Reactions on the social media to Latics’ defeat at Forest

Nottingham Forest 3 Wigan Athletic 1

 

The goals were scored by well-hit long-range shots. Unfortunately three were in favour of Forest. Josh Windass’ first half equaliser was not enough as once again Wigan caved in the second half. Hoofball prevailed and Latics now have just 5 points from their 15 away games. It is crisis time and relegation is looming.

After the game Paul Cook commented: “…. I’m looking at each and every one of my players and wondering whether they can give me any more – I’m not so sure they can do. They kept going for the full 90 minutes, but the mistakes we’re making are just repetitive ones, the same ones.”

Are Wigan Athletic good enough to stay up? Is their current plight due to a lack of quality and depth in the squad or inept management from Cook? Or is it both?

It is our norm to write a “Five Talking Points” reaction following a match. But that would mean going over things we have written before. In order to get a broader view than our own we trawled the social media and message boards, attempting to achieve some balance, by no means easy as emotions come into play.

Our overview is that Latics have a low wage budget for the Championship division and it does not look like things will change with the new ownership. They will struggle away from home to mid-table teams such as Forest, whose wage bill is at least double that of Wigan’s. However, with good management Latics can punch above their weight as they did for so many years in the Premier League. The FA Cup win was the prime example of that.

Paul Cook is a lucky man to still be in the job. But it is his first season as a Championship manager and his squad needs strengthening. At times the football we have seen has been no better than some of us saw in the pre-1978 era. But at other times, when the tactics are right and the players diligently follow them, Latics can beat top teams in the division, at home at least.

We continue to advocate for Cook staying on but he continues to frustrate in terms of team selection and tactics. Although the manager carries the can for poor results the players too must shoulder some burden. The physical effort is there for all to see there are too few who are willing to stick their necks out and not take the easy option of a pass backwards or a hoof forward. But Cook has marginalised too many players who have talent, stubbornly keeping faith in his chosen ones who are not delivering.

Our thanks go to the Cockney Latic Forum, the Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum, The Boulevard of Broken Dreams on Facebook, and also Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen. Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below.

True Believer on Latics Speyk commented:

I will repeat what I said last week. We are still six points clear of the drop and the teams below us are as incapable of getting a win as we are, I know it is not what we want football wise but the reality is that we are still in the driving seat. I really cannot see Ipswich and Bolton reversing their form and I hope that we can pull off a result against Rotherham to pull us clear. We have just ticked another game off and with just seventeen games left I really don’t see the teams below us winning two games more than us. Survival was the aim for this season and is still in our grasp.

It was still a sh.t result today though.

SH on the Cockney Latic Forum commented:

Our form is indefensible.

It’s a red herring blaming injuries. Our style of play away from home is unrecognisable. Today the back four hit it long at the first opportunity. Not direct play, aimless play.

Windass and Garner started to form some understanding against Villa with nice link-up play. But Cook continues to shake things up and we end up looking like strangers on the field. Windass and Vaughan never once looked to play each other in, they operated like lone strikers, chasing down long-balls, isolated.

Same can be said for midfield, not that they had much to do today, with the ball flying over their heads. Morsy and Evans should always be paired up. Ideally allowing the former to drive upto the edge of the box and help out in attack. On the right Byrne is wasted, outmuscled, and lacks guile. Stick him in his familiar right-back role and push James into midfield. At least when Pilkington and Massey are unavailable.

This long-ball crap away from home has been going on since October. No one can explain why Cook persists with it. Well, some try, but our points return says it all. And for those hanging onto that 6pt gap to the relegation spots. Let’s focus on ourselves and up expectations. I want us as a club to fulfill our potential and not target one place better than the three worst sides in the division. We all know many clubs in this division have greater resources. But 2pts from 39, away from home, shows we are massively underperforming.

C_Latic on Latics Speyk commented:

The Jones experiment was fun while it lasted, Walton back in for QPR please.

Recruitment team can be blamed for that loss, two goals coming from our LB’s defensive unawareness. Of course if they’d signed a LB that could have been prevented.

Oh and I’m certainly not Grigg’s biggest fan but let’s just allow it to sink in that we’re about it sell him in favour of Vaughan and Garner! Both attempting to outdo each other with how big a sitter each can miss.

