West Bromwich Albion v Wigan Athletic; The Hawthorns, Tuesday 7th March 2023, 8pm
After Friday’s disappointing result on Humberside, Carlos Corberán’s team face back-to-back home games against the division’s bottom two sides that you feel are as close to must-win games that you can get at this stage of the season if the Baggies are to maintain a play-off push. Both opponents will be desperate for points, of course, with Tuesday’s opponents Wigan Athletic six points adrift of safety and Huddersfield Town a point further back.
The Latics have had a difficult season having won League One under Leam Richardson last season. The early signs were good as they lost just one of their opening eight league games, albeit it was a 5-1 thrashing at home to Burnley, and, when Steve Bruce was sacked in October, I felt that Richardson should be on Albion’s radar as a replacement. However, it soon turned sour for the former Accrington Stanley boss as they lost eight in a ten-match run from early October and dropped into the relegation zone having been as high as eighth in September. Richardson was sacked and, after one game under former Albion coach Rob Kelly as caretaker (which they won), the club surprised most by appointing former Arsenal, Man City and Liverpool centre-back, Kolo Touré.
The Ivorian has spent time at his last playing club, Celtic, as a coach before following Brendan Rodgers to Leicester City in 2019 as a first team coach, but the Wigan job was his first as a manager. It’s fair to say that it didn’t go well – after a creditable 1-1 draw at Millwall in his first game in charge, the Latics lost six of their next eight games and failed to register a single victory before Touré was sacked at the end of January with the club rooted to the bottom of the table.
The club then appointed another coach with a Celtic connection, their former winger Shaun Maloney who had a little more experience than Touré having spent three years as a coach under Roberto Martínez at Belgium before taking up the role as manager at Hibernian in December 2021. He left at the end of last season and was a free agent when he made the move to the DW Stadium. Since his appointment, results have improved with the Latics losing only once, at Preston North End, and registering a first victory since November by beating Huddersfield Town. The other four games under Maloney have all ended in draws, two of which were against play-off hopefuls Blackburn Rovers and Norwich City.
That suggests that Wigan will be far from easy opponents for Albion as Maloney looks to have at least shored up the defence conceding just four goals in his six games in charge, compared to the 22 they conceded in the previous seven! However, with only four goals scored in those six matches, it would seem fair to expect a very defensive performance from the Latics at the Hawthorns.
Corberán has been quite clear in his assertion that Albion need to be more clinical in front of goal, something that was aptly demonstrated at the MKM Stadium on Friday. Albion’s xG for the match was 1.74 compared to Hull’s 0.80 and yet it was the hosts that took a 2-0 victory. Regular readers will know that I regularly referred to xG stats earlier in the season as Albion were significantly underperforming their “expected points” (i.e. points won based on relative xG), but since Corberán’s appointment, results have largely matched the relative xG. However, at Hull on Friday, and against Blackburn Rovers last month, the Baggies failed to get the result that the chances they created deserved.
Unfortunately, injuries mean that the options up front are limited and it would seem likely that the front four that started at Hull will be the same on Tuesday evening. I expect that Corberán will opt to start again with Swift in the middle behind Dike with Albrighton on the left and Wallace on the right. That did get tweaked on Friday mid-game as the Spaniard looked for ways to counter Hull’s own change in formation, but I think having Swift as central as possible is key to Albion’s creativity. Wallace’s crossing ability is obviously a key strength, but he does tend to wander quite a lot anyway – let’s not forget that his assist for Dike’s first against Middlesbrough game from the inside left position.
It seems likely that Diangana will miss the remainder of the season while Brandon Thomas-Asante could return for Saturday’s game with Huddersfield. To increase his options, Corberán has recalled striker Mo Faal from his loan spell at AFC Fylde. The 20-year old has scored 10 goals in 16 appearances for the National League North side and will join fellow youngster Jovan Malcolm in Tuesday’s matchday squad. Rico Richards, who made his league debut at Hull, was involved with the PL2 side on Monday afternoon scoring in Albion’s 5-2 win at Newcastle United and is unlikely to feature so soon after that match.
While injuries aren’t currently a concern in the centre of the park, suspensions may be. Jayson Molumby picked up his ninth yellow card at Hull on Friday which means he will receive a two-match ban should he receive another in the next three games. After 37 games, the threshold rises to fifteen yellow cards. The worry is that he has picked up four in his last six appearances, two of which were from the bench.
This match is Albion’s game in hand over the rest of the play-off chasing teams and victory will move them up to 9th place four points off the play-offs with eleven games to go. It is vital that Corberán’s team do indeed take all three points, and they should be confident of doing so – anything less will make the top six look a long way away.
Wigan Athletic weren’t elected to the Football League until 1978, their application being approved ahead of Boston United, who had finished ahead of them in the Northern Premier League, as Boston’s ground did not meet league requirements. Springfield Park did and the clubs first met when they were drawn together in the League Cup in 1984. After a goalless draw in Lancashire, the Baggies progressed to the third round thanks to a 3-1 victory with Albion’s goals scored by Steve Hunt, Garry Thompson and Nicky Cross.
It was another seven years before the clubs met in the league following the Baggies’ relegation to the Division Three. The Latics recorded their first win over Albion at Springfield Park in October 1992, but Ossie Ardiles’ team gamed revenge at the Hawthorns the following April as Bob Taylor (2), Micky Mellon, Kevin Donovan and Paul Raven all scored in a 5-1 victory that is the Baggies’ best in this fixture.
The next meeting would be nine years later when a hat-trick from future Baggie, Nathan Ellington, knocked Albion out of the League Cup in 2002 in what was the Baggies’ first visit to the JJB Stadium. Dave Whelan had bought the club in 1995 and funded the construction of their new stadium, shared by the Wigan Warriors Rugby League team, which opened in 1999. The 2002/03 season saw the Latics promoted to the second tier for the first time in their history and, two years later, they made the jump up to the Premier League.
Since then, Wigan have had the better of the results in their meetings with Albion even though they have spent four further seasons in the third tier. Their first win at the Hawthorns came in the first ever top flight meeting between the clubs in September 2005. Jonathan Greening gave the hosts the lead before David Connolly equalised before half time. The Latics won it thanks to a last minute winner from Jimmy Bullard. Wigan have won two further Premier League games at the Hawthorns and they also claimed all three points on their last visit in February 2020 when Sammy Morsy scored the only goal of the game.
Albion beat the Latics twice at the Hawthorns the season before that, 2-0 in the league on Boxing Day when Jay Rodriguez scored both goals, and 1-0 in the third round of the FA Cup a week or so later with Bakary Sako scoring his only goal in an Albion shirt.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
30 Aug 2022 – League Championship
Wigan Athletic 1 (Magennis)
West Bromwich Albion 1 (Grant)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
29 Feb 2020 – League Championship
West Bromwich Albion 0
Wigan Athletic 1 (Morsy)
5 Jan 2019 – FA Cup 3rd Round
West Bromwich Albion 1 (Sako)
Wigan Athletic 0
Albion’s Record against Wigan Athletic
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