Five talking points following an encouraging finale at West Bromwich

West Bromwich Albion 2 Wigan Athletic 0

After the pattern of football we have seen in recent months there were few reasons to be optimistic for the trip to the Hawthorns.

The first half followed a familiar pattern with Latics launching long balls forward and the home team looking superior. It was no surprise when Albion scored after 8 minutes when Dwight Gayle launched a routine cross into Wigan’s box and Jay Rodriguez headed in with remarkable ease. Gayle left the field of play after the goal, perhaps fortunately for Latics, to be replaced by Hal Robson-Kanu. Rodgriguez went on to score a second after 69 minutes with a spectacular strike from outside the box, although he was scarcely challenged by the Wigan defenders.

Paul Cook put out a changed lineup, partially signalling a much-needed shakeup. Nathan Byrne made way for Gavin Massey, Callum Connolly came in for Lee Evans. Gary Roberts was omitted with Chey Dunkley coming back to the left centre of defence with Dan Burn moving over to left back and Kal Naismith to left midfield. Some out of form players had been rested, but both Christian Walton and Josh Windass kept their places.

Sadly, despite the changes in personnel Cook had stuck with the same 4-4-2 that has been synonymous with a long-ball approach over the past weeks. But the introduction of Callum McManaman after 54 minutes signaled a much-needed shift in approach with much less long ball and more constructive football. Latics looked a much better side as a result and built up some fine moves in the final quarter of the game.

After the game Cook commented: “It was nice that Chey Dunkley was on the pitch today. Gavin Massey started his first game since coming back and Michael Jacobs will be back in a week or two, Nick Powell could back in January too and we may dip into the January transfer market.It is a long season; we are all feeling a little bit low at the minute with the results because we are not on a great run like we have been in the last 18 months. The players are doing as much as they can, though, lads like Kal Naismith are growing in the team and Callum McManaman was excellent today – he gave us a spark that we haven’t had and that’s great credit to him.”

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

Playing to your strengths

Joe Garner is 5 ft 10 in tall and Josh Windass 5 ft 9 in. West Bromwich’s central defenders were Ahmed Hegazi  (6 ft 4 in) and Craig Dawson (6 ft 2 in). The Albion pair were untroubled by Wigan’s long balls, gobbling them up with ease. During the course of the match Hegazi won 11 aerials, Dawson 5. Not surprisingly neither Garner nor Windass had good games and both were substituted in the second half.

The overall match stats show the home team winning 62% of aerial duels compared with Wigan’s 38%.

Although their football is based more on movement and possession West Bromwich are a physically imposing side, with more tall players in their lineup yesterday than Latics.

Put simply, playing the long ball against a bigger team is hardly playing to one’s strengths.

A promising return for Gavin Massey

This was Massey’s first start since August 25th when he suffered a serious hamstring injury at QPR. He had come on in the 59th minute in the last game at Birmingham, but yesterday he looked closer to full fitness.

Massey’s searing pace is a key aspect to his game, so the injury to his hamstring will have been worrying for Latics’ medical staff. But he was moving at good pace at the Hawthorns, adding an extra dimension to Wigan’s game. Although not yet at his best he was constructive going forward and attentive in defence.

Let’s hope Michael Jacobs too will be back soon after his hamstring injury. He has not played since the game at Preston on October 6.

Both players have been sorely missed, as has Nick Powell who might not be available for another month.

A left back is desperately needed

Dan Burn cannot be faulted for effort, but  he is no left back. He was put there so Kal Naismith could move further forward on the left. It was not an easy afternoon for either Burn or Naismith.

With Antonee Robinson out long-term  a left back is desperately needed in the transfer window that opens next week.

A chance to shine for Callum McManaman

Much has been said about Cook’s treatment of Callum McManaman, a creative talent who has hardly been given a chance in a team in desperate straits, so short on invention and the ability to unsettle the opposition. The reasons for his tiny amount of game time have been palpably unclear to us as fans.

Once again McManaman’s was on the bench yesterday and one expected him to be brought on in the closing minutes, if at all.

