Five talking points following an insipid performance at Brentford

Brentford 2 Wigan Athletic 0

 

For Latics this season there have been times when the result has not reflected the performance. It was certainly the case at Griffin Park yesterday, although on this occasion the parameters were reversed. Brentford’s two goals hardly reflected their mastery of the game. They could have won by a margin of five or six.

It was a day that Latics might want to forget and instead focus on the next match against Hull City on Tuesday. But it can be argued that there are lessons to be learned from the defeat.

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

Sam Morsy will be getting a rest after all

Whether the captain’s challenge on Yoann Barbet in the 60th minute was a true red card offence is debatable. But given the attention he had received from the referee prior to the incident it was unwise of Morsy to launch himself into such a challenge.

Morsy had not been at his best yesterday, although the same could be said about so many others around him. He had been unable to join the Egypt squad over the international break due to injury. One wondered if he was still suffering the effects of that injury yesterday as his play was distinctly off-key.

Following his stint in the Russia World Cup Morsy came back and was thrust straight into the Wigan team. But given the commitment we have come to expect from the captain it would have been a surprise for him to have been eased back into the team despite his lack of a summer break.

The red card is a bitter pill for Morsy to swallow, but it will nevertheless give him a break that might even prove beneficial over the course of the season.

Another poor performance after an international break

All clubs in the top two tiers must cope with the complications that arise through international breaks. But some seem to cope with it better than others. For Wigan Athletic it has often proved more problematic.

Paul Cook addressed the situation prior to the trip to Griffin Park saying:

“It was great for us to have so many players going across the world, it’s great for me as a manager to see my lads getting recognition in international football. It does give me the worry of if some of them will be in the right place to be picked again for the next match because of the travelling. Do I pick them tomorrow when we’ve got another game on Tuesday? It offers a different challenge, but like our supporters know, we’re going to do our best to meet them head on.”

 Will Grigg and Antonee Robinson were the first team regulars involved in international duty this time around.

Grigg scored an opportunist goal for Northern Ireland in the 92nd minute against Bosnia Herzegovina after coming off the bench after 69 minutes. That was sufficient for him to be named as a starter in the next game against Israel, where he was substituted after 65 minutes with his team already two goals ahead. Both games were played in Belfast.

Robinson was thrust into the USA starting line-up against Brazil at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. By all accounts it was a learning experience for the 20-year-old against such an experienced and capable Brazil side. He came on in the 56th minute in the next game against Mexico in Nashville, being involved in his team’s winning goal after 71 minutes.

Cook decided to rest Grigg yesterday, with James Vaughan in his place. He started Robinson who had played more game time than Grigg over the break and had travelled so many more miles together with having to deal with jet lag.

However, Cook has a wealth of options for the centre forward spot, with Joe Garner and Josh Windass also available. He does not have such choices at left back, with Robinson being the only specialist available for the position. Given the physical demands the Everton loanee has faced over the past weeks it was no surprise that he was far from his best yesterday.

With two more games coming up before Saturday, Cook will surely have to give Robinson a rest in at least one of them. His most likely replacement in that position is the right-footed Callum Connolly.

Sticking with a successful formula

Two aspects that have typified Paul Cook’s successful formula at Wigan have been sticking by a winning team and attacking with pace and gusto from wide positions.

Cook largely stuck by the team that beat Rotherham by making one change, Grigg being rested. But there was a distinct lack of pace and directness from the flanks. Losing Gavin Massey for several months is a big blow for Cook. The player not only has blistering pace, but also makes a major defensive contribution. Faced with options of playing the pacey Michael Jacobs, Leo Da Silva Lopes, Callum McManaman or Nathan Byrne on the right he once more chose the more pedestrian option in Connolly. On the left we saw muted displays by Windass and Robinson.

The good news for Cook is that Jacobs is available again after injury. Can we expect him to be on the right wing against Hull?

Kipre continues to develop

Cedric Kipre has had a baptism of fire in English football playing in a new back four. In the early games he had periods of excellence interspersed with moments of seemingly switching off and looking vulnerable. It was a lot to ask for a 21-year-old with just one full season of first team football behind him to step in for a player of the capabilities of Dan Burn.

But Kipre has already shown that he can make a major impact at Wigan. After being ‘Man of the Match’ against Rotherham, he was arguably Latics’ best defender yesterday, other than the outstanding Christian Walton. Kipre was not only looking solid in defence but moving forward to make interventions in midfield.

