Baggies will provide Latics with stiffest test of the season

Dwight Gayle

On-loan Newcastle striker Dwight Gayle

Latics’ unbeaten home record will be severely tested as free-scoring West Bromwich Albion come to the DW Stadium on Saturday.

Latics may have won four and drawn two of their home games so far but the Baggies are currently second in the Championship table and on a fine run of form, which has seen them unbeaten in their last eight league games.

They have only lost once away from home all season at Middlesbrough back in August. The favourites for promotion are certainly well equipped for a quick return to the top flight with experienced Premier League performers such as Jake Livermore, Chris Brunt, Matt Phillips, Kieran Gibbs, Craig Dawson and Ahmed Hegazi.

They are the highest scorers in the division having already hit 31 goals in 12 games and with the attacking trio of Jay Rodriguez, Harvey Barnes and Dwight Gayle will pose a major threat to any team.

The on-loan Newcastle striker Gayle already has eight goals to his name with Rodriguez on seven and Barnes on five.

As well as a strong starting eleven the Baggies have plenty of experience in the squad with former Aston Villa, Manchester City, Everton and England midfielder Gareth Barry.

The 37-year-old has played an incredible 770 senior games and has made seven appearances for the Baggies this season.

Also in contention for a starting place is former Crystal Palace and Mali attacking midfielder Bakary Sako who has recently signed a contract until the end of the season.

Manager Darren Moore has made a very successful start to his managerial career since taking over in April this year losing only four of his 21 games in charge.

He is assisted by the former Latics striker and coach Graeme Jones who has swapped his role as assistant to Roberto Martinez with the Belgian national team.

Jones is a very experienced coach and could easily be managing at this level by now but he seems to prefer the Number Two role for the time being.

Paul Cook will be expecting a big reaction from the players after such a poor display against Preston.

He will have been working hard on the training ground to regain some confidence and I expect some changes to the starting eleven after some very poor individual performances at Deepdale.

Dan Burn could come into a back three with Cedric Kipre and Chey Dunkley but if he decides to stick with his usual 4-2-3-1 formation Cook’s biggest conundrum could be who he decides to play as the lone striker.

Will Grigg suffered a hamstring injury playing for Northern Ireland against Austria last Friday night and is doubtful. Josh Windass or Joe Garner could be given the nod but James Vaughan is also now fit and available for selection.

Another option would be to use Nick Powell in that role but he was injured in the first half against PNE and may also be doubtful for the game.

Whoever is selected, Latics will have to be at their best against formidable opponents. It will certainly be a big scalp if they can pull off a victory against the Championship favourites.

Latics’ testing run of games continues at Millwall on Tuesday night before they travel to league leaders Sheffield United and then face Leeds United at the DW on Sunday 4th November before going up to Teesside to play Tony Pulis’s Middlesbrough.

How Latics fare in these fixtures should provide a strong indication of whether they will be heading for the play-offs or fighting a relegation battle.

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Posted in Championship, Darren Moore, Dwight Gayle, Graeme Jones, West Bromwich Albion, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Derby day debacle – Preston North End 4 Wigan Athletic 0

Reece James

Reece James – one of the few creditable performances on the day

Wigan Athletic produced their worst performance of the season as they were defeated 4-0 by Preston North End at Deepdale.

It was a chastening defeat for Latics who have made such a bright start to their Championship campaign against a team who had been bottom of the table before kick off.

Tom Barkhuizen gave North End the lead after Christian Walton failed to keep out his low drive at the near post on 17 minutes.

Latics lost star man Nick Powell to injury just before half time and North End added a second goal on 51 minutes when Daniel Johnson set up Callum Robinson.

Soon afterwards Latics’ task became even harder as midfielder Darron Gibson made a reckless challenge on Ben Pearson and was given a straight red card by referee Lee Probert.

But despite going down to ten-men Latics battled to get back into the game until the 85th minute when substitute Dan Burn was harshly adjudged to have have fouled Lukas Nmech in the box.

Paul Gallagher converted the resulting spot-kick to seal the three points, before Robinson added a fourth in added time.

Paul Cook made two changes from the side which drew with Swansea City in midweek with Samy Morsy and Will Grigg coming in for Lee Evans and Joe Garner.

Latics started the brighter forcing three early corners but the hosts went ahead when Barkhuizen’s low drive from inside the area couldn’t be kept out despite Walton getting his right hand to the ball.

Latics nearly drew level when Michael Jacobs’ deep cross was missed by keeper Chris Maxwell and the ball hit Nick Powell but Tom Clarke cleared off the line.

A significant moment in the game occurred on the half hour mark as Nick Powell was badly fouled from behind by Ben Pearson who was subsequently yellow carded. Powell struggled for the remainder of the half before having to be substituted by Dan Burn.

