Latics strengthen their position at the top – Wigan Athletic 1 Oxford United 0

Will Grigg Wigan Athletic

Will Grigg scored a vital late winner

Wigan Athletic are now in prime position for the League One title after a hard fought victory against a stubborn Oxford United at the DW Stadium.

Latics had to wait until the 87th minute to break the deadlock but Will Grigg’s 25th goal of the season was enough to secure a vital win and lift them three points clear of second place Blackburn and eight ahead of third place Shrewsbury with four games remaining.

With time running out Man of the Match Samy Morsy produced a defence splitting pass which found substitute Devante Cole who squared the ball to the prolific Grigg who finished from close range.

It was no more than Latics deserved against Karl Robinson’s team who had set out to frustrate and stifle the League leaders.

Michael Jacobs and Max Power twice had chances to open the scoring in the first half and Grigg scooped the ball over from inside the six yard box in the second half as the hosts made most of the running.

Oxford had a couple of opportunities on the break but it was mostly one-way traffic as Latics secured their 27th league win of the campaign.

Paul Cook made four changes from Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Rotherham United with Jay Fulton, Gary Roberts, Ryan Colclough and James Vaughan all coming into the team.

Latics started slowly and it was Oxford who went close early on when Ricardinho fired wide of the target from 20 yards.

The hosts struggled for fluidity in the early stages and were clearly missing the creativity of the injured Nick Powell and the attacking runs of Nathan Byrne.

But as the half wore on Latics started to create some chances and Power tried his luck from distance and Jacobs rattled the crossbar with a strike from a tight angle.

Simon Eastwood then superbly tipped over Power’s free-kick before Alex Mowatt headed Chey Dunkley’s effort off the line

The visitors had a rare attempt on goal when Canice Carroll volleyed narrowly wide of Christian Walton’s goal and the teams went into the interval goalless.

Latics continued to dominate possession in the second half but they were struggling to create clear-cut chances until Grigg replaced Colclough on 65 minutes.

Latics top scorer almost broke the deadlock on 75 minutes when he turned in the area but scooped the ball over the crossbar from close range.

Gavin Massey replaced Fulton on 68 minutes and Devante Cole replaced Vaughan on 82 minutes and Latics gradually started to carve out more opportunities.

The deadlock was finally broken on 87 minutes when captain Samy Morsy played a delicious through ball to Cole who squared it to the unmarked Grigg for his 25th goal of the season, much to the relief of the home fans.

Cole might have added a second soon afterwards with a super run and shot but keeper Eastwood managed to tip the ball onto the post and prevent the young striker’s first goal for the club.

Latics had not been at their best on the night, with plenty of signs of fatigue amongst the  players, but they had persevered against stubborn opponents and got a vital win  strengthening their position at the top of the table.

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Latics held but retain top spot – Wigan Athletic 0 Rotherham United

James Vaughan

James Vaughan might have won it for Latics at the end

The League One leaders Wigan Athletic were held at home by play-off contenders Rotherham United on Saturday but still retain top spot in the table.

The free-scoring Latics had bagged nine goals in their previous two games but on this occasion they had an off-day in front of goal against a resolute Rotherham team.

The Millers made a brisk start and could have gone ahead early on when both Michael Smith and Ryan Williams wasted good opportunities.

Latics best chance of the first half came when Will Grigg forced a good save from keeper Marek Rodak at close range and then fired the rebound just wide.

Grigg then headed narrowly wide of the target as Latics gradually grew into the game.

Unfortunately Latics lost the creativity of Nick Powell at half-time due to injury and he was replaced by Gary Roberts.

Latics were having the lion’s share of possession but they weren’t creating too many goalscoring opportunities and Williams rising drive from outside the box nearly found the top corner for the visitors.

As the game moved towards the final whistle both Michael Jacobs and substitute James Vaughan had good opportunities to break the deadlock but it was not to be and the points had to be shared.

Latics retain top spot on goal difference from second placed Blackburn, and are five points ahead of third placed Shrewsbury, whilst Rotherham remain in fourth place.

