With nine wins from eleven for Leam Richardson’s men away from home, the 1700 travelling Latics will be expecting nothing other than three points in the first EFL meeting between these two sides.
However, Stephen Robinson will be buoyed by the spirit shown by his players in recent games. In the last game drawing 0-0 to AFC Wimbledon on the road is encouraging after a dogged display by our defence and loan goalkeeper Trevor Carson.
This encounter against Wigan is most certainly David vs Goliath stuff in terms of a match-up, so we will need more of that endeavor to get a result against a well-oiled and high-quality Wigan side.
I’m delighted to be joined by Barry Worthington from Progress with Unity – Wigan Athletic Podcast and presenter and reporter Danny Jamieson. Their insights, passion and expertise, which they both have in abundance, are vital for the preview!
What are they expecting from the game?
“I am a little bit nervous about Tuesday night’s game, we played at Doncaster on Saturday and they were really up for the battle, I’m sure Morecambe will be the same. In Stockton you have a player who can win games in a heartbeat, so we will need to be at our most dogged.
We have an excellent away record this season, 9 wins from our eleven on the road so far, just the one defeat and that was on the opening day of the season up at Sunderland, we are very effective and never take opponents lightly, which is why despite my slight anxiety I still expect us to pick up the points.”
“A very tricky test really. Wigan’s form has been outstanding so far this season – except for games played on a Tuesday. So far this season they’ve won two games out of 14 played on a Tuesday in all competitions – one against Fleetwood in the league and the FA Cup replay at Solihull back in November. I don’t exactly know why it’s been that way, whether it’s fatigue or the short turnaround from a weekend game but it’s been a constant theme in the league so far.
Obviously with so many games in hand over the other sides at the top of the league that has to change given midweeks are about to become very busy indeed. With three other teams averaging nearly two points a game any match against a team in the relegation zone – with all due respect – looks a must-win if they’re to keep up. “
Whichever side we put out, this is going to be a very tough fixture. Wigan are a powerful team who will press us and get in our faces from the off.
So far the signings of Trevor Carson in goal and Jacob Bedeau at centre back have made us look more solid in the games against Wimbledon and Spurs away. Their introduction seemed to raise the level and confidence of the other defenders around them. Hopefully, that’ll continue.
For that reason, I don’t anticipate Robbo switching from the 4-3-3 formation that allowed us to deal with the pressure The Dons put on us. Defensively, we looked organised and everyone understood their role.
The area that let us down was that lack of coolness in the other box; whether in front of goal to take our chances when they came or with the execution of the final ball. With centre forward Jonathan Obika having been unavailable in the last match, I envisage we’ll continue with the same front three – Cole Stockton down the middle, Arthur Gnahoua down the left and Jonah Ayunga on the right.
This is an area Robbo mentioned in his Wimbledon post-match interview, he’d like to strengthen by adding some extra pace into the attack.
The selection I’m not entirely sure of is the choice between central midfielders Aaron Wildig and Alfie McCalmont, the 21-year old Leeds loanee. Both offer similar qualities, but I suspect Robbo will opt for Aaron for his experience and calmness on the ball shown in recent games. He also tends to make effective late runs into the box.
Against Wimbledon, Wildig successfully completed 96% of his passes (24/25) during his 76 minutes on the pitch according to Wyscout (pass-map below). In his last four appearances, he’s only misplaced two of his 54 passes. Under the intense press, we are bound to receive from The Latics, we’ll need calm heads capable of taking advantage of every passage of possession we have.
“Our biggest problem in the coming weeks will be managing the squad, we are still involved in both the FA Cup and the EFL Trophy, plus we have 5 (five) games in hand on the teams above us, a lot of games coming thick and fast. Leam Richardson loves to play a settled eleven, but I think he may well have to rotate to keep everyone fresh. We have lost both Charlie Wyke and Jordan Cousins for the season due to injury and illness and this has put extra responsibility on our other key players.
There may be one or possibly two changes from Saturday, but no more than that, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t put the same starting eleven out as we had at Doncaster. “
“Wigan – despite the ‘Harlem Globetrotters’ nonsense thrown about earlier this season – don’t have the biggest of squads, so I suspect the biggest decision will be whether to include the new signing from last week, Josh Magennis. He was outstanding at this level last year with Hull, and should help to fill the void up front while Charlie Wyke continues his recuperation. Magennis wasn’t involved at the weekend so there’s a good chance he’ll be in line to make his debut. Outside of that, it’s probably the wide areas where there’s the most choice, if Callum Lang moves back to make room for Magennis then it’s one from McLean, Massey, Edwards, Jones and maybe even Norwegian wunderkind Thelo Aasgaard.”