At half time Latics changed to a back three of Burn, Chey Dunkley and Cedric Kipre with James and Antonee Robinson pushed forward as wing backs.

Early in the second half North End went close as Browne fired against the crossbar.

Latics responded when Reece James broke forward forcing a good save from Maxwell. But from North End’s counter-attack they doubled their lead. Daniel Johnson fed Robinson in the area and the Republic of Ireland international finished from close range.

Matters got worse for Latics a few minutes later as Gibson was given a red card for a foul on Ben Pearson.

James forced another good save from Maxwell as Latics battled to get a foothold in the game. Substitute Callum McManaman was soon causing a threat down the right hand side and a goal at this point might have affected the outcome.

But it was all to no avail as with five minutes of normal time remaining Burn was adjudged to have fouled Lukas Nmecha in the area, Gallagher converting the resulting penalty.

Just to rub salt into the wound after six minutes of added time North End added a fourth goal when Chris Maguire cut the ball back for Robinson to score.

A dreadful derby day and one that Latics’ players and fans will soon want to forget.

Reece James was the only player to emerge with any credit from Latics’ worst performance since Paul Cook became manager. Cook was clearly upset when interviewed after the game.

The manager said,

“The players have been fantastic to date; we have offered so much goodness in my time at the club but that was an all-time low today and that was a game where – irrespective of the sending off etc. – Preston were a lot better than us and fully deserved the win.”

Captain Samy Morsy tellingly admitted that Latics lacked desire and were second best on the day.

“We had a lot of fans here today and we apologise to them. We really let them down with our performance. It hurts me to say it but they wanted it more than we did.”

Few people had seen this performance coming after a good start to the season, but Cook and the players should see it as a big wake up call with some very difficult games coming up after the international break.

The fans will be expecting a big reaction from the players after such a dispiriting display against local rivals. Cook will need to work hard on the training ground to re-instil some confidence and changes to the starting eleven are surely inevitable after some very poor individual performances.

Posted in Callum Robinson, Championship, Paul Cook, Paul Gallagher, Preston North End, Tom Barkhuizen, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Keeper Walton is destined for the top

Christian Walton2

Christian Walton

Newly promoted Wigan Athletic have made a very commendable start to the season and are currently sitting ninth in the Championship table. Crucial to that good start have been the performances of 22-year-old goalkeeper Christian Walton.

Latics re-signed the Brighton and Hove Albion keeper on a season-long loan deal after an impressive campaign in the League One winning team. The Wadebridge born player kept 19 clean sheets in 31 league games last season as he won the League One Golden Glove.

The 6ft 5in keeper signed a new four-year contract at the AMEX Stadium in July 2017 but Brighton decided Walton’s development was best served by remaining with Latics as they have three experienced keepers in Mat Ryan, David Button and Jason Steele.

Walton made his debut for Latics on the opening day of 2017–18 in a 1–0 victory away to Milton Keynes Dons and despite breaking his leg in a training session at the beginning of his Latics loan he has now made 46 appearances conceding only 33 goals during the period.

Walton helped Latics to progress to the last eight of the FA Cup last season, beating Premier League sides Bournemouth, West Ham and Manchester City before losing to Southampton despite Walton saving a penalty.

His excellent performances during the Cup run will have highlighted his potential and brought him to the attention of Premier League clubs.

He has once again excelled this term keeping four clean sheets in a new and young defensive line-up with Reece James (18), Cedric Kipre (21), Chey Dunkley (26) and Antonee Robinson (21).

Latics were particularly impressive in September as they won three of their five league games; with a return of nine points the fourth best haul in that time.

Walton was the only Latics player included in the Championship team of the month producing more saves (21) than any other keeper.

He is very calm under pressure as was evidenced in his performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup, he commands his area to great effect and has exceptional shot-stopping abilities.

Walton is already performing at a consistently high level in the Championship; he rarely makes a mistake and is constantly improving his performances.

He maintains a high level of concentration throughout the games which shows a maturity way beyond his years.

He has just surpassed 100 career appearances and goalkeepers usually improve with experience so he is likely to have a great career.

Latics have been very lucky to acquire the services of a top keeper but worryingly the current loan deal does allow Brighton to recall Walton in January 2019 if required.

Walton has represented England at under-19, under-20 and under-21 levels and has a very bright future ahead. He will no doubt become a Premier League regular in the near future, but whether it’s with Latics, Brighton or another team we will just have to wait and see.

Posted in Brighton & Hove Albion, Championship, Christian Walton, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Latics lucky to remain undefeated at home – Wigan Athletic 0 Swansea City 0

Will Grigg5

Will Grigg had Latics’ best chance

Latics were grateful for a point after a difficult home fixture against Graham Potter’s well organised Swansea City.  Latics remain undefeated at home in 13 league games but the run could so easily have come to an end last night.

