Five talking points following a Sharp defeat at Bramall Lane

Sheffield United 4 Wigan Athletic 2

Following a run of insipid away performances, we witnessed a much better one at Bramall Lane. Rather than looking like a team that had come to defend, Wigan Athletic attacked Sheffield United from the start. There was pace, there was balance, there was ambition. The problem was that the home team had Billy Sharp and his hat trick destroyed Latics after Chey Dunkley’s own goal had given the Blades the lead.

Sharp is hardly an Aguero or Kane. He has played just two games in the Premier League, those being for Southampton six seasons ago. But he is a very experienced Championship level striker and scored 13 goals in 34 appearances last season for Sheffield United. He gave Wigan’s centre backs a torrid time yesterday, scoring three opportunist goals.

Paul Cook decided to stick to his usual 4-2-3-1 formation, bringing back Nathan Byrne and Gary Roberts on the wings, replacing Cedric Kipre with Dan Burn, with Callum Connolly moving inside the unavailable Lee Evans.

The manager commented after the match: “We didn’t come under any great pressure in the game, but we conceded four goals and they hit the underside of the bar for five, whilst we have had chances in the game too. The disappointing thing is that at home we can look so sound defensively but I have to stress that when we speak about defending, I mean the team, not just the defenders and the goalkeeper. If we are to have success in the league this year, then we have to iron out the mistakes.”

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

Cook deserves support

There has been a dramatic drop for Latics in the month of October with a record of W1 D1 L3. Over the course of the season so far so many games have been somewhat naively thrown away or lost tactically.

But at the same time, one must give immense credit to Paul Cook for the positives. He had a whopping challenge in losing the Burn/Byrne brothers at beginning of season, having to bed in a new defence, followed by injuries to key attackers Grigg, Jacobs and Massey interrupting form.

Despite recent results Latics are in a respectable 14th place, 8 points clear of relegation. Moreover, the table is so tight that two wins (or losses) can cause a dramatic rise or fall.

Cook was also without Lee Evans yesterday.  Evans is a quality player in every aspect except speed/acceleration. He is tactically aware, quick thinking, has vision and an excellent technique. He was sorely missed, not least in the quality of his kicks from set pieces.

This is a season of consolidation for Latics. The squad is probably not strong enough to get into a playoff spot but is certainly good enough to avoid relegation. Were they to finish the season in this current 14th place it would be regarded as a success.

Following the game Paul Cook talked about aiming for consolidation:

We must remember the criteria for us all is that we are trying to sustain a foothold in the division and along the way we know it is going to be tough. Today was a tough day. We have had a smashing start and we have difficult games coming up that we know could see this run get worse, though the bigger picture for everyone says that we want to sustain our league status this year and people should never forget that.”

Following an awful display at Millwall, where the hoof was the main form of attack, yesterday’s performance was breath of fresh air. The manager selected a balanced lineup and Latics played some very good football at times.

Wigan have had some difficult fixtures of late and injuries have restricted the manager’s team selection.

It is the manager who takes the flak when the players don’t deliver. Cook is never one to blame the players and he rarely gives excuses. He deserves credit for getting Latics into their current position with a third of the season gone.

More additions to the injury list

Gary Roberts’ hamstring pull after 35 minutes signalled the end of the game for him, with Kal Naismith replacing him. He joins Will Grigg, Michael Jacobs and Gavin Massey on the hamstring injury list. It is a worrying trend: fans are asking if it is something associated with the players’ physical preparation. Or is it merely a coincidence?

Nick Powell’s departure with an ankle injury on 66 minutes was particularly worrying. He had to be helped off the field with a man on each side supporting him. If Latics have one player they cannot afford to lose for a long period of time, it is Powell.

Burn and Dunkley have off days

The exclusion of Kipre for Burn was a bold move by Cook, who maybe thought Burn’s experience would be more important on the day. But although Burn and Dunkley played so many games together last season, this was their first pairing as central defenders this season. It showed as they both struggled against the aggression and movement of the home team’s attacks.

But given their lack of game time together this season it was perhaps understandable that they were not the cohesive unit we saw in League 1. Moreover, in his post-match comments Cook alluded to the lack of protection the defence might have received.

Reece James in midfield

Following Callum McManaman’s introduction on 66 minutes for Nick Powell, Cook put Nathan Byrne at right back, pushing Reece James into a midfield holding role. The hapless Callum Connolly had been taken off 8 minutes earlier.

