McClean who will assertively attack an opposition defence.

The substitution did not improve things and may of us were left wondering why Pearce had not been introduced or why the midfield had not been bolstered by the introduction of Jordan Cousins or Graeme Shinnie.

Richardson tends to be very cautious with substitutions, preferring to stick with his starting XI unless injury or tiredness force his hand. However, he deserves praise for temporarily deserting his favoured 4-2-3-1 to playing with three centre backs, a change that has produced results.  Jason Kerr has gone from strength to strength through his regular selection to the starting XI. He was probably Wigan’s best performer in this game.

Latics are now unbeaten in their last nine league games. The manager has done well in getting his team to where they currently are. His next immediate challenge is to prepare his players for the visit of Cambridge United on Easter Saturday. Cambridge’s away record this season reads W6 D5 L10.

The point gained in this game could well prove important to Latics as they, MK Dons and Rotherham come under pressure as the season nears its close.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Amigo and Social Media reaction to an exciting comeback at Wycombe

February 22, 2022: Wycombe Wanderers 1 Wigan Athletic 3

“The first half wasn’t like us. We didn’t get enough second balls or hold the ball well enough. But as soon as we got the first goal, we knew we could get three which we did, and I thought the second half was a great performance. We got it wide which is always dangerous when you have pace. Gwion [Edwards] and Humps [Stephen Humphrys] coming on changed the game really as they are direct players.”

Tom Naylor’s comment summed up what happened at Wycombe. It was a classic “game of two halves”, with Latics making an exciting comeback after being a goal behind at half time.

Leam Richardson reverted to his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation with James McClean at left back and Gavin Massey on the left wing. Josh Magennis was once again in the starting lineup with Stephen Humphrys left on the bench.

Once again Latics constantly used the long ball to poor effect in the first half. But in the second period Wycombe could not cope with the football that Wigan played. There is constant debate among fans as to why Latics too often use that long ball/hoofball tactic, given the quality of the players in their squad. Not only is their football better to watch when they desist from the “hoof” but it produces better results.

Richardson brought on Humphrys and Edwards after 62 minutes, in place of the ineffective Magennis and Massey. Magennis continues to struggle in the role of target man: is it the best way to utilise him? It was a pity to see Massey pushed out on the left where he is so much less effective than on the right. Many will say that those two substitutes should have been on from the start.

 Let’s take a look at how fans reacted to the match through the message boards and social media. Our thanks go to the Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum and Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen. Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below:

King_dezeeuw06 wrote:

Useless long ball as usual to start the game just giving the ball away constantly playing in a way Ainsworth would’ve picked for us to give them the easiest possible time. After plan A gets in trouble again we switch to plan B start to try and play football we absolutely batter them and turn it around magnificently. If you took out the part of the game before we switched style that was possibly the best performance of the season – we were untouchable.

After the switch was flipped and we started to pass the ball rather than hoofing it to no one we were unlucky to not be in the lead at half time. Wycombe went from bullying us to their only touches of the ball was a clearance or a tackle. They were chasing shadows and it was a matter of time before we scored. Totally blew them away after we stopped playing into their hands and played our game that we seem bizarrely reluctant to accept we are so good at. The lads were diabolical going long and utterly immense playing football – can we stop pretending Warren Joyce like 70 yards pumps to the strikers head is remotely justifiable when we are capable of playing like that.

It wasn’t tika taka and it’s not like we were afraid to mix it up and go long on occasion – but we weren’t hoofing and hoping and were looking to try and play whenever possible. That is what loads of fans have been saying all season – it’s not reinventing the wheel or trying to learn a new style – we don’t need time or new signing, we already know how to do it and it suits the players we have – it’s just a case of starting games with those tactics.

When you stop being 1 trick and predictable the opposition can’t set up to deal with your long balls the same so ironically playing more passing football makes the long balls work better too.

But why do we only start trying to playing football after it’s gone wrong, why do we keep insisting on going long when we are woeful at it. We’ve been through this pattern so often – use plan B to try and recover from the mess made by plan A. Why can’t we just start with plan B as we are a really good at it.

The penny surely has to drop now – scrap trying to be sh.t Tony Pulis era Stoke tribute act and be the best team we can be. Let’s stop grinding out wins playing to our weaknesses and start blowing teams away playing to our strengths. When we pass the ball we are hands down the best team in the league by miles.

Richardson has built a superb team, their fitness, spirit, battle and quality are unmatched at this level but he hides it by keeping going back to long ball. He needs to show off the absolute beast he’s created by switching patently to the passing game and we’ll start smashing teams.

