Late decision denies Latics victory – Wigan Athletic 1 Norwich City 1

Man of the match Reece James

Wigan Athletic were unlucky not secure all three points in their fight against relegation when they were held 1-1 by Championship table toppers Norwich City at the DW Stadium.

Man of the match Reece James had given Latics a first half lead from the penalty spot after Ben Godfrey had handled Sam Morsy’s shot.

But the Canaries drew level on 81 minutes when Teemu Pukki scored his 27th Championship goal of the season.

Latics were denied a stoppage time winner when on-loan striker Leon Clarke’s header was controversially ruled out for offside and they had to settle for a point.

Paul Cook made four changes to the starting line up from the midweek defeat to Hull City, with Lee Evans, Gavin Massey, Kal Naismith and Clarke replacing Darron Gibson, Josh Windass, Nick Powell and Joe Garner.

The manager moved Latics’ most influential player James back into midfield after disappointingly selecting him at full back against Hull.

Latics started brightly and had an early opportunity to open the scoring when Massey was put in the clear by Evans but the winger failed to hit the target firing wide of Tim Krul’s right hand post.

Samy Morsy had an effort from 25-yards and Clarke headed over from a James cross as Latics continued to press forward.

An Evans diving header from an Antonee Robinson cross forced a good save from Krul before Latics went in front just before half time.

Morsy’s goal bound shot was blocked by the hand of Ben Godfrey and referee Linington awarded the spot kick which was confidently converted by the 19-year-old Chelsea loanee James.

The Canaries came out firing at the beginning of the second half when Onel Hernandez forced a good save from Walton.

At the other end the impressive James drove forward and fired just over from 25 yards.

It was end to end stuff as Walton saved from Pukki and from the resulting corner Godfrey headed over the crossbar.

Latics best chance came when Naismith set up Clarke, who slipped a defender before lifting the ball over Krul, but also agonisingly wide of the post.

James fired another free-kick over and Robinson blazed wide from a good position as Latics went in search of the second goal which would have almost certainly clinched all three points.

Latics had defended well throughout but on 81 minutes they were caught out when Pukki was allowed far too much space and the prolific Finn finished past Walton for the equaliser.

Even then Latics might have won it in stoppage time as Clarke headed in an excellent James free-kick but the goal was frustratingly adjudged to be offside by the assistant referee.

Latics’ home form hasn’t been a problem this season – they were very unlucky not to get all three points against Norwich – but they now need to show the same level of effort and commitment at second place Leeds United on Good Friday as they seek to put an end to their abysmal away form.

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Review of ‘The Club: How the Premier League Became the Richest, Most Disruptive Business in Sport’ by Jonathan Clegg and Joshua Robinson.

The Club pic

In ‘The Club’ two Wall Street Journal writers Jonathan Clegg and Joshua Robinson provide a telling insight into the excesses of the Premier League (PL) and how it has become a global business with little concern for local communities.

This is the story of how the PL broke away from the Football League in 1992 and how it has now become the playground of billionaires with designs on global domination.

Clegg and Robinson expertly guide us through the transformation from a sport in decline, lifting ideas from the American NFL and extracting huge sums of money for broadcasting rights, to become the richest and most absurd league in the world.

Chief Executive Richard Scudamore is identified as crucial to the growth of the PL overseeing a 687% increase in overseas broadcast revenue in just nine years.

Scudamore had recognised that the PL could be exported to countries such as India, Thailand, Singapore and the Middle East, he realised the product was equipped with a host of built-in advantages: the English language, Location – the British business day overlaps with both Asian and American day time hours, overseas viewers had a sort of Anglophilia – in short they craved the Englishness of it all.

Accomplished storytellers Clegg and Robinson trace the meteoric rise of the PL with considerable wit. For example when Manchester City signed the Brazilian Robinho:

“A Brazilian winger is a bit like a Maserati. Not many people know how to use one properly but damn if they don’t look good.’

From 2004 onwards, the three super clubs Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United shared every domestic title for eight years and salaries climbed so fast that players from around the world grew desperate for English contracts.

They didn’t even need Arsenal, or United or Chelsea to be interested, any move to the PL would do.

The TV rights to the PL were £4.4 billion in February 2018 but despite the success of the PL’s sharing model, it turned out the biggest agitator for change was the club now dominating English football.

