Five talking points following an ugly football match at Ipswich

Ipswich Town 1 Wigan Athletic 0

 

The windy, wintery conditions were always going to make it difficult to play good football. The outcome was two poor teams unable or unwilling to overcome the weather. It was a dire game of football decided by a bizarre goal after 66 minutes. Neither team deserved a point from their performances, but the home team won only their second game of the season against a Wigan side unrecognisable from that which started the season in style.

Paul Cook commented: “It was a horrible, tough day with a swirling wind and it wasn’t a great game in any shape or form but for me I felt we were the better team for large parts, especially in the second-half when we did take control. Taking control of games doesn’t get you points, though, and unfortunately it was a really disappointing away result.”

Let’s take a look at some points arising:

 Results against teams in relegation zone

Millwall, Reading, Bolton and Ipswich are the bottom four teams in the Championship table. Wigan’s performances against them have been particularly poor as reflected in a results statistic of W0 D2 L2.

Latics’ primary aim this season is consolidation, which basically means avoiding relegation. Improved results against such teams in the second half of the season will be necessary for Latics to achieve their aim.

Cook’s “Plan B”

The injury to Nick Powell is a major blow to Cook. At Portman Road the manager did not even try Josh Windass in the number 10 position but played him alongside Will Grigg upfront. As is the usual case when Latics play 4-4-2 the defence resorted to long balls, so often by-passing the midfield. But the quality of so many of those long balls was poor, the “hoof” predominating.

The use of the long ball was anathema to Roberto Martinez, who insisted on a patient, possession-based style of play. However, Cook is not averse to it. When Cook’s teams play at their best, they control the game in the opposition’s half, using the wings to pepper the penalty box with crosses, looking for through passes, whether delivered over short or long distances. But with conditions making it difficult to play a passing game Cook reverted to his “Plan B”, scrapping for possession, playing a kind of “direct” football akin to that at Bolton.

Cook’s team played very poorly. Their passing was abysmal, inferior to that of a home team desperately low on confidence.

Much has been discussed in the social media and message boards regarding Cook’s choice of players in wide positions. Rather than use the flair and pace of Callum McManaman and Leonardo Da Silva Lopes he continues to rely on Nathan Byrne and Gary Roberts. Byrne was outstanding last season at right full back but looks ill at ease in the wide attacking role he has been occupying. Roberts has a cultured left foot and a good football brain, but at 34 lacks the pace needed to get behind a defence.

Return of injured players

Gavin Massey and Chey Dunkley were on the bench, although they were not used. Michael Jacobs is a few weeks behind in terms of recuperation. We await further news on Nick Powell. Antonee Robinson will be out until February at the earliest.

Jacobs and Massey will add pace and creativity to the flanks when both are match fit. Dunkley will take the place of Dan Burn when he moves to Brighton a couple of weeks from now.

Despite an awful run of results, with two wins in the last 13 league games, Latics remain 6 points above the relegation zone. That is mostly down to the poor form of the teams in the lower reaches.

But would Wigan have maintained their initial momentum if it had not been for injuries to key players?

Rotating centre forwards

Chelsea regularly rotate their two centre forwards, Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata, and it seems to work to some degree. But Cook’s rotation of Joe Garner, Will Grigg and James Vaughan has not produced the desired result, let alone his insistence in regularly playing Josh Windass, as a number 10/twin striker despite indifferent performances.

Garner’s signing appeared to make sense at the time. Despite being 5 ft 10 in tall he can challenge towering central defenders in the air. Given the crosses raining in from the flanks we could have expected Garner to get on the end of some. But the player has lacked sharpness having had a small amount of game time.

Vaughan had his best game for Latics against Blackburn. He constantly pressured Rovers’ defence. But his arrival on the pitch has so often courted hopeful punts from defenders. If anything, Garner is better suited to that kind of role. Vaughan plays best alongside a centre forward. He cannot be faulted for effort, but Cook has not got the best out of him.

