Five talking points after Wigan Athletic earn a draw at Milton Keynes

March 12, 2022: MK Dons 1 Wigan Athletic 1

Wigan Athletic significantly strengthened their bid for an automatic promotion place in League 1 by gaining a point at the MK Stadium. The result means that the teams remain level on points, MK having 8 games left to play and Wigan 11.

Courtesy of FootyStats.com

Leam Richardson described it as “a commendable performance” by his players, citing how they had worked tirelessly hard in and out of possession. It was what could be termed a “professional performance” with Wigan’s work rate, energy and physicality dulling the keen edge of the home team’s usual style of smooth football.

MK manager Liam Manning summed it up in saying: “Wigan had a game plan to come here and stop us playing and when you’ve got a team as experienced and physical and well set-up as they are, it made things difficult. They came here well structured, well drilled and difficult to break down.”

Tom Naylor’s 59th minute goal had looked yards offside at the time, although video replays suggest it was a borderline decision that went in Latics’ favour. The home team’s equaliser in the 88th minute was a frustrating one for Wigan to concede, with a free header from a corner.

In the end a draw was a fair result.

Richardson gets it right

Leam Richardson opted for a backline of three central defenders, with wing backs, matching the formation of the home team. It worked well, the shape and energy of the Wigan team stifling the MK Dons’ usually smooth-flowing football, forcing them into errors.

Madley stays strong

When it was announced that Bobby Madley was to officiate this game there were groans from Wigan fans. He had made some decisions in previous Latics matches that were both puzzling and infuriating.

However, Madley stayed strong. It was a tense affair between two teams vying for automatic promotion, each having a contrasting style of play. Madley’s decision to allow Naylor’s goal was pivotal, as was his strength in resisting simulations from the home team.

Unnecessary Yellow cards

One of the frustrations of Wigan’s play this season has been the accumulation of unnecessary yellow cards. Yesterday Latics were without Tendayi Darikwa, James McClean and Graeme Shinnie through suspension. Callum Lang picked up another one yesterday and will miss the next two matches.

Fortunately for Richardson, Latics have a strong squad. However, they have lost important players through long-term injury, on top of the normal shorter-term injury toll. To lose more players through suspensions which could have been avoided by better self-discipline adds to the pressure.

Lang will miss the next two games

Callum Lang has been such a key player since his return to Wigan in January 2021. Without his opportunism and drive Latics would almost certainly have been relegated last season. This season he has become an automatic starter in a strong Latics side heading for promotion.

In recent matches Lang has not been on his best form. Reports have suggested that he has been carrying an injury. Yesterday he was heavily policed by the MK Dons defence, giving him little space to work in, dulling his effectiveness.

The yellow card he received yesterday means that Lang will be suspended from the next two league games. It is a blow for Latics even if they face lowly opposition in Crewe and Morecambe this week. However, in the long run an enforced rest might prove beneficial to a player who has put so much energy into the team that he risks burning himself out.

Darling’s equaliser

Wigan’s ability to repel aerial threats has been key in their rise as a promotion-chasing team. They have four quality centre backs to choose from and tall midfielders and attackers who come back to help defend set-pieces. Moreover, Ben Amos has shown his ability to punch the ball away in a crowded goalmouth.

MK Dons central defender Harry Darling scored his eighth goal of the season yesterday. Given his goal tally one would have expected him to be better policed from the corner kick that led to the equaliser.

Wigan’s last League 1 title winning team had Dan Burn and Chey Dunkley marshalling the centre of defence, a robust duo who were superb in the air. Richardson’s preferred centre back pairing has been Jack Whatmough and Curtis Tilt, their physicality and ability in the air akin to that of Burn and Dunkley. Together with Jason Kerr they got the better of the home team forwards yesterday until two minutes from normal time. Amos could be blamed for missing his punch away, but where was his cover?

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

A Portsmouth fan view of Tom Naylor

Wigan Athletic recently announced the signing of 29-year-old Tom Naylor on a three-year contract. The 6ft 2in Naylor was a free agent following the completion of his contract at Portsmouth. He has signed a three-year contract.

Naylor normally plays in central midfield but can also play in the centre of defence. As Portsmouth captain he played in all 46 League 1 games last season. Although primarily a holding midfielder who protects the defence, he scored 8 goals over the course of the season. He has made almost 400 appearances in his career.

Upon signing for Latics he said: “When Wigan came calling, I spoke to the manager, and he sold the club to me. He told me the players he’d be bringing in, and the fact the aim is promotion. That’s all I want to do as well, the aim every season has to be promotion and I’ve come here to do that next season.”

Tom Naylor was born in Kirkby-in-Ashfield, near Mansfield. He was given his first professional contract with Mansfield Town is 2009. In the 2009-10 season he was loaned to Belper Town where he made 32 appearances, scoring 3 goals. Naylor joined Derby County on loan in November 2011, the move becoming permanent in January 2012. There followed further loan periods at Bradford City, Grimsby Town, Newport County, Cambridge United and Burton Albion. Naylor signed a contract at Burton in June 2015, and he was to become a key player for the Brewers in their promotion to the Championship and during their two seasons there.

Naylor signed for Portsmouth in July 2018 and went on to make 124 appearances for them in League 1 over his three seasons at Fratton Park.

To learn more about Naylor’s time at Portsmouth we contacted Jim Bonner (@FrattonFaithful) of the Fratton Faithful fan site.  

Here’s over to Jim:

Last season, Tom was clearly Pompey’s outstanding player in the first half of the campaign. He brought his usual bite to the centre of midfield and got around the pitch but added long range strikes to his game and even improved his much-maligned passing.

However, after the turn of the year he drastically declined and downed tools, making him one of the prime targets for Pompey fans to direct their anger at, especially as he was the captain. 

Why did this happen? He knew he wasn’t going to get an improved deal at Fratton Park and was also carrying an injury that nullified his tackling and mobility – two key components of his game.

Like Whatmough, signing Naylor on such a long deal is a gamble for Wigan but if he can regain the form that made him such a favourite for most of two-and-a-half seasons at Pompey then it’s another shrewd signing by Leam Richardson. However, most Pompey fans lament how far he’d fallen, bemoan his lack of leadership and believe we should be aiming to bring in a higher calibre of player if we’re to make a promotion push again next season.