Five talking points following a tired-looking performance at Charlton

Charlton Athletic 2 Wigan Athletic 2

The fight shown by Wigan Athletic’s players since the announcement that the club was going into administration has made the fans proud. They showed the same kind of fighting spirit yesterday at The Valley, but their legs were getting heavier and heavier as the second half wore on. It looked a matter of time before Charlton would eventually get the equaliser. It was to come in stoppage time.

After the game Paul Cook commented: “They’ve probably put more crosses into our box than any team we’ve played against for a long, long time, they kept asking the question. You can break down their equalising goal certainly, and we’re massively disappointed a striker can find himself in 10 yards of space in the penalty areas in the 92nd minute. We had three centre-halves on the pitch, they had two strikers, so that’s not right. But while we want to be self-critical, these players have been absolutely magnificent for our football club, that’s the brutal reality of the situation.”

Let’s look at some points arising:

It was another of those disappointing six pointer performances

Latics have been a revelation since February, moving from the relegation zone to what is a mid-table position until the 12 points are deducted. Much of the improvement has been down to relying less on the long-ball and building moves up from the back. Moreover, the whole team has played its role in developing a more solid defence, every player contributing to the improvement.

Since Paul Cook arrived Latics have not coped well with the “six pointer” games. Despite their dominance in League 1 they did not always impress against other teams in the promotion zone. Their record against clubs near the bottom of the Championship table has been mediocre. The win against Hull in midweek was welcome: it was a stunning performance and scoreline.  But the defeat at Luton and the insipid goalless draw with them at the DW together with two draws against a poor Barnsley side were certainly underwhelming.

What a pity the ghost of the 6 pointers could not have been laid to rest today at The Valley.

Would relegation to League 1 be so tragic?

Whether Latics stay in the Championship depends on results in the final games on Wednesday. It is by no means unlikely that Wigan Athletic will beat Fulham, but even if they did, they could still go down if other results do not go their way. But is it so crucial that Wigan stay in the second tier?

The bottom line for us too at Amigos is that we want the club to survive, whether it be in the second tier or the third next season. Despite the positive spin taken by much of the media regarding new owners coming in there remains a worrying possibility that the club will become defunct. There is validity in the comments made by several fans who ask who would want to take over a club with a wage bill that is more than 160% of its revenue and has made an operating loss in four of the last five years.

Should new owners be found could we expect them to pump in some £1m a month to keep the team competitive in the Championship? There clearly must be a rethink about matching expenditure with revenue.

Player salaries in League 1 are dwarfed by those in the Championship. To survive financially long-term, the club would be better placed in the third tier than the second. Granted, there is a difference of some £4m in broadcasting revenue for clubs in the Championship and League 1. Moreover, a potential owner would more likely be tempted to buy a club in the second tier rather than the third.

Were Latics to stay in the Championship for another season the outlook with a much-trimmed squad on a lower wage bill would be bleak. But the revenues for player sales would be higher.

What a blow for Rioch and the Academy

Perhaps the most welcoming sign for the future during the IEC reign was that they (through the chairman) had a plan to develop homegrown talent as a means for the club to be sustainable. Investments were made to improve academy facilities, leading to a welcome rise to Category 2 status.

For Latics to have young players making the youth teams of England, Scotland and Wales has been an indication of the progress made by Gregor Rioch and his staff. Reports of the 17-year-old Jude Bellingham about to be sold by Birmingham City for £40m are not far-fetched. But while Bellingham has made 31 starts and 9 substitute appearance in the Championship this season Wigan’s Joe Gelhardt has made just 2 starts and 15 as a substitute.

The impending departure of Jensen Weir to Brighton for £500,000 is a bitter pill to swallow. Weir was captain of the Scotland U16 team prior to switching to England at U17 and U18 levels. Although the funds to be received will be important in keeping the club afloat for the moment it is sad to see him go at such a low fee, although it is reported there will be add-ons involved. The transfer value was very much affected by the club’s financial situation, although the player had just one brief Championship appearance as a substitute.

It appears that 15-year-old prodigy Alfie Devine will be going to Tottenham, possibly Gelhardt too.

Given the wealth of young talent that has been coming through it is of paramount importance for the future of the club that Rioch and his key staff are retained despite the swingeing budget cuts that will be coming. The departure of likes of Weir, Gelhardt and Devine will hardly help their morale.

Is Paul Cook on his way out?

Reports of other Championship clubs’ interest in Paul Cook are certainly credible. Although his time at Wigan has been a rollercoaster ride his CV is looking impressive. On top of a wealth of experience in the lower divisions he kept Latics in the Championship on a relatively low budget. Only the 12-point deduction will prevent them from finishing in mid-table this season.

Should Cook stay next season he would almost certainly be facing an uphill task. Most of the players he has closely nurtured will most likely be gone over the summer. Put simply, Cook’s future career prospects would most likely be better served by a move to a bigger club, rather than stay and start a large rebuilding project.

