Wigan Power trumps Swindon style

wigan win

Swindon 1-4 Wigan – www.bbc.co.uk

Three goals in four second half minutes saw Wigan thrash Swindon 4-1 in an impressive display at the County Ground. Will Grigg’s opener put the visitors in front after they had edged the first half, but it was the second period when the floodgates opened. Superb strikes from Max Power and Sam Morsy sandwiched Grigg’s second in a swift treble after the restart. Nicky Ajose’s calm finish reduced the deficit late on but Nathan Thompson’s red card compounded a miserable day for Swindon. The Wiltshire hosts’ pretty passing game backfired, as Wigan’s pace and strength made them a merciless force in the transitional phases of play.

Swindon’s tendencies to play the ball out from the back were evident early on. When Wigan’s strikers closed the three centre-backs down, they looked to play triangle passes to get out of trouble. The avante-garde positivity of their defenders was encapsulated by a solo run from Nathan Thompson on 10 minutes, although the 25-year-old drilled his shot wide.

The Robins preferred their opponents to press high up the pitch, because it allowed them to get up the pitch and find space behind Wigan’s forwards. The West Lancashire visitors cottoned on to that early and opted to sit deep, luring Swindon’s wing-backs further forward, thus creating gaps in their defence.

It was the away side’s wing-backs that had the greatest impact. A high ball down the left found Chris McCann, who pulled it across allowing Grigg to smash home. Wigan’s play was a lot brisker than Swindon’s and that was why they were able to catch opposing defenders out of position. Jamie Sendles-White was a victim of this. He made a lot of last-ditch tackles, yet most of them were only because he was caught out of position, when more composed defending might have stopped Wigan from getting in behind.

Most of the away side’s play came down the left via McCann, a midfielder by trade who has excelled in his new role this term. The former Burnley man played a number of good crosses and whisked the ball in once again on 23 minutes, but Grigg could not make the right contact with his head.

Swindon midfielder Michael Doughty had endured a quiet start but some good combination play allowed him to get his long-range shot away, but 41-year-old Jussi Jaaskelainen saved well. Luke Williams’ side needed to get the strikers into the game more. Ajose and Jermaine Hylton’s limited service was partly down to Swindon’s overly perfectionistic style of play, yet it was also down to the performance of Wigan’s Sam Morsy, who bossed the game. Bossed it, not through ball retention, but through discipline and force, stopping the Robins from making inroads in the Wigan half.

Power made driving runs into the Swindon half and played pinpoint balls into wide areas. Within seconds of the restart, the former Tranmere man showed his quality with a thunderous right-footed strike into the top corner. While the aptly-named Power deserves credit for his impressive goal, there were visible frailties in the Robins rear-guard, the defence failing to close him down.

From then on, Swindon fell apart and Grigg got in behind twice within three minutes of the second goal. While the move broke down on the first occassion, he stuck the ball away at the second invitation. The former Walsall man’s deflected effort trickled into the far corner, confirming his 20th goal of the campaign.

Just a minute later, Morsy picked up the ball on the edge of the area and capped off a fine display by unleashing a firm, right-footed strike into the bottom left corner. Again, Swindon’s defence and midfield did not do enough to close their man down and it was clear that they needed to be more aggressive. Williams’ solution was to bring on Drissa Traore, in hope of adding muscle to the midfield. Even so, Grigg could have added a fifth on 62 minutes, the Northern Irishman got behind Jordan Turnbull but his shot trickled wide. Much of the second half was a foregone conclusion: Wigan were happy to keep the ball without being ultra-threatening, as Swindon played damage limitation.

The hosts managed a consolation goal on 79 minutes and there was a sense of irony that came with it. The team had spent all afternoon trying to create chances through possession play in the middle of the park, yet the one chance they did create came via a simplistic through ball from the halfway line. Doughty slipped it for Ajose who, predictably, beat the Wigan back-line for pace and finished with the composure of a man already on 21 goals. Ajose effort was not enough to restore pride for the hosts, who finished the game with 10 men when Nathan Thompson was sent off for a foul on McCann.

Swindon are developing a lot of talented young players, but there is a need for them to add physicality to their game and find a Plan B when playing the ball out from the back does not work. Wigan, who have the physical and mental strength to match any team in the division, are the team they must aspire to. The Latics have not lost a game in 2016 and Friday’s victory represents a key statement of intent, in their quest for an instant return to the second tier.