Fan’s View 2017/18 (no.47) – Wigan away

Article by Paul Beasley

WIGAN ATHLETIC 1 OXFORD UNITED 0

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On the fairly silent homeward journey one comment rang very true with me. “If we weren’t where we are that would have been a really boring game of football”. It would have been ridiculous if any side residing in mid-table safety had taken the approach we did. Any team at the other end of the table needing promotion points would surely have had more attacking intent. But given our situation and the quality of our opponents the way we set ourselves up seemed to be (almost) spot on and what resulted was an intriguing and incredibly tense game of football.

The “free hit” shuffling the pack with Saturday in mind comments from Karl Robinson had, for me, a sensible mix of the pragmatic and mind games. It certainly got in the head of some Oxford fans who indignantly stated we’ve always got to put out our best team and try and win every game. They should really have taken more notice of “we won’t throw the towel in” and “don’t think we’ll go there and roll over.”

We’d thus been primed for the starting line up to raise a few eye brows and it certainly did that but given how close we got to coming away with an invaluable point surely only the most hostile critic would place any blame on the manager for his selection.

The only change at the back was Curtin Nelson in for John Mousinho as centre-half and captain. Mous wasn’t even on the bench. No disrespect intended but if our returning asset is fit and able to last 90 minutes, the defence without question has been upgraded.

There will always be debate as to what is our strongest starting XI but most would have James Henry and Ryan Ledson in I would have thought. Neither started. The former was another not involved and the latter got half an hour or so.

Their replacements were the ever willing, hardworking Josh Ruffels and Canice Carroll. That was the first sighting of the teenage Irishman for three months and only those who were there will understand what he gave for the cause. We’ve seen him in defence and not only did we see him in midfield here but also as the lone front man for 15 minutes too. Amazingly versatile for one so young and dare I suggest it at this stage of his career, but he was the epitome of a running through brick wall type. He could have some future in the game.

I wasn’t expecting both Wes Thomas and Jon Obika to have been left behind but as that was so, could see why Gino Van Kessel started. It was a further sighting of Isaac Buckley-Ricketts that caused me most surprise.

Would this lot be competitive against the mighty Wigan? Prior to their goalless draw with Rotherham on Saturday the table toppers had taken 18 of the last 21 points available.

The answer was a resounding yes.

We had shape. We had solidarity.

It didn’t take long to see what we’d been missing with Nelson out injured. He’s so clearly better than L1 and with Rob Dickie alongside him it didn’t take a genius to conclude that we weren’t going to leak goal after goal.

Many, including myself, were thinking we wouldn’t be in the mess if he had not suffered that very nasty achilles injury. We’ll never know of course but it shouldn’t be overlooked that CN played in games such as our home defeats to Cheltenham and Walsall, the non-performances at places like Fleetwood and Blackpool, and also that horrendous 3-0 loss at Bury.

At the time the clues were there that we were ready for a downward spiral even if that was disguised from time to time by displays like the one at Peterborough which followed Bury.  We are now though a very different football club to the one that visited Gigg Lane. If we weren’t we would be doomed to L2.

The midfield put in the hard yards. They closed down and kept at it throughout. Where previously we’d had gaping holes there were none.

It wasn’t just this though that impressed, it was the side of the game that under previous managers we’ve overlooked or perhaps considered beneath us. Game management and call it time wasting if you want, is something we need to have in our armoury to increase our chances of success. No way would I say we were the most blatant of time wasters from a very early point in the game, but it was noticeable that we weren’t hurrying to do things as quickly as we have done previously.

The home fans weren’t happy. This pleased me. If the boot had been on the other foot I would not have been happy but if the referee is doing his job properly an appropriate amount of time should be added when the ninety minutes are up.

The longer it went that the hosts couldn’t penetrate our defence, the more frustrated they got and mistakes crept in. That said there was still enough evidence to tell they were a quality side and we could not let our guard slip for one second otherwise we would pay for it.

Once they had their goal with just a few minutes remaining it was the Latics who then didn’t display great haste other than when there was a hint that they could get a second. Their fans, who I had expected to have turned out in greater numbers, were now content with such tactics. That’s football supporters for you.

The one area of the field where we were hugely lacking was up top. GvK could be something other than an impact substitute. What that something is I’ve not got a clue. Isolated up front on his own, holding the ball up, getting stuck in and making a nuisance of himself clearly isn’t that something. Even if he didn’t want that responsibility and found the role much too taxing I would still have expected more. I hope he was sat on the bench watching CC’s brief cameo as his replacement as the furthest man forward.

IBR lasted nine minutes into the second period. He couldn’t have been worse than he was against Oldham and he wasn’t. I recall him once doing something in the first half that resulted in him playing a decent ball into the Wigan area but other than that nothing to suggest that he has the attributes we need at this point in time. Positionally he was sound enough though and only once for a split second seemed to switch off. Sometimes it just does not work out for a particular player at a particular club. It will be interesting to see what path his career takes.

It has oft been said by many a football fan at many a game that “we never looked like scoring”. It felt pretty much that this applied to us at the DW Stadium although thinking back we had a couple of shots in the first half that went just wide and in the second Agon Mehmeti forced a good save from Wigan keeper Christian Walton. It wouldn’t have counted if it had gone in because off-side was given but if it was it had to be marginal.

What is without dispute is that Wigan had the greater share of possession (60:40) and did the greater percentage of attacking and shooting by some margin.

If one solely focuses on the efforts put in by the Oxford side there is a compelling argument that a point, which would almost have felt like three given pre-match expectations, would have been totally deserved.

