12th Man – Managing the bounce back

Paul Cook suit

Paul Cook has a major task to revitalise his weary troops.

It is hard to comprehend what has happened to Latics in the last two games. The team, which was in such fine form and was unbeaten in 17 games, is now struggling to perform against average opponents.

The normally watertight defence now looks porous after conceding five goals, the midfield is now being outfought and the attack looks toothless scoring only one goal in those two games.

Southend had bounce under new manager Chris Powell and Blackpool are fighting for League One survival under Gary Bowyer but Latics have massively underachieved in these two games.

Latics looked second best at Roots Hall and looked completely out of sorts at the DW on Tuesday night. They lacked energy and looked weary in comparison to their hardworking opponents.

The upcoming FA Cup tie against Manchester City may have been on the minds of the players but it was no excuse for a desperately disappointing display.

Paul Cook’s strategy of limited rotation has worked well until now, but is the high number of games played starting to catch up with the regular starting eleven?

The tight-knit squad has rewarded the manager with a great run of form but it now looks like it is time to make changes and start some of his new signings.

The defeat to Blackpool was further compounded by the two-match suspension of captain Sam Morsy and whoever has to take over from Morsy will have a big responsibility to protect the back four.

Tiredness, complacency and loss of form are all contributing factors in Latics’ current dip in form but whatever the reasons it is now up to Cook to manage the setbacks, give his players a confidence boost and get them to bounce back quickly.

It is not a time to panic but Cook now has a major task to revitalise his weary troops. Football fortunes can soon change but they must quickly recapture their form, or they could find themselves fighting it out in the play-off places.

Before Latics get back to league action they have a small matter of an FA Cup fifth round tie against Manchester City. It will be Latics’ hardest ever test against probably the best club side in the world.

City thrashed Leicester City 5-1 on Saturday and swept aside Swiss Champions Basel 4-0 away in the Champions League while Latics were losing to Southend and Blackpool.

Pep Guardiola’s team look capable of winning an unprecedented quadruple. They are 16 points clear in the Premier League, are almost through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, are in the League Cup Final and are massive favourites to progress past Latics in the FA Cup.

Latics have an incredible recent track record against City in the FA Cup, memorably winning the final in 2013 and knocking them out in the quarter-final stage at the Etihad in 2014. But Latics are now a League One team and City have now moved up to a stratospheric level seemingly untouchable by mere mortal teams.

This article was first published in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 16th February 2018.

Posted in Blackpool, FA Cup, League One, Manchester City, Paul Cook, Pep Guardiola, Southend United, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lacklustre Latics lose top spot – Wigan Athletic 0 Blackpool 2


Captain Sam Morsy was booked and will now miss the FA Cup tie versus Manchester City

Wigan Athletic lost top spot in the League One table after their worst performance of the season against strugglers Blackpool at the DW Stadium.

The league leaders lost their second successive game against a team who had only won two of their previous 17 games, but the Seasiders thoroughly deserved their rare victory as Latics were abysmal on the night.

The Seasiders were the better side from the off and went ahead after only three minutes when Armand Gnanduillet deflected home Kelvin Mellor’s effort after some hapless Latics defending.

The home side struggled to make any headway against a resilient Blackpool defence and matters got worse when Mellor made it two on 37 minutes after more shambolic defending following a corner.

Latics huffed and puffed in the second half but they lacked quality in the final third and Blackpool ran out surprisingly comfortable winners.

The defeat means Wigan slip to second place in the table behind new leaders Shrewsbury, while Blackburn move to the same number of points as Wigan in third place.

Paul Cook made only one change to the team which had lost at Southend on Saturday with Reece James replacing Callum Elder at left back.

The game was only three minutes old when the Seasiders went in front following some sloppy Latics defending and Gnanduillet’s effort was deflected off a defender and post before crossing the line.

An inauspicious start but surely Latics would soon respond? Well no, they didn’t. They were completely out of sorts and outfought by a team who had been struggling near the bottom of the table.

