12th Man – Big challenges ahead

Cedric Cipre

Cedric Cipre. Photograph courtesy of Wigan Athletic. 

It’s been an exciting opening to the Championship season with Latics involved in two five-goal thrillers. An opening day 3-2 victory against Sheffield Wednesday has been followed up by a 3-2 defeat against Aston Villa.

Then on Tuesday night it was disappointing to lose 3-1 in the Carabao Cup at Rotherham but this competition is not a priority for Latics and Paul Cook will have learned much about which of his squad players are ready for the Championship.

It was also great to see 16-year olds Josh Geldhardt and Jensen Weir get a run out at the New York Stadium.

Cook’s entertaining style of play has been the main feature of the opening games but Latics’ vulnerability to crosses is proving to be a concern.

Because of injuries to Nathan Byrne and Dan Burn, Cook has had to experiment with different defensive combinations and this has inevitably led to some teething problems.

Cedric Cipre’s transition from Scottish football will obviously take time and any team would miss Burn’s commanding presence in the centre of defence.

Latics have also lost Gavin Massey and Darron Gibson to injury and new signing Joe Garner is still not match fit after signing from Ipswich Town in the transfer window.

It was only understandable that Cook rested players in midweek as fine margins have decided the results in the last two Championship games and the manager will be aware that he will need his best players fully ready for the difficult upcoming games against promotion candidates Nottingham Forest and Stoke City.

Nottingham Forest made 11 changes to their starting line-up in the Carabao Cup in midweek and survived a sending off and a penalty shoot-out against League Two Bury to progress into the second round.

Forest started their Championship campaign with draws against Bristol City and West Brom before a 1-0 home win against Reading.

The Forest manager Aitor Karanka has spent heavily in pre season and added 13 new players including £13m midfielder Joao Carvalho, striker Lewis Grabban £6m, striker Hillal Soudani £3m and central defender Tobias Figueiredo £3m.

Wednesday night’s opponents Stoke City have also spent significantly in the transfer window splashing the cash on striker Benik Afobe £12m, winger Tom Ince £10m, midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo £6.5m, midfielder Sam Clucas £6m and winger James McClean £5m.

These high levels of expenditure demonstrate the magnitude of the challenge Latics are now facing in the Championship this season.

They will have to come up against many former Premier League giants who are desperate to return to the top table and have spent massively to try to achieve their aim.

Just as in Latics’ Premier League days, it may seem an impossible task at times but Latics will have to accept the disparity in resources and embrace the big challenges ahead.

This article was first published in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 17th August 2018.

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Posted in Cedric Cipre, Championship, Nottingham Forest, Paul Cook, Stoke City, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Villa thriller, with a killer blow for Latics – Aston Villa 3 Wigan Athletic 2

Nick Powell stays

Latics man of the match Nick Powell

Match report by Jamie Aspinall.

Paul Cook was true to his word when he said last week “If we do get beat then I’d rather it [happen] by being aggressive and trying to win the game”. Latics certainly went all guns blazing against Aston Villa. Unfortunately it did not pay off like it did last week and they were this time on the losing side in another exciting five goal thriller.

The home side took an early lead through James Chester, then Nick Powell and Callum Connolly turned the game on it’s head for the visitors, until Chey Dunkley converted into his own net and then in the dying seconds of injury time Birkir Bjarnason took back the lead to cause an eruption of noise and deal a sickening blow to the unlucky Latics.

It was an end-to-end game full of nervous energy at times due to the high pace which kept the spectators at the edge of their seats. There were stand out performances from Powell and Jack Grealish, who both ended up staying with their respective clubs after being linked with moves away during the transfer window and the game benefitted from their presence.

Cook in his post match interview said “All of the aspects of the game we’re happy with…apart from the result”. It was a killer blow to have been so close to victory after playing such great attacking football, however an aspect I was definitely not too happy with was the defending.

The first Villa goal showed poor communication between the defence and goalkeeper. Dunkley failed to track the run of Chester and the usually commanding figure of Christian Walton in goal half-heartedly came to challenge for the ball only to be left looking deflated. The opening goal did however come from a very debatable free kick but that is no excuse for the poor defending.