I’ll be honest though and say that the tag of plucky losers is just as fitting. And also have to say I admire the way Wigan just kept going and playing their football. They didn’t panic. They didn’t revert to knocking it long. They probably believed if they kept probing they would eventually find a way through as they did in the 87th minute. Even though we’d stood firm they’d frequently threatened and we’d needed the help of the goal frame to come to our assistance after about half an hour.

Such is their strength in depth they were able to bring Will Grigg and Devante Cole off the bench. We can only dream of luxurious alternatives like these.

Perhaps we were a tad guilty of pushing players a bit further forward than was necessary as the game entered its climax, but when the goal came it wasn’t that we were totally outnumbered. It was that Wigan demonstrated a sharpness we came nowhere near to on the rare occasions we got to the other end of the pitch.

Sam Morsy was allowed to bring the ball a long way forward from his position at the back and although a yellow shirt did eventually get close to him it wasn’t close enough to prevent him arrowing a ball forward that dissected our rear guard. The TV angles don’t give a clear indication of where Cole had made his run from. He is quick but Rob Dickie’s arm quickly went up appealing for offside and there may have been a tiny suspicion that this was the case. It wasn’t given so that was it. Grigg was always going to score once he’d got himself into that position.

I’ve heaped immense praised on Ricardinho recently and if I were forced to cast a player of the season vote at this very moment it may well go his way. There are however times when his full-back positional sense leaves a bit to be desired and I do wonder if he could have placed himself differently to make it harder for Cole to have got away.

The better team had won but there’s no way they’re 40 points better than we are even though that’s what the league table shows.

I’ve got thus far without mentioning Trevor Kettle’s name. He’s cropped up lots of times over the years I’ve been blogging away. In more recent times I’ve reported that he’s much improved. He wasn’t improved on this Tuesday night where he reverted to type. Time after time our players get booked for the type of challenge our opponents don’t. We picked up three yellow cards; Wigan none. I remember thinking one of our cards was well justified at the time and one of the others possibly if Kettle was going to be consistent and show many more. He didn’t. In one pattern of play an Oxford player had to hurdle not one but two challenges that if contact had been made would have been worthy of a card. A third challenge which was pretty bad brought our man down. No card.

From where I was sat the most outrageous booking was that of Canice Carroll. He was forcing his body to get into places many players would long have given up on if they’d been as equally knackered. He’d got into the penalty area and had managed to keep and hold the ball up. (Others, well one in particular, please take note). He then attempted to head across and towards goal where a shooting chance just perhaps might have been fashioned. A problem was he was being held and pulled and I just thought, hey we might get a penalty here. When Kettle’s whistle blew he gave the free-kick – to Wigan. Astonishing unless I’d missed something on the blind side. Kettle picking up things like this? Really. He missed a lot didn’t he? One example being Walton, ball in hand, kicking Carroll as he was just passing by. If Kettle had been any good at spotting, that should have been a red card and free-kick an inch or two outside the penalty area. More often than not we seem to be on the receiving end of sub-standard officialdom.

Although we came away goal-less and pointless we should take heart from the overall performance particularly in the knowledge of the players we have who will probably turnout next game but weren’t asked to contribute here. And there was Robbie Hall on the bench too so that’s another welcome back and good luck lad.

I don’t know if it is healthy but I have looked at the remaining fixtures of all our rivals and tried to logically reason my way to the outcome of each game. I had us staying up by the finest of margins and did have us down to get nowt from this encounter. I came up with a gain of four points from the last three games made up of a win at Doncaster and a draw at home to Rochdale. That though was before I’d looked at Donny’s recent record. Three wins and three draws from the last six wasn’t what I was expecting when I checked. So perhaps we’ll have to acquire those four points in a different fashion. My son keeps pointing out that Rochdale are not as good as I think they are and indeed I put them down for a home win against Oldham. It turned out 0-0.

The fat lady hasn’t quite yet sung that the Cobblers and the MK Dons will be joining Bury in L2 next season but her throat is being cleared ready to go. Each of the four teams immediately below us have a game in hand. If they win that, Wimbledon and Walsall will go past us. The Wombles though are at home to Oldham on Saturday. Oldham with an extra game are just 3 pts shy of our 50 but do have a goal difference that is eight worse than ours. Rochdale are one point worse off than Oldham but with their visit to us like every other club in the relegation fight, bar the bottom three, have it within their power to survive.

As I’ve said before and will do so again it’s going to all come down to nerve, belief and desire. And possibly a little bit of luck. We can’t legislate for the latter or for bad refereeing decisions and there are bound to be more in those last 270 minutes we’ve got to go through.

What we can do as we did at the DW is give the team proper vocal backing from first to last whistle. I find it hard to believe that there were only 445 of an Oxford persuasion there. Travelling numbers will be much greater at the Keepmoat but please leave all negativity at home. That is an absolute requirement.

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These facilities put the Kassam Stadium to shame

2 Responses to Fan’s View 2017/18 (no.47) – Wigan away

  • Zakky says:

    As a Wigan fan I think your comments were very interesting, you certainly didn’t look a team that would concede seven. We really struggled to get that winner and the relief around the stadium could be tasted. Karl Robinson set up Charlton exactly the same way against us and got a 0-0 very negative but difficult to play against. I think you should survive ok and hopefully we can get the title.

    • Paul Beasley says:

      Thanks for your comments. Setting up negatively is not something we’ve done for years (well since the Chris Wilder days to some extent) but is needed now given our predicament.
      The title is obviously now between yourselves and Blackburn – and where do we go on the last day of the season?