The first question when sitting down to write this was whether to try to capture everything that’s gone on over the last week or so, or stick to this week’s game? With three games in short order, it might prove too much to cover them all in one article. Then again, seeing as I can sum the 270 minutes up as follows: ace, terrible, more terrible, chaos, panic, effort, hope, dull, dull, dull… you’re probably right, it’s best to leave the Wednesday and Norwich games alone.
Which means I can just focus on trying to squeeze some kind of juice out of the under-ripe fruit of a nil-all draw against Fulham…
1 – Right back, to basics?
Caldwell’s approach to team selection so far this season means you’re never quite sure how his team will set up at the start of a game. But with only three recognisable defenders in the starting eleven on Saturday and three at the back being his default position so far this year, it was nailed on he’d go for a… four, four, sort of two, wasn’t it?
Well, he did, and despite all the fans’ calls for a back four, it only served to demonstrate why Caldwell had been sticking with a three. Left back: Warnock, check! Centre back: Burn, erm… well I suppose, check! Other centre back: Buxton, check! Right back: Right back: Right back: HAS ANYONE SEEN A RIGHT BACK?
It’s not a new issue, Latics went a fair spell between Jon, Joe and Kenny returning to Everton and Wabarra doing whatever you call his approach to signing football contracts without a recognisable right back. This season we’ve got Burke and Byrne, but whilst I’ve seen both described as wing backs, I’ve never seen either play in a traditional defensive role, so who knows.
So, of course, the obvious answer was to play Alex Gilbey in the right back slot. I spent last week taking the mick out of people ranting about square pegs in round holes, so I’d best keep my gob shut, eh? Other than to say that when Gilbey went off injured, Byrne looked marginally more like a decent attacking full back than he did one of those SoccerStarz figures, although it was a close run thing.
2 – Right, back to actual basics this time
So, it was definitely four at the back and it was probably a four in midfield as well, with Jacobs and Wildschut wide, Power and MacDonald in the middle. All too often, their job was to sit in a line in front of the defence and an excellent job they did of it too.
Arguably, after recent defensive performances, this was a necessity. Latics needed to find some way to protect their defence and with little time between games to work on anything else, then what better way than to go back to the FA coaching manual and get your two banks of four lined up a few yards away from each other?
Who could argue with that?
3 – One hand clapping
Stopping Will Grigg will be near the top of any opposition manager’s checklist this season. If I was going to pick an effective way of doing it, I’d look to isolate him up front on his own, cutting him off from any midfield support. Latics managed that quite effectively by themselves on Saturday.
Although Gomez was broadly playing as an attacker, he spent as much time supporting the midfield as he did the striker and, as a consequence of everything I’ve already mentioned, on the occasions that Wildschutt managed to get down the line, there was little in the way of support in the box resulting in aimless crosses or balls back into midfield.
Goals are what win games, chances are what make games exciting and well if you set yourself up in a way that restricts your ability to have chances then you’re highly unlikely to win games.
I suppose what I’m saying is…
4. I could have been doing something else.
Hey, we didn’t lose. Hey, we kept a clean sheet. Hey, Jordi was back in the team and hey, we played with the defensive set-up that probably served us best last year. But, hey, let’s admit it, the game was a bit dull really.
I’d turned down playing a game of cricket to go to the game, I’d gone to watch a couple of hours of a game before jetting off to the DW and the sun (and cider) had nearly dragged me in to staying. I didn’t, because this would only be my second game of the season and I’d sort of expected a reaction to the last couple of results.
I suppose we got one, whether it was the one I wanted or not probably doesn’t matter that much.
Like I said before, plugging our defensive gaps has become a priority in recent weeks, and Caldwell found a way to do that. But it came at the expense of any fluidity or real attacking purpose. I’m hoping that this is just a starting point, a foundation to build from, because those were the last cricket games of the season and I’ve not got any more excuses to not turn up and watch Latics.
5. I suppose I could always go the pub instead.
If it was only my second game of the season then it was, fellow podcaster, Dylan’s first. Keen listeners will know that wedding plans and an elongated honeymoon have got in the way of his football watching, but he’s back now and we decided to celebrate with a few drinks after the game.
A winding path that took in Newtown Workers and the Jawbone, Wigan Central and the Anvil saw us back at Dylan’s where he offered me a shot of something that I thought he’d said was called “A Deux Liqueur”. After tasting the foul musky drink I was a little bit worried that he’d actually said “Adieu Liqueur”, how could it get worse?
After establishing that I thought it was effing awful and getting me a drink of water, Dylan brought the bottle out of the kitchen. I’ll let the picture do the talking…
It’s enough to keep me out of the pub for a bit, even if Latics aren’t at the moment.
6. Oh, it’s a blank…
The night’s a bit blurry after that, probably a good job really. So rather than try and think of something else relevant to say, I’ll leave you with a link to the podcast, it’s more entertaining than the game, anyway…