Fair play to Jacobs, best player on the pitch, James and Windass not bad either, rest are awful. Dunkley awful long ball passes aside was alright as well, unlike Kipre he actually wins his aerial battles.

 Oi on the Cockney Latic Forum said:

Shame on cooky for not sticking to his word at the beginning of the season. These tactics he’s employing at the moment are awful. I fear we will not win another game this season of cook is allowed to carry on with these tactics. Is it just me or is Gibson one of the worst midfielders we have ever had. How can our defenders “pass” the ball out more than our midfielder. I hate to say it as I really do rate Cook, but I think he has lost his mind with this shite football. Maybe time for management change?

Dave Carter on The Boulevard of Broken Dreams commented:

With five days left till the window shuts, it’s looking likely that there will be no significant money spent. It’s also looking likely that any change of manager will come in May, if that’s the case. Large amounts spent in the next few days will probably mean that Cook’s here for a while. None, or very little, that he’s just keeping the seat warm.

Mr Brownbill on the Cockney Latic Forum opined:

Should have been potted 3 weeks ago….but new man would have had to rework what we have cos looks like we have 1 out 0 in policy. Thank god Bolton and Ipswich really look destined to drop …we are on a par with these at present.He is showing zero signs of getting to grips with the mess and with the form at present how can anyone want to suffer this shit any longer is beyond me……get rid.

The Egg on the Cockney Latic Forum said:

If a salesman is given a target of 100 sales in a year and after 60% of the year has made 60 sales will he get sacked? No because despite not hitting target yet he is in line to do so.

Granted if he had only made 10 sales after 60% they probably would.

Cook was given the task to keep us up. We still haven’t been in the bottom 3 yet and until we are I can’t them pulling the trigger. Think it will be the new man with 7 or 8 games to go scenario.

Made in Wigan on Latics Speyk commented:

Did anyone expect anything but a loss at Forest? Didn’t go, but mate who did said we were absolutely useless again against a woeful forest team.

We are now between a rock and a hard place. Personally I thought the time to change manager was at the start of the month. Would be strange timing to do so now when the window is closing. Regardless I think there comes a time when you have to say enough is enough. It’s like Groundhog Day every away game and I’m struggling to see where the next result is coming from. Bar a couple of home victories our form has nose dived. After the Villa game I was hoping it would be a catalyst but understand today’s game was more of the same dross. Couple that with an intent to sell our best striker for relative peanuts, reluctance to sign a specialist left back and general ineptitude in the transfer which shows no signs of abating I am no longer convinced. It seems our hopes of survival are resting on other teams being worse than us and relying on other teams isn’t a good position to be in.

Despite the odd timing to change managers reluctantly I think Cooks position is now virtually untenable. I say reluctantly as I like him and think he is a better manager than what we are currently witnessing despite the shite he has signed. The dilemma is do we stick or twist before the next block of 4 or 5 fixtures in which we have to pick up a decent points haul from? I think the answer is dependent on who we had lined up to replace him.

Chris Stafford on The Boulevard of Broken Dreams added:

Let’s just limp to the end of the season . I have a feeling this is what the board are thinking . Cook will go at end of season I think and they will get there own man in.

King_dezeeuw06 on Latics Speyk said:

Garner, Evans and Roberts dropped Vaughan, Byrne (on wing) and Gibson in?!

Cook said Garner would score goals if we gave him a run of starts – he has improved a bit in reccent weeks and then gets dropped what are we supposed to make of that?

Byrne on the wing again – why? it has failed miserably every time to offer any threat we tried it and have Macca available or even Roberts better than him for midfield. I rate Byrne as a full back but as a winger Walker who wasn’t ripping up trees in L1 deserves a chance ahead of giving Byrne another start there.

Gibson literally can’t run and has been responsible for so many crap goals. He shouldn’t even be on the bench let alone in before MacDonald.

Before a ball was kicked you knew Bryne would offer zero threat and be subbed or moved into defence, Gibson would stand off everyone and come off knackered and Vaughan would get subbed off after posing zero threat. And all 3 happened like clockwork – how can our management not see this and avoid it?

