Latics will come up against former manager Steve Bruce when they visit Aston Villa on Saturday. The well-travelled Geordie has transformed Villa since taking over at the beginning of October, having lost only once in eight games they are now in 15th place in the Championship, just six points from the play-off zone.
Villa have been in a downward spiral for several seasons, which culminated in their relegation from the Premier League last season.
This season they got off to an indifferent start under manager Roberto Di Matteo and it was no surprise when the Italian was relieved of his duties after only 11 games in charge.
Bruce was an obvious choice for the Villans because of his ability to get clubs promoted from the Championship, doing it twice with both Birmingham City in 2002 and 2007 and Hull City in 2013 and 2016. He also took Hull to the FA Cup final in 2014 when they lost to Arsenal.
Villa’s expensively assembled squad, which includes Ross McCormack £12m, Jonathan Kodja £11m and Rudi Gestede £6m, are now expected to be in the top six at the end of the season.
It will be a big challenge for Latics to get a result against Bruce’s team at Villa Park. In an attempt to frustrate Villa, I expect Warren Joyce to persist with the formation and tactics of the last three games, with Yanic Wildschut employed as a lone striker.
Joyce’s 4-5-1 formation meant that Latics rode their luck at both Barnsley and Huddersfield, but it was found wanting at home to Derby County.
Wildschut has worked hard and done well in the last three games but playing one man up front cannot be a strategy for long-term success.
Latics were toothless in attack in the first half against Derby and it was not until Will Grigg was introduced that they really looked capable of scoring. Despite rumours to the contrary, Grigg looked sharp and his link-up play was excellent.
Not only is Grigg a top goalscorer but also key to Latics’ best attacking moves. He is adept with both feet and he gets his fair share of headers and his movement off the ball means that he is always a problem for defenders.
Grigg will score goals as long he gets good service. He should be central to the manager’s plans and he could well be the catalyst that gets Latics away from the relegation zone.
Joyce is wasting a talented player by leaving him on the sidelines. If he is not re-introduced into the team it can only be a matter of time before another club snaps him up in the January transfer window.
This article was first published in the 12th Man column for the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 9th December 2016.