After Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Lincoln City, Latics hit the road again as they travel to Staffordshire for their meeting with Burton Albion.
Results at the weekend mean Wigan sit 3 points clear at the top of League 1 and 6 points clear of 3rd place Rotherham United, who also play tonight.
Victory would all but secure promotion for Leam Richardson’s side but they face a stern test against Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s Burton Albion.
Latics Team News
Latics will have to do without both goal scorers from their 2-0 victory over the Brewers back in October. James McClean and Curtis Tilt both scored screamers at the DW but the pair seem to be ruled out for the season which is a huge shame.
Ben Amos made some crucial saves at Sincil Bank on Saturday and the same will be needed tonight. The 32 year old stopper will be keen to secure his 2nd clean sheet against Burton this season.
The defensive trio of Jason Kerr, Jack Watmough and Kell Watts have been nothing short of fantastic in recent weeks. The change to a 5 at the back has allowed Jason Kerr, who made his first Latics start against Burton in October, to shine and he has been a huge reason behind our success in the past month or so.
Another two key parts of Latics success, and especially their defensive security, has been wing backs Joe Bennett and Tendayi Darikwa. Both offered a lot going forward on Saturday, Bennett from set pieces and Darikwa with his pace, power and link up play down the right hand side.
Tom Naylor put in another solid performance on Saturday although he perhaps wasn’t as noticeable as he has been in previous weeks. An early yellow card had him treading on eggshells for 80 minutes but he managed his game brilliantly alongside Max Power. Power, who went semi-viral on twitter after he lobbed a stewards hat into the crowd during wild celebrations, was excellent again as his partnership with Naylor continues to develop.
Speaking of partnerships, the front 3 of Lang, Keane and Magennis put in a memorable display on Saturday and almost singlehandedly won the game for Latics. Two Callum Lang strikes either side of Will Keane’s 21st league goal of the season secured the points against Lincoln, and despite not getting on the scoresheet Magennis’ impact did not go unnoticed.
An assist for Lang’s first and a fantastic tackle in the build up to Lang’s second were two examples of the Northern Irishman’s ability, and he would’ve scored had it not been for a ridiculously good save by the Lincoln goalkeeper.
Similarly to Accrington and Lincoln, Burton Albion are pretty much on the beach. sitting in 17th place 10 points clear of the bottom 4 with 5 games left. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s (or JFH for the rest of this article!) men look set to finish on almost exactly the same points as they did last season, which for a club of Burton’s side must be considered an achievment.
With 2 wins from their last 13 games the Brewers have tumbled from a solid mid table position towards the lower end of the division and Latics will be keen to prolong this slump. Our form against teams in the bottom half has been superb this season, whilst Burton have only picked up 5 points from a possible 30 against the teams currently sitting in the top 6 so the form book definitely points things in our favour.
However, it is important to understand that Burton are a decent side. Latics won the reverse fixture relatively comfortably, but had it not been for Jonny Smith’s early red card things could’ve been very different. We had 72% possession, 24 shots but could only manage the 2 goals from long range which shows a resilience in the Burton defence. Their 0-0 draw against play-off chasing Plymouth on Saturday was another example of their solidity, albeit it has been missing in some games this season.
They tend to use a 3-4-1-2 system against the divisions better sides so I expect that’s what they go with tonight. This would play into Latics hands in my opinion as we have put several sides playing that formation to the sword recently such as Accrington, Morecambe and Fleetwood. However, it is worth mentioning those 3 teams are in the top 5 leakiest defences in the league, Burton are 9th worst for goals conceded.
They allow the 6th most shots per 90 with 13.71 and with Latics’ clinical nature in front of goal you’d expect the away side to score at least once tonight. They do allow a lot of space outside of the centre halves which players like Lang/Darikwa/Bennett can all exploit. A goal the Brewers conceded against Morecambe will have Latics licking their lips as it almost mirrors exactly how we tend to play.
They are a team that likes to press high up the pitch, they’ve won the ball back in the final 3rd 191 times this season second only to Rotherham in League 1. Given our composure at the back we should be able to counteract this by playing through the lines and going 3 vs 3 up top, but if we aren’t on our game with the ball they will be there to punish us.
They’ve made the 6th most interceptions in the league but the 4th fewest tackles which suggests they prefer facing teams that try to pass through them rather than direct sides capable of running at them and playing direct football. This maybe explains why we struggled to break them down at the DW when we had plenty of the ball, so don’t be surprised if we adopt a more direct approach tonight.
Adlene Guedioura has left Burton today and this is ahuge loss for them in my opinion. The Algerian international had joined the Brewers to try and stake a claim for a world cup spot with his country, but after they failed to qualify the decision ahs been made to let the 36 year old midfielder move on.
This leaves them light in midfield and without a real creative spark in the side. Goals have been a bit of a problem for JFH’s side, their top goal scorer Daniel Jebbison scored 7 goals this season in his loan spell but he’s been back at Sheffield United since January. The top scorer currently at the club is John Brayford, a centre Back, who has 5. This explains their struggles and shows the main issue this season has been their inability to put the ball in the back of the net.
Against Wigan’s excellent defence they could find things even harder and given our attacking efficiency you’d expect they’d need to score at least once if they are to get anything out of the game. Despite their lack of creativity they do take a solid number of shots, their 13.02 per 90 is actually higher than Latics which suggests a lack of cutting edge in the Burton side.
Player to Watch
Midfielder Joe Powell has been a bright light in a pretty dull Burton side this season and he’s the player I think we need to be most wary of tonight. The 22 year old joined Burton in 2019 after being released by West Ham and has continued his impressive development this season.
He’s scored 3 times and got 3 assists this season, not quite as impressive as his 7 goals and 6 assists from last season but still a decent return for a young player. He takes 1.61 shots per 90, 2.1 key passes per 90 and delivers 6.36 crosses per 90, suggesting he’s responsible for the bulk of Burton’s creativity which as we’ve mentioned isn’t exactly their strong point.
If they play a 3-4-1-2 Powell will likely play in the 10 role and look to find space in and around the Latics defence. As has been the case with many sides creative spark Powell may struggle against Latics’ sound defensive unit, but if not dealt with properly he has the ability to hurt us.
As the season draws to an end this Latics side are motoring towards promotion. We seem to have hit form at the perfect time and tonight’s game offers us another opportunity to treat a packed out away end to a priceless victory.
Burton won’t be a walkover but I’m confident our quality and determination will see us through in the end. Hopefully, Portsmouth do us a favour and beat Rotherham tonight and push us even closer to the Championship. Up The Tics!