Can Latics raise their game for Wednesday’s clash with Fulham?

Although history might suggest otherwise it is by no means unlikely that Wigan Athletic will beat Fulham on Wednesday. With victories over the top two teams in the table they have shown that they can raise their game against strong opposition.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

 

Social media reaction to a sadly predictable defeat at Swansea

Swansea City 2 Wigan Athletic 1

Nathan Byrne’s well taken first half goal gave Latics a lift, but Swansea were to score three minutes later. Swans’ manager Steve Cooper had clearly done his homework and employed a high press to stop Latics building up moves from the back. The under-pressure defenders resisted the easy-hoof way out, but most of the time the ball came back to keeper David Marshall who would look for a defender willing to receive, but often had to play it long.

Paul Cook had brought Joe Garner into the starting line-up for Josh Windass, who did not even appear on the bench. He persisted with the out of form Jamal Lowe, keeping Kieran Dowell on the left with Joe Williams continuing in the number 10 position.

Going in 1-1 at half time, given previous performances, it was hard to see Wigan coming away with even a point. In the event Swansea laid siege on Latics who held out until Paul Cook made two substitutions after 64 minutes. Gavin Massey came on for the hapless Lowe, but sadly Cook sent Massey to the left wing, which is a position where he has so often looked like a duck out of water. Playing a number 10 on the left wing was hard enough to understand, although Dowell had linked up well with Antonee Robinson, but when Massey came on he was switched to the right flank. Square pegs in round holes yet again.

It was no surprise when Swansea scored what proved to be the winning goal just three minutes after the substitutions.

Despite the result Latics played with lots of enthusiasm and tried hard to get back into the game in the closing minutes.

But spirit is not enough: Swansea clearly had a game-plan and their players knew their roles. If Latics did have a plan it dissolved following Cook’s substitutions.

Unless Cook’s team selections and substitutions show a radical change, Latics are heading for the abyss. How many more square pegs in round holes will we see? The depressing scene of Cook berating the fourth official, rather than focus on the pattern of play on the pitch, is getting tired.

Let’s take a look at how fans reacted to the match through the message boards and social media.

Our thanks go to the Cockney Latic Forum, the Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum and Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen. Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below.

Jeffs right on the Latics Speyk Forum referred to Kieran Dowell’s position:

Signed as a number 10 as he plays behind the striker. So Cook plays him as one of the so called wide players with the inept Lowe on the other side and a defensive midfielder behind the striker. He really does want this pay off badly.

JRTfatfan on the Cockney Latic Forum said:

The point is we lose a goal EVERY time he makes changes. Was neither attacking or playing for point change, like for like both players. Garner was doing Ok, Lowe was pants. This is just about the worst performance of the season.

Garswood Latic on the Cockney Latic Forum responded:

The point that John makes is spot on, as I have mentioned elsewhere. This isn’t just bad luck. The only way I can rationalise it is that the team aren’t really understanding the changes and what that means for them individually. There is obviously confusion, and until they understand what is required we remain vulnerable. Why?

Three options:
1. These things and possibilities aren’t being discussed and planned and plotted during the week (“if we are down we will have an attacking formation and X and Y will do this etc”)
2. If a change is made that falls outside these pre-planned changes (and there will be many times that happens) then no-one on the pitch is being informed what it means (when we’re making changes is Morsy there finding out what the thinking is particularly if we’re changing formation other than like-for-like changes? Does anyone ever see players being given instructions?
3. A possibility that can also be alongside 1 and 2 – the players are too thick to understand what is required.

A fascinating post from King_dezeuww06 prior to the game on the Latics Speyk Forum:

For anyone interested here are the stats for the the Championship teams since they changed their managers this season (mostly in relegation fight) league games only:

Cardiff – Harris
Played 11
Won 4
Drew 5
Lost 2
Win ratio 37%
Points 17 out of 33

Barnsley – Struber
Played 12
Won 4
Lost 4
Drew 4
Win ratio 33%
Points 16 out of 36

Millwall – Rowett
Played 14
Won 7
Drew 5
Lost 2
Win ratio 50%
Points 26 out of 42

Stoke – O’Neill
Played 15
Won 5
Drew 2
Lost 5
Win ratio 33%
Points 17 out of 45

Reading – Bowen
Played 17
Won 8
Drew 4
Lost 3
Win ratio 47%
Points 28 out of 51

Huddersfield – Crowley
Played 21
Won 7
Drew 6
Lost 8
Win ratio 33%
Points 27 out of 63

————————–

Results of teams who kept manager in relegation fight

Boro – Woodgate
Played 27
Won 8
Drew 10
Lost 9
Win ratio 30%
Points 34 out of 81

Luton – Jones
Played 27
Won 6
Drew 3
Lost 18
Win ratio 22%
Points 21 out of 81

Wigan – Cook
Played 27
Won 5
Drew 8
Lost 14
Win ratio 19%
Points 23 out of 81

I knew Rowett was going to work wonders at Millwall but really impressive with how well Bowen has done at Reading they have a good team with a goals in them but you never know how a number 2 will step up in his first job. Other changes all yielded that 1 in 3 win ratio which is what most teams are looking for without being spectacular, unforunately no one seems to have got in a Joyce unfortunately that had zero impact.

