Reflections on an excellent display against Liverpool

 

On the face of it a Wigan Athletic shorn of so many players through injury or “unavailability” could not have been expected to draw a friendly match against Liverpool. But they did it in the kind of style that we have not seen at the DW Stadium for a long time.

Can it be that Paul Cook has already changed the mindset of his squad, despite being in charge for such a limited amount of time? More than anything else it was the sheer composure of the players that impressed, whether they were experienced pros or academy graduates in there for the biggest game of their lives.

Latics had played with composure, determination and energy as their more experienced players managed to take the lead against the Merseyside giants, holding it until shortly before half time. There had been the type of cohesion between the players that had been notably lacking last season, even if that final pass remains an area to work upon.

Cook had put out a balanced line up in his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. Nathan Byrne was played at right back, which is hardly his favourite position, but he equipped himself well. Perhaps the absence of an orthodox left winger in the Liverpool side helped, but nevertheless a player who was out of favour and shunted out on loan in January, was back in contention. Cook had started all his more experienced pros, apart from David Perkins and new signing, Gavin Massey, who were to appear immediately after the half time break. But none of them were likely to last beyond the hour mark and Cook would surely have to put in a handful of academy players sooner rather than later in the second period.

Cook’s hand had been forced to a large degree by the absence of so many other senior pros. We knew that Donervon Daniels, Andy Kellett and Shaun MacDonald were long-term absentees and that new signing Chey Dunkley too was injured. Moreover, the absence of Will Grigg was no surprise as he too is presumably still recovering from injury. Given his constant problems with fitness it was no surprise either to see Nick Powell not available. Sam Morsy was apparently rested following his time with Egypt over the summer so far.

But there were senior squad players who were not mentioned by the local press who were noticeably absent on Friday evening. Jack Byrne is one who could have a major impact in League 1, but he too has suffered fitness issues. Mikael Mandron too was absent, as Kaiyne Woolery and Callum Lang made the team in his place. Added to those are the players whose futures at the club are in doubt, having been sent out on loan last season. They are Dan Lavercombe, Sanmi Odelusi and Danny Whitehead.

In the event, the lack of available senior pros forced Cook’s hand and he had no choice but to bring on half a dozen youngsters who have come up through the Latics academy. Of those academy graduates Luke Burke was the one with prior first team experience having made an impact early last season before drifting out of favour. But his tenacious performance will have surely given Cook the message that he is a valid option at right back.

Neither the “home grown” youngsters, nor the imported young players Josh Laurent, Terell Thomas and Kaiyne Woolery, were overawed by the occasion and Latics continued to hold their own as the second half progressed. The 18-year-old Sam Stubbs looked calm and composed in the centre of defence, as did the 20-year-old Owen Evans who had come on for the excellent Christian Walton after 61 minutes. The 18-year-old Luke Burgess came on in the 63rd minute for Michael Jacobs and looked an accomplished player. Callum Lang linked up well with Woolery. Chris Merrie was lively.

It remains to be seen how much faith Cook will have in the young players in the coming season and how many loan players will be brought in. Moreover he will surely lose some of the senior pros over the coming weeks as David Sharpe and Jonathan Jackson chop down the wage bill. But what does look clear is that the manager will stamp his style of football on the players at his disposal.

The realist might say that this was only a pre-season friendly match and that conclusions cannot be drawn at this stage. However, it has been a long time since we have seen a Latics side play with such a degree of organisation and composure.

Let’s hope it continues at Southport on Tuesday.

A Luton Town fan’s view of Christian Walton

Wigan Athletic have announced the signing of Christian Walton from Brighton and Hove Albion on a season-long loan. The 6 ft 5 in tall goalkeeper is 21 years old and has represented England at U18, U19, U20 and U21 levels. He has recently signed a four year contract with the south coast club.

On signing Walton, Latics manager Paul Cook stated: “Following the departure of Matt Gilks it was clear we needed reinforcements in this area and Christian is one that we were keen to target. He had good experience in League Two and League One last season and has the potential to develop into a top goalkeeper.”

