If you happened to read my Championship review for last weekend, you would realise that I have serious concerns for both of these clubs. Birmingham are in free fall, despite a win over Wolves 10 days ago. Wigan’s season has just not got going all year for reasons I have mentioned in previous articles. This game is not quite a six- pointer, but both clubs are in desperate need for 3 points to put it mildly.
Will Latics ever get going?
I think the majority of Wigan fans would have expected a finish between 12th-18th position this season, which would have represented a very respectable effort for a team who had just been promoted in a very competitive league. However, few Latics fans consider what has happened since August 2016 to be anywhere near acceptable. The hapless defeat by local rivals Blackburn at the weekend demonstrates a new low this season. All of the problems were present that have plagued the club for the entire season. Negative tactics and a lack of creativity and goals.
Many fans have compared the team to Middlesbrough in the Premier League, a team who have become infamous for their dull brand of football with only one striker and industrious midfielders who lack creativity and flair. Their plight is very similar to that of Wigan Athletic, who have a squad including too much youth and too many young loan players who lack first team experience.
The squad has not been helped by the demanding schedule of the Championship, last week proving to be the only week where the side have played only one game in over a month. Warren Joyce stated that young players, such as Connolly and Weir, are not used to playing regular first team football, which begs the question why they are starting every game (although Weir didn’t start against Blackburn).
More will be expected of players such as Max Power, who was fantastic last season as Latics won promotion from League 1. He has found the Championship too physical this year and has recently found himself out if the first team, having encountered a poor patch of form. In addition, playmaker Jacobs has had an injury hit season. Hopefully he can regain some goal scoring form to help the club’s struggling strikers in the last 11 games.
Fans will continue to shout for 2 strikers to be on the field at one time, but Joyce appears to be reluctant to deviate from his defensive lineup. Surely playing Will Grigg for the final 11 games alongside the promising Bogle would give the club a much healthier chance of scoring goals and creating chances.
What about the opponents?
Like Wigan, Birmingham are also enduring a poor spell of form. After a promising first 4 months of the season, things have turned sour for the Midlands club. Replacing Rowett with Gianfranco Zola has not proved to be a wise decision by the new club owners. Having only won 2 matches since his appointment, Brum have plummeted to 17th in the table from 7th in December. While relegation concerns are not imminent, currently sitting a comfortable 9 points above Bristol City in 22nd, fans will most definitely be concerned about the direction in which the club is heading.
Birmingham City cannot boast a host of star names in their squad, with former West Brom midfielder Craig Gardner perhaps their most famous player. Fans of a the Premier League will also remember full back Ryan Shotton, once of Stoke City in the Tony Pulis days. They also have veteran defender Paul Robinson amongst their ranks, somewhat surprisingly a regular in the Blues’ defence and the ripe old age of 38. Top scorer Jutkiewicz came off the bench during their Friday night defeat by Leeds United, not starting presumably because of a knock. He is their most likely goalscorer in an otherwise hardworking, but lacking flair, Birmingham outfit.
What to expect from the match?
Both sides are in poor form to say the least, with Latics only managing 1 win from their last 7 games and Birmingham 2 wins in the same period. Birmingham are certainly not a side that will strike fear into the legs of the Wigan players, but Latics do not boast a positive record at this ground. On their last visit, in 2015 during the relegation season, the team were humbled 3-1 with the consolation scored by James McClean. However, in the first meeting at the DW stadium in August, the two sides drew 1-1 thanks to the now departed Craig Davies’ last gasp equaliser. That game was not much of a spectacle for the neutral and don’t expect fireworks here either.
Fans will be calling for more ambition on the part of Joyce, but it’s is unlikely that he will be more ambitious in this away game. Expect the game to finish 1-1 or 1-0 to Birmingham, with Latics seemingly lacking any sort of attacking threat. A notoriously noisy crowd will greet the teams in Birmingham, with the St Andrews club averaging around 20,000 in recent weeks despite appalling form. With poor form, negative tactics and off-form strikers and attacking midfielders, it seems unlikely that Wigan will travel back up the M6 with a priceless three points.