Gillingham will return to the top of League One if they avoid defeat here but the onus will be on Wigan to take the game to their in-form opponents, whom they currently trail by nine points in the race for automatic promotion. Expect a cagey encounter with only sporadic goalmouth action and the home side to edge home by the odd goal.
"Slowly but surely" was the phrase used repeatedly by Justin Edinburgh when talking about the Latics in his pre-match press briefing. Slowly but surely, Gary Caldwell is getting to grips with management. Slowly but surely, the players are delivering what he’s asking of them. Slowly but surely, Wigan are getting used to the division and starting to assert their authority. There’s no better way of putting it.
It’s a far cry from the boisterous prophecies offered by chairman David Sharpe last summer when he revealed, without any hint of embarrassment, that the club’s playing budget would be around seven times greater than the division’s next biggest, before unhelpfully suggesting he expected Caldwell to rack up 100 points on the way to the title.
That’s clearly not going to happen but progress is steady enough to believe that 90 points is achievable, which would leave the Latics there or thereabouts in the final reckoning. Up to now, it all seems very measured, as though something is being kept back for a late surge and we should expect little deviation from a strategy that has brought seven clean sheets in 11 home matches, three of which have ended 1-0.
Those results don’t fully reflect the picture painted by the shot data. Wigan are very deliberately playing with the handbrake on and my 16-match ratings generate a total goals expectancy of 2.06, which is around 0.35 goals shorter than the market line. By standard conversions, the Wigan 1-0 correct score is barely 5/1, so there’s obvious mileage in the 7/1 quote currently on offer with 888sport. And the Wigan to win to nil option, a shade over 13/8 by my reckoning, is another source of value at 23/10.
The numbers are helped in part by Gillingham outperforming their data in recent weeks. The Kent outfit head north on the back of four straight wins but haven’t reached double figures for attempts on goal in any of their last five outings. If you trace the numbers back to late September (14 matches), more than half of their last 68 on-target efforts have found the back of the net, which is more than double the normal average.
So there’s plenty of scope for a regression in that respect and the temptation for the visitors might be to adopt a safety-first approach knowing that a goalless draw will be enough to take them to the summit, where they would remain for the next nine days at least. That’s the thinking behind a bet on under 1.5 goals at 12/5, which is also a 13/8 shot on my tissue.
For more information about Mike Holden’s shot-based ratings system, follow this link.