12th Man – The future’s bright, the future’s Latics

Champions 2018

League One Champions 2017/18. Photograph courtesy of Wigan Athletic

What a season, what a club! It’s hard to find enough superlatives to sum up Latics’ brilliant season. Nearly everything about it has been so special. Right from the close season everything has been perfection.

When Chairman David Sharpe was looking for a new manager he could so easily have made a wrong choice with plenty of other options available but after doing his research and interviewing Paul Cook he got the best man for the job.

Cook and his coaching team almost immediately re-invigorated the club. The manager may have inherited some good players but he also had to root out the poor performers and bring in some bargain free transfers.

Latics rarely have a good start and it was the first time they’d won their first three games since Paul Jewell’s team conquered the Second Division in 2002/03. Cook’s banter and plain speaking endeared him to the fans and the players responded with improved performances on the pitch.

Latics moved to the top of the League One table at the end of November with a convincing victory at Rotherham United and they would probably have stayed there all season if it wasn’t for the extra games in the FA Cup. But what a glorious FA Cup campaign it was.

Latics may have struggled to overcome AFC Fylde and Crawley Town in the early rounds but they went on to take the scalps of three Premier League clubs AFC Bournemouth, West Ham United and to top it all Premier League champions Manchester City.

Given the current discrepancy in resources and the level of the two teams at the time of the game, it is surely the greatest FA Cup shock of all time. The result will have given hope to other smaller clubs that they can defy the odds and achieve something amazing. It was a night of superlatives and those who experienced it will never forget it for the rest of their lives.

Latics narrowly lost out to Southampton in the quarter-finals and they could then resume their pursuit of the League One title with games in-hand. Blackburn Rovers manager Tony Mowbray thought it would be too much for Latics but Cook and his players had the belief and determination that they would do it.

Rovers and Shrewsbury Town pushed Latics to an incredible 98-point title winning campaign, breaking club records with the most goals scored, most clean sheets, best goal difference and the record number of away wins in a season.

It was a gloriously sunny day in Doncaster as Latics were crowned champions of League One. The atmosphere and celebrations at the Keepmoat stadium were something to behold and must rank as one of the best ever away days. It was the culmination of a fantastic season and with news that Cook had signed a new four-year contract the feel good vibe continued.

Cook was an in demand manager after such a successful season, but after being rewarded with a contract until 2022, he has shown his long-term commitment to the club. The positivity and togetherness generated by Cook has been infectious and with him in charge the future looks very bright.

The protracted sale of Latics moved a step closer this week when the Whelan family agreed to sell their major stake in the club and is now dependent upon approval by the EFL and Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Although the International Entertainment Corporation are something of an unknown quantity, it appears there might be a role for David Sharpe and the cash injection should help Latics to make a big impact in the Championship next season.

This article was first published in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 11th May 2018.

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Posted in David Sharpe, Doncaster Rovers, International Entertainment Corporation, League One, Paul Cook, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

We are the Champions – Doncaster Rovers 0 Wigan Athletic 1

Champions18

League One title winners

On a gloriously sunny day Wigan Athletic were crowned champions of League One after a comfortable 1-0 victory at Doncaster Rovers.

Latics only needed a point at the Keepmoat Stadium and it never looked like they would fall at the final hurdle as Doncaster failed to register a single shot on target.

Will Grigg’s superbly taken goal on 75 minutes ensured that they claimed the title by two points with a +18 goal difference over second placed Blackburn.

Latics finished off a club record-breaking campaign with the most goals scored, most clean sheets and the record number of away wins in a season.

Paul Cook made two changes to the starting line-up from the draw with AFC Wimbledon with Gavin Massey and Nick Powell replacing Gary Roberts and Ryan Colclough.

Neither team got going in the early stages of the game but it was Latics who showed first when Massey and Michael Jacobs combined but Jacobs’ final shot was saved by the feet of Rovers’ keeper Marko Marosi.

Samy Morsy then fired from the edge of the area but his low shot was straight at Marosi.

Latics were looking the most likely to break the deadlock and just before the interval Grigg turned well in the box but the striker couldn’t beat Marosi from close range.

