Latics demonstrated their bounce back ability with a comfortable 2-0 victory at home to Fleetwood Town. After the weekends disappointment against Sunderland Leam Richardson challenged his side to put that result behind them and put in a positive performance 3 days later, and to the delight of Wigan fans they did just that.
There were three changes to the side that suffered a first home defeat since October on Saturday, with Kell Watts, Graeme Shinnie and Stephen Humprhys replacing Curtis Tilt, Gwion Edwards and Josh Magennis. These changes saw Max Power move to Right Back, Tendayi Darikwa switch to Left Back and James McClean pushed further forward onto the wing.
The fact Stephen Humpryhs was given the opportunity to lead the line was a sign of two things: his impressive contributions off the bench in recent weeks, and Josh Magennis’ struggles to impose himself in the games he’s played. It also suggested a change of style with less emphasis on playing direct towards a target man.
Fleetwood were without star man Paddy Lane who missed out due to injury, whilst former Latics men Joe Garner and Anthony Pilkington took their places on the Cod Army bench.
It became apparent early on that Latics would be seeing a lot of the ball, with Fleetwood showing their main threat from counter attacking situations. Latics relied on early work for Ben Amos to keep the visitors out before taking full control of the game and keeping the ball in and around Fleetwood’s half for the majority of the half.
The home side’s first chance came from an in swinging James McClean corner which was headed against the post by Will Keane. The second phase of the corner also produced an opportunity for Wigan as Kell Watts towering header was well held by Alex Cairns in the Fleetwood goal.
Latics did eventually get the breakthrough after some excellent back to front football won the home side a penalty. Kell Watts played a brilliant cross field pass towards Stephen Humprhys who beat his marker in the air to bring the ball down. A one two on the right hand side left Callum Lang in space, and when his cross to the back post was hit towards goal by Tendayi Darikwa it struck a Fleetwood players hand and their was no hesitation from the referee in awarding a penalty.
Will Keane slotted the spot kick home with ease and gave Latics a well deserved lead. The build up to the goal was a demonstration of what we’re capable of going forward, high tempo technical football played around a vocal point in attack. Humphrys role in the goal was vital as he won the aerial battle and allowed bodies to get into the box to threaten. This is what Charlie Wyke did brilliantly for the side and it is what we’re currently asking Magennis to do, albeit he is yet to do so successfully.
Latics’ second goal came just 5 minutes later when the front 4 all sprung forward on a counter attack with Keane and Lang combining well before setting the ball to James McClean who fired home from the edge of the area. The goal is McClean’s 8th league goal of the season and demonstrated why most Latics fans want to see him play exclusively as a Left Winger this season. There are few wingers in League 1 more dangerous than ‘Jimmy Mac’
From minute 42 to minute 95 very little happened, Latics dominated the ball but failed to convert the few chances they created. On a very positive note we looked comfortable defensively with the Watmough X Watts partnership looking as solid as it did earlier on in the season. The only negatives that came out of the game are disciplinary issues.
Tendayi Darikwa picked up his 10th yellow card of the season which mean he misses our next two league games against AFC Wimbledon and MK Dons. Max Power’s 81st minute yellow card took his tally to 9, meaning him and Callum Lang are both one more caution away from 2 games on the side lines. Graeme Shinnie’s yellow card is his third for Latics, and having picked up 6 at Derby in the first half of the season one more yellow could see him banned too.
But these 3 yellow cards were nothing in comparison to an incident in the 96th minute. James McClean and Joe Garner were involved in a tussle that would’ve been more suitable at this months UFC London event rather than the final minute of a football match with little riding on it.
Garner seemed to initiate things with a headbutt but it would be wrong to suggest McClean is free from blame. The Celtic fan headlocked the former Rangers striker and pinned him to the floor before being separated by both sets of players. In perhaps the easiest refereeing decision of the season both men were sent off and will likely miss the next 3 games.
After the game James McClean took to social media to say ‘It’s simple if anyone on a football pitch or off it throws kicks, heads or punches at me (he tried all three, which I could’ve done but didn’t while I held him down like a wee boy) then I will defend myself and I make no apologies for that.’
Wigan chairman Talal Al Hammad also seemed to hint at the incident and posted one of his iconic ‘quote’ tweets accompanied by a picture of Latics’ number 23.
The win sees Latics move 3 points clear of third place MK Dons, and we still have 2 games in hand on them as well. League leaders Rotherham were held to a 0-0 draw away at Shrewsbury which opens the door slightly for us to dream about another League 1 title.
Player of the Match
Graeme Shinnie maybe hasn’t made quite as big an impact as some would’ve expected since his move from Derby County, but his performance against Fleetwood showed Latics fans just what he’s capable of. The 30 year old came into the midfield alongside Tom Naylor and played a key role in allowing us to dominate the game both in and out of possession.
I spoke in a recent article about the importance for Latics’ midfielders to be brave in possession and look to receive the ball as often as possible, which is exactly what Shinnie did so well on Tuesday night. No player touched the ball more in open play than the Scotsman (80), he completed the most passes (58) and had the joint best pass completion (88%). It is always important to acknowledge the players that do the less attractive side of the game, especially when they do it so well, and Shinnie deserves serious praise for his performance on the ball.
He also played an important role in preventing Fleetwood attacks, completing 1 tackle and registering 2 interceptions in the middle of the park. His yellow card after 14 minutes meant he was walking a tightrope for the majority of the game and yet still put in such a dominant display. With Darikwa out for the next 2 games I expect Max Power to keep his place at RB, meaning the second CM spot is now Shinnie’s to lose.
If he performs like this every week he won’t lose it that’s for sure!
I’d be lying if I said the last minute red card doesn’t take the shine off this game just a little bit. Given the injuries in the side already it’s vital that the ones we have fit are available to play, so with 2 key players definitely missing for the next few games and another couple very close to doing the same it puts us in a needlessly difficult position.
The performance was solid and there were glimpses of us getting back to our brilliant best, but most importantly it’s another 3 points closer to our ultimate goal – promotion.