Wigan Athletic’s winless run extended to 4 games as they drew 1-1 to play off hopefuls Plymouth Argyle, but the result all but confirmed their return to the Championship. It was Latics’ final home game of the season and the fans turned up in their numbers to create the 3rd highest home attendance of the season and one of the best atmospheres too.
Leam Richardson made two changes to the side that drew 2-2 draw with Ipswich Town with Tom Pearce and Jordan Cousins replacing Kell Watts and Stephen Humphrys in the starting 11. Joe Bennett moved into the LCB spot and Tom Pearce took his place at LWB.
Jordan Cousins slotted into the midfield alongside Tom Naylor in a move that saw Max Power adopt a more free role in front of the sitting midfielders and behind the front 2 of Lang and Keane. Whilst providing a more genuine link between midfield and attack it also prevented Plymouth’s 3 man midfield from out numbering our double pivot.
In a game of this magnitude its vital to make a fast start and that is exactly what Latics did. Early pressure forced a couple of corners and throw ins that eventually ended in Jordan Cousins heading Max Power’s teasing delivery over from 8 yards. The midfielder probably should’ve done better considering he was unmarked but it showed positive signs for the home side.
With just 12 minutes on the clock Latics created the best opportunity of the match. Jack Watmough’s delightful cross field pass found Tendayi Darikwa flying down the right wing. His low cross was fired towards goal by Callum Lang but Plymouth goalkeeper Michael Cooper was equal to it.
However, having parried the ball straight back to Lang the Latics forward looked to have squeezed home the equalizer but for more impressive goalkeeping from the 22 year old. Tom Pearce then did well to keep the ball in and fire it across goal but Max Power fired over from 6 yards with the goal at his mercy.
The pressure on Plymouth continued when Will Keane won the ball back in the centre circle and released Max Power. His pass through to Callum Lang was slightly over hit and forced the striker wide into a difficult shooting position. He managed to fire an effort across goal but it narrowly missed outside the far post and the scores remained goalless despite Wigan’s dominance.
At half time this stats looked more like 1st vs 24th rather than 1st vs 4th. Plymouth hadn’t registered a shot, had 35% possession and 1 corner, whilst Latics had had 8 shots, 65% of the ball and a huge 8 corners. It was just the lack of a finishing touch that was costing them the goals that would secure promotion.
After the break Latics had another golden opportunity to take the lead but spurned it once again. Callum Lang’s cross from the right wing was met well by Max Power but he directed his header wide of the far post to spare Argyle.
Eventually Plymouth began to make inroads and started to put pressure on the Wigan defence. When substitute Jordan Garrick was adjudged to have been fouled by Joe Bennett (despite carrying on and taking a shot on goal) the away side had an opportunity to register their first shot at Ben Amos’ goal.
Conor Grant’s tame free kick was straight at Amos but the Wigan keeper failed to gather it and dropped the ball at the feet of Luke Jephcott who couldn’t miss from 2 yards. Amos’ has been pretty reliable over the course of the season but has looked slightly jittery in recent weeks and this kind of mistake didn’t come as a complete shock. There is an argument to say he was put off by Dan Scarr who was stood in front of him just before the shot came in but you’d still expect a keeper like him to keep it out.
With MK Dons and Rotherham both winning elsewhere the DW changed from an optimistic place to a nervous one. Plymouth completely sat off and the onus was on Latics to break down a deep block, something we’ve struggled with at times this season. The lack of a creative midfielder on the bench looked costly, but then again there’s no guarantee Leam would’ve used them anyway of course!
With 15 minutes to go Latics forced another couple of corners and finally one was delivered with a bit of quality. Joe Bennett’s cross travelled all the way through a sea of bodies and fell to the feet of Jack Watmough. The best centre half in the league controlled it well and fired a low shot into the net to send the DW crowd barmy.
With Latics needing a victory to secure promotion in front of their home fans we continued to push forward in search of the winner. Callum Lang was released down the right hand side similarly to how he was in the first half but again his low shot wasn’t overly threatening at Cooper gathered easily.
As has been the case all season we had several key refereeing decisions go against us, the most annoying one being a blatant foul on Lang in the box being waved away. We’ve only won 3 penalties all season but that number could (or perhaps SHOULD) be much higher.
The draw means as long as we avoid 2 heavy defeats in our last 2 games we will be promoted, and if we better Rotherham’s result on Tuesday we’ll win League 1 for the 3rd time in 6 years. It’s fair to say we’re stumbling over the line and I think Leam’s lack of substitutions is a big reason for that.
It would be wrong for me to be too critical of the man that has saved our club and almost taken us up but I really don’t understand the reasoning behind his reluctance to make changes. We have the best squad in the league so why not use it? Anyway, that’s a conversation for another post…
Player of the Match
There isn’t really a stand out player from yesterday’s game but for me the most impressive performance was that of Jordan Cousins. In his first start since Shrewsbury (H) to play a full 90 and be so heavily involved at both ends of the pitch is testament to his work rate and commitment, something manager Leam Richardson paid tribute to after the game.
Cousins was tasked with preventing Plymouth’s flair players from getting on the ball and he did this really well. He popped up all over the pitch and made 2 tackles, 4 recoveries and a clearance in his shuttling role in front of the back 3.
He was also very productive in possession, completing 32 of his 39 passes (82%) and allowing the more creative Latics players to get on the ball and play. He could’ve rounded his performance off with the winning goal had he not directed his header wide of the near post early on in the match.
The most important thing is he’s back and having someone of his quality around the starting 11 can only be a good thing for the future.
We couldn’t be any closer to promotion if we tried! Somehow despite being winless in 4 Leam Richardson’s men are all but up although yesterday would’ve been the perfect time to confirm it. Instead it looks like Tuesday night in Portsmouth could be ‘D-Day’ for Latics, but as far as I’m concerned I just want it all over and done with!