James is a fine all-round footballer and he looked immediately comfortable in that role, making himself available to receive the ball, using it effectively.

Nathan Byrne is back in contention

It has been a difficult season for Byrne, suffering injury problems and not being able to regain the right back position due to the excellent form of Reece James. However, Byrne can still have an important role to play this season.

Byrne made a welcome return against West Bromwich playing on the right wing. He was rested for the Millwall game but brought back to the right wing yesterday. He was arguably Latics outstanding player, linking up well with James and providing the assist for Kal Naismith’s goal.  Later in the game he was moved to his more customary position at right back, with James pushed into midfield.

With Gavin Massey due to be out for a long period of time, Byrne will most likely be the main contender for the right wing spot. Moreover, his presence gives Cook the option of bolstering his midfield in the latter stages of games by switching James’ and Byrne’s positions.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Five talking points following three points lost at Millwall

Millwall 2 Wigan Athletic 1

Justice was done and the better side won, but a smash and grab could have given Latics the three points.

Despite being outplayed in the first half Wigan had gone ahead courtesy of an own goal. Then in the 49th minute James Vaughan was clean through, but his heavy touch let him down. On the hour mark Latics were awarded a soft penalty as Vaughan had gone down in the box, only for the spot kick to be spooned way over the bar by Josh Windass.

Windass’ miss breathed life into the home side and they equalised a minute later after another soft penalty was awarded. Given the balance of play it was no surprise when Steve Morison netted the winning goal on 82 minutes.

Following the game Paul Cook commented: “We put ourselves in a position to win the game tonight and we didn’t see it through, that’s disappointing. The penalty miss galvanised them. You can’t give teams legs up in this division and we managed to do that. Some of our play was very naive in terms of the areas on the pitch that we tried to play in. If you go 2-0 up at the Den you can imagine how the atmosphere changes, but credit to Millwall, whether they deserved to win the game I’ll have to watch back and see, but they certainly didn’t deserve to lose the game, that’s for sure.”

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

Cook’s starting lineup raises eyebrows

The announcement of Paul Cook’s starting lineup an hour before kick-off raised eyebrows for some of us. Nick Powell on the bench, Callum Connolly in for Nathan Byrne and Kal Naismith for Gary Roberts. James Vaughan back in at centre forward.

Once more Cook decided to play without a right winger, Connolly being brought in to presumably stiffen up the midfield. Naismith was making his first start for the club.

The formation that resulted was somewhere between 4-3-3 and 4-4-2, with Vaughan and Windass operating as twin strikers and Naismith on the left.

It was a far cry from the balanced 4-2-3-1 formation the manager usually employs.

The long ball rears its head

Wigan’s play was not a pretty sight. Latics’ best football this season has come as a result of the central midfielders dropping back to receive the ball, acting as the link between defence and attack. But last night the norm was to be long balls and hoofs.

Nick Powell is Wigan’s most creative player and he has dovetailed so well with Lee Evans and Sam Morsy in midfield. But Powell was on the bench and Evans and Morsy were not at their best. Moreover, there was a lack of width with no winger on the right and Dan Burn and Kal Naismith struggling on the left. The long ball therefore became the main form of attack.

This is not to say that long ball cannot be a valid style of play. But those long balls need to be measured passes rather than speculative punts forward. What we saw last night was more akin to “hoofing” rather than a methodical “long ball” approach.

Were Millwall there for the taking?

In his pre-match build-up Cook had stressed what a difficult trip it would be to the New Den, where Latics have a poor record.

Millwall were playing a 4-4-2 system that sometimes looked like 4-2-4 as they threw players forward into attack. They repeatedly carved open the Wigan defence in the first half and their football was a cut above that of the visitors.

However, in putting so many players forward there were going to be gaps left behind that could be exploited. But a Latics team lacking in pace, width and creativity was largely unable to capitalise on the gaps.

Vaughan should not be a scapegoat

Paul Cook has four centre forwards in his squad, who all need regular game time. With Will Grigg being injured he selected Vaughan and Windass, leaving Garner on the bench.

This was James Vaughan’s second league start of the season. Garner has made three league starts, Grigg eight and Windass one in the centre forward position.

On his arrival from Sunderland in January, Vaughan had to play second fiddle to Grigg, largely being used as a substitute. The signings of Garner and Windass in the summer have made it even more difficult for the player to get a regular game.

If Vaughan had been sharper, he would have scored in the 49th minute. But given his lack of game time he was not going to be at his sharpest.

