A Portsmouth fan’s view of Noel Hunt

Wigan Athletic today announced the signing of 34-year-old striker Noel Hunt on a one year contract. The 5 ft 8 in tall Irishman was a free agent who spent last season at Portsmouth.

Following the announcement of Hunt’s signing Paul Cook said: “Noel is a top pro whose experience, commitment and quality has already started rubbing off on the squad. He’s a player who trains as he plays, at 100% level, and he will make a significant contribution on and off the field.”

Noel Hunt was born in Waterford and joined Dublin club Shamrock Rovers as an 18-year-old. He was soon to be loaned out to Waterford United where he went on to score 5 goals in 9 appearances. Hunt went on to make 25 appearances for Rovers, scoring 11 goals.

Hunt signed for Dunfermline Athletic in January 2003 for £100,000. He spent three years there, injuries limiting him to making 80 appearances, scoring 8 goals, before moving to Dundee United for £50,000. He went on to make 64 appearances, scoring 23 goals in two years. In July 2008 Hunt was transferred to Reading for £600,000. He went on to spend five years there, making 145 appearances, scoring 33 goals.

Hunt left Reading as a free agent in July 2013 after they had been relegated from the Premier League to re-join Brian McDermott who had taken over at Leeds United. In November 2014, he joined Ipswich Town on a short-term loan. Hunt’s time at Leeds had been blighted by injuries and he made 22 appearances, without scoring a goal, before terminating his contract by mutual agreement in January 2015. He then went back to Ipswich but was released at the end of the season, after scoring 2 goals in 7 appearances. He went on to play for Southend in 2015-16, making 21 appearances, scoring 4 goals. Last season, on a one-year contract at Portsmouth, he scored 1 goal in 20 appearances.

In order to learn more about Hunt’s time at Portsmouth we contacted Jim Bonner  (@FrattonFaithful) of the Fratton Faithful fan site.

Here’s over to Jim:

Noel Hunt will be a positive influence off the pitch. His experience will be valuable to some of the younger players and he was popular amongst Pompey fans last season for his attitude and willingness to talk to fans. I suspect he has signed with a view to be having some coaching role when he retires in the next year or two.

However, in terms of on the pitch contribution he only scored once for us (a tap in against the nine men of Mansfield) and barely saw any playing time in League Two, so he is likely to have even less of an impact on a team pushing for promotion in League One, although his willingness to run around despite his age does give him some nuisance value up front. 

If he has signed to be a replacement for Omar Bogle, Wigan fans are going to be very disappointed. Hunt was a player all Pompey fans expected to leave this summer regardless of who the manager was.

 

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Another centre forward for Latics?

Eion Doyle

“PNE striker bound for Wigan?” 

So said a Lancashire Evening Post headline on Saturday.

The article went on to explain that Paul Cook was initially aiming to take Eion Doyle from Preston North End to Portsmouth, but that the centre forward’s  new destination  “might now be” Wigan.

Sometimes newspaper headlines can be pure speculation, but this one seemed to be well within the realms of possibility, if by no means confirmed. The 29 year old was on loan at Portsmouth in the second half of last season and previously played under Cook’s management at both Sligo and Chesterfield. But Paul Cook is known to favour the lone centre forward system and Wigan Athletic already have five of them on their books. Do they really need another?

But managers do sometimes like to bring in players who have been with them in the past.  Indeed Warren Joyce signed three in January – Gabriel Obertan, Ryan Tunnicliffe and James Weir – who were with him at Manchester United. Long will Latics fans remember the hapless Jason Scotland who had scored 53 goals in two years at Swansea under Roberto Martinez, but could muster only 2 in 36 appearances after the Catalan took him to Wigan. The Premier League had proved to be too big a step up for the Trinidadian.

