Town Visit Wigan for First of Two Vital Six-Pointers
Friday, 22nd Feb 2019 12:01
Town visit Wigan on Saturday with manager Paul Lambert looking for his side to turn positive performances into wins and build some momentum in their push for what would now be a remarkable escape from relegation to League One.
The Blues, bottom of the Championship, nine points plus goal difference from safety, picked up 1-1 home draws in their last two games against Derby and Stoke, particularly impressing in the game with the Rams.
However, they have still won only three matches this season and just once away, at Swansea back in October during Paul Hurst’s time as boss.
The Latics are 20th, five points off the relegation zone having won only twice in their last 13 Championship games and once in their last five, although they are undefeated in three and like Town have drawn their last two.
The Blues subsequently host 21st Reading at Portman Road next Saturday with boss Lambert, who begins his two-match touchline ban at the DW Stadium, admitting Town need to start not just winning but claiming back-to-back victories in order to push on up the table.
“If we can do that in the next few weeks, then great,” he said. “As I’ve said before, we’re not a team that look like we’re clutching at things, look disorganised and you think ‘where’s the next one coming from?’.
“We’re more than capable of winning games the way we’re playing and that’s a great thing. I think the fans believe in it, we believe that we can go and win games and let’s see what happens.”
He added: “Winning is a great habit to get onto. If you get winning and get momentum, it’s a great thing.
“And, as I said before, playing-wise I couldn’t ask any more than the way they’re playing. Take our chances, but we were in the game, we’ve got a helluva fight amongst us at the minute and if we keep doing what we’re doing, then let’s see what happens.”
Asked if he sees these two games as good opportunities to pick up victories, he said: “Every game I go into I think I can win and I think I can pick up points whether it’s Stoke or Derby, who are two big clubs, or whether it’s Reading and Wigan, no disrespect to those two.
“I think anybody goes into a game thinking they can win. I don’t think anybody goes into a game thinking they can't win, I don’t think anybody goes in thinking they’re going to lose or draw, I think the mindset is, ‘We’ll go and try and win’.
“You have to earn the right to win games. As I said before, the main thing for me is that we’re playing well. We go with confidence, we go with the self-belief that we can win.”
He concedes that the games may be running out for the Blues with only 13 matches remaining: “We’re playing well enough. I think the lads know they’re playing well enough, they’re at it. You just hope time doesn’t go against us.
“The lads are getting better, they’re getting fitter. When you bring loan lads in that January window, especially a lot of them, you’re getting them for a reason, whether that's because their clubs want them to have game-time or they’re lads who are coming back from injury and haven’t played much football.
“The lads, every one of them is getting fitter and getting better and I think you can see the quality in them, that they’re really good players.”
Lambert expects the points total required to stay in the Championship to be a record low this season - “Yes, I think so. I think the way the league is I think that could be a factor” - which he says adds to the belief that the Blues can still dig themselves out of their current position.
“Absolutely, while there’s hope you keep going, you don’t go against it,” he continued. “I keep saying every week, this is a football club where it’s strange because the atmosphere’s unbelievable.
“The home games, I’ve not seen anything like it, the way they’re right behind you and you’re sitting bottom.
“Everybody believes we can do it, if we keep showing the same fight and the same hunger and the passion for everything, let’s see what happens.”
Lambert has sought to instil a brand of passing football into his players since he’s been at Town but he’d be happy with a scrappy three points at the DW Stadium.
“You have to do that, you have to fight for everything that’s coming,” he said. “If you can do it playing great, then great, if you don’t and you get a win that’s not really going to matter. We just have to try and get that win.”
If Town are victorious on Saturday they’ll record their first double of the season - and of Lambert’s time at the club - with the wind-affected home game having ended 1-0 to the Blues.
“It was a tough game, we played really well for about an hour I think and then tiredness kicked in,” the Blues manager recalled.