Worryingly for Cook, Kipre appeared to be carrying an injury in the closing stages. With Burn still unavailable it could be Alex Bruce who lines up against Hull.

Burn’s eventual return to action will give Cook more options in defence, not only providing cover at centre half, but also at left back.

Following the Brentford formula?

Brentford have now moved up to second place and look like genuine promotion contenders. Their football yesterday was a delight to watch, full of movement, pace and invention. They looked light years ahead of Wigan from the get-go.

Despite a staffing budget of around £10 m they are challenging clubs who are spending three times as much. Brentford’s formula is straight forward. They nurture young players and sell them off at a good profit to keep the club afloat. Some of the young players are produced in their academy, but the majority are signed from other clubs. Yesterday’s starting line-up included two centre backs with a combined age of 40 and a front three totalling 65 years of age. One of those players, Chris Mepham, came through their academy but the others came at a combined cost of around £6.5 m from clubs in England and France. The eventual sale of just one of those five could eventually enable the club to cover the initial outlay.

Paul Cook too is trying to build a young team at Wigan. But out of the starting line-up at Griffin Park four of the youngest five were loan players, Cedric Kipre being the exception. Brentford had no loanees in their starting line-up.

The use of loan players at Wigan has been a source of much discussion by fans over recent years. But once more the club is giving young players belonging to other clubs the upper hand over their own loan talent.

The signings of Kipre (21) and Da Silva Lopes (19) are indications that Latics might well move towards a Brentford-style model if they can consolidate themselves in the Championship. Such a model requires infrastructure in having the kind of scouting network that can identify young talent.

Moreover, Brentford are looking not only in England, but in Europe, for their talent.

Cook has built a squad of largely British Isles based players, with Kipre and Da Silva Lopes the exceptions. It contrasts widely to the approach of Roberto Martinez, who was able to bring in players from outside the country and meld them into a working unit. Five of the starting line-up for the FA Cup Final were from overseas.

It will be interesting to see how the new ownership will approach recruitment policy at Wigan Athletic. Will they come in with their cheque books in hand or will they look toward adopting a more systematic long-term plan akin to that of Brentford?

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Advertisements

A Brentford fan’s view of Latics’ visit to Griffin Park

The bookmakers William Hill are offering odds of 13/8 on Brentford being promoted, a close second to the favourites Leeds United at 6/4. They quote Wigan Athletic at 8/1, making them seventh in the rankings. Both teams have made a good start to the season, with the Bees just a point ahead of Latics.

But bookmakers’ odds can soon change so early in a season with just 6 of the 46 games having been played so far. Brentford have won all three home games up to this point, with Wigan winning one and losing two on the road.  But Wigan Athletic have a good record against Brentford, having won 19 times, drawn 9, losing 7 since they first played each other in 1982.

Brentford came up from League 1 in 2014 and have consolidated themselves in the second tier. Much of that is down to owner, Matt Benham, who has not only made a huge financial investment, but also shown vision and belief akin to that of Dave Whelan at Wigan. But when Latics were back in the Championship, buoyed by parachute payments, after eight years in the upper tier  they could afford a wage bill exceeding £20 m, reaching the playoffs in 2015. Since then the club has suffered two relegations and the paruchute money is no more. This year’s wage bill will probably be nearer to £10 m.

Although Brentford manager, Dean Smith, might dream of promotion to the Premier League this season, Paul Cook will be primarily looking at consolidation. But who knows what might happen? Cook’s team plays with the kind of belief that suggests they can upset the bigger names in the division.

On their relatively modest budgets, can Brentford, or even Latics, overcome the financial odds against them and punch beyond their weight?

Despite the scintillating football we have seen up to this stage by Latics, results have lagged behind performance.  Cook has adopted an attacking philosophy that suggests his team is afraid of no one in the division. “Soft goals” in the closing minutes have widened that performance/result gap, but Cook deserves great credit for his positive approach. Will Brentford be in for a surprise on Saturday?