Manchester City and its Catalan – Emirati leadership were pushing to overturn the league’s way of doing business. City railed against the league’s revenue-sharing model and repeatedly challenged the founder members agreement.

City and the other members of the Big Six threatened a European Super League breakaway and the other members of the PL had to agree to a new profit sharing agreement, which would inevitably benefit the bigger more successful clubs.

It was the last major deal that Scudamore did before he would step down, knowing that it would be much harder next time when the Big Six came back for an even bigger share or they just broke away.

Clegg and Robinson observed that the reasons for owning a PL football club are not always just about on-the-pitch success and making money. Garry Cook the Manchester City CEO in a presentation to potential buyers noted that:

“Whoever was stumping up the cash wasn’t just buying membership of the most watched league in the world. They were buying a slice of global legitimacy, a PR campaign that played fifty games a year to an audience of millions. You couldn’t put a price on that. For today’s image conscious billionaire, a PL football team was a must-have accessory.”

Sheikh Mansour’s takeover of City was indeed an attempt to legitimize the Abu Dhabi regime, which is steeped in controversy because of the disgraceful human-rights record.

The list of sins that Amnesty International identified included restrictions on freedom of the press, its limitations on women’s rights, its ban on homosexuality, its habit of ‘disappearing’ political dissidents, its use of torture, and show trials, and its continuing reliance on the exploitative Kafala contracts for migrant workers who make up 90% of the Abu Dhabi’s workforce.

However, despite occasional and limited interventions by the football authorities it is hard not to conclude that moral and ethical issues are swept aside when it comes down to the PL.

The players, owners, the agents, broadcasters, and the sponsors have made astronomical sums of money from the PL. The only people perhaps left behind are the local fans who are being priced out by increases in ticket prices.

In their conclusion Clegg and Robinson point out that ironically the relentless search for more and more revenue could ultimately be the PL’s downfall. The insatiable greed of the Big Six is likely to lead to these clubs breaking away as in 1992, to create a European Super League.

The Club: How the Premier League Became the Richest, Most Disruptive Business in Sport by Jonathan Clegg and Joshua Robinson. Published by John Murray, Price £16.99. 

This review first appeared in the April/May 2019 of Late Tackle magazine.

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Individual errors once again prove costly – Hull City 2 Wigan Athletic 1


Nick Powell gave Latics a first half lead

Wigan Athletic once again proved to be their own worst enemies as individual errors cost them the points against Hull City and edged them closer to the relegation zone.

Latics who have not won away in 19 Championship fixtures led through Nick Powell’s clinical 20-yard finish on 41 minutes but the Tigers drew level when keeper Christian Walton spilled a shot from Kamil Grosicki and Fraizer Campbell followed up to score on 51 minutes.

Substitute Gavin Massey had a good header well saved by David Marshall on 75 minutes, before they conceded an 89th minute corner and the unmarked Jordy De Wijs headed home from within the six-yard box to condemn Latics to yet another away defeat.

Latics drop two places in the Championship table to fourth-bottom and are now only two points ahead of third-bottom Rotherham United with five games still to play. Play-off outsiders Hull are in 9th place in the table and five points off sixth-place.

Paul Cook made one change from the starting eleven that drew 2-2 away at Bristol City, with Darron Gibson replacing Cedric Kipre.

Cook surprisingly tweaked his starting formation adopting a back four and moving Reece James to full back and Nathan Byrne into midfield alongside Sammy Morsy and Darron Gibson. A risky strategy given that James is Latics’ most effective player.

Latics had a couple of early half chances as Powell fired over from distance and Joe Garner headed wide from a James cross.

The Tigers responded with Walton producing a fine save at his near post to deny Jarrod Bowen.

The hosts nearly went ahead on 20 minutes when Marc Pugh’s delicate chip beat Walton but clipped the crossbar before Grosicki later volleyed wide.

Latics had ridden their luck a little in the opening half but just before the interval they went in front through Powell’s clinical finish from the edge of the area.

The visitors now had a great chance to go on and get something from the game but their good work was undone by yet another individual error six minutes into the second half.  Grosicki’s shot from the edge of the area wasn’t held by Walton and Campbell followed up for a poacher’s finish.

Substitute Gavin Massey had a good opportunity to restore Latics’ lead but his header from Josh Windass’s corner was well saved by Marshall at close range.