Jones can’t save a shot if it’s outside the box. He is turning into as much of a liability as Walton but in different ways. Need a new keeper asap neither of ours are good enough. Our midfield can’t not realise this but make no attempt to stop the shot.

Our defensive organisation is all over the place and every time they get the ball down and play we look wide open. Our midfield pressing was so poor we back off and give them time and space to pick a pass or shoot – which is suicidal with Jones in goal.

Our set pieces are just pointless we pose zero threat and most of the time don’t even manage to get the ball into the box. What do we do in training all week?

Morsy is the ball carrier in our team that makes us tick but he was pushed up to accomodate Gibson in a 4-1-4-1 and it nullified his main attributes – bonkers decision. He now misses the QPR and Rotherham game through suspension for yellows too. We are f—ed without him in centre mid for those games. We desperately need another def mid to play with Morsy all 3 summer signings – Evans, Connolly and Gibson are varying degrees of not good enough and not even better than Max was.

Vaughan just not good enough every time he gets anywhere near a decent position he miscontrols the ball or falls over. All he does is run around and foul people. I respect his effort but he’s just not got the ability it shouldn’t be a shock since he hasn’t performed at this level in 5 or so years for Huddersfield, Birmingham, Sunderland or us. Could the taller, stronger and faster Cole really offer less? Despite not doing much in L1 I’d still give him a go ahead of Vaughan at this point.

Thought Dunks and Kipre threw themselves in front of everything and they had to as they had minimal protection it prob would’ve been worse if it wasn’t for them. Jacobs and Windass tried to take some responsibility and run with the ball but had no support if they broke and often mucked up the final ball when they rarely got in great positions. Windass shot prob should’ve been saved by their keeper but at least he had a go which hardly anyone else does. He also won us another penalty that Garner mucked up – why take an identical penalty to the one you took 2 weeks ago?! Especially when the last one only just went in and the Forest keeper is 6’7 and more likely to stretch across if you go the same place and put no power on it.

Forest were crap and easily there for the taking, but we were worse. It was too much long ball and no one getting forward. There is just no tempo, no organisation, no urgency or intensity. So poor again – Villa was clearly a fluke rather than a turning point where lessons were learned – we have been gifted enough teams playing poorly enough to get points but every time we get a bad side we manage to play badly enough to still lose to them. When other teams often go behind they pile on pressure and push the other team back when we go behind the other team ends up pushing us back further.

We stuck with Cook when we had the best opportunity to make the change so we probably arent going to change now. But we are just so poor with no signs of improving our flaws or learning from our mistakes. He should’ve gone by now but he’ll get the next 2 must win games no matter what just got to pray we scrape 4th bottom due to our good start giving us enough of a cushion to somehow keep 3 teams below us. But if you’re best hope is not you being good enough but pray others conspire to be worse than us is a sign what you are doing is not good enough. Staying up this season should be easy with the amount of awful teams and we are going to at best scrape it by the skin our our teeth and I don’t think we may even be good enough to do that. We look a beaten team who’s ran out of ideas who are too afraid to attack and just hoping for the outside chance to not lose.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

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Five talking points following a high intensity victory over Aston Villa

Wigan Athletic 3 Aston Villa 0

 

It was as if the clock had been turned back. That negative long-ball approach was no longer evident. In its place was the high intensity football that has underpinned Latics’ best performances this season. They did it at Swansea for half a game, but this time they kept it going in the second half, the high press disrupting Villa’s passing game, threatening their defence.

Paul Cook looked to have taken a gamble by including Anthony Pilkington in the starting lineup, given that the player had not made an appearance for Cardiff’s senior side since April 2018. He also made a bold move in bringing in Jamie Jones in goal.

Both players made a difference in an impressive win over the big spending visitors, but a mix up between Jones and Cedric Kipre after 10 minutes ended up with Tammy Abraham missing a relatively easy chance. If Abraham had scored it could have been a killer blow for a Latics side with such brittle confidence. Fortunately for Wigan he didn’t and in the 41st minute a sublime piece of skill from Pilkington saw him dribble past his full back and pass to Gary Roberts who blasted the ball home. Michael Jacobs came on for Pilkington after 60 minutes and within ten minutes he scored with a spectacular diving header from Lee Evans’ long cross. Joe Garner slotted home a “soft” penalty after Josh Windass had gone down following a challenge from Glenn Whelan.