But Cook surprised us by withdrawing the hapless Windass after 54 minutes, whereas his substitutions usually come later than that. McManaman was excellent, running at the home team defence which had to resort to foul means to stop him. It is a long time since a Latics player has shown that kind of trickery and skill. So often in a team low on confidence the norm has been to pass the ball backwards or sideways or make a speculative cross that has led nowhere. McManaman was a breath of fresh air in comparison.

Moreover, the player’s arrival signaled a more cultured approach from Latics, reminiscent of what we saw earlier in the season when things were going much better.

One swallow does not make a summer, but it was such a refreshing change. We all know that there will be games when McManaman struggles to make an impact and he might not be so good defensively as some. But he has that ability to change a game.

Following an excellent performance McManaman has staked his claim for a start at Swansea on Saturday. Let’s wait and see.

Rays of hope for the future?

 Football managers can be very stubborn and can stick to rigid ideas. Cook was in such a frame of mind as he stuck with the ineffective 4-4-2 formation yesterday that had become synonymous with long ball.

However, there were rays of hope in the second half when Latics made efforts to revive the passing football that had been so uplifting in August and September.

One can only hope that Cook has seen the light on the road to Damascus. It could not only be the saving of Latics from relegation, but the means of the manager holding on to his job.

David Sharpe once made a statement regarding playing football “The Wigan Way”. Let’s hope that the manager has the courage to allow his players to express themselves on the pitch rather than continue with the kind of scrapball that was the norm in the reigns of Malky Mackay and Warren Joyce.

 

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

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Five talking points following a toothless display against Birmingham

Wigan Athletic 0 Birmingham City 3

 

It was a flattering scoreline for a well organised Birmingham side, who capitalized on their chances whereas Wigan squandered theirs. Despite having 63% of the possession Latics made mistakes in defence and in the opposition box.

Following the game Paul Cook commented: “We’re so disappointed at the minute, nothing is falling for us at both ends of the pitch. We had good chances in the game. Birmingham had three attempts on goal and scored all three of them, that’s football. At the minute it’s not going our way.”

Let’s take a look at some points arising:

Cook sticks with the same formula

Following a dire performance at Ipswich one hoped for a new approach, catalysed by the introduction of fresh blood. But it was not to be, the manager bringing back Kal Naismith at left back following suspension, James Vaughan coming in for Will Grigg. Cook stuck with the 4-4-2 formation despite a previous lack of success using that formula.

Cook’s 4-4-2 differs from that employed by Paul Jewell in yesteryear. Jewell’s team were not afraid to make long passes, but the quality of the balls then was so much better than the speculative stuff we have seen in recent weeks. Early in the current season Latics were building moves up from the back rather than relying on the “hoof” from defence.

I watched the game on iFollow, muting the sound regularly, mainly because I find it hard to listen to a radio commentary which lags behind the visual that appears on the screen. But when I did put it on there were a couple of comments in the first half that stick in the memory. One was to the effect that Cook was shouting at Christian Walton to play it long as a move was being played out at the back. The other was a comment that Latics were dominating the play, but Birmingham’s first goal followed within seconds.

But there were flashes of good football from Wigan, amidst a morass of “fightball”.

The formula of sticking with that same group of players and tactics once again failed to produce the desired result.

The goals are not coming

For the third successive match Latics failed to score. In the continued absence of Nick Powell there is a glaring lack of creativity in the midfield and a lack of sharpness from the forwards. But despite the shortage of creative midfield play there have been chances in recent weeks that the strikers could have put away. When early in the game Josh Windass used his pace and aggression to leave a defender behind him his finish was woeful. The same player also had a fine chance with a header but fluffed it.

Cook continues to have faith in Windass, although many fans would question it. The player has scored two goals in 18 starts and 3 substitute appearances, though it should be noted that he was initially played in wide positions.

In the last couple of months Windass has been Cook’s main choice as a starting striker. Of the rest, Will Grigg has 4 goals, three of which were penalties, in 10 starts and 4 appearances off the bench. Joe Garner has one goal from 4 starts (9 as sub), James Vaughan two from  5 starts (11 as sub). Given those stats it is hardly surprising that Cook is looking for new strikers in January.

However, goalscoring is not the sole province of the strikers. Midfielders have chipped in with goals here and there, but what is noticeable is the lack of goals scored by defenders. Cedric Kipre went close in the second half with a header bouncing over off the wood work. There have been so many occasions that Kipre, Dan Burn and Chey Dunkley might have scored from set pieces but just could not get it right.

The January window beckons

Latics have nine players in the squad whose contracts expire next summer. Five of those played yesterday. Although we are approaching the end of December no announcements have been made about extensions for any of those players.

The implication is that several will be leaving in January. If their contracts are not extended over the next eight days we can expect the likes of Nick Powell, Sam Morsy, Gavin Massey, Callum McManaman, James Vaughan and Nathan Byrne to be leaving in January if the right offers come in. Shaun MacDonald has been frozen out by the manager, despite being one of Wigan’s better performers in the division a couple of years ago. He can be expected to leave, most likely on a free.

The lack of progress in the extension of player contracts was initially put down to the transition in ownership, but since the IEG takeover the matter has continued to fester, at the expense of squad morale. Given the uncertainty about their futures those players deserve commendation for their commitment up to this point, although one wonders if they would have performed better if new contracts had been awarded.

The question is whether the lack of decisiveness of ownership is governed by financial reasons or is management looking at moving players on so that fresh blood can be brought in? Rumour has already linked Latics with forwards Jermain Defoe of Bournemouth and Gary Madine of Cardiff City, together with left back/central defender Tyler Blackett of Reading.

Given the awful run of results suffered over the last couple of months Latics might well be pondering some major changes over January, including possible exits for players on more long term contracts. They could well be looking at cutting their losses on players that have not fulfilled expectations, either by cashing in on their transfer values or sending them on loan to cut operating costs.

A return soon for Chey Dunkley?

Dunkley has been one of Wigan’s most consistent players this season and his presence in the centre of defence has been missed in his absence through injury. In his absence the experienced Dan Burn formed the central defensive partnership with Cedric Kipre. Burn has not been at his best, but neither has he been Latics’ worst performer over the past two months. Nevertheless the centre of defence has looked increasingly vulnerable.

Early in the season Dunkley did a fine job in marshaling a rookie defence. He is a leader on the field of play and his partnership with Kipre is one which was continuing to develop. Dunkley is still only 26 and his partnership with the 21-year-old Kipre holds great promise for the future.

With Burn due to leave for Brighton on January 1st the Dunkley-Kipre partnership will shortly resume.

A need for a change of personnel and tactics for the trip to the Hawthorns

Cook has been particularly patient with a group of players who have not shown the kind of form that was needed. Too many have under-performed and confidence is at a low ebb.

It is time for the manager to make changes not only in personnel but also in his tactical approach. Having faith in players is to be commended, but others have been marginalized, not given opportunities. Moreover the style of football has nosedived.

When Cook was appointed, we on this site were delighted to see a manager appointed who had a reputation for his sides playing good football. Last season, in League 1 it was usually, if not always, the case.

Whilst 4-4-2 remains a valid tactic in modern day football, a return to a 4-2-3-1 formation would be welcome. Sadly 4-4-2 in the Cook era has tended to resort to an ugly long ball scenario. 4-2-3-1 is the formation which Cook has used for the best football Latics have played during his tenancy. With Powell still injured, Roberts would be the obvious choice in the number 10 role.

Another alternative is to play 4-1-2-3 with a holding midfielder in front of the back four, the role that MacDonald played effectively in the Warren Joyce era. That would allow such as Evans and Morsy to play further forward.

There is a lot of pressure on Cook at the moment. We do not agree with those who advocate his sacking. This is the manager’s first season at Championship level and it is a learning experience for him.

Nevertheless, there is a need for a change in approach with both team selection and tactics.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

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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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