“But I think we played pretty well on that given day. The win was a win, I think that was a relief, just get the win and move on to the next one, and hopefully that can happen on Saturday.”
In the Wigan squad Town will be facing will be winger Anthony Pilkington, who came very close to joining the Blues in January before opting to return to his native North-West for family reasons.
“Pilks I know really well,” Lambert said of the Irish international, who played for him at Norwich.
“We tried to see if he would come in but I think he wanted to go nearer home, I think he’s from that neck of the woods.
“And you have to respect what he wants to do, so that’s basically how it transpired. But I don’t have any ill-feeling against him, that’s what happens.”
Assuming no one else is sidelined by the sickness bug which has hit the squad over the last couple of weeks, Lambert will stick with Bartosz Bialkowski in goal with James Bree at right-back.
Luke Chambers and James Collins will return at the centre of the defence if they’re fit. Both are back in training after foot and hamstring injuries respectively but the Blues skipper seems most likely to be ready to start.
If they remain unavailable Matthew Pennington and Jonas Knudsen will continue at the heart of the backline. If he isn’t required at the centre of the defence the Danish international will move to left-back with Myles Kenlock dropping to the bench.
In midfield, Cole Skuse seems likely to return to the deeper role having got over the bug with Trevoh Chalobah among those in contention for the other midfield roles.
Teddy Bishop appears a certain starter as he gets nearer to the form he showed during his breakthrough 2014/15 campaign and having started back-to-back matches for the first time since November 2016 last week, while Flynn Downes and Jon Nolan will also be vying for a place in the XI.
Alan Judge will take up his increasingly familiar role behind front two Will Keane and Collin Quaner.
Wigan, whose Visiting Supporters Guide can be found here, are likely to have defender Danny Fox back after the former Nottingham Forest man missed the goalless draw with Stoke 10 days ago due to concussion.
Midfielder and one-time Blues target Nick Powell is over a hamstring problem having come on as a sub against the Potters and could return to the starting XI. However, Darron Gibson (thigh) is not yet ready for a return.
With no competitive fixture last weekend, the Latics squad spent a few days training in Dubai, where they played a friendly against Chinese side Shanghai SIPG, which they won 4-3.
"It was a tough game on the Wednesday against Stoke City,” manager Paul Cook, who turned 52 today, told the Wigan official site.
“We started the game quite well, but it slowly went in Stoke's favour as it progressed into the latter stages of the game.
“We were pleased to get a point and move on, and with no game at the weekend we saw it as a great opportunity to take the lads away and better integrate the new faces into the squad.
"We had a game against Shanghai SIPG which went very well and it allowed us to give everyone some minutes.
"The lads thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Since we've been back we've prepared really well for Ipswich, so we're very much looking forward to the game.
"It's been tough, but we're in a very lucky profession. If you put our tough schedule into the real world it's nowhere near as tough as some people have it. In football terms it's been a tough season, but really tough, I'm not so sure.
"One of the crucial things for us was our squad being stretched over the winter months, but since the transfer window has gone by, the reality is that our numbers are good, the competition for places is good and picking people to go on the bench is tough.
"We're playing a little bit of catch up on where we realistically want to be because I do feel that there have been a few more points in us.
"We'd love to be in that little group of teams above us, unfortunately we're not and we respect that. There's a lot of hard work to come from us between now and the end of the season.
"We're delighted with the fixtures we have remaining, especially the home games. We've got some great games against the teams near to us like Ipswich, like Bolton and like Millwall, so we feel that our destiny is in our own hands and as a manager I always think that is very important.”
Reflecting on Town, he added: "The first thing I remember about the away game was how cold it was for the supporters, that's for sure!
"It wasn't a great game in any shape or form, but on reflection we didn't deserve to lose.
"I felt the game was heading for a 0-0 draw, but that's irrelevant because we lost and we have to put that right later down the line.