This mix up in communication and lack of commanding presence was seen again at the back, as the second and third Villa goals could all have been easily prevented. There was an element of misfortune for the second goal as Cedric Kipre’s attempted clearance cannoned off Dunkley into the goal, possibly the misjudged header from Antonee Robinson had him unsighted.

The late winner for Villa was this time a lack of conviction from Walton and Robinson who both failed to judge the low cross to the back post and were beaten by Bjarnason. Latics need to tighten things up at the back, otherwise all the great attacking play will be in vain.

Getting back to the positives, the visitors could quite easily have been the victors thanks to their forward play. If either new signing Josh Windass or Michael Jacobs had hit the target with their headers late on then the fine balance of the game could’ve switched in Latics’ favour.

The energetic substitute, Windass, nearly headed home a well worked pass and move, he was maybe too keen as he got underneath the ball and headed over, Jacobs will also be kicking himself for his header that he should’ve converted in similar fashion.

The Latics goals came first from Powell who was quickest to react to Mile Jedinak’s poor back pass to make things all square at half time. Powell then sent a pinpoint cross towards the back post in the second half for Connolly to direct his header into the bottom corner and send the visitors into the lead.

A special mention has to go to captain Samy Morsy who was the driving force of the team carrying out his duties tirelessly as he so very often does, breaking up the opposition play and distributing the ball to great effect.

If the opening two performances are anything to go by then Latics’ fans will certainly be getting their money’s worth in terms of entertainment. Steve Bruce praised Latics’ performance and was complimentary about them being a good side, he expected a tough game and that’s what he got.

In Cook, we have not come across such an attacking minded manager for some time where his philosophy towards the game is to take it to the opposition. Rather than try to play for a point or keep Villa at bay to stop a defeat, Cook set the stall out to play for the win, which as a fan I can say was highly exciting.

Some will say it was a gamble to attack against a strong side away from home, but on another day we could’ve quite easily been celebrating a second consecutive 3-2 victory. I’m sure we are all waiting in great anticipation for the next league fixture to find out what thrills are in store.

Posted in Aston Villa, Birkir Bjarnason, Callum Connolly, Championship, Chey Dunkley, James Chester, Nick Powell, Paul Cook, Steve Bruce, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

12th Man – Cook’s business

callum-connolly

Callum Connolly joined for a second loan spell

Latics made a brilliant start to the Championship season with a 3-2 victory against Sheffield Wednesday. Excellent performances all round but particularly pleasing to see new boys Cedric Kipre, Antonee Robinson, Reece James and Darron Gibson settling in so quickly and putting in such strong debuts.

It is early days but the opening day victory can only have boosted the players’ confidence and helped to build the team spirit.

Latics do have some difficult games ahead with promotion candidates Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest and Stoke City in the next three league games.

If they can come out of these games with a good points tally the prospects for the season will look even brighter.

Tomorrow Latics travel to Villa Park and Steve Bruce’s team will be desperate to improve on last season when they just missed out on promotion.

A point for Latics at one of this season’s promotion favourites would be an acceptable return.

Because of newspaper deadlines this piece had to be written before yesterday’s 5pm transfer deadline, so please bear this in mind when reading. 

The transfer window is always an unsettling time with the inevitable speculation that Latics may lose some of their best players.

However, I’m optimistic that this window will have been a very good one for Paul Cook.

The financial backing now seems to be in place for the club to recruit effectively.

The manager has already added several quality players to his squad but there could have been even more by the deadline.

Everton’s Callum Connolly joined on deadline day for a season long loan and will provide competition for a place in either midfield or at full back.

He apparently impressed at Ipswich Town last season in a central midfield role.

Latics have made a bid for the son of former Bradford City and Hull City striker Dean Windass.

Josh Windass is a 24-year-old attacking midfielder who scored 18 goals for Rangers last season.

Latics number 10 shirt is vacant and there is a strong possibility that this will have been filled either with a permanent or loan signing.

Peterborough United’s Marcus Maddison has been a long-term target but the £2.5m asking fee could have proved a stumbling block.

As far as departures are concerned there has naturally been interest in several of Latics’ stars.

Premier League Brighton look likely to sign injured centre back Dan Burn for a fee in the region of £5m, although he will be loaned back to Wigan until at least January.

Aston Villa reportedly tabled a £5m bid for Nick Powell. Latics didn’t want to sell, but much will depend on Powell’s personal decision. 