Vaughan had one of his better games for Latics last night, feeding off the few scraps that came his way. His work rate was as excellent as always.

A left back to be signed in January?

Dan Burn was again drafted into the left back position for the rested Antonee Robinson. Burn was given a torrid time by Millwall right winger Jed Wallace. It was a relief for Burn when he was moved into a back three in the second half.

However, as things got more comfortable for one player they got less so for another. In the tactical reshuffle Kal Naismith was moved to left wing back. In the pre-season Naismith had a torrid time playing at left back, a position which did not suit him. Naismith does not have the tackling skills to be an effective full back/wing back. However, he does have a good left foot and a decent career strike record from wide midfield positions.

Robinson is excellent going forward, but his defending can be suspect. If anything, his best position is left wing back, allowing him more scope to attack. Will Cook continue with his back line of three at Sheffield United on Saturday? Burn, Dunkley and Kipre make a formidable trio. With James and Robinson as wing backs Latics would have the width that they were lacking at Millwall.

Another left back is a priority for Cook in the January transfer window.

Five talking points following a momentous win over West Brom

Wigan Athletic 1 West Bromwich Albion 0

 

What an uplifting performance and result! Latics fans had been so down in the dumps following a dismal performance at Preston, but this rousing display has once again lifted spirits.

The augurs did not look good for Paul Cook’s side, with Will Grigg and Michael Jacobs joining Gavin Massey on the “major hamstring injury list”. There was a certain amount of doom and gloom prior to the game and Cook’s team selection looked uninspiring. It was no surprise to see Dan Burn come in for Antonee Robinson, but the selection of Nathan Byrne and Gary Roberts on the flanks, at the expense of Callum McManaman did not impress. But the end result was that Cook’s team selection and tactics worked in securing a win over a team whose wage bill dwarfs that of Wigan.

It took a moment of opportunism from Josh Windass after 74 minutes to bring home the three points, outpacing a central defender following Nick Powell’s flick-on header. His finish was resolute. West Bromwich had dominated the early possession and looked the more threatening, but as the game unfolded Latics looked the more dominant attacking threat.

Following the game West Brom manager Darren Moore commented: “Those type of games are there lying and waiting in the Championship. I’ve no complaints. It was a game where both teams were battling, not much goalmouth action. Whatever goalmouth action there was it was off target. From a neutral it looked like it was going to be a nil nil. The chance fell to them, the boy took it really well and you suffer a defeat.”

Moore was largely accurate in his appraisal of the game, although most neutrals present would have most likely said that on the balance on things, Latics deserved their win.

Let’s look at some talking points arising:

A change in tactical approach

When Wigan lined up it looked like the regular 4-2-3-1 formation that has been the norm in Cook’s tenure. However, the two central defenders were switched with Kipre put on the right side and Dunkley on the left. West Brom’s front two of Dwight Gayle and Jay Rodriguez had already scored 15 goals between them, one goal more than Latics entire team had mustered up to that point. But following a tough time at Preston, Wigan’s centre backs rose to the occasion and kept Gayle and Rodriguez on a short leash. Kipre had what must be one of his best performances for Latics and Dunkley once again showed his mettle.

It looked like Cook had given Windass the opportunity to play in the lone striker role, but as the game progressed we would see he and Powell exchanging positions. It proved to be a masterstroke as the opposition defence found their movement hard to deal with. Moreover, the synergy between the two gave us a glimpse of a fine partnership developing.

We get a glimpse of why Windass was signed

Josh Windass had looked like a duck out of water playing wide. Given the opportunity to play a more central role he looked a fine player, industrious, intelligent in the timing of his runs, a headache for the visiting defence. Windass had 6 shots, with 3 of them on target. Given Latics’ shot-shy record in recent games it was refreshing.

Cook had had so many of us fans rubbing their heads as to why he would pay £2m for a player who prefers to play as a central striker when he already had three others fighting for a place in that position. But much was revealed after yesterday’s game when the manager said:

“Today, we had natural balance with Gary Roberts – who was absolutely magnificent – and Nathan Byrne the same. That allowed Josh to play in a position that we have brought him into the club to do and you saw the energy he has got, whilst he also can finish – his goal was top class.”

 Seeing the way Windass linked up with Powell one could get a glimpse of Cook’s belief in the player.

But Cook still has Garner, Grigg and Vaughan fighting for a striker position, which will be a dilemma for the manager.

Another line of thought is that Windass was signed as a back up for Powell, should he leave in January.