But Doyle is a different matter. He was an important player for Cook at Chesterfield, scoring 38 goals for him in 64 starts and 20 appearances off the bench.  Indeed 21 of those goals had been scored at League 1 level in little more than half a season before he was transferred to Cardiff City at the beginning of February 2015. Admittedly Doyle’s goalscoring record since leaving Chesterfield has been less impressive, but it would be a surprise if Cook is not considering an offer for the player.

But Latics already have central strikers who could make a major impact on League 1 next season. If Doyle were to be brought in which ones would depart?

Will Grigg has scored in excess of 20 goals per season three times before in the third tier. His critics will say that he could not make the step up to the Championship last season, his last league goal being scored in September 2016. However, his supporters will say that the player had made a good start and looked comfortable at that level, only to be left on the bench or played out of position by his managers. But Grigg has just one year of his contract remaining and the likelihood is that Latics will invite offers over the summer, looking to recoup the £1m they paid Brentford for him a couple of years ago.

Omar Bogle we hoped would be the key figure in all of Joyce’s January signings. Full of confidence from his goalscoring exploits at Grimsby, he started off well, but he was to find Championship defenders a different kettle of fish to those in League 2. Injury also played its part in the player not making the impact that was hoped. However, although Bogle as a player is still a rough diamond in need of polishing, he has the physique and technique to be a top player. He is capable of making a major impact on League 1 if he can overcome his fitness issues.

Nick Powell‘s appearances near the end of last season showed his huge talent. Although he prefers to play in midfield, he can be devastating at centre forward. It could be argued that Latics would never have been relegated if Powell had been fit all season, giving his quality. But that was not a likely scenario, given his injury woes over recent years. If fit, Powell could take League 1 by storm, but therein lies the question. Would the club want to continue to pay a high-end salary to a player whose fitness is so uncertain? Powell put himself in the shop window with his displays over those closing weeks. There will surely be another club willing to take a gamble on a player of such quality.

Mikael Mandron was signed from Eastleigh Town in January. He had scored goals in the first half of the National League season and was known to Joyce’s assistant, Andy Welsh, through his time at Sunderland. He made just one start and two substitute appearances early on, but did not feature again after mid-March. Only 22 years old, Mandron could well be sent off on loan to gain further experience.

Billy Mckay remains a Latics player, although things never worked out for him at Wigan or on his loan at Oldham. But Mckay has a record of success in Scotland. He returned to his old club, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, on loan in January. It would not be a surprise to see Mckay complete his contract at Wigan with a further loan spell in Scotland. A return to the Latics squad would be a surprise, but by no means impossible.

The “PNE striker bound for Wigan?”  headline might have been speculative to some degree, but Doyle’s arrival might well come to fruition.

 

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A Portsmouth fan’s view of Paul Cook

 

 Paul Cook – the right man for the job

As expected, the announcement came yesterday of the appointment of Paul Cook as manager of Wigan Athletic. He joins the list of ex-Latics players who have managed the club in recent years along with Gary Caldwell, Paul Jewell and Roberto Martinez, together with Graham Barrow in short term stints.

Cook’s  impressive track record as a manager is reflected in his stats:

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Following Cook’s appointment, chairman David Sharpe commented on the club’s official site that:

“Paul was the man that I felt was best to take this club forwards after looking at the jobs he has done at Chesterfield and Portsmouth in the last four seasons.He has won two promotions, has never been outside of the top six, has a 50% win ratio and also plays the brand of football that I think is the best for this football club. Moving forwards, I’ll be delighted to see Paul’s work in progress and I have a good feeling about it.”

Adding that:

“The man I met, in terms of his character and how lively and energetic he is, makes me believe he will be a lift for the whole place and I think we need that sort of character.He’s very bubbly, will have the boys playing with a smile on their faces and I am looking forward to what he will bring it.”

