Five talking points following a deserved three points at Huddersfield

Huddersfield Town 0 Wigan Athletic 2

Table courtesy of the Guardian

The Championship table shows how important this win was for Latics. They now have seven teams below them, grappling with the threat of relegation. It was a win based on solid teamwork. Despite having only 30% possession Wigan were solid in defence and offered threat going forward.

Paul Cook put out a well-balanced side, with Kieran Dowell played in the number 10 role behind Kieffer Moore. Prior to receiving a long-term injury in January Dowell had been played out wide in the few games he had played since joining on loan. Two other players who had been out of action long-term, Danny Fox and Antonee Robinson also returned.

Following the game Cook commented: “It was important that we came away from here with something and I felt a point would have been a good point because Huddersfield are a good side with good players. To get a 2-0 win we’re delighted with that. The reality was there wasn’t many chances at both ends of the pitch but fortunately we’ve come out on the right side. We travel back knowing that five home games and three away and everything’s in our own hands which is great.”

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

Wigan looked fitter

It was worrying to see five players out of the Latics squad through injury. But apart from the first quarter of an hour when they struggled to get any fluency to their play, Wigan looked so much sharper than the home side. Huddersfield were trying to build up moves from the back, with Latics taking a more direct approach.

Huddersfield visibly tired and manager Danny Cowley made five substitutions by the 72nd minute. Cook had only made one by then and three of his five changes came in the 86th minute.

The long-term injured players made impressive returns. Antonee Robinson had not played since January 28, but he looked comfortable on his return. Danny Fox had not played since November 9 but slotted in seamlessly alongside Cedric Kipre in the centre of defence. Kieron Dowell’s ankle injury in January had been a blow to Cook at a time when Latics were lacking in creativity. He is a natural number 10, capable of scoring goals and making assists.

A funny old game

As the saying goes “football is a funny old game”. Both Wigan goals were aided by deflections. Kieffer Moore’s cross in the 24th minute was deflected by the Huddersfield left back Harry Toffolo for Jamal Lowe to score. Then in the 48th minute Anthony Pilkington, surrounded by defenders, managed to squeeze out a shot that took a major deflection off home team midfielder Lewis O’Brien.

A few months ago, the opposite was much more likely to happen. Latics were not getting “the rub of the green” and deflections were so often working against them.

Lowe shines

Jamal Lowe’s fourth goal of the season was opportunistic. He reacted more quickly than the Huddersfield defenders to reach Moore’s cross. Following the game Cook commented on Lowe: “He’s had the chances throughout the season, Jamal could easily have a lot more goals, but he’s no different to every player because confidence is key. If you keep getting in the correct areas, the correct thing will happen and Jamal gets into those areas regularly, so there are a lot more goals in him.”

It has been a struggle for Lowe to adjust to the play in the Championship division. At times he has looked lightweight, losing the ball too easily, short of confidence on his finishing. But the player’s confidence had been growing and he was looking better when the season was curtailed in March. Yesterday he looked strong and determined in possession. It was his run down the left and his intelligent cross to Pilkington that led to the second goal.

Cook has shown a lot of faith in Lowe, sometimes playing him when performances hardly merited it. But Lowe is now starting to look like the kind of player we were hoping for following his much-hyped arrival from Portsmouth in summer.

Almost safe by the end of June?

With two home games by the end of June Latics have a chance to really consolidate their place in the Championship. Back to back victories would give them 50 points. Last season 41 points would have been enough to stay up, 42 points in 2017-18. But totals like that will not be sufficient this season with the third from bottom team Hull already having 41 points with eight games to go.

Blackburn Rovers and Stoke City will be no pushovers. Rovers games can be fiercely competitive and Stoke are in the relegation zone and desperate for points.

A crucial week

This coming week is not only crucial to what will follow in July, but also for the coming season. All 24 clubs in the division have significant numbers of players whose contracts expire at the end of this month.

Cook has a dozen players who are currently available only up to the Stoke game on June 30. The club have come to an agreement with Leon Balogun to continue into July, his contract with Brighton expiring at the end of June.

Clubs have until June 23 to either offer a new contract or release the player. If a player is not offered a new contract for the 2020-21 season he can be recruited by another club from June 24.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

The Social Media reaction to a frustrating home defeat to Preston

Wigan Athletic 1 Preston NE 2

It was always going to be a difficult match against a Preston side vying for a playoff place. They had outplayed Wigan at Deepdale and would surely be full of confidence coming into this one.

