Can Boro De-Rail Wigan?
By Robert Nichols
Tuesday 11 Feb 2020 10:35:00
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Boro travel to Wigan tonight, it is essential we avoid defeat at all costs to prevent us being drawn in to a relegation fight with our opponents. Paul Cook's side have experienced narrow defeat after narrow defeat this season including Boro's 1-0 win at the Riverside and the 2-1 victory for Preston at Wigan on Saturday. But they do run teams close game after game and in fact they famously defeated Leeds United at Elland Road at the start of this month, so we need to be very wary. Kick off at Stadium is 7.45pm. Tickets available on the door at the DW Stadium for Boro fans, cash only.

Boro fans will be travelling to the former mill and mining town of Wigan. We often used to drink at the Orwell, next to the famous Wigan Pier, a canal-side mooring no longer marked by a pub or a heritage centre. The bar was named after George Orwell, whose Road to Wigan Pier was a seminal book, lifting the lid on inter war poverty. There is a Teesside link here because after the war, George Orwell came to live in a house just north of Stockton where he prepared for his two classics Animal Farm and 1984.

Back to the football and our late, late defeat at Brentford leaves us in 18th place and 7 points ahead of 3rd bottom side Wigan, who are eyeing up a great escape. We must not give them a route out tonight. Boro of course are without a win since that unbeaten burst over Christmas and New Year and we quickly need to rediscover some of that winning formula if we are not to be sucked back in to the relegation area again.

Looking back over Saturday's defeat, Woodgate was pretty philosophical about it.

“I thought it was a really good performance, to be honest with you, especially the second half. We had a right go. We should have come away with a 2-2 draw really. But I thought the performance was in patches very good. I thought some of the link up play at times was good and we showed some good areas which we can improve on as well. We had shots on target, we created chances. If we had put that one away where Britt has a diving header at the near post, it just grazed his head and then Fletcher nearly caught it at the back post. It is one of them things, they are really good side Brentford and like they showed in the game, they are a top side and that is why they are near the top of the table. I think they will get promoted. They are a good team and we look forward to this game now.”

History is on our side at Wigan as they have not actually beaten us since way back in 2007 and we haven't even shipped a single goal in the last four trips to the home of the Latics. Paul Cook's team put together a mini revival but recently have slipped back again. It seems to the Championship way, as we know all too well. With games against strugglers Luton and Barnsley to come this is an important run of games for Boro.

“I am only thinking about Wigan that is the really important game,” said Jonathan Woodgate yesterday.

“We are going to try and win the game but they are a decent enough team. They have had some good results of late. OK against Preston they got beat but they are a decent team, he has got them playing some good football, especially with Kieffer Moore up front, he's a difficult player to play against. So we will need to be at it. It is important we don't lose the game.”

That is an interesting final line. Woodgate wants to win but knows how important it is that we do not let Wigan take 3 points, not only to stop them closing the gap but to prevent them from sparking off a revival.

“It is the Championship, every game is really difficult. It is a notorious league which can cause upsets like you saw with Wigan's performance against Leeds, and different performances in the season like where Hull go and beat Fulham 3-0. It is a difficult league so we will have to be right on our game and OK we haven't picked up wins of late but we have picked up points, obviously not wins but good performances.”

Apart from Welsh international striker Kieffer Moore, Woodgate also singles out the threat of former Pompey winger Jamal Lowe.

“They have got them two (Moore) that can win games at the drop of a hat, so we need to be right at it.”

Boro looked vulnerable down the flanks in the later stages at Griffin Park and that proved ultimately costly. With that in mind I wonder if we might strengthen the defences again, particularly down the flanks. Possibly doubling up again with Johnson and Coulson and a possible recall for Djed Spence, playing ahead of Jonny Howson.

One defender singled out for praise by Jonathan Woodgate was centre half, Harold Makoudi. Woodgate was really impressed by his assured debut.

“I thought he was very good. He is a Premiership player in the making, in my view. That is from only seeing him in a few training sessions and a game. He has got all the attributes to play in the Premier League in my opinion.”

In other news this week, young midfielder Ben Liddle has been handed a new club contract.

Woodgate described this as..

“fantastic for the club to have another youngster signed down to a long-term contract. So I am really pleased for Ben, he has gone out on loan to Scunthorpe. We wanted him to get some games, that was important for him.”

I know we are supposed to be focussing on tonight's game but with Boro intending to play Celtic behind closed doors today, there could be two more experienced players competing for squad places on Saturday v Luton.

“George Friend will play 90 minutes and Ryan Shotton will play 60, Shotts has already played 90 the other day and then both players will be available for selection for the next game.”

If we can grab a morale boosting victory tonight then suddenly the options will open up for Boro. Britt Assombalonga scored the crucial goal in our 1-0 win over Wigan at the Riverside. Surely he will be recalled tonight to partner Ashley Fletcher up front. I would expect Ravel Morrison to be on the bench again, with a watching brief, hopefully we will be in a strong enough position to think of starting him in the second half.

So, there you are. Kick off 7.45pm. Boro fans, prepare for a blowy journey across the Pennines and hopefully we can return with 3 points and the prospect of finally, finally banishing all lingering relegation fears for the season. But prepare for a battle. Wigan pressed us all the way at the Riverside and any Paul Cook side knows only one way and that is never giving up to the final whistle.

Come On Boro

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