Following the game Paul Cook made the pertinent comment that: “All of the big moments in the games recently have gone against us but today the key moments went for us.”

Let’s look at some points arising:

Jones and Pilkington make a difference

Cook’s boldness in bringing in Jamie Jones and Anthony Pilkington certainly paid off. Apart from the mix-up with Kipre, Jones looked calm and confident in goal. Although the visitors failed to get a single shot on target Jones commanded the penalty box and his handling was excellent.

Pilkington fitted instantly into the style of play, adding an extra dimension to Wigan’s midfield. He was calm in receiving the ball under pressure, showing good control and change of pace. The trickery he showed in getting past his full back to set up Roberts’ goal was spectacular.

Pilkington looks an excellent signing and his versatility will give Cook more options.

Latics can punch above their weight in the Championship

Wigan’s starting lineup contained two loan players and five signed on free transfers. Their wage bill is one of the lowest in the division.

They were competing against players whose salaries dwarf theirs. Yannick Bolasie’s annual salary is around £3.5 m, Tammy Abraham gets some £2.8 m per year. Jack Grealish did not play in this match, but his annual salary is around £2.6 m. Scott Hogan, Ross McCormack and Micah Richards all earn over £1.5million per year. No Latics player earns as much as any of those three Villa substitutes who were not called upon in this match.

Aston Villa are England’s fifth most successful club as measured by winning the top division. But it is 38 years since they last won the old First Division. Last season they were beaten in the Championship playoff final by Fulham.

In their desperation to get back into the top-flight Villa run the risk of breaking FFP rules. In order to comply they could sell their major asset, Jack Grealish, whose market value is around £30 m. However, the HS2 train line cuts through their training ground at Bodymoor Heath, giving them an option of selling it to a property company owned by one of the billionaire owners Wes Edens and Nassef Sawaris. Such a sale would count as income and help them keep within FFP rules.

Villa are one of so many big city clubs in the Championship division who continue to splash huge sums of money into a race to get back into the Premier League. But Latics matched them in the first game at Villa Park, unluckily losing to a goal in time added on. Moreover, they showed on Saturday that they can punch above their weight with that 3-0 victory.

Dean Smith’s post-match comments

Paul Cook is loath to criticise opposing team managers and their tactics. He stands out like a beacon compared with so many managers in the Championship division.

The Villa manager’s post-match comments did not reflect well upon him. Neither did attempts by some of his players to persuade the referee to give Wigan players red cards. Both Joe Garner and Sam Morsy are surely well known to the referees in the division for being robust. But neither deserved a red card in this game. Wigan fans might recall Sam Morsy’s sending off at Brentford in September while Smith oversaw the Bees.

Lee Evans back in form

Like others around him Lee Evans has had a torrid time in recent weeks. He has been a shadow of the player we saw earlier in the season. But on Saturday we saw him back to his best. Evans was excellent in defence and constructive in attack. He is an important creative force for Latics and leads in assists this season, tying with Nick Powell on four.

Evans’ longer passes are so often trademark diagonal balls. That stunning 40-yard cross for Jacobs’ goal was a gem.

Sticking to a winning formula

There had been a ray of hope in the first half display at Swansea a couple of weeks earlier with Latics eschewing the long-ball, building up more patiently from the back, pressing high up the pitch. But for some reason they were not able to maintain it in the second half at the Liberty Stadium.

That same successful formula returned in this game, the difference being that it lasted 90 minutes rather than 45. Playing that kind of high intensity football has significant physical demands on the players and with games coming in thick and fast it can be difficult to keep up.

But in this winter period there are few midweek games. In fact, in the next 8 weeks there is just one for Latics, that being the home game with Stoke on February 13th.

With a less hectic schedule allowing players more recovery time the timing is right for Cook to employ the high intensity approach on a regular basis. Not only does it nullify attacking options for expensively assembled teams like Aston Villa, but it also provides a spectacle for fans who have had scant entertainment in recent months.

