It’s not been a happy week in the life of a Shrimp. A 3-1 defeat at home to Cheltenham followed by a particularly lackluster 5-0 defeat to Shrewsbury Town has left even the most faithful Morecambe supporters considering life in League Two next season. These were games against sides we felt we should be competitive against and had targeted them as potential three-point games, but instead, we’ve no points to show for it and we’re scratching around to find positives from the performances. On Tuesday night down in Shropshire, according to Wyscout, we failed to have a shot on target for the first time since Rotherham at home in August.
Winless in eleven, confidence appears to be low in the camp and today we travel to a formidable Wigan Athletic side perched in second place in League One among the automatic spots.
The Latics have picked up an impressive two points per game at The DW Stadium so it’s certainly going to be a stern test of Derek Adam’s men’s resolve to bounce back after recent performances.
What are they expecting from the game?
“Three of our last four league games have come against sides in and around the relegation zone, Fleetwood and Wimbledon at the DW and on Tuesday, Crewe away
All three were comfortable wins without conceding a goal. By comfortable, not so much the score lines, 2:0 – 1:0 – 0:2 respectively, but we were never in any danger of not winning any of those games.
A very professional approach, strong, patient football and taking the chances when they came, I expect Saturday to follow a similar format, no doubt Morecambe will sit and look to hit us on the break, but we are very patient and won’t throw caution to the wind chasing the game, it will be measured and we will look to grind you down. “
“In the reverse fixture in January, the game was very tight with Wigan having 56% of possession, 11 attempts with 4 on target, compared to Morecambe’s 44% possession, 13 attempts with 5 on target. I feel that Wigan won the last game as a result of holding slightly more possession, managing nearly 100 more passes (431 to 339) and holding a pass completion (69% to 63%) superior to Morecambe whilst Keane and Humphrys were clinical in their finishing. Cole Stockton’s seventh-minute goal made Wigan wake up and take control of the game, allowing us to fight back for the remainder of the game.
Morecambe have only managed to dominate possession once in their last 5 games, with only 19% possession against our derby rivals, Bolton Wanderers. This recent run of form, along with the most recent 5-0 defeat away to Shrewsbury, makes me feel that Wigan will see this as a great opportunity to take control of the game early on and take advantage of Morecambe’s low confidence.”
Off the back of two very disappointing performances, it’s quite difficult to determine the direction Derek will go with his team selection. At Shrewsbury, I can’t think of one player who can be particularly proud of their performance so subsequently, no one can be guaranteed a starting place today.
What was most telling was the Gaffa’s reluctance to make changes when the result wasn’t heading in the right direction. Even more insightful when you listen to his BBC Lancashire interview from Thursday in which he questioned the ability of the squad .
This was a brave move considering he will need this squad to claw us from 22nd position in the table to grab enough wins to keep us in League One. What we’ve learnt from Derek from last year is that there’s always a reason for the things he says in his interviews.
Perhaps he feels he hasn’t been getting the response from the players and he’s challenging them to prove him wrong?
Since Derek took over we’ve almost exclusively gone three at the back, apart from the second half in his opening game against Ipswich.
In the last two games, our key talisman Cole Stockton – with 19 goals in 35 League One games – has looked a frustrated figure. I believe Derek will switch it up for today to bring him a bit of added support so I envisage he’ll return to a formation he used last season, either 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-1-2. I’d love to see more of the fringe players involved such as Jonah Ayunga, Jonathan Obika or Arthur Gnahoua.
Jonah was, in my opinion, our best player in 2022 prior to Derek joining and I feel he has enough to cause opposition defences something to worry about. In our last victory against Wycombe, he had 9 shots and had an expected goals of 1.7.
Bringing another threat into the side should hopefully free up Cole to get a bit more space. Both contributors have predicted a back three for Wigan today and our number nine has gone up against three centre backs in our two recent games in which we’ve struggled to get a strong grip in attack, so I feel this change is needed.
I also envisage he’ll return Shane McLoughlin into central midfield and bring in Ryan Cooney who was a key asset for Derek in his promotion year. Whilst Shane proved he can play right-back or wing-back during his time at Wimbledon, I believe he is far more effective in central midfield. When we signed him and saw him play a few games, our fanbase were shocked The Dons had let such a quality player go. Perhaps it is because they hadn’t utilised him in midfield?