It promises to be a fascinating encounter. In order to get a Brentford fan’s view on Saturday’s match we contacted Billy Grant. Billy writes, podcasts and blogs for Beesotted (@Beesotted) the Brentford Fanzine (beesotted.com). You can catch Beesotted’s post-match podcast from around 7pm on PrideOf West.London – talking to both Wigan and Brentford fans in the pub after the match

Here are Billy’s responses to the questions we put to him:

Brentford have got off to a good start to the season and the bookmakers are reckoning your team are candidates for promotion. Is promotion a possibility for a club that works on a smaller wage bill than the likes of Leeds and Middlesbrough?

It’s been a great start to the season but to be honest, last season we played wonderful football but couldn’t buy a win for the first couple of months. It was I think 8 matches before we got our first victory despite playing a lot of teams off the park. So I put last season down to a learning curve and this season we haven’t fallen into the same trap – thank Horatio.

 We have been trying to keep below the radar so its a bit annoying that the people are starting to back us. We love being the team that no-one knows about. When we came into the division, we were the laughing stock. The team who ‘dumped’ Warburton (which wasn’t true). They laughed at our use of stats to find obscure players that no-one had heard of or thought would cut it in the championship. Players like Jota. And Andre Gray. And Scott Hogan.

 Four years later and we’re turning down bids for £10m plus for players who have played barely 30 matches after graduating from our B-team. Theres a stat that says that we have made a profit of £50m plus on players since we came into the Championship. I wince a little bit at that as it’s not all about selling players for the sake of selling players. But we apparently have a knack of selling when the player becomes overvalued. We cash in and buy a better player for a fraction of the money. So as much as I would LOVE for us to stick with a team and a squad for a period of time, it’s not going to happen. Because other teams have realised that we are successful in finding talent and do the olde vulture job.

 So the question. Is promotion a possibility?

 Ask that to Huddersfield a few seasons ago. Or Brighton even (although they had a big budget. People just don’t know it).

 The answer is of course.

 One of the keys to success is that the club is run properly from bottom to top. It’s taken a few years for Brentford to sort itself out. And pull together a management and coaching team who believes in the long term vision of the club willing to pull together in the right direction. We did great in that playoff year but unfortunately not everyone working at the club was pulling in the same direction so eventually it would have gone belly up.

 The owner – Matthew Benham – is a very smart man. A Bees fan from when he was a kid. And he says “when” we get promoted and opposed to “if”.

 So it will happen.

 Sometime.

 We have seen a vast difference between our club now and three or four years ago. Strength in depth. Players who want to play for the club. No nonsense politicking. That has all come about from experience of problems in the past.

 No we haven’t got a huge budget. I think it is just over £10m a year. Compare that to the likes of Villa and Birmingham and Leeds and Boro and even West Brom, Swansea and Stoke, its chicken feed. It’s still a lot of money. But when it comes to competing, we have to ensure that we spend that money wisely. No QPR-style p!ssing it up the wall or Forest-style spending £13m on one player.

 I’m actually proud that our record signing is £2.5m. We bought Ollie Watkins for £1.8m last year. Neal Maupay for about £1.5m i think. Erzi Konsa this summer for about £1.5m again and Said Benrahma for around the same. These players are all quality and will easily quadruple the price we paid for them in the next two years at least.

 So now who’s laughing?

What tactical formation does Smith employ and what kind of football can we expect?

To be fair, we don’t (or can’t) flip to a more aggressive direct style of football as we haven’t got the players for it. We’re pretty much 4-3-3 or if you want to get more intricate 4-2-3-1. We play it out from the back most of the time (not always). We have developed the team over time so that every player is comfortable on the ball – even the centre backs.

We pass the ball a lot. Like a ridiculous amount. We get a stupid amount of chances. Last season Im pretty sure we had the most chances in the whole of the league. Ben from @Experimental361 – a renounced statistician – labelled Brentford ’energetically wasteful’ in one of his many colourful graphs describing how each team was performing meaning we created endless chances but delivered only a fraction of them.

So there will be a lot of passing.

Who are the Bees’ key players?

Cliché time. But we play as a team. Yes we have key players. But we have also realised when they come out of the Brentford ‘ecosystem’ many of them do not perform as well. Jota was brilliant for us because of what was around him. The players played to his strengths. And weaknesses. And don’t under-estimate the mental cotton-cuddling we would give him. He’s gone to Brum and the fans want to run him out of town.

Personally, I saw Benrahma play in a friendly against Watford and I said to Laney who co-runs Beesotted “Blimey … he’s quality”. And he is. It normally takes our foreign players 9 months to acclimatise to the UK. But he seems to be doing very well – talking the p!ss at every possible opportunity.

