Wigan Athletic vs AFC Wimbledon Match Review

Latics strengthened their grip on a top 2 finish with a hard fought 1-0 victory over struggling AFC Wimbledon. The home side could’ve put the game beyond doubt with first half chances going begging, but weren’t made to pay by the profligate Dons.

Suspensions forced boss Leam Richardson into 4 changes from the side that defeated Fleetwood Town in midweek. Curtis Tilt, Joe Bennett, Glen Rea and Gwion Edwards came into the side in place of Kell Watts, Tendayi Darikwa, Graeme Shinnie and James McClean.

The last 3 of those were due to suspension but the decision to drop Watts in favour of Curtis Tilt appeared to be tactical, with the Newcastle loanee dropping to the bench. The presence of a 6’3 target man in Sam Cosgrove for Wimbledon meant a more aggressive and aerially dominant defender like Tilt made more sense, despite Watts excellent performance on Tuesday night.

AFC Wimbledon’s side provided no shocks, with manager Mark Robinson making just 1 change to the side that drew 2-2 with Doncaster.

Latics started the game well and created early opportunities from set piece situations. They were dealt a blow when Glen Rea, who was making his first home start for the club, went down with an injury off the ball just 10 minutes in. Although he bravely tried to carry on the Luton Town loanee was forced off 5 minutes later, with another loanee Tom Bayliss taking his place.

The introduction of Bayliss offered the home side a different dynamic in the middle of the pitch. Unlike Rea, who is a more defensive minded player, Bayliss brought a more progressive and forward thinking mindset into the game which really seemed to help Latics take control.

The breakthrough came after 21 minutes after a sustained period of pressure from the home side finally bore fruit. Stephen Humphrys had just diverted Joe Bennett’s corner against the crossbar, but after a few more minutes of possession in the Wimbledon half Latics got their goal.

Tom Bayliss collected the ball 30 yards from goal and took on his man before finding himself in space on the edge of the area. He took a shot that bounced just in front of Wimbledon keeper Nikola Tzanev and Will Keane followed in to squeeze home the rebound. Keane’s 17th goal of the season is perhaps his most controversial one, with replays suggesting he could’ve been in an offside position when Bayliss unleashed his effort but I can’t name one Latics fan that cares! We’ve had our fair share of rubbish officiating this season so it’s about time we got something go our way!

Will Keane is enjoying his best goal scoring season to date this term, 17 and counting!

Even after the goal it was Wigan that continued to apply the pressure and we should’ve really made it 2 before the break. Time after time Latics exploited the wide areas left open by the Dons narrow back 4, but a mixture of overplaying and poor end product meant we failed to capitalise on these chances. Heading into the last few games of the season we will definitely need to be more clinical in these areas.

Latics saw a lot of the ball in areas outside Wimbledon’s narrow back 4 but failed to make most of these opportunities count

The half time break couldn’t come soon enough for the away side and I’m sure they counted themselves lucky to only be trailing by 1 at the interval. Callum Lang, Gwion Edwards and Joe Bennett all saw efforts saved by Tzanev who put in an inspired performance in goal for the Dons.

The away side came out better in the second half and would’ve grabbed an early equaliser had it not been for Ben Amos’ smart save from Luke McCormick’s low strike.

After the break Latics couldn’t find the same fluidity in possession as they had in the first half which led to several sloppy errors, albeit they went unpunished. Giving the lads the benefit of the doubt you could say they dropped into second or maybe even first gear to save themselves for upcoming games, but that didn’t help ease the supporters nerves in the latter stages!

Thankfully the away side failed to threaten our goal much at all, even when we went down to 10 men after Max Power suffered a dislocated little finger. With all 3 subs having been made Latics were forced to play the final 10 minutes a man down, but the lads stood strong and won the 3 points.

As is often said in times like this the sign of a good team is winning when they’re not at their best. This won’t end up in the end of season highlight reel, but the 3 points earned are just as important as any other we’ve got this season.

Elsewhere, Rotherham’s loss to MK Dons has blown the promotion race wide open, with it now being a genuine 3 horse race for the 2 automatic promotion spots. Latics travel to Milton Keynes next weekend knowing a win would put them in the driving seat for both promotion and the League 1 title.

Player of the Match

It isn’t often that a substitute wins the player of the match award, but it would be harsh not to give it to Tom Bayliss after such a fantastic showing.

After being thrown straight into the mix after 15 minutes due to Glen Rea’s injury the Preston loanee stepped right up the tempo of the game, and began to dominate the midfield immediately. It was his positive driving run and shot that led to Will Keane’s goal, and his passing range opened up other opportunities that were unfortunately not taken by Latics.

He demonstrated his all round game by registering good numbers in both attacking and defensive situations. The 22 year old completed 24 passes (including 1 key pass), 3 take ons and won 2 free kicks. Defensively he also impressed, winning his one and only tackle, making 4 recoveries and 2 interceptions. It was a real ‘box to box’ display and he may well have cemented his place in the side for the next few weeks.

After the game Latics club doctor Jonathan Tobin put out a tweet crediting Bayliss for his performance and highlighted the midfielders hard work off the pitch, as well as on it.

Final Thoughts

Another step in the right direction! Performances at this stage of the season mean nothing if points aren’t being accumulated, and if Latics win every one of their remaining games playing below their full ability no one will complain. We’ve bounced back really well from last weekends loss against Sunderland and registered 2 hard fought wins and clean sheets at home.

Tuesday brings a new challenge in the EFL trophy semi final, and then we travel to MK Dons for our biggest game of the season so far. We don’t know who will be available, who will be injured or unfit but we do know that whatever 11 Leam chooses to field will give it all for the Tree and Crown. We’re nearly there, and in the words of former gaffer Paul Cook…

“Just keep goinnnnn”

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