Stoke 2 Latics 1: Time for a Change

My wife has so often reminded me how much Wigan Athletic results affect my moods. She would tell me how grumpy and depressed I could get when they lose. I cannot argue with her: she is right.

But I grew up in a family in the south of Wigan surrounded by a morass of rugby. My father was a beacon of light for me being one of the few Latics supporters in the area, not afraid to stand up against the rugby hordes of the time and let them know of his love for Latics. He was there for Latics’ first ever game against Port Vale Reserves as a 12 year old in 1932. He passed on his devotion to the football club not just to me but to my son, Ned, who has never lived in the town but simply adores Wigan Athletic.

My son and I started up this site when Latics were in the Premier League. For a couple of years our articles were posted on the site of ESPN, the world’s largest sports media company. There were ups and downs over those years, but we were incredibly proud of our club punching above their weight. Writing for the site was a pleasure.

The years since leaving the Premier League have been topsy-turvy. Awful managerial appointments were made and relegation ensued twice. The names of Owen Coyle, Malky Mackay and Warren Joyce became synonymous with a fightball/long ball approach. The seeds that Roberto Martinez put into place in the Premier League days were firmly embedded until poor ownership decisions brought in managers whose style of play was light years apart from the Spaniard’s football. In comparison Martinez’ legacy at his previous club, Swansea, remains in place. Possession football is not everyone’s cup of tea but for me it is infinitely preferable to the dross we have so often witnessed over the past 15 months.

I watched today’s game with my American son-in-law who quickly pointed out that Latics constantly hoofed the ball forward, only to concede possession. Was that a valid tactic he asked? Giving away possession so easily was surely going to put increasing pressure on their defence as the match proceeded. Even with a one goal lead at half time I told him not to expect Latics to hold it. I told him it has become habitual for Latics to hoof the ball even more in the second half and that a winning goal for the home team would most likely come when the Wigan defence was tired in added time.

I take no pleasure in my predictions becoming reality.  I have become so numbed by the dross I have seen so often since our return to the second tier. I am not grumpy after this performance. It is beyond that.

The football offered by Paul Cook and his coaches belongs to the Stone Age in comparison with that of the likes of Swansea and Brentford. The emphasis is on sweat and toil, rather than on developing footballers’ skills. When Cook was appointed we were supportive as we believed that his teams played good football. But what we have seen is no better than that of Coyle, Mackay or Joyce.

Darren Royle’s problem is exacerbated by the fact that the previous chairman gave an extended contract to a manager with no prior experience in the Championship.

Nevertheless it is time for a change.

Some talking points about Wigan Athletic staying in the Championship

Things were looking grim. A frustratingly predictable defeat at Hull, giving Latics an away record of LLWLLLLLLLDLLDLLLDLLLDL, with games against table-toppers Norwich and Leeds United coming up.

Even at the start of the season some of the more hardened Latics fans were saying that last game against Millwall could be crucial. They could well be right.

Spirits were low in midweek, but the gloom was lifted to some degree by a 1-1 draw with Norwich, even if Rotherham scored a late equaliser at Stoke.

Can Latics stay up? What will it depend on?

Over the past months the cushion provided through a good start to the season, coupled with poor results for teams in the relegation zone, seemed to be enough. But, despite having a solid home record, Wigan’s away performances have put them in severe danger of relegation.

There are now four games left. Latics travel to Leeds and Birmingham and have Preston and Millwall at home.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Let’s take a look at some talking points.

The display against Norwich gives hope

When Paul Cook named his starting line-up to face the division leaders eyebrows were raised. Bringing back Leon Clarke and Kal Naismith hardly seemed like inspired choices, let alone leaving Nick Powell on the bench and playing Lee Evans in the number 10 position.

In the event, the manager’s choices were vindicated, all three putting in excellent performances. Latics were unlucky not to beat the Canaries with a display reminiscent of those fighting performances in the days of “Believe”.

