Middlesbrough looks to turn around their poor form as they take on Wigan Athletic.
Middlesbrough's poor form continued against Blackburn Rovers. The Lancaster-based side beat Leo Percovich's Boro team 2-1. Boro subsequently dropped into the relegation zone, while a mid-week victory for the Rovers made them table toppers.
Middlesbrough's clash with Wigan Athletic will be the fifteenth game of the season, setting down a serious marker for how the table is starting to line up. Boro are currently sitting in a precarious 22nd position, but with the talent at hand, they will hope that a new head coach appointment could lead to an upwards trend into safer waters.
It has been reported that Michael Carrick will be the incoming head coach. The former Manchester United coach has earned an impressive reputation for his work under Olé Gunnar Sojlskaer, and he is now looking to break out on his own. His lack of experience in the top job means that hiring him is a risk, but Middlesbrough believes that the positives will outweigh the negatives. All the same, Carrick isn't expected to arrive on Teesside until next week, giving Leo Percovich the opportunity to finish his tenure at the club on a positive note. He could also begin the process of dragging Middlesbrough out of their difficult predicament. Leo Percovich will be hoping that that process will begin as they take on the Latics.
Newly promoted Wigan Athletic have faced their own issues, from an inexperienced manager to a thin squad. Yet, they are better off than their upcoming opponents, with their 17th-place position putting them in relative security. This article will detail the state of play at Wigan Athletic coming into the midweek fixture.
Last Time Out:
Wigan Athletic faced Boro's local rivals, Sunderland, over the weekend. Tony Mowbray's team managed to get the best of the Latics, but it was not an easy fixture. Former Sunderland forward, and Middlesbrough youngster, Charlie Wyke, opened the scoring for Wigan in the 44th minute. However, Sunderland came out after the halftime break with a fighting spirit. The Stadium of Light would watch Sunderland overturn the deficit with goals from Embleton and Cirkin. These goals would prove to be enough to give Mowbray's team all three points.
Some may have seen this fixture as a good benchmark for Wigan Athletic's chances of survival this season. After all, they took on another recently promoted side, and with it, the issues and flaws that these sides would have to contend with in the Championship. However, Sunderland has had a good start to life in the Championship. Despite the turbulence of Alex Neil's departure, the side is currently settled in a secure 12th place. Meanwhile, Tony Mowbray will only grow more comfortable with life on the Wear, increasing the team's effectiveness in the league. It's unlikely that they will be troubled by relegation this season.
Due to the gap between the two sides, it is impressive that Wigan Athletic were capable of putting up a fight against their opponents. Further, Leam Richardson's team still took the game to their opponents away from home, stealing an early advantage. While they could not make the most of their advantage, it shows that they are an outfit capable of competing against most Championship sides on their day.
Unsurprisingly for a team in the bottom half of the table, Wigan Athletic's form has been short of average. Leam Richardson's team has managed to secure just 6 points across their last five fixtures. Wins over Rotherham United and, recent victors against Middlesbrough, Blackburn Rovers providing these much-needed points. While struggling Hull City and Cardiff City, a team in transition, were the two other teams to beat Wigan in recent weeks.
Wigan Athletic appear to favour the underdog tag, as they have managed to overcome teams in a better league position Rotherham United and Blackburn Rovers. They were close to offering a similar surprise result against Sunderland, indicating that the squad suits this type of environment.
Meanwhile, Wigan has struggled in pressurised situations. They lost to a Hull City side that is worse off on the table, and Cardiff City's extreme transition meant that they were there to be 'got at' not least as they now stand just below Wigan Athletic. This should suit Middlesbrough, as their poor predicament, and lack of form will put the onus on Wigan to win.
Despite averaging just over 1 point per game, Wigan has been in consistent goalscoring form. The Latics have scored in all of their last five fixtures showing that they are dangerous when going on the offensive. This could prove to be an issue for Middlesbrough, as Wigan's goalscoring form and Boro's widely documented defensive issues could prove to be volatile.
Like with Middlesbrough, Wigan's defence has also been vulnerable in recent weeks. The Latics conceded seven goals in their last five fixtures, indicating that they have a defence which could capitulate if Middlesbrough turns their less-than-stellar attacking form into a more dangerous proposition.
Wigan comes into this game in better form than Middlesbrough. The sides' relatively prolific goalscoring form and the near complete absence of goals for Middlesbrough in recent weeks paint a concerning image coming into this game.
A manager with limited experience, Leam Richardson, is a relatively unknown quantity for most Middlesbrough fans.
The 42-year-old started his coaching career began when his playing career ended. The then Accrington Stanley player took on a player-coach role before stepping away from playing the game entirely to become Paul Cook's full-time assistant manager. Then he would take over the first team responsibilities following Cook's departure leading Accrington Stanley across 36 games with a 1.17 ppg, a respectable return for a novice. However, his record at Accrington Stanley would see the side drop to 18th from a previous 14th position.
Richardson would follow Cook to Chesterfield, Portsmouth and Wigan Athletic as the coach gained experience within their strong working relationship. However, he would remain at Wigan following Cook's departure, with Richardson remaining on the training ground for John Sheridan and Gregor Rioch's short stints.