Christian Walton was born in Wadebridge, Cornwall, and came through the Plymouth Argyle youth system. He joined Albion as a 17 year old, going on to sign a professional contract in the summer of 2013. He made his senior debut in late October 2014 in a League Cup tie against Tottenham. Walton made his league debut against Uwe Rosler’s Latics less than a week later, to be followed by a start against Blackburn Rovers in the match following. He had to wait until the last game of the season to reappear when Albion played at Middlesbrough.

In summer 2015 Walton joined Bury on a season-long  loan, playing against Latics once more, this time at the DW Stadium in a League Cup match. However, the loan was cut short in early September, due to a groin injury. He had made 6 appearances. However, in November he was sent back to Plymouth on a short-term loan, making four appearances over a month.

Last season Walton joined Luton Town on a season-long loan, only to be recalled by Albion in January 2017. He had made 33 appearances for the Bedfordshire club, conceding the least number of goals in League 2 up to that point. In April he joined Southend United on a month-long loan, making 7 appearances.

In order to learn more about Christian we reached out on Twitter to fans of Luton Town, where he has played the majority of his first team football. Thanks to Danny B-D @dannybd85 and Andrew Kingston @treblethree for their responses to our questions that appear below.

Let’s start with Danny’s fan view:

What are his strengths and weaknesses as a keeper?

I’d say his strengths are his shot stopping, and one on one situations!

Weakness probably his distribution, his kicking was sometimes wayward from goal kicks if he went long, short was fine as we often played from the back last year! 

Sometimes he would come for a cross and either miss completely or get beaten to it in the air by an opposing player!

However I would say it was rare and I can only recall Stevenage and Portsmouth away where it cost us the game

How does he relate to the fans? Is he a team player? Does he show commitment?

He pretty much became a fans favourite very quickly! some saves he made early on went down very well with our supporters and a lot of us were gutted when Brighton activated the recall clause in his loan deal!

He was very much a team player and showed a good level of commitment whenever he played for Luton, and everybody was in agreement that he had improved massively over the 6 months or so he was with us.

We can expect possession football to return to Wigan under Paul Cook. How effective would he be building up moves from the back?

What you would need to remember is he is a young keeper and will make mistakes here and there, as mentioned above, his long kicking needs working on, and he came for crosses and didn’t always successfully catch the ball, but you will tell he’ll be a valuable asset to you.

As I said above he was used to playing out the back too, in fact we did vary the style a bit and as the season went on he certainly improved his overall game!

What kind of potential does he have? Would you have him back at Luton?

Well put simply, Brighton have just given him a 4 year contract so they clearly see a futurefor him, whether that be championship or premier league remains to be seen, I think premier league is achievable if he progresses as fast as he did with us last season.

I feel with regular game time at League One level will serve to improve him further and if he keeps moving up the divisions season by season I don’t see why he won’t be a regular in a premier league side, but there’s a longish way to go for him yet!

I would love to see him back at Luton one day, I am, like many town fans are, convinced we would’ve gone up automatically last season had he remained all season! 

No disrespect to Macey and Moore who were bought in to replace him but Walton was just a cut above both of them! 

You’ve got yourself a good young goalkeeper with bags of potential and I hope he continues to impress

Hope that helps, and good luck for the season!

 

Andrew’s fan view:

 What are his strengths and weaknesses as a keeper?

I must admit when we first got him I was worried about putting a young keeper in as our no.1 but he really surprised me at how mature his performances were, he is a good shot stopper and doesn’t let mistakes get to him, not that he made a lot of them. If I was going to be harsh I would say he could use his height better but that’s just looking for a weaknesses.

 How does he relate to the fans? Is he a team player? Does he show commitment?

He got on really well with the fans at Luton who took to him very early on, definitely a team player and was so committed to the club he even came back to watch our games after he left.

We can expect possession football to return to Wigan under Paul Cook. How effective would he be building up moves from the back ?

Nathan Jones likes to pass from the back which is one of the reasons he got Walton in at Luton, you shouldn’t have any problems with his distribution and he doesn’t tend to panic.

What kind of potential does he have? Would you have him back at Luton?

I think he has a lot of potential, to play as many games as he did and consistently perform so well is a great indication to the standard he is already at and I’m sure he will get even better. I would have loved him back at Luton and given how worried the fan base was when he left speaks volumes.

 Hope that helps, if he performs for Wigan like he did at Luton then you will love him.

 

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