Forwards Devante Cole and Ryan Colclough could have left the club. Portsmouth were believed to be interested in both players, but unless an acceptable came in for either, Cook stated that they would remain at the club.

Jamie Walker is not currently in Cook’s first team squad and reports have suggested that Rangers have renewed their interest in the former Hearts player.

Midfielder Max Power was due to have talks with Sunderland and could be another departure.

However, midfielder Jordan Flores is definitely on his way to Swedish club Ostersunds FK on loan until the end of their season in December.

With Cook having already secured the services of Walton, Robinson, James, Kipre, Gibson, McManaman, Roberts, Bruce, Da Silva Lopes, Naismith and Connolly the squad is already looking much stronger.

It’s disappointing to lose Dan Burn, but if the club have managed to resist overtures for most of their star players they should be in for a successful season.

This article was first published in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 10th August 2018.

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Wigan get off to a flying start against the Owls – Wigan Athletic 3 Sheffield Wednesday 2

Michael Jacobs2

Michael Jacobs in fine form

Match report by Jamie Aspinall.

Opening games are not always an accurate indication of how a team’s season is going to pan out, however Paul Cook and the Wigan fans will be hoping this type of performance becomes a regular occurrence in The Championship.

A man of the match performance and two early goals from Michael Jacobs thrust the home side into a dominant first half lead.

A goal from Nick Powell in the second half kept Wigan’s nose in front after Wednesday threatened for an equaliser, through goals from Nuhiu and Forestieri.

In retrospect it would’ve been unfair had The Owls taken points from the game as Wigan’s fearless attacking football was a delight to watch and gave the fans that same positive feeling carried over from Cook’s winning team in League One.

Jacobs was unlucky not to have taken the match ball home after his long range effort struck the crossbar in the first half.

James Vaughan also came close to increasing the score line in the second half after he headed against the woodwork and had a goal struck off for offside.

Latics showed great attacking intent throughout the game, the only negative would be their failure to clear the danger which resulted in conceding to Wednesday’s first goal.

Aside from the result and the attacking intent another positive feature was the performance of the new signings along with the immediate togetherness of the squad after some of the players had only recently arrived at the club.

Every player put in a strong performance, but in particular Antonee Robinson, Cedric Kipre, Darron Gibson and Reece James all provided positive debuts offering new attributes to the team.

Robinson was the stand out player in my opinion showing pace, power and confidence on the ball going forward and defending, he made it very clear why Cook had been chasing him for some time. His positivity down the left side carved out the opening goal after his cross was headed into the path of Jacobs.

Cedric Kipre looked strong and commanding, filling in effortlessly for Dan Burn.

Reece James continued his good form from the Rangers game, he looks composed and means we now have two positive young talents at either side of the defence.

Darron Gibson justified his place in the starting lineup by getting stuck in early on and getting amongst the play by moving the ball quickly and showing great desire.

Many will wonder if Cook has what it takes to lead a Championship team forward but the signs yesterday were that he is building an improved squad from last season, whilst further signings are imminent, and he still has the players fighting to win games for him.

It is very early days but an opening day victory and a positive performance can only breed confidence into the club as they take-off in their Championship campaign.

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12th Man – Takeover time?

The DW Stadium

New owners for the DW Stadium?

The long running saga of Latics’ takeover by the International Entertainment Corporation (IEC) looks like it’s coming to an end.

The takeover was initially mooted back in October last year and was expected to be finalised earlier this year.

The deal was subject to Hong Kong Stock Exchange approval and EFL consent but the reasons why it has taken so long are unclear.

The latest rumours are that the deal could be completed in the next few days and that IEC will be providing a significant transfer fund for Paul Cook.

In fact the new owners could well show their intent with a marquee signing before the transfer window closes on August 9th.

Overall it’s been an unsettling summer and the protracted process was starting to have a detrimental impact on team affairs.

The delay in the takeover was preventing Cook from getting in as many players as required for the start of the Championship campaign.

Trialists James Perch and Ross Wallace have moved on after training with the club all summer reportedly because the club couldn’t find the funds.

Assuming the takeover goes ahead there is still a concern about the motives of the IEC group headed by pro gambler Fai Stanley and their ability to deliver the investment the club requires.

The track record of foreign investors into English Football is certainly a chequered one and the risk of failure is still high.

But assuming the takeover does go ahead this week and the transfer funds are made available the club should be in a much stronger position to build on last season’s success.

Latics already have a good spine with Walton, Burn, Morsy and Grigg but they still need to recruit more quality if they are to compete in the top half of the Championship.

They say you can’t read too much into friendlies but there were some worrying signs in the 3-0 defeat to Rangers last Saturday.

Latics looked off the pace with too many players coasting when they should be pushing for a starting place in the team.

Very few players looked capable of beating their opponent at a time when they should be reaching peak fitness.

Latics conceded three goals from headers when key defender Dan Burn limped off at half time at Ibrox and he could well be missing for the opening fixture.

Also Player of the season and right back Nathan Byrne missed the Rangers game due to injury and may be unavailable on Saturday.

One bright note in amongst a dismal display was Chelsea loanee Reece James who looked comfortable at right back and showed great composure in possession.

The squad is currently looking thin with Ryan Colclough and Devante Cole likely to leave this week.

Latics also urgently need a left back with makeshift defender Kal Naismith ineffective at Ibrox.

All together these are not the best preparations for the opening day of the season against Sheffield Wednesday but the club’s prospects could be looking much brighter by next week.

Predicted final league position: 12th.

This article was first published in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 3rd August 2018.

Posted in Championship, International Entertainment Corporation, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

When Saturday Comes Wigan Athletic preview 2018/19

Paul Cook suit

When Saturday Comes magazine have once again asked for my views on Latics’ prospects for the forthcoming season so I thought I’d also record my responses here.

1. Realistically, how will you do?

The last time we were in the Championship we had a disastrous season under Warren Joyce but I’d like to think that with Paul Cook in charge and some astute signings we can establish ourselves in the division and finish around mid-table.

2. Which teams did you like and dislike most last season?

Liked Shrewsbury who pushed us for most of the season on limited resources. Disliked Portsmouth who seemed bitter about Paul Cook and obsessed with our crowd size and Blackburn who prematurely thought they had won League One.

3. What was the best moment of last season?

So many great moments: taking the scalps of three Premier League clubs AFC Bournemouth, West Ham United and to top it all Premier League champions Manchester City in the FA Cup; Clinching promotion at Fleetwood and sealing the title at Doncaster on the final day.

4. What was the worst moment of last season?

Probably losing at home to Blackpool, which had followed another defeat at Southend was the most worrying time.

5. Other than winning matches, what single act would make your club more popular with your fans?

Kicking the rugby club out of the DW Stadium would be the popular choice but if that’s not going to happen then some safe standing would be well received.

6. We’d like your prediction for next season’s League table.

1. West Brom
2. Aston Villa
3. Middlesbrough
4. Stoke
5. Swansea
6. Derby
7. Brentford
8. Sheffield Utd
9. Bristol City
10. Sheffield W
11. Ipswich
12. Wigan
13. Leeds
14. Preston
15. Norwich
16. N.Forest
17. Hull City
18. Blackburn
19. Millwall
20. QPR
21. Birmingham
22. Reading
23. Rotherham
24. Bolton

The full WSC pre-season guide for 2018/19 is now available at your local newsagents.

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Latics fixtures released – Sheffield Wednesday first up at home

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The Championship fixtures for 2018/19  have been announced and Latics will face Sheffield Wednesday at home on the opening day of the season.  This is followed up with an away game at Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa and a home game against Nottingham Forest.

There’ll be plenty of local rivalries during the season with derbies against Preston North End, Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers.

The derbies are currently scheduled as follows:

Saturday 6 October 2018 – Preston North End (A)
Wednesday 28 November 2018 – Blackburn Rovers (H)
Saturday 1 December 2018 – Bolton Wanderers (A)
Tuesday 12 March 2019 – Blackburn Rovers (A)
Saturday 16 March 2019 – Bolton Wanderers (H)
Monday 22 April 2019 – Preston North End (H)

Christmas and New Year fixtures have Latics away at West Bromwich Albion on Boxing Day, away at Swansea City on December 29th and at home to Sheffield United on New Year’s Day.

Latics will round off the season at home to Millwall on Sunday 5th May 2019.

The full fixture schedule is available on the Wigan Athletic Official website.

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