Have to give a mention to Chris Mepham who – alongside Erzi Konsa – forms our central defence with a joint age of 40 years. He’s got a lot of hype on him at the moment having gone from Brentford B-team to Wales team 1st-on-the-sheet within 12 months. He’s played less than 30 games for us but we’ve already turned down £10m plus bids from the Bournemouth for him. He’ll go for sure. Ryan Giggs loves him. And the club know that.

But if he does go – and we hope he doesn’t – we’ve got Julian Jeanviere waiting in the wings. He was Reimes player of the year for the past two seasons and apparently he’s meant to be mustard. He’s played two Carling Cup matches when we put out a second-string (well A minus) side and he scored two goals.

Will he play against Arsenal?

Now that is the question.

Ryan Woods – our midfield quarterback – left for Stoke a couple of weeks ago. He was great. We thought we would miss him. But to be fair, Josh McEachran – who we signed from Chelsea three years ago – and Lewis McLeod have stepped up to the plate. Most fans had written them off to be honest as they seemed to be permanently injured. And when they came back, they had one good game out of four which wasn’t good enough.

How much money do you estimate Mathew Benham has put into the club so far? Is he reaching the break-even target where outgoings are met by revenue? What is the news on a new ground?

Matt Benham has spent in excess of £100m. To me i would be cacking my pants if I had spent that type of money but he is a professional gambler (from a statistical background) and he is not phased in the least. After losing £10m to £15m each year, this last year the club pretty much got on an even keel – losing just under £1m if I remember rightly. The though is with the future transfer dealings, Brentford will operate on an even keel for the foreseeable future – meaning that Benham won’t be pumping large chunks into the club any more.

If (when) we get to the Premier League, he will get his £100m back. If we don’t I am of the understanding that he will write it off as a bad gamble (maybe not literally). That’s how confident he is of us being promoted sometime.

Lionel Road is our new stadium and it is in full flow. It’s 15 mins walk from the current ground right beside Kew Bridge Station. If you check the Brentford Drone you can see videos of it’s construction.

It’s not a huge ground. 17,250. But it looks impressive. The thought is – the club would rather it is smaller and compact and buzzing with atmosphere rather than scrabbling around trying to fill 30k fans every week in a morgue of a stadium. And fair play.

Up to 3000 away fans. Safe standing in both ends (assuming approval which I believe will happen by 2020). Loads of pubs in the immediate viscinity.

No it won’t be Griffin Park. But hopefully it will be buzzing.

Move date has been moved back to Summer 2020. Which is great. Means we have another two seasons at Griffin Park – Im very happy with that.

What is your prediction for Saturday’s game?

Since the World Cup, where I was really reserved with my predictions and enthusiasm – despite spending pretty much three weeks out in Russia – I have tried to reel back on the expectations. It’s hard seeing how classy the side are at times. However, I realise there are so many factors which determine how you get on in this league. One of them is luck. Another is injuries. And another is attitude.

In principal, I believe that we are not going to take Wigan for granted. Something that we may have done a few seasons ago. If so, I reckon we should win 3-1. Mainly because we are due a few goals after a fairly barren spell (compared to chances created) over the last few weeks since we trounced Rotherham 5-1.

 

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Five talking points arising from the win against Rotherham

Wigan Athletic 1 Rotherham 0

It was akin to a throwback to the days in League 1. The visiting team had come to “park the bus” and rely on long balls and set pieces as their outlet for threatening the Wigan goal. The previous home games against Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest had been so entertaining. This one was much less so.

Rotherham manager Paul Warne commented after the game that: “We were pleased to get them in at 0-0 at half-time. I thought Wigan were the better side without making our ‘keeper make too many saves. At half-time, we made our defenders play a lot higher up the pitch and our midfielders play higher to give some support to Smithy. I thought we were the better side in the second half. We were pushing for the goal and we had plenty of set-pieces. There was a block here and a block there and it just didn’t drop for us today against an excellent Wigan side, who played Stoke off the park last week.”

Warne summed up the first half well and the Millers certainly threatened in the closing stages with their aerial bombardment, but the Latics defence held firm. Wigan fans might debate Warne’s assertion that Rotherham were the better of the two sides in the second half, using their “direct” approach. It was not pretty to watch but caused some worrying moments for the home crowd.

