Ipswich Town vs Wigan Athletic Match Preview

“It’s probably the first whack we’ve received round the head for a long time.” admitted Leam Richardson after Saturday evening’s 2-1 defeat to Cambridge United, Wigan’s first loss in 9 games.

With the result blowing the League One promotion race wide open Latics have the chance to make amends as they travel to Portman Road to take on Ipswich Town, knowing 3 points could secure their return to the Championship if results go their way.

Defeat on Saturday was Latics 7th in the league this season, but what has to be noted is the bounce back ability of this group. After every single one of these losses we have gone on to win the following game and there is no better time to continue that record than tonight.

The trip to Suffolk sees us face off against an Ipswich side touted for big things this season but currently sitting 11th in the league with no chance of reaching the play offs. Having lost to Rotherham on Saturday you’d expect Kieran Mckenna’s side to be desperate for a reaction in their penultimate home game of the season.

Latics Team News

If Saturday’s defeat confirmed one thing for Latics fans it was that our best formation is definitely a 3-4-3, or any formation that allows players to play in their favoured positions that is! The decision to change to a 4-2-3-1 was bold and was perhaps influenced by our struggles to score against Burton last Tuesday, or indeed to match Cambridge’s 4-4-1-1 system.

Whatever the plan was it didn’t work and a change to 3-4-3 was made at half time. With that in mind I’m hoping we revert back to this system tonight, especially against an Ipswich side that play the same way.

Ben Amos was a bystander for much of the Cambridge game despite conceding twice so he’ll be keen to get a clean sheet this time around. He seemed to be in some discomfort on Saturday as well with what looked like an ankle injury so hopefully that won’t prevent him from featuring tonight.

I’m desperate to see Jason Kerr reintroduced to the side and move into a back 3 alongside Jack Watmough and Kell Watts. The latter 2 were bullied in the first half by Cambridge striker Joe Ironside but looked far more comfortable alongside Kerr, as had been the case in the previous 3 games they’d played together.

Playing a 3 at the back not only gives us a defensive overload in most situations (especially with our wing backs and 2 deep midfielders dropping in to make a 5-2-3) but it also makes us more productive in attacking areas. Whilst you’d imagine losing an attacker would have a negative effect on our play going forward I believe it allows our deepest lying forward, usually Will Keane, to see more of the ball which can only be a good thing.

Tendayi Darikwa will be pleased to see the switch of formation if it happens after his struggles at Left Back on Saturday night. The decision to pick him over a left footed left back Tom Pearce seemed crazy in my opinion and questions were raised as to whether his spot in the team is at risk despite being captain. He was subbed on Saturday and needs to put in a better performance this time around.

Gavin Massey could replace him as we know he performs really well in big games. the being said I don’t expect Leam to drop the captain and he does deserve the chance to make amends. On the left both Tom Pearce and Joe Bennett could be available and you could toss a coin to see which one makes the 11 tonight.

Max Power will return to the midfield alongside Tom Naylor to reform their fantastic partnership. They combined for the goal against Cambridge but both probably put in their poorest performances in Wigan shirts in terms of their general play. With Power back in the midfield it will help to free up Will Keane in front of him, as well as allow another method of attack with Power’s crossing from the half spaces.

When crossing from RB, despite it being in virtually the same position on the pitch, Power is far less effective than when crossing as a CM. As a midfielder more space is created by the overlapping Wing Back, or perhaps one of the front 3 running into the channel in front of him. Even if not crossing the ball the space created for Power in turn creates space for Will Keane as this picture shows.

When at RB the passing angle into Keane isn’t as good. Keane has to come out of his usual position to show for the ball but with passing lanes cut off it isn’t possible and the ball is lost. Keane himself is more than 10 yards away from his closest team mate meaning link up will be more difficult.
Now playing in midfield Max Power has more space to play with and so does Keane. The pass into him is easy and Keane is much closer to Lang/Magennis when playing in a front 3 not a front 4. Off screen Darikwa is overlapping Power which provides the space, something Power doesn’t get when he is the full back.

A front 3 of Keane, Lang and Magennis would be my choice tonight especially given their record when playing together. On Saturday afternoon Ipswich seemed to struggle with the physicality of Michael Smith which suggests Magennis could be an effective player given his strength and hold up play. Callum Lang didn’t cover himself in glory last time out with a couple of dives that he can count himself very lucky not to have been sent off for. He’s a good enough player to not have to resort to that and I hope its the last we see of it.

The Opposition

Ipswich Town were tipped for the top of League 1 this season after an extremely productive summer transfer window. It wouldn’t be unfair to say they have underperformed this season, but ever since former Latics chief Paul Cook was replaced by Kieran Mckenna the Tractor Boys have seen an upturn in form.

At the start of April they were on an 11 game unbeaten run and were making a late push for the play offs under the tutelage of the former Manchester United coach. 1 point from their last 3 games has ended that dream but that shouldn’t undermine the good job Mckenna has done since taking charge in December.

They play a 3-4-3 system similar to Latics although they play two 10s and one 9 as opposed to our favoured one 10 and 2 9s. They like to dominate possession and their 58.9% average is the best in the division, with the figure being even higher since Mckenna has taken charge. They also complete the 2nd highest number of passes per game so we can expect to be without the ball for large periods of the game.

They have also been very defensively solid in this formation keeping 12 clean sheets and conceding 0.45 goals per game since Mckenna took over, the lowest of any club in the league during that time. Their home defensive record is extremely impressive as well, conceding twice in 9 games at Portman Road.

They’ve allowed an average of 9.33 shots per 90 across the season but again it’s important to understand that number is slightly lower since the managerial change in December. The change to a 3 at the back has clearly tightened them up defensively and draws parallels with teams like Chelsea/Brighton in terms of how they use their system to restrict the opposition scoring chances.

As is always the case with teams playing 3 at the back there are times when spaces become open to exploitation. Given their possession hungry style they can be vulnerable to counter attacks when they commit bodies high up the pitch and if we go man for man with their back 3 this could really hurt them. If we do so and they’re forced to withdraw a Wing Back or Midfielder to help defensively it will weaken them in attacking areas.

Speaking of which they don’t create as many chances as you’d expect for a side that sees almost 605 of the ball. Their 11.37 shots per 90 ranks them 17th in the league and their 3.7 shots on target puts them 19th. They average just over 1 goal a game under Kieran Mckenna and have drawn a blank in 7 of the Northern Irishman’s 20 games. They do however have the 2nd best conversion rate in the league which shows they maybe don’t need as many chances as other teams do to find the back of the net.

Where I think Latics will do the most damage is down our left side in behind Ipswich wing back Wes Burns. Having played as a winger for most of his career Burns has become a flying RWB under Mckenna but his aggressive positioning in attacking areas can leave him with lots of tracking back to do. If Callum Lang drifts wide into the areas Burns leaves free Latics could find joy on the counter attack.

Burns (circled) plays very high up the pitch. If Lang goes man for man with Ipswich’s RCB (bottom of screen) it could provide opportunities.

The Tractor Boys don’t have anything to play for but then again neither did Burton and Cambridge who took points off us. They will be tough to break down and have quality all over the pitch that can hurt us. Defensively I can’t see us getting much from open play but they have shown fragility whilst defending set pieces so they could play a big part in determining the outcome of the game.

Player to Watch

Former Latics man Sam Morsy is Ipswich’s captain and a key player in the heart of their midfield. Having vowed leaving Latics for the Championship was due to not wanting to play League One football the Egyptian international returned to the third tier this year for Ipswich and has shown his class throughout the campaign.

His skill set doesn’t need explaining to Latics fans who will remember the tenacity and drive Morsy offers in the middle of the pitch. However, in Ipswich’s possession based system his ball skills have improved and he provides excellent passing progression and rotation.

With 88% pass accuracy this season and 1 key pass per 90 Morsy makes Kieran Mckenna’s side tick. He also offers defensive steel with 1.5 tackles completed per 90, 3.2 tackles attempted per 90 and 1 interceptions per 90. Unsurprisingly he’s still making referees busy, making 2.37 fouls per 90 and collecting 10 yellows in 30 games.

Final Thoughts

Latics know a victory could secure promotion but it won’t be easy against an experienced and talented Ipswich Town side. Their home record is fantastic as is their defensive record, but no side has scored more goals away from home than Latics this season.

As I mentioned previously we have responded to every loss with a win this season and if that record is to continue tonight it will go down as one of the most important victories in the clubs history.

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