Grigg has had injury problems, but despite not having level of the upper tier experience of Garner or Vaughan, he can provide more balance when Latics desist from the long ball and build up from the back. His intelligent movement helps him link up with the skilful probing of Powell and Jacobs. But Grigg is hardly a Cook-style centre forward. He is not particularly good at heading in long crosses from the wings.

At times one wonders if Cook would prefer a giant centre forward of the ilk of Atdhe Nuhiu of Sheffield Wednesday. So, it is no big surprise that rumour suggests he wants to sign Gary Madine from Cardiff City on loan. Madine does not have a good strike ratio but poses a physical presence.

But then again, if the rumours of Jermain Defoe are true, how would the manager use the 36-year-old? Defoe has been a fine player, but at his age, with only four starts last season at Bournemouth, would this be a good short-term signing?

At least one of Garner, Grigg or Vaughan are likely to be leaving in January, if the rumours have any substance.

Still no contract announcements

We heard this week that negotiations are in effect to renew Nathan Byrne’s contract that expires in summer. But without even mentioning Nick Powell there were three others who played at Ipswich who are in the same boat: Sam Morsy, Gary Roberts and James Vaughan. To those can be added Alex Bruce, Jamie Jones, Gavin Massey, Callum McManaman, Shaun MacDonald.

Such uncertainty can hardly help squad morale.

Let’s hope for some announcements this week.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

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Five talking points following a draw at Bolton

Bolton Wanderers 1 Wigan Athletic 1

The result was not what many Latics fans had hoped for against a Bolton side mired in the relegation zone, low on confidence. But a week ago Latics broke a run of four consecutive defeats with a home draw against Reading. The win against Blackburn in midweek raised our spirits. The draw at Bolton put a halt to a run of seven consecutive defeats away from home.

Paul Cook made two changes in his starting line-up, bringing in Josh Windass and Will Grigg for Nick Powell and James Vaughan. He stuck with the 4-4-1-1 formation.

The referee, Simon Hooper, set the tone in a potentially explosive derby game by handing out two yellow cards in the first three minutes. Bolton were playing the type of football that one has come to expect of them, with an emphasis on long balls and crosses. Lee Evans spooned a good shooting chance wide of the goal in the opening minutes following an accurate cut back from Windass. But Bolton were ahead soon after when, in the 7th minute, a long cross to the far post reached Will Buckley who evaded Reece James and squeezed the ball into the gap that Christian Walton left between himself and the near post. Wigan’s goal came in the 25th minute with a controversial Grigg penalty after had been felled in the area.

Bolton came out in the second half making more of an attempt to play passing football, but their main danger came from crosses. Wigan had opportunities in attack, but their final touch let them down. Bolton had a strong penalty claim turned down in the closing minutes as the ball hit Sam Morsy’s arm.  But in the end a draw was a fair result.

Bolton manager, Phil Parkinson, was far from happy with the referee: “I think everyone in the ground knew that Hobbsy’s challenge wasn’t a penalty, apart from two people. That’s very disappointing. The second one, I thought the rule was that if your arms are in an un-natural position it was a penalty and that’s what happened. You’d just like to think that after the referee knows he’s given a very contentious decision in the first half, that one, which is 60-40, we would have got it. I am disappointed with the referee’s performance again, and I don’t think the supporters will think ‘oh he’s moaning about the refs again’. They all watched the same game and knew he was very poor.”

Paul Cook commented: “I haven’t seen it (Hobbs on Grigg) but their bench wasn’t happy about it. Hindsight in football is a wonderful thing. The first challenge of the game the referee could easily have given a red. They are the debatable points in football. Both teams were committed trying to win the game so I think the referee did a decent enough job.”

On the claim against Morsy he added: “You could have seen why he might have given it. You are thinking I need to see that again.  But I really didn’t see it because I was staring at the floor praying at the time.”

Let’s take as look at some talking points arising:

The keyboard warriors are back

A couple of months ago Paul Cook was the toast of the town, as Latics were heading towards the playoff zone of the Championship. But now some of those fans are already talking about him being sacked. “Football managers are judged on results” is an old adage, but the keyboard warriors are already rearing their heads through the social media and message boards, despite an upturn in results leaving Latics unbeaten over three games for the first time in the Championship since 2014.

