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

Social media reacts to an awful goalless draw with Luton

Wigan Athletic 0 Luton Town 0

In the 89th minute with the score 0-0 Michael Jacobs put in a right footed centre from the left wing. It went way out of play, epitomising the final touches in Latics’ approach work.

Neither team played much football and a draw was a fair result. It will hurt Luton far more than Wigan, given their position. In the end Latics settled for a draw against the bottom-placed team, unwilling to push players forward to get a victory that could have put them clear of the relegation zone, at least temporarily.

Latics have a mediocre record against teams near them in the table, so it was not great surprise that this did not result in a Wigan win. Before the game started Latics had a record of W1 D2 L3 against teams below them in the table.

It was an awful game, with football the loser. Gone was the flowing football we have seen in recent games. Predictably, given past performance, it was largely long-ball from Latics, which put little pressure on Luton’s defence. Their centre backs had a comfortable time as they and Croatian goalkeeper, Simon Sluga, gobbled up the hopeful crosses that Latics put into the box.

This was an acid test for Paul Cook. Once again, his team selection, substitutions and tactics pointed to a “not to lose” approach. It was so depressing after the invigorating performances that preceded it.

Playing not to lose can be justifiable when playing against teams of higher technical level and achievement. Against the bottom-placed team it was not appropriate.

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.

FrancosLoveChild on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

That was as gutless as it can get. Horrible to watch. Players don’t seem to have the character to step up in 6 pointers. Players need to learn how to man up in pressure games. Only positive we didn’t lose and have not conceded in just over 360 minutes of football.

Hindleymonwafc on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

Back to Lowe and Massey floating around with zero effect…. I really do blame the manager for this no energy, no pressing, sit back for the draw outlook. Overhit crosses and sh.t corners it was atrocious to watch. Only Morsy and the defence came out of that well.

Jocklatic on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

It felt like normal service at home had resumed…..very little threat on goal, carrying a few passengers, a distinctive lack of fight & desire given that this was a 6 pointer. We seemed to go into our shell despite the confidence that should be in abundance after our recent performances. Such a shame cos Luton have to be one of the worst sides I’ve seen at the DW this season & given what 3 points would have done for us is a big loss.

Jrfatfan on the Cockney LaticForum said:

Really disappointed with Luton, thought they would have come and give it a go. Probably worse we’ve played for 7-8 games, our final ball was awful from both flanks. Let’s put it down as a bad day at the office, probably best way to look at it.

I think Luton and Barnsley are doomed, its then one from about 8.

Made in Wigan on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

They often say the scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story. Today the scoreline told the whole story.

Whilst the performance was pretty much as I expected I thought we’d be narrowly be beaten so a draw was a bonus to a degree. I don’t buy that Luton did a job on us- they really needed to beat us and never looked like doing so. They were shite, so were we, but a point to maintain that gap is better for us.

As I thought beforehand we were too concentrated on not losing as opposed to having the desire to win, Typical Cook in a 6 pointer so whilst I’m not surprised I’m not too disappointed either. Balogun and Morsy played well but other than those two there wasn’t much to be enthusiastic about. Take a point and move on.

The_Pon on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

Absolutely bloody awful game. I’d really struggle to think of anything to put in highlights.

Luton are the worst team I’ve seen. Literally no quality whatsoever… How we can beat Reading by three and best Leeds and WBA away, then not beat them is totally baffling. By what I saw today, they are a League Two calibre side. Not that we are stellar, but we should be beating dross like that at a canter.

That said, it’s kind of what I expected. We’ve played well in recent games, and the only thing we do consistently is be inconsistent, so we were more than due a poor showing. Just glad the opposition this time was so bad they couldn’t take advantage.

Grumpy on the Cockney LaticForum said:

Cook got out thought by Jones in that one and we are now back in the sh..t, it looked to me like he’s after 10 draws before today to get us over the line.

Exiled tic on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

Not a good match at all but I am a lot happier than the Luton fans who could not understand why they seemed to be happy with a draw and wasted time all the match! Hull and Charlton seem to be on a steep downward spiral. Really think we will be more than alright come seasons end!!

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Social Media Reaction as controversial refereeing causes damage against Middlesbrough

Wigan Athletic 2 Middlesbrough 2

In the end it was a disappointing result and it puts Latics in serious trouble in the bottom three. But after Sam Morsy had put Wigan ahead with a very well-taken goal after 29 minutes they matched the visitors until two controversial incidents in the second half.

After an hour Joe Gelhardt put Kieffer Moore through for a clear run on goal only to be fouled from behind by Harold Makoudi. It looked like a red card, but referee Oliver Langford gave the Frenchman a yellow. Within a couple of minutes Chey Dunkley received his marching orders on receiving a second yellow card. Lewis Wing went on to score a deflected free kick followed by another from a long shot that seemed to go through David Marshall. Ten man Latics salvaged a point from Makoudi’s own goal from an excellent Nathan Byrne cross.