It was more of the same in the second half as Latics went in search of the goal which would surely secure the title.

Grigg went close on two occasions, first getting on the end of Massey’s flick from the back post and then cleverly heading Jacobs’ in-swinging cross with the back of his head but Marosi once again saved Doncaster.

But Grigg was not to be denied and the prolific striker scored his 26th goal of the season on 75 minutes to send Latics’ fans into raptures.

Nick Powell’s superb through ball found Grigg one-on-one with Marosi and the striker finished with ease before jumping into the crowd and celebrating with the fans.

Doncaster continued to offer little threat going forward and Latics saw out the remaining minutes controlling possession and easing their way to the title.

Latics’ players and fans celebrated at the final whistle as they collected the League One Trophy for the second time in three seasons.

 

Posted in Blackburn Rovers, Doncaster Rovers, League One, Wigan Athletic, Will Grigg | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

12th Man – A point to prove

Latics Team pic

The best team in the division

More than 4,000 Latics fans will be invading Doncaster tomorrow for what should be a massive celebration. The 5.30pm kick off means that it will be a party atmosphere before and after the game, as Latics require only one point to secure the League One title against mid-table Doncaster Rovers.

They lead second placed Blackburn Rovers by two points having scored 88 goals and only conceded 29, which is an 18-goal advantage.

It’s been a record-breaking season for Latics as they have broken the club record for goals scored in a season, number of clean sheets and potentially the most away wins in a season if they win on Saturday.

Add to that the amazing FA Cup run beating three Premier League teams, including Champions Manchester City and it just goes to show what an incredible season it’s been.

Most independent observers would accept that Latics are the best team in the division. But any dissenters will have to be silent if Latics prove a point at the Keepmoat Stadium.

Latics and Rovers along with third place Shrewsbury have been in a race for the automatic promotion places all season but Latics have pulled ahead in recent weeks.

Both Latics and Rovers have received recognition by having four players in the PFA League One Team of the Year. Latics have defenders Dan Burn and Nathan Byrne, plus midfielder Nick Powell and striker Will Grigg in the side. Rovers’ quartet is defenders Charlie Mulgrew and Amari’i Bell, midfielder Bradley Dack and striker Danny Graham.

The debate about whether Nick Powell or Bradley Dack is the better player has raged all season and is a hard one to resolve when Powell has been injury hit and has had fewer minutes than Dack on the pitch.

Some of Rovers’ fans don’t seem to accept that Latics are likely to win the title and may not be magnanimous about finishing second.

Paul Cook has already commented that Rovers got ahead of themselves with their comments that they would win the league when they were leading the table but Latics had games in hand.

The rivalry between Cook’s team and Tony Mowbray’s has been an intense one and the title race can perhaps be summarized by the fixture at Ewood Park when Rovers were leading 2-0 at half time and were already congratulating themselves on winning the title but Latics stunned Rovers with two second half goals and were the dominant team at the end.

If Latics secure the League One title it will be Paul Cook’s second successive title – a year after he won League Two with Portsmouth – and his third promotion in four seasons.

Not only has Cook’s team produced results, but also the style of football has been exhilarating and the way that the team constantly pushes forward has provided great viewing for the fans.

The likeable Scouser has done a remarkable job transforming the club from relegation no hopers to likely Champions and the future looks bright with him in charge.

Nothing is certain in football but it would only be fitting if Latics crown a magnificent season with the League One title.

This article was first published in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 4th May 2018.

Posted in Blackburn Rovers, Doncaster Rovers, League One, Paul Cook, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Latics edge closer to the title – Wigan Athletic 1 AFC Wimbledon 1

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Paul Cook must be offered a new contract as soon as possible

Champions elect Wigan Athletic fought out a 1-1 draw with AFC Wimbledon at the DW Stadium but both teams had reason to be satisfied with the result.

Second place Blackburn had been defeated at Charlton so Latics only require a point at Doncaster next week to secure the League One title and the Wombles look to have a secured their League One status.

The visitors made it difficult for Latics in the early stages and went ahead after some sloppy defending from the hosts.

