Latics face off against play off chasing Sunderland in front of a packed DW (No that’s not a typo…) on Saturday knowing a win would take them one step closer to achieving the promotion all of us are so desperate for.
It’s fair to say opponents Sunderland haven’t been in the best form of late, having won just once in their last outings. However, the Black Cats have already defeated Latics twice this season and will be desperate to complete the hat trick.
Latics Team News
Following Tuesday nights 3-1 victory away at Wycombe Wanderers I’m sure Leam Richardson will have some thoughts about making a couple of changes this weekend.
Although the score line suggests dominance the first 60 minutes were filled with disappointment and frustration. As as often been the case for us this season it was our substitutions that swung the pendulum in our favour, with Stephen Humphrys and Gwion Edwards having positive impacts off the bench.
So that begs the question, do they deserve to come into the starting 11?
Assuming we line up in a 4-2-3-1 system again I’d expect at least one of them to start the game. The back 4 will likely stay the same, although if one of Tom Pearce and Joe Bennett are fit enough I’d like to see them start ahead of James McClean to allow the ROI international to be pushed further forward.
In midfield Tom Naylor and Max Power, who combined for the equaliser on Tuesday, have been consistently solid and deserve their place in the side. However, I do expect Graeme Shinnie or Glen Rea to feature off the bench to help ease the workload on Naylor and Power and provide extra bite in the midfield battle.
The attacking quartet is where the main changes could take place, although Will Keane and Callum Lang will surely start if fit. As previously mentioned I’d like to see James McClean pushed forward to his natural LW spot, but if the decision is made to keep him at LB then Gwion Edwards would be my pick to replace Gavin Massey out wide. Edwards scored at the Stadium of Light in the season opener and his appearance on Tuesday could’ve been enough to win him a place in the side.
Up top, Josh Magennis made it 7 games without a goal contribution on Tuesday and was yet again withdrawn after 60 minutes. In his place Stephen Humphrys came on and seemed to encourage a less direct style of play which saw 3 goals in 15 minutes for Latics. Is it time to drop Magennis in favour of the in-form Humphrys, or does the Northern Irishman deserve another chance?
I’d favour the former, but maybe the 31 year old deserves 1 more go.
Sunderland are currently in the middle of doing a Sunderland. Having been top of the league in January and with Lee Johnson having won Manager of the Month, they’re now a point off falling out of the play off places, have won once in2022 and replaced their manager with Alex Neil.
Pretty poor from the divisions biggest club…
In terms of what’s gone wrong for the Black Cats it looks pretty clear on paper; they can’t stop leaking goals. 1 clean sheet since December, 14 conceded in their last 6 and numerous errors in the defensive third it is no surprise they’ve struggled for form.
With Latics being the free scoring side that they are Sunderland know they have to tighten up to keep the game tight. I expect them to start the game fast, look for a goal to sit on and defend for the majority of the game. The Black Cats have conceded the first goal in 5 of their last 6 games and if they do the same again on Saturday it could be game over.
However, Wigan fans will know all about conceding the first goal as we’ve also done it in 4 of our last 6 games. The positive for Latics is we came back to take points from 3 of those. Despite that, I really think whoever grabs the first goal in this game will go on to win, and this is down to a mix of fatigue, pressure and frustration. In front of a bumper crowd whichever side has their supporters feeling positive will be best placed to win the game.
In terms of how I expect the away side to line up I’d guess at a 4-3-3 system not too dissimilar to Latics’ 4-2-3-1. However, considering their form and our threat Alex Neil could instruct his side to play slightly more cautious and look to hit us on the break and get Ross Stewart to hold the ball up to bring others into play.
That being said, Neil’s sides like to dominate the ball and Sunderland have done so in every game they’ve played since his appointment. They even had 61% possession against MK Dons who are the divisions leading side for possession and passes completed. If they do choose to be brave and commit to retaining the ball it could allow Latics to exploit them on the break as we have done at times this season to other sides.
Sunderland register 13.9 shots per 90, 5 shots on target per 90 and have created 50 ‘big chances’ this season. Their 54 goals this season place them as the 6th most clinical side in the division, and with Ross Stewart they have a genuine source of goals. Outside of him though there seems a struggle to find the net, with second top scorer Nathan Broadhead having scored just 5 times since his loan move from Everton.
What we can expect from Sunderland is a fast start. They’ll be backed by over 4000 away fans and will surely be keen to give them something (other than their dislike for Max Power) to sing about. They will leave themselves open at times and providing Latics keep their composure their could be goals in the game for Leam Richardson’s side.
Player to Watch
Perhaps unsurprisingly my pick for Sunderland’s one to watch is talisman Ross Stewart. The Scotsman has bagged 20 goals this season, making up 37% of the Black Cats league goals. It seems as though stopping Stewart means stopping Sunderland.
In the reverse fixture the 25 year old scored from a corner to win all 3 points for the home side, but since then Latics have vastly improved their set piece defence. The crossing threat of Lyndon Gooch and Alex Pritchard will be challenging, but providing our Centre Halves deal with Stewart (similarly to how they dealt with Smith and Ladapo at Rotherham) all will be good.
Stewart’s stats this season have been very impressive, perhaps none more so than his conversion rate of 20%. For a man that takes an average of over 3 shots per game it is no wonder the ‘Loch Ness Drogba‘ has so many goals this year, and I’m sure the majority of Leam’s pre match chat will be about how to stop him.
Unfortunately I’d be lying if I said I was feeling confident about this game. Perhaps that’s just what comes with the territory of being a football fan, and I’m sure most Sunderland fans are expecting a loss, but I’m in no way expecting a win today. Although Sunderland are in horrific form I can’t get the image of Jermaine Defoe scoring his first league goal for Sunderland at the DW out of my head. Therefore, I’m going for a extremely pessimistic
Latics 0-1 Sunderland