Five talking points following a tight encounter with Brentford

Wigan Athletic 0 Brentford 0

Wigan Athletic rarely do well after an international break. But this was by no means a bad performance. Whether it was a point gained or two points lost is the current debate among Latics fans.

It was a tight game between two teams of contrasting styles with few clear-cut chances created by either side. Brentford played the better football, but Wigan came closest to scoring.  With 7 games to play Latics are 4 points ahead of the relegation zone but have some difficult games coming up. Some fans are suggesting that their fate could be decided in that final match of the season when Latics host Millwall.

Paul Cook made one change to his starting line-up, preferring the experience of Danny Fox to the youth of Cedric Kipre at centre back. Anthony Pilkington returned to the squad following injury and was brought on after 43 minutes when Michael Jacobs had to go off because of a hamstring injury. Pilkington’s return to action had coincided with Josh Windass being a noticeable omission from the match-day squad.

Following the game Cook commented: “We need to respect the point, it’s a point more towards where we want to be and with seven games to go, we just need to keep believing. It was a case of staying disciplined with our shape and then hitting them on the counter-attack and creating chances. Credit to Brentford, they’re an excellent football side and are one of the best teams we faced here in terms of managing and handling the ball, they take the ball in all areas of the pitch and continually caused our shape problems. We had a couple of good chances, Gavin Massey’s was the most clear-cut chance in the game just after half-time, but we’ve now taken four points from Bolton and Brentford and we move on.”

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

Were Wigan over-physical or were Brentford play-acting?

We learned what excellent possession football Brentford can play in the 2-0 defeat at Griffin Park in mid-September. The Bees were riding high at that time and if it had not been for a good display by Christian Walton they would have won by a much greater margin. We saw that smooth possession football in action again yesterday, their three-man backline calm under pressure, the midfield players making themselves constantly available to enable a seamless transition from defence to attack. Brentford are second to Leeds with average possession stats of 57% over the course of the season. They enjoyed 65% of the possession yesterday. Moreover, their pass accuracy was 82% compared with Wigan’s 63%.

Following the game, the Bees Danish manager, Thomas Frank, commented: “Wigan are very physical…and I don’t think it’s any secret that they try to use that physicality, because they thought that maybe an advantage for them. They used that well, and then it’s up to the referee to protect the players.”

A fierce tackle by Danny Fox in the opening minutes on Brentford’s leading goalscorer Neal Maupay was a signal of things to come. The foul count ended up being 19 against Wigan and 14 against Brentford. Wigan’s average foul count is 13 per game. Latics were certainly physical against a team with technically superior players, but although they committed more fouls than usual, they accumulated only one yellow card compared with Brentford’s two.

In the encounter at Griffin Park there was criticism by Latics fans of what they considered the home side’s “play-acting” and pressuring the referee. Sam Morsy was sent off in the 60th minute, but his suspension was rescinded by the FA. The Bees’ manager at that time was Dean Smith. When his current side, Aston Villa, visited Wigan in mid-January we saw a similar pattern.

Wigan were physical yesterday, but Brentford’s reaction was so often over the top. Is the same behaviour the players learned under Smith being allowed to continue under Frank?

The second half sag

So often this season Latics have sagged in the second half. The high pressing has dissipated, and Wigan have dropped back in defence, unable to string passes together. The same happened yesterday. What are the reasons? Are the players lacking in fitness?  Or are they following the manager’s instructions?

Brendan Rogers once said: “If you can dominate the game with the ball, you have a 79% chance of winning”. Where he got his figures from is up to debate but, put simply, the more the ball is passed around the field, the more the opposition is forced to burn energy.  In the first half yesterday, Brentford were certainly stretching Latics with their possession. In Cook’s words “they take the ball in all areas of the pitch and continually caused our shape problems.”

The likelihood is therefore that by half time Latics had expended more energy than their opponents. Given such a scenario it would have been no surprise for Cook to instruct Latics to sit back and look at hitting the visitors on the counterattack.

Defence holds firm

Chey Dunkley returned to form yesterday, forming a combative central defence with Danny Fox. Dunkley’s form off set pieces has been so disappointing this season and he still has not scored a goal. But he came close his header drawing a fine save from the opposition keeper and he later had another effort bounce off the crossbar. That goal must surely come. At times it has been a difficult learning experience for the big central defender in his first season in the second tier, but nevertheless he has figured among Latics’ most consistent performers over the course of the season.

Fox’s last appearance for Latics had been in the 2-1 defeat at Derby on March 5 when he went off injured after 33 minutes. He had suffered a previous injury after 25 minutes at Rotherham on February 9 that had kept him out for two weeks. Since signing for Latics at the end of the January transfer window he has made just five appearances, including two curtailed by injury. He was excellent yesterday, his reading of the game and positional sense shining through. He is by no means a sophisticated central defender, but his determination and his passing ability make him a player to be reckoned with at Championship level.