Cook commented after the game: “In the game, we have gone against a very good Norwich side who are excellent at what they do. We’ve took the game to them, we’ve pressed them at the top end of the pitch, I thought we were unlucky not to see the game out and win but we respect the opposition, that’s for sure. While there’s a touch of disappointment around the club and when you’re playing the teams that we do, we’re happy with it. Today we picked a team that was designed to do one thing and one job, which was to press teams high up and have the energy to keep doing it and I thought the lads who I drafted in to do that, implemented it absolutely excellently.”

Wigan’s pressing was key to the display on Saturday. It prevented Norwich getting into a rhythm which could have caused serious problems for the home team’s defence. Cook had his plan and the players supported him in its delivery, something that they have not always been able to do consistently this season.

In need of the Rub of the Green

Cook has so often talked about the fine margins in football. In the era when VAR is not employed in the EFL there will be contentious refereeing decisions that go unchecked. Had VAR been employed would the results at the DW and Bet365 Stadiums have stayed the same on Saturday?

Norwich fans will say Latics were fortunate with the penalty, but the offside decision to annul Clarke’s late “goal” was tight to say the least.

The bottom line is that football is unpredictable. So much can depend on getting “the rub of the green” from refereeing decisions. As in every football season we have seen a considerable number of controversial ones. The theory is that the ones for and against average out over the course of the season, but is there any scientific basis to suggest that it is the case?

Cook gets better

The manager has hardly won the plaudits from the fans for his team selections, substitutions and tactics over the course of a difficult season. But he has impressed recently. His 3-4-2-1 innovation brought a point at promotion-challenging Bristol City and his tactics at Hull were working until they were undone by individual errors.

Cook deserves commendation for his set-up against Norwich. It took courage on his part to choose the starting eleven that did such a fine job.

Cook’s supporters will say he is a manager who has been on a steep learning curve in his first season in the second tier of English football. His detractors will say that he should have been dismissed some months ago and that he is lucky to still have his job.

Cook’s past successes have so often been with clubs with modest budgets punching above their weight. Should Latics suffer relegation and severely-reduce their budget he would as good a bet as any to get them back up. Last time they were relegated to League 1 they had a budget around four times the average in the division, taking a financial hit over the course of the season. Under the IEC it is unlikely they would have such funding.

Should Latics suffer relegation it would not be easy to get out of League 1. Money talks.

In the meantime, we have some hope that Cook has learned from experience and can guide Wigan through this difficult period. Latics’ budget this season places them in the lower levels of the Championship, so it is not a surprise that they face relegation issues.

Should Wigan Athletic avoid relegation would we look back in future years and give Paul Cook due credit? The short-term goal is consolidation, with the club improving its marketing, increasing revenues, investing in facilities to bring its Academy up to Category 2 status. For the moment any final league placing above the bottom three should be regarded as successful consolidation in the Championship division.

But whether Latics are in the Championship or League 1 next season will we see youngsters at the club given opportunities at senior level? Callum Lang is the most likely to be given a chance and will most likely be a regular in the match day squad. The EFL rule that clubs must name at least one homegrown player, a role that was largely taken on by Callum McManaman this season. We can only hope that Lang will be treated better than McManaman was.

 

 

Getting the right balance in an unforgiving league

It’s an unforgiving league” is a phrase that Paul Cook has frequently used over the course of the 2018-19 EFL Championship season. It is one which Wigan Athletic fans will hope he will not be using after this week’s encounters with neighbours, Blackburn and Bolton.

Compared with League 1 the Championship is more unforgiving. Mistakes are more likely to be punished playing against teams with higher quality players and managers who are more tactically aware.

Last season Latics had a wage budget in excess of £12 m compared with a League 1 average closer to £3 m. Rival team managers would have been so often justified if they had called last season’s Wigan team “unforgiving”.  Put simply, Latics had higher quality players on higher salaries than any other team in the division bar Blackburn Rovers. Even when not playing particularly well they had a solid defence and the kinds of players in midfield and up front who could produce something special when things were not going so well.

