Latics centre-back Dan Burn secured an essential three points for Latics at Birmingham on Tuesday night and the result keeps them in touch with the teams above them.
It was a hard-fought if unspectacular victory which will relieve some of the pressure on Warren Joyce. Disappointing displays against Nottingham Forest and Blackburn Rovers had made Joyce’s position tenuous but the win at St Andrews was a lifeline for the beleaguered manager.
However, Saturday’s must win game at home to Bristol City could decide the manager’s fate. The Robins are just one point ahead of Latics with ten games still to play and they have been on a dreadful run of form losing 14 of their last 21 matches.
Latics last six games have yielded two wins, two draws and two defeats and those games have generally been against teams around them in the table. But they will have to face some tough fixtures against teams in the top half of the table in the final run in.
The most worrying statistic about the last six games has been the lack of goals from open play.
Latics have only scored three goals in those six games and they have all come from set pieces, with Dan Burn and Jake Buxton scoring from corners at Birmingham and Wolves and Omar Bogle from the penalty spot at QPR.
If this trend continues the lack of goals is likely to cost Latics their Championship status.
It is beneficial that they have started to score goals from set pieces but they also need to create more opportunities from open play.
Joyce has a defensive mindset and is preoccupied with stopping the opposition rather than attacking and this fear factor means his teams are unlikely to be successful in the long term.
Unless the manager is prepared to select more players in attacking positions and encourage them to get into the penalty area then they are unlikely to score enough goals to win enough games.
The manager once again used Omar Bogle as the lone striker against Birmingham and he was isolated for long periods of the game. Bogle needs support through the middle and either Grigg, if fit, or Mandron should play alongside him against Bristol.
Latics also need width and they need to select players who can go past defenders, there is no point in selecting players in wide positions if they cannot go past their opponent. Both Obertan and Jacobs can fulfil the wide roles, and get crosses into the box, if the manager gives them the license to do so.
Joyce should go for a 3-5-2 or 4-4-2 formation if he wants to win the game, as surely goals have to be the priority from now on.
This article was first published in the 12th Man column for the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 10th March 2017.