Hampton commented:

First half hoofball – terrible
Second half football – terrific

Got to start with the finishing 11 and associated tactics Saturday – haven’t we ?

Tree and Crown added:

We wouldn’t have won that game tonight if Magennis and Massey had stayed on!

Humphrys and Edwards offered much more, must be due a start Saturday the pair of em.

Roy Race opined:

Awesome performance that. Reminded me of earlier in the season. Apart from the first 20 mins we were by far the better team.

Should have gone in at half time in the lead and second half stepped it up a couple of gears.

Mixed it up well, went long when needed and played some neat stuff as the game was stretched.

It was the change in tempo that did it plus the fact that Humphrys won more aerial challenges in his first 5 mins than Magennis did all night.

Special mention to Edwards, was a live wire when he came on. Seems to do well as an impact sub but struggles when starting.

Up the long ball Tics!

Hindleymon summarised:

When we play football on the deck nobody gets near us.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Latics rally as the DW crowd gets behind them – Wigan Athletic 2 Charlton Athletic 1

February 12, 2022: Wigan Athletic 2 Charlton Athletic 1

“The character and response were fantastic. I felt the fans gave us a real big lift during the game today and we’ll need them more than ever going into the midweeks and the fixture list coming. We need this place bouncing and rocking because the lads need all of the energy they can get.”

Leam Richardson and the club in general constantly remind us of the importance of vocal fan support to the morale of the team. The loud, fanatical away support, buoyed by a strong element of younger fans, has proven a key factor in Latics’ success on the road. But that kind of raucous support has rarely been the norm in home games.

Much has been said in the past about a lack of atmosphere at the DW Stadium, particularly from fans of visiting teams. Theories abound as to the reason why, ranging from the fickleness of Wiganers to the stadium being too big, rarely being half filled. Supporters preferring the East and South Stands shun the West Stand, perhaps the bastion of the more fickle.

But the home crowd really got behind their team yesterday, as Latics rallied after a very poor start.

Portents were looking ominous in the opening quarter with a weakened Charlton side looking a cut above Latics. The warning signs were there, with those awful hoofballs coming from the defence and a lack of cohesion among the team in general. Elliot Lee’s 7th minute opening goal from Adam Mathews’ cross looked so easy, both players given so much space by the home side. They almost scored a second eight minutes later when Jack Whatmough blocked a low drive from Lee, with Alex Gilbey hitting the crossbar from the rebound.

But with the crowd behind them Latics started to claw their way back into the game. The home team and its fans were equally incensed when Josh Magennis was clattered to the ground. The initial contact was on the edge of the penalty area. Some referees might have awarded a spot kick, others a free kick, but this official simply offered neither. However, the referee was more decisive minutes later when he gave Latics a “soft” penalty after Callum Lang had gone down in the box. Will Keane converted with aplomb.

As the game had progressed Wigan had cut back on the hoofball, playing the ball more through midfield. Jack Whatmough has been an ever-present in the league 1 lineup this season and his solidity in defence has been key to his team’s success. Whatmough has the ability to play at a higher level and it was a masterstroke from Wigan’s recruiting team to get him on a free from Portsmouth. However, if Latics were to step up into the Championship next season he would need to improve his distribution.

Whatmough may have been playing under orders but he has pumped forward so many of those “hopeful” long balls which have made life easier for opposition defences. He did it again in the opening minutes yesterday until we later saw a most welcome change in approach. Instead of taking the easy option Whatmough stepped forward with the ball, using his pace to approach the half-way line where he was able to find a teammate close at hand. Whatmough also poses a threat on set pieces and his header back to Stephen Humphrys created Wigan’s winner after 74 minutes.

This was an important win for Wigan who have edged closer to Rotherham who have a difficult game today at Sheffield Wednesday. It was a spirited comeback backed by a vocal home crowd. It was the opener to a tough week for Latics who are at home to Crewe on Tuesday, with a trip to Rotherham on Friday.

For this game Richardson utilised a back three and resisted the temptation to resort to the habitual 4-2-3-1 in the second half. By doing so he was able to put out possibly his strongest lineup, although many would say that Humphrys should have been the central striker, rather than Magennis, at the start.

Magennis has had a difficult start at Wigan, looking ineffective in the target man role and lacking the sharpness needed to convert chances into goals. His career record reveals a strike rate of around 0.2 goals per game, his best season being in 2020-21 when he scored 19 goals for Hull City in League 1 from 29 starts and 11 appearances off the bench. However, Magennis was recovering from injury when Latics signed him from Hull and may need more game time to regain his sharpness. Moreover, he could have had two penalties yesterday, with a more blatant one near the end when the giant central defender Inniss pushed him as he was about to score.

