A point and seemingly a decent performance against Gillingham last week counts for very little now. Even if we played extraordinarily well between now and the end of the season, several teams would have to play extraordinarily poor to allow us the chance to sneak into the play-offs. Essentially, last week’s result extinguished any partially realistic hope of making the top six.
It has though already felt that way for several weeks, so it was somewhat encouraging that we played with some commitment at Gillingham last week. There does seem to be some determination to play for pride, albeit the confidence of the team has made it difficult to actually get results. How much of a chance this gives us against the division’s best team is anyone’s guess.
James Maddison has returned to fitness ahead of this game, but you would imagine Tony Mowbray is only going to utilise him as a substitute. It’s Jodi Jones at the moment who is our new exciting young thing after a series of bright performances. I hope for his sake though that he finds an end product in the next few games otherwise he could be facing up to the kind of paralysing scrutiny that has beset Maddison and Jacob Murphy this season.
There’s nothing else really interesting about the possible starting line-up for this game, most likely because there’s zero riding on the game itself. Romain Vincelot could well continue to play in the number 10 role, Adam Armstrong might not start, Aaron Phillips could get another start. We’re not quite at the stage yet where we might as well ‘play the kids’, I still want to see us play our strongest side and see what happens because this was a very exciting side not that long ago, I don’t want to say goodbye to that just yet.
Last Time We Met
Similarly to this meeting, we entered our last game against Wigan without many expectations. But is was a lack of expectations of a different kind, genuinely not knowing the team, rather than in what mood they might be in. Mowbray threw a curveball with his starting line-up, playing a 4-2-4 with Ruben Lameiras and James Maddison playing nominally as strikers, the kind of tactical gamble that Mowbray hasn’t really deployed since then.
Somehow managing to defend relatively deeply and putting Wigan’s back three under pressure at the same time, it was an energetic display from a young team with a game-plan and desperate to impress. Jim O’Brien sprung Adam Armstrong in behind Wigan’s defence and he finished with unerring accuracy to give us a first-half lead. Despite Wigan building pressure as the game wore on, John Fleck received the ball after pressing their centre-back high up the pitch and teed Armstrong up for a second goal which ended the game as a contest.
How Are They Doing?
After starting the season slowly, spending long spells outside of the top six, Wigan have risen to the top which was to be expected given the massive financial advantage they enjoy over the rest of the division. When things haven’t worked out for them, they’ve brought in quality to plug the gaps, but have generally stuck to quite a patient, attractive style of football, combining technical skill with strong physicality.
Having won the FA Cup just three years ago and been in the Championship play-offs a year later, it’s patently obvious that Wigan simply shouldn’t be in this division. They’ve taken the opportunity to clear the decks and give a young manager a chance to bed into the job but the test for them really is next season where they find out the substance of this sojourn in the third-tier.
If there is one player that sums up Wigan this season, it’s 6 foot 2 winger Yanic Wildschut, signed from Middlesbrough in January after a successful loan spell. Not only a brute of a physical specimen, Wildschut is quick and skilfull, bowling defenders silly enough to get into his wake with glee. A player who has impressed in both the Dutch top-flight and intermittently in the Championship, there’s no way he should be playing in League One and he has proven just why too.
As well as the earlier mentioned Wildschut, Max Power, Sam Morsy and Michael Jacobs in midfield supply the technical brilliance that has really come to the fore in the second half of the campaign. Alone, either of them could make strong claims to being the best players in the division, together they form a formidable attacking force, especially with the finishing of Will Grigg up front.
In defence, Wigan have experience, physical power, and quality. Jason Pearce has stood out at Championship level for several years, making his switch to Wigan in the midst of their relegation campaign somewhat odd, predictably, he has been solid as a rock this season. Donervon Daniels is an immoveable object alongside Pearce in the centre of defence. Oh, and Wigan also happen to have Stephen Warnock playing for them at left-back.
In goal is 40 year-old Jussi Jaaskelainen who has proven he’s still more than good enough for this level of football even at his advanced age. Jaaskelainen’s back-up earlier in the season was Richard O’Donnell, who was offloaded to Bristol City in the Championship where he is now first-choice, summing up just how strong Wigan’s squad is.
It looks a daunting prospect ahead of us against a formidable Wigan side and a Coventry City one low on confidence with nothing to play for. It’s one of those games though that can say a lot about the mentality of a manager and their team as well, you can either put a plan together and stick to it with the dedication that we showed back in August, or you can lose the game before you’ve even made it onto the pitch. If we are to see this collapse as a prelude to success next season, we’ve got to view this game, and the others after it, as an opportunity to bed in ideas and a mentality for next season, regardless of who’s actually going to be sticking around for it.
It is just impossible to tell what kind of performance we’re going to put in for any game at this moment in time. We could hand Wigan another bloody nose, or this could be a dismal afternoon as we drop further down the table and watch what could have won. I’m predicting a 2-1 defeat.