The social media and message boards have been awash with comments from Pompey fans regarding Cook’s departure with one year still remaining on his contract. The Portsmouth FC official site stated that:

“Paul Cook has stepped down as Pompey boss to take up the vacant managerial position at Wigan Athletic. A financial compensation agreement was reached with Wigan over the weekend, resulting in permission being granted for the Latics to speak to Paul. Assistant manager Leam Richardson has also left Fratton Park. Cook arrived at Pompey in May 2015 and led the club to the League Two play-offs in his first season in charge. There was even more success at the end of last term, with the Blues earning automatic promotion and securing the title on a dramatic final day. Portsmouth Football Club would like to thank Cook and Richardson for their service to the club. “

The likelihood is therefore that Richardson will be joining Cook at Wigan as his assistant.

The 37 year old Richardson, born in Leeds, began his playing career at Blackburn Rovers as a right back. He signed for Bolton Wanderers in July 2000 for a fee of £50,000. Loan spells followed at Notts County and Blackpool before the Tangerines signed him on a permanent contract. Richardson went on to make 71 appearances for Blackpool before joining Accrington Stanley in August 2005. He was to stay there for 8 years making 133 appearances. He took over as caretaker manager in January 2012 until Paul Cook took over a month later. When Cook left Accrington in October 2012, Richardson took over as manager. However, he was to join Chesterfield in May 2013 as Cook’s assistant manager, subsequently moving on to Portsmouth with him.

In order to get an overview of Paul Cook’s time at Portsmouth we contacted Jim Bonner  (@FrattonFaithful) of the Fratton Faithful fan site.

Here’s over to Jim:

There can be no disputing that Paul Cook is a good manager. After all, he won Portsmouth the League Two title by sticking to his principles and winning games in the right manner. However, it should be remembered that he delivered this league title when Pompey were favourites to win the division on goal difference from Plymouth and including an inexplicable collapse by Doncaster who lost all four of their final matches when they required just one.

Cook will have your team playing attractive, possession football and his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation means that the back four are well protected whilst the attacking midfield trio are free to attack and create chances for the lone striker. He is also an excellent motivator as rarely did Pompey lose more than a single consecutive game under his management and any bad performance was usually followed by a good one.

 His record in the transfer market was mixed. He has the eye for a quality player as proved in his first season with the Blues as he virtually rebuilt a poor squad and moulded it into a good one with signings like Christian Burgess, Enda Stevens and Gareth Evans proving to be shrewd. However, his second season saw him sign many players who either couldn’t get into the team or had their stays abruptly ended by either having their contracts terminated or being shipped out on loan. Milan Lalkovic must be secretly delighted that Cook has gone.

The negatives of Cook’s management is that whilst Plan A can work extremely well, he doesn’t have a Plan B. His stubborn attitude meant he would rarely stray from his 4-2-3-1 formation and when he did, the results and performances were worse! He also struggles to work out how to break down teams that will “park the bus” and play for a draw on home turf. Thus, you should prepare yourselves for grating post-match interview soundbytes such as “All credit to Shrewsbury, they’re an excellent team and had a gameplan which stopped us scoring. We go again next week.”

Whilst he may be good enough to get a squad of Wigan’s quality back up to the Championship, there is a feeling amongst people that he isn’t tactically smart enough or indeed professional enough to succeed at a higher level.

Cook also seems to struggle under pressure as he felt the heat with 16,000 expectant Pompey fans constantly scrutinising him as he occasionally lashed out at the media whilst having indirect digs at them. The crowds at the DW Stadium may be half the size of what he was used to at Fratton Park, but the expectation will be exactly he same and he may well feel the heat if the Latics fans aren’t happy with performances next season.

In a nutshell, it should speak volumes that the reaction of Pompey fans is anger at the manner he left rather than any kind of sorrow that the event even took place. He’s a good manager but there are arguably even better bosses that Portsmouth can attract to replace him with Kenny Jackett rumoured to take his place.

 

 

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Paul Cook – the right man for the job

Football took a nose dive at Wigan Athletic last season. What we saw in its place was a kind of “fightball” with players allowed to hoof the ball upfield, the end result being players ultimately unable to pass the ball with any consistent degree of accuracy. The end result was another seemingly inevitable relegation.

