Latics moved out of the relegation zone on Saturday for the first time in three months with an impressive 1-0 victory at Championship leaders West Brom. They are the in-form team in the division with 17 points from a possible 24 in the last eight games.
It’s been a remarkable turnaround from early December when Latics couldn’t buy a win and were defeated by Reading and Saturday’s opponents Luton Town. Many people including myself were calling for a change in manager as Paul Cook seemed out of ideas and incapable of finding a winning formula.
So why have Latics suddenly clicked?
A number of factors have contributed to the remarkable transformation.
Is it that time in the season when they need to step up their performances to preserve their Championship status? Last season the team looked like being sucked into the relegation zone and it was only a late sequence of positive results starting at Leeds United in April that enabled them to avoid the drop.
It’s perhaps no coincidence that Latics’ revival started around the time they defeated Leeds again at Elland Road. The belief since that result has soared. Is there something in the current team’s mindset that says we only getting going when the going gets tough?
Captain Samy Morsy has been a revelation in recent weeks, his man of the match performances have inspired his teammates. Organising and urging them on to some remarkable performances against Leeds and West Brom.
Not only has the Eqyptian international been extremely combative he has also chipped in with some important goals at home to Middlesbrough and at the Hawthorns.
The addition of Brighton and Hove Albion loanee Leon Balogun has been a masterstroke by Latics. The German-born Nigerian international has quickly slotted into the centre back role alongside Cedric Kipre to form a solid defensive barrier.
Balogun was imperious against West Brom with some unbelievable last-ditch tackles and defensive blocks. Striker Hal Robson-Kanu must be having nightmares after Balogun denied him on at least three occasions with superb goal saving challenges.
Summer signing Kieffer Moore has finally started to find the form that Latics expected when they signed him. Moore has four goals in the last eight games and you can’t help feeling that if the service was a little better he would score even more goals.
The Wales international striker leads the line very well and he has a very good touch for such a big man. His two back-heeled flicked finishes against Cardiff and Reading were world class and it will not be long before he becomes a target for Premier League clubs.
The style of play has noticeably improved in recent weeks and the last two performances against Reading and West Brom have been characterised by a high pressing game. Latics have dominated possession, passed the ball to great effect and created plenty of chances.
It is not clear why Cook didn’t adopt this approach earlier in the season. Much of Latics’ early games were characterised by his ineffective long ball tactics. Surely given the current success the manager will continue with the high press for the remaining games.
It’s probably no coincidence that Latics’ resurgence has occurred since forward Josh Windass left the club for a loan at Sheffield Wednesday.
Windass has some talent but his form has been very erratic and his regular outbursts on social media have not endeared him to the fanbase. Cook has reportedly had a disagreement with Windass and its fair to say he has been a disruptive influence in the dressing room.
The team spirit now seems to be sky high with all the players pulling in the right direction. The effort and determination in recent games has been exemplary and we can only hope that this will continue in the remaining ten games.
Latics aren’t safe from relegation yet, but the signs are positive and it’s worth remembering that Joe Gelhardt, Antonee Robinson and Kieran Dowell will all return in the near future to give the squad an extra boost.