12th Man – Only wins can save Latics now

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Warren Joyce must change his tactics if Latics are to survive

It’s difficult not to feel despondent about Latics survival chances after Saturday’s dispiriting performance at home to Nottingham Forest.

Manager Warren Joyce selected a team without any attack-minded wide players in a 4-4-1-1 formation and his team lacked the creativity to overcome a Forest team lacking in confidence after they had lost their previous three games.

Joyce seemed obsessed with not losing the game and he just didn’t do enough to try to win it. If this approach continues it will surely mean that Latics will be relegated.

The club has gone backwards since the appointment of the former Manchester United reserve coach and they are mired in the bottom three with only 12 games remaining.

Not only have the results not been good enough but also the type of football served up is inferior to the Gary Caldwell era. Caldwell had a system of play and the players knew what was required of them and that cannot be said of Joyce’s time in charge.

The players looked bemused by Joyce’s team selection on Saturday and his substitutions when they needed to win the game were baffling. As Joyce becomes more desperate for results he has resorted to long ball tactics which are ineffective at this level.

Long ball tactics do not suit the players who have been used to playing through midfield and through wing-backs or wingers.

Joyce’s team lacked any width against Forest. Admittedly Yanic Wildschut has been sold and Michael Jacobs has been injured but Joyce has players such as Gabriel Obertan, Ryan Colclough or Andy Kellett who can play in wide positions.

Wigan do have the strikers who can score the goals if they get the proper service. Will Grigg, Omar Bogle and Mikael Mandron are capable of scoring goals if other players can get the ball into the box from wide areas.

Launching the ball up the middle of the pitch from 40 yards away makes it easy for centre-backs to defend.

Will Grigg showed his frustration with Joyce’s tactics after Saturday’s game by firing the ball at the advertising hoardings.

Grigg had been left out of the starting line-up but with 66 minutes on the clock he was readied to come on and yet Joyce delayed the change until it was much too late on 83 minutes.

Latics now have three massive season defining games coming up against Blackburn, Birmingham and Bristol. Joyce must realise that Latics need wins and he must select an attack-minded team with wide players – draws are no longer enough to stay up – anything less and Latics will go down with a whimper.

This article was first published in the 12th Man column for the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 3rd March 2017.

 

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Posted in Wigan Athletic, Blackburn Rovers, Birmingham City, Bristol City, Warren Joyce | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A wasted opportunity for Latics – Wigan Athletic 0 Nottingham Forest 0

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Another empty net at the DW Stadium

Wigan Athletic missed an opportunity to move out of the bottom three with an insipid performance against fellow strugglers Nottingham Forest at the DW Stadium.

Latics’ manager Warren Joyce selected a team without any attack-minded wide players in a 4-4-1-1 formation and his team lacked the creativity to overcome a Forest team lacking in confidence after they had lost their previous three games.

In a game of poor quality both teams failed to create any clear-cut chances and neither keeper had to make any serious saves.

Latics remain in 22nd spot still two points behind Bristol City in 21st place who have one game in hand. Forest remain in 18th place six points ahead of Latics.

Joyce made changes to the starting line-up from the team which lost at QPR with Shaun MacDonald returning in midfield, Mikael Mandron replacing Will Grigg up front and Jamie Hanson replacing Callum Connolly in defence.

Right from the kick off Latics players appeared bemused by Joyce’s team selection and tactical changes and they struggled to build any momentum.

Latics had a couple of half chances early on when Omar Bogle smashed an effort across the face of the goal and then fired an effort from the edge of the box wide of Jordan Smith’s left post.

Forest had a shout for a penalty when striker Ben Brereton went down under a challenge from Stephen Warnock but the referee waved away the penalty appeal. Britt Assombalonga had a shot from inside the box just before the interval but Matt Gilks saved comfortably.

Latics lacked any real attacking threat in the first half and it was obvious that Joyce’s tactics weren’t working but the manager didn’t make any changes in formation or personnel at the interval and they continued to lack any width going forward in the second half.

Joyce did make a double change on 58 minutes with Gabriel Obertan and Alex Gilbey replacing Max Power and Mikael Mandron but the manager persisted with his formation which lacked any attacking purpose down the flanks.

Forest might have grabbed a shock lead on 62 minutes when Eric Lichaj’s shot went just wide of Gilks’ right hand post, but the game then continued in its tiresome way towards stalemate.

Latics rarely threatened despite enjoying the majority of possession and any hope of victory was thwarted by the withdrawal of Bogle replaced by Grigg on 83 minutes. It appeared that the Wigan manager was more concerned with not losing rather than going for the win by having forwards Grigg, Bogle and Obertan on the pitch together.