The other key change I predict is to bring in Ousmane Fane into the deeper central midfield role. The second and third goals on Tuesday night came from loose balls just outside the box and I believe having a player willing to put in challenges at key times is something we’ve been missing. Fane is the closest we’ve got to Yann Songo’o, who was a key component to Derek’s promotion-winning system.
“James McClean returns from a three-game suspension, I expect him to come back into the line-up, but we are still missing Callum Lang through suspension. We have changed formation over the past couple of matches, gone from our season tested 4-2-3-1 to a 3-4-1-2. The latter system creates the room for Jason Kerr to come in on the right of the back three, an excellent player and solid defender, so a dilemma could be whether Leam Richardson reverts back to the four and drops Kerr to the bench or keeps the system that’s been in place for the past two games.”
“Leam will have a bit of a selection headache for this game. We usually play a 4-2-3-1 when we have all of our players available, however, with recent suspensions for hitting yellow card limits we have been switching to a 3-4-1-2 or 3-4-2-1. James McClean is back from suspension whilst Callum Lang is out with suspension, so the real headache will be how to set up our attack. Josh Magennis got his first goal for Wigan in our last game, so Leam could either select Magennis again or go for Stephen Humphrys who has contributed to a few goals already this season.
However Leam selects the starting XI, I feel we will see a very attacking lineup with players who are proven to be contributing to goals of late. Since the start of the second round of fixtures, Keane has scored 6 in 10, Humphrys has 3 in 7, and Tom Naylor has been in fine form from central midfield with 2 in 13 whilst picking up 3 Man of the Match awards.”
“We play with great flexibility and aren’t afraid to change the system during games, Richardson is supported by two excellent assistants in Rob Kelly and James Beatie, a wealth of experience between them and they make a formidable touchline team, you see ‘tweaks’ to formation/systems many times during games and with the large number of late goals that we have scored this season, you’ve got to say it works.
James McClean is a phenomenon, he can pop up and win a game on his own with his steely determination and quality, most definitely a strength for us.”
“Our main strength this season has been taking control of the ball possession and playing our way through teams, either on the wings or going direct through the middle. Jack Whatmough has been incredible for us at centre Back and that confidence then filters through the rest of the team. Leam Richardson has really got the team selections and substitutions pretty spot on throughout the season, and our players always look ready to put up a fight no matter when they are called on.
It is also worth mentioning that our home and away support this year has been fantastic. We have a slightly better record on the road this year, however, our home results have also been very strong making the DW a difficult place for oppositions.”
According to The Analyst, Wigan have the lowest xG against them from open play in League One with just 20.8
Even more importantly, along with Rotherham, they’ve conceded the joint fewest goals from open play in the division – 17.
Unless Morecambe attack the Latics backline, they are very unlikely to give away many freebies to our attackers.
According to Wyscout, Wigan have completed the highest number of long passes in the division with 2374 overall. Incidentally, Morecambe are fourth highest with 2272. The Latics are also third-highest for accuracy of long-balls with 55.7% so are playing direct football, yet finding their own men more often than not.
Kieran Watts, Max Power and Jack Whatmough have the highest number of long balls per 90 minutes with an average of 13.08, 10.68 and 10.49 respectively.
When a team is playing long-balls, you tend to expect them to be a side that gets the ball forward early to create chances. However, according to The Analyst, The Latics have the third-lowest ‘direct speed’ in the division. Direct speed is a measure of how quickly a team progresses the ball upfield (metres/second).
It seems Wigan are patient with their play, yet more than happy to get the ball forward quickly when the opportunity arises. Despite their low direct speed, they rank just eighth in the division for passes with 14,629 according to Wyscout so perhaps individual players are just comfortable holding onto the ball.
The opposition don’t tend to pressure Wigan either with the second-lowest PPDA against in the division with 12.17. PPDA is a measure of press intensity, with a high number meaning a lower press intensity.
“We will most definitely miss Callum Lang on Saturday, he has that spark that can change a game, his individuality and creativity on the ball will be missed. Stevie Humphrys will probably play in the Lang role, but that leaves us missing Humphry’s through the middle.”
“Wigan will be without Callum Lang for this tie. Losing one player doesn’t sound like a lot, however, the energy that Lang brings to the game, the linkup with teammates, and the way he is able to switch a backs-to-the-wall game to an exciting attack will likely be missed in this fixture.
Our home form this season has been second best to our away form, with 26 goals scored and 17 conceded from 41 shots on target against us compared to 36 scored and 16 conceded from 49 shots on target against us on the road. With 7 clean sheets from 18 home games, Morecambe statistically look to stand a better chance of competing with us in this tie compared to the reverse away fixture.”