They did create a few half chances but they lacked real conviction and a cutting edge.

Chey Dunkley headed wide from a corner and Michael Jacobs tried his luck from distance.

Nick Powell later curled a free kick narrowly wide of the target but Gnanduillet missed a great chance to extend the Seasiders advantage.

But the lead was doubled on 37 minutes when Mellor was allowed to walk through the centre of the Latics defence and steer the ball home from close range.

Cook would have asked for a major response in the second half but they only fitfully threatened the Blackpool goal.

Early in the second half Will Grigg saw an effort blocked and Dunkley headed wide from a good position following a corner.

They went closest on 65 minutes when Powell blazed narrowly wide from a tight angle.

Blackpool might have added a third on 80 minutes but Mellor’s header was tipped over the crossbar by Christian Walton.

Latics’ desperately disappointing evening was further compounded when captain Sam Morsy was booked late on and will now miss two games including the the FA Cup tie against Manchester City.

The visitors comfortably held out for a deserved three points but Latics performance was way below what is required if they are to achieve automatic promotion.

It is not a time to panic but Cook now has a major task to revitalise his weary looking team. Football fortunes can soon change but they must quickly recapture their form, or they could find themselves fighting it out in the play-off places.






Posted in Armand Gnanduillet, Blackpool, Kelvin Mellor, League One, Sam Morsy, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unbeaten run comes to an end – Southend United 3 Wigan Athletic 1

James Vaughan

James Vaughan scored his first goal for Latics

Wigan Athletic’s 16-game unbeaten run came to an end at Southend United but fortunately they retained top spot in the table after rivals Shrewsbury and Blackburn failed to take advantage.

Latics had an off-day at Roots Hall and the Shrimpers under new manager Chris Powell deserved the three points.

The visitors went behind after only three minutes when Michael Turner headed home from close range following a free-kick by Stephen McLlaughlin.

Latics struggled to get going and they went further into trouble on 36 minutes when Simon Cox played in former Latic Marc-Antoine Fortune for a rare goal.

Substitute James Vaughan scored his first goal for Latics to reduce the deficit on 67 minutes when he finished Nathan Byrne’s right-wing cross.

But Latics’ hopes of a comeback were thwarted on 87 minutes when Michael Kightly concluded the scoring after Christian Walton had saved Simon Cox’s initial shot.

Paul Cook made two changes from the team which had defeated Gillingham last Saturday, with Callum Elder and Gavin Massey replacing Reece James and Ryan Colclough.

Latics went into the game hoping to extend their unbeaten run at Roots Hall with important games coming up against Blackpool in the league and Manchester City in the FA Cup but they were behind after only three minutes as McLaughlin’s free-kick from the right was headed in by Turner.

Nick Powell had a good opportunity on 15 minutes following Callum Elder’s cross but he uncharacteristically fired wide of the target from 12 yards out.

Latics went further behind on on 36 minutes when Fortune grabbed his first goal since October beating Walton from Simon Cox’s pass.

Cox might have made it three soon afterwards but he fired just over the crossbar from Ben Coker’s cross.

Latics just hadn’t been competitive in the first half and it would require a major improvement if they were to get anything from the game in the second half.

The early signs weren’t good though as Dan Burn had to make a goal-line clearance to deny Anton Ferdinand as the defender found space in the area from a set-piece.

Paul Cook then replaced Michael Jacobs and Gavin Massey with Gary Roberts and James Vaughan in an attempt to turn things around.

They went close soon afterwards when Roberts’ dangerous cross was turned away with several Latics players ready to pounce. But they did reduce the deficit when Vaughan finished from Byrne’s cross.

Latics were now pushing for the equaliser and Burn headed just over from Max Power’s corner.

Vaughan fired wide as Latics went close but the fightback was thwarted when Kightly followed up to score the third after Walton had saved Cox’s first effort.

Latics misery was compounded in the 97th minute when they appeared to have a clear penalty when Vaughan was grappled to the floor, but referee Andy Woolmer waved away appeals and booked Vaughan for his troubles.