The visitors had the lion’s share of possession and created plenty of chances but overall a combination of poor finishing and some good defending by Latics meant the game ended in a stalemate.

The hosts best chance came when Will Grigg picked up a poor back pass and was clean through on goal but Swans keeper Kristoffer Nordfeldt came to the rescue saving the striker’s effort with his legs.

The Swans might have won it at the death but Chey Dunkley superbly cleared from Martin Olsen’s goal bound effort.

The Swans move up to sixth in the Championship table and Latics up to seventh before Wednesday night’s fixtures.

Latics made one change from Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Norwich with captain Samy Morsy missing out due to a slight hamstring strain and being replaced by Darron Gibson.

The visitors started brightly moving the ball confidently and they soon put Latics on to the back foot forcing defensive blocks from Reece James and Cedric Kipre and a couple of good saves from Christian Walton.

Latics tried to respond and Michael Jacobs fired wide of the target from Reece James’ cross.

But the Swans continued in the ascendancy and Connor Roberts was denied at close range by a superb save from Walton.

Latics started the second half more positively with Nick Powell providing a great opportunity for Jacobs but the winger fired wide of the target.

The Swans however continued to have the better of the game with Oli McBurnie, Roberts and substitute Leroy Fer all firing wide.

Latics’ best opportunity came when Matt Grimes made a poor back pass and Grigg looked odds on to score but Nordfeldt saved with his legs.

Grigg then failed to connect with substitute Callum McManaman’s cross into the six yard box, before Olsen had a great chance to take all three points but Dunkley denied him with a last ditch clearance.

Latics had been a little lucky to escape with a point against a side who look well equipped to challenge at the top of the table. Despite not being at their best they had at least defended very well with Chey Dunkley, Christian Walton and Cedric Kipre all outstanding.

They will be hoping that their captain Morsy will be available on Saturday as they will need to improve if they are to get a good result at local rivals Preston North End.

 

 

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Referee is the centre of attention – Norwich City 1 Wigan Athletic 0

Gavin Ward

Referee Gavin Ward

A poor refereeing performance by Gavin Ward marred Latics’ 1-0 defeat against the Canaries at Carrow Road.

Referee Ward had already enraged the wrath of both sets of supporters during an erratic display when he awarded a late controversial penalty to Norwich with the match heading towards a stalemate.

Substitute Callum Connolly was adjudged to have fouled Teemu Pukki in the box, but few of Latics’ fans expected Ward to award a spot-kick for the challenge.

Norwich substitute Mario Vrancic stepped up to convert the penalty and move them up to fifth in the Championship table and see Latics slip down to eighth.

Paul Cook retained the same starting line-up from last Friday’s 1-0 win over Bristol City, with recent injury casualties Will Grigg and Callum McManaman returning to the bench.

Latics had an early chance when Cedric Kipre rose high above the Canaries defence but headed wide of the target from Lee Evans’ corner.

But as the game progressed Norwich took control with Christian Walton denying Marco Stiepermann.

A sloppy back pass from Chey Dunkley then sent Pukki clear but the big defender got back to make a goal saving challenge, although the home fans thought it should have been a penalty.

In a game of few clear cut chances both teams often cancelled each other out, although the Canaries did have the lion’s share of possession.

The hosts created several chances early in the second half when Walton again denied Stiepermann and Alex Tettey fired wide of the target.

Latics defended stubbornly and the game looked to be heading towards stalemate until referee Ward intervened in the 86th minute.

Substitute Connolly went shoulder to shoulder with Pukki in the box, but there was limited contact and despite the Latics players’ appeals the referee awarded the spot-kick which effectively won the game for the hosts.

The referee may have felt that he should have awarded a penalty in the first half to Norwich but this was no excuse for such a poor decision in awarding the penalty.

Cook said after the game,

“I did think their penalty in the first half was a penalty, you’ve got to be truthful about these things. “But once he hasn’t given that, we always possibly thought the next opportunity he got, he would genuinely give Norwich a penalty.”

Latics game plan had been to press the Canaries high up the pitch and for the most part this was successful but they had failed to create many opportunities in front of goal.

Cook will be looking to quickly bounce back against Swansea City on Tuesday night, with Will Grigg and Callum McManaman likely starters, as they try to maintain their excellent home record.

Posted in Championship, Gavin Ward, Mario Vrancic, Norwich City, Paul Cook, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

How good is Wigan’s Cedric Kipre?

Cedric Kipre2

Cedric Kipre destined for the top. Photograph courtesy of Wigan Athletic.

It’s now apparent that Wigan Athletic made some very astute signings in the close season, which has helped to propel Paul Cook’s team to within touching distance of the top of the Championship table.