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

Cook chooses Connolly on the right

A refreshing aspect of Paul Cook’s tenure as Latics manager has been in the balanced starting line-ups he has selected. It has been like a breath of fresh air for Latics fans who had to endure the Warren Joyce playing four holding midfielders across the middle of the park. Cook has placed an emphasis on playing the ball wide, with the full backs bombing forward to link up with speedy wingers.

However, yesterday Cook chose to play without an orthodox right winger although he had both Nathan Byrne and Callum McManaman available. Perhaps he felt that Callum Connolly deserved another run-out and the Everton player certainly reinforced the midfield. But there was not the same degree of pace on the right-hand side as a result.

On the left Josh Windass is in the process of adapting to the role that Michael Jacobs has played over the past year. Windass did not play at all badly and provided the pass to McManaman that led to Wigan’s goal. He also showed his ability on set pieces with a fizzler of a free kick in the first half which sent narrowly wide. Cook will be expecting that Windass’ shooting ability will add an extra dimension to Wigan’s play. However, yesterday Wigan lacked the kind of creativity on the left that Jacobs can provide.

The football took a nose-dive when Grigg and Powell went off

Will Grigg and Nick Powell were taken off after 60 minutes, with James Vaughan and Callum McManaman replacing them. The result was a deterioration in the level of Wigan’s football, with hopeful punts gradually becoming the norm rather than the controlled passing game we had seen up to that point.

Powell is the pivot in midfield through which so much of Latics’ best football flows. As the second half progressed Latics just could not hold on to the ball, putting undue pressure on the defence. Vaughan’s arrival once more coincided with more long balls. One wonders if the players are playing under orders to launch them towards Vaughan, or whether it is the player’s willingness to chase seemingly lost causes that affects the style of play. Or is it simply that in the final third of the game the players tire and just cannot keep that passing game going?

Walton – the most composed player

Christian Walton continues to grow in confidence, after looking nervy in the opening games. Yesterday he looked the most composed player on the pitch, excellent in his anticipation of opposition breakaways, reliable in his box.

Unnecessary free kicks

So many Championship teams are dangerous from set pieces. League 1 teams certainly had tall players who could threaten in the air, but in the second tier the delivery is superior. Following Wigan’s goal, the Millers brought on Kyle Vassell (6 ft) and Jamie Proctor (6 ft 2 in) to join the 6 ft 4 in centre forward Michael Smith.

The Wigan defence looked distinctly wobbly in the past quarter facing an aerial bombardment. It was not helped by the concession of unnecessary fouls giving the visitors the opportunity to launch dangerous crosses.

Powell stays

It was a relief for Wigan Athletic supporters for the loan transfer deadline to pass without the departure of Nick Powell. The next step is for the club to negotiate a new contract for a player whose market will soar if he continues to stay fit.

Reports suggest that the prospective new owners were present at the DW Stadium yesterday. Will the takeover actually happen soon?

Nathan Byrne, Gavin Massey, Shaun MacDonald, Sam Morsy and James Vaughan are in the same position as Powell, with their current contracts expiring in summer. It will be interesting to see how many of them are offered contract extensions.

 

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Five talking points following on from the QPR game

QPR 1 Wigan Athletic 0

Queens Park Rangers are so-called because when they were formed in 1886 most of their players came from Queens Park, which is some three miles away from where they currently play.

Loftus Road is situated in the buzzing, multi-ethnic White City area of Shepherd’s Bush. It is a fascinating place to visit, with lots of sporting history, the old White City Stadium having hosted the 1908 Olympics and a match in the 1966 World Cup.

Some three weeks ago, on the train traveling to Wigan for the first game of the season I was talking to some QPR supporters on their way to Preston. They said it was going to be a tough season for their club and that they would be happy to avoid relegation. They also told me that the view from the elevated tier of the visitors end at Loftus Road is as good as any at the ground.

They were right on both counts. The view was as good as I can remember from an away end, being so close to the pitch. QPR looked a struggling team yesterday, barely able to pass the ball with any degree of fluency. But they got a break from a goal that should not have been allowed and they played with determination and with a well organised defence.

It was enough to see off a somewhat lacklustre Wigan Athletic team.

Loftus Road has rarely been a happy hunting ground for Latics

In midweek Latics had extended their undefeated run against Stoke City to nine games with a stunning 3-0 win.

