Preview: Wigan Athletic

A point at home from what was, largely, a pretty good performance at the weekend against Hull City is a source of frustration, but Coventry City have the perfect opportunity to bounce back over the next two games as they take on two teams mired in the relegation zone. The only caveat that the Sky Blues face in their play-off charge right now is how thin the squad remains, but there should be talent enough in this team to take the six points that are on offer.

First up is a trip to a Wigan Athletic side that have won just one of their past 15 games and, to add to their misery, look to be on the verge of a points deduction for paying their players late. The Latics have shown little sign of life despite two managerial changes since last taking on the Sky Blues back in November and anything less than all three points from this game for Coventry City should be seen as disappointing.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2): Wilson; McNally, McFadzean, Doyle; Norton-Cuffy, Eccles, Hamer, Bidwell; Maguire, Godden, Gyokeres.

With little sign of improvement on the injury-front, it is up to Mark Robins to shuffle his pack as best he can for this game as he looks to manage minutes in the middle of a three-game week. The news that Ben Sheaf returned to training last week is a boost, but it seems like this game will come a little too soon for him to be considered a realistic candidate to start.

Instead, the two areas for change for the manager look set to be in the attacking-midfield role and at wing-back. For the first position, as much as Ryan Howley has acquitted himself well over the past two games, Mark Robins commented after the Hull City game that the youngster lacked the fitness to make it much beyond the hour-mark, so it seems likely he will come out of the side. The main alternative for Howley looks to be Sean Maguire, who appears to be short of match fitness himself but may have to play in order to keep the squad fresh.

At wing-back, it seems unlikely that Fankaty Dabo is fit enough to start two games in such quick succession, which will see Brooke Norton-Cuffy come into the starting line-up at right wing-back. On the left side, there is a chance that Josh Wilson-Esbrand may get a start in order to keep Jake Bidwell fresh for the weekend, but there is also a possibility that the Manchester City loanee could be brought into the midfield if neither Ryan Howley nor Sean Maguire are deemed fit enough to start.

Finally, it hasn’t been outright stated, but Kyle McFadzean’s early substitution at the weekend was probably a tactical move, rather than an injury-enforced one, and there shouldn’t be anything to worry about with regards to the skipper for this game.

Last Time We Met

With Wigan Athletic in terrible form and Coventry City in the middle of a congested pre-World Cup run of fixtures, the last meeting between these two teams had all the makings of an instantly forgettable stalemate. The Latics did a decent job of frustrating a worn-down Sky Blues side, until Gustavo Hamer set himself for a shot on the edge of the penalty area with just under 15 minutes left on the clock, and it took a wicked deflection to put Coventry ahead.

That singular goal was enough to win it, despite Wigan Athletic belatedly sending men forward in the game’s closing stages in a desperate attempt to salvage the point they had worked so hard for. That provided the opportunity for Viktor Gyokeres to chest a hopeful punt in his direction around the half-way line in order to set himself up to run halfway up the pitch, muscle off three defenders and finish off a trademark goal to put a gloss on the final score.

The Opposition

The Manager – Shaun Maloney

A former Wigan Athletic player who cut his coaching teeth alongside former Latics boss, Roberto Martinez, as part of the Belgium national team set-up, Shaun Maloney replaced the disastrous Kolo Toure in January, but hasn’t really improved either results or performances that much. A good display around a month ago against Norwich City aside, Maloney has done little to back up his reputation as a young coach – which was also the case during a similarly poor spell in charge of Hibernian last year.

In Shaun Maloney’s defence, he is working with a squad that was poorly-equipped for Championship football, with few additions made to a League One promotion-winning squad that had largely been made up of players in their late 20s and early 30s. Maloney has looked to instil a more progressive, passing style of football, in contrast to the more direct brand that his pre-predecessor, Leam Richardson, had built the team around, but there just aren’t the players available to him, especially of Championship quality, to produce his ideals. Instead, Wigan have aimlessly knocked the ball around a bit and slunk to defeats, and the odd draw here and there. Issues with players being paid late cannot be helpful either.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (3-4-2-1): Amos; Nyambe, Caulker, Hughes; Darikwa, Tiehi, Power, McClean; Keane, Lang; Fletcher.

Wigan Athletic’s options and physicality in attack had been a key part of their promotion from League One last season, but that has become increasingly less of a feature of their game. Key striker, Will Keane, best embodied Wigan’s physical edge in the final third under Leam Richardson and had started this season in the Championship well, but has become increasingly less effective under first Kolo Toure and now Shaun Maloney as the team has tried, in vain, to evolve its style of football with a set of players ill-suited to doing so.

The lack of creative midfielders and forwards is where Wigan Athletic have really struggled in their quest for Championship survival. Callum Lang has occasionally provided some of that skill in the final third the team has otherwise lacked, although not really often enough. Thelo Asgaard is another potential source of creativity with his dribbling ability, but he has yet to earn the trust to start games regularly. Instead, James McClean’s crossing at wing-back has been the main creative outlet, while Christ Tiehi, recruited in January, has looked bright with his dribbling ability from central midfield.

At the back, while Wigan Athletic have let in the most goals in the division, they have been much better recently, as a result of Shaun Maloney’s desire for his team to hoard possession. That has meant that a lack of settled back-line in recent weeks hasn’t necessarily caused them that many problems, with Ben Amos a solid shot-stopper in goal and a solid midfield pairing of Max Power and the aforementioned Christ Tiehi doing a good job of protecting whoever plays in defence.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

Wigan Athletic’s desire to dominate possession could well play into Coventry City’s favour, given how much more threatening this team generally is on the counter-attack. The main danger in this game is if the Sky Blues end up wasting precious energy trying to chase the ball and thus lose some of their edge on the counter. If the defence and midfield can stay disciplined out of position and wait patiently for opportunities to win the ball back, Coventry should be well-set to spring Viktor Gyokeres down the other end on the counter-attack.

The main doubt against Coventry City in this game is whether the enforced changes to the team might harm the ability to stay in shape without the ball, and may also affect the team’s rhythm with it. Sean Maguire is likely to slot into the attacking-midfield role for this game, but is more of a striker than a midfielder, and may lack the positional awareness in tracking back, while there is also little sign yet as to whether he can provide the creative spark with the ball to make up for that. Similar questions could be asked of Brooke Norton-Cuffy and Josh Wilson Esbrand, if they start, at wing-back.

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