Going into this weekend’s game we have a 100% record against Wigan in League One, writes Tom Morton.
You’d sort of expect that run (of three games) to come to an end on Saturday. Wigan are in exceptional form and are now looking set to ease their way to champions. There are very few hopeful stats to point to. The Latic’s away form is as strong as their home form – only MK Dons have done better away this season. In fact, Wigan have lost only two games away and six overall. On top of this, they are scoring freely. Only twice since the turn of the year have they failed to net the ball, and when they do score it is usually multiple times. Their xG for away goals is 1.42 but the real rate is 2, a huge overperformance. But most concerning is that Wigan seem to have figured out how to beat teams lower down the league. Morecambe, Crewe (twice), Wimbledon and Fleetwood have all been swept away in recent weeks.
However. One of those six losses was to us back in October. That was definitely a high point of the season. Wigan were good then too, we were simply better. One theory is that our playstyle fits better to more fluid games and therefore we respond to the better teams. It’s probably true. Just remember though, Wigan have also worked out how to adapt their game to beat Crewe 2-0 twice inside a month, which is why they are champions-elect.
Wigan really love to get the ball in the box. They play high and fast and you see a lot of headed goals. On Tuesday they put three past Accrington Stanley and two came from open play headers. They like to cross from quite far out, they are not the sort to keep running it to the by-line as we do. Watch out for the classic diagonal loop ball seeking the head of Josh Magennis. Wigan are likely to play two upfront plus a number 10. So I think that our 5-at-the-back (injuries allowing) strategy might be sensible.
At the back, Wigan are a classy outfit. Ben Amos in goal has a lot of experience and you can see it in how he commands the box. He’s definitely the sort of goalkeeper worth ~10-15 goals per season and you can see it in how little the Latics concede (0.9 goals per game against an xG conceded of 1.09). I’m not sure who I’d like to see going up against them. Cullen impressed on Tuesday so perhaps it is time for him to shine? Back in October, it was Dan N’ludulu who scored the opener, so maybe Wigan are a team for second-stringers to do well against. I would like to see Bishop play though, he was key to our victory earlier in the season and it would be nice to give him the chance to get the double.
They always say that to win the league you need a forward who is going to score twenty goals or more. So keep your eye on Will Keane. Wigan’s number 10 is on top form and has already hit the magic 20 mark. He is a very smart player who can strike them from a distance (including a vicious free-kick) as well as up close and personal. I get the sense he leads the performance as well – dragging his team forward and creating opportunities to play.
It’s not about form, but Wigan also have some excellent named players in the squad. Max Power, who we’ve previously seen for Sunderland, is cutting up midfield and Jack Whatmough is at centre-back. Whatmough is also a decent player; until signing for Wigan this season he had nearly a decade at Portsmouth coming through their academy and eventually making the first team. He joined the Latics on a free transfer in the summer window and from clips he looks like a player who knows how to play the pivotal centre-back role.
In a sense, Saturday’s game is a free pass. We are all but safe, playing the team all but champions, and our home form has been pretty flaky this season. However, think back to Sunderland and Rotherham, both games ended up with huge potential. It would certainly be nice to put the double over the league leaders and secure our safety in the same breath. My prediction is for an enjoyable game with some key performances from some of our second-string players. To me, it feels likely to be a late 1-0 with lots of frantic activity in both penalty boxes throughout.