Happy New Year! 2022 has been and gone and Latics will be hoping that 2023 brings more success and most importantly Championship survival. Winning today will go a long way to making that happen and its absolutely vital that we hit a run of good form like a lot of the teams around us seem to be doing.
Its fair to say the last few games haven’t gone to plan. After a positive start to Kolo’s reign away at Millwall we’ve suffered three pretty convincing defeats, albeit against sides we weren’t expected to beat. The next couple of games are a lot more ‘winnable’ and could really kickstart our season. It’ll also highlight the areas of the squad that need improving although that feels pretty clear already.
Opponents Hull City are unbeaten since the return from the World Cup and are slowly climbing the table under Liam Rosenior. The appointment of a young coach seems to have worked far better for them than it has for us (yes its still early days!) and there’s been some really bright and impressive performances from them recently. It’ll be a tough game but they’re a very inconsistent side and hopefully we can capitalise.
Latics Team News
I’m running out of players to write about in this section to be honest! There were new availability concerns before, during and after the Sunderland game which have taken our numbers down to the barest of bones. Anthony Scully and Nathan Broadhead were both absent, the former reportedly fell ill pre game and the latter looks set to return to Everton in order to be sold on to fund their own transfer activity.
The saddest part of the game was probably the injury to Charlie Hughes. He went down early in the game after a very late challenge but seemed to recover, only to go down clutching his hip after an innocuous collision 5 minutes later. We’re not sure how long he’ll be out for but it didn’t look good and I can’t imagine he’ll feature this afternoon.
This leaves us with just Curtis Tilt at Centre Back, which isn’t great. Whatmough and Kerr are set for prolonged spells on the side-lines and Rarmani Edmonds-Green will more than likely be playing for Huddersfield again before long as the recall clause in his contract is set to be activated. Ryan Nyambe deputised there on Thursday and wasn’t too bad, but its far from ideal as we need him at Right Back.
The reason that’s far from ideal is it means we’re going to have to persist with Tendayi Darikwa. The Latics skipper had a really poor game against Sunderland and simply isn’t up to being a first team player at this level, but for reasons beyond our control you’d imagine he’ll keep his spot. He can have games where he’s good but they’re too uncommon, that’s the most frustrating thing.
Graeme Shinnie has been told he is free to leave the club this window and his former club Derby County look like they’re angling for a move. Tom Naylor and Max Power started the last game and, once again, offered very little. Naylor actually defended really well before giving away the penalty that killed the game, but offered nothing going forward as is the case more often than not with him.
Max Power is probably going through the roughest patch of form he’s had in his career too which isn’t ideal. He comically hit a free kick straight into a one man wall on Thursday which just about summed up his season, and I still believe he needs a period of time out of the team to refresh himself. He’s still not missed a minute of play this season which is crazy to me.
Callum Lang had one of his quietest games in a Latics shirt against Sunderland and seemed to limp off which isn’t good. The fact that he was replaced by Gwion Edwards, someone who couldn’t even get into our 18 man squad for most games in League One, shows just how little quality depth we have and highlights how necessary it is that we make signings this month.
Ashley Fletcher, someone we’ve seen so little of this season, got his first start on Thursday and looked quite impressive. His aggression and intensity set the tone for the press which unfortunately wasn’t backed up by his teammates, particularly Keane who I felt was unusually lazy the other night. However, if the pair can strike up a partnership there’s enough quality there to get us a fair few goals.
An Opposition View
To give an insight into where our opponents are at leading into this afternoon’s fixture I’ve called in the help of somebody far more knowledgeable on Hull than myself!
1) After a poor start to the season it’s fair to say things have improved for Hull City recently, particularly after the World Cup break. How have things been at the club since the previous meeting with Latics in October?
“It has been a very interesting period. After the win against you in October , things have looked upwards for the majority of the time. A lot of that is down to the new manager who has given us an identity, something which we lacked in the earlier weeks of the season.” [@BFerraby7]
2) Liam Rosenior has enjoyed a bright start to his reign at Hull and seems to have you set up really well. What have you made of him since he’s taken charge at the MKM Stadium?