It had happened before, in the 2014-15 season, when William Kvist’s long throw-ins into the penalty box had become Malky Mackay’s principal attacking ploy. Who could have guessed that Warren Joyce and Mackay would create such a blot on the landscape of football when they were first appointed?

Owen Coyle’s long ball tactics and lack of tactical expertise had been no surprise to those of us who had seen his teams play prior to his arrival at Wigan. The surprise was more that Dave Whelan had appointed a manager whose style of football was diametrically opposed to that of his predecessor.  The end result in Coyle’s case was a team that should have been challenging for promotion instead languishing in the bottom half of the table. In the cases of Mackay and Joyce the rot was to prove terminal.

Watching Paul Cook’s Chesterfield in the League 1 playoffs a couple of years ago immediately had me reflecting on his days at Wigan. Cook was the kind of player who probably would not have got a place in the teams of managers such as Mackay and Joyce. Harry McNally brought him in as an 18 year old from modest Marine, a club from Crosby who had been regular adversaries for Latics in their days in the Lancashire Combination. But despite his humble footballing origins Cook was a class act, an intelligent footballer with excellent control and a superb left foot. He was a member of Bryan Hamilton’s exciting Latics side of 1985-86, who were desperately unlucky not to be promoted to the second tier, a late run from Derby County pipping them by a single point. Cook continued to be an important player under Ray Mathias, who like Hamilton, encouraged his teams to play good football. But it was no surprise when he was snapped up by Norwich City in 1988, the next step in a career that was to see him go on to amass 642 Football League appearances, scoring 56 goals in the process.

Cook was a cultured player and he expects his teams to play in a similar fashion. He started his managerial career in the lower leagues, spending some six years at Southport, Sligo Rovers and Accrington Stanley before joining Chesterfield in October 2012. His first season saw the Spireites come within two points of the League 2 playoffs, but they were to win the division the following year. They went on to firmly establish themselves in League 1 in 2014-15, reaching 6th place, losing out to Preston North End in the playoffs.

In May 2015 Cook was appointed manager of Portsmouth. Pompey had fallen from the Premier League to 16th place in League 2 within a period of just five years. In 2015-16 Cook lifted them to sixth place and the playoffs, narrowly going down to Plymouth Argyle in the playoffs. They went on to win the division last season under his guidance.

Paul Cook has an impressive 44% win ratio as a manager. Moreover he has done that by insisting that his teams play a version of football akin to that which led Wigan Athletic to the most successful results in their history. Roberto Martinez had led Latics to wins over giants – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United – plus an FA Cup Final victory over Manchester City, by playing possession-based football.

As a young player at Wigan Cook was not universally appreciated by the home crowd. There were those who urged him to “get stuck in” and release the ball quicker. Fortunately in Hamilton and Mathias he had managers who appreciated his style of play and who wanted their teams to play good football.  If there was one thing that Cook lacked it was pace. It meant that he was not to play at the highest levels of English football, despite his technical expertise.

It looks like Paul Cook will be signed up as Wigan Athletic’s manager in the next 24 hours.  Once again he will not be popular with all of the fans. Those who prefer a more direct style of play will be left frustrated. It will signal a reversion to the kind of football most recently employed at Wigan by Gary Caldwell, prematurely dismissed in October. The cynics had said that Caldwell could not get promotion out of League 1 playing possession-based football. They were proven wrong as his team went on to win the division.

On Cook’s seemingly impending arrival at Wigan, his ex-boss Mathias remarked to Wigan Today that:

“He has proved he can do it. I know his upbringing and how he’s lived his life. He can be very strong for Wigan and he can be a strong talker when he has to be.”

 Paul Cook is an experienced manager with an excellent track record in the EPL’s lower divisions. He is the right qualities for the job at Wigan Athletic in this moment of time.