Overall it was a lacklustre display and disappointing result for Latics, but credit should be given to Southend who are much improved under new manager Chris Powell who has now won all three of his opening games.

Matters could have been much worse however for Latics, if Shrewsbury had not lost at home to Plymouth and Blackburn held at home to Oldham, so they keep a two point lead at the top with a game in hand on Shrewsbury.

Paul Cook will be acutely aware that his players will need to show a big improvement at home to Blackpool on Tuesday night if they want to maintain their lead at the top. Anything less than a victory and the pressure will surely mount.

Posted in James Vaughan, League One, Marc-Antoine Fortune, Michael Kightly, Michael Turner, Southend United, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

12th Man – Three into Two

DW Stadium

DW Stadium

It is now looking increasingly likely that the top two automatic promotion places will be decided between Latics, Shrewsbury Town and Blackburn Rovers. Fourth placed Scunthorpe United are five points behind Rovers and fifth and six placed Rotherham United and Bradford City are nine and eleven points behind them.

The race for promotion is gathering pace but who is best equipped to finish in the automatics?

On paper Latics and Blackburn have the strongest squads with many players who have played, or are capable playing at a much higher level.

Latics have probably the most influential player in the division in the £10m rated Nick Powell (12 goals), and many other of outstanding individuals including captain Sam Morsy, prolific striker Will Grigg (15 goals), and centre-back Dan Burn.

Rovers have some big names for League One with creative midfielder Bradley Dack (12 goals), striker Danny Graham (12 goals) and the versatile Charlie Mulgrew (11 goals).

Both Latics and Rovers added extra quality in the transfer window with Latics bringing in James Vaughan, Jamie Walker, Jay Fulton and Devante Cole and Rovers adding striker Adam Armstrong from Newcastle and midfielder Jack Payne from Huddersfield on loan, with left-back Amari’i Bell signing permanently from Fleetwood Town.

They have great experience on the coaching team with Tony Mowbray, Mark Venus and former Latic David Lowe, they are likely to stay the course and may just have enough to pip the Shrews for automatic promotion.

Shrewsbury have acquired many of their players from the lower leagues and even non-league, but manager Paul Hurst has managed to weld them into a stubborn outfit who are difficult to beat and have surprised everyone by maintaining a high position all season.

They are also the masters of the last ditch winner this season scoring eight times in the last five minutes of their games.

They have no big name stars in their squad but striker Stefan Payne has bagged a creditable nine league goals so far this season.

The Shrews didn’t add any high profile signings during the transfer window but they made five new additions with left-back Max Lowe signing on loan from Derby, winger Nathan Thomas on loan from Sheffield United, while right-back Luke Hendrie from Burnley, midfielder Sam Jones from Grimsby and winger Abo Eisa from Wealdstone signed permanently.

Shrewsbury may be a small unfashionable club and everybody keeps writing them off but I expect them to be there for the long haul now and they will push Latics and Blackburn all the way to the finishing line.

Paul Cook’s team travel to Southend on Saturday in confident mood and tremendous form but the Shrimpers have won their last two games under new manager Chris Powell, so they must be careful not to allow any complacency to creep into their game tomorrow or during the run in.

Latics have 18 league games left to play with 8 at home and 10 away. If they were to maintain their current form of 2.25 points per game they would get 108 points, which would surely have them promoted with a record-breaking season, well exceeding the 100 points achieved by Paul Jewell’s title winning team in 2002/03.

Latics are in the strongest position leading the table by two points, with games in hand on Rovers and Shrewsbury and I’m expecting them to maintain their current form and finish as Champions.

This article was first published in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 9th February 2018.

Posted in Blackburn Rovers, League One, Shrewsbury Town, Southend United, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Latics in very fine Nick – Wigan Athletic 2 Gillingham 0

Nick Powell 3

Centre of attention – Nick Powell

Wigan Athletic strengthened their position at the top of the table with an emphatic 2-0 victory against in-form Gillingham at the DW Stadium.