“I’ve been impressed with the steady improvement we’ve made since he’s taken the reins. Being a former cult hero as a player he already had the fans on side, and I think it’s clear what route he wants us to go down. Even though we’ve only won 2 of his first 7 games, he’s made us a lot more resilient defensively, and we’re creating a lot more chances, allowing our most creative players to flourish, and I think it’s a matter of time now before we get luck on our side and begin to climb the table.” [@BFerraby7]
3) Your squad has some real talent in it but up until recently things haven’t quite clicked. Do you think it’s been a case of letting these players, many of whom are playing in England for the first time, settle into life in a new environment?
“Yes and no. I think that because of the turnover in the summer, despite some good results in the early games of the season it was always going to take time. I think the main issue to begin with was that whilst we went on our horrific run in September – October, there was a number of injuries to key players and then some out of form. Now Rosenior has got a lot of these players back, and instilled a belief in the side I believe 2023 will show what this squad is capable of when the majority are fit and firing.” [@BFerraby7]
4) From that talented group, who are you pinning your hopes on to bring home the 3 points from the DW Stadium?
“There are quite a few capable of making a difference , but for me it’s Jean Michael Seri. A lot of people (myself included), did seem to use him as a scapegoat when we were stuck in a rut, but in recent weeks you can see the quality he possesses, and that when he plays well, the confidence then spreads to the rest of the team. He was the best player on the pitch for me in our win at Birmingham, and that for me was our most complete performance of the season. For a prediction I’ll say 3-1 to City, with Estupinan continuing his goalscoring form as well with 2 goals, and Allahyar Sayaddmanesh to score the third goal.” [@BFerraby7]
Given the current state Latics are in its difficult to predict how teams will line up against us. The sad fact is, with Latics sitting bottom of the league, every team will now look at us as a ‘must win’ game. With that in mind Hull – who have been known to sit back in a pretty defensive set up under Rosenior – may well look to attack us a bit more this afternoon.
The impressive thing about Hull is that they can do both pretty well. In their last game against Birmingham City they set up pretty defensively yet were still able to create several chances and ultimately walk away with all three points. We can expect them to offer us little by way of space in the final third as well as a genuine threat in the transition.
I think everyone would agree that we’re a bit of a liability defensively. In part that’s down to circumstance – we’ve lost most of our defence to injury and the ones that are left aren’t being helped by those in front of them – but a lot of our problems are purely and simply down to how we’ve set ourselves up. This new look press-focused side is being carved open with ease.
This simple long ball caused us huge problems on Thursday. Sunderland noticed that the gap between our midfield and defence was becoming increasingly big as we pushed forward in search of goals and exploited it to great effect. A lack of discipline from our midfield 2 combined with a lack of bravery from our back 4 meant we were either too high and too deep at the same time. Its an issue I noticed prior to the game and highlighted in my preview, and lo and behold it proved to be problematic.
The solution is simple enough to write but perhaps not to put into practice. One way is to commit to playing a high line with an advanced midfield pairing that press high and offer the opponents minimal time on the ball, backed up by a high defensive line that can sweep up behind and limit any space appearing in the dreaded ‘corridor of uncertainty’.
The other option probably isn’t what Kolo wants to do but may end up being something he has to. Calling his midfield pairing back 5 or 10 yards might make us less aggressive from a pressing point of view, but will ensure we don’t find ourselves man for man at the back which is an extremely vulnerable position to be in.
Its a tough balance to strike but without sounding too harsh, its what Kolo and his staff are being paid to do! His antagonist Liam Rosenior has certainly been able to achieve it, albeit with a much better group of players, and looks set to pose a real threat to Latics at the DW this afternoon.
I can’t see them being too expansive especially as they’re away from home. Expect a solid 4-5-1 shape out of position that quickly becomes a 4-3-3 going forward. They tend to look to flood one side of the pitch with a number of bodies before playing a quick switch of play which will stretch our narrow back 4. Its important to stop them at source, win the second balls and don’t allow that switch of play to happen.
You’d like to think Kolo Touré’s first win as Latics boss isn’t too far away, but if I’m being honest there hasn’t been much to suggest that’s actually going to be the case! Last time out against Sunderland I witnessed one of the poorest Latics performances of my time following the club and I can’t imagine there’s much confidence left in the squad at the moment.
That being said this game offers a new opportunity to get our season back on track. Its a new year and without wanting to sound like a Facebook post your auntie writes ‘New Year, New Me!’