“Fitness levels are extraordinary, we never stop, so far this season we have scored 16 goals beyond the 90th minute
We are very flexible with the system we play, 4-2-2-1-1, but that changes many times during games, the players are extremely well-coached and know their roles, Leam Richardson is ably assisted by his staff, Rob Kelly and James Beattie, substitutions are always spot on and at the right times.
Defensively we are solid, only conceded 21 goals all season, Jack Whatmough has been an ever-present in the League games at the centre of defence and he is a rock that we have built on, the defence is protected by Power and more so Naylor who patrols the space between the backline and midfield like a guard dog, putting his body on the line and breaking up attacks.
Our set-piece deliveries are very good, inswingers, Power from the left, McClean from the right. We are a very strong unit.
I read a report from an opposition fan earlier this season which read, Wigan are a very strong unit, built to win games and gain promotion, not worrying about the legacy of leaving behind a blueprint of great football for other League 1 teams to follow. That sums us up perfectly. “
“Wigan are a really balanced team this season – it’s been built on an extremely solid foundation. They don’t give up many chances at all. Ben Amos was one of the best keepers in the league last season and has picked up where he left off, though he’s not often called on because of the form of Jack Whatmough. But for the two serious knee injuries he’s suffered earlier in his career he’d be playing at least one level higher than League One.
Leam Richardson also deserves a mention – he had a reputation while on Paul Cook’s staff for being good tactically and it’s bearing out. He had six senior players at the start of the season and has managed to blend a whole load of new signings and players who were forgotten about cast-offs brought in on short term contracts last year into a really cohesive unit. “
As both Barry and Danny mention, The Latics are very stingy in defence and have conceded just 21 goals in 22 games. This is also fairly represented in the expected goals against with the 2nd fewest in League One 20.34 according to Wyscout.
Barry mentioned his side’s excellent fitness and this high energy is reflected in their high-intensity press. According to The Analyst, Wigan have the third-lowest PPDA – i.e. third most intense press – in the division with 10.1
PPDA = Number of Passes made by Attacking Team (opponent) / Number of Defensive Actions.
The lower the PPDA, the higher the intensity of the press and vice versa.
Of the other six teams with the lowest PPDA (most intensive press), The Shrimps have taken just two points from a possible eighteen. We should expect Wigan to give us little time to operate when trying to play out from the back.
“It’s difficult to point to any weaknesses, we can be susceptible, like any team can, to good set-piece routines and sometimes we can get caught a little when our fullbacks venture upfield and we lose possession.”
“As I said before I don’t really think there are any glaring weaknesses in the XI – what will catch up with them is the sheer number of games they have in hand. It isn’t the deepest squad so they can’t really rest players wholesale. But with such a relentless league schedule – and still being in the FA Cup and Papa John’s – they’re going to come under severe physical pressure, and if you can catch them on an off day there’s a result to be had.
Or you could just rely on the fact that it’s a Tuesday and Wigan just don’t seem to like playing on Tuesdays. “
When you’re discussing the team with the highest points per game in League One with 2.18, it seems a little disingenuous to talk about weaknesses. Each time I’ve seen Wigan Athletic play this year they’ve played very efficiently and outpowered their opposition, by giving them little openings and taking the chances they’ve been given.
If I am nit-picking you could draw on the fact their expected goals amount is surprisingly low for a side 4th in League One and 1st in points per game. The Latics have the 8th lowest expected goals according to Wyscout with 29.68.
That being said, their quality has shown as they have scored over 12 goals more than their expected goals amount.
Opportunities Against Wigan,
“This has been a supremely resilient squad no matter what’s been thrown at them the last couple of years, but I do wonder what the pressure of the games in hand will do. Because Sunderland, Wycombe and Rotherham all keep getting results you have to keep up, and for all the games in hand, you still have to win them. So keeping things tight and frustrating them could well be the way to go.
It also goes without saying – and I’m sure he’s been brought up almost every week – but having a goalscorer like Cole Stockton is always a threat – he won’t get many chances going up against Whatmough and Watts so he’ll have to take the few he’s given. “
In order to keep The Latics at bay, we’re going to have to harness that spirit that saw us carry the lead against Premier League Tottenham for 74 minutes and keep a clean-sheet against high-pressing Wimbledon at the weekend.
Cole is without doubt our biggest threat with 15 League goals from just 34 shots on target (see Wyscout shot map below).
If we can be on level terms going into the break, then the stage is set for Cole Stockton. 10 of his 15 League one goals have come during the second half of games.