Not only were Langford’s sending off decisions hugely influential in changing the balance of the game but his judgement in so many other occasions was sadly lacking, doing Wigan Athletic no favours at all.

Refereeing decisions have so often gone against Latics this season. VAR may not be popular in England, but where would Latics now be in the table if it had been operating this season? Are Latics games more difficult than most to referee?

Some interesting statistics on fouls and cards given are available on Footstats.co.uk.

Prior to last night more fouls have been awarded in games involving Wigan Athletic than any other team in the division. Latics committed an average of 13.9 fouls per match, second highest after Sheffield Wednesday with 15.4. However, Wigan had 13.2 fouls committed against them. Wigan lie in mid-table with an average of 7.4 fouls committed per card, around average for the division. The opposition have 8.5 fouls per game for a card. In contrast Brentford average 9.6 cards per foul, their opposition 6.4.

Although the stats do not suggest an obvious bias against Latics, they nevertheless suggest that decisions have not favoured them overall. What factors might have impacted?

Paul Cook’s Wigan are one of the more physical sides in the Championship, with a very different style of play to Brentford, whose foul and card count is so much more favourable. .

Cook is very careful in post-match interviews not to directly criticise the opposition’s tactics or the referee. However, his remonstrations aimed at the fourth official and match referee have become more and more ugly. It was no surprise to see him receive a yellow card last night. Is the manager getting a bad name in refereeing circles for his poor behaviour?

Let’s take a look at how fans reacted to the match 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.

Zeb2 on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

Ref made 10 (TEN) bookings in the second half and to be fair maybe two or three were warranted …..staggeringly inept.

I didn’t fancy Moore to finish that chance that Gelhardt set him up for, so the bloke that cleaned him out did us a favour, free kick in a great position and them down to ten men…..oh hang on …what the fuck is he doing?…a yellow? Absolute bollocks

5 minutes later WE are down to ten men and are losing the game.
Keeper no chance with the free kick …hit Jacobs in the wall and completely wrong footed Marshall…..second goal looked like a calamity but it was a horrible night with a strong wind swirling about….couldn’t tell from the West stand whether the shot moved a great deal or not ?

Still it shows what can happen when you have a pop from distance instead of trying to walk it in ,,that said…Pilkington should have “walked us home” from 4 yards if he’d committed to Naismith’s great ball across the 6 yard box.

All very frustrating especially with Charlton winning at Forest, which based on the Forest we’ve seen this season especially away, shouldn’t have been that great a surprise given Forest are actually very mediocre along with virtually all of the rest of this ordinary division. The poor quality in the Championship this season will of itself make relegation from it a tad more shameful than usual. I can’t see any of the promotion contenders ‘doing a Sheffield United’ next season.

Laticssince1978 on the Cockney LaticForum said:

The ref knows the rules a clear one on one opportunity is a red card.That decision changed the game and I’m confident we would of gone on to win.

Gosh he got so much wrong tonight he embarrassed himself yes the referee has a lot to take blame for on this instance.

Studs88 on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

It was a real kick in the guts tonight. For the first time in an age it felt like the team, manager & fans came together. Albeit due to the injustices of the ref.

That said we still made basic errors and didn’t finish the game off. Gelhardt and Pilkington added a lot to our attacking prowess. Even though neither had an outstanding game. I still do feel we need to shake things up further and get Garner on alongside Moore.

Given results elsewhere we could realistically be all but down before the end of the month. That’s a damning indictment on the management team and boardroom. Especially when you consider the dreadful quality up and down this division.

This is it now. No more excuses from Cook about it being a ‘tough division’. We have to pull out results against top teams and relegation rivals. We need to target wins. It’s going to take an average not far off 2pts per game for the rest of the season. Anything less and relegation beckons.

You are my sunshine on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

I’ve never been as angry at a ref at a home tics game in my life! He was an absolute disgrace and cost us 2 crucial points. Moore was through on goal and their last man fouled him on the edge of the box, it should of been a straight red. Then moments later Dunkley got an extremely soft 2nd yellow,only after the Boro players put pressure on the spineless ref. Unbelievable.In those 2 vital moments the game then turned on it’s head thanks to a lucky deflected goal from the free kick and a Marshall error.

The referee after those 2 horrendous game changing decisions then completely lost the plot for the rest of the game. In the end credit to the players for then battling back and getting a point, but we needed the win tonight, which I feel we would of got if that incompetent p**** had done his job properly. I hope we never see him again.

I was satisfied in how the game was going at that point. Cook had picked a much more attacking line up with 4 attacking players and a back 4.Yes our end product and decision making in the final third let us down several times, but at least the intent of getting into those positions was there.
We were 1-0 up and for all Boro’s decent pass and move and threat from wide areas, they never really threatened our goal and we seemed to have the game under control till the ref ruined it.

The bottom line is we should of been 1-0 up playing against 10 men and I’m confident at that point we go on to win the game.To have about 11 yellows in that game which was nowhere near a dirty game shows what a complete pigs ear the ref made of the game! I’m absolutely disgusted and feel robbed tonight!

 

Walgarthjohn on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

Refs must be sick of that clown on the touch line calling them every match it’s embarrassing.

 

Donnyspage on the Cockney LaticForum said:

Boro were absolutely dire. We have no cutting edge stemming from attacking midfield. If we had we may not have had to worry about the refs decisions or going a goal down. Basically we huffed and puffed but to not much avail.

Watching Cook remonstrating with the officials was embarrasing. The salary of a surgeon but the attitude and manners of a Liverpool Sunday League pub team coach. He was arguing with everone around him before the controversy started. Agree that their man should have gone for bringing down the last man but Dunks foul was also a second bookable offence which was also punished with the goal.

It’s not looking too good again really.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

 

 

Five talking points following an away win at Birmingham

Birmingham City 2 Wigan Athletic 3

Wigan Athletic’s first away win since April was another nail-biting affair, but this time they held out to gain an invaluable three points to lift themselves off the bottom of the table. The celebrations of the players at the end showed how important the win was for them.

Paul Cook made just one change in the starting lineup with Michael Jacobs coming in for Gavin Massey. That meant Josh Windass continuing at centre forward with Joe Williams in the number 10 position.

The irony is that Latics won the game without playing as well in recent matches, but still showed enough pace and movement to trouble a suspect Birmingham defence. Once again they let in soft goals, but the home side can also be accused of the same, with all three Wigan goals coming from defensive errors. For once Latics capitalized on their opponents’ errors.

Windass proves his worth

Cook kept faith in the enigmatic Josh Windass, who went on the score the first goal and have a hand in the other two. Playing without a big man up front means puts an onus on defenders and midfielders to be more creative. Windass has genuine pace that allows him to pounce on well-hit long passes. It is so refreshing following the mindless long-ball approach that characterized Wigan’s away performances for so long.

He had his best performance for the club today.

Naismith provides composure in defence

Kal Naismith has been excellent in the centre of defence in the past six matches. He provides the composure that has been so lacking for so long. Given his limited experience playing in the position we could have expected him to have made some major gaffes, but that has not been the case. Naismith has an ability to read the game, not to panic and to make the right tackle at the right moment. His distribution of the ball from defence has been outstanding.

Sadly Naismith had to go off at half time with what has been reported as a thigh injury. When he left the composure dissipated.

It is no coincidence that Cedric Kipre has looked much more comfortable since teaming up with the Scot in the centre of defence. When the combative Chey Dunkley came on after the interval Kipre was moved across to the left to accommodate him.

Nathan Byrne has a tough one

It has not been an easy season so far for Nathan Byrne. He had a torrid time this afternoon against the speedy French winger Jeremie Bela, then later with the likewise pacey Ecuadorian Jefferson Montero.

The 20-year-old Chelsea loanee Dujon Sterling has competed with Byrne for the right back position, making 9 appearances compared with 19 for the latter. Sterling did not make the bench today.

Full back is not an easy role in Cook’s style of play. Full backs are not only expected to perform their full defensive duties but to bomb forward in attack. Byrne certainly put a lot of effort into his runs forward but at times looked exposed when Birmingham attacked.

Latics have enough quality to climb out of the relegation zone

Latics have shown repeatedly that there are few teams in the division for them to fear. Most of their defeats have been of their own making, in squandering chances or giving away goals through defensive errors. Nottingham Forest are now fourth in the table and Wigan made them look distinctly ordinary three days ago, even if the final scoreline did not do them justice.

Despite the rare away win the manager still remains unpopular with a majority of fans. Many still believe they will get relegated if Cook stays. However, at this stage it looks like he will be here at least until the end of the season.

However, although the manager continues to frustrate fans with his loyalty to certain senior pros as far as team selection is concerned, together with his use of substitutions, there have been improvements. The standard of football we have seen in recent away games has been light years ahead of the mindless stuff we saw for so long.

There is some light at the end of the tunnel, but it is not going to be an easy ride.

A trip to Leicester

Few of us have any expectations for the trip to face Leicester City this weekend. The likelihood is that Latics will receive a tonking. But on the other hand Leicester can be expected to put out a weakened lineup and Cook’s Latics have a surprisingly good record against Premier League teams in the FA Cup.

The bottom line is that Wigan will go into the game with nothing to lose, except maybe a little pride.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com