So often in a match preview a journalist will refer to the history of matches between the two clubs. Many would argue that past history is irrelevant to the current day. In this case an on-form Wigan were facing a pointless QPR, fresh from a 3-0 midweek drubbing by Bristol City at Loftus Road.

The last time Latics won at Loftus Road was in March 2003 in a Division 2 (fourth tier) confrontation. Nathan Ellington scored the only goal of the game in the 47th minute to extend Wigan’s lead at the top of the table.

But yesterday’s result means that Wigan have lost 6 and drawn one of their last 7 visits to Loftus Road. They have won only 2 of their 16 home and away encounters with the West London club.

Cook resists the opportunity to freshen his line up

We can rarely expect Paul Cook to tamper with a winning team. But prior to this match he had said:

“The likelihood is it will be a changed team for Saturday, which is on one hand disappointing because the lads are doing smashing. But on the other hand it gives the lads an opportunity to come and play. Some changes have been forced upon us, possibly one or two are due to the weight of fixtures as well.”

In the event he made only two changes, resting the 18-year-old Reece James, bringing back Nathan Byrne, replacing the injured Michael Jacobs with Josh Windass. Should he have made more changes after two demanding games in just over a week?

Yesterday’s performance was by no means a bad one. The defence looked strong enough to deal with what the home team could muster, and the midfield play was neat enough, if the wingers did not make such an impact. When Gavin Massey limped off after 31 minutes most of us expected Callum McManaman to come on, but instead James was introduced with Byrne moving to the right wing. James made an uncharacteristically hesitant start but improved as the game went on. On the left side of Wigan’s attack Antonee Robinson was not showing the kind of spark that we know he is capable of, with Windass tucking inside.

Cook was able to give James a rest – at least for the first third of the game – because he had an experienced and capable specialist right back to replace the Chelsea youngster. He did not have that option on the left. Playing with a right footed left winger Cook’s system relies on a left footed full back to provide variety. Kal Naismith was tried there in pre-season but struggles defensively. Callum Connolly can certainly play there, having done that for Everton U23s when Jonjoe Kenny would occupy the right back position. Connolly is a fine young player and Cook will most likely use him sometimes in the left back position. But with Connolly being right footed the balance could only be retained by playing a left footer like Naismith or Gary Roberts on the left wing.

Whether Latics would have done better if Cook had rested more weary legs, both during the latter part of the game at Stoke and in yesterday’s game, is academic. But the manager was more able to stick with his low rotation formula in League 1 where the combined mental and physical load is less demanding than in the Championship. Moreover, he faces dealing with disenchanted players in his squad if he does not rotate more.

Evans shines

Lee Evans was excellent again yesterday, solid in defence and a force going forward. Moreover, his quality delivery from set-pieces threatened the home defence. It was a pity that Chey Dunkley could not put away another of Evans’ sumptuous deliveries in the closing minutes.

Bringing back Evans to the club could prove to be the best piece of business the club did over summer.

VAR and Latics

While the Latics were playing at QPR, Barcelona were winning 1-0 at Valladolid until the home team had thought they had equalised in stoppage time. But as in all the major European football leagues bar two (the English Premier League and Championship), La Liga uses VAR. In this case the video assistant referee ruled that the goal had come from an offside position.

Were VAR to have been used last weekend at the DW Stadium, Cash’s 89th minute dive would surely not have resulted in a penalty. Moreover, the follow up by the encroaching Soudani to Walton’s save from the spot-kick would have been spotted. The blatant push on Dunkley yesterday, leading to Hamed’s goal would also have been picked up by VAR.

VAR will most likely be introduced in England’s top two tiers next season. In the meantime, there will be those that argue that major refereeing decisions, for and against a team, balance out over the course of a season. Judging by the balance of the major decisions made during Wigan’s eight seasons in the Premier League does this really hold true? One doubts that. Too often the balance of refereeing decisions have been unduly influenced by bigger clubs which have more “clout”, at the expense of smaller clubs.

Moreover, with VAR referees can feel under greater scrutiny.

Welcome news that Joe Gelhardt has signed a professional contract

The 16-year-old had been linked with possible moves to Everton, Liverpool and Manchester United, before signing a 3-year professional contract for Latics in midweek.