With the match seemingly heading towards a draw Latics once again contrived to contribute to their own downfall.

Their inability to manage out the closing stages of a game continues to be an achilles heel. This time Samy Morsy conceded an unnecessary corner on 89 minutes and from the corner de Wijs was allowed far too much space to head home from within the six-yard box.

Cook’s decision to re-jig his line-up and move Reece James from midfield to full back was also a big mistake on the night. James has been Latics’ best and most creative player and they definitely suffered from his absence in the centre of the team. He must surely return to a midfield role against Norwich City on Sunday if Latics are to get a positive result from the game.

Posted in Championship, Fraizer Campbell, Hull City, Jordy De Wijs, Nick Powell, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bristol bonus or a missed opportunity? Bristol City 2 Wigan Athletic 2

View form the away end at Ashton Gate

View from the away end

Wigan Athletic deservedly earned a point against play-off contenders Bristol City with a 2-2 draw at Ashton Gate.

Latics have failed to win away from home in 18 games but they went close to gaining all three points with a much-improved display against the in-form Robins.

The visitors went in front with a stunning 35-yard strike from Chelsea loanee Reece James and they could have added to their lead when Nick Powell’s deflected effort hit the base of the post.

The hosts turned the game around in the second half following a triple substitution. First substitute Niclas Eliasson crossed for Matty Taylor to head home above defenders Chey Dunkley and Cedric Kipre and then Taylor set up another substitute Kasey Palmer after Dunkley had slipped on the edge of the area.

Bailey Wright had a chance to seal the three points for Bristol City but blazed wide of the target, before Anthony Pilkington was on hand in a 93rd minute goalmouth scramble to give Latics a rare and well-deserved away point.

Latics rise to 19th in the Championship table but are now only two points above the drop zone with six games remaining. The Robins meanwhile slip a place to sixth in the table two points above seventh placed Derby County.

Paul Cook made two changes to the starting eleven from last week’s 0-0 draw with Brentford, with Josh Windass and Kipre coming into the side in place of Michael Jacobs and Gavin Massey.

The manager tweaked his formation to go with three centre-backs Danny Fox, Kipre and Dunkley and two wing-backs Nathan Byrne and Antonee Robinson. Samy Morsy and James protecting the back five and Powell, Windass and Joe Garner up front.

Latics took the game to the high-flying hosts in the opening minutes when a James free-kick should have been converted by Dunkley from within the six-yard box.

At the other end, the Robins forced an excellent save from Latics’ keeper Christian Walton on the half hour mark when he tipped over Jay Dasilva’s rising drive.

Famara Diedhiou had a free header soon afterwards, as the Robins looked to assert themselves, but he headed well wide from close range

Latics went ahead in spectacular fashion moments later when James picked up the ball on the halfway line and shrugged off several opponents before unleashing an unstoppable strike from 35-yards which whistled past keeper Max O’Leary into the top corner.

The Robins responded and almost immediately drew level but Walton got down well to deny Diedhiou.

Latics might have increased their lead just before half-time when Powell’s deflected cross evaded everyone including keeper O’Leary and the ball came back off the post and away to safety.

Early in the second half Fox fired straight at O’Leary before he had a second effort well blocked. Garner headed over a Byrne cross before a triple substitution by the Robins manager Lee Johnson changed the course of the game.

Taylor headed home from a deep cross by substitute Eliasson and then Taylor set-up substitute Palmer who capitalised on some poor Latics defending to score from inside the penalty area.

But for once Latics’ heads didn’t go down and they kept battling. Fox fired wide and Dunkley was twice denied first from a Windass corner and then from a delivery from substitute Massey.

As the match moved towards stoppage time Latics pushed bodies forward in an attempt to get the equaliser and justice was done in the 93rd minute when substitute Leon Clarke’s shot was initially saved on the line by Jack Hunt, but Pilkington was in the right place at the right time to force the ball home for what could be an important point in the relegation scrap.

Both teams had created plenty of chances but the difference was that Latics’ defending had let them down on the day. If they had been more solid at the back they might have come away with all three points and eased some of their relegation worries.

