Five things we learned from MK Dons (h)
Paul Kendrick reflects on five talking points from Wigan Athletic's 2-1 defeat at home to MK Dons on Tuesday night...
1 Not so fast! Just three days after Latics played like champions-elect at Bolton, they were brought crashing back down to earth at the DW Stadium. The two performances were like chalk and cheese, but it's important to retain some perspective at this point. Just as Leam Richardson wasn't getting carried away with the plaudits on Saturday, he won't be throwing the baby out with the bath water because things didn't go according to plan on Tuesday night. It's a marathon, not a sprint and, as Richardson frequently points out, nothing is ever won in September and October.
2 After the Lord Mayor's show? The Latics boss rejected the notion of a hangover following the Bolton win, but it's certainly not an unfair question to ask. Despite getting off to the perfect start when Charlie Wyke opened the scoring on 20 minutes, Latics just didn't quite look themselves across the board. And although Richardson pointed out they dominated the second period with some 70 per cent possession - against the side with the best possession stats in the division - you never really got the feeling a goal was inevitable. On a miserable night weather-wise, the crowd also seemed a bit flat and, the goal aside, they weren't given enough encouragement on the field to latch on to.
3 Taking its toll? It's obvious Leam is not a fan of making changes for the sake of them and indeed, had it not been for Jordan Cousins' hamstring injury, he would have selected the same side for the seventh match in a row. In fairness, Richardson's hand hasn't exactly been forced by 'fringe' players, too few of whom have taken their opportunity to impress during the Carabao Cup and Papa John's fixtures. But with Tuesday being the second of NINE matches in the space of just 27 days, squad rotation will be coming into play. It was interesting to see arguably the two best players at Bolton on Saturday - Callum Lang and James McClean - were the first two players replaced against MK. We'll see over the next few weeks how strong the squad actually is. Speaking of which...
4 Noticeable by his absence! ...Jordan Cousins had arguably his best game of the season while sitting in the stands in midweek. The former Stoke man has quickly become an integral part of the side in the engine room alongside Tom Naylor, who didn't quite look the same player without his wingman. On-loan Preston man Tom Bayliss, perhaps surprisingly to some, was drafted in for his first league appearance, and his lack of game-time was evident. By no means was he solely to blame for the defeat, but Latics were overrun in midfield, leading to more pressure on the backline than we've seen all season. Bayliss will benefit from the run-out, but Richardson also has the option of switching Max Power to midfield and bringing in Tom Pearce to the backline - which worked so well at Bolton following Cousins' withdrawal.
5 No need to panic! While knee-jerk reactions are sadly the norm these days, it's still well worth stepping back and assessing the bigger picture. After more than a quarter of the season, Latics are four points off the summit with two games still in hand. Given all the upheaval over the summer, there's not a single one of us who wouldn't have taken that situation. Especially, as Charlie Wyke acknowledged in Tuesday's match programme, Latics haven't got anywhere near top gear yet. MK Dons are one of the best sides in the division, and will surely be in the top six come May. Latics' other two defeats have come against Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday, two of the pre-season promotion favourites. All three losses came by the odd goal in three. Fine margins, as a former Latics boss used to say.
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