For a side steam-rolling to promotion, it’s difficult to talk about weaknesses. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a weakness, but one observation is they are not as high up as you’d expect for key passes and smart passes considering the position in the league.
For key passes, The Latics have completed 103 over the season with the League One average as 111.67. A key pass is a pass that immediately creates a clear goal-scoring opportunity for a teammate.
In terms of smart passes, Wigan again rank below the league average with 108 compared to 129.58. A smart pass is a creative and penetrative pass that attempts to break the opposition’s defensive lines to gain a significant advantage in attack.
The reason I see this as just an observation rather than a weakness is the fact that they’ve managed to find a way to consistently win with their own style. Ultimately, it hasn’t stopped them from scoring at key times to do enough to get results.
That being said, Callum Lang missing is a small bonus for The Shrimps as he has been a key contributor to the attacking impetus with the most key passes – 15. I rate the ex-Morecambe loanee as one of the best players in the division as an all-round attacking player.
Opportunities against Latics
“We can be vulnerable from set pieces, high balls into the box cause problems at times and this may be one way to get a goal, though in Cole Stockton Morecambe have a player who can grab a goal from nothing.
I was very impressed with him in the reverse fixture back in January, he caused problems drifting around the front line and dropping off and scored against us, which was what I was expecting, certainly lived up to his reputation.”
“Wigan are a difficult team to break down defensively, however, we have conceded quite a few goals from long range this season. Cole Stockton is in impressive goal scoring form this season, and I feel that if Morecambe could find some space on the edge of the area there is potential to snatch a goal or two. “
To add to the point Barry makes, according to The Analyst, Athletic have conceded nine set piece goals which puts them sixth best in the division.
If we set up how I anticipate us to do, with two wide forwards supporting Cole Stockton, then I predict our best opportunities will come on the break. Prior to the two most recent results, we were playing low possession football, yet creating decent openings in transition.
Under Derek, we’ve perhaps looked better against better sides who will come and attack us (Bolton, Ipswich, Plymouth) and allow us space to get in at them when they lose the ball. I expect Wigan – as one of the best sides in the division – to be attacking from the first minute.
Threats from Latics
“We are very strong in the attacking third and score a lot of goals from set-pieces, an area that I know you are vulnerable in, having conceded 20 headed goals so far this campaign, Max Power has delivered excellent balls into the box and he is leading the assist table, a great example of what to expect was our opening goal on Tuesday at Crewe, scored by Josh Magennis, a set piece from the right met with a powerful header at the near post. “
I think we are most likely to score from a corner, set piece or cross than a mazy run into the box or long distance cannon shot, the threats will come from Humphrys and Keane, plus hopefully, now that Josh Magennis has got off the mark with us, he can find the net again, I was really impressed with the power in his headed goal on Tuesday. “
“Will Keane just hit his 18th goal of the season with Max Power providing 8 assists so far, showing just how much of an attacking threat we can be. Whether we have a set piece chance or we are looking to score from open play, Wigan have been a real test for opposition defences. Our Goal Difference is the second highest in the League with +29 and with Josh Magennis grabbing his first goal in our last game, Stephen Humphrys starting to contribute to more goals, and Will Keane looking to compete for the Golden Boot, I expect us to give Morecambe a very tough game this weekend. “
As both contributors have mentioned, Max Power’s deliveries will ask questions of any defence. He comfortably has the highest number of passes to the final third in the division with 499, compared to Dean Lewington in second position with 395, according to Wyscout.
When I’ve seen Power, what I notice is how he varies his delivery to ask questions of the opposition.
Barry touches on The Shrimps’ weakness in the box aerially and Max Power will be ready to pounce on any opportunity with the joint-most headed goals in the division with Micahel Smith – 8.
Let the battle commence!
It’s forecast to be a sunny afternoon for this Lancashire derby, but will there be any rays of light for the travelling Shrimps? It’s been a dismal week in which some have given up any hope of survival and a Wigan home win will be on many accumulators this week, but with pressure and expectation off, perhaps there may be an opportunity to surprise everyone?
Perhaps I’m ever the optimist, but it would be a very Morecambe thing to do to go and get a result today. I’m not saying it will happen, however, I will get the train down with the hope that we can still do enough to survive in the division. We’re still only one point from safety and one positive result could lift the mood in the camp.
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