Paul Cook retained the same starting eleven that had so convincingly defeated Rochdale 4-1 on Tuesday night.

Rotherham were quickest out of the blocks and created a couple of very good early chances.

Chey Dunkley had to be at his best to block a goalbound effort from Michael Smith and then Ryan Williams forced a very good save from Christian Walton at his near post.

After the early Rotherham pressure Latics started to assert themselves and Grigg went close on two occasions. First when he forced a good reaction save from Rodak at close range and then when he headed narrowly wide from Nathan Byrne’s pinpoint cross from the right-hand side.

The teams largely cancelled each other out in a rather uninspiring second-half but the Millers went close when Williams fired over the angle of crossbar and post and Latics had two late opportunities through Jacobs and Vaughan.

First Byrne’s free-kick from the right-hand side was headed back by Vaughan into the path of Jacobs who shot over the crossbar from eight-yards out.

In added time, they might have sealed the three points when Vaughan headed high over the crossbar from a very good position from Jacobs’ knock back. But Latics’ frustration was somewhat alleviated when news of Blackburn conceding a 94th minute equaliser at Bristol Rovers came through.

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12th Man – 100 points and more

Paul Jewell’s title winners in 2002/03

Latics surged to the top of the League One table with two magnificent performances against MK Dons and Rochdale. The finishing in those games has been nothing short of breathtaking with some stunning goals from Will Grigg, Michael Jacobs, Nick Powell, James Vaughan and Dan Burn.

The two superb attacking displays have produced nine goals and it looks like they could add plenty more in the remaining six games.

Will Grigg has scored 24 goals with four in the last two games and is very capable of reaching at least 30 before the end of the season.

Nick Powell has 15 goals and would almost certainly have scored many more if he wasn’t being hampered by a succession of injuries.

Winger Michael Jacobs has a very creditable 11 goals to his name and has now surpassed his tally from the League One title winning team in 2015/16.

Not only are Latics firing on all cylinders but also they are keeping them out at the other end.

The defence has been outstanding and only conceded a miserly 27, which is the best in the Football League and only Manchester City and Manchester United in the Premier league have conceded fewer goals.

Latics are in a rich vein of form and if they were to maintain their current form with an average of 2.15 points per game they would reach 98 points, which you would expect to get them promoted.

But they are surely capable of getting the 100 points achieved by Paul Jewell’s title winning team in 2002/03. Jewell’s team only lost four games all season and scored 68 goals in total and conceded 25.

The current team has already scored 81 and you would expect them to score plenty more in their remaining six games.

The maximum points available to the three automatic promotion contenders is now, Latics 104 points, Blackburn 101 points, and Shrewsbury 97 points.

Both Blackburn and Shrewsbury still have promotion chasing teams Peterborough and Charlton to play and Latics face fourth placed Rotherham United at the DW Stadium tomorrow.

The Millers have had a remarkable rise since Latics won 3-1 at the New York Stadium in November with goals from Grigg, Bruce and Jacobs.

It looked as though they would remain marooned in mid-table but former Latics player Paul Warne’s team have soared into the play-off places.

Despite losing on-loan top scorer Kieffer Moore to Barnsley they have continued to get results by spreading the goals around the rest of the team.

Latics will need to be on their guard against any complacency after two comfortable victories but if they can maintain their current performance levels they should retain top spot.

Paul Cook’s men must now be very aware that the exciting prospect of winning the League One title and of overtaking the 100 points achieved by Paul Jewell’s team is within their grasp.

This article was first published in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 13th April 2018.

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Latics are back on top – Rochdale 1 Wigan Athletic 4

dan-burn

Dan Burn opened the scoring for Latics

Wigan Athletic moved back to the top of the League One table with an impressive 4-1 hammering of relegation strugglers Rochdale.

In an end-to-end first half Latics went ahead in the 17th minute when Max Power’s corner was headed towards goal by Chey Dunkley and Dan Burn diverted the ball past keeper Josh Lillis.