It now appears that with six games of the season remaining Ipswich Town and Bolton Wanderers will be relegated but the battle to avoid the final relegation place is becoming increasingly close with six teams involved – Birmingham 44 pts, QPR 44 pts, Wigan 41 pts, Millwall 40 pts, Reading 40 pts, and Rotherham 39 pts – in the mix for what will be a tense finale.




Posted in Anthony Pilkington, Bristol City, Championship, Kasey Palmer, Matty Taylor, Reece James, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bristol bound on a wing and a prayer

Bristol City's Ashton Gate

Bristol City’s Ashton Gate

I’m travelling down to Bristol City on Saturday for another Latics away-day but it’s more in hope than expectation. It’s a very tough fixture as the fifth-placed Robins will be desperate to consolidate their play-off place after an important mid-week victory at Middlesbrough.

Latics are just four points above the relegation zone and have a dreadful away record, unable to win in 17 Championship away games.

I keep thinking that the poor away form will come to end soon, but the miserable defeats at Reading and Blackburn do make you wonder where the next away win is going to come from.

Both those games were winnable but Latics conspired to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at Reading when they led 2-1 with only one minute of the 90 minutes remaining.

Then at Ewood Park they had started well enough but gave away a silly penalty, the heads dropped and they went on to concede two more goals due to defensive mistakes.

Latics’ excellent home form is in stark contrast to their away form and it just shows that they are capable of competing at this level. But I think a number of factors have contributed to this terrible away sequence of results.

Firstly, the manager must take some responsibility for the away form. Cook’s team selections and desire to make too many changes to the starting line-ups has contributed to the problems.

His resort to long ball tactics has generally been ineffective and his reluctance to utilise winger Callum McManaman remains a mystery.

Secondly, the players have to take responsibility for their poor performances. They are making far too many mistakes on their travels and their heads go down far too easily if they go a goal down away from home.

Thirdly, the injuries to attacking players have certainly had a damaging effect on the results, with Nick Powell, Gavin Massey, Michael Jacobs and Will Grigg all absent for long periods of the season. Any team would struggle without their star players.

Fourthly, because the players have not won away since August they now seem to have a psychological barrier when playing away. It seems there is a lack of belief amongst the players that they can pick up three points when playing away from the DW Stadium.

Cook has recently taken the players to a Boxing Gym to toughen them up. Maybe he should also try a psychologist, or even a hypnotist to try and break the away-day hoodoo?

At least the Robins recent form has been inconsistent – two defeats, two draws and two wins in their last six games – which does offer some comfort to those travelling to Ashton Gate.

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Trying to find the finishing touches – Wigan Athletic 0 Brentford 0


Chey Dunkley twice went close for Latics

Wigan Athletic remain in the relegation dogfight after a 0-0 draw at home to Brentford and are four points above the drop zone with seven games remaining.

It was a creditable performance by Latics who had the best chances to secure all three points in a closely fought game.

Brentford had comfortably dispatched Latics earlier in the season at Griffin Park and had previously looked capable of being promotion challengers.

The Bees did threaten sporadically but Latics were the better outfit on this occasion.

Reece James’ 35-yard volley forced an acrobatic save from Luke Daniels, Gavin Massey had a one-on-one saved and the Bees keeper produced a full length save to deny Chey Dunkley’s diving header.

Dunkley also headed against the crossbar and Anthony Pilkington had a goal disallowed for offside but they just couldn’t find the finishing touches to secure the three points to pull them further away from the drop zone.

Latics made one change to their starting eleven following the win over Bolton Wanderers as Danny Fox returned to the side in the place of Cedric Kipre.

Both teams threatened in the opening ten minutes. Massey and Antonee Robinson had goal-bound efforts blocked for Latics before Neal Maupay dragged a shot wide for the Bees.

Latics player of the season Reece James went close with an improvised half volley on 25 minutes which was well tipped over by Daniels.

But the best chance of the first half fell to Massey after Nick Powell had done superbly to take the ball from deep in his own half. The winger was put in the clear by Powell but his final shot lacked real conviction and was saved by Daniels.

Brentford had enjoyed the greater possession and looked a threat on the break but Latics had created the better chances in the first half.

Early in the second half Christian Walton was at full stretch to deny Said Benrahma’s powerful effort from the edge of the box.

Latics then went close when Daniels denied Dunkley’s diving header following James’ corner-kick.