The Reading game was disappointing, but to follow it with two local derbies in the space of three days was always going to be a tough test. To come away with four points from those two games was something that one might not have predicted a week ago.

Latics are currently in 15th place after 20 games played. In both 2014-15 and 2016-17 they were second from bottom at the same stage, eventually finishing in the same position at the end of each season.

In both of those relegation seasons Latics had sacked their previously successful managers, Uwe Rosler and Gary Caldwell, after a run of poor results, replacing them with the inept Malky Mackay and Warren Joyce.

It is to be hoped that the new IEG ownership will use better judgement than the Whelan family did in those instances. Cook is building a young team to provide a backbone for the future. At times many of us have been disappointed with overuse of the long ball, but the positives outweigh the negatives and it is the time to support the manager rather than make blanket attacks on him in the social media.

Quality of crossing lets Wigan down

 Latics found it hard to play fluent football, given the physicality of the opposition. But on too many occasions when they managed to get in wide behind the Bolton defence the final cross was way off target. Nathan Byrne was particularly guilty in this respect.

Against Blackburn we saw some high-quality crossing, two gems from Kal Naismith particularly coming to mind. Naismith might not be the epitome of a flying winger, but his crossing from the left is reminiscent of that of Jean Beausejour. But Bolton had certainly done their homework, giving neither Naismith, nor his partner on the left, Gary Roberts, little space in which to deliver crosses.

The stats on the match from the Wigan Athletic site reveal that Bolton put in 26 crosses and Latics 25. But the crossing accuracy stats show 20% for Bolton and a meagre 4% for Latics.

Wildschut or McManaman?

Over the summer the rumours were flying around that Latics were going to sign one of their old favourite wingers. Fans debated the merits of Callum McManaman and Yanic Wildschut.

The eventual loan move of Wildschut to Bolton was a surprise, given the kind of salary he was receiving at Norwich and Bolton’s precarious financial situation. He scored an 89th minute winner for the Trotters at West Bromwich on the opening day of the season, then the winning goal in a 1-0 defeat of Reading a couple of weeks later. But Wildschut has only started in four league games, with 11 appearances off the bench. He came on after 77 minutes yesterday, but apart from one good cross, made little impression.

McManaman also came on as a substitute yesterday after 68 minutes but had little impact. He has made one league start this season, with 12 appearances off the bench, scoring one goal.

The season is nearing its half way point. Will Wildschut and McManaman be able to claim regular places in the starting line-ups before the season ends?

Do controversial refereeing decisions even themselves out over the course of the season?

Cook’s comment that Joe Williams could have had a red card in the second minute brings to mind the Blackburn encounter when James Vaughan’s tackle on Jack Rodwell early in the game left the player in distress. Vaughan went on to have his best game for Latics. If he had received a red card for his dubious challenge, would Latics have won the game? In the same vein, would a struggling Bolton team have survived if Williams had been given his marching orders?

Such incidents would seem to fall in line with the theory that controversial refereeing decisions even themselves out in the course of the season. However, those of us who watched Latics in their Premier League years might dispute that. The number of “dodgy” decisions that went against Wigan, especially against the elite clubs, surely outweighed those that went the other way. Indeed, it became a common phrase among fans that

Latics were going to play the 12 men when visiting Old Trafford.

The Championship is a different kettle of fish. A loss for the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool makes the headlines in the Premier League, but in the Championship, it is rarely a surprise for a team near the bottom to beat a team at the top. Moreover, with 46 games to play, compared with 38 in the first tier, the Championship is physically more demanding over the course of a season.

So many games in the Championship are finely poised and it can take just one adverse refereeing decision to tip the balance. But the division itself is by no means homogeneous, with the larger clubs, with bigger fan bases, tending to occupy the higher positions. Aston Villa and Leeds average over 30,000, Brentford and Rotherham less than 10,000. The effect of a large, partisan crowd on refereeing decisions cannot be discounted.

Apart from yesterday’s game, the “margins” have not been favourable for Latics away from home. Those little bits of “luck” have rarely gone their way. But with two penalties in their favour in the last two games is the tide turning?

More changes coming in January?

Alan Nixon has once again been busy with Latics news on Twitter. Given the impending departure of Dan Burn in January and the lack of cover for Antonee Robinson at left back, much of what Nixon is saying makes sense. But is Cook really looking for another striker when he already has Will Grigg, Joe Garner, James Vaughan and Josh Windass? Is one or more of them likely to be leaving?

Given the lack of information from the club about extending players’ contracts today’s tweet about Sam Morsy makes interesting reading:

But on the other side of the coin:


Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

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Five talking points after Latics settle for a point against Reading

Wigan Athletic 0 Reading 0

 

After four consecutive defeats, with ten goals conceded, a clean sheet and a draw was a step forward. But with more clinical finishing Latics could have won by a wide margin. Although not playing well Wigan still managed to create a hatful of opportunities against a mediocre Reading team.

Paul Cook made two changes to his starting line-up, with Sam Morsy coming back from suspension to replace Lee Evans with Kal Naismith coming in for the injured Antonee Robinson. He persisted with the 4-4-1-1 system, with Josh Windass playing behind Nick Powell.

After the game Cook commented: “After suffering four defeats in this league, it’s always nice to stop the rot. It’s not a win, but it’s a rot stopped in a very difficult division. Our fans were begging for players to go forwards in the last few minutes, but when you’re on a bad run, confidence is key, and we had to stop that rot today.”

Let’s take a look at some points arising:

Naismith shows his skills

The injury to Antonee Robinson was a tough one for Cook with no other specialist left back in the squad to replace the Liverpudlian. The manager could have switched Nathan Byrne or Reece James to the left or brought in Callum Connolly who has experience playing in that position with the Everton development squad. But Cook clearly prefers a left footer in that position and continues to show belief in the ability of Kal Naismith to make it at Championship level. But given Naismith’s apparent unease in previous games in playing on the left of defence it appeared to be a risky proposition.

However, Naismith did well and came close to Reece James as Latics’ best performer on the day. He played particularly well in the first half, showing excellent movement, vision and change of pace. His crossing was impressive. His excellent block of substitute Danny Loader’s volley in the closing minutes helped save a point for Latics.

Whether Naismith will retain the left back position in the upcoming games against Blackburn and Bolton remains to be seen. He had Sone Aluko, a left footed midfielder more likely to cut inside rather than race down the touchline. If Bolton were to play Yanic Wildschut on the right wing on Saturday, Naismith could be severely stretched defensively.

After the game Cook commented that: “Kal Naismith was excellent for us at left back today, he’s not a left back…..”

Settling for a draw

The sight of Christian Walton seemingly wasting time on a goal kick in the dying minutes of the game did not go down well with the home fans. After all, Latics were drawing with a team in the relegation zone.

Cook recognised the fans’ frustration in his team’s tactics in commenting that: “Our fans were begging for players to go forwards in the last few minutes, but when you’re on a bad run, confidence is key, and we had to stop that rot today.”

Holes in the midfield

Under Jaap Stam, Reading played patient possession football, finishing in third place, being narrowly defeated in the Championship playoff final by Huddersfield Town. Since then they have slipped down the table but continue to play in the same vein under Paul Clement.

Not surprisingly Reading had 57% possession compared with Wigan’s 43%, but it was the ease with which they were able to bypass the Latics middle line that gave cause for concern. Fortunately for Wigan the final pass by Reading was rarely incisive and the home team’s back four held up well. But those gaps in the central midfield were noticeable.

With Morsy’s return Cook had to choose between Darron Gibson and Lee Evans for the second position in holding midfield. Gibson was his preference. But what was surprising was that when Gibson was withdrawn after 84 minutes it was Callum Connolly who was brought on.

Despite his indifferent performances of late, Cook gave Gibson a vote of confidence yesterday by putting him in the starting line-up. But the manager will surely be considering bringing back the Welshman for the Blackburn game on Wednesday. Evans is not only a solid holding midfielder, but a creative force going forward. His creativity was sorely missed. Moreover, Evans and Morsy work particularly well as a partnership in the centre of the pitch.

McManaman will have his part to play

 “I know people will think that’s negative, it’s not, our time to win games will be in the near future and Callum McManaman will have his part to play.”

Cook was reacting to the fans’ disappointment that Callum Connolly, not Callum McManaman, was the third and final substitute for Latics with six minutes left on the clock.

Cook’s unwillingness to use McManaman, a potential match winner in such situations, was certainly frustrating, even if the manager was basically saying that he was happy to settle for a draw.  But it is not so much Cook’s decision in this game, but his treatment of the unpredictable McManaman over the course of the season so far, that has been hard to fathom.

McManaman has played a total of 210 minutes in the Championship this season, an average of 12 minutes per match. He is on a one-year contract.

But Cook insists that the player will have a part to play.

Being brave under adversity

In August Latics were attacking with abandon, scoring 11 goals in the five league games played. They were exciting to watch, if somewhat naïve. Since then they have scored just 8 goals in the last 13 games. Their tactics have changed from a high pressing game based on high tempo attack to a more defensive approach with the long ball prevalent. The approach in the second half yesterday was symptomatic of what we have seen too often in recent weeks.

But there are mitigating factors. Injuries to key players have proved a hammer-blow. Moreover, the fixture list saw Latics having to play against so many high-flying teams in recent weeks.

At the start of the season Cook had a squad high on confidence after winning League 1. Now he has the opposite, with a need to build up confidence lost by a series of bad results. Cook must first rebuild his team’s morale, before returning to a more attractive tactical approach.

Given the circumstances no manager in Cook’s place would attack with abandon against Blackburn. But a little more attacking flair in the line-up would not be amiss. McManaman or Leo Da Silva Lopes in one of the wide positions might help.

In the long run, with confidence restored, we can expect Cook to return to a more attractive brand of football than we have seen of late.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

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The importance of a Category 2 Academy for Royle and IEC

Last Saturday Wigan Athletic’s under-18 team strengthened their leadership of the EFL Youth Alliance Group B with a 2-0 win over Rochdale.

The first goal was scored by Scotland under-18 left back Luke Robinson with a beautifully struck free kick from well outside the penalty box. Another Scotland under-18 player, Kyle Joseph, got Wigan’s second with an opportunist tap-in. Wigan’s England under-17 striking sensation, Joe Gelhardt, did not play and his teammate at national level, Jensen Weir, came on after 88 minutes. Click here to see the highlights.

The Youth Alliance is effectively the third tier of U18 football. The Alliance consists of 49 teams divided into four groups on a geographical basis. The vast majority come from clubs in League 1 and League 2.

Although Gelhardt, Joseph, Robinson and Weir represent their countries at international level they are confined to the third tier of English youth football. They cannot play in the top tier Premier U18 League or in the second tier Professional Development League.

Over 23 years the Whelan family pumped in some £100m to keep Wigan afloat in the higher levels of English football. Like so many football clubs in the country, Wigan Athletic have rarely been able to accumulate enough revenue to exceed their outgoings. Put simply, the Whelans have had to constantly subsidise the club for it to punch above its weight.

Despite eight years in the Premier League and an FA Cup win, Latics still have a small fan base compared with most clubs in the Championship division. In order to keep the fan base that they have it has been necessary to keep ticket costs that a level that has been economically unfavourable for the club. Moreover, commercial revenues have been low compared with other clubs in the upper tiers.

The IEC, through the guidance of executive chairman, Darren Royle, will surely look at increasing commercial revenues. Royle will review season ticket prices in due course, but even a 20% increase in prices would not bring the club anywhere near to breaking even, let alone risk reducing the fan base. The club is basically a loss maker, as are the majority in the Championship with wages exceeding revenues. Barring significant sums coming in over the January transfer window Latics will lose in excess of £10m in the current season, in an attempt to consolidate in the division.

Royle has set his sights on a return to the Premier League for the club, although he has not given any kind of timeline for it. His strategy is based on building a strong academy which can provide a constant stream of players for the first team. The first step is investing in the kinds of facilities and programmes that can elevate the Wigan Athletic academy to Category 2 status rather than the current Category 3.

There are 7 Championship clubs that have their youth teams in the Premier U18 League, that which consists of clubs with Category 1 academies.  Another 12 of them participate in the Professional Development League from clubs with Category 2 academies.

Should Latics gain Category 2 status they would be largely joining clubs whose senior sides are in the Premier League or the Championship. But it is to be noted that League 1 clubs Barnsley, Charlton Athletic, Coventry City, together with League 2 Colchester United and Crewe Alexandra also compete at that level.

There can be no doubt that Wigan’s talented youngsters would benefit from playing at a higher level that of the Youth Alliance. The move towards Category 2 status is to be commended. However, so often in recent years the club has had exciting young players whose development has been limited by lack of opportunity within the club. So many have fallen by the wayside.

Critics will say that the club has so often nurtured young players on loan from upper tier clubs at the expense of its homegrown talent. It is something that Royle will need to look at in terms of not only developing homegrown youth, but as a part of overall recruitment policy.

Jensen Weir (left) and Joe Gelhardt.
Photo courtesy of skysports.com

 

Where will the likes of Gelhardt and Weir be some five years from now?

Let’s hope they too don’t fall by the wayside.

 

 

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Five talking points following a defeat at Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough 2 Wigan Athletic 0

 

“You’re always going to be put under pressure against the top teams, but the goals we’re conceding at the minute are not goals that are coming from pressure. They’re coming from individual mistakes, stemming from what we’re trying to do, and it’s something we’ve got to eradicate.”

Paul Cook summed it up in a typically forthright manner. In the 38th minute Darron Gibson gave the ball away to George Friend, who won a penalty following a naïve intervention by Cedric Kipre. Then five minutes later Christian Walton palmed a cross to Jordan Hugill who blasted the ball into the Wigan net.

Cook had fielded a balanced line-up. Nick Powell returned, with Josh Windass moving to centre forward. Lee Evans came in for the suspended Sam Morsy, Gary Roberts for Kal Naismith in left midfield.

In the first half hour Wigan had not played at all badly, although Middlesbrough had looked dangerous from crosses coming in from the wings. Indeed, it looked like they had a goal coming but Nick Powell cleared Aden Flint’s header off the goal line.

The second half saw the home team play a massed defence, protecting their two-goal lead. Boro’s tactics allowed Latics to see a lot of the ball, but they were unable to seriously threaten goalkeeper Darren Randolph. Cook summed things up after the game by saying: “The biggest thing in football is scoring at one end and not conceding at the other. At the minute we’re not very good at both.”

Let’s take a look at some points arising:

It was a particularly tough run of games

Latics have gained just four points from their last eight matches. However, during that time they faced all the teams currently in the top five positions of the Championship table.

The term “unforgiving” can be employed in depicting the challenges of a Championship division. Cook mentioned it again yesterday: “The lads did extremely well at the start of the season. We knew looking at the fixture list in the last months or so – West Brom, Sheffield United, Leeds, Middlesbrough – it would be unforgiving.”

He did not mention the visit to Norwich City, the current leaders. But that 1-0 defeat at Carrow Road at the end of September must seem like an awful long time ago to him now.

Three of those games coming up are against teams currently in the bottom five of the table. However, games at Bolton have never been easy for Latics. Moreover, Wigan’s head-to-head record against Blackburn is not good.

But four of those six fixtures are at the DW Stadium. For the moment Cook will be looking at the Reading game a couple of weeks or so from now. The Royals have lost their last three away games, with just one victory on the road in mid-September at Preston.

Cook will be looking for a solid performance, free of major errors.

What has happened to Darron Gibson?

In the opening game of the season against Sheffield Wednesday Gibson really impressed and left the field to an ovation from the crowd. He looked a fine player that day, spraying out accurate first time passes, solid in his defensive duties.