Lyle Taylor picked up a poor pass from Nathan Byrne who fed Joe Pigott to finish past Christian Walton. The Dons might have added a second soon afterwards but the Brighton loanee keeper pulled off a superb save to deny Dean Parrett.

Latics struggled to get going in the first half but the second half was a different matter as the hosts dominated proceedings.

Michael Jacobs deflected effort drew Latics level after 69 minutes and they should have taken the lead after creating a series of good goal scoring opportunities.

Latics top scorer Grigg and winger Colclough were both denied by point blank saves from keeper George Long as the Dons held out for a valuable point.

There’s all to play for going into the final games but few people would bet against Latics securing the title and the Dons playing League One football next season.

Paul Cook made two changes from the team that drew 1-1 at Bristol Rovers on Tuesday night, with Ryan Colclough and Will Grigg replacing Gavin Massey and James Vaughan.

The match commenced with high expectations from Latics’ fans at the prospect of clinching the title on the last home game of the season. But the visitors had their own pressing demands of staving off relegation to contend with.

It was the Wombles who started the better as the hosts struggled to get into their usual stride.

The visitors went ahead on 24 minutes when Latics needlessly gave the ball away in midfield and Lyle Taylor fed Joe Pigott to finish comfortably past Christian Walton.

They might have increased their lead moments later when Parrett broke free and unleashed a powerful drive from the edge of the area but Walton produced an acrobatic save to tip the ball over the crossbar.

Latics started to create some opportunities at the end of the first half but it had been an out of sorts performance up to the interval.

They started to click into gear at the beginning of the second half, with Grigg soon going close when he got in front of his marker but he couldn’t keep his shot down.

Cook made a double substitution on 60 minutes introducing Vaughan and Nick Powell for Roberts and Max Power.

Powell was soon at the centre of the action and he evaded a couple of challenges before forcing a good save from Long at his near post.

Latics were now controlling possession and forcing the Dons on the defensive.

The breakthrough came with just over 20 minutes remaining when Jacobs fired home from inside the box via a slight deflection.

It was all Latics now as they pressed for the winner and Long made two superb saves to keep the scores level. First he denied Colclough’s volley from six yards out and then he acrobatically tipped over Grigg’s goal bound effort from close range.

Colclough might have won it for Latics at the death but his strike from inside the area only found the side netting.

Latics had not been at their best on the day but the Dons had battled well for an important point in their relegation battle.

The fans disappointment in the final result was eased by the news that Blackburn had lost at Charlton which means Latics will only require a point at Doncaster to clinch the title.

Whatever happens next Saturday it’s been a very impressive season for the Latics and they will be well pleased with their appointment of former player Paul Cook as manager in the close season. Cook has transformed the club from Championship no hopers to likely League One Champions with relative ease.

Cook may have inherited some good players but he also had to root out the poor performers and bring in some bargain free transfers.

Team spirit and Cook’s strong connection with the players and fans has also been a major part of the success story.

Latics have the basis of a decent squad for the Championship but they will certainly need to add key personnel if they are to seriously compete at the higher level.

Much could depend on the takeover of the club by a Far East consortium which has been agreed in principle for several months.

Latics must not repeat the mistakes of Cook’s former club Portsmouth, with several clubs reportedly interested in Cook’s services, they must act quickly and tie him down to a new contract as soon as possible.

Posted in AFC Wimbledon, Joe Piggott, League One, Michael Jacobs, Paul Cook, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

12th Man – Burn gets my player vote

FA Cup Fifth Round - Wigan Athletic vs Manchester City

Dan Burn celebrates with the fans after defeating Manchester City

It’s been a great team effort this season. Many players have made significant contributions to the cause: Christian Walton, Chey Dunkley, Michael Jacobs, and Max Power have been impressive but five players have really stood out for me.

My top five players of the season in reverse order are:

5. Will Grigg – Hampered by injury in the close season the prolific striker didn’t get a full pre-season and struggled to hit early form. However, when he regained his sharpness he proved that he is the most reliable marksman in League One.

The Northern Ireland international has scored an incredible 67 goals in his last five seasons. He is currently on 25 for this season and who would bet against him breaking the 30 mark before the end of this season?

