Five talking points following an away win at Birmingham

Birmingham City 2 Wigan Athletic 3

Wigan Athletic’s first away win since April was another nail-biting affair, but this time they held out to gain an invaluable three points to lift themselves off the bottom of the table. The celebrations of the players at the end showed how important the win was for them.

Paul Cook made just one change in the starting lineup with Michael Jacobs coming in for Gavin Massey. That meant Josh Windass continuing at centre forward with Joe Williams in the number 10 position.

The irony is that Latics won the game without playing as well in recent matches, but still showed enough pace and movement to trouble a suspect Birmingham defence. Once again they let in soft goals, but the home side can also be accused of the same, with all three Wigan goals coming from defensive errors. For once Latics capitalized on their opponents’ errors.

Windass proves his worth

Cook kept faith in the enigmatic Josh Windass, who went on the score the first goal and have a hand in the other two. Playing without a big man up front means puts an onus on defenders and midfielders to be more creative. Windass has genuine pace that allows him to pounce on well-hit long passes. It is so refreshing following the mindless long-ball approach that characterized Wigan’s away performances for so long.

He had his best performance for the club today.

Naismith provides composure in defence

Kal Naismith has been excellent in the centre of defence in the past six matches. He provides the composure that has been so lacking for so long. Given his limited experience playing in the position we could have expected him to have made some major gaffes, but that has not been the case. Naismith has an ability to read the game, not to panic and to make the right tackle at the right moment. His distribution of the ball from defence has been outstanding.

Sadly Naismith had to go off at half time with what has been reported as a thigh injury. When he left the composure dissipated.

It is no coincidence that Cedric Kipre has looked much more comfortable since teaming up with the Scot in the centre of defence. When the combative Chey Dunkley came on after the interval Kipre was moved across to the left to accommodate him.

Nathan Byrne has a tough one

It has not been an easy season so far for Nathan Byrne. He had a torrid time this afternoon against the speedy French winger Jeremie Bela, then later with the likewise pacey Ecuadorian Jefferson Montero.

The 20-year-old Chelsea loanee Dujon Sterling has competed with Byrne for the right back position, making 9 appearances compared with 19 for the latter. Sterling did not make the bench today.

Full back is not an easy role in Cook’s style of play. Full backs are not only expected to perform their full defensive duties but to bomb forward in attack. Byrne certainly put a lot of effort into his runs forward but at times looked exposed when Birmingham attacked.

Latics have enough quality to climb out of the relegation zone

Latics have shown repeatedly that there are few teams in the division for them to fear. Most of their defeats have been of their own making, in squandering chances or giving away goals through defensive errors. Nottingham Forest are now fourth in the table and Wigan made them look distinctly ordinary three days ago, even if the final scoreline did not do them justice.

Despite the rare away win the manager still remains unpopular with a majority of fans. Many still believe they will get relegated if Cook stays. However, at this stage it looks like he will be here at least until the end of the season.

However, although the manager continues to frustrate fans with his loyalty to certain senior pros as far as team selection is concerned, together with his use of substitutions, there have been improvements. The standard of football we have seen in recent away games has been light years ahead of the mindless stuff we saw for so long.

There is some light at the end of the tunnel, but it is not going to be an easy ride.

A trip to Leicester

Few of us have any expectations for the trip to face Leicester City this weekend. The likelihood is that Latics will receive a tonking. But on the other hand Leicester can be expected to put out a weakened lineup and Cook’s Latics have a surprisingly good record against Premier League teams in the FA Cup.

The bottom line is that Wigan will go into the game with nothing to lose, except maybe a little pride.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Latics fans react on Social Media to a defeat at Forest

Nottingham Forest 1 Wigan Athletic 0

 

Latics’ forwards low on synergy

It was a spirited performance from Latics who made Nottingham Forest look distinctly ordinary. It could be said that Wigan deserved to win after dominating the match. But in reality, it was a familiar tale: a woeful lack of finishing and slack defending leading to a headed goal from a corner. Somehow it looked like Latics would not score, no matter how many chances they had.

Paul Cook has done well in changing the approach from hoofball to real football. But although the tactics are so much better his team selections remain poor. Seeing the team list beforehand we saw once again that Gavin Massey would be deployed on the left wing, where he has previously been ineffective.  Cook persisted with Jamal Lowe who was surely due for some time on the bench after so many ineffectual performances. Rather than play Josh Windass in his best position at number 10 he played him at centre forward. He also decided to employ his three key defensive midfielders, but rather than play them side by side he pushed Joe Williams forward to the number 10 position.

Once again, we saw either square pegs in round holes or players on the field who were not in the best of form. The end result was an energetic performance, interspersed with good football, but with no cutting edge. The attacking players continue to lack not only form, but synergy. The whole was much less than the sum of its parts.

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.

Studs88 on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

Doesn’t even have the good grace to mention Gelhardt’s performance. I’m sorry Paul, you’ve done a lot of good for this club. But by not walking away a few months ago you’re ruining any remaining goodwill.

It feels like you’re staying on for a big payday. Not making the best decision for the club.

BigRoy on the Cockney Latic Forum said:

Superb again. Can’t score. Gelhardt very good when he came on. Guess you haven’t seen game. So obvious we have no striker. Forest fans saying best team they’ve seen this season. Team playing for Manager and this run of us playing so well and losing can’t carry on forever.

Donny’sPage on the Cockney Latic Forum said:

Playing well… Part of the playing well is scoring goals or at least putting shots on target which could help if we started with a striker on the field or bring him on before the eighty odd minute mark.

He added:

Cook must have thought Gary Roberts was going to be a game changer. That says enough with Joffy and Big Joe warming the bench. What an absolutely idiotic substitution.

FrancosLoveChild on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

Reality is, no win in 13, 1 win away for well over a year. A change was needed months ago, and today demonstrated that no matter how well we play we still lose. It is a results business and Cook is not getting them. He is a very fortunate person to even still be at the club. Anywhere else he would have been sacked months ago at the latest.

As for the match, nothing needs to be said, Massey, Lowe, Roberts, and Windass got taught a football lesson by a 17-year-old player who when he came on did more than all of them combined all game. Our attacking players are nowhere near championship quality. Their goal was again from a corner. Meanwhile the corners we took lead to absolutely nothing.

The defence was good, the midfield did their jobs, but as soon as the ball went into the final third, nothing at all, I mean all our good plays actually came from Byrne and Robinson. Massey, Lowe was horrendous, may as well played with nine men.

As for Windass, as soon as he stepped up, it was missed, I have no idea why he takes the penalties. 4 misses in a row now?

I will say the players only have themselves to blame today. I expect Gelhardt to start every game from now on as we need results and he is our only good attacking player. But Cook has had a generous amount of time now, it’s not going to improve, he needs to be ridden before the new year. Royles show some spine and do the right thing by the club. It is when you play well and lose which is the big worry.

Naismith, Gelhardt and Robinson had good games today.

HuddWiganFan on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

 For the first time in my Tics supporting life, I honestly don’t even care anymore. Not bothered in the slightest – same old, same old.

This will continue to happen – week in, week out – until we are relegated/a managerial change is made. End of story.

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

 

Five talking points following a rousing win over Cardiff

Wigan Athletic 3 Cardiff City 2

A rousing second half performance, capped by three well taken goals saw Wigan Athletic take the three points against a combative Cardiff City side. It was a well-deserved win against a team loaded with players who had played in the Premier League last season.

Paul Cook stuck with his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, largely keeping faith with players who kept the club in the Championship division last season. David Marshall in goal and Lewis Macleod in central midfield for the unavailable Sam Morsy were the new faces in the starting line-up.

Latics started brightly, despite their play being disrupted by the visitors’ physical approach and their ability to counterattack at speed. Wigan looked so much better when they played the ball on the ground, their high crosses being gobbled up by Cardiff’s big central defenders, the 6ft 6in tall Aden Flint and the 6ft 4in Sean Morrison. Although both teams had threatened it was the visitors who scored first, after 20 minutes, Marshall fumbling the ball with midfielder Joe Ralls hitting it home amid a chaotic Wigan defence. Ralls had been lucky not to receive a red card after an awful challenge on Lee Evans. Cardiff went into the interval one goal ahead having conceded 11 fouls to Wigan’s 4, with 3 yellow cards compared with none for the home team.

Wigan came out in the second half with spirit and intensity, building up with skill, challenging Cardiff’s giant defenders on the ground where they were less comfortable. Josh Windass had already been a thorn in the visitors’ side and soon after the interval he outpaced Morrison who nudged him to concede a penalty. It was a surprise to see Windass step up to take the spot-kick, Joe Garner being the normal penalty taker. Unfortunately, Windass could not convert it, the ball striking the post. But in the 59th minute the same player’s deflected free kick fell into the path of Michael Jacobs who slotted it home. Four minutes later Windass gave Wigan the lead, beating Morrison, before finishing with aplomb.

Cardiff continued to pose a threat and Wigan’s defence was exposed when Omar Bogle scored an equaliser after 70 minutes. But within five minutes Wigan were ahead again after Evans had cut in from the left and unleashed a superb right foot curler into the top right-hand corner of the Cardiff goal. Cook then brought on Cedric Kipre for Macleod, changing to a back three. It took brave defence to hold off waves of Cardiff pressure in the closing minutes.

Paul Cook had been awarded a yellow card in the first half, protesting Cardiff’s over-robust approach. He felt that Ralls “shouldn’t be on the pitch. My initial reaction was it wasn’t a hard decision to give a red. We spoke at half-time not to let anyone, including myself, lose their discipline.”

Let’s take a look at some points arising:

Windass in the number 10 role

Nick Powell’s departure for Stoke was a blow for Cook. The burning question has been who he would place in that key number 10 role behind the central striker. Reports have linked Latics to Preston’s creative midfielder Daniel Johnson, who played under the manager at Chesterfield. It was Josh Windass who was chosen to play in that role yesterday.

Windass has played the role before, with limited success. But in this game, he really stepped up to the plate, his mobility and pace causing all kinds of problems for the opposition defence. Windass cannot match Powell in terms of creativity and passing ability: he is a different type of player with different attributes.

Windass can be a frustrating player, seemingly losing concentration at times, misplacing passes, not being aware of those around him. But at his best he can be a real asset, his directness unsettling the opposition.

Macleod could be a key player

Lewis Macleod is a talented midfield player whose career has been dogged by injury. He played for 75 minutes yesterday before making way to Cedric Kipre. Macleod is gradually adjusting to Cook’s style of play, which is quite different than what he was used to at Brentford.

Should he manage to steer clear of injury he could be a key player this season.

Evans back to his best

Lee Evans had a disappointing time last season but has all the attributes to become a top-class midfielder at Championship level. He has good positional sense, is strong in the tackle and has a good technique. He had a fine game in a holding midfield role yesterday, capping it off with a superb goal that was to prove to be the match winner.

During the course of last season Reece James took over Evans’ regular duties of taking free kicks and corners. Yesterday Josh Windass took most of the set pieces. However, Evans is very capable in that area and in crossing the ball into space in open play.

One wonders if Evans lacks the self-belief that he should really have given his footballing abilities. He is such a capable player.

The challenge for Paul Cook is in how to get the best out of the Welshman.

Using a back three

Cook’s continues to prefer a 4-2-3-1 system that has served him so well in the past. He pushes his full backs forward, relying on holding midfielders dropping back to support an exposed defence. At times yesterday the centre of defence looked vulnerable with Cardiff breaking out with pace. Had they taken more of the chances they created they might well have come away with the three points.

Given the way that Cardiff play the manager might well have considered using three centre backs in his starting line-up. Instead he waited until the final quarter. It was certainly the right thing to do to counter the visitors’ aerial threat.

Cook deserves credit for his willingness to try other formations. However, so often when Latics have changed to a back three to close down a game they have dropped too deep in defence, giving the ball back to the opposition so cheaply. Keeping the ball is key to defending under pressure but Latics tend to launch long balls far too freely when a counterattack is on with the opposition pushed so far forward. It is something that the manager and his coaches need to work on with their players.

Looking for a big target man

Joe Garner is 5 ft 10 in tall. Given the height of the central defenders he had to compete with he did remarkably well to challenge for high balls. Garner is a capable centre forward to gives his all for the team, but he plays at his best when the ball is played to his feet.

Following failed attempts to sign big target men in Sam Gallagher and Jordan Hugill it is no surprise to hear that Cook is now trying to sign the 6ft 5in Kieffer Moore from Barnsley. Moore does not have a lot of experience at Championship level but has a better scoring rate than Gallagher or Hugill.

Signing a big centre forward who poses a big aerial threat would add an extra option for Cook. But Latics have enough creativity in midfield not to rely on the long ball which we saw too much of last season.

Let’s hope that the arrival of a tall centre forward is employed to give Latics extra options, rather than a signal to by-pass a capable midfield with long balls.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

 

 

A blend of pace, youth and experience

Watching Wigan Athletic over the years there have been so many memorable moments. David Unsworth’s penalty at Bramall Lane, Hugo Rodallega’s header at Stoke, Amr Zaki’s blockbuster at Liverpool; not forgetting Ben Watson’s fateful finish at Wembley. We all have our favourites: those that will stick in our minds for years to come.

Most of the ones I remember are associated with key moments in big games for Latics: those that influenced promotion or relegation, winning the FA Cup. I do not recall many from pre-season friendlies.

The encounter on Saturday had the look of a pre-season drubbing. Two goals down after just 11 minutes to a Burnley side that looked like they could go on and win by an emphatic margin. But Latics came back, thanks to moments of inspiration from a couple of young players.

Josh Windass is still only 25 and has not yet reached his peak. Some 20 minutes after Burnley had scored their second Windass produced a touch of class, superbly eluding his marker on the by-line to cut the ball back for Anthony Pilkington to score. Minutes later he shot from just inside the Burnley half, almost catching the goalkeeper out of position.  Windass has showed moments of genuine class before but has not been able to add consistency to his game, tending to drift in and out of things.

Joe Gelhardt is 17. He plays with the air of someone who is not afraid to express himself on the football field. He has a great left foot, pace and vision. Burnley are a big, physical team with robust defenders, but Gelhardt was not intimidated. His goal from Antonee Robinson’s cutback was scored with aplomb.

It is no surprise to hear that other Championship clubs are interested in acquiring a player of Windass’ potential.  He still has time to iron out the flaws in his game and become a coveted player. He has a pace and directness that can trouble opposing defences.

Paul Cook has already intimated that Gelhardt and his fellow 17-year-old Jason Weir could have a role to play in the senior side this season. Were this to become the case it would be a revelation after so many young homegrown players have been denied opportunities in the past by cautious managers fearful of throwing them in at the deep end. So often they have featured in pre-season but have had to take a back seat to young loan players from big clubs who have been brought in.

So many have been sent off on loan to clubs in lower divisions, including non-league. Few have come back and been able to establish themselves as senior squad members. Callum Lang is back at Wigan after two seasons at Morecambe and Oldham. He is still only 20 and has 72 appearances under his belt in the EFL, notching 23 goals. Will Lang be given the chance to prove he can deliver in the Championship, as he did in League 2?

Performances in pre-season games can so often be poor predictors for what is going to follow over the course of the season, when new players will come in and some will leave. But draws with Everton and Burnley will no doubt boost confidence within the camp.

There been much talk in the social media and message boards about Wigan Athletic’s inability to sign players to bolster their squad. Bids of £3-4m were made for centre forwards from Premier League clubs, Sam Gallagher and Jordan Hugill. Neither bid succeeded, but it could be seen as a statement from Darren Royle and IEC that they are willing to seriously invest in the transfer market. Gallagher and Hugill have mediocre career strike records so we can assume that Cook is, above all, looking for a target man, with the weight of goalscoring placed primarily on midfielders.

That Nixon mentions possible interest in Nmecha is therefore no surprise. The big German scored 4 goals in 38 appearances for Preston last season, either at centre forward or on the wing.

But Cook already has five players in his squad who were used as wide players last season: Michael Jacobs, Gavin Massey, Kal Naismith, Anthony Pilkington and Gary Roberts. Interest in Nmecha would most likely be as a target man. But why is the manager offering some £2.6m to bring in Jamal Lowe from Portsmouth, who is a right winger? Is someone on their way out? Or is the manager intending to use some of them in other positions, such as #10?

Up to this point Latics have signed three players: David Marshall (goalkeeper), Antonee Robinson (left back) and Lewis Macleod (centre midfield). Lowe and Joe Williams appear to be available at the right price, although there will be competition from other clubs. Reports suggest that Latics continue to be interested in signing the 19-year-old Chelsea right back Dujon Sterling on loan. Leonardo da Silva Lopes was the starter in that position on Saturday, after being used as a winger against Everton.

Recruitment for most Championship clubs will surely go down to the wire, as it has in previous years. As things currently stand Latics have the experience from the likes of Danny Fox, David Marshall and Gary Roberts to counterbalance the youth of such as Joe Gelhardt and Jensen Weir. With Michael Jacobs, Gavin Massey, Leo Da Silva Lopes, Josh Windass they have pace further forward.

But we can expect more movement over the coming nine days. That will most likely include players leaving to raise funds to offset the transfer fees to be paid out. How long will those moments of inspiration from Gelhardt and Windass stick in the memory? Football clubs are places of constant turnover and who knows what will happen next?