Yesterday he looked a shadow of his former self, imprecise in his passing and inconsistent in his tackling and covering. Gibson arrived in summer after having a difficult time in a struggling Sunderland side. In recent weeks he has found himself once again in a team that has been struggling.

The 31-year-old has pedigree, evidenced by more than 80 appearances at Premier League level.

During his suspension period after receiving a red card at Preston in mid-October Gibson commented: “Do you know what, it’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed my football as much as I have this year. The gaffer’s been brilliant with me, it’s a great set of lads, there’s no egos in the camp, everyone gets on with each other. I’m here for a year initially, but I’d be delighted to stay here for longer…for the rest of my career, I’d be delighted.”

Gibson was one of many Latics players who were struggling to find their best form yesterday. With captain Sam Morsy due to return from suspension Gibson will most likely be competing with Lee Evans for the second spot in holding midfield.

Another learning experience for Robinson

Stewart Downing might be 34, but he remains a fine player at Championship level. His presence on the right wing was always going to be a tough test for Wigan left back Antonee Robinson.

Downing was certainly a headache for Robinson to deal with in the first third of the game. But Robinson stuck to his task and Downing was less and less of a threat as the game progressed.

Robinson’s defensive frailties have been exposed in the past couple of months, with his displays at international level for the USA coming under scrutiny of the mass media.

However, the 21-year-old remains a good prospect. He has lightning pace and a sweet left foot. The variety of players used on the left wing certainly cannot have helped Robinson over these months. The mutual understanding between full back and winger is a key aspect in Cook’s football. Moreover, the protection that Robinson has received from those wide players has been variable. At times he has been left horribly exposed.

Don’t write off Dan Burn

Burn had a poor game against Leeds United, but there was some improvement yesterday, when we saw flashes of confidence from him. Wigan’s back line had not pressed up so high and Burn looked more comfortable. Moreover, Boro put more emphasis on lofted crosses from the flanks than Leeds, who relied more on pace and movement.

Some critics on the social media have questioned Burn’s commitment to Wigan, given that he is due to leave for Brighton in January. Others have questioned his ability to succeed at Premier League level.

However, by naming Burn captain yesterday Cook gave him a vote of confidence. Having missed much of the season due to an injury in a pre-season game at Rangers it is taking Burn some time to get back to his sharpest. With Chey Dunkley out for some time following a knee operation the manager will need Burn to forge an understanding with Cedric Kipre. Yesterday was only the second time they have started a game together as the central defensive pairing.

IEC, new contracts and the January window

The recorded interview with the Chief Executive of IEG, Yan Min Zhang, provided us with a glimpse of the group’s plans for the club. Zhang came over as bright, eloquent and thoughtful. He was also very diplomatic in his praise for Dave Whelan and what he has done for the club. Zhang carefully responded to questions about financial investments in the club, basically saying that money will be available but will it not be splashed about.

Since then we have been informed that Darren Royle will be the new chairman. But we have not yet heard anything from him, which is somewhat surprising.

In the meantime, the contractual situations of key players remain unresolved. Media coverage has largely focused on Nick Powell, although Sam Morsy has also been mentioned. Add to that should be the names of Alex Bruce, Nathan Byrne, Darron Gibson, Jamie Jones, Callum McManaman, Gavin Massey, Shaun MacDonald, Gary Roberts and James Vaughan. All have contracts that end next summer.

The club and various mouthpieces for it have so often repeated that the morale of the squad remains high. But having around half of a senior squad out of contract at the end of the season must surely have influenced the climate within the club. Moreover, the players’ states of mind can hardly have been helped by the protracted nature of the takeover.

We can only hope that the new chairman will make it a matter of priority to finalise extended contracts for the players that the manager wants to retain. Failure to do so would prove very costly in the long run.

In the meantime, Paul Cook remains positive in his dealings with the fans and the media. These past months can hardly have been easy for him. He deserves credit for taking Latics to where they are in the Championship division at this stage, given what has been happening around him.

Cook needs the financial support from the new leadership of the club to deal with the contractual issues and make meaningful moves in the January transfer window. Let’s hope it will be available.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com