Wigan Athletic would eventually give Richardson an opportunity to impress in the managerial role. He was appointed caretaker manager and would rack up a 1.29 ppg across 37 games. A marked improvement from his previous extended stint in charge, Richardson had clearly utilised his experience to his advantage. However, in typical circumstances, Wigan Athletic, with its history of Premier League football, would not have been content with this tally. Yet, the Latics were facing a difficult predicament off the pitch. The club was in dire financial straits, and Wigan was in pursuit of new owners. They needed to find a cheap and safe option as manager. Leam Richardson fitted the bill.
While his appointment may have been a case of circumstances, Leam Richardson made a point to make the most of the opportunity. Since his appointment as permanent manager, Leam Richardson has managed 79 games. At that time, Wigan was taken over, and Richardson led his team to promotion from League One. The now stable environment at Wigan allowed them to support their manager, and Richardson responded with a phenomenal managerial glow-up. Leam Richardson has averaged a very impressive 1.77ppg showing, turning him from a winner of circumstance to a manager who wholly deserved his seat in the Championship.
Richardson plays a dynamic, fast-paced style of football focused on pace and athleticism down the flanks. However, his best ability as a manager is tailoring his sides to benefit the strengths of the squad at his disposal. While his impressive coordination with the medics and fitness staff has allowed him to get the most out of a thin squad.
The Championship is a long hard slog. Every team has to play 46 times a season, and each team has the ability to beat any other team on their day, so the league demands effort and commitment twice a week. This is a lot of stress to put on the bodies of the Championship's regular players. Many teams have a deep squad available to compensate for this.
On the other hand, Wigan has started the season with just 24 available first-teamers. This means that Richardson is working with a first option and a backup option for the whole first XI and two extras. Ordinarily, this may be fine, but if the side faces a bout of injuries within one department in the squad, Richardson will have a serious crisis on his hands.
Richardson and his backroom staff have shown themselves to be astute and intelligent operators when dealing with thin squads, which should help mitigate this possibility. However, chance and dumb luck can still play a factor, and their input could be phenomenally detrimental to a side trying to stay in the league.
However, within their thin squad, Wigan has a number of very astute operators. Charlie Wyke, Josh Magennis and Ashley Fletcher have all scored goals at this level, while Ben Amos' experience could prove vital in shaping the team's defence.
A player that has struggled to settle for large swathes of his career, Will Keane finally made Wigan his home. The 29-year-old Manchester United academy graduate has suffered from a stop-start career, with him rarely breaking the 30-game mark at any of his previous clubs. There were never any doubts about his ability. Will Keane's extended stay at Manchester United highlighted how much one of the best clubs in the world was apprehensive to let him go. However, his lack of game time, in part owing to the number of positions he can play, prevented the Irishman from developing into the player that the Red Devils expected him to become.
These struggles would continue when he left United on a permanent basis. The Irishman continued to struggle to nail down consistent first-team minutes before Wigan took a punt on unveiling and showcasing his talent. The 29-year-old hasn't looked back since arriving at the Latics. Keane is two games away from a century at the club, as he played a key role in the side's climb up the leagues. His importance has remained following promotion as Keane has been ever-present in the side so far this season.
Keane has continued to perform despite the jump in quality too. The Irishman has scored five goals and provided an assist across 14 games this season. He will be a very dangerous proposition for Boro as he lurks on the edge of the box. Keane will either rifle a shot from distance or look to make an unmarked late run into the box to devastating effect.
Wigan Athletic are lacking young prospects. The club has only four under-23's listed in the squad, and only one of those is their own academy product. The other three, all 23, have been brought into the club over the summer on a temporary basis. Yet, Thelo Aasgaard has shown that he is far more than a token youth player. In fact, the club's policy of quality over quantity reverberates through Thelo Aasgaard.
At 20 years old, Aasgaard is far from the youngest prospect in the Championship. However, with his older age comes the opportunity for more experience, and with 61 first-team appearances to his name, Aasgaard has made the most of the opportunities that have come his way.
Despite not being at the extremely tender age of some current championship prospects, Wigan Athletic are working to protect their future starlet by carefully dividing his first team minutes. The Norwegian has made 11 out of 14 appearances so far this season but a large proportion of these were with limited game time. In six of his 11 appearances, Aasgaard has played less than 30 minutes of football. Nonetheless, he has shown himself to be a capable operator with a goal and assist this season. Aasgaards goal contribution return means that he has directly influenced a goal every 221 minutes, a solid return for a young player in a newly promoted team.
Aasgaard is a technically talented player with the ability to carve out a moment of brilliance (see his goal against Blackburn Rovers), and his focus on creation from the wide areas certainly suits his strengths. He could do with building some consistency, but that is frequently lacking in talented young players. Keep an eye out for him going forwards. He could either find a home at the top or stumble down the pyramid depending on how he develops and applies himself from this point onwards.
Prediction: Wigan 1-2 Middlesbrough
Wigan scoring seems inevitable, given their attacking talents and goalscoring form. However, Middlesbrough's revelations when it comes to formation could bring the end of their barren run with a couple of goals.