Chief Executive Jonathan Jackson commented: “Joe is a player with huge potential, who has starred on the international scene for England’s youth teams in recent years as a result of his natural talent and dedication to football. Having joined the club in 2013, Joe is an example of the excellent work we see at the academy daily.”

Following the contract extension for the 19-year-old Callum Lang, this is another welcome move by the club.

However, with the loan transfer window still one for another five days we await news on the permanence of key players in the senior squad, whose contracts expire in June 2019.

 

 

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Five talking points following a stunning win at Stoke

Stoke City 0 Wigan Athletic 3

 

“It was the perfect performance from us, everything has gone our way on the night. I thought Stoke started the game excellent, they put us under pressure and may feel like they could have scored a goal in their spell of pressure. We always felt we would have moments in the game and obviously tonight the key moments have gone our way.

The goals were scored at a good time for us and it ends up being one of those performances where you say ‘yeah it looks good on paper, but I feel we won in a fortunate way. Stoke not scoring early in the game was massive. We’ve conceded two very late goals and people have questioned our defending, but today we could deal with Stoke well.”

Paul Cook can be so refreshingly honest in his post-match comments. Latics had withstood constant pressure from the home side in the first quarter of the game with backs to the wall defending. But Will Grigg’s opportunist goal after 27 minutes signalled the major shift that followed, with Latics playing exciting, attacking football that Stoke found so hard to cope with.

The body language, on-pitch understanding, commitment and teamwork –– those things that make a set of individuals a team – could not have been in starker contrast. Stoke looked a team on the way down, Latics a team on the up.

A firm defence provided the foundation

Cook will have been delighted with a clean sheet for a defence that had conceded seven goals in their first three league games. Stoke played some quality football in the first 25 minutes, looking dangerous, but Latics held firm. In their fourth outing together the back four of James, Dunkley, Kipre and Robinson has grown as a cohesive unit. Behind them, Christian Walton is gaining in confidence, not only adjusting to the higher division but also in being much more pressured by opposition attackers than he was in League 1.

Moreover, the holding midfielders played a major part. Lee Evans and Sam Morsy were excellent throughout, resolute in defence, resourceful in attack.

Cook embracing the back 3/5 with the Connolly substitution was a great move

It was effective “game management”. Callum Connolly, though young, is relatively experienced. His versatility, confidence, and calm is a real plus.

Cook will surely stick to his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation from the start of games, but the change in shape in moving to a back 3/5 is something that will give the opposition something new to think about.

Cook also broke with his usual approach by pushing Nick Powell to centre forward when Will Grigg went off. It was a welcome change to the more frequent tack of bringing on James Vaughan to fight for long balls. This is not a criticism of Vaughan, who plays with his heart on his sleeve, but of the “more direct” tactic.

Nick Powell is enjoying the Championship and being fitter

Powell was excellent again last night. He seems to be relishing the chance to play in the second tier again, where he has more freedom and more protection from referees. League 1 teams would not only double mark him, but sometimes even more so, too often resorting to dubious tackles. Admittedly, it created space for other Latics players, but it must have been hard for him at times. Powell started in 38 league games last season, the highest in his career.

Paul Cook and his staff have done a wonderful job in helping Powell regain his fitness levels after some time in the wilderness. Moreover Cook has shown faith in a player who he knows has real quality.

Last night Powell was still chasing down balls almost 80 minutes in. He looks in such good shape. On current form he must surely rate as one of the players of the division.

Gavin Massey looked a class act

One always felt Massey could step up a level because he doesn’t suffer from a lack of pace, bad/inexperienced decision-making, or skill – but his success (and that of Michael Jacobs) in the opening games is a testament to Cook’s motivating and man-management. He always says belief is so important – they are that personified so far!

 Can Latics perform at QPR?

Cook’s policy of not changing a winning team has paid him high dividends in his stay so far. But what kind of line up can we expect at QPR on Saturday?

QPR are, on paper at least, the weakest team Latics will have faced. They have no points from four matches. However, the game could be a potential “banana skin”.

Much will depend on the energy levels that Latics have in their third game in a week.

Reece James was excellent last night. He has so much maturity for an 18-year-old and looks destined to become a top player. However, it would not be a surprise to see Cook bring back Nathan Byrne and rest the Chelsea loan player.

Moreover, Michael Jacobs appeared to have an injury. If unavailable he could well be replaced by Josh Windass.

 

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.