Powell completes the full game

Nick Powell was not at his best, but soon after half time he won the ball close to his own penalty box and ran some forty yards to lay off a beautiful pass for Gavin Massey who had intelligently moved into space. Unfortunately, the winger’s effort was well saved by the goalkeeper. Powell is such an important player for Latics that it takes a lot of nervous energy out of us as fans when he looks frail and injury-prone. In this game he misplaced some of his passes, but he was certainly committed and for once Cook did not take him off before the full-time whistle blew.

So often have Latics relied on Powell’s creativity to provide some kind of spark in tight encounters. It is a heavy burden he shoulders. With Michael Jacobs once again struck down by a hamstring injury there will be even more pressure on Powell. Pilkington had been brought on for Jacobs, one creative player for another. But the ex-Cardiff player needs more games under his belt before he is going to play at his best. Since joining Latics in early January he has made just six starts with two appearances off the bench. Pilkington has a good pedigree for the second tier and could prove a key asset in the bid to avoid relegation. If Jacobs is to be out for some time Cook will need Pilkington to stay fit and show the kinds of skills that we know he is capable of.

Commitment with discipline

Sam Morsy talked in the week about the need for him to cut out the unnecessary yellow cards. After being booked four times in five outings he has now gone four games without a yellow. Morsy is a key player in Wigan’s midfield and Cook will not want to lose him through suspension again.

Although Morsy is the leader in yellow cards at the club he is not the only player who has run into problems with referees. Latics average 13 fouls committed per game, with 14 per game being awarded in their favour.  They occupy 17th place in the fouls committed table, with seven teams having a higher foul count. However, in terms of yellow and red cards only Nottingham Forest have a worse record. Latics have 82 yellows and 3 reds in 39 games.

Antonee Robinson deservedly received a yellow card yesterday for a desperation tackle but his teammates managed to avoid one. Last week against Bolton nobody on Wigan’s team received a card.

It appears that Cook and his coaches have been working with the players on improving their discipline. Discipline tends to be associated with the gap between fouls committed and cards received, but it can have a wider meaning. With a young defence Latics have too often given away free kicks near their penalty box that have caused them problems. Throw-ins have been another problem area with too many routinely given away when the ball could have been kept in play. Doing so has invited further pressure from the opposition. “Safety-first” defending – putting the ball out of play at the slightest hint of danger – was not so often punished in League 1 as it has been in the Championship. In the first half against Bolton we saw the visiting side pepper the home defence with crosses and throw-ins, too often given away by the indiscipline of Wigan’s defence. Fortunately, those same defenders, aided by Bolton’s lack of finishing, managed to keep the visitors out until after half time.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

 

 

 

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A Wolves fan’s view of Nathan Byrne

Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Wigan Athletic have announced the signing of Nathan Byrne from Wolves for an undisclosed fee, rumoured to be in the region of £400,000. The 24 year old usually plays as either a wing back or a winger.

On signing for Latics the 5 ft 10 in tall Byrne commented that “I’m energetic, I want to attack and run at people, provide crosses and have shots but overall I’m about energy and my pace.”

Nathan Byrne was born in St Albans and played for his home town club until joining Tottenham, signing professional forms for them as an 18 year old in June 2010. Byrne never went on to play for Spurs, but was sent on a series of loan moves. In February 2011 he went to Brentford where he was to make 11 appearances. In July 2011 he went to Bournemouth on a season-long loan which was cut short by an ankle injury in September which kept him out until January. Byrne went back to Tottenham in February 2012 after making 9 appearances for the Cherries.

Byrne spent the first half of the 2012-13 season at Crawley Town, making 12 appearances. In March 2013 he went on loan to Swindon for the remainder of the season, making 7 appearances. In summer 2013 he left Tottenham on a free transfer, signing for Swindon.

2014-15 was particularly successful for him, Swindon making the playoffs and Byrne making 43 appearances, scoring 3 goals and making 9 assists over the course of the season. He appeared in the League 1 team of the year. Byrne scored a hat trick against Bradford City in the first league game of the 2015-16 season in early August, but in early September he signed for Wolves for an undisclosed fee. In his time at Swindon he had made 83 league appearances, scoring 10 goals.

Byrne made 24 appearances for Wolves last season, scoring 2 goals.

In order to find out more about his performances at Wolverhampton we contacted Thomas Baugh at the Wolves Blog (http://www.wolvesblog.com).

Here’s over to Thomas:

We only signed Nathan Byrne a year ago (almost exactly) for a decent chunk of money, so in one sense it’s surprising to see him moving on.

But he always struggled to get near the team and when he did make an appearance he was usually back on the sidelines again a week later, leaving many to rightly ask ‘why did we bother getting him in the first place?’.

Kenny Jackett certainly didn’t seem too keen, choosing to ignore him even when we were crying out for width and pace. I suspect his diminutive stature is what ultimately counted against him, as he always seemed a decent player on the rare occasions he was selected.

I remember being particularly impressed in a derby victory at Birmingham last season. He got into pockets of space in between midfield and attack and looked a threat. In sporadic appearances he showed quick feet, a decent (but not lightning) turn of pace and an eye for a goal. He scored a nice one against Leeds last season and hit the bar with a free kick so he has a few tools in his armory.

I suspect in a more free flowing team with good technical players around him (e.g. Jacobs) he could be a good Championship player. He came highly rated from Swindon but we never truly got a decent enough look to make a fair judgment.

Good luck to him. It seems like a good move.

Check out these goals:

Incohesive Latics let down the fans– Wigan Athletic 0 Brentford 0

Scott Carson was Wigan's best player.

Scott Carson was Wigan’s best player.

That goalkeeper Scott Carson was Wigan’s best player was a reflection on the mediocrity of Latics’ performance. It was a display so lacking in cohesion that an outsider might wonder if Wigan’s players had ever played together before. Brentford will probably be happy with a mid-table spot at the end of the season, after coming up from League 1, but it never seemed like Latics would beat them.

Uwe Rosler chose the kind of lineup that could be labelled “attacking”. He left James Perch on the bench to put in James Tavernier, left William Kvist out to include Adam Forshaw, and put in Oriel Riera for Marc-Antoine Fortune, Callum McManaman for Emyr Huws. The 4-3-3 lineup would have pleased those fans who have been demanding a more attacking lineup, but one wondered if it would have the right balance.

Both sides were cautious early on, but Brentford looked more dangerous. However, in the 12th minute Riera found Don Cowie on the edge of the box with a shooting opportunity that was deflected wide. Brentford continued to threaten Wigan up front and the Latics’ defence was at sixes and sevens keeping them out. The “light” midfield of Adam Forshaw, Don Cowie and Shaun Maloney was not able to repel the visitors forward movement. Callum McManaman looked disorientated, not seeming to know where he was meant to be playing, hardly in the game.

However, on the half hour mark Riera did well to put through Maloney, whose low shot was pushed wide by Brentford goalkeeper David Button. But Brentford continued to press and Andre Gray found himself clear of Wigan’s defence but chipped his shot over the bar.

Brentford had been the superior team in the first half against a Wigan team that looked rock bottom in terms of confidence.

The game continued in a similar vein. In the 55th minute McManaman’s good work caused a goalmouth scramble, but no Latics player was able to force the ball home. Then the ball came to Leon Barnett close to the goal but he was surrounded by defenders and the opportunity was lost. Brentford then really tested the Wigan defence, Scott Carson having to make two fine saves to keep out efforts from Pritchard and Jota, and then Douglas shot into the side netting.

In the 63rd minute Rosler had brought on Andy Delort for Riera and Fortune for McManaman. Kvist replaced Cowie in the 78th minute. A couple of minutes later Latics were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box, but Maloney’s well struck shot was well saved by Button. Then five minutes later Tavernier put in a superb trademark cross on to James McClean’s head but the Irishman put it wide.

That was to be the final chance for Latics and the game finished as a goalless draw, which Latics might have just about deserved. The fans had given the team terrific support throughout the game and they deserved more than this.

The Good

Despite playing so poorly, Latics could have won the game if they had taken the limited chances they created.

Tavernier did not have an easy first start for Latics in the Championship, but he nevertheless conjured up that superb cross in the 85th minute that McClean was unable to convert. Despite having a fine pre-season the ex-Rotherham and Newcastle man had to wait for his chance to get into the starting lineup. In this game he had to play in a flat back four, but he is more likely to prosper as a wing back, where he has more freedom to go forward.

Carson once more proved what a fine keeper he is. Not only was he Latics’ best player in this game, but he has been the most consistent all season.

The Bad

On paper and man-for-man, Latics looked a much stronger team than Brentford, but Rosler’s lineup just did not work. Although it looked like a bold attacking move, the end result was something different.

The centre backs, Barnett and Ramis, deserve credit for their perseverance. Brentford sensibly put a man on Ramis when Carson had the ball. The result was Barnett having to distribute the ball from the back, which is not his strong point. The midfield did not support him sufficiently and too often the ball was wasted.

Forshaw struggled in the role of holding midfielder and Cowie looked pedestrian. Maloney certainly did not look the same player who had done so much for Scotland over the international break, although he forced a couple of good saves from Button.

Playing Forshaw and Maloney together in central midfield role is unlikely to work, as both need a lot of the ball to be effective. Leaving a ball-winner like Kvist on the bench until the latter part of the game was a mistake.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 8 – a fine performance. He kept Latics in the game.

James Tavernier: 5.5 – looked exposed at times, unable to attack in the way he would have liked.

Ivan Ramis: 7 – solid defensively, but Brentford seldom allowed him to display his fine passing skills.

Leon Barnett: 7 – a defensive rock.

Andrew Taylor: 6 – worked hard.

Don Cowie: 5 – poor.

Adam Forshaw: 5 – poor.

Shaun Maloney: 5.5 – disappointing.

Callum McManaman: 5.5 – disappointing and substituted after 63 minutes.

Oriol Riera: 5.5 – apart from a couple of good passes he looked peripheral. Substituted after 68 minutes.

James McClean: 5.5 – energetic as always, but ineffective.

Substitutes:

Andy Delort: – came on after 63 minutes, but apart from one delightful flick he was unable to impose himself on the game.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: – also came on after 63 minutes, tried hard but with little effect. Why was he not on from the start following his performance at Wolves?

William Kvist: – brought on after 78 minutes.

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