The hosts looked to have broken the deadlock on 75 minutes when Joe Garner’s towering header found substitute Pilkington at the back-post for an easy finish, but the goal was disallowed for offside.

The match was finely poised with Latics doing most of the pressing but with the Bees always a threat on the counter.

Latics almost got the all important winner on 83 minutes when Danny Fox’s cross was met by Dunkley but the centre-back’s looped header landed on the top of the crossbar and the match ended in stalemate.

Paul Cook’s reluctance to use Callum McManaman remains very puzzling. With 20 minutes remaining Latics needed a creative player who could unlock the Bees defence, but the manager left it until the 87th minute before introducing McManaman.

The change almost did the trick as the winger immediately breached the Bees backline before being brought down before he could cross.

Surely the change should’ve been made sooner if Cook wanted to secure the three points. Cook’s failure to use McManaman is one of the great mysteries of this season.

Latics now have some very tough fixtures ahead as they have to face several of the top teams, including Bristol City, Norwich City and Leeds United, and in that context this result inevitably felt like a wasted opportunity to take all three points.


Posted in Brentford, Callum McManaman, Championship, Chey Dunkley, Paul Cook, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Which players should be released if Latics survive in the Championship?

Reece James

Star man Reece James

With eight games remaining Latics are in a relegation scrap and sit just three points above the drop zone, but if they do survive in the Championship this season what are the player options for next season.

Latics’ best player Chelsea loanee Reece James was this week deservedly named in the Championship team of the year but it is unlikely that the club will be able to retain his services for next season.

Several Premier League teams are keen to secure his signature and if Chelsea don’t sell him on he is likely to be loaned out to either a Premier League or top Championship outfit.

Manager Paul Cook will no doubt endeavour to make good use of the loan system next season but he is unlikely to find a young player of James’ quality again.

A new goalkeeper is on the wanted list as Brighton loanee Christian Walton will probably return to his home club. Latics other keeper Jamie Jones has signed an extended contract but they will need another experienced keeper to compete with Jones for the Number 1 spot.

The International Entertainment Corporation (IEC) have said they have money available to invest in the squad and that the Will Grigg transfer money is going to be used on recruitment.

As I’m not expecting loan striker Leon Clarke to stay on after completing his loan from Sheffield United, it is therefore important that the recruitment team seek out a goal scorer to replace Grigg as soon as possible.

Striker Joe Garner has been a useful addition to the squad but he is unlikely to score enough goals to fire Latics up the table.

Highly regarded midfielder Nick Powell and winger Gavin Massey are in negotiations about new contracts and if the new owners are serious about success on the pitch they should try their hardest to keep both players at the club.

In my opinion Callum McManaman deserves another contract, but it is evident that the manager has other ideas, so it would seem likely that he will move on.

Loanee full back Antonee Robinson has spent much of the season injured and loanee midfielder Beni Baningime has had very limited game time, so both could well return to their parent club Everton.

Midfielder Darron Gibson has not contributed much to the campaign and I would be very surprised if he got another contract.

Centre back Jonas Olssen came out of retirement to provide defensive cover recently but his performance against Blackburn did not augur well for an extended contract.

Midfielder Shaun MacDonald has not managed to get back into the first team after suffering a broken leg in April 2017 and is likely to given the opportunity to find another club.

Latics allowed several squad members to go out on loan during the course of the season. Midfielder Leonardo Da Silva Lopes is currently at Gillingham and will probably be recalled to see if he has progressed sufficiently to compete for a place next season.

Winger Jamie Walker was on loan at Peterborough but returned mid-season and hasn’t got back into first team contention. Similarly striker Devante Cole was on loan at Burton Albion and returned mid season and hasn’t been in first team contention. So I expect both of them to leave the club in the summer.

Striker James Vaughan who is currently on loan at Portsmouth is also likely to be released.

Latics do have several promising young players who might challenge for a first team place next season, in particular, England youth internationals Jensen Weir and Joe Geldhart. However the step up from youth team football can often be problematic, so we shouldn’t expect too much from them in the short-term.

With so many player departures likely it’s going to be a big close season of change for the club. It will be the first summer in charge for the new owners and it will provide a strong indicator of IEC’s intentions for the future.

In a fiercely competitive Championship the owner’s commitment to providing the funds for new players will be crucial if Latics are to make serious progress next season.

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