Powell’s continued tenure at Wigan will depend on the stance of the new IEG owners, when the takeover happens, assumedly in November. Where would this current team be without Powell’s superb build-up play and his ability to score and assist in making goals?

Gary Roberts deserves commendation

Roberts has prior experience at Championship level and he looked a class act. Although 34 years old and with just 7 minutes of second tier match play behind him this season he worked hard for 89 minutes, putting in finely weighted passes and crosses.

He has not been the most popular of players with Wigan fans, the cynics regarding him as an old pal of Cook’s from Chesterfield and Portsmouth. Indeed, questions were asked as to why someone at this stage of his career would be offered an extended contract.

Roberts has never been particularly fast. If he had been he would have played in the top tier. But last season’s stats reportedly suggest that when he was involved he covered more ground than most of his teammates, with a sweet left foot to match.

He got a merited ovation as he left the DW pitch yesterday.

Reece James to Brighton?

Reece James was once again excellent yesterday. Although only 18 he is the complete full back, strong in defence, skilful in attack, but more than anything else he has a great football mind. Barring serious injury or calamity he looks destined to be the regular right back for England.

Media reports tell us that Brighton will make a £10m bid for him.

But would Chelsea seriously consider such an offer for a player of his level? Admittedly the Chelsea academy produces so many fine players whose chances of first team selection are minimal, but James is something special.

Should Brighton get him at that price it would be a bargain.

Looking forward to Millwall

Millwall lie in 22nd position, with just two wins so far, but at home they have beaten Derby County and Aston Villa and drawn with Leeds United and Middlesbrough.

A trip to the New Den has never been easy for Latics and their away form has been unimpressive of late. Moreover, Latics have an inferior record in games against Millwall.

Barring injuries, Cook is likely to name an unchanged line-up. What Latics can expect is a fight on their hands. Do the players who played most of the game against West Brom have the energy and determination to fend off a side that has had difficult home fixtures so far, but has an intimidating support?

It might not be pretty, but Cook’s men must be ready to slug it out with the home team. The complacency we saw at Preston could lead to calamity.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

 

Five talking points arising from the home draw with Swansea

Wigan Athletic 0 Swansea 0

It was another learning experience for Wigan Athletic’s young team. After being starved of the ball in the first half, and perhaps fortunate to be on level terms, they improved in the second. As the game progressed the Swans started to tire and Latics started to get a foothold. Despite Swansea’s superiority in possession and shots on goal Will Grigg could have won it for Wigan, but he failed to convert two gilt-edged chances.

After the game Leam Richardson was quoted on saying:

“It was a very good 0-0 and we are really proud of the point.”

Did Richardson’s comment reflect upon Wigan’s approach to the game?

Let’s take a look at some key points.

It was one of the better goalless draws

Richardson was right. Goalless draws are hardly conducive to drawing people to watch football matches, but this one was better than most.

Swansea’s football was akin to that of Roberto Martinez’ best at Wigan. Based on possession with intelligent movement. But that is no surprise since the Swans have been playing in that way since Martinez instilled it in them between 2007 and 2009. Since then many managers have come and gone, but the style of football has remained possession-based. It was a pleasure to watch last night.

Unlike Swansea Wigan’s style has fluctuated wildly over those years, from the approach of Martinez to the dire long ball stuff we saw in the eras of Owen Coyle and Malky Mackay, to the sterile defensive approach from Warren Joyce.

Swansea’s approach work and skill in passing the ball out from the back, despite Wigan’s pressing, was admirable. Their problem is that they don’t possess the quality strikers to put the ball into the back of the net.

Sam Morsy gets a well-deserved rest

Cook wisely rested Sam Morsy, who will benefit from the break after being with Egypt in the summer when his teammates were resting.

Darren Gibson did a reasonable job of replacing him, not afraid to get stuck into the tackle and putting in lots of effort.

But Latics need to get Morsy refreshed and back to his best. Swansea had too much time and space last night and it is players of the physicality of Morsy who can combat that.

Competition for places and giving players game time

Apart from left full back Cook has multiple players competing for places in the other positions. None more so than at centre forward. Will Grigg is Cook’s main choice, but he has to provide Joe Garner and James Vaughan with game time if they are to play a part. Grigg maybe could have done better with the two chances he had, but he was in the right place at the right time to get the opportunities.

Cook has also used Nick Powell at centre forward later in games. Were he to concentrate on being a number 9 Powell would certainly give Grigg, Garner and Vaughan a run for their money.

