The importance of a Category 2 Academy for Royle and IEC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Advertisements

Five talking points following a defeat at Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough 2 Wigan Athletic 0

 

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s take a look at some points arising:

It was a particularly tough run of games

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

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

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

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

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

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

What has happened to Darron Gibson?

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

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

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

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

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

Another learning experience for Robinson

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

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

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

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

Don’t write off Dan Burn

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

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

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

IEC, new contracts and the January window

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

 

Five talking points following a narrow home defeat to Leeds

Wigan Athletic 1 Leeds United 2

 

It was always going to be an uphill task playing against a team vying for automatic promotion. Added to that was the unavailability of Paul Cook’s first choice front four, together with a lack of confidence following poor recent results. In the end the visitors got the result they deserved, but their two goals should have been avoided.

Cook’s starting line-up gave an indication of what to expect. Darron Gibson was brought in for Lee Evans, Cedric Kipre in for a not-fully-fit Chey Dunkley who was nevertheless on the bench. In the absence of Nick Powell, Josh Windass was drafted into the number 10 position, with Joe Garner at centre forward and Kal Naismith on the left wing. Flair players Leonardo Da Silva Lopes and Callum McManaman were confined to the bench.

Reece James has come close to scoring from free kicks before, but this time he found the back of the net after 6 minutes with a superb strike. The early goal must have lifted Wigan’s spirits, but just three minutes later Pablo Hernandez levelled it for the visitors after the midfield had failed to track Mateusz Klich’s run. The Pole had acres of space to run into before squaring the ball for the Spaniard to score. The goal knocked the stuffing out of Latics and they became unable to offer any attacking threat other than launching long balls to Garner and Windass.

Leeds’s style football has been transformed by Marcelo Bielsa. Granted, they still have the kind of rugged defenders as we have come to expect from them over the years, but now they attack with the kind of movement and vision that is rarely seen in the Championship. For the neutral it would have been a joy to watch, but for Latics fans it was painful seeing their team starved of possession and unable to string passes together when they did have the ball.

Cook would have been delighted that his team went in level at half time, given the visitors’ dominance. But any delight he might have had soon disappeared as a mix-up between Christian Walton and Kipre gifted Kemar Roofe a tap in goal after just one minute. With their backs to the wall Latics managed to prevent further goals from the visitors but offered little attacking threat. McManaman had been brought on after 63 minutes but could make little impact with the awful service the front players were receiving. Da Silva Lopes came on for an anonymous Naismith after 70 minutes, but he too struggled to make an impact. But one wonders if even Leo Messi could have done much given the muted service from an overrun midfield and a pressured defence. In fact the two substitutes combined well after 85 minutes Da Silva Lopes slipping the ball to McManaman in the left of the penalty box. Macca cut inside his defender to curve the ball narrowly wide of the far post.

Following the game Cook commented: “We’re just massively disappointed, especially with the start we had and then to concede so quickly and the way they scored their second goal just after half-time. You have to be fair and say Leeds carried a threat all game and they were excellent at times, especially with the pace and movement of their forward players, but we managed that, and we were controlling that, as well as looking like a threat going forward.”

Let’s take a look at some points arising:

A Sea of White Shirts

In the 52nd minute Latics mounted a sharp counterattack with Gibson put Windass through from his own half with one Leeds defender in front of him and the goal. Within just 6 seconds the Latics player found himself hopelessly outnumbered by no less than 7 Leeds players, with not a teammate supporting him. You can see the clip on this Twitter link.

The “Sea of White Shirts” was hugely impressive and can be seen as an indicator of the commitment that Bielsa has instilled into his team. That Latics players did not support Windass should be seen in the context of a team “under the cosh”, reluctant to push forward in case of conceding more goals.

In February 2017 Pep Guardiola commented “My admiration for Marcelo Bielsa is huge because he makes the players much, much better. Still, I didn’t meet one guy, a former player from Marcelo Biesla who speaks no good about him. They are grateful about his influence on their careers in football. He helped me a lot with his advice. Whenever I speak with him I always feel like he wants to help me.”

Paul Cook too has instilled commitment into his players. Despite indifferent recent results he has done a wonderful job so far at Wigan. Cook is new to the Championship and will surely get even better. He has a wonderful career record in the lower leagues and was a very successful player in England’s second tier. If he continues to learn and develop at this level Latics will surely have difficulties in warding off approaches from other clubs.

Breaking up the Dunkley-Kipre partnership

Dan Burn’s return to fitness has posed selection problems for Cook. Burn was outstanding in League 1 last year and the previous season in the Championship was Latics’ “Player of the Season”. He is due to join Premier League Brighton in January.

However, Burn has not looked impressive since returning. Yesterday he looked far from a player who could be a success in the Premier League. Was Cook right to break up the Dunkley-Kipre partnership to bring in Burn? Is there a clause in Burn’s loan agreement that requires him to get regular games?

When he was last in the Championship Burn had lots of protection in a Warren Joyce team that played with a massed defence. He is at his best when the ball is in the air. Yesterday he had to face the touch play and movement of Bielsa’s Leeds.

But Burn cannot be written off. With more game time he will get better and better. In fact, he could be invaluable at Middlesbrough on Saturday given the mode of attack that typifies Tony Pulis’ approach.

The option remains for Cook to amend his approach and play a Burn-Dunkley-Kipre trio. Given his belief in 4-2-3-1 it is unlikely.

Fitting in the flair players

It was a surprise when Latics signed Callum McManaman, given Cook’s preferred style of football. One suspects the manager does not trust him defensively and he doesn’t have the vision to be a 10 but also does not put enough balls in the box to be a winger under Cook. In essence his position is “inverted winger”. Cook has found it hard to find a suitable role for the player within his system.

