With a trip to Wembley within touching distance Latics host Sutton United in the Semi Final of the Papa John’s Trophy looking to reach the home of football for the first time since 2014. Wigan have won the competition twice before and Leam Richardson’s side will be looking to write themselves into the history books by winning it for a joint record third time.
Sutton, who currently sit 3rd in League 2, travel to the North West in excellent form and in the best moment of their 124 year history. They are a club that is high on confidence and who relish the underdog status that has been placed on them time after time this season.
Even without the pressures of a semi final this would be a tough game for us, but with a date at Wembley on the line it adds even more jeopardy to the tie. Latics will have to be at their best to secure victory on Tuesday night, and Sutton will be well up for the fight.
Latics Team News
Coming into this game I don’t think any Latics fans had a clue of what to expect when the team news is released an hour before kick off on Tuesday evening. Many guessed a full academy 11 would be fielded, a few wanted as close to full strength as possible and there were also calls for a mix of 1st team and youth team players.
We were given a bit of a hint at the sort of squad that might be picked when the team news for Wigan’s under 23s side was released for their match against Hull City on Monday afternoon. Many of the names that you’d expect to be put down for the first team were instead picked for the youth team which suggests many of them won’t be involved today.
So who will be? I think the first name on the team sheet will be Jamie Jones who’s performances in this competition have been outstanding this season. Jones has tended to captain Latics in the EFL trophy this season but with club captain Tendayi Darikwa available for selection we could see him get the armband instead.
Darikwa is banned for the weekends clash with MK Dons but is free to play tonight so I expect him to play at right back. Kell Watts will likely play at the heart of the defence but his partner could be one of many. Curtis Tilt and Jack Watmough will probably be the partnership that plays on Saturday so one of them will probably be rested. Jack Watmough is the most likely to miss out so it could well be a Watts X Tilt partnership against Sutton. Other options include James Carragher and Jason Kerr but both have question marks surrounding their fitness levels.
The left back spot looks like it finally has some competition with Joe Bennett and Tom Pearce both returning from injuries recently. My guess is whichever plays tonight will take their place on the bench at MK Dons on Saturday, but you could toss a coin on who that could be right now.
Graeme Shinnie is another player that will miss the weekends game due to suspension which suggests he’ll be in line to start tonight. Partnering him in midfield could be Harry McHugh or Baba Adeeko from the under 23s squad, both of whom have played their part in Latics’ run in the competition already. Tom Bayliss would’ve been the obvious choice but his performance at the weekend means he might now be in line to start at the weekend. However, I think he still might get the nod to allow him to build up his match fitness ahead of the next few weeks.
James McClean is available despite his league ban so he may well feature tonight too. Assuming he takes the Left Wing spot that would see Gwion Edwards drop out of the side, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the entire front 4 rotated. Jamie McGrath returned to the bench on Saturday but if he isn’t ready to start a match it could allow Chris Sze to start behind the striker. Gavin Massey is the favourite to start at Right Wing and Josh Magennis could well be given the chance to get his first goal for the club up top.
The truth is my ‘team news’ could be accurate or could be miles away from what Leam goes with. There is obviously going to be an eye on saving players for the league but trips to Wembley don’t come around very often so I’d like to see us go for it tonight.
Sutton United are currently experiencing the best period of their 124 year history and are enjoying their first season in the Football League. Having won the National League last season The Us have taken that momentum into this campaign and currently find themselves in the automatic promotion spots in the 4th tier.
At the helm is 40 year old Matthew Gray who has been in charge at Gander Green Lane for 3 years. His side line up in a traditional 4-4-2 formation with 2 tall strikers, 2 tricky wingers, 2 industrious midfielders and a solid back 4. It is a relatively old fashioned style of football but it works brilliantly for Sutton and is clearly extremely effective.
Sutton have the lowest possession stats in League 2 which shows just how direct their style of play can be. They complete an average of 180 accurate passes per 90, the lowest in the league, but despite this they create a lot of goal scoring opportunities. The Us average 1.2 big chances per 90 and have found the net 53 times so far this season, with these goals being spread pretty evenly around the squad.
There isn’t an out and out goal scorer in the Sutton team with top scorer David Ajiboye only having 7 goals in the league. A lot of their goals come from set piece situations, including long throws which they deliver from both sides of the pitch. It’s fair to suggest that a lot of Sutton’s focus coming into this game will be on this aspect of the game as it looks to be their best chance of hurting a pretty sturdy Latics defence.
Sutton’s progression to the EFL Trophy semi-finals has seen them beat League 1 sides AFC Wimbledon and Portsmouth. The 3 goals they scored in these games all came from 1st or 2nd phases of set pieces, which again suggests this is their main method of attack against teams from the division above.
The areas where we can hurt Sutton is in the spaces between their defence and midfield. If our attacking players can find space between the lines and turn towards goal there will be ways we can create chances. Their full backs don’t have great pace so getting players in behind them could cause serious problems for the League 2 side. We will see a lot of the ball, and if we have the cutting edge with our passes goal scoring chances will be created in these areas.
We can expect a scrappy game from the visitors, and if any Latics youngsters are to feature they will be in for a physical battle the likes of which many won’t have experienced in their careers to date. The home side undoubtedly possess the greater skill levels on the ball but if we fail to match our opponents intensity and aggression it will make things infinitely more difficult.
Player to Watch
As previously mentioned this Sutton squad doesn’t have a stand out player like many sides do when pushing for promotion. Therefore, picking a key man is relatively difficult but a player that excites the ‘neutrals’ is David Ajiboye.
Ajiboye is a powerful winger with bags of pace and trickery that make him a handful for whatever defender he faces up against. The 24 year old joined Sutton United in their non league days and has shown his ability to rise up through the football league pyramid, scoring 7 goals and making 2 assists in League 2 this season.
He has the 5th most dribbles per 90 in League 2 this season and the directness of his dribbling often wins free kicks in attacking areas. As we know Sutton can be extremely good from set pieces so Latics will need to be careful not to foul Ajiboye too often as it could do more damage than letting him run down the wing unchallenged.
After my first correct prediction of the season last weekend I’m hoping to make it 2 from 2 tonight! Sutton United will give Latics the toughest test they have faced in the EFL Trophy this season by a country mile I am pretty confident of that. They’ll arrive full of confidence and without fear, knowing they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Despite this I’m confident that the skill and technical ability of Latics forward players will get us the goals we need to send us to Wembley for the final. It would be incredible to get to Wembley especially after the last 18 months of craziness at the club. Here’s hoping we get there.
Up the Tics!
Latics 2-0 Sutton United