"Ipswich come to us in a tough position. If you look back at their game against Norwich they were the better team for a long period at 1-0 down. Ipswich carry a threat and they'll be coming to us desperate to win the game.
"It's a fantastic club steeped in history of producing good players and playing good football and Paul is in the process of sorting out whatever problems Ipswich might have.
“That's not for me to debate, but certainly on the pitch they've had some bad luck. They've been in the majority of their games this season and they're rarely backs against the wall defending games."
Town have beaten the Latics six times (five in the league), have lost six times (five) and the teams have drawn once in the league and in one League Cup tie.
The Blues have won four of their last five games against the Latics, including the last three, with the other game ending in a draw.
Wigan’s home record this season - won eight, drawn four, lost four - is rather more impressive than their current position suggests. Away from home they have lost 12, drawn three and have won only once.
In December, Freddie Sears’s 67th minute goal saw Town to a 1-0 victory at Portman Road, Lambert’s first win as Blues boss.
In atrocious second-half conditions, Sears’s shot deflected past Latics keeper Christian Walton to secure Town their first home win since April and only their second victory of the season.
The teams last met at the DW Stadium in December 2016 when David McGoldrick netted an 88th minute winner as the Blues beat the Latics 3-2 in what was a rollercoaster game.
Brett Pitman put Town in front from the penalty spot in the seventh minute before Yanic Wildschut scored two goals either side of the break to give the Latics the lead.
But Pitman’s second of the game and then sub McGoldrick’s header won the points for the Blues.
Town loan striker Will Keane was on loan at Wigan between November 2013 and January 2014 making two starts and two sub appearances without scoring.
Callum Elder, also currently on loan with the Blues, was on loan at the DW Stadium last season making 30 starts and three sub appearances, scoring one goal, as he helped the Latics to the League One title.
Blues midfielder Emyr Huws was with Wigan between the summers of 2014 and 2016, initially on loan, but made only 15 starts and one sub appearance without scoring.
Town keeper Bartosz Bialkowski had a trial with Wigan as a teenager prior to joining Southampton.
Blues club secretary Stuart Hayton is a Wigan fan who worked at the Latics for more than 20 years.
Ex-Town winger Gary Roberts, now 34, followed manager Cook to Wigan from Portsmouth in August 2017. He has just signed a one-year extension to his contract.
Roberts joined the Blues from Accrington Stanley, initially on loan, in October 2006 and made 45 starts and 14 sub appearances, scoring four goals before moving on to Huddersfield in July 2018.
Striker Joe Garner moved to the Latics for £1.25 million on the final day of last summer’s transfer window having joined the Blues the previous year from Rangers. He made 29 starts and three sub appearances while at Town, scoring 10 goals.
Ex-Blues boss Joe Royle was appointed a director of the Latics last year following their takeover, while his son, Darren, is the club’s executive chairman.
Wigan goalkeeper-coach Nick Colgan was with Town between January and July 2008 without making a first-team appearance.
Saturday’s referee is Lee Probert from Wiltshire, who has shown 71 yellow cards and seven red in 21 games so far this season.
A member of the Select Group of referees who largely officiate in Premier League games since 2007, Probert’s last Town match was the 2-2 FA Cup draw at home to Lincoln City in January 2017 in which he cautioned two of the visitors and no Blues.
Prior to that he was in charge of the 4-2 home victory over Birmingham in February 2015 in which he booked only one visiting player.
Probert, who refereed the 2014 FA Cup final in which Arsenal beat Hull City 3-2 after extra-time, also took control of the Blues in the 2-0 East Anglian derby defeat at Carrow Road back in December 2008.
Squad from: Bialkowski, Gerken, Bree, Emmanuel, Spence, Kenlock, Elder, Pennington, Knudsen, Chambers (c), Collins, Nsiala, Skuse, Chalobah, Downes, Dozzell, Nolan, Bishop, Edwards, Dawkins, Judge, Keane, Quaner, Harrison, Jackson.
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