Nick Powell went close for Latics hitting the post and Joe Rafferty headed against the crossbar for Dale.

But Latics were having the better of it and early in the second-half they increased their lead when Will Grigg played a delightful ball through to substitute James Vaughan and the striker finished with some aplomb.

Michael Jacobs produced a stunning finish from the edge of the area for Latics third on 60 minutes. Then Grigg sealed the result with a fourth on 63 minutes, after Lillis could only push the ball into his path from Gavin Massey’s goal bound low drive.

Dale managed a late consolation from the penalty spot when Dunkley brought down Calvin Andrew and Steven Davies converted the spot-kick.

Latics move to the top of the table with a superior goal difference to second placed Blackburn and with a game in hand on them. Third placed Shrewsbury are now five points behind Latics having played the same number of games.

Paul Cook retained the same starting eleven from the 5-1 drubbing of MK Dons at the weekend.

It was a brisk opening by both teams, on Rochdale’s newly relayed pitch, with chances aplenty.

Callum Camps volleyed wide for Dale before Latics took an early lead. Dunkley getting his head to Power’s corner and Burn diverting it home past Lillis.

Dale responded and Andrew, Matty Done, Rafferty and Camps all had opportunities to get them back in the game.

Latics also had chances before the break and Powell hit the base of the post and Nathan Byrne forced an acrobatic save from Lillis.

Powell had to be withdrawn just before the interval, with what appeared to be a re-occurrence of his hamstring strain, and was replaced by Vaughan.

Early in the second-half Vaughan linked up superbly with Grigg and the former Everton striker coolly finished past Lillis to increase Latics’ lead.

It was not long before Latics went further ahead as they quickly put Dale to the Sword with some breathtaking attacking play.

Jacobs produced a stunning finish from the edge of the area after first turning the Dale defence first one way and then the other.

Soon afterwards Latics were 4-0 up when Massey’s long-range drive was gratefully turned into the path of Grigg who delightfully received the gift and added his 24th goal of the season.

Latics perhaps understandably eased off in the final 15 minutes and Dale managed a consolation from the penalty spot, converted by Davies, after Dunkley had brought down Andrew.

It was another magnificent performance by Latics, who have now scored nine goals in their last two games and have an incredibly positive goal difference of 54. As the other results came in the travelling supporters not only celebrated the night’s performance but also Blackburn’s draw at Gillingham, which ensured Latics moved to the top of the table.

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Grigg hat-trick puts Latics in the driving seat for promotion – Wigan Athletic 5 MK Dons 1

Will Grigg Wigan Athletic

Will Grigg in fine form

Wigan Athletic moved back into the automatic promotion places with an emphatic 5-1 rout of MK Dons.

Will Grigg stepped his annual end of season goal rush with a superb hat-trick.

Grigg put Latics ahead after only eleven minutes from Michael Jacobs low cross and it was one-way traffic as they increased the advantage when Ethan Ebanks-Landell diverted Nick Powell’s cross into his own net on 24 minutes.

MK Dons pulled a goal back 10 minutes before half-time through Callum Brittain but Latics took complete control in the second-half with a rampant attacking display.

Powell produced a fine header at the far post on 57 minutes from Gavin Massey’s right-wing cross and then Grigg added a fourth on 74 minutes despite keeper Lee Nicholls tipping the ball onto the crossbar the ball spun back over the goal line.

Grigg completed his hat-trick on 76 minutes, taking his tally to 23 for the season, with an incisive finish through the legs of Nicholls.

Latics move up to second in table, two points behind leaders Blackburn with a game in hand and two points ahead of third place Shrewsbury with a game in hand.

Paul Cook made one change from the defeat at Portsmouth with Grigg replacing James Vaughan as the central striker.

Latics started brightly and they were ahead after only 11 minutes. A fine cross field pass from Powell found Jacobs in the area who brought the ball under control and centred for Grigg to finish from close range.

