It was another disappointing afternoon at the DW Stadium as Wigan Athletic slumped to defeat against promotion chasing Sheffield United.
Goals from David McGoldrick, Mark Duffy and Billy Sharp gave the Blades a deserved three points as Latics were once again second best.
Latics made one change from the starting eleven at Swansea City with Gary Roberts replacing Dan Burn who has now signed permanently for Brighton.
Latics had some early half chances as Cedric Kipre and then Joe Garner headed off target.
Gavin Massey was looking bright and creating problems down the right hand side and had a good opportunity from the edge of the area but shot straight at Dean Henderson.
Soon afterwards he forced a better save from the United keeper who could only parry the ball into the path of Lee Evans but the former Blade somehow failed to hit the target from six yards out.
The miss proved costly as five minutes before half time Latics failed to clear a corner and McGoldrick fired high into the roof of the net from close range.
McGoldrick might have doubled the lead soon afterwards but Chey Dunkley made a superb recovering challenge to deny the striker a second goal.
Oliver Norwood then struck the outside of the post as the visitors threatened to take complete control.
But early in the second half the three points were effectively sealed by the Blades.
In the 48th minute Henderson’s route-one kick found Sharp who got between Darron Gibson and Massey to play in Duffy for the second goal.
Then in the 53rd minute the prolific Sharp added the third and a record breaking 220th Football League goal from a cross by McGoldrick.
McManaman and Grigg were introduced from the substitutes bench in the 51st and 78th minutes respectively but the game had been lost well before they could make any real impact.
The Blades had deservedly come away with the points and have now moved up to third in the table but Latics are surely capable of performing much better and are currently not doing themselves justice.
Injuries are certainly not helping Latics, who are still missing Nick Powell, Michael Jacobs and Antonee Robinson and have now lost Gavin Massey for the second time this season with a reoccurrence of a hamstring problem.
But several of Latics’ players are not performing to their previous high standards: Goalkeeper Christian Walton is not dominating his penalty area and is seemingly lacking in confidence; midfielder Lee Evans is no longer the creative force of early season and is giving the ball away far too easily, and the sporadically effective Josh Windass now seems even less interested.
Latics who haven’t won since the end of November have now slipped down to 20th in the table and are just four points above the Championship relegation zone.
Paul Cook must take some of the responsibility for the poor run of form. It is especially difficult to understand why he has not used forwards Callum McManaman and Will Grigg in recent weeks.
McManaman was outstanding when he came on against West Brom but he didn’t start against either Swansea City or Sheffield United. Grigg is Latics’ most proven striker but he has also not started in recent games.
Cook is also unfortunately becoming increasingly negative with his formations.
He started with just one striker, Joe Garner, against Sheffield United and decided to pack the midfield in an attempt to frustrate his opponents but it was soon evident that Latics need more creativity in the final third if they were going to defeat an in-form Sheffield United.
Cook’s tactic of playing high balls up to Garner is futile given that he is almost always out jumped by bigger and stronger opposing defenders.
Latics had been at their most effective in early season when they were positive, kept the ball on the grass and used their wingers to create goalscoring opportunities.
Time for a rethink from the manager methinks.