Paul Cook stuck with the same lineup that gained an attritional 1-0 victory at Leeds. That game had been won by superb, last-gasp defending, together with a modicum of luck. Cook tends to stick to a winning formula, but was it the right lineup to play at home against local rivals full of confidence?

The Leeds victory was perhaps a blindfold for preparing for this game. Although the three points were so welcome, one wondered if the fightball/long ball approach applied might be repeated against Preston.

Alas it was. It took us back to the time before Cook appeared to see the light: football rather than fightball/hoofball. Then there was hope at least.

The most successful managers have the ability to adjust their lineup according to the situation. Cook had done that at Leeds but not here. Good managers  rest players who are not at their best.They also make substitutions in a timely and imaginative manner when the opposition are dominating proceedings.

Sadly Cook continues to stick in his rut, making the same mistakes week in, week out. It is going to take a paradigm shift from him if he is to continue at the helm and save Latics from relegation. He has a squad good enough to avoid the drop, but the manager’s rigidity and lack of awareness are dragging them down.

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.

Nuneatonlatic C  on the Cockney Latic Forum said:

Preston had 4 forward minded players and it stuck out like a sore thumb. We could have been dead and buried after 15 mins. Both their goals came from having an extra body in the area something we cannot comprehend. But without a decent ball or cross we may as well play with no strikers let alone 2.

The_Pon on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

Five defenders. Three defensive midfielders. At home. To a kind of ok ish team.

Fair enough to set up like that away to Leeds or WBA etc, but at home to a team who are no better than us on paper is unforgivable.

Relegation guaranteed. We’re not adrift and with an even remotely competent manager I’d say we were in with a good shout to stay up… But with 🤡 we may as well just resign ourselves to the inevitability of League One next year.

Worst manager in our club’s entire history. By a mile. How he still has a job is beyond me, but he won’t get sacked. Scouse Mafia are seeing to it that our club is dismantled slowly and painfully.

I despair. Nothing else to do.

Super Stuart Barlow on the Cockney LaticForum said:

What is he supposed to do when there are decisions like that being made. That referee was a f…ing joke.

1st half we were crap, 2nd much better but no cutting edge and every ball forward saw Moore get raped by one of their centre backs.

You are my sunshine on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

That team selection from Cook today was a disgrace IMO. We started the game with 8 defensive minded outfield players at HOME to Preston, who should be respected, but not feared. They have a poor away record this season and had only scored 11 goals before today.

I could understand why he did it last week against top of league, away at Elland Road, but to do it for this game is inexcusable. We had back to back wins which gave everyone a lift, so should of been positive right from the start. But that team selection was a big negative before a ball was kicked and ended up costing us.
It was so obvious after the early exchanges it wasn’t working and mine and many other tics fans fears when we saw the selection were realised. Cook should of changed it at the very latest at HT if not before. But he inexplicably didn’t and they scored early, giving us a mountain to climb.

He then made the changes of bringing on 2 attacking players, we were crying out for from the start. The game then completely changed and for the last 35 mins we battered Preston but why the hell were those extra 1 or 2 attacking players not starting. Unbelievable. Then to compound matters he took Moore off instead of Lowe. Moore was a big threat in the box and having him and Garner on together that last 10 or so mins could of got us a point.
Yes the players were poor 1st half, but I blame Cook massively today, for playing that formation, with all those defensive minded players in it, for a home game, after back to back wins.

LoudmouthBlue on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

Lowe is the only player that has taken part in every game we have played this season, WHY ?

Studs88 on the Latics Speyk Forum added:

There’s a player in there. But I’m afraid he is not up to Championship standard.

Offers nothing going forward. Consistently one of the worst players on the field. But even more damning is how easily he loses the ball. Directly leading to Preston’s second goal.

That should be the last time he pulls on a shirt for this club. It’s a disgrace he gets a place ahead of Gelhardt, Moore, Garner etc. We may as well be playing with ten men.

Pubey on the Latics Speyk Forum defended the player:

Even when he’s not playing particularly well he still has the ability to make chances and I think he’s massively underrated.

His shot today was a pretty good effort that was well saved
He also put a fantastic cross along the 6 yard box that wasn’t picked up by anyone
His movement and positioning was good but he was rarely passed to
He frequently won free-kicks and throw-ins with his impressive movement

Clearly this season’s scapegoat, sadly.

Super Stuart Barlow on the Cockney Latic Forum said:

What is he supposed to do when there are decisions like that being made. That referee was a f…ing joke.

1st half we were crap, 2nd much better but no cutting edge and every ball forward saw Moore get raped by one of their centre backs.