Wigan have allowed the second-lowest number of shots on goal against them this season, with just 8.24 shots per 90 minutes, so it’s crucial with the limited openings that we get that we’re clinical.
If Wigan focus their attentions on pressing us high whilst their defenders focus on Cole, if we manage to break their press Jonah Ayunga and Arthur Gnahoua will find space to operate. They have both shown glimpses of brilliance, but not on a consistent basis. This would certainly be an opportune time to come to the fore.
Anacedotely, I’ve also noticed we’ve looked more threatening from offensive set-pieces lately. Greg Leigh had a good chance to score from a corner against Wimbledon, whilst Ant O’Connor notoriously scored from a corner against Spurs in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup.
Threats from Wigan
“Not having seen Morecambe play this season, apart from games shown on Quest I’m not sure how you play and how we will cope with this, but we do grind out results, we start games with energy and a high press and will be looking to go in front as soon as possible, we have players who can score all over the pitch and if we take the lead early we tend to try and press home and kill the game off.”
“There’s a lot of threats going forward really – Will Keane has been outstanding all season, he joined last season having not played for months because of injury. He also caught Covid midseason, but as each week goes by and he gets fitter and further away from his illness he’s got better and better. Whichever combination that plays outside him on the wings will likely cause problems for whoever they go up against – James McLean is far too good for League One and can still outrun fullbacks ten years his junior. Gavin Massey has his detractors but has played well lately, and I really like Callum Lang. He’s played through the middle or off the left and has had a knack for important goals.
Also, watch out for late goals – they’ve already scored 13 times in the final ten minutes in the league alone, nine of them in the final five. They just never know when they’re beaten – it’s a great habit to get into in a title race.”
The threats are all over from a strong Wigan side. However, I’ll focus on a few players who I believe will be the ones to look out for.
Top scorer Will Keane has 11 goals from 22 in League One and crucially for us, has scored six of those from headers according to Wyscout.
When you combine this with the fact we’ve conceded the most goals from headers in the league with 13, this is a natural concern.
Hopefully, with Jacob Bedeau partnering with Anthony O’Connor we can improve on that record, but we’ll have to concentrate and be aggressive in our box when dealing with any aerial threats. I envisage we’ll continue to add to the squad to help tackle this issue.
Whenever I’ve seen Wigan play this season, a key component in building their attacks is the excellent deliveries of Max Power. He has the 5th highest expected assists in the division with 4.82 and has been a threat whichever position he’s played this season – defensive midfield or right back. We’ll have to concentrate for all the 90 plus minutes in order not to be caught out by one of his dangerous deliveries from deep.
Morecambe fans will be forever grateful for Callum Lang’s huge contribution to our League Two survival in 2017/2018. There’s a strong chance we wouldn’t be playing EFL football without his vital goals – ten in 32 appearances – let alone League One. At just 19 years old he showed great maturity and I personally have followed his career closely ever since. Below is a feature of Callum towards the back end of that season which shows the benefit of a loan to a motivated young player –
Watching him play and reviewing his stats show the complete player he has become after more than 150 professional league appearances – across The Scottish Premiership, The Championship, League One and League Two.
Across all competitions, this season he has provided a goal or an assist every 0.6 matches (0.36 goals per game and 0.24 assists per game), whilst dribbling the ball 6.29 times per game with a success rate of 46.6% according to Wyscout. It’s fair to say, he’s heavily involved and a key experienced player for just 23 years old.
Let the battle commence!
I had the pleasure of being invited onto Progress with Unity – Wigan Athletic prior to this game with Barry Worthington Podcast –
Barry had nothing but positive words to say about The Shrimps and for our future so I thought for something a bit different I’d share his words:
“I expect a really tough game, a battle and in Stockton you have that bit of ‘special’ and I am looking forward to seeing him and the rest of the Morecambe team play. It has been a long time since we have met competitively, 1977/78 season to be exact, and you were always a good side during my formative years watching the Northern Premier League. I really do hope Morecambe stay up this season and I will be rooting for the Shrimps, except when you play us, of course. For Tuesday, I am going for a 2-3 Wigan Athletic win and an exciting game.“
What was meant to be a short catch-up, turned into just short of an hour and a half chat about all things Wigan and Morecambe! The one thing that resonated with me was that he’d never take his club for granted after being six weeks away from going out of existence last season. I’m mighty glad they managed to turn it around. You never quite know what’s around the corner in football or in life, so let’s enjoy the ride, hope for a brilliant competitive game of football and a Shrimps three points of course! 🙂
I’d like to say a huge thanks to Danny Jamieson and Barry Worthington from Progress with Unity – Wigan Athletic Podcast for their insights on the Latics!
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