Forest might have grabbed an unmerited winner on 89 minutes when Worrall got on the end of Ben Osborn’s free-kick, but it was wide and Latics were unable to create any meaningful chances in the final three minutes of added time.

Wigan have a miserable record at home in the Championship with only three wins and they are also the lowest scorers in the division.

They had wasted a great opportunity to secure a vital three points by overcoming a poor Forest team who offered very little threat and were low on confidence. Warren Joyce seemed obsessed with not losing the game and he didn’t do enough to try to win it. If this approach continues it will ultimately cost Latics their Championship status.

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12th Man – Time to make changes

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Approach to Springfield Park by D.W.Barrow

Latics received a major setback to their survival chances when they lost at Queens Park Rangers on Tuesday night. They remain in 22nd spot and are two points behind 21st place Bristol City who have one game in hand.

Calls to sack Warren Joyce by some supporters are very premature and are unlikely to have any benefit at this stage in the season. However, Joyce would be wise to consider changes to his tactics and formation as they go into the last 13 games of the season.

QPR was yet another narrow defeat and a change in approach for the upcoming fixtures is now required if they are going to survive. Latics lacked width at Loftus Road and this has been a constant problem since the departure of Yanic Wildschut to Norwich City.

The manager has brought in numerous midfield players but it appears that apart from Gabriel Obertan who has been used sparingly, they are bereft of the wingers who can get good delivery into the box.

Also the departure of Jordi Gomez to Rayo Vallecano has meant they have been without the type of creativity and guile that can unlock opposition defences.

They showed signs of fatigue in the second half at QPR and the recent unrelenting schedule seems to be taking its toll on the players. Joyce now needs to re-assess his squad and make some strategic changes to the line-up if they are to get the wins required.

Omar Bogle is proving to be a handful for opposition defences, but he often lacks support as Latics rarely get more than one or two players in the opposition box.

Despite Will Grigg’s recent lack of form I believe he is still the best partner for Bogle. Joyce’s long ball tactics are not doing Grigg any favours as he would prefer the ball to feet or just beyond the last man but he is playing behind Bogle in a 4-4-1-1 formation.

A goal for Grigg would certainly do wonders for his confidence, but both Grigg and Bogle need support in and around the box, if the goals are going to flow.

Joyce does have attacking options and could bring in Gabriel Obertan, Mikael Mandron or Ryan Colclough and attacking midfielder Alex Gilbey is nearing match fitness.

Injuries to Michael Jacobs and Shaun MacDonald have not helped the situation and they are likely to be missing for tomorrow’s vital home game against Nottingham Forest. Latics will need to set up to attack Forest and be on the front foot right from the kick off.

They have a chance to narrow the gap against a team who have slipped down to 18th in the table and are just six points ahead of them. Anything less than a win is unthinkable.

This article was first published in the 12th Man column for the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 24th February 2017.

Posted in Championship, D.W.Barrow, Nottingham Forest, Warren Joyce, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Latics’ survival hopes receive a setback – QPR 2 Wigan Athletic 1

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Omar Bogle scored a penalty for Latics

Wigan Athletic remain rooted in the Championship relegation zone after a narrow 2-1 defeat to Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road.

Matt Smith opened the scoring for Rangers after only four minutes when he converted Conor Washington’s cross from 12 yards out.

Omar Bogle scored his third goal for Latics from the penalty spot on 17 minutes after he had been brought down by Joel Lynch.

Rangers keeper Alex Smithies produced stand out saves to deny Bogle and Jake Buxton before Washington scored the winner.

The former Peterborough United striker secured the three points for Rangers on the hour mark when he executed a smart finish from the edge of the area.

Latics remain in 22nd spot in the table behind 21st placed Bristol City who have two games in hand. QPR move up to 15th in the Championship.

Warren Joyce made one change to the starting line-up from Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Preston with Jamie Hanson replacing the injured Shaun MacDonald in midfield.

Wigan went behind after only four minutes when Matt Smith produced a neat finish. Rangers attacked down the left hand side and Washington crossed low for Smith who beat Gilks from 12 yards out despite the keeper getting a hand to the ball.

Gilks then saved well from Ryan Manning from 20 yards as Rangers looked to double their lead.

In Latics first significant attack of the game they drew level. Max Power played through Bogle and as the striker moved into the box he was brought down by Joel Lynch.

Bogle had to wait to take the penalty kick as Grant Hall received treatment but he held his nerve and sent penalty save expert Smithies the wrong way from the spot kick. Smithies has now conceded 20 and saved an incredible 19 of his previous penalty kicks.