How good are Swansea?

When Latics got relegated in 2013 they sold and released lots of players to cut costs. They would have been faced with too many players on Premier League wages with much decreased revenue in the second tier. Even allowing for parachute payments they would have faced financial problems. But Premier League regulars such as Ali Al-Habsi, Emmerson Boyce, James McArthur, Shaun Maloney and Ivan Ramis stayed, along with the likes of Jordi Gomez and Ben Watson.

After the dire time under Owen Coyle, Uwe Rosler did a great job in turning the team round and getting them into not only the FA Cup semi-final, but the Championship playoffs. He used a spine of experienced top-flight players together with others brought in during the transfer windows.

Swansea have not done that. Only Kyle Naughton in last night’s side was a regular last season. Over the summer they raked in some £45 m in a fire sale of players, together with sending other big earners off on loan.

New manager Graham Potter has done well up to this point, putting a hotchpotch group of players together to play skilful possession football.

But despite what some confused pundits in the broadcasting and social media might have suggested, this was not a Swansea team laden with ex-Premier League players.

Given the circumstances did Cook and his staff pay the Swans too much respect?

Attacking and defending as a unit

The early games in the season were exhilarating as Latics attacked and defended as a unit. Since then it has gradually become more fragmented. That lack of cohesion allowed Swansea the time and space to look the better side.

Much of this may be down to the physical demands of the Championship with so many games being played in a condensed period. The players were fresh earlier in the season, but that verve has now dissipated as the reality of the fixture congestion has kicked in.

On the bright side it was another clean sheet for Latics and Christian Walton, who was once again excellent between the sticks. The prime goal for Latics this season is consolidation. A tight defence would go a long way towards achieving that.

Latics have conceded just two goals in the last four matches.

Will defensive consolidation be the order of the day to consolidate? Or will we again see that high energy, refreshingly naive, attacking approach that we saw in August?

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Five talking points arising from the performance at Norwich

Norwich City 1 Wigan Athletic 0

 

The visit to Carrow Road was never going to be easy, with Norwich having won their last four matches. There was certainly no shortage of effort and commitment from Wigan who looked like coming away with a valuable point until a controversial refereeing decision in the 86th minute decided the outcome.

The stats show that Latics had 11 shots compared with 14 from Norwich, but the home team goalkeeper did not have a shot to save.

Paul Cook summed it up by commenting “It is massively disappointing, it really is, because we had done enough in the game to fully deserve a draw, without a shadow of a doubt. We got in great positions in the game without really having that final cutting edge if the truth be known. I don’t know what the stats will reveal but I felt we were in the ascendency in the game and the stuff we had worked on, the lads were doing really well. The game was petering out into a 0-0 and it would have been a 0-0 where you shake hands and you go back happy.”

Let’s take a look at some talking points:

An eventful day for Dunkley

 

Chey Dunkley was playing his 49th consecutive league game for Wigan under Paul Cook’s management. Dunkley had played non-league football for five years before joining Oxford United, where he became a popular figure with the fans.

Dunkley is a rugged central defender, powerful in the air, strong in the tackle. When he signed for Latics as a free agent in the summer of 2017 questions were asked as to whether he would have sufficient quality to become a regular in Cook’s team. But Dunkley went on to form a formidable central defensive partnership with Dan Burn, missing only three league games over the course of the 2017-18 season, those being down to suspension. More questions were being asked over the past summer as to whether the player could handle the step up to the Championship. His performances in the opening 10 games of the 2018-19 season have shown that he certainly can.

Dunkley continues to develop as a player. His positional play and reading of the game is excellent, qualities that have helped weld together the youngest back four Latics may have ever had. Dunkley is clearly a learner, keen to further develop his game. Moreover, he shows enough resilience and determination to succeed to suggest he will continue to improve.

Yesterday he looked jittery early on and half way through the first period he made a weak back pass, subsequently tackling Teemu Pukki from behind as he raced in on goal. Dunkley looked to have given away a penalty and the nature of his challenge could have easily been a red card offence. He was fortunate that referee Webb let him off scot-free.

However, from that point Dunkley showed his resilience, growing into the game, making the kinds of interceptions and blocks that we have come to expect from him. He was Latics’ best performer overall.

Last season Dunkley scored 7 league goals. He has come close to scoring several times this season, but his headers have not hit the target. Perhaps he is due for a goal against Swansea on Tuesday?