If Cook can stick to this winning formula and the injury situation continues to improve, we will surely see Latics climb back up the table in the coming weeks.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

A critical time for Darren Royle and the IEC ownership

Will Darren Royle back Paul Cook? Photo courtesy of Wigan Athletic FC.

 

Another 3-0 home defeat and the social media and notice boards are laden with the comments of fans concerned that Wigan Athletic could suffer relegation once again unless something changes.  They have won only once in their last 13 league games and are now dangerously close to the drop zone.

 

 

Paul Cook’s post-match interview was a sad thing to witness. Some managers might shy away from a post match media conference after such a heavy defeat, but Cook once again stepped up to the plate. Things just have not been going well for the manager since mid-September.

Injuries have deprived him of his first-choice front four, the team subsequently lacking the cutting edge and creativity that we saw in the early weeks of the season. Michael Jacobs has been out since October 6, Nick Powell has not played since November 28 and in the weeks prior to that did not look to be one hundred percent fit. Will Grigg was unavailable for six weeks in October/November. Gavin Massey came back from a three-month absence on December 22, but suffered a serious recurrence of his hamstring injury on Saturday. Defensive lynchpin Chey Dunkley missed two months before returning to the team for the visit to West Bromwich on Boxing Day.

The takeover by IEC seemed to take for ever until it was eventually announced on November 7th. We hoped that, following the takeover, extended contracts would be finalised for key players whose current ones run out in June. But of those nine players in that situation only Sam Morsy’s case has been resolved.

Nick Powell is the most high-profile of those players:

The injuries and uncertainty surrounding the takeover surely have had an impact on the manager and his staff. Cook is not one to complain, but his situation over the past months has been less than satisfactory. What is happening at the club?

Whether the current situation is solely down to Cook is open to debate. But the standard of football has plummeted, and the manager has frustrated fans by rigidly sticking to certain players, sometimes playing them out of position, whilst snubbing others.  But despite these issues we at this site do not advocate sacking Paul Cook.

In mid-November 2014 Uwe Rosler was sacked with Latics in 22nd place in the Championship at the time with three wins from 17 games. Gary Caldwell suffered a similar fate in late October 2016 with Latics in 23rd place with two wins from 14 games. Their successors, Malky Mackay and Warren Joyce, were unable to stop the rot and relegation was the consequence. Although there are fans calling for Cook to be removed there are many who will cite the lessons of the past, fearing what might happen if that were to unfold.

Chairman Darren Royle is faced with a difficult decision regarding Cook’s position. It is compounded by the fact that the transfer window has reopened. If Royle backs Cook, giving him more time to turn things around, how will it affect player recruitment this coming month? If Cook were to be moved on some weeks from now any new manager would be saddled with his recruits.

Uwe Rosler’s downfall was largely brought about by his recruiting over the summer of 2014. So many of his new recruits just did not perform up to the standard expected. The German had done a wonderful job the previous season, after taking over from Owen Coyle in December 2013. He guided Latics to both the FA Cup semi-final and the Championship play-offs.

There are some parallels between Rosler and Cook. Cook too enjoyed considerable success in his first season, winning League 1 and going on an epic FA Cup run, with that stunning win over Manchester City. But his signings have met with mixed success.  Bringing in players who played under him at Portsmouth has not been particularly well received by fans.

Reports suggest that IEC made funds available to Latics for summer signings. Although the club does not usually disclose transfer fees the summer incomings probably amounted to around £6 m, whereas the fee received for Dan Burn’s transfer to Brighton was around £3 m. Cook spent most on Josh Windass (around £2m), Joe Garner (£1.2 m), Cedric Kipre (£1 m), Leonardo da Silva Lopes (£800,000) with Lee Evans being signed on January 1 (£800,000) after playing on a loan-to-buy agreement.  £6 m may be a small outgoing on transfers for most clubs in the Championship, but it is sizeable by Wigan standards. Critics say that Cook paid above market value for those players, some of whom have not impressed to date. It remains to be seen whether how much further cash will be speculated in January and if the Royles, Darren and Joe, will be the prime drivers in the recruitment process even if Cook stays.

Royle might well decide that he must sack Cook. If so, he will need a replacement to step in promptly before further recruitment is effected. A new manager would not only need to look at bringing in new players, but also at moving on others within the club to make space for the newcomers.

If Cook is given the backing of Royle and IEC we can only hope that he will select lineups with more positive intent, giving his players the chance to show their skills, not resorting to the hoofball that we have seen on too many occasions. It is the manager’s first season in charge of a Championship side and he is finding it tough. With adjustments due to be made to the squad during January he will have different options. In the meantime we have to assume that Cook has been reflecting on what he could have done better over these past months, despite the unavailability of players through injury and the uncertainties involved in a long and drawn-out takeover.

 

Thanks to all whose tweets are included above.

Five talking points following a draw at Bolton

Bolton Wanderers 1 Wigan Athletic 1

The result was not what many Latics fans had hoped for against a Bolton side mired in the relegation zone, low on confidence. But a week ago Latics broke a run of four consecutive defeats with a home draw against Reading. The win against Blackburn in midweek raised our spirits. The draw at Bolton put a halt to a run of seven consecutive defeats away from home.

Paul Cook made two changes in his starting line-up, bringing in Josh Windass and Will Grigg for Nick Powell and James Vaughan. He stuck with the 4-4-1-1 formation.

The referee, Simon Hooper, set the tone in a potentially explosive derby game by handing out two yellow cards in the first three minutes. Bolton were playing the type of football that one has come to expect of them, with an emphasis on long balls and crosses. Lee Evans spooned a good shooting chance wide of the goal in the opening minutes following an accurate cut back from Windass. But Bolton were ahead soon after when, in the 7th minute, a long cross to the far post reached Will Buckley who evaded Reece James and squeezed the ball into the gap that Christian Walton left between himself and the near post. Wigan’s goal came in the 25th minute with a controversial Grigg penalty after had been felled in the area.

Bolton came out in the second half making more of an attempt to play passing football, but their main danger came from crosses. Wigan had opportunities in attack, but their final touch let them down. Bolton had a strong penalty claim turned down in the closing minutes as the ball hit Sam Morsy’s arm.  But in the end a draw was a fair result.

Bolton manager, Phil Parkinson, was far from happy with the referee: “I think everyone in the ground knew that Hobbsy’s challenge wasn’t a penalty, apart from two people. That’s very disappointing. The second one, I thought the rule was that if your arms are in an un-natural position it was a penalty and that’s what happened. You’d just like to think that after the referee knows he’s given a very contentious decision in the first half, that one, which is 60-40, we would have got it. I am disappointed with the referee’s performance again, and I don’t think the supporters will think ‘oh he’s moaning about the refs again’. They all watched the same game and knew he was very poor.”

Paul Cook commented: “I haven’t seen it (Hobbs on Grigg) but their bench wasn’t happy about it. Hindsight in football is a wonderful thing. The first challenge of the game the referee could easily have given a red. They are the debatable points in football. Both teams were committed trying to win the game so I think the referee did a decent enough job.”

On the claim against Morsy he added: “You could have seen why he might have given it. You are thinking I need to see that again.  But I really didn’t see it because I was staring at the floor praying at the time.”

Let’s take as look at some talking points arising:

The keyboard warriors are back

A couple of months ago Paul Cook was the toast of the town, as Latics were heading towards the playoff zone of the Championship. But now some of those fans are already talking about him being sacked. “Football managers are judged on results” is an old adage, but the keyboard warriors are already rearing their heads through the social media and message boards, despite an upturn in results leaving Latics unbeaten over three games for the first time in the Championship since 2014.

The Reading game was disappointing, but to follow it with two local derbies in the space of three days was always going to be a tough test. To come away with four points from those two games was something that one might not have predicted a week ago.

Latics are currently in 15th place after 20 games played. In both 2014-15 and 2016-17 they were second from bottom at the same stage, eventually finishing in the same position at the end of each season.

In both of those relegation seasons Latics had sacked their previously successful managers, Uwe Rosler and Gary Caldwell, after a run of poor results, replacing them with the inept Malky Mackay and Warren Joyce.

