In a season of low points Latics reached their lowest point on Tuesday night when relegation was all but confirmed at Millwall. In a must-win fixture Wigan succumbed by naïvely falling into the Lions well-rehearsed trap.
The home team set out with a game plan to intimidate Latics with some tough tackling and off the ball aggravation and the strategy paid dividends as first Martyn Waghorn and later Jason Pearce were sent off.
Wigan were denied the opportunity to play their football, and due to some weak officiating by referee Steve Martin, Millwall were allowed to profit from their dirty tactics.
A fixture at the Den is a notoriously difficult one and the Latics players should have been well aware that the Lions would try absolutely anything to win the game.
The players should have been well-drilled not to react to their opponents’ intimidation but Latics players got involved in the scuffles and this distracted them from the task in hand and ultimately led to their downfall.
Gary Caldwell rightly identified the problem after the game:
“When the pressure comes in stadiums like this and the crowd wants to get behind their team then we have to be brave – not in the sense of being willing to fight people – but be brave on the ball and control the game and, at times when the crowd got behind them and their players got up for it, we didn’t do that.”
“We controlled the game in the first-half, we had five minutes where they wanted to fight and we got sucked into that.”
The manager also identified Wigan’s failure to take their chances on the night, although this has been their downfall all season. Marc-Antoine Fortune, Jason Pearce and Gaetan Bong all missed excellent goal scoring opportunities prior to Millwall’s opening goal.
In fact since the departure of Roberto Martinez as manager, player recruitment has been generally poor and as far as Strikers is concerned, disastrous.
Marc- Antoine Fortune, Grant Holt, Andy Delort, Oriol Riera, Martyn Waghorn, Billy Mckay and Leon Clarke (loan) have been recruited by the last three managers but they have only contributed a handful of goals among the lot of them.
There will be a massive turnover in playing staff at the end of the season and recruiting the right type of player will be paramount to any future success.
But top of the shopping list must be a striker who can guarantee twenty goals if Latics are to have any hope of a quick return to the Championship.
This article was first published in the 12th Man column for the Wigan Evening Post on 17th April 2015