Ready for Brentford? The challenge for Paul Cook and his squad

What a tempestuous week it has been.

A wonderful performance by the Latics team in blowing away Stoke City raised our hopes of at least a mid-table finish, with lots of optimism for the coming season. Then it was all turned upside down by that stunning announcement of the club going into administration. The Wigan Athletic community is still reeling from that news.

Brentford away is hardly the fixture that one would choose following the turbulence of the last three days. They outplayed Latics at the DW Stadium in November to the tune of a resounding 3-0 scoreline. They have won their last four games and still have a chance of automatic promotion.

Latics were on the crest of a wave following the Stoke game on Tuesday evening. Hopes were high that they could go to west London and give the Bees a run for their money. But now we learn that the players, who had deferred 30% of their salaries in the lockdown period, will only receive a fraction of their salaries today. Paul Cook must somehow lift his players to concentrate on the here and now, despite the uncertain futures at the club that they all now face.

Sam Morsy’s rallying call was admirable and we can only hope that captain, manager and coaches can maintain morale in this difficult hour.

The news and social media have been awash with stories about what has happened to the club.

The EFL’s prompt notification that there will be an automatic 12-point deduction did not go down well with Latics fans. Questions abound how their “Fit and Proper Persons” criteria allowed a shady change of ownership leading to administration within a month of Next Leader Fund taking ownership.

The reasons for NLF opting for administration remain unknown although there is no shortage of conspiracy theories being put forward.

Fans have been putting forward their views on the social media and message boards. Some fear for the very existence of the club. Others are concerned that the points deduction will lead the club back to League 1, although there are optimists who believe the team can gather some 13-14 points from the last 6 games to avoid that happening.

In the meantime, Latics must find the funding to help them complete the season, by no means an easy matter with no money coming into the club from the owners and minimal revenues available from playing behind closed doors.

Should the club manage its way to complete its fixtures and somehow gather enough points to avoid relegation it would be a big step forward. A Championship club is more attractive to a prospective buyer than one in League 1. Moreover, the broadcasting revenues and larger away supporter attendances make it financially more viable, even if the club were going to run on a shoestring budget for a period.

My concern is that the very survival of the club is at stake. After following them to places like Congleton, Winsford and Oswestry I can deal with the likes of Rochdale and Oldham should the club manage to get through this sticky period.

It is a stressful and difficult time for us all who care so much for our club. The game at Brentford tomorrow pales in comparison with the mountain the club must climb to stay in operation. However, a win could really lift our spirits and give us a little more hope for what lies ahead.

The social media reacts to the Wigan Athletic administration announcement

Yesterday’s news that Wigan Athletic have been put into administration and that the EFL will deduct 12 points was a stunner. What is going to happen to our club??

My love affair with Latics started at the age of 12 when I went to Springfield Park to watch Latics as a non-league club. That first visit was enough to make me hooked and I have spent practically a lifetime watching them, no matter what league or division they were in.

Sure, I would love to see Wigan Athletic back in the Premier League, but the parameters in football have changed so much since Paul Jewell’s team took us up there. The bottom line for me is to see the club survive. It is not so important what division they are in.

However, we and other Latics fan sites have regularly published our concerns about the debts the club has been accruing in recent years. On June 8 we published an article “An initially challenging time is coming for Wigan Athletic”, referring to the comments of new co-owner Au Yeung Wai Kay. We raised the prospect of EFL clubs being lost in the revenue crunch following on from the Covid-19 pandemic. We talked about the need for a fire-sale akin to that made by Dave Whelan in January 2015 and drastic reductions in the club’s wage bill. But little did we know that that the initially challenging time would come as far as administration.

Let’s take a look at how fans reacted to the shock news through the message boards and social media.

Our thanks go to the Cockney Latic Forum, the Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum and Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen. Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below.

Captain Kernow on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

It just doesn’t make any sense, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a club just enter administration. There’s usually weeks and months of foretelling beforehand.

We were taken over three weeks ago where the owners would have had to prove finances to the EFL. They’ve not even got through the first payday.
We’ve invested in player contracts and development facilities this month.
I don’t understand why we would do these things if we were so skint?

I don’t think finishing 13 points clear of the bottom 3 is beyond us, especially on current form. But how many players are actually going to keep on playing?

Leylandlatic4ever on the Cockney LaticForum said:

The situation stinks and I felt physically sick when I read the news this afternoon, especially gutting after the way the lads have performed since the restart.

We have 4 very winnable games in the last six. All of us, no exceptions, must get behind the boys more than ever. The future of the club is quite literally at stake. Get the 12 points back on the pitch and tell the EFL where to stick their deduction.

We are Wigan…never give up, give in or surrender.

Scharnerama on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

The EFL are disgusting, throwing us to the dogs like they did with Bury. Never mind that theres a global pandemic happening which has delayed our season and impacted every clubs finances, and that they deemed our new owners ‘fit and proper’ mere weeks ago, literally less than 1 hour after its announced we’re entering administration, they s…. all over us and say we’re getting hit with a deduction. It would have been some miracle if we got 13 points from the last 6 games anyway, but now we’ve GOT to get 13 points or we’re down, whats that going to do for team morale? Playing under that pressure? If we finish outside the relegation zone this year … -12 points and relegation. Go down anyway? Start lg1 with -12 points. Either way we’re smashed. Maybe it would have been better for this season to have been ended early afterall, although PPG would probably have sent us down anyway.

What an absolute crusher though. After last nights win and the form we’ve been showing, the last thing I expected today was to fear for the future of the club. Jokes about going for the play offs … But here we are. I’ve no idea what our future holds – or if we actually have one – but thats a fear for another day. All we can do for now is rally and cheer for the squad to go out there and fight for the 13 points we need. ‘Little’ Wigan the underdogs, taking on the EFL for survival. If any team can upset the odds its us, so i’ve not lost faith. But Ch–st, what an absolute mountain we’ve got to climb.

Th10 on the Latics Speyk Forum said:

I think the best thing is the 12 point deduction applying this season. Starting a championship season on -12 would give us no chance of surviving anyway. At least the players can fight for the rest of what could be our last season as a club. If the club does survive then at least next season is a fresh start. Look at Bolton this year, they were down before it even started.
If someone does want to buy the club then who does the money go to? Surely if the owners have run the club into the ground and put it into admin then they don’t get anything. I’m not sure how it works.

Pies’r’Us on the Latics Speyk Forum detailed his previous warnings:

I wrote to EFL in May and then the following to all TV and radio broadcaster, Wigan MP but was ignored..

“END OF THE PIER FOR WIGAN ATHLETIC?

Wigan Athletic have recently been sold and bought by the same person; Dr. Choi Chiu Fai Stanley. He is the chairman and majority shareholder of the last owner; IEC plc, and also majority shareholder of the new owning company ‘Next Leader Fund LP’. This has been approved by the EFL which renders their club ownership process to kiddies TV; ‘The Magic Roundabout’.

Dr. Stanley, has over 20 years experience in financial services and merger and acquisition projects. He also a renowned poker player in the far eastern gambling world through televised poker tournaments.

According to his letter sent to IEC plc shareholders on 8 May 2020 (link below), one of the principle reasons for selling the club and transferring ownership is that it will be financially advantageous to IEC in regard to a previous interest free loan of £24.36 million. IEC have provided a replacement loan via ‘the new owner’ and most importantly; it is interest bearing at 8%. This is now costing Wigan Athletic £37,846 A WEEK! The club have made an average loss over the last two years of circa £8.5 million which equates to £163,461 per week and therefore losses now total circa £200,000 per week.

For context; the present stock market capitalisation (value) of IEC plc is £36.48 million and is engaged in expensive court actions with tax authorities concerning 2 of it’s subsidiaries.

However, the terms require the capital sum to be repaid in 12 months and if the club defaults then the interest rate increases to 20% to which weekly payments on the £24.36 million loan amounts to £93,692 !”

Dr Stanley knows the company cannot pay these figures on their present income and so did the directors of the club and the EFL. So why was it allowed to happen?

Muttywhitedog on the Cockney Latic Forum said:

I’m very shocked to hear this news. Administration is not the end of the world – Leicester & Southampton came back stronger. You are not relegation fodder, and a couple of wins against Hull & Charlton should see you safe and back next season, hopefully stronger for the experience and with an owner who gives a shit.

It does beg questions about ownership though – particularly those without a pot to p–s in, and it seems as Wigan & Sunderland have something in common in that respect.

Good luck.

The Egg on the Cockney Latic Forum stated:

Having a club to support is the absolute priority as you say. Staying in the championship will help that.

We need 3 wins from 6 I reckon.

Dnr on the Cockney Latic Forum added:

Siege mentality, need to gain four or five more points than the bottom three between now and the end of the season to be more that 12 points clear and avoid relegation. Current form would suggest we can do it, but this must shatter the lads. Interesting to see the impact on contracts, players may be able to just walk away.

Five talking points following a champagne-popping win over Stoke

Wigan Athletic 3 Stoke City 0

Champagne football returned to Wigan last night as Latics blew away Stoke City with the best display of the Paul Cook era. Gone was the hoofball that characterised the worst displays of the season. In its place was champagne football.

Granted, the first two goals were down to poor defensive play, although the third was something special. But the scoreline could have been much greater had Latics taken more of their chances. They were so superior throughout the game.

After the match Paul Cook commented: “That was an absolute top-class performance from us tonight. The only disappointment possibly was that it was only 1-0 at half-time. We created clear-cut chances, we dominated possession, and our appetite for work when we didn’t have the ball was so impressive.”

Let’s look at some points arising from the game:

It’s all in the head

Jonjo is right. It is bonkers!

Wigan’s play last night exuded a confidence based upon an impressive unbeaten run.

In November Latics lost 2-1 at Stoke through a Mame Diouf goal in the 93rd minute.

They have come so far since then. But who can explain it?

Cook’s popularity rating rises

There have been times over the past two seasons when Paul Cook’s popularity rating has hit rock bottom. At times the football has been either awful or too frustrating to watch.  Comments on the social media have been brutal at times.

However, since embarking on this unbeaten run in mid-February his popularity with the fans has been gradually increasing. People want results and they have been coming. Some of the previous performances were abysmal, others quite the opposite even if the results did not always correlate with the performances.

The manager summed things up well following the victory over Blackburn at the weekend:

It’s hard to be a manager at this level, because you get abused for much of the time. But then all of a sudden because your team wins a few games, you’re suddenly a good manager again.

The brutal reality is you’re only as good as your player and my players have never, ever let me down, over anything other than inexperience, naivety. When it comes to passion, desire, determination, attitude, they’ve always given me everything. I’ve never had a problem with any of them this season, never had a dressing-room row when I’ve had to question that side of things.”

I’ve certainly had plenty of rows questioning some of the stuff we’ve done, but that’s football. To see them now playing against such strong sides, and limiting them to not many clear-cut chances, is great credit to them.”

Last night we saw a performance matched by a result. It is when the two coincide that we can begin to see a brighter future ahead.

Butland has an off night

Peter Schmeichel once said: “Every player makes mistakes; every goalkeeper makes mistakes. Every manager does, every broadcaster – every person in life makes mistakes. But for goalkeepers, often when they make a mistake, it leads to a goal.”

Jack Butland’s own goal and assist for Kal Naismith’s first goal certainly helped Latics on their way.

Butland is 27 years old and has 9 caps for England. He is by no means a rookie goalkeeper, but his mistakes were costly for his team last night.

Naismith’s second goal was a stunner

When Kal Naismith came on for an injured Michael Jacobs after 32 minutes he went to the right wing. The Glaswegian has played in so many different positions for Latics and opinion is divided as to which is his best. Many would say he has had his best performances at centre back. But he had hardly shone in the past on the few occasions he had been employed on the right wing.

However, he had a fine game last night, giving veteran full back Stephen Ward a torrid time. Ten minutes after coming on he chested down a high ball and unleashed a tremendous effort from over 30 yards which was somehow pushed wide by the ‘keeper. Naismith’s first goal was a tap-in, but the second was the kind that will stick in the mind for years to come. The sheer power of the strike showed the excellent technique that the player has.

(Naismith’s second goal after 1:56 min)

It was a surprise not to see Naismith take the field in the first two games of the season restart. It will be even more of a surprise if he does not feature more regularly in the six games that remain.

Brentford – the acid test

Can Latics keep up their form for the trip to Brentford on Saturday?

The Bees have won their last four games and are only two points away from an automatic promotion place. However, Wigan have already notched up wins away against the teams above Brentford: Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion.

Keeping up an unbeaten run of nine games against another team in fine form is not going to be easy. The encounter will provide an acid test for Cook’s Latics.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Five talking points following an important victory over Blackburn

Wigan Athletic 2 Blackburn Rovers 0

“I genuinely felt Blackburn had taken control of the game in the second half, and then we go and score the first goal at a vital time. Great credit to my players, they’ve got this never-say-die attitude at the minute, and they deserve all the credit for digging in. The second goal at the end gives in my opinion a totally false scoreline, it was never a 2-0 comfortable victory for Wigan. But we’re delighted with the result and delighted with the three points.”

Paul Cook’s honesty in his post-match comments continues to put other managers to shame. He was certainly spot-on in what he said.

The first half was even with the teams paying each other maybe too much respect. When the half time whistle blew the game looked like it was heading for a goalless draw. But Blackburn started to dominate in the second half and Latics were forced back into defence. It took an error from Christian Walton in the Blackburn goal for Latics to open the scoring, as he made a mess of Antonee Robinson’s cross, the ball falling to Lee Evans to hammer home. Then in the last minute of added time Joe Williams put through a wonderful long pass for Michael Jacobs to run past Rovers’ diminished defence to score with aplomb.

Let’s look at points arising:

Another clean sheet for Wigan

Latics are now unbeaten in the last eight games. After sharing four goals with both Middlesbrough and Cardiff City in February they have not conceded in their last six matches.

Courtesy of Soccerstats.com

Only Middlesbrough have scored less goals than Wigan, but Latics’ defensive record places them in the top half of the table. It is that defensive solidity that will keep Latics in the Championship for another season, barring any unforeseen calamities.

Game management

When Evans scored in the 80th minute one wondered if Blackburn would pull one back. If it had been earlier on in the season that might well have happened, but a feature of Wigan’s upsurge in form has been in their game management. Rovers certainly pushed men forward in an effort to equalise, but the Wigan defence held firm. Moreover, rather than hoof the ball to safety Williams put that beautifully weighted pass forward for Jacobs to seal the game.

Latics have matured as a team and are making less mistakes collectively, making it harder for other teams to get back into the game.

Cook and substitutions

With Blackburn dominating possession as the second half progressed one wondered if the manager would bring on Joe Gelhardt to provide some much-needed creativity and goal threat. But once more it was not to be, Cook sticking with his senior pros.

However, on this occasion the manager deserves credit. Lee Evans was brought on for Anthony Pilkington after 56 minutes and he went on to score the goal that broke the deadlock. Moreover, Michael Jacobs came on for Kieran Dowell after 73 minutes, going on to score a very well-taken goal in the 94th minute.

A feature of Cook’s strategy in the two games since the season restarted is that he has used less substitutions than the opposition managers. Tony Mowbray used five yesterday whereas Cook used three, with Joe Garner coming on in time-added-on. The upside of Cook’s approach is that it has caused less disruption to the flow of Wigan’s play. The downside is that there is another match coming up on Tuesday and some players, Jamal Lowe and Kieffer Moore in particular, looked very tired in the closing minutes.

The full backs play a key role

Both Nathan Byrne and Antonee Robinson had fine games, solid in defence and supportive in attack.

Watching Robinson yesterday gave us a glimpse of the reasons why he is being coveted by other clubs. He looked a complete player, worthy of a step up into a higher level of football whether it be Serie A or the Premier League.

Nathan Byrne is now 28 years old. Latics signed him from Wolves for an undisclosed fee in August 2016. However, he struggled in the Championship under Gary Caldwell and Warren Joyce dispatched him on loan to League 1 Charlton Athletic in January 2017. However, he came back to Wigan for the 2017-18 League 1 season under Paul Cook making 51 appearances, being voted “Player of the Season”. It looked like Byrne was going to be the first choice right back in the 2018-19 season back in the Championship but Latics signed the impressive Reece James on loan from Chelsea. Later in the season James was moved into the centre of midfield with Byrne returning to his best position at right back.

This season Byrne has established himself as the first choice right back for Latics in the Championship. He has had his ups-and-downs but as the season has progressed, he has looked more composed and established at this level. Byrne’s form has been integral to Wigan’s unbeaten run in the past eight matches.

Looking forward to Stoke

Over the coming weeks all clubs in the Championship are going to find it tough with regular midweek games sandwiched between the weekend fixtures. There are seven matches remaining before the regular season ends on July 22. The managers are going to have to make good use of their squads, given the physical demands on the players.

Stoke City have had a difficult season and are under threat of relegation. Their wage bill far outweighs that of Latics, but they have struggled. The home loss to Middlesbrough yesterday was a tough one for them and they will come to Wigan anxious to pick up points. However, they will come without the services of Nick Powell, who was sent off in the 89th minute.

It remains to be seen how Cook will use his squad over the coming weeks. Once again, he stuck with a winning lineup yesterday and he is likely to do the same on Tuesday, barring injuries. He is not a fan of the kind of squad rotation that some managers employ. However, he must be wary of burnout from his key players.

The Stoke encounter could prove tougher than it looks on paper. Much will depend on the energy levels of Wigan’s key players.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

 

Five talking points following a deserved three points at Huddersfield

Huddersfield Town 0 Wigan Athletic 2

Table courtesy of the Guardian

The Championship table shows how important this win was for Latics. They now have seven teams below them, grappling with the threat of relegation. It was a win based on solid teamwork. Despite having only 30% possession Wigan were solid in defence and offered threat going forward.

Paul Cook put out a well-balanced side, with Kieran Dowell played in the number 10 role behind Kieffer Moore. Prior to receiving a long-term injury in January Dowell had been played out wide in the few games he had played since joining on loan. Two other players who had been out of action long-term, Danny Fox and Antonee Robinson also returned.

Following the game Cook commented: “It was important that we came away from here with something and I felt a point would have been a good point because Huddersfield are a good side with good players. To get a 2-0 win we’re delighted with that. The reality was there wasn’t many chances at both ends of the pitch but fortunately we’ve come out on the right side. We travel back knowing that five home games and three away and everything’s in our own hands which is great.”

Let’s look at some points arising from the game:

Wigan looked fitter

It was worrying to see five players out of the Latics squad through injury. But apart from the first quarter of an hour when they struggled to get any fluency to their play, Wigan looked so much sharper than the home side. Huddersfield were trying to build up moves from the back, with Latics taking a more direct approach.

Huddersfield visibly tired and manager Danny Cowley made five substitutions by the 72nd minute. Cook had only made one by then and three of his five changes came in the 86th minute.

The long-term injured players made impressive returns. Antonee Robinson had not played since January 28, but he looked comfortable on his return. Danny Fox had not played since November 9 but slotted in seamlessly alongside Cedric Kipre in the centre of defence. Kieron Dowell’s ankle injury in January had been a blow to Cook at a time when Latics were lacking in creativity. He is a natural number 10, capable of scoring goals and making assists.

A funny old game

As the saying goes “football is a funny old game”. Both Wigan goals were aided by deflections. Kieffer Moore’s cross in the 24th minute was deflected by the Huddersfield left back Harry Toffolo for Jamal Lowe to score. Then in the 48th minute Anthony Pilkington, surrounded by defenders, managed to squeeze out a shot that took a major deflection off home team midfielder Lewis O’Brien.

A few months ago, the opposite was much more likely to happen. Latics were not getting “the rub of the green” and deflections were so often working against them.

Lowe shines

Jamal Lowe’s fourth goal of the season was opportunistic. He reacted more quickly than the Huddersfield defenders to reach Moore’s cross. Following the game Cook commented on Lowe: “He’s had the chances throughout the season, Jamal could easily have a lot more goals, but he’s no different to every player because confidence is key. If you keep getting in the correct areas, the correct thing will happen and Jamal gets into those areas regularly, so there are a lot more goals in him.”

It has been a struggle for Lowe to adjust to the play in the Championship division. At times he has looked lightweight, losing the ball too easily, short of confidence on his finishing. But the player’s confidence had been growing and he was looking better when the season was curtailed in March. Yesterday he looked strong and determined in possession. It was his run down the left and his intelligent cross to Pilkington that led to the second goal.

Cook has shown a lot of faith in Lowe, sometimes playing him when performances hardly merited it. But Lowe is now starting to look like the kind of player we were hoping for following his much-hyped arrival from Portsmouth in summer.

Almost safe by the end of June?

With two home games by the end of June Latics have a chance to really consolidate their place in the Championship. Back to back victories would give them 50 points. Last season 41 points would have been enough to stay up, 42 points in 2017-18. But totals like that will not be sufficient this season with the third from bottom team Hull already having 41 points with eight games to go.

Blackburn Rovers and Stoke City will be no pushovers. Rovers games can be fiercely competitive and Stoke are in the relegation zone and desperate for points.

A crucial week

This coming week is not only crucial to what will follow in July, but also for the coming season. All 24 clubs in the division have significant numbers of players whose contracts expire at the end of this month.

Cook has a dozen players who are currently available only up to the Stoke game on June 30. The club have come to an agreement with Leon Balogun to continue into July, his contract with Brighton expiring at the end of June.

Clubs have until June 23 to either offer a new contract or release the player. If a player is not offered a new contract for the 2020-21 season he can be recruited by another club from June 24.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com