Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers battled out a 0-0 draw at Ewood Park last night, a result that feels much more positive for Shaun Maloney’s side. Here are 5 things we learnt from the game.
1) A big step forward…
Perhaps it’s because we’ve been so starved of actual quality football this season, but last night felt like a really positive performance. Shaun Maloney has taken over and immediately implemented his ideas onto the squad and it looked like they’ve really taken it on board, a lot more than they did under the previous manager.
We looked really solid defensively, impressive in the midfield and much more lively going forward. There were nice patterns of play, good positional rotation and a resolute defensive structure which are all things we’ve not seen much of this season, and considering the fact that he’s only had a week to work with the players that is really impressive.
The early signs are very encouraging.
2) There’s an identity about us…
This is something I’ve felt we’ve been missing for a long time. As I said to my Dad post match, that was probably the first time I’ve actually enjoyed watching us implement our style of play since the 2019/20 season. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy watching us play under Leam last season because its always nice to win, but the style of football we were trying to play in the first half is exactly how I think the game should be played.
3-4-2-1, fluid front three with high wing backs and an energetic midfield pairing. All three Centre Backs looking confident on the ball and really trying to progress the ball along the floor rather than by playing the percentages. There is no right or wrong way to play football but the way Maloney seems to want us to play is very enjoyable, and I really enjoyed watching us at times last night.
The new manager is also keen to ensure we focus on results ahead of style and he’s correct to say that. But last night we saw a bit of both which is great.
3) The new boys done good!
5 of our 6 January recruits featured last night and all of them looked very assured. All 3 of Maloney’s signings started the game and I was really, really impressed by all of them. Martin Kelly and Omar Rekik were immense at the back, wonderful defensively and very good on the ball. Kelly in particular made several vital interventions defensively and helped keep the clean sheet.
Sinani played in the exact role that I expected him to and did it very well. He found lots of room in the half spaces and in between the lines but unfortunately wasn’t quite able to find the quality end product to match. However, its great to see him fit straight into the style Maloney wants to play and I have absolutely no doubt he’ll come good soon enough.
Christ Tiehi was immense in the midfield and looks like a brilliant pick up. Steven Caulker was a late substitute and fitted in well during Blackburn’s best spell in the game.
4) The injury Gods hate us…
This is absolutely brutal isn’t it? I’ve just spoken about how brilliant Martin Kelly and Omar Rekik were last night and now I’ve got to talk about them going off injured. Rekik went off first with a hamstring injury that hopefully won’t keep him out for too long. Maloney suggested he could be back for the weekend and if not very soon afterwards. Its a shame to lose him for any period of time but fingers crossed we’ll see him back very soon.
Martin Kelly however, wow. This is just really sad. He was a colossus in defence last night and kept Blackburn at bay on several occasions so to lose him for what looks like it’ll be a considerable amount of time is gutting. He caught his foot in the awful Ewood Park pitch and looks to have damaged the ligaments in his left knee. If he has, that’s his season done.
We’ll find out more in the next few days but for now I can’t see either playing on Saturday. When it rains, it bloody pours…
5) The supporter / manager connection is back!
This is fantastic to see. I spoke many times about how little bond there was between Kolo and the supporters during his time in charge and I have no doubt that that played a part in his awful tenure. Now we’ve got Shaun Maloney, a Wigan legend, at the helm and it was great to see the away end chanting his name all game long. Maloney’s rallying cry to supporters pre-match seems to have worked and long may it continue.
I think whatever happens from now until the end of the season, we have to stick with this project. His recruits all looked good so we can probably trust him in the transfer market and the general feeling around the club feels much better. The style looked good and the fans enjoyed watching it, so whilst its still obviously very early days the signs are good.