The boot this season has been on the other foot. Wigan’s wage budget is modest for a division in which the clubs with the lower budgets typically occupy the lower parts of the table. That Latics are competing with clubs with similarly modest budgets like Bolton, Ipswich, Millwall and Rotherham to avoid relegation comes as no surprise.

But clubs can punch above their weight as Latics proved in the most emphatic way during their time in the Premier League. Despite a modest budget by Premier League standards they stayed in the division for eight years, reaching the League Cup Final and winning the FA Cup. During those eight years they recorded victories over those giant elite clubs that dominate that division.

Wigan Athletic were punching above their weight in the early stages of the current season. Although rather suspect in defence they were playing a brand of “no fear” attacking football, built upon the momentum of winning the League 1 title. Cook had continued to use the 4-2-3-1 formation that had brought success in League 1.

However, Gavin Massey’s injury at QPR at the end of August was a blow to Cook’s style of play. Moreover an injury to Michael Jacobs meant that both first choice wingers were unavailable for the next game at home to Rotherham.  Callum Connolly was drafted in on the right for Massey and Josh Windass for Jacobs. It was a dour game with Rotherham “parking the bus”. Both Nick Powell and Will Grigg were taken off after 60 minutes and a skillful passing approach gave way to a speculative long-ball scenario.

Jacobs returned in place of Connolly for the next game, a 1-0 win over Rotherham and played a part in victories over Hull and Bristol City. But an injury sustained in a 4-0 defeat at Preston in early October saw him out of action until mid-January.

In the absence of specialist wingers Massey and Jacobs for periods of months Cook could have been expected to use the speed and trickery of Callum McManaman, but his initial preference was to play such as Windass and Connolly out of position. He later employed the 34 year old Gary Roberts in wide positions. McManaman continued to be snubbed. The result was a lack of pace and cutting edge from the flanks. The manager’s problems were further exacerbated by the absence of the midfield playmaker Nick Powell through injury from the end of November to the middle of February. In the absence of Jacobs, Massey and Powell the quality of football plummeted, especially in away games with the “hoof” being far too prominent.

Cook now has the trio back at his disposal, but must be careful not to overuse them and risk injury. On Saturday at Reading the quality of football once again plummeted when Massey and Powell left the field, Wigan unable to retain possession, conceding late goals.  With Anthony Pilkington not on the bench Cook brought on Kal Naismith to replace Massey. Leon Clarke replaced Powell.

Cook’s substitutions on Saturday were ill-thought and allowed Reading back into the game. Rather than allow Reading to come forward and have speedy players ready to launch counterattacks he chose to put on a big centre forward and play a version of 4-4-2. The more obvious replacement for Powell was Josh Windass who has been used in the number 10 role before and has pace. Naismith was the obvious substitute for Massey, but rather than play him in his natural role on the left and switching Jacobs across the right the manager chose to play the Scot in a position where he looked out of his depth.

Cook will surely name the trio of Jacobs, Massey and Powell in his starting lineup at Blackburn tomorrow, providing they are fit. However, one can only hope that he can make better contingency plans for substitutions as they tire. Putting Clarke and Garner up front late in the game might be a valid tactic if Latics are behind, but it is not the way to protect a one goal lead. If Latics do get ahead against Blackburn he should either stick to a successful formula – usually 4-2-3-1 – and avoid that 4-4-2 long ball approach like the plague. An alternative on Saturday would have been to bring Cedric Kipre off the bench to play in a back three, with Nathan Byrne and Antonee Robinson moving to wing back roles. It could have provided extra defensive cover whilst bolstering the midfield.

That trio of Jacobs, Massey and Powell are crucial for Wigan’s survival in the Championship. An injury to either one would be a hammer-blow. Cook will have to be careful of not pushing them too hard given their recoveries from injury. That means that he will need to be proactive, rather than reactive, in keeping the team balanced if one or more of them is not on the pitch. Above all that hoofball approach that cedes possession to the opposition needs to be avoided.

We can only hope that the manager has learned from the mistakes he has made this season and will open his kind to more insightful approaches. Might he even consider McManaman as a possible stand-in for Jacobs or Massey?

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

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