Boro were doing terrible until they suddenly went on a run of 5 wins and 2 draws in their last 8 games pulled them clear.

Not a sign of it changing: social media reaction to defeat at Hillsborough

Sheffield Wednesday 1 Wigan Athletic 0

Sadly we on this site have to agree with what Craig says. My comments will be fairly brief. I will leave the rest to snippets plucked from the social media.

Over the past 14 months we have seen the worst away performances from a Wigan Athletic team that I can remember as a long-term supporter over a period of decades. So many of those away defeats have been characterised by a seemingly clueless approach from Latics typified by: conceding soft goals, posing little attacking threat, being tactically out of their depth. The main tactic has so often been launching long balls to a centre forward who is isolated with no immediate support.

It was by no means the worst away performance today when Latics could have maybe scraped a draw against a team better set up tactically but always likely threaten with another goal if Latics had equalised.

With wingers Massey and Lowe once again being woefully out of touch the main hope for creativity was Josh Windass. However, home team manager Garry Monk had done his homework and put a man-marker on Windass, effectively playing him out of the game apart from some  moments in the first half. On the other hand, home team playmaker Barry Bannan controlled the game from midfield, his incisive passing causing constant problems. Bannan is one of the best midfielders in the Championship and he was allowed considerable freedom in this game.

Once Wednesday had scored around the hour mark one hoped for a tactical riposte from Paul Cook.

Above posting from Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk forum.

Cook brought on Pilkington and Moore after 64 minutes for Massey and Garner. They were like for like replacements, with no change in shape. Although Latics’ play was crying out for creativity with Windass shackled it took another 14 minutes for Gelhardt to come on for Lowe.

From the Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk forum:

 

 

27 passes towards improvement

There are Wigan Athletic fans who were never fans of Roberto Martinez, despite his massive impact on the club’s history. The tiki-taka drove them crazy and they craved a return to the more direct football of the Paul Jewell era.

Martinez’ teams did their best to keep possession, facing opposition which was so often superior in technical ability. Playing against superior opponents means that your players must do a huge amount of running. So often the elite teams in English football will get crucial goals in the closing stages, when the underdogs’ legs are heavy. For Martinez possession was key to maintaining his team’s collective energy to keep a game under control. It could be frustrating to watch, the ball often being passed sideways and backwards, but Martinez always had a plan and a belief in his players that helped his team punch above its weight.

Paul Cook had a plan when he took over to get the club out of League 1. He was a very successful lower league manager with a reputation as a good motivator, whose teams tried to play good football. He brought in his 4-2-3-1 formation, which worked a treat in the third tier. The football was so often good to watch, and his team not only won the League 1 title but had a brilliant FA Cup run.

Cook also looked good in the opening games of last season. Latics were perhaps defensively naive, but they played entertaining football. Over the next six months the standard of football fell, particularly away from home when it was simply awful at times. We had seen Cook’s plan B on occasions in League 1: lumping the ball forward, looking for headers and deflections. It practically became the norm away from home for most of last season.

Following more dire away performances this season, the hoof too prevalent, the performance at Hull last week was a welcome surprise. The players were not on top form, but there seemed to at least be a philosophy developing on how to approach the game. There was less of the hoof and more effort made to retain possession and build up moves from the back.

If someone had told me before the game that Joe Gelhardt’s equaliser came after Wigan had made 27 consecutive passes, I would not have believed it.

It was not like watching Barcelona in their pomp, but what a welcome change from the mindless lumping the ball forward that had become the norm in Latics’ play away from home. What did Cook (or his coaches) say to the players about eschewing the hoof and trying to play constructive football? Whatever it was it brought a change in their mindset.

The hoof was anathema to Martinez. He was never going to accept that unless it was under severe circumstances. Cook had allowed his players to negate their responsibilities for too long, giving them too much leeway in their use of the ball. It had got to the point where some fans were labelling him a long-ball manager.

We knew Cook (and his coaches) were excellent in the third and fourth tiers of English football and that last season was a tough one in what has been so often quoted by them as “an unforgiving league”.  The Championship is certainly a division that is a gulf apart from that of League 1. But what had been worrying for us is that the manager and his coaches had not seemingly learned from their mistakes.

One swallow doth not a summer make. However, those 27 passes stick in the mind, no matter how mediocre the game was.

Have Cook and his aides have turned the corner and insisted that a “hoofball” approach is not only unacceptable for paying spectators, but not a valid tactic in a more sophisticated level of football?

The 27 passes suggest that Cook and Latics are turning the corner.

One can only hope this is the case.