Cook has bided his time in bringing in Da Silva Lopes. He is a raw and exciting talent but is hardly “green” with over 100 appearances for Peterborough although still only 19. During his career he has played in various positions and Cook will have to decide which is his best.

We can only hope that Cook will find ways of incorporating the two “flair players” into the team on a more regular basis.

Another flair player was absent yesterday too. On the face of things Lee Evans is a solid, hardworking central midfielder. But he is also the player who has created the most chances this season, not only from his set pieces but also from his superb crossing in open play. His creative influence was very much missed.

Powell sorely missed

Nick Powell was sorely missed yesterday. When he is not present the standard of Latics’ football so often deteriorates.

The rumours have started to resurface that Powell will leave in January. It is indeed a possibility. Everton’s Kieran Dowell is already being touted for a loan in January. Dowell is an England under-21 international who played 38 games for Nottingham Forest last season.

Whether Powell signs a new contract or leaves will give us a glimpse into the new ownership of the club and its mode of operation.

The takeover finally happens

The media has been awash with the news of the takeover and the end of the Whelan dynasty. It has been an emotional time for Latics supporters, given the departure of the man whose drive, vision and financial support put Wigan Athletic on the world football map.

However, we now face a new reality. The IEC will be the new owners and the club’s future is less certain. Pleasantries have been passed between the Whelans and IEC, but nobody has let us know why the takeover has been so protracted.

But we must face reality. No one can rightly criticise DW for deciding not to pump more funds into the club after 23 years of ownership/sponsorship. The question is whether IEC is right for the club. Were there other meaningful offers? What does a business such as IEC have to gain from the takeover?

In the meantime, we must try to be positive about the takeover. Much will be revealed over the next three months, with the January transfer window likely to give us indications of IEC’s intentions.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A back three for Cook at Bramall Lane?

Three at the back for Latics?

“I’ve been speaking to a few people and the best way of getting into the Brighton team would be on the left-hand side of a back three.”

Dan Burn was thinking ahead of his expected move to Brighton in January. But was it in the back of his mind that he might be playing there too for Latics over the next couple of months?

Paul Cook reverted to a line of three central defenders in the final third of the Millwall game, Burn looking so much more comfortable there after a difficult time as a makeshift left back.

Most managers have a favourite formation and Cook is no exception. The 4-2-3-1 that has been the default system during his tenure as Latics manager has enabled not only good results, but good football too. Under that formation Latics have used the flanks to great advantage, stretching the opposition defences wide. Sadly, Cook has lost his most favoured wingers – Michael Jacobs and Gavin Massey – to injury. The two were able to not only attack with pace but play a key role in dropping back to help regain possession. Their all-round team play been sorely missed.

Another feature of Wigan’s best performances this season has been the high press, with the defence pushing up in a high line and Christian Walton playing an important role as keeper/sweeper behind the defence. Although still evident in home games it has been not the norm on the road since the attacking performances in the first two away games at Aston Villa and Stoke, where Latics’ play was a joy to watch.

Some managers are stubborn in sticking to the same formation, come what may. It has advantages in that recruitment can be built around the needs of that system, with players knowing precisely the role they are playing. The disadvantage is that the opposition know exactly what to expect and can find ways of shutting it down.

At Portsmouth Cook was criticised for not having a “Plan B”. But at Millwall he started out with a version of 4-4-2 and switched to 3-5-2 in the second half. Wigan’s football at the New Den could be best described as “direct”. Last season in League 1 we had witnessed similar occurrences, with long balls being launched forwards in a Plan B mode.

Not many teams play 4-4-2 these days, but some do, and they can use it successfully. Like any other system its successful functioning depends on having the right players in the right positions. It could be argued that 4-4-2 lends itself better to a more direct approach than 4-2-3-1, with defenders able to put in weighted long passes to twin strikers. The problem with the version of 4-4-2 we saw at Millwall was that the long passing was rarely well weighted.

Some managers will change their starting formations according to the opposition. Uwe Rosler did that very successfully in his first season at Wigan, switching between 4-3-3 and 3-4-3/3-5-2. Is Cook now looking at doing something similar?

Burn has shown himself to be an accomplished central defender at Championship level. However, Cook will be loath to break up a blossoming central defensive partnership of Dunkley and Kipre. Cook can solve some of his headaches by operating a 3-4-1-2 system, with full backs James and Robinson able to push forward with more security behind them. Nick Powell could play a similar role as before between the holding midfield and the forwards. We have seen so little of Callum McManaman so far, the pundits suggesting that he is still not fully fit and does not track back from the wing in the style of Jacobs and Massey. McManaman thrived in Roberto Martinez’ 3-4-3 where had a free role.

With Lee Evans unable to play against his parent club, Callum Connolly will most probably move into central midfield tomorrow. Were Cook to decide to play with three at the back we could see a lineup something akin to: Walton – Kipre, Dunkley, Burn – James, Connolly, Morsy, Robinson – Powell – McManaman, Windass.

Cook’s dilemma rests in whether to switch to three at the back – which is really five when under pressure – or to stick with the 4-2-3-1 system that has served him so well.

No matter which formation the manager adopts the discerning fan will be looking for an attacking approach following the lack of ambition shown in recent away games. Seeing Latics adopting the high press early on would be a good sign. Keeping the hoofing to a minimum would also mean less pressure on the defence as more possession is retained.

Cook deserves great credit in bringing Latics through to a mid-table position at this stage of the season. They have already shown they can compete with the top teams. Should Latics adopt an attacking approach at Bramall Lane tomorrow and get badly beaten the manager will suffer some degree of flak. On the other hand, were they to be as negative as in recent away games and still lose he would suffer even more.