It was a difficult opening for MK Dons as they struggled to cope with Latics movement and creativity in the final third.

Former Latics reserve keeper Lee Nicholls had to make a good close-range save to deny an early Grigg header.

But Nicholls was beaten soon afterwards when another stunning Powell cross was headed into his own net by Ebanks-Landell with Grigg about to pounce.

Latics were finding it far too easy and a little sloppy period by the hosts allowed the Dons to get a foothold when Brittain fired home the edge of the area.

Elliott Ward headed over at the back post and Walton was also forced into a double save from Chuks Aneke as Latics lost their momentum.

But Latics quickly got back into their stride in the second-half.

The always dangerous Powell could have got on the scoresheet on 55 minutes when he forced Nicholls into another fine save tipping the ball onto the post and away to safety.

But Powell was not to be denied and he added Latics third two minutes later rising high at the back post to head home from Massey’s cross.

Soon afterwards Powell nearly repeated the act rising again at the back post but this time he headed wide of the target.

Latics were now totally in control and Grigg added his second and Latics fourth goal on 74 minutes. The prolific striker picked up a long ball from Dan Burn and chipped the advancing Nicholls, who somehow managed to knock it onto the crossbar but the ball bounced down over the goal line.

Grigg’s hat-trick and 23rd goal of the season came quickly after when Jacobs fed the striker inside the area and his incisive finish through the legs of Nicholls capped off a superb display.

Latics should have had a sixth late on when substitute Gary Roberts was presented with a golden opportunity from Callum Elder’s cross but he somehow managed to divert the ball away from goal.

A comprehensive victory by Latics which strengthens their position with seven games remaining.

Latics have a tricky fixture at Rochdale on Tuesday night, but if they can replicate yesterday’s performance they could move to the top of the table, if Blackburn fail to win at Gillingham.

Posted in Callum Brittain, Ethan Enanks-Landell, League One, MK Dons, Nick Powell, Wigan Athletic, Will Grigg | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

12th Man – Just a blip or something more serious?

will-grigg-v-blackburn

Will Grigg should return against MK Dons

Latics slipped to third place in the League One table after a disappointing 2-1 defeat at Portsmouth on Easter Monday. Despite the poor conditions and some debatable refereeing decisions, which went against Latics, it was still a below par performance from some of the players.

Tackles were mistimed, passes went astray and chances weren’t converted, it wasn’t as though Portsmouth had outplayed them, but several of Latics’ players seemed out of sorts and failed to reach the usual standards that they have achieved this season.

They may just have had an off-day, it may have been fatigue, it may have been the conditions but let’s hope it’s not a loss of form as they go into the final eight games of the season with promotion at stake.

It is always easy in retrospect to suggest changes but if Ryan Colclough and Will Grigg had been introduced sooner, then Latics might have been able to come away from Fratton Park with at least a draw. I would expect them both to start against their former club MK Dons tomorrow.

At least Paul Cook has plenty of strength in depth and quality players who can come into the team and make a difference.

The quality of the manager and the team were recognised this week when Cook was named Manager of the Month and Chey Dunkley Player of the Month and four players were named in the League One team of the season, Nathan Byrne, Dan Burn, Samy Morsy and Nick Powell.

Goalkeeper Christian Walton would probably have also featured but he was ineligible for selection as he is on-loan from Brighton.

With eight games remaining Latics have a balanced four at home and four away. Unfortunately most of the teams they will be facing have something to play for and are involved in the race for promotion or are fighting against relegation so it wont be an easy run-in.

Latics next two opponents MK Dons (H) and Rochdale (A) are both involved in relegation battles and will be desperate for the points to stay in the division.

MK Dons have recently had a mini-revival under former England Under-16 manager Dan Micciche with three wins, one draw and two defeats in their last six games.

Former Latics midfielder Alex Gilbey will be missing from the team after undergoing knee surgery in February and will miss the rest of the season. Another former player, reserve keeper Lee Nicholls is however, likely to feature as MK Dons try to move out of the bottom four.