The 2-0 scoreline didn’t fully reflect Latics’ dominance against a team who had won six and drawn two of their last eight games.

Latics went ahead after only 10 minutes when Reece James’ low cross was nonchalantly finished by Will Grigg inside the six-yard box for his 50th goal for the club.

In-demand midfielder Nick Powell added a second after 34 minutes when he rose to head home Max Power’s corner as Latics assumed complete control.

The Gills surprisingly offered little going forward although Tom Eaves had a rare effort on goal when his flicked effort came back off the post.

Latics should have increased their lead in the second half after creating several good opportunities, and they went closest when Michael Jacobs’ low drive came off the inside of the post before the ball ran agonisingly across the six-yard box.

The Gills might have had a consolation near the end of the game when Elliot List headed past Christian Walton but his effort was ruled out for offside.

Wigan moved two points clear of second placed Shrewsbury at the top while Blackburn slipped to third place after losing at Plymouth.

Paul Cook made two changes to his side which had knocked West Ham out of the FA Cup, with left back Reece James and Ryan Colclough replacing Callum Elder and Gavin Massey.

After rejecting a £10m move to Brighton in midweek the mercurial Powell was the centre of attention and was soon showing the type of skill that had attracted the interest of four Premier League clubs.

He was once again instrumental in most of Latics’ best moves. First he played a neat one-two with Jacobs but was denied an effort on goal by a last-ditch tackle. Then after making space for himself, his dipping effort from 20-yards out was just over the crossbar.

Powell was then involved in the first goal when his flighted cross into the area was headed out only as far as James and the full-back’s low cross found Grigg to score his 50th goal for Latics from close range.

The Gills were struggling to contain Latics, but in a rare break out of defence Eaves saw his flicked effort come back off Walton’s post.

Latics continued to have the Lion’s share of possession and they went close twice again through Powell before Jacobs dragged a shot wide of the target.

But it was inevitable that Powell would get on the score sheet and on 34 minutes he increased Latics’ lead when he met Power’s corner to head past Tomas Holy from the edge of the six-yard box.

Early in the second half, Holy made a smart save low down at the near post to deny Powell a second goal.

Jacobs then produced a forceful run into the Gills area before unleashing a low drive which beat Holy, but came back off the inside of the post, ran across the six-yard box and away to safety.

Jacobs then then set up Grigg at the near post but the striker’s effort was blocked by Max Ehmer.

Dan Burn and Jacobs had further opportunities to increase the lead before Power’s cross almost found the boot of the ever dangerous Powell at the back post.

The disappointing Gills nearly managed a consolation in added time but List’s header was ruled out for offside.

Latics had been a class above League One’s in-form team with some superb performances from their top players. Powell, Grigg, Burn and captain Sam Morsy in particular all showing their star quality and commitment to the cause.

Posted in Gillingham, League One, Nick Powell, Wigan Athletic, Will Grigg | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

12th Man – Deadline day delight

Nick Powell stays

Nick Powell

Latics achieved what could be their best ‘result’ of the season when they managed to hold onto their best players while adding extra quality during the transfer window.

In the context of the modern game it was quite a coup for Chairman David Sharpe and Manager Paul Cook to keep their stars when Premier League predators pursue them.

Latics have been excellent in all departments this season but several players have stood out from the rest. Nick Powell, Sam Morsy, Dan Burn and Will Grigg all look very capable of being successful at Premier League level and retaining these star players with Latics at the top of the League One table and in the fifth-round of the FA Cup is a massive boost.

Nick Powell in particular was the focus of major speculation about his future but the player and the club issued an unequivocal ‘No’ to a potential move away from the DW Stadium.

Despite reported interest from Brighton, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and Swansea. Powell told the Chairman that he was happy at the club and he wanted to stay.

In these times of unchecked player power it was refreshing to see a 23-year-old reject a move to the Premier League when he would have significantly improved his wages and personal wealth.

Powell’s decision also reinforced the view that Paul Cook has done a fantastic job since taking over as manager.

The atmosphere around the club has improved hugely since the days of Warren Joyce, the team spirit is on a high and Powell has shown that he is enjoying his football and wants to be part of the team that gets Latics promoted.

The club should be very satisfied with their transfer window business overall. They did lose midfielder Lee Evans and striker Ivan Toney early in the window but they have retained their best players and have recruited some talented additions in winger Jamie Walker, striker James Vaughan and midfielder Jay Fulton on loan.

Perhaps the biggest surprise capture of the transfer window was striker Devante Cole from Fleetwood Town. The 22-year-old son of former Manchester United and England striker Andy Cole was Fleetwood’s top scorer this season with 12 goals and despite significant interest from other clubs he decided to sign for Latics.

Cole is an exciting prospect and will add even greater depth to a squad, which should be playing Championship football next season.

After a totally dominant performance against Premier League West Ham in the FA Cup, Latics will be hoping it is not a case of after the Lord Mayor’s Show tomorrow as they face an in-form Gillingham.

The Gills have won six and drawn two of their last eight games defeating play-off contenders Scunthorpe and Charlton on the way.

They are a difficult proposition under manager Steve Lovell who has galvanised the club since taking over in October, winning 11 of his 22 games in charge and guiding them to 10th in the table.

They held Latics to a 1-1 draw at the Priestfield Stadium in October when captain Sam Morsy rescued a point late in the game. The Gills could still conceivably reach the play-offs and Latics must be wary of a potential banana skin.

This article was first published in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 2nd February 2018.

Posted in Devante Cole, Gillingham, James Vaughan, Jamie Walker, Jay Fulton, League One, Nick Powell, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Latics stun unhappy Hammers – Wigan Athletic 2 West Ham United 0


Will Grigg Wigan Athletic

Will Grigg’s on fire!

Latics recorded a famous FA Cup fourth-round victory as they completely outplayed Premier League West Ham at the DW Stadium.

The injury-hit Hammers posed little threat throughout as Latics ran out comfortable 2-0 winners with a brace from top scorer Will Grigg.

Grigg opened the scoring after only seven minutes when he powerfully headed Nathan Byrne’s superb cross past England keeper Joe Hart.

The Hammers misery was further compounded when Arthur Masuaku was sent off for spitting at Nick Powell just after half time.

Fomer Latics loanee Reece Burke handled the ball in the area after 62 minutes and Grigg confidently drove his penalty kick down the centre of the goal as Hart dived to his left.

The Hammers could have few complaints about the result as Latics looked more like the Premier League team and progressed into the fifth round for only the fourth time in their history.

Paul Cook made one change from the team which defeated Plymouth Argyle 3-1 last weekend, with Callum Elder replacing Reece James at left back.

Latics were at their best right from the kick off pressing high up the pitch and giving the Hammers little time on the ball.

They went ahead on seven minutes with a superb attacking move. Max Power fed Byrne out wide on the right and the wing-back produced a pinpoint cross to Grigg whose perfectly placed header found the top corner of the net.

Latics were in the ascendancy and they nearly went two up when Chey Dunkley headed home from close range, but the linesman flagged for offside.

It was one-way traffic as Powell fired just over the crossbar from the edge of the box and Jacobs tried his luck from distance but Hart saved low down to his right.

The Hammers had a rare foray forward just before half time and Latics captain Sam Morsy had to block a couple of shots before Reece Oxford blazed high over the crossbar.

West Ham started the second half with more intent, probably after a verbal blasting from David Moyes, but all his work was undone on 49 minutes when Masuaku was sent off for spitting at Powell.

Latics were in complete control now and they increased their lead on 62 minutes when Grigg scored his second from the penalty spot after Burke had handled in the area.

Powell might have added a third on 75 minutes when he nearly got on the end of Byrne’s excellent low cross but Latics still ran out comfortable 2-0 winners.

Questions have to be asked about the West Ham players’ attitudes but we should not take anything away from Latics who were absolutely magnificent from minute 1 to minute 95.

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