An unreliable offside trap

As happened at Brentford, Latics were caught out on several occasions with rapid counterattacks along the flanks. Once more the centre backs were left exposed. However, with last ditch tackles and interceptions the defence managed to keep the Canaries out until the 86th minute.

Given Cook’s preferred style of play with the full backs pushing forward there will always be a chance for the more skilful opponents to counterattack in the spaces left behind. Norwich are a team capable of doing that, as are Brentford.

However, some of the problems yesterday were caused by Wigan players not moving forward as a unit, playing the opposition onside. It is something Cook will surely look at.

Away goals have dried up

After scoring five goals in their first two away games, Latics have not got one in their last three. The QPR performance was particularly disappointing, but both Brentford and Norwich were in-form teams capable of playing the kind of football that can upset any Championship defence.

But after the naivety of their attacking approach in the early games we have seen them growing more and more cautious.  Latics just did not look like scoring yesterday and Cook’s substitutions suggested he was ready to settle for a point, which they went close to getting.

The loss of Gavin Massey to injury has been a bitter pill for the manager to swallow. The winger’s pace on the right-hand side has been sorely missed. Callum Connolly and Josh Windass have been played there, but neither has the pace or dribbling skills of a natural winger. There have been questions from fans why Callum McManaman, Nathan Byrne and Leo Da Silva Lopes, players of pace, have not been played there.

At his best McManaman is a potential match winner, but injuries have apparently taken their toll. Moreover, it is going to take some time for the player to regain his confidence after a frustrating time at Sunderland. Can Cook get the best out of McManaman as he has with Nick Powell?

Byrne seems to have become the forgotten man. Whether he has fallen out of favour with Cook is not privy to us as fans. But after being voted “Player of the Season” by both fans and fellow players he has hardly featured so far. Attacking full back is Byrne’s best position, but he has lots to offer as a right winger, with his pace and intelligent movement.

Despite being only 19 years of age, Da Silva Lopes made over 100 appearances for Peterborough. He is hardly a rookie but has been held back by Cook so far. The manager’s supporters will say that the exciting, if erratic, youngster is being nurtured behind the scenes, but others would question why someone with his explosive ability is rarely included, even on the bench.

Despite his excellent cross for Nick Powell’s winner against Bristol City, Windass has not looked the part as a right winger. His best position is surely centre forward, but Cook’s signing of Joe Garner put him well down the pecking order, with Will Grigg, James Vaughan and even Nick Powell also ahead of him. But Paul Jewell reinvented Lee McCulloch by playing him on the left wing, where his striking rate was as good, if not better, than it was when he played centre forward.

McCulloch played an important role for Jewell’s team, working hard in midfield, dangerous from crosses from the right. Windass has more pace than the Scot and a better career strike ratio at this stage of his career. McCulloch was more dangerous in the air, but Windass has a powerful right foot.

Jewell relied on the pace of the likes of Gary Teale on the right, with McCulloch’s interactions with the left backs, Leighton Baines or Steve McMillan, providing the crosses. Whether that is a model that Cook wants to follow remains to be seen.

But Windass looks like a duck out of water on the right, capable player that he is.

Morsy and Evans taken off

Sam Morsy and Lee Evans form a strong partnership in Wigan’s midfield. Neither is often substituted by Cook, so to see both being taken off yesterday was surprising.

Evans was one of the better performers yesterday but was taken off after 75 minutes for Callum Connolly. The Welshman’s creativity was missed in that final quarter. Was he taken off due to injury, with an eye on Tuesday’s game, or was it a tactical substitution?

Morsy went off after 87 minutes for Will Grigg, which one assumes was a tactical change aimed at getting a late equaliser.

But more than injuries, looking to the next game, or tactics, was Cook sending a message to his squad that nobody is an automatic choice?

Steven Caulker training with Latics

Dan Burn is still apparently a couple of weeks away from contention. He will depart for Brighton in January. Alex Bruce was once again absent yesterday, with no word of whether he is injured or out of favour.

Bruce is a very capable ex-Premier League player whose career was affected by an Achilles injury. He might lack the pace in his younger days, but after being given a contract extension for another year one assumed that he had a part to play this season.

In terms of playing ability Caulker looks a strong potential signing. He is still only 26, has played for England and has lots of higher league experience. The player’s difficulties off the field of play are well documented.

Is Cook willing to take a risk with the player? It could prove a masterstroke, or it could be seriously problematic.

But with Burn going in January, Cook will look at bringing in another centre back, whether in the immediate future or in January.

All will be revealed in due course.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com