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.