Wigan Athletic could finally secure their promotion to the Championship with a win in their final home game of the season against Plymouth Argyle this weekend.
A draw would all but send us up given our superior goal difference over MK Dons, and if they drop points to Morecambe we will be promoted regardless of our result. If Rotherham lose or draw to Oxford and we win we’ll go up as champions.
Opponents Plymouth know that a win would all but ensure them a play off place as well as keeping them in the hunt for automatic promotion. Nerves will surely be at play especially given the pretty poor form both sides have shown recently and it’s all to play for at the DW on Saturday afternoon.
Latics Team News
Tuesday nights 2-2 draw with Ipswich Town saw Latics revert to the tried and trusted 5-2-1-2 / 3-4-3 system and despite worrying moments we looked much more secure than we did whilst playing a 4-2-3-1.
We played a 3-5-2 in the reverse fixture and at the time it was only the 3rd time we’d done so this season. A front 2 of Keane and Lang with Thelo Aasgaard in behind worked well with the young Norwegian registering an assist for Keane’s opening goal. Keane would drop deeper in the second half and made the winning goal with a perfect through ball to Callum Lang who finished brilliantly in the last minute.
With Plymouth also playing this system I like the idea of playing a more industrial midfield with 2 strikers and a genuine number 10 to link the play in front of their back 3. However, they have also looked vulnerable when playing against an outright front 3 so that could definitely be an option, and we’ve done it lots in recent weeks.
I expect the ‘back 8’ to stay the same as it was in the Ipswich game although with Joe Bennett playing a full 90 minutes on Tuesday night I’m not sure if he’s ready to play another huge game straight away. If not Tom Pearce is a more than capable alternative in that LWB spot.
The team I would pick includes an extra midfielder as I think it worked well in the reverse fixture. Jamie McGrath could play the 10 role but it seems unlikely that he’d be thrown straight into a game of this magnitude. Gwion Edwards is a steady player capable of playing this position but again it seems a strange time to introduce him into the side.
Thelo Aasgaard performed brilliantly at Home Park and is probably the most natural player we have for this position. However, having not played a first team game in months it could be seen as a risk to reintroduce him.
If Thelo isn’t ready to play from the start I’d like to see Max Power be given a more forward thinking role and bring Graeme Shinnie or Jordan Cousins into the midfield alongside Tom Naylor. Max has the engine to help the team out of possession whilst also possessing the creativity to feed the front 2 of Lang and Keane.
Plymouth Argyle have had a fantastic season and many would’ve expected them to fall out of the play off spots by now. Having started the season remarkably well under Ryan Lowe they have remained consistent under new boss Steven Schumacher and look set to make the League 1 play offs. However, with their only remaining games coming against 2 of the top 3 nothing is secured yet and they’ll be coming to the DW desperate for points.
As I’ve mentioned they play a 3-5-2 formation that gives them great defensive stability and allows them to control possession well. They also offer a goal threat having scored 67 goals in their 44 games, with star striker Ryan Hardie responsible for 16 of them.
Defensively is where Plymouth are the strongest, their 18 clean sheets is bettered only by Rotherham in League 1 this season. The 3-5-2 system allows them to nullify threat from wide areas with 3 v 2 defensive overloads, something we fell victim too at Home Park.
Limiting Latics’ productivity out wide is something I expect Plymouth to try and do again. The last 3 goals they have conceded have highlighted the lack of pace they have at the back so to try and prevent us playing balls over the top from wide areas they’ll likely step on to our Wing backs similarly to how they did in the image above.
Here are 3 still images taken in the build up to Plymouth’s last 3 goals conceded. It shows the lack of pace in their pack 3 and the amount of space they offer in behind.
As these 3 images show there is plenty of space in behind Plymouth’s defence to exploit. Players like Keane and Lang can be deadly when running through on goal, and the pace of Darikwa and Bennett/Pearce could cause havoc for their back 3.
When you look at the goals we scored in the reverse fixture these spaces in behind are obvious yet again. I really believe it’s the area we can cause them the most damage.
So we know a potential weakness for them is space in behind but they’ve also struggled for goals in recent weeks. They haven’t created an xG of 1 or more since their game against Cheltenham 4 weeks ago and have scored just once in their last 5 games. This could be down to Ryan Hardie’s absence in 3 of the 5 matches but the problem seems to lie at the feet of their creative midfielders.
Lots of their goals are created through the middle of the pitch and it seems as thought hey haven’t been able to be as productive in this area in recent weeks. Even more bad news for Argyle fans is that Panutche Camara looks set to miss Saturday’s game with an injury he picked up against Sunderland last time out.
Camara is a dynamic midfielder capable of creating chances with his dribbling and passing abilities. His absence would give Plymouth another issue to deal with in attacking areas, but the return of Ryan Hardie will be very positive for Argyle.
To summarise, Plymouth have an excellent defensive record and won’t make things easy for Latics. Their opponents tend to have a hard time converting shots to goals, sides playing against them score just 0.07 of the shots they take. This suggests we could be in for a frustrating low scoring afternoon which will only add to the tension in the ground.
In terms of their attacking play they look to work through the midfield by overloading central areas and use quick passing patterns to create openings for shots. Ryan Hardie and Niall Ennis both like to run in behind so don’t expect Latics’ back 3 to play too high up the pitch.
It’s difficult to know what to expect from Plymouth, especially in such a highly pressured game. They are a side that doesn’t have much experience in promotion out of League 1, something we do have, and you think that could play some part on Saturday afternoon.
Player to Watch
With Camara’s injury and Ryan Hardie not yet back to his best my choice for Plymouth’s player to watch is Conor Grant. The LWB has been a consistent performer for Argyle this season and a key part in making them the play off chasing outfit they’ve turned out to be.
His battle against Latics captain Tendayi Darikwa down the wing is one you’d imagine they’ll look at and target before the game. Grant attempts over 1 dribble per 90 with a completion of over 50% which and in the reverse fixture he dribbled past Darikwa twice. This season his end product is solid too with the 27 year old averaging over 2 key passes per 90 and has 4 assists to his name.
Defensively he has performed well too and will need to do the same on Saturday afternoon. Averaging over 1 tackle and interception per 90 suggests he defends well but not often, highlighting the overall stability of Plymouth’s side. His set piece delivery is useful too and something we’ll need to be wary of.
These are the kind of games where you turn to your experienced players to carry you over the line. Plymouth’s side aren’t inexperienced necessarily but they don’t have the knowhow of some of Latics’ squad who’ve been promoted out of this division.
A good crowd is expected at the DW and they’ll be keen to give the home side the edge they need to get over the line and secure promotion back to the Championship at last.