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A Leeds United fan’s view of Jason Pearce

 

Photo courtesy of football365.com

Photo courtesy of football365.com

For some time now the Wigan Athletic defence has looked in need of a leader with physical presence, someone who can outmuscle those big strikers that so many Championship clubs have.

Malky Mackay obviously recognized that by initially bringing in the combative Liam Ridgewell on loan, but now he has acquired another rugged central defender, this one on a permanent contract.

The 27 year old Jason Pearce started his career as an apprentice at Portsmouth in 2004. Over his three years at Pompey he did not make a first team appearance but had loan spells at Bognor Regis and Woking. As a 20 year old he joined Bournemouth, where he was to make 162 appearances in four years. In his third season he had helped the Cherries get promotion to League 1, being named captain midway through the season. The following season Bournemouth reached the playoffs, when Pearce was sent off in a match they eventually lost on penalties to Huddersfield. Despite his expulsion in that crucial game, Pearce was named Player of the Year for that 2009-10 season.

Strangely enough Pearce was resigned by Portsmouth in June 2011. He made 43 appearances that season, taking over as captain in March and gaining the Player of the Year award. However, due to their dire financial position Portsmouth had to sell him and he joined Leeds United in May 2012. He made 41 appearances for Leeds in the Championship the following season, then 49 in 2013-14.

In order to find out more about Pearce’s time at Leeds we reached out to a couple of fan sites. We were happy to receive submissions from both Kevin of Leeds United Mad @LeedsUnited_MAD) and Adam of the Marching on Together site forum (@motforum).

Thanks to Kevin and his site for the post below:

Jason Pearce was former United manager Neil Warnock’s first long-term signing in May 2012 when he joined the club from Portsmouth. He was highly-rated at the time and it was considered a coup that he joined the Whites.

Pearce, who started his career at Fratton Park as a trainee before moving along the coast to Bournemouth, was named Portsmouth’s Player of the Year in 2011/12 and won seven of the nine supporters’ awards.

The player had gained his reputation at Bournemouth, where he spent four years, skippering the side, before returning to Pompey at the start of the 2011/12 season in a £500,000 deal.

Initially his tough-tackling no-nonsense nature was a big hit with the Elland Road support but lately his indecision at times was a frustration, even though he was made skipper at the start of the season.

Therefore, when Liam Cooper and the erratic Giuseppe Bellusci forged a partnership when Pearce was suspended, it was generally thought it was better for the United defence. The signing of Sol Bamba seemed to be a suggestion that Pearce was no longer required and a move away seemed to be the logical conclusion for a player with a year left on his contract.

In short, capable when on form and marking a bog-standard centre forward but weaknesses appear when he is up against a more skilful opponent.

Thanks to Adam and his site for this fan’s view:

Signed in 2012 from Portsmouth Pearce was at the heart of Neil Warnock’s squad rebuilding. You cannot question Jason Pearce’s commitment, there can’t be many harder working players out there prepared to but their body on the line for the cause. He will fling himself in front of any ball, foot, man, post to deny a goal with little regard for himself. He will play on bloody and bruised with his head bandaged up. As captain of both Portsmouth and Leeds he was prepared to take responsibility, go get players going, he is a leader.

For all his commitment and strength he is a limited player though. Leeds major deficiency over the past few seasons had been our defence and Pearce has been at the heart of that. His positioning has a lot to be desired and he has a habit of panicking under pressure and slicing the ball straight to an opposition player. For all the points he saved us by heroically throwing himself in front of the ball he probably cost us just as many with his mishaps.

Pearce has slipped down the order at Leeds following the signings of Giuseppe Bellusci and Liam Cooper and with Sol Bamba coming in on load this week his opportunities for the latter part of the season would have been limited. Leeds fans love Pearce for his commitment but I can’t say many will miss him for his footballing ability. Mind you we said the same about Tom Lees and he’s gone on to be one of Sheffield Wednesday’s best players this season since we sold him to them back in August.