It will be interesting to see how Richardson shuffles his pack for the Crewe game with that tough trip to Rotherham to follow. Given his history it is unlikely that the manager will make many changes for Crewe, but if he does not make at least a few how fresh are his players going to be at the New York Stadium?

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

A refreshing change in formation for Wigan Athletic

In the summer of 2014 Uwe Rosler was a popular man with Latics followers. The German had taken over in early December with Wigan Athletic lying in the depths of the Championship table. Rosler went on to take them to 5th place and the FA Cup semi-final. They were narrowly defeated by QPR in the Championship playoffs and by Arsenal at Wembley. Although a section of the fanbase had not been happy with his squad rotation policy he produced the results and repaired the damage caused during Owen Coyle’s awful tenure.

The adage “Managers are judged on results” rang true for Rosler. Latics had been one of the bookmakers’ favourites for promotion but by mid-November the German had been sacked as they had slid down the table.

Leam Richardson too is popular with Latics fans. He worked wonders in helping the club avoid relegation last season and his newly assembled squad, with 15 new signings, has made an impressive start to the season. But three midweek home defeats, with the players looking “flat” had led to questions about whether he was too set in his ways, rigidly sticking to his favoured 4-2-3-1 system, not rotating his squad sufficiently to keep players fresh, making substitutions too late in the game, as fixture were piling-up.

If there was one factor that led to Uwe Rosler’s downfall it would be in making too many new signings over the summer, when he already had a strong squad. Richardson’s case differs in that he only had five contracted players when summer recruitment started. However, he now has a big squad which is going to need careful management in ensuring that fringe players do not get disenchanted through lack of game time.

Richardson took a major step forward in the Burton Albion game on Saturday when he brought in Curtis Tilt and Stephen Humphys and gave a League 1 debut to Jason Kerr. Fan concerns about the depth of quality of the squad soon diminished as all three players made fine contributions.

But the real surprise was a switch away from 4-2-3-1 to a 3-4-1-2 formation. Kerr was employed as a right centre back, a role in which he enjoyed great success in St Johnstone’s run to win both the Scottish Cup and the Scottish League Cup last season. Jack Whatmough looked very comfortable in the centre of the back three, with the experienced Tilt to his left. Max Power played a deep midfield role with Tom Bayliss more advanced. James McClean looked so at home at left wing back, a position he occupies for the Republic of Ireland. Tendayi Darikwa looked so much better back on the right- hand side and was afforded more freedom in the wing back role. The new formation allowed Richardson to play twin strikers in Humphrys and Charlie Wyke. Humphrys is a talented player who has spent too much time on the bench with only one central striker being employed in 4-2-3-1. Will Keane has looked somewhat jaded in recent games. The return of Thelo Aasgaard from injury will provide Richardson with a back-up in that number 10/creative central midfield role.

With Latics a goal up and Burton down to ten men after 15 minutes it is hard to evaluate the success of the new formation. But credit must go to Richardson for his willingness to go against his own previous orthodoxy. It was noticeable that there was less of a gap in the centre of the field and there was so much less long ball than we have been seeing so frequently. The formation helped to facilitate a more possession-based build up.  

3-4-1-2 offers differing opportunities to players than 4-2-3-1. Callum Lang was suspended and did not play. Lang nominally plays on the right flank but is not a conventional winger. He is a key player because of his willingness to run at opposition defences and he is always a candidate for scoring a goal. His ideal position is open to conjecture, but he would surely be comfortable in the front two of a 3-4-1-2 system.

Richardson has made a response to critics who have had concerns about the rigidity of his tactical outlook. He has shown himself to be a great motivator of his players and is a fine ambassador for the club, discreet in his comments, showing a dignity that is not the norm in football club managers. It was heartening to see him make this change.

Roberto Martinez made the switch to 3-4-3 in the middle of the 2009-10 season when relegation was imminent. It led to the most successful set of results in Wigan’s league history. It also paved the way to winning the FA Cup. Despite those successes there are Latics fans who do not favour a system with three at the back.

In the Cook/Richardson era Latics flitted with systems playing three at the back, but it could never really compete with the 4-2-3-1. Let’s hope that Richardson will give his new system enough time to evaluate it.  Another criticism Richardson has faced has been a lack of a Plan B. Getting his players accustomed to a change in shape, either from game to game, or within a game, would be a major step forward in his development as a manager.

The likelihood is that 4-2-3-1 will continue to be the modus operandi for Richardson, but one hopes that he will keep an open mind towards changes in shape. One way of looking at things is to decide on a system and look at how well players fit into it. Another way is to look at the individual talent in the squad and devise a system that can get the best out of them in their entirety.