It is to be hoped that the new IEG ownership will use better judgement than the Whelan family did in those instances. Cook is building a young team to provide a backbone for the future. At times many of us have been disappointed with overuse of the long ball, but the positives outweigh the negatives and it is the time to support the manager rather than make blanket attacks on him in the social media.

Quality of crossing lets Wigan down

 Latics found it hard to play fluent football, given the physicality of the opposition. But on too many occasions when they managed to get in wide behind the Bolton defence the final cross was way off target. Nathan Byrne was particularly guilty in this respect.

Against Blackburn we saw some high-quality crossing, two gems from Kal Naismith particularly coming to mind. Naismith might not be the epitome of a flying winger, but his crossing from the left is reminiscent of that of Jean Beausejour. But Bolton had certainly done their homework, giving neither Naismith, nor his partner on the left, Gary Roberts, little space in which to deliver crosses.

The stats on the match from the Wigan Athletic site reveal that Bolton put in 26 crosses and Latics 25. But the crossing accuracy stats show 20% for Bolton and a meagre 4% for Latics.

Wildschut or McManaman?

Over the summer the rumours were flying around that Latics were going to sign one of their old favourite wingers. Fans debated the merits of Callum McManaman and Yanic Wildschut.

The eventual loan move of Wildschut to Bolton was a surprise, given the kind of salary he was receiving at Norwich and Bolton’s precarious financial situation. He scored an 89th minute winner for the Trotters at West Bromwich on the opening day of the season, then the winning goal in a 1-0 defeat of Reading a couple of weeks later. But Wildschut has only started in four league games, with 11 appearances off the bench. He came on after 77 minutes yesterday, but apart from one good cross, made little impression.

McManaman also came on as a substitute yesterday after 68 minutes but had little impact. He has made one league start this season, with 12 appearances off the bench, scoring one goal.

The season is nearing its half way point. Will Wildschut and McManaman be able to claim regular places in the starting line-ups before the season ends?

Do controversial refereeing decisions even themselves out over the course of the season?

Cook’s comment that Joe Williams could have had a red card in the second minute brings to mind the Blackburn encounter when James Vaughan’s tackle on Jack Rodwell early in the game left the player in distress. Vaughan went on to have his best game for Latics. If he had received a red card for his dubious challenge, would Latics have won the game? In the same vein, would a struggling Bolton team have survived if Williams had been given his marching orders?

Such incidents would seem to fall in line with the theory that controversial refereeing decisions even themselves out in the course of the season. However, those of us who watched Latics in their Premier League years might dispute that. The number of “dodgy” decisions that went against Wigan, especially against the elite clubs, surely outweighed those that went the other way. Indeed, it became a common phrase among fans that

Latics were going to play the 12 men when visiting Old Trafford.

The Championship is a different kettle of fish. A loss for the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool makes the headlines in the Premier League, but in the Championship, it is rarely a surprise for a team near the bottom to beat a team at the top. Moreover, with 46 games to play, compared with 38 in the first tier, the Championship is physically more demanding over the course of a season.

So many games in the Championship are finely poised and it can take just one adverse refereeing decision to tip the balance. But the division itself is by no means homogeneous, with the larger clubs, with bigger fan bases, tending to occupy the higher positions. Aston Villa and Leeds average over 30,000, Brentford and Rotherham less than 10,000. The effect of a large, partisan crowd on refereeing decisions cannot be discounted.

Apart from yesterday’s game, the “margins” have not been favourable for Latics away from home. Those little bits of “luck” have rarely gone their way. But with two penalties in their favour in the last two games is the tide turning?

More changes coming in January?

Alan Nixon has once again been busy with Latics news on Twitter. Given the impending departure of Dan Burn in January and the lack of cover for Antonee Robinson at left back, much of what Nixon is saying makes sense. But is Cook really looking for another striker when he already has Will Grigg, Joe Garner, James Vaughan and Josh Windass? Is one or more of them likely to be leaving?

Given the lack of information from the club about extending players’ contracts today’s tweet about Sam Morsy makes interesting reading:

But on the other side of the coin:


Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

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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.