Bogle nearly gave Latics the lead on 36 minutes when his strike from inside the box deflected off Lynch and struck Nedum Onuoha when it had seemed destined for the top right-hand corner of the net.

Smithies then made a spectacular save to deny Latics the lead. Jake Buxton met Hanson’s corner with a powerful header from eight yards but the keeper produced a superb reflex save to his right to deny the centre back a second ever goal for Latics.

The teams went into the interval level, but Latics had another great chance early in the second half. Ryan Tunnicliffe broke quickly from his own 18 yard box and ran the full length of the pitch before feeding the ball to Bogle, whose powerful effort was again denied by Smithies.

The game was now entering a frantic phase with chances at both ends but it was QPR who capitalised on the hour mark. Conor Washington was given limited space on the edge of the area but the striker turned and fired low and powerfully past Gilks.

Joyce replaced Grigg with Gabriel Obertan on 72 minutes and then gave Mikael Mandron his debut when he replaced Hanson as Latics went 4-3-3 for the last 10 minutes. But Latics were unable to penetrate and it was QPR who looked the stronger team in the dying minutes.

The result was a major setback to Latics’ survival chances but they must quickly pick themselves up and go again on Saturday knowing that a victory over Nottingham Forest will keep them in touch with the teams above them.

Posted in Championship, Conor Washington, Matt Smith, Omar Bogle, QPR, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deadlock at the DW – Wigan Athletic 0 Preston North End 0

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Matt Gilks saved Jordan Hugill’s penalty

Latics were held to a hard-fought 0-0 draw by Preston North End at the DW Stadium.

In a game of few chances Latics’ Matt Gilks saved a penalty and the follow up from Jordan Hugill and they were denied a penalty themselves when Paul Huntingdon brought down Omar Bogle in the area but referee Chris Kavanagh waved away appeals.

Bogle might have won it for Wigan in the second half when he had a one-on-one opportunity but he was denied by Greg Cunningham’s last ditch tackle.

Latics remain in 22nd in the table, two points behind Bristol City and North End remain 10th.

Warren Joyce made one change to the team which had won at Wolves with Ryan Tunnicliffe replacing the injured Michael Jacobs.

Latics were on top in the early minutes with Omar Bogle posing plenty of problems, first he forced Chris Maxwell into a good save at the near post and then had a header cleared off the line by Ben Pearson.

Bogle was then in the action for the wrong reasons as he fouled Callum Robinson in his own area and the referee awarded a penalty.

North End’s top scorer Hugill took the spot kick and Gilks saved low down to his left, the ball came back out to Hugill and Gilks saved superbly for the second time but this time to his right.

North End’s Aiden McGeedy was lucky to escape with a only a yellow card on 36 minutes when he made a two footed challenge on Shaun MacDonald.

Fortunately the Latics midfielder was not seriously injured in the incident.

Sam Morsy then drove forward at the North End defence and saw his shot deflected just wide of the post.

Three minutes later Latics had a very good shout for a penalty when Paul Huntingdon brought down Bogle in the box. Referee Kavanagh waved away appeals despite it looking like a very similar challenge to the one which gave North End a penalty at the other end.

North End started briskly at the start of second half with Ben Pearson shooting wide before Latics responded with Callum Connolly shooting over the crossbar in the 51st minute.

Preston made a double change on 60 minutes with Jermain Beckford and Simon Makienok replacing Hugill and Robinson.

Beckford soon tried his luck from distance but his shot was well over the crossbar.

Bogle then had the best chance of the game for Latics but he was denied by a superb last ditch tackle from Greg Cunningham when he was one-on-one with the North End keeper.

Jamie Hanson replaced Max Power in midfield on 76 minutes but it was perhaps surprising that Joyce did not introduce winger Gabriel Obertan in an attempt to win the game.

Ryan Tunnicliffe had an effort from 20 yards after 84 minutes, then Bogle tried a speculative attempt from the right hand side three minutes later but his shot over was well over the crossbar.

Latics continued to press in added time but they were unable to break the deadlock. It was disappointing not to take all three points but the point gained keeps them in touching distance of the teams above them with 14 games still to play.

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12th Man – Relegation battle – who will go down?

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Latics players celebrate at Wolves. Photograph courtesy of Wigan Athletic.

Latics are now entering a critical phase in the season and have 15 games to secure their Championship status. Tuesday night’s last gasp 1-0 victory at Wolves ensured that they reduced the gap on the teams above them and they know that they must put a strong sequence of results together to survive.

