Who’d have thought it would come down to this? Wigan Athletic travel to Shrewsbury Town knowing that a point will send them up to the Championship and victory will guarantee them their 3rd League 1 trophy in 6 years.
Latics’ faltering form sees them winless in 5 games and there is genuinely no better time to put an end to such a run as now. Looking after our own result is the most important thing this weekend and Leam Richardson has stressed this in his pre match quotes. Results elsewhere will only matter if we don’t do our job correctly.
Opponents Shrewsbury are also winless in 5 games and currently sit 17th in League 1. They can finish 16th with a win or 18th with a loss but there is far less at stake for the Salops than their visitors. A sell out crowd at New Meadow awaits both sides with 1,600 Wiganners’ making the journey to Shropshire hoping to experience another promotion party.
Latics Team News
Having written 20 or so match previews this season the main thing I’ve learnt is that I have absolutely no clue what Leam is going to do. It’s fair to say what I think will/want to happen is different to what actually happens, then again that’s probably why we’re top of the league!
Our last few games have seen us be slightly more defensive with a midfield 3 and a front 2 rather than the other way around. This has given us slightly less control of games in my opinion as we lack a target at the top end of the pitch to keep the ball and link attacks together. Our last win against Lincoln showed just how fantastic our 3-4-3 system can be and I really hope we revert back to it this weekend.
After being solid all season Ben Amos has let a few mistakes creep into his game in recent weeks which we can’t afford to happen again on Saturday. A few weeks ago he looked to pick up an ankle injury but has continued to play on and I wonder if that’s the reason behind his poor form. He seems to be struggling with his handling, hopefully that’s all behind him.
I stand by the fact that our best back 3 with the players we have available is Jason Kerr, Jack Watmough and Kell Watts with Joe Bennett as a wing back rather than outside centre half. If we return to this I expect a much more solid defensive unit from set pieces and crosses into the box, two things that Shrewsbury tend to focus on attacking wise.
Tendayi Darikwa made some fatal errors on Tuesday night as Latics collapsed from 2-0 up to 3-2 down at Portsmouth. Their equalising goal came after he lost his footing and gave the ball away on the edge of our box but to give him a slither of sympathy he had no real passing options and decided to dribble out. Then what happened happened… This is another reason why I believe we need a proper number 9 playing, when our defence are under pressure they can hit it into him and build from higher up the pitch.
The midfield 2 is a tricky one for me. Tom Naylor has arguably been our player of the season, Max Power is the closest we have to a deep lying playmaker and Jordan Cousins has been the best of the 3 in recent weeks. Naylor and Power have also looked slightly leggy of late but for me that’s the pairing to go for. We need Power for his work rate, creativity and set piece taking and Tom Naylor deserves to partner him after an unbelievable season. Cousins would be unlucky to miss out and if I’m honest I expect all 3 to start, but personally I’d go with a pairing of Power and Naylor.
So that leaves the front 3. Callum Lang and Will Keane both added to their impressive goal tally’s on Tuesday and both will start against Shrewsbury. They’ll also have added incentive to get on the scoresheet, Lang is playing a former loan club and Keane probably needs another 1 or 2 goals to be in with a chance of winning the Golden Boot.
The decision on who will partner them is a tricky one. Josh Magennis is the more physical target man and has shown how well he can link with Keane and Lang when the 3 have played together. The question mark surrounding him is a recent ankle injury that doesn’t yet seem to be sorted. He made the bench vs Plymouth but then was absent on Tuesday so I don’t know if he’ll start.
Therefore my choice to lead the line would be Stephen Humphrys. The 24 year old has been fantastic whenever he’s been called upon this season and has all the attributes to do the job this weekend. He’s physical enough to act as the spearhead, technical enough to create something out of nothing and his work rate is second to none. To me it makes sense to go for it with 3 up front and Humphrys is a big part of making that system work.
Leam Richardson did hint that James McClean could make a return from injury which would be huge for Latics. If he’s fit I’d seriously consider playing him at LWB as I believe we’ve missed him hugely.
Shrewsbury have made themselves tough to beat under Steve Cotterill this season and have comfortably survived relegation. Going forward they leave a lot to be desired but defensively they’re statistically one of the best in the league which has gone a long way to keeping them in the division.