Amongst the new signings and loan deals are Lee Evans, Christian Walton, Reece James and Antonee Robinson who have all been outstanding but probably the most impressive addition has been Ivorian centre-half Cedric Kipre.

The 21-year-old Ivory Coast Under-23 international has signed a three-year deal with Latics after joining from Motherwell. During his time at Fir Park, he was an ever present and helped the club to both the Scottish FA Cup and Scottish League Cup finals in his first full season.

The Paris-born defender came through the youth ranks at Paris St Germain before moving to Leicester City but he never made a first team appearance while at the King Power Stadium.

Kipre only signed for Latics a day before the Championship opener against Sheffield Wednesday but has quickly slotted into the injured vice-captain Dan Burn’s position.

The big man with the distinctive dyed blonde hair has helped Latics to move into the play-off places with some magnificent defensive displays.

Kipre has been ever present in the team, which conceded seven goals in the first three games but has only conceded four goals in the last six.

The French man has done exceptionally well to quickly form such a strong defensive partnership with Chey Dunkley.

The 6 ft 3 in defender has been dominant in the aerial challenges and is able to cover quickly when needed, for example when getting back to make a goal-saving tackle to dispossess Andreas Weimann against Bristol City last Friday night.

He is technically very competent on the ball and does not panic when under pressure. He has put in some accomplished displays and has shown that he is more than capable of handling the physical demands of the second tier.

He was Man of the match against Rotherham and the expectation is that there will be many more.

Kipre was signed for a fee in the region of £1m but it could prove to be the best £1m Latics have spent in a long time.

It is still early days for him in the Championship but I’m sure he’s already attracting interest from Premier League clubs after such an auspicious start to the campaign and if he can maintain this high level of performance Latics will soon have to repel some significant transfer bids.

Kipre is still young at 21-years-old and has huge potential to get better but all the indications are that Latics have unearthed an Ivorian gem.

Posted in Cedric Kipre, Championship, Motherwell, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Latics move on up – Wigan Athletic 1 Bristol City 0

nick-powell3

Nick Powell’s perfect header was the difference

Latics moved up to third in the Championship table with a deserved 1-0 victory against the Robins at the DW Stadium last night.

In a closely fought encounter neither team had gained the upper hand until Nick Powell’s perfectly placed header in the 52nd minute made the difference.

Famara Diedhiou had a late opportunity to draw the Robins level but his header from close range was easily saved by Christian Walton.

The Robins are expected to be amongst promotion challengers but it was newly promoted Latics who looked the better side on the night and remain unbeaten at home since March.

Latics made one change to the starting line-up from Tuesday night’s victory against Hull City with Joe Garner replacing the injured Will Grigg upfront.

The Robins had an early chance when Andreas Weimann picked up a poor back pass by Antonee Robinson but Cedric Kipre made a superb intervention to deny the in-form striker.

Latics gradually took control of proceedings and were denied a penalty in the 22nd minute when Michael Jacobs was upended in the box and referee Oliver Langford turned away the appeals.

Jacobs then went close with a powerful drive from 25-yards which just cleared the crossbar.

Powell might have given Latics the lead a few minutes later when he fired wide of the target from the edge of the area. The ever dangerous midfielder then dispossessed a Robins defender by the dead ball line and put in a low cross but agonizingly no Latics player could make the vital contact.

The Robins forced three consecutive corners just before half-time but Latics’ defence stood firm and the teams remained level at the interval.

Latics started the second-half strongly and Josh Windass nearly gave them the lead but his flicked header just cleared the crossbar from Reece James’ free-kick.

Windass was in the thick of the action and his superb pinpoint cross allowed Powell to produce a sublime headed finish past Niki Maenpaa.

The former Glasgow Rangers striker then fired wide of the target as Latics went in search of a second goal. Sam Morsy got forward soon afterwards and fired another effort high over Maenpaa’s crossbar.

The Latics captain was back to his best producing a Man of the match performance in midfield harrowing his opponents, winning the ball and setting up attacks.

Despite Latics’ dominance they couldn’t add a second goal and they had to defend resolutely in the remaining minutes of the game with Cedric Kipre and Chey Dunkley once again outstanding in the centre of defence.

Diedhiou had a late chance to draw the Robins level with a header but it would have been an injustice if they had drawn level.

Overall Latics had been the better team and created the better chances. I had expected more from the Robins who had set up with a 4-4-2 formation but they looked unconvincing going forward.

After three games in six days Latics now have a week to recuperate and allow some of their star players to recover from injury.  It’s been a remarkably good start to the campaign for Paul Cook’s men and all the signs are that they are in for a successful season in the Championship.

Posted in Bristol City, Championship, Nick Powell, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment