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 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


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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Book Review: World in Motion – The Inside Story of Italia ’90 by Simon Hart

World in Motion

Simon Hart revisits Italia ‘90 with an entertaining journey through one of the most culturally significant World Cups. It was a rare tournament with Scotland, Ireland and England all qualifying. It was a time of Gazza’s tears, Pavarotti’s ‘Nessun Dorma’ and New Order’s ‘World In Motion’. Italia ‘90 was to prove groundbreaking in so many different ways.

Hart carries out over 100 interviews with players, managers and administrators to paint a vivid picture of one of the most engrossing and memorable tournaments. He has interviews with Cameroon’s Roger Milla, Italy’s Toto Schillaci, West Germany’s Jurgen Klinsmann, Argentina’s Sergio Goycochea, and Ireland’s Packie Bonner exploring the full global impact.

In the 380 pages he not only examines the story of the tournament but the long-term social, political and economic paths of each country involved.

There may not have been many goals scored but seismic events were taking place at Italia ’90. As a result of the tournament the offside rule was changed; the ’professional foul’ for denying a goalscoring opportunity would now be given a red card and soon afterwards the back-pass ban came into force.

Hart summarises the significance of Italia 90 in his introduction, ‘It was a tournament which took place at a pivotal moment in the sports evolution; the advent of the Premier League and Champions League was around the corner, the influence of television was growing, and the world of football was about to become a much smaller place. In a sense, it acted as a last hurrah and a searchlight on the future. It had a direct impact on the way the game would be packaged and played in the decades to follow.’

There are plenty of interesting stories to keep the reader engaged throughout, with some highlighting how football was so different back in 1990.  For example when Costa Rica played a friendly in Wales prior to the World Cup, a Costa Rica Federation Official was flustered when some players swapped shirts with their Wales counterparts.

“Everything was so new for us, we didn’t have a shirt sponsor,” explains Juan Cayasso,

“We didn’t have enough. One or two of our teammates swapped shirts, and they were like, “No, no, no, that’s not possible, you can’t do it.”

When Costa Rica defeated Scotland in Genoa it was a big shock for the Scots. Hart writes: The next morning The Daily Record begged in their headline,

“Stop the World We Want To Get Off.”

The Times showed a weeping Scotsman with a Tam o’Shanter on his head, a pint in his hand and two tears rolling down his cheek muttering,

“I didn’t even know Costa Rica had a football team.”

Toto Schillaci who became top scorer at Italia ’90 remarkably didn’t make his debut for Italy until 1990. The Sicilian striker had a similarly meteoric rise to Paul Gascoigne.

“I liked Gascoigne a lot because he saw football as a spectacle,”

he says of a man who, like himself was an instinct-driven footballer who flowered at the perfect time.

“There were extraordinary players then. They played for the spirit of the game, for the hunger, for the shirt. It’s no longer like that today. They’re not as good technically as before. Now, football’s based more on running, on speed, and on physical power.”

The memorable anecdotes keep coming with Cameroon’s unlikely hero Roger Milla; Argentina spiking a drink during the Brazil quarter-final; Jack Charlton’s unorthodox methods and the Rocky films providing a major motivator for Italia 90’s stars.

Probably the most iconic moment was in the England versus West Germany semi-final when Gazza fouled Thomas Berthold and is booked. Gazza realises he will miss the World Cup final if England qualifies, tears roll down his cheeks and Gary Linekar signals to the bench.

England’s first ever penalty shoot-out failure was the start of a dispiriting trend. But when the players returned to England they were greeted by 70,000 at Luton Airport and 150,000 lined their route around the town.

Within a few months Gazzamania had taken hold and brought the 23-year-old his own Spitting Image Puppet, an aftershave deal with Brut, and a number two record in the charts with ‘Fog On The Tyne (revisited)’ with the Newcastle band Lindisfarne.

Patrick Barclay writing in The Independent at the time considers the impact of Gascoigne’s tears cannot be overstated.

“It was the beginning of the process that led to English football being the biggest in the world at club level. Because it was the beginning of football as entertainment with the coincidence of Gazza’s tears and a dramatic World Cup. I hope this doesn’t sound sexist, but Gazza’s tears broadened the audience.”

Hart writes, ‘England having produced their two most exciting tournament victories since the 1966 World Cup, against Belgium and Cameroon, had now given the record 26.2 million audience watching at home another epic contest – and a hero with a vulnerable streak.’

Hart has done a tremendous job by capturing the stories behind a perfect moment in the history of the modern game; it is hard to imagine that there could be such a culturally important World Cup in the future.

World in Motion – The Inside Story of Italia ’90 The Tournament That Changed Football By Simon Hart. Published by deCoubertin Books, Price £16.99. 

This review first appeared in the June/July 2018 edition of Late Tackle magazine.

Posted in Book Reviews, Italia '90, New Order, Simon Hart, Wigan Athletic, World Cup, World in Motion | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment