Five things we learned from Northampton (a)
1 Now that’s more like it! On the back of two of the worst performances of the campaign against relegation rivals, Latics showed exactly what they’re made of with a backs-to-the-wall win at a third struggling side in Northampton. It wasn’t pretty – it was never going to be given the stakes, the pitch and the weather. But Latics – unlucky not to have taken the lead inside five minutes – looked as solid as they’ve done all season before pinching all three points late on. Yes, Northampton offered little in the way of attack. But that’s a welcome clean sheet which will give the new-look backline a huge confidence boost.
2 Case for the defence (a)! Latics switched to a back five for the game, which looked a reaction to the alarming loss of preventable goals in recent matches. But boss Leam Richardson revealed after the game they had planned to go with a back five when this fixture was originally scheduled to be played last month, only for the weather to intervene. The Latics management had obviously earmarked a weakness in the Northampton ranks which they could look to get at. It remains to be seen whether the solid look to the backline will persuade Richardson to stick with it for Saturday’s trip to Oxford – or judge each fixture on its own merits.
3 Case for the defence (b)! There were two big additions to the backline who both delivered crucial contributions to the effort. Left-back Luke Robinson took most of the headlines, and plaudits, for replacing Tom Pearce – Latics’ player of the year by a mile – at left-back on his full debut, and not putting a foot wrong before helping to lay on the winning goal. Just as important, though, was George Johnston, the third centre-back, who was making only his second start since joining last month from Feyenoord. Latics have two clean sheets out of two with Johnston on the field, and it would be a major call now to drop him to the bench and change a winning formula.
4 Last man standing! In the absence of Kyle Joseph and Jamie Proctor, Callum Lang was rather thrust into the limelight as the lone frontman. But the 22-year-old – who has spent the vast majority of his fledgling career gaining experience on loan elsewhere – delivered the biggest hint yet that he’s not just part of ‘the future’, but rather ‘the present’. He gave as good as he got all night against a robust Cobblers backline. And the quality and maturity he showed to turn the game on its head with eight minutes to go – turning his man cleverly and holding off the last defender, before rifling into the bottom corner – showed he can be a massive player in the run-in.
5 Parting shot! While Latics were hugely heartened by the victory, the defeat merely added to the doom and gloom surrounding Sixfields Stadium. And it was no surprise to see manager Keith Curle – despite guiding Northampton to League Two promotion via the play-offs last summer – relieved of his duties on Wednesday afternoon. That means the last two sides to have lost to Latics – Burton being the previous in late December – sacked their manager within hours of the final whistle. Interestingly, Wigan’s previous victory, at Sunderland in December, came just hours after Lee Johnson’s appointment as head coach.
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