He has now achieved a remarkable quadruple by making it four promotions in the last five seasons to the Championship. He was promoted with Brentford in 2014, MK Dons in 2015, Latics in 2016 and now in 2018.

His magnificent finish to knock Manchester City out of the FA Cup will go down as one of the most iconic goals in recent FA Cup history.

4. Nick Powell – The talented midfielder is Latics most creative player and most of their best moves revolve around this fragile genius. Powell has it all, left foot, right foot, tackling, shooting and heading, just a complete footballer.

15 goals so far this season but it would surely have been many more if he hadn’t been plagued by injury. Currently valued at around £10m, Powell showed his commitment to the Latics cause by turning down a very lucratic move to Brighton in the transfer window.

3. Nathan Byrne – Questions were asked about the full-back at the start of the season but the former Spurs youth player has shown great improvement under Paul Cook and has been an almost ever present in the team.

Byrne has a tremendous engine with great pace, he gets forward and contributes to many of Latics’ best attacks but he has also been a resolute and reliable defender. Recently selected as the only Latics player in the EFL Football Manager Team of the Season, which just shows what a great impression he has made.

2. Samy Morsy – The club captain and what a consistent performer he has been throughout the campaign. The tough-tackling midfielder has led by example and made an outstanding contribution to a fantastic season.

He has not only protected the defence but has been the instigator of Latics set-up play from midfield. The Eqyptian international will be hoping to break into the World Cup team but Latics’ fans will be a little fearful that he doesn’t do too well, or he could attract serious interest from Premier League clubs in the close season.

1. Dan Burn – The towering rock at the centre of the defence he has been Latics’ most consistent performer this season. The winner of the Player of the Season in the Championship he would be my choice for the award this time around as well.

Burn has been an almost ever present making so many important defensive blocks, tackles and headers and contributing six goals to the cause. With his central defensive partner Chey Dunkley he has played a major role in Latics’ amazing defensive record.

The team has only conceded a miserly 28, which is the best in the Football League and only Manchester City and Manchester United in the Premier League have conceded fewer goals. This superb defensive record has been the foundation of what should prove to be a title-winning season.

This article was first published in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 27th April 2018.

Posted in Dan Burn, League One, Nathan Byrne, Nick Powell, Sam Morsy, Wigan Athletic, Will Grigg | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Late equaliser keeps Latics on track for the title – Bristol Rovers 1 Wigan Athletic 1

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Latics on the attack

Wigan Athletic maintained the advantage in the League One title race with a late equaliser at Bristol Rovers.

In wet and windy conditions at the Memorial Ground the visitors struggled to get their usual passing game going and went behind on 28 minutes when Liam Sercombe’s low 25-yard drive seemed to deceive keeper Christian Walton.

The Gas created the best opportunities in the first-half with Ellis Harrison firing wide early on and Kyle Bennett curling a right-footed shot against the post.

Walton made a superb double save on 43 minutes from Sercombe and Byron Moore to prevent Latics falling further behind.

With the match seemingly slipping away from Latics manager Paul Cook made a triple substitution introducing forwards Will Grigg, Devante Cole and Ryan Colclough and it was Colclough who rescued what could prove to be a vital point on 80 minutes.

The winger cut inside and unleashed a low drive which beat the despairing dive of Rovers keeper Sam Slocombe at his near post.

Cole had earlier been adjudged to have what looked like good goal ruled out for offside, but Rovers might have won it at the death when Lee Brown hit a post and Latics held on for what could prove to be an important point.

Blackburn secured automatic promotion on the night with a 1-0 win at Doncaster but remain one point behind Latics and with a significantly inferior goal difference with two games remaining.

Cook made two changes to the team which had so convincingly won at Fleetwood with Michael Jacobs and James Vaughan replacing Grigg and Colclough.

Latics made a tentative opening with none of their usual slick passing in evidence.

Rovers might have taken an early lead when Ellis Harrison had a one-on-one with Walton but fired just wide of the target.

The signs were ominous for Latics and the hosts went in front on 28 minutes after some unconvincing defending. Bennett’s pass to Harrison was deflected off Nathan Byrne and into the path of Sercombe whose low drive seemed to deceive Walton.

Latics were now under the cosh, Bennett curled a shot against the post and just before the interval Walton produced a superb double save to deny Rovers.

Rovers pressure continued to mount at the start of the second-half. Dan Burn had to make a crucial interception to deny Sercombe and then Moore fired wide of Walton’s near post.

Cook needed to shake things up if Latics were to get anything from the game and he duly made three changes. Colclough and Grigg were introduced on 67 minutes and Devante Cole came on ten minutes later.

Cole had what looked to be a good goal ruled out for offside after Colclough’s initial shot was saved by Slocombe, as Latics upped their game.

With ten minutes remaining Colclough cut inside and unleashed a dipping drive from 25-yards which beat Slocombe at his near post, much to the relief of Latics’ travelling fans.

In stoppage time Rovers hit the post with a Brown free-kick but Latics held on for what could prove to be an invaluable point in the title race.

If Latics can win their final two games at home to AFC Wimbledon and away at Doncaster they will be promoted as Champions with 100 points.

Posted in Bristol Rovers, League One, Liam Sercombe, Ryan Colclough, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Fantastic day in Fleetwood as Latics are promoted – Fleetwood Town 0 Wigan Athletic 4

fantastic day at Fleetwood

Fantastic day in Fleetwood

Wigan Athletic thrashed Fleetwood Town 4-0 to return to the Championship at the first time of asking. Promotion was achieved on a glorious day on the Lancashire coast with an emphatic display of attacking football.

Latics’ result and Shrewsbury’s failure to beat Bury ensured they were promoted with three games to spare.

Paul Cook’s team moved three points clear at the top of the table and will secure the League One title if they win two of their three remaining games.

Max Power opened the scoring on 33 minutes with a side-footed effort from the edge of the area into the bottom right-hand corner.

Latics were soon two up when Gavin Massey produced a piece of magic with a Bergkampesque flick and turn before curling the ball into the bottom right-hand corner.

The visitors were now in cruise control and they dominated proceedings with some scintillating attacking moves.

Dan Burn added a third when Ryan Colclough set him up inside the area and Chey Dunkley added a fourth following a good initial save by Alex Cairns, but it could so easily have been six or seven as Latics tormented their opponents.

Cook made three changes to the team that defeated Oxford United with Nathan Byrne, Will Grigg and Massey all coming into the starting eleven.

Latics were the first to threaten when Gary Roberts’ curled strike was pushed onto the post by Cairns.

Ashley Hunter was proving to be the hosts main outlet and he fired over the crossbar from a good position early on.

But Latics soon took control when Nathan Byrne fed Power on the edge of the area and the bubbly midfielder side-footed the ball into the bottom right-hand corner.

Three minutes later and Latics were two up. Grigg played a neat ball to Massey and the winger produced a special piece of magic with an audacious flick and turn before curling the ball into the bottom right-hand corner.

Just the 2-0 at the interval with Latics in command but it was an even more impressive display in the second-half.

Centre-half Burn added a third on 57 minutes firing home with a low drive after a good cut-back by Colclough.

Power should have added a fourth soon afterwards when Man of the Match Roberts broke down the left and produced a perfect ball for him in front of goal but the midfielder fired wide of the target.

Latics continued to exert pressure and they added a fourth on 66 minutes when Dunkley finished from close range after Cairns had initially done well to save Colclough’s header.

Roberts and substitutes Jamie Walker and Devante Cole all had chances increase the advantage, but it didn’t matter as news that Bury had equalised at Shrewsbury meant the players and fans were in celebratory mood as a well deserved promotion had been clinched.

It’s already been a record breaking season as Latics set a new clean sheet record with Christian Walton and Jamie Jones reaching a combined 26 in League One. They also reached 86 league goals for the campaign. But they could also surpass Paul Jewell’s 2002/03 team’s 100 point record if they win their final three games.

Posted in Chey Dunkley, Dan Burn, Fleetwood Town, Gavin Massey, League One, Max Power, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment