Wigan Athletic 1 Sheffield United 2: Latics go down, but show so much promise

Kolo Toure (courtesy of Getty Images)

“There’s an awful lot of games still to be played, including hopefully a few games in the cup. and we’ll know a lot more about where we are, maybe after the games in January.

I think we just need to ensure we are first and foremost a Championship club, which will give us a good foundation for next season and beyond, and building beyond that.”

Mal Brannigan is not expecting a quick fix but is showing faith in a new manager who he believes can install a modern philosophy of football at the club that will enable Latics to compete on a more even keel in the Championship.

Kolo Toure has already made a major impact upon the style of play, evidenced by a composed display at Millwall and the excerpts of quality football we saw last night. Few of us expected Latics to get a good result against a high-flying Sheffield United side, built upon a budget that dwarfs that of Wigan. Some will say Toure is swimming against the tide, working on a transformation in style and approach that should more practically have started in pre-season. The clock is ticking, and he has a big job on his hands to do what Brannigan suggests.

The first half was not a pretty sight for Latics fans with the Blades’ high press, pace and movement causing all kinds of problems for the defence. Admittedly John Egan’s headed goal was gifted by woeful marking by the home defence, but the visitors could have been 3-4 goals ahead but spurned multiple chances. Going into the dressing room just a goal behind gave Wigan some chance to get back in the game. Their play had been riddled with constant errors as players struggled to adjust to the demands of their new manager.

However, despite Billy Sharp’s well-taken goal putting the Blades ahead after 56 minutes, Latics began to show the kind of “bravery on the ball” that Toure is seeking. Those “hopeful long balls” from defence were minimised and the quality of their football really improved and was of a level that we have not seen for a long time, especially in home games. Such was the improvement in the second half that the home team could possibly count themselves unlucky in not coming out of it with a point.

Toure has made a very bright start in an uphill task. He has the January transfer window ahead and the owners are apparently willing to support him in the transfer market. It is never easy in January, when clubs are reluctant to lose important players. The loan market will be important. Moreover, the club will need to offload some players in order to recruit others.

It is already plain to see that some players are adapting to the Toure brand of football quicker than others. Will Keane and Callum Lang, in particular, were both excellent last night. Toure has given the first opportunity to those players who did so well in getting the club out of League 1, but immediately dispensed with starting with a big target man and his use of substitutes and choice of players on the bench provide further indications of change.

One point in two games may not appear the best of starts for a new manager, but Kolo Toure is on the right track to establish Latics as a Championship side to be reckoned with.