They will likely line up in a 3-5-2 system that becomes a 3-4-1-2 in attack and a 5-3-2 in defence. This allows them to set up in a mid-low block and spring counter attacks spearheaded by their front 2 who tend to stay pushed up against the opposition CBs when out of possession. They are then supported by a midfielder, usually Josh Vela, who looks to pick up second balls or arrive late into the box to get on the end of crosses.
When Shrewsbury are in possession the wing backs are tasked with being the sides main creators. There’s a lot of emphasis on getting the ball into wide areas and delivering testing deliveries into the box, often from deep rather than the byline in a bid to catch defenders of guard.
The Salops leading assisters are both wing backs, left sided Luke Leahy leads the way with 7 whilst right sided Elliott Bennett has 6. George Nurse also has 6 and he’s a left sided CB who steps out of defence to deliver crosses from deep areas as well as linking up with Leahy outside him down the wing. This is a productive area for Shrewsbury Town.
As you’d expect from a counter attacking side they don’t see much of the ball. With 42.9% per 90 they sit 23rd in the league for this metric which highlights the fact that their game plan is geared towards remaining defensively solid and taking their opportunities from set pieces and counter attacks. They have the 4th lowest goals tally with 47 and almost half of these have been scored by their 2 main strikers Ryan Bowman and Daniel Udoh.
Unsurprisingly for a side that doesn’t see much of the ball they don’t create many big chances, with Fotmob.com saying the Salops average less than 1 per 90. Latics won’t get an easy ride defensively and they still do create plenty of shooting opportunities, be it from range, open play or set pieces.
Defensively is where Shrewsbury are their most impressive. They have the 7th best defensive record in the division with less goals conceded than sides like Sheffield Wednesday, Sunderland and Wycombe. Marko Marosi is statistically one of the best goalkeepers in the league and they’ve kept clean sheets against teams like MK Dons, Rotherham and Sheffield Wednesday this season too.
As I’ve said they don’t see much of the ball which gives their defensive players a lot of work to do. They sit top for tackles won per 90 and 2nd for clearances per 90 which suggests the faith put in their back line is justified. They are a tough team to break down as we found out in the reverse fixture, had it not been for a long range strike from Thelo Aasgaard they’d have held us to a 1-1 draw at the DW.
Their low block is solid and with a hard working midfield in front of them it forces the opposition into making several passes in unthreatening positions of the pitch, either around the centre circle or in wide areas . By forcing teams wide they encourage crosses into the box that they’re confident of dealing with, and as the stats show they do so more often than not.
Latics will need moments of magic similar to Thelo’s wonder strike at the DW if they are to break down the Shrewsbury defence. I can’t see them giving much by way of clear cut chances from open play, and considering our recent struggles against low block sides (Burton and Cambridge spring to mind) this could be an issue.
Interestingly they have had some struggles defending set pieces recently which will encourage Latics. For a side as solid as they are this weakness is somewhat surprising but if Max Power and Joe Bennett get their deliveries right we’ll be in with a great chance from corners especially.
Player to Watch
I’ve already mentioned him a few times but for me the stand out Shrewsbury player this season has been Marko Marosi. His performances have gone a long way to keeping the Salops up this year and I’m sure he’ll be attracting interest come the transfer window.
The 28 year old has the 5th best save percentage in the league with 75%, and for context that’s 9% higher than Ben Amos’. His shot stopping has been excellent this season and only David Stockdale has made more saves than Marosi this season. With 14 clean sheets he can be very satisfied with his performances this year.
He will be disappointed to have conceded 8 in his last 3 games, before them his goals against per 90 was below 1 which is astonishing for a lower half side. Latics will face a tough task in beating him on Saturday afternoon but I’m sure they’ll fancy their chances given the Slovakian’s recent form. If he recreates the form of months go by though we’ll be in for a difficult game.
It’s no secret that we’ve been stumbling over the line but we have the chance to end the season on a high. Shrewsbury will offer a stern test and have no pressure on them but the facts are if Latics play to the levels they’re capable of they will go up as champions. I’m hoping for Leam’s sake that whatever system he goes with works well because it has felt slightly desperate in recent weeks searching for a formula that will get us promoted.
I try to make these previews as professional as possible but allow me to express the supporter in me for just one moment. PLEASE GET IT DONE WIGAN! UP THE TICS!