Rochdale are also experiencing something of a late revival winning two, drawing three and losing one of their last six fixtures. They have also recently defeated our promotion rivals Shrewsbury, so it could prove to be a tricky fixture at Spotland.

Despite the setback against Portsmouth I’m backing Latics to quickly return to winning form. They still have the advantage of two games in hand on Shrewsbury and one on Blackburn and a superior goal difference, which should help them to get over the line for automatic promotion.

This article was first published in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 6th April 2018.

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Latics stumble on the south coast – Portsmouth 2 Wigan Athletic 1

WillGrigg2

Will Grigg scored his 20th goal of the season

Latics failed to regain top spot in the League One table after a below par performance at play-off chasing Portsmouth.

Both Blackburn and Shrewsbury secured three points on Easter Monday but Latics slipped down to third spot following the 2-1 defeat at Fratton Park.

Former Pompey manager Paul Cook will be disappointed that his charges never really got going in front of the TV cameras.

The hosts went ahead when Brett Pitman converted from the penalty spot after Dan Burn was adjudged to have fouled Ben Close on the edge of the area.

Early in the second half Pompey doubled their lead when Jamal Lowe produced a neat finish after Latics had failed to clear a low cross from the right hand side.

When Latics replaced the ineffective Gavin Massey and James Vaughan with Ryan Colclough and Will Grigg they started to create more opportunities.

Grigg forced a superb save from Pompey keeper Luke McGee before he pulled a goal back on 89 minutes with a fine header from Gary Roberts’ pinpoint cross.

Despite Latics’ late pressure Pompey held on to move level with six-placed Charlton in the play-off places.

Credit to Pompey for a resolute performance but Latics just weren’t at their best on the day.

Paul Cook made two changes from the team which defeated Oldham Athletic with Massey and Vaughan replacing Colclough and Grigg.

It was a scrappy opening with neither side gaining the upper hand.

Latics went closest when Max Power’s 25 yard low strike was turned around the post by McGee.

Latics had a couple of half-chances as first Michael Jacobs tried an acrobatic overhead kick from Dan Burn’s knock back and then Massey’s cross from the right-hand side was just too strong for Vaughan at the back post.

Chey Dunkley then headed narrowly wide from a Power cross before Vaughan had a great opportunity to put Latics ahead from the centre of the penalty area but he scuffed his shot wide.

But five minutes before the break a rare Pompey attack resulted in them taking the lead.

Dan Burn challenged Ben Close on the edge of the area and referee Tim Robinson controversially awarded a penalty.

Brett Pitman converted the spot-kick to give Pompey a surprising half-time advantage.

But matters got worse for Latics ten minutes into the second half when a somewhat incongruous low cross from Nathan Thompson on the right hand side evaded Callum Elder and found Lowe who turned in front of Burn and finished expertly at the near post.

Latics were stunned by the setback but they still weren’t making any headway until Colclough and Grigg replaced Massey and Vaughan on 66 minutes.

Colclough had a great chance after good work by Nathan Byrne but the winger somehow miscued his shot and it diverted off a defender for a corner.

McGee then produced two magnificent saves to deny Latics.

First he denied Nick Powell with a superb reaction save pushing the ball onto crossbar from close range after the midfielder had evaded several defenders challenges.

Then ten minutes later he denied Grigg at close range with an instinctive save diving to his left after a great move involving Byrne and Jacobs.

Grigg wasn’t to be denied however and on 89 minutes he pulled a goal back with a fine header from former Pompey player Gary Roberts’ pinpoint cross.

With five minutes of added time it was a breathless period as Latics went in search of the equaliser with a succession of dangerous crosses. But the hosts held firm and Latics suffered a rare defeat in League One.

Too many of Latics players had had an off day and manager Cook will expect much improved performances in the final eight games of the season as they go in search of automatic promotion.

Posted in Brett Pitman, Jamal Lowe, League One, Paul Cook, Portsmouth, Wigan Athletic, Will Grigg | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment