Graham Barrow has challenged Wigan Athletic’s midfielders to get in the faces of Birmingham on Tuesday night – and help bridge the gap to the club’s isolated strike-force.
Barrow, a former midfielder of some note, admits the engine room is ‘a concern’ for him at the moment, as Latics look for the wins that will lift themselves out of the bottom three in the Championship.
He wasn’t happy with what he saw during Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at relegation rivals Blackburn that cranked up the pressure with only 11 games remaining.
And the 62-year-old – who is again expected to be in charge alongside Andy Welsh while Warren Joyce recovers from eye surgery – believes the game will be won and lost in the centre of the park.
“We’ve spoken about the one-to-one battles all over the pitch, which is something I know the manager believes in a lot,” revealed Barrow.
“I would say something similar, but more in terms of departments.
“I think the defensive players are more than holding their own, and that has to continue obviously.
“My concern is the midfield area. Having played in midfield myself, I know you can be having a poor time on the ball yourself, but there’s still every reason to be competitive yourself, and stop the opposition.
“You can always stop your opposite number playing the ball forward, and I think that’s the biggest area for me.
“You can look at the stats, and we’re covering just as much ground if not more than all the teams we’re playing against. But then you’ve got to question where they’re running to, and what they’re doing.
“My own personal view of the game on Saturday is that the two central midfield players of Blackburn were given far too much space to play. I think we managed to stop that for the last half an hour of the game.
“We could have been more effective in doing that in the first half, and it could have got us a foothold in the game.”
Omar Bogle – and Will Grigg when he came on – were left badly isolated at Ewood Park, and Barrow wants the midfield to push on at every opportunity.
“If you’re competitive and you’re up against people, you can always play off people, and you’ll probably find yourself higher up the pitch,” he explained.
“They were dropping off for the ball, but if we’d pushed up, if you win the ball, you’re automatically only 10-15 yards away from the striker instead of 25-30 yards away.
“Some things never change in football. I think sometimes because you’ve been in the game a long time, some people may look at your point of view as ‘old school’.
“But even the top teams like Chelsea and Liverpool are all renowned for being competitive and on the front foot, and stopping teams from playing the ball forward.
“That’s not changed since I’ve been in the game.
“I just feel if we can get that right, it would make such a difference to the team.
“It’s aggression, without being overly stupid. In the modern game you can’t go round kicking people, but you can be a yard off somebody rather than 10-15 yards.
“If you give anybody 10-15 yards to play at this level, they’ll hurt you.
“If I stood in the middle of the pitch, and nobody came within 10-15 yards of me, I could still pick a pass that would cause a problem.
“The message can’t be any more simple than that.
“Why give somebody that much space to play in?”
Having got the message across to the players in training over the last couple of days, Barrow is hoping it will be implemented on the night.
“The thing is, we can pass things on in training,” he said. “You’re closer to them and you’re able to get on to them that little bit more.
“It’s the big arenas, the big stadiums that we’ve got to do it – and that’s the message.
“It’ll be another big arena at Birmingham, a big crowd, and we’ve touched on this before...but the players have to ask themselves where they want to play their football next year.
“You’ve got to want to be playing at places like this, and the only way you can make that happen is to get out there and win some football matches.”