Wigan Athletic 2-1 Nottingham Forest – DW Stadium – Sky Bet Championship
An out-of-form Wigan were to play hosts to league leaders Nottingham Forest at the DW Stadium on Saturday the 31st August.
This was Wigan’s third consecutive home game on the back of two disappointing 2-2 draws against Doncaster and Middlesbrough respectively. The Latics had to rely on late equalisers in both games with Leon Barnett and Jordi Gomez netting less than 10 minutes from time, albeit in separate fixtures. Both of said goals came from set-pieces, indicating that Coyle’s men were in need of a creative spark.
Unbeaten Forest, however, were in fine form leading up to the fixture, notching up 3 wins and 1 draw in the league, accumulating 10 points. Their unbeaten run had been helped no end by their sturdy defence, who had conceded just 1 goal in 4 league matches. The Reds were forced into extra time on Wednesday by Millwall after drawing 1-1, but ran out eventual 2-1 winners thanks to a goal from young centre-back Jamaal Lascelles.
The game was set to be a close encounter; Wigan were desperate for a win and enjoyed a longer rest period than Forest, whilst the visitors’ stubborn back line had the ability to frustrate the home side.
Wigan made no less than 5 changes from the side who drew to Middlesbrough on Sunday. Thomas Rogne, Roger Espinoza, Ben Watson, Jordi Gomez and Shaun Maloney came in for James Perch, Stephen Crainey, James McArthur, Chris McCann and Grant Holt. With Holt injured, Wigan were forced to change formation as well as personnel due to a the lack of numbers in the striker department. The other 4 players to leave the side were dropped due to a lack of form, allowing their replacements to give a good account of themselves.
Forest remained unchanged from the last league game. Usually a defender, former Sunderland player Greg Halford started his third game up top for the visitors as part of an adventurous change due to Darius Henderson being injured. The ever-energetic Chris Cohen started at left-back despite being a natural midfielder. However, Cohen had played there before in emergency periods so was no stranger to the position.
From the start of the match, it was clear that Wigan’s Maloney and Gomez were playing as interiores, a term used for a winger who moves into central positions when their side has the ball. After watching these two players for a number of seasons, it is natural for them to drift inside as they like to be on the ball as often as possible, rather than it be a deliberate instruction. Wigan were on top for the opening few minutes before Leon Barnett’s poorly timed challenge on Arsenal youth product Henri Lansbury gave the visiting side a chance to get themselves in front. The pitch wasn’t shy of set-piece specialists with Jordi Gomez, Shaun Maloney and Andy Reid all having a reputation for scoring from dead ball situations. Reid stepped up for Forest and enhanced his reputation by curling an effort into the top right corner. There was no chance for Carson, who has made a poor impression of himself at Wigan, as it hit the woodwork before going over the line.
It was clear, in the early stages, that both sides were getting the bulk of their width from the full backs, particularly Forest. Cohen provided regular overlaps on the left, as did Beausejour for Wigan. Beausejour, who excelled in his wing-back role for Marcelo Bielsa’s Chile side (which I shall do a piece on), was the first full back to make a real impression as he came close to equalising shortly after Wigan had conceded with a rather weak long range effort. The next phase of play, however simple it may seem, was effective for Wigan. Scott Carson’s free kick up to Fortune, after Halford had been flagged for offside, was brought down expertly by the Frenchman on his chest, turning into the box before drawing a foul from defender Jack Hobbs. A penalty was awarded, and no other than Shaun Maloney converted from the spot to make it all square on 14 minutes.
There was a noticeable difference in Wigan’s style of build up play as there were far less long balls than when Grant Holt has played. This worked well for Wigan due to them possessing a number of players who excel with the ball at their feet such as Jordi Gomez, Shaun Maloney and James McCarthy, who are all midfielders. By continually going long in their previous fixtures, Wigan were missing the midfield out in order to get the ball up the pitch more quickly. This overly-direct style of play hampered their strengths as Wigan’s best players lie in midfield. By playing more football on the ground and in midfield to combine with a slower build up, Wigan had more chance of creating space, which in turn aided attacking penetration. Although Grant Holt hampers Wigan’s build up play, it could be argued that his service has been of poor quality; it is easy to see that Holt, like Fortune, is much more comfortable taking the ball on his chest rather than to his head. Particularly against Doncaster and Bournemouth, passes played to Holt were predominantly to his head. Had they been to his chest, he would have been able to bring others into play a lot easier. The Nottingham Forest defence dealt with any long balls to Fortune’s head with ease. Wigan, though, had started to realise this and began playing any long balls up to Fortune to his chest. The midfield were interchanging positions fluidly, which provided passing options for the team.