Mr Brownbill on the Cockney Latic Forum said:

Oh yeah……and Windass nets on debut

 

 

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Social Media reaction to a hard-earned victory over Sheffield Wednesday

Wigan Athletic 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1

Well-taken goals from Kieffer Moore and Jamal Lowe earned Latics three important points in their battle against relegation. They showed the kind of opportunism that has been so lacking over recent months.

At long last Paul Cook decided to start Joe Gelhardt, leaving Joe Williams on the bench, switching Jamal Lowe to the left wing and Kieran Dowell to the right. Gelhardt looked dangerous at times but struggled to get the ball. The switching of the wide players was ineffective. We have seen Lowe struggle on the left before so it was no surprise to see it again. But when Michael Jacobs was introduced on the left wing after 66 minutes Lowe looked much better when moved across. Dowell looked out of place on the right and it was sad to see him stretchered off midway through the second half.

Sam Morsy played one of his best games for Latics at Championship level. He was controlled in his tackling and creative in his passing. His excellent ball to Moore led to Wigan’s first goal. Significantly it was a ball played along the ground, giving the big centre forward the chance to use his strength to hold the ball and turn.

Wednesday took the lead after 32 minutes when a superb pass from Barry Bannan released Morgan Fox who put in an accurate cross for Jacob Murphy to outjump Antonee Robinson and score. Moore’s equaliser came after 56 minutes and Latics continued to press, being rewarded with Lowe’s goal after 89 minutes. The 6 minutes of time added-on saw Wigan continue to take the initiative rather than drop back and defend. But there was a scare in the last minute when Jordan Rhodes latched on to a ball only to put it straight at David Marshall.

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.

Exiled Tic on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

First of all a bit of praise for Cook,he got the subs exactly right tonight, Gelhardt seemed lost, Dowell obviously injured and Evans sacrificed for an extra forward! First half was forgettable but the last half hour we showed more guts and commitment than Wednesday and the crowd responded to it!!

Morsy a real captain tonight and Moore put a real good shift in! Robinson seemed distracted by the Milan talk, Lowe very poor aside from a well taken goal, Dowell out of position so cannot really judge him just yet! Naismith good again, especially when bringing the ball out of defence, Kipre looking better all the time, The rest all had good and bad moments but we won and just bloody happy about that!!

Th10 on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

Morsy mom for me, he really drove the team on and it was a great pass to Moore for the first goal. Lowe was very poor playing on the left. I thought he looked a different player on the right though. He made some good runs in behind and across the defenders and almost set up a couple of goals before scoring the winner. Hopefully Cook will realise he’s a right winger.

Edwards on the Cockney Latic Forum said:

I thought Morsy was superb seemed to be everywhere, Naismith was quality too.

Lowe seemed to grow 2 ft taller after his goal.

The_Pon on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

Not sure I agree with the poster who said Lowe didn’t know what he was doing… It was a brilliantly taken goal to be fair. Was as much about Garner as Lowe though. Garner should be #1 striker, for absolute sure.

We’ve been playing long balls to Moore all year whenever he’s been on and looked ineffectual doing it. One half trying to play it into his feet and he scores. Good on him. Hopefully may have actually learned something… Though I’ll believe that when I see it happen regularly.

Doesn’t change the fact that he did nothing else of value all game and I stand by the fact he should’ve been subbed off.

Lowey on the Cockney Latic Forum said:

Lowe was absolutely dross for 80 mins then suddenly got involved looked dangerous and scored he winner. How he wasn’t subbed was staggering but cook can stick two fingers up to us all for once. However worth noting first time he’s thrown a second striker on rather than swap like for like and hey presto.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Some thoughts: Nottingham Forest (H) 1-0

Wigan Athletic confounded the media with a well-deserved victory over an over-hyped Forest side. The television commentary had given us a vision of a resurgent Forest, unbeaten in 10 games, heading for a return to the top tier of English football where they surely belonged. But in the end, they had to acknowledge that Latics were worthy victors and that their record at the DW Stadium over the calendar year was impressive.

Paul Cook had surprised us by leaving Josh Windass on the bench, playing Gavin Massey in the number 10 position. It was Massey’s fine link-up play with Jamal Lowe that produced the winning goal after 35 minutes.

Following the game Paul Cook commented: “I thought we were good in the game, I enjoyed watching us play. It’s another very strong home performance, and you’d struggle to name our best player because we had so many good performers. We looked a threat against a very strong Forest side. And at the other end, we defended very, very well. They’re not so much big wins, they’re just wins because every game is so tough.”

Let’s look at some points arising:

Lowe gets his breakthrough

Jamal Lowe’s protracted arrival from Portsmouth in summer was well received by Latics fans. Lowe scored 17 goals for the south coast club in League 1 last season although he played mainly on the right flank. The question was whether he could bridge the transition to Championship football.

Until yesterday Lowe had struggled, looking a shadow of the confident, skilful player he had been at Portsmouth. At Wigan he had largely been employed on the left flank, sometimes in the middle of the advanced midfield three.

But at last Lowe was given the chance to play in his more “natural” position on the right wing. Gavin Massey had been pushed across to a more central role where he had been effective around the end of last season, linking up with the big man up front. The result was that the big centre forward in this game, Kieffer Moore, received more support than he has been accustomed to.

In scoring his goal Lowe had taken a blow to the knee and it clearly affected his mobility. But the goal had given him renewed confidence and he began to show the kinds of skills that had been muted in previous appearances. Lowe left the field after 65 minutes to the applause of the home crowd. He had made his breakthrough.

Williams thrives in Morsy’s absence

Sam Morsy’s absence through suspension gave a fresh opportunity to Lewis Macleod, who had appeared in the opening two games, but not since. Macleod is a fine footballer whose career has been thwarted by constant injury problems. However, he looked fit enough in this game, defending with vigour, showing his ability moving forward. That he went the whole 90 minutes-plus is a testament to how his rehabilitation is succeeding.

Joe Williams is a tenacious tackler who has a range of passing skills. He was Wigan’s outstanding performer in this game. Williams is still only 22 years old and looks an excellent signing for Latics.

Both Williams and Morsy can play the role of midfield destroyer. They had been playing together in holding midfield, providing solid protection for the defence. However, the introduction of Macleod for Morsy gave the centre of midfield a more fluid look. There will be times when Latics will need the steel provided by a Morsy-Williams duo, but the option of including a fluid passer of the ball like Macleod is one that Cook will surely consider.

A more measured long ball approach

The “hoof” has been an ugly and ineffective aspect of Latics play since their return to the Championship. All too often defenders have launched hopeful long balls, usually in the general direction of an outnumbered and isolated central striker, sometimes simply to clear the lines. The net result has typically been to concede the ball to the opposition, inviting them to build up moves from the back and pressurise Wigan’s defence further.

The long ball is not going away as long as Paul Cook is in charge at Wigan. It was frequently applied yesterday, interspersed with spells of keeping the ball on the ground. However, in this game most of the long balls were at least “measured” with Kieffer Moore able to receive and shield the ball on some occasions.

A mixed day for Kieffer

Kieffer Moore came into this game on the back of two fine performances for Wales, for whom he looked a much better player than we had seen playing for Latics. Would the big centre forward be able to get his first goal for Wigan after he had notched his first at international level in Slovakia?

Sadly, it was not to be and, as in so many of his previous Latics appearances, he did not look like scoring. Moore was as committed as ever and posed a physical challenge to the Forest defenders, not so isolated up front with Massey providing support.

Gelhardt’s role

Joe Gelhardt captained England’s under 18 side last week and once again showed what a good player he is on the international stage. He would have been full of confidence coming into this game. Surely, he would be brought on at some stage. But no. He remained on the bench once more.

Cook has continued to laud the 17-year-old’s ability and temperament, insisting that he is up to the rigours of Championship football, but the stats show that Gelhardt’s opportunities have been severely limited. He has been on the field for a total of just 73 minutes of the 12 league games played.

Rumour suggests that Gelhardt will be in the centre of a bidding war between elite Premier League clubs in the January transfer window. The more experience he gets at Championship level the higher his potential transfer fee is likely to rise.

There are critics who suggest that Cook is largely paying lip service to treating Gelhardt as a fully- fledged member of the first team squad and that his main role will continue to be as the “home- grown” player that the EFL insists must be included in every match-day squad. They cite the example of Callum McManaman who last season was on the pitch for a total of 439 minutes, which included just one start. He was on the bench 34 times.

Given the lack of creativity in Latics’ and their lack of goals from open play it has been disappointing to see a player of Gelhardt’s flair left so often on the bench. Should he leave in January Cook will have to look for someone else to fulfil the home-grown requirement.

 

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Some thoughts: Birmingham City (H) 1-0

 

It had “goalless draw” written all over it, but Lee Camp’s error gave Latics the three points they were craving for. There was only an occasional sprinkling of good football for the home crowd to enjoy, but Anthony Pilkington’s first league goal for the club allowed them to go home grateful at least for the win.

Following the dismal defeat at Fulham Paul Cook brought in Josh Windass to play the number 10 role in place of Lee Evans. Gavin Massey replaced Michael Jacobs on the wing.

Apart from picking up three points from an awful game of football there were some signs of improvement. The defence looked more solid and composed than it has for some time, limiting the visitors to few chances.

Following the game, the manager commented: “This win gives us such a different atmosphere around the club. I didn’t ever think we looked like losing to be honest, but I suppose were a bit fortunate with the goal. We just have to keep going. I think that’s the third clean sheet in a row at home. We need points on the board. I don’t care who scores, but it really is a big step up to Championship level. The standard is so high. This was an important win for us, but we must keep challenging.”

Some thoughts:

A dull game but played in good spirit

Footballers and coaches can be cynical. Diving to gain free kicks and penalties, feigning injuries, exaggerated tumbling to the ground, pressurising of referees by mobbing are all so common in the modern game. The Championship division gets its fair share of such behaviours.

However dull this match was it was played in the right spirit, very well officiated by Tim Robinson. What a pleasure to see two teams not resorting to that ugly side of modern football.

A composed and solid defence

Charlie Mulgrew played his best game for Latics yesterday. His positioning was excellent, and he showed all his experience in stifling Birmingham attacks.

Mulgrew links up well with Antonee Robinson to his left and Chey Dunkley to his right. With Nathan Byrne starting to regain his form the defence is looking much more organised and composed. As the men in front of him have been looking more composed so is goalkeeper David Marshall.

The trip to Hillsborough on Saturday poses the next challenge for that back five.

Put Lowe on the right

Jamal Lowe is struggling to bridge the transition between League 1 and the Championship. But his success at Portsmouth was largely down to his performance as a right winger. He looks uncomfortable on the left and out of place as a number 10.

Cook continues to keep faith in both Lowe and Gavin Massey, although neither has hit form up to this point. None of his wingers have been in consistently good form. Michael Jacobs continues to blow hot and cold, sometimes full of spark, but more often on the periphery of play. It is not clear whether Kal Naismith is primarily regarded as a left winger or as a second choice left back until Tom Pearce gets fit. Pilkington is constantly bothered with injury.

Cook and his coaches may believe that Lowe can evolve into an inverted left winger, cutting in to shoot using his right foot. There has been little evidence so far to suggest it is the best way to employ him.

Why not rotate Lowe and Massey on the right wing?

Moore struggles

Kieffer Moore’s signing from Barnsley went down well with most fans, if not all. At last it seemed that Latics would have a big centre forward to get on the end of the countless crosses that have rained into opposition penalty boxes over the past year. But at the time there were fans who not only questioned the money paid for a player unproven in the second tier, but those who feared the standard of football might plummet even further having a big man up front for defenders to launch long balls to.

On the balance of what we have seen so far, the more cautious view has been the case. In fact, some have even gone on the social media and bulletin boards to suggest that Joe Garner be given preference to Moore in the hope that the long balls would dissipate. It can certainly be argued that Garner has not played as much as he might, given his contributions over the past season.

Being a centre forward at Wigan can be a daunting task. In the Premier League days Latics signed Mauro Boselli to play the lone centre forward role, even though he had played as a twin striker for Estudiantes in Argentina. Rather than pair him with Hugo Rodallega up front Roberto Martinez put the latter on the left wing, with Charles N’Zogbia on the right. On paper it looked a move that could work, with all three capable of scoring goals. But Boselli had to play a role that was not his best and received scant service from the two wide men.  Sadly, he is remembered as a striker who could not deliver the goods at Wigan.

Latics fans will be hoping that Moore will have more success than Boselli and lots of other centre forwards at Wigan over recent years. Moore has not looked particularly sharp in the opposition box, but it is going to take some time for him to adjust to the second tier. Moreover, genuine goal chances have been few and far between, with Wigan’s creative players having been somewhat muted by the long-ball approach. When he has been able to retrieve the ball in promising positions, he has so often lacked support from teammates.

It has been a frustrating start of the 2019-20 season for the big striker, as it has for the team in general.

Windass offers something different

Josh Windass does not have universal approval as far as Latics fans are concerned. Nevertheless, he has been missed during his absence through injury.

Windass gives Latics different options. He was lively yesterday, probing from midfield, linking up with Moore. Unlike so many of his teammates Windass is not shy of shooting and his ability to spot gaps in opposition defences makes him dangerous.

Windass is by no means the finished article, but with good coaching and being one of the first names on the team sheet he could become something special.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com