12th Man – Burn gets my player vote

FA Cup Fifth Round - Wigan Athletic vs Manchester City

Dan Burn celebrates with the fans after defeating Manchester City

It’s been a great team effort this season. Many players have made significant contributions to the cause: Christian Walton, Chey Dunkley, Michael Jacobs, and Max Power have been impressive but five players have really stood out for me.

My top five players of the season in reverse order are:

5. Will Grigg – Hampered by injury in the close season the prolific striker didn’t get a full pre-season and struggled to hit early form. However, when he regained his sharpness he proved that he is the most reliable marksman in League One.

The Northern Ireland international has scored an incredible 67 goals in his last five seasons. He is currently on 25 for this season and who would bet against him breaking the 30 mark before the end of this season?

He has now achieved a remarkable quadruple by making it four promotions in the last five seasons to the Championship. He was promoted with Brentford in 2014, MK Dons in 2015, Latics in 2016 and now in 2018.

His magnificent finish to knock Manchester City out of the FA Cup will go down as one of the most iconic goals in recent FA Cup history.

4. Nick Powell – The talented midfielder is Latics most creative player and most of their best moves revolve around this fragile genius. Powell has it all, left foot, right foot, tackling, shooting and heading, just a complete footballer.

15 goals so far this season but it would surely have been many more if he hadn’t been plagued by injury. Currently valued at around £10m, Powell showed his commitment to the Latics cause by turning down a very lucratic move to Brighton in the transfer window.

3. Nathan Byrne – Questions were asked about the full-back at the start of the season but the former Spurs youth player has shown great improvement under Paul Cook and has been an almost ever present in the team.

Byrne has a tremendous engine with great pace, he gets forward and contributes to many of Latics’ best attacks but he has also been a resolute and reliable defender. Recently selected as the only Latics player in the EFL Football Manager Team of the Season, which just shows what a great impression he has made.

2. Samy Morsy – The club captain and what a consistent performer he has been throughout the campaign. The tough-tackling midfielder has led by example and made an outstanding contribution to a fantastic season.

He has not only protected the defence but has been the instigator of Latics set-up play from midfield. The Eqyptian international will be hoping to break into the World Cup team but Latics’ fans will be a little fearful that he doesn’t do too well, or he could attract serious interest from Premier League clubs in the close season.

1. Dan Burn – The towering rock at the centre of the defence he has been Latics’ most consistent performer this season. The winner of the Player of the Season in the Championship he would be my choice for the award this time around as well.

Burn has been an almost ever present making so many important defensive blocks, tackles and headers and contributing six goals to the cause. With his central defensive partner Chey Dunkley he has played a major role in Latics’ amazing defensive record.

The team has only conceded a miserly 28, which is the best in the Football League and only Manchester City and Manchester United in the Premier League have conceded fewer goals. This superb defensive record has been the foundation of what should prove to be a title-winning season.

This article was first published in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 27th April 2018.

Posted in Dan Burn, League One, Nathan Byrne, Nick Powell, Sam Morsy, Wigan Athletic, Will Grigg | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Late equaliser keeps Latics on track for the title – Bristol Rovers 1 Wigan Athletic 1


Latics on the attack

Wigan Athletic maintained the advantage in the League One title race with a late equaliser at Bristol Rovers.

In wet and windy conditions at the Memorial Ground the visitors struggled to get their usual passing game going and went behind on 28 minutes when Liam Sercombe’s low 25-yard drive seemed