Wigan continued how they started the match as they dominated the opening 30 minutes. Forest, besides their goal, had created no chances. They found themselves having to play long balls up to Halford because holding midfielder Guediora rarely showed for the ball and Wigan were pressing quite high up. Halford looked isolated; he was double marked on aerial balls by Beausejour and Barnett, whilst strike partner Mackie found himself too far wide to support his teammate. Wigan’s left-sided trio of Beausejour, Espinoza and Maloney began to cause problems down Forest’s right side with overlapping runs being a regular sight. As you can see from ‘Move 1’ (light blue) and ‘Move 2’ (dark blue), Wigan always had at least 2 players in one-on-one situations with Lichaj. Maloney was paired with either Espinoza or Beausejour, and on some occasions Fortune in order to create space in Forest’s defensive line. Lichaj was getting overrun, which was evident when he got booked for committing a foul on Maloney. This was in large part due to the lack of defensive support he received from the right side of midfield. Lansbury is naturally a more attack-minded player and he struggled to get back to help Lichaj to deal with the overlapping runs, highlighted in the yellow box, causing problems for Forest. The above diagram also shows a lack of width for Wigan, highlighted in the black box. Despite Boyce getting wide, Gomez is not accustomed to playing as a winger, meaning he drifted inside more often that not, which restricted the amount of overlapping runs from the right-hand side. However, Wigan were enjoying the bulk of their build up on the left-hand side and it was working well.
It was Fortune, again, who played a key role in Latics’ 2nd goal. He received the ball after moving into the channel (yellow box), then went on to rifle a shot at ‘keeper Karl Darlow. Jordi Gomez was on hand for the rebound after, as mentioned before, drifting inside, leaving him with an easy tap-in to give the home side a 1-goal advantage on 35 minutes. The first half drew to a close after an uneventful last 10 minutes, and the home side went into the tunnel deservedly leading.
Forest half-time substitution: Dan Harding on for Adlene Guediora. Harding came on at left-back, pushing Chris Cohen into central midfield, which is both of their natural positions. The change probably occurred because Guediora hadn’t been on the ball much, and Wigan weren’t playing a central attacking midfielder. The formation changed from a 4-1-2-1-2 to a 4-3-1-2, with Cohen further forward than Guediora’s position to provide more attacking options.
Stats (1st half):
Score: Wigan Athletic 2-1 Nottingham Forest
Shots (on target): 5 (3) – 5 (1)
Blocked shots: 2-2
The Reds weren’t going to roll over and take a 2-1 defeat. They came out of the blocks a lot faster than Wigan in the second half and it showed. They were now pressing higher up the pitch, compared to a stand-offish approach in the first half, which resulted in Wigan losing their grip on possession. Wigan could not retain possession for more than 3 passes, which was largely due to Forest’s high defensive line, which allowed them to press further up the pitch. They had been pinned back in the first half but now it was their turn to push for a goal. Cohen’s higher position made a flat midfield three to compete with Wigan’s, rather than two central players. The home side were now unwillingly playing the long ball in order to keep the ball away from danger but it just kept coming back.
Forest had taken note of Wigan’s lack of width on the right, and cleverly utilised Andy Reid. Reid is a natural left-midfielder, so when Forest got the ball he moved wide, and when they lost it he moved back into a central position (white arrow, below). The width of Reid committed Boyce to come and challenge him whilst Harding overlapped (purple, below), causing all sorts of problems for Wigan. Jordi Gomez’s unwillingness to track back, similar to Lansbury in the first half, meant that Boyce was now vulnerable and outnumbered. This also started to happen on the other flank after Roger Espinoza was replaced by James McArthur. The decision to bring off Espinoza was a questionable one; Wigan had missed his energy and tenacity in previous matches and he was having a good game. He is, however, not the best of tacklers and has a habit of diving in.
Lichaj was being allowed to overlap on Forest’s right (orange), and the away side were now focusing their passing down both flanks and neglecting the central options wisely. Despite being on top, they were crossing from deep positions aimed towards the far post. The crossing came to no avail, though, and this was no surprise as there was no space in behind the Wigan full-backs. Forest would have benefited more from crossing to the near post for a striker to run onto rather than to try and hold the ball up.
Majewski, who had been ineffective for Forest all afternoon, was replaced by Jamie Paterson late on. He injected a bit of flair, energy and pace into Forest’s central play. Ishmael Miller replaced the frustrated and outwitted Greg Halford, but the crosses kept on coming and Wigan adequately dealt with them. Forest piled on the pressure as the match wore on, eventually changing to a 1-3-3-3 formation in the 87th minute as they searched for an equaliser, putting centre-back Jack Hobbs up front. Wigan substitutes Chris McCann and James McClean, who had come on for Ben Watson and Marc Antoine-Fortune, had the opportunity to link up on the counter-attack which would have seen Wigan seal the victory, but McCann’s pass was poor. Forest pressure eventually resulted in nothing for The Reds. Wigan’s dominance in the first half, and defensive solidity in the second half saw them through for all 3 points. Notts Forest had the majority of possession in the second half but couldn’t create any clear cut chances. The lack of creativity for the away side, despite Andy Reid’s good performance, probably meant that (call me biased) Wigan deserved all 3 points.
Stats (2nd half):
Score: Wigan Athletic 0-0 Nottingham Forest
Shots (on target): 2 (1) – 4 (1)
Blocked shots: 1-3
Wigan took all 3 points to hand visitors Forest their first defeat of the season. There were around 4,000 away fans at the DW, and most of them will have gone away disappointed by the lack of creativity. Latics fans will be happy to have seen their side end a 3 game winless run, coupled with a solid defensive performance. The result leaves Wigan in 8th and Forest in 4th.
Stats (whole game):
Score: Wigan Athletic 2-1 Nottingham Forest
Shots (on target): 7 (4) – 9 (2)
Blocked shots: 3-2
Goalkeeper saves: 1-2
Bookings: 1 (Beausejour) – 2 (Lansbury, Lichaj)
Referee: C Pawson