But what are the prospects for the other teams around them? Up to 12 teams could realistically be involved in the relegation shake-up.

Even 13th placed Ipswich Town and 14th placed Birmingham City both currently on 40 points are not yet safe from relegation. Birmingham in particular are on a dreadful run having only won one in their last 13 games since Gianfranco Zola took over from Gary Rowett.

In 15th and 16th are Brentford and Aston Villa who have both surprisingly dropped down the table. The Bees looked like play-off contenders earlier in the season but have struggled recently, however both teams should have enough quality to stay up.

17th placed Nottingham Forest have been inconsistent performers and are still in some turmoil both on and off the pitch. Kuwaiti owner Fawaz Al Hasawi has been trying to sell the club for some time and recently offered Nigel Clough the manager’s role after the sacking of Philippe Montanier but Clough decided to stay at Burton.

Gary Brazil and Jack Lester have taken temporary charge of first team affairs until the end of the season and they should just about survive.

18th placed Wolves have perhaps been distracted by their FA Cup run and have now lost their last three league games and could easily be dragged into the relegation zone if results do not improve rapidly.

Ian Holloway returned to currently 19th placed Queens Park Rangers as manager in November but results have not improved enough to pull Rangers away from the bottom end of the table and it looks like a nervy end to the season for them.

20th placed Bristol City have been on a dreadful run and have only won 2 of their last 17 matches. They lost top scorer Tammy Abraham to a thigh injury on Tuesday night at Leeds and they could be without him at a vital time. I expect them to be right on the cusp of relegation.

21st placed Burton Albion received a boost when manager Nigel Clough turned down Nottingham Forest but I don’t think their squad will be strong enough to stay up.

22nd placed Latics are now in a good run of form having won three and drawn one of their last six games.

They have a tough local derby against Preston on Saturday and then have some winnable fixtures against the teams around them in the table, QPR (A), Nottingham Forest (H), Blackburn Rovers (A), Bristol City (H) and Aston Villa (H). If they can get a good return from these games I expect them to stay up.

23rd placed Blackburn have staggered from one crisis to another over recent years and all the indications are that they will drop down to League One this time around.

24th placed Rotherham United already look doomed with only 17 points taken from their 32 games.

With so many teams involved in the relegation battle it’s difficult to predict the final outcome, but I’m going to stick my neck out and say that Latics will now finish above Rotherham, Blackburn, Burton and Bristol City.

This article was first published in the 12th Man column for the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 17th February 2017.

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Buxton’s brilliant boost – Wolves 0 Wigan Athletic 1

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Match winner Jake Buxton. Photograph courtesy of Wigan Athletic

Jake Buxton boosted Latics’ Championship survival chances with an 88th-minute headed winner at Molineux.

It was Buxton’s first ever goal for Latics as they managed their first double of the season by defeating Wolves.

In a scrappy game with few chances at either end, it was the former Burton Albion and Derby County centre-back who headed Max Power’s corner into the bottom left corner of the net to give Latics a vital win in their relegation scrap.

Latics move up a place to 22nd in the table two points behind 21st place Burton Albion. Wolves remain in 18th place and could now be drawn into the relegation dogfight with 15 games remaining.

Warren Joyce made two changes to the team which started at Fulham with Matt Gilks replacing the injured keeper Jakob Haugaard and Will Grigg replacing David Perkins in a 4-4-2 formation.

In a disjointed opening half both teams struggled to create any clear cut chances.

Keeper Matt Gilks saved comfortably from Helder Costa an 21 minutes and Shaun Macdonald had Latics first attempt on 30 minutes.

There were numerous fouls and stoppages, and both teams lacked any penetration often due to a poor final ball.

Jamie Hanson replaced Michael Jacobs at the half-time interval and after an uneventful opening to the second half Omar Bogle was replaced by Gabriel Obertan.

Wolves went closest on 74 minutes when a Dave Edwards header from Connor Ronan’s cross forced a full length save from Gilks.

Just as the game looked to be moving towards a stalemate substitute Obertan did well to win a corner, Max Power fired in a tempting cross and Buxton met it near the penalty spot to head powerfully past Carl Ikeme. 

There were four minutes of added time, but could Latics now hang on for a vital three points?

Wolves pressed for the equaliser and on 92 minutes Gilks made another fantastic save to deny Connor Ronan’s 30 yard drive.

Obertan might have added a second for Latics a minute later but his shot was superbly pushed away for a corner by Ikeme.

It hadn’t been a great game of football, but in Latics current position it is the result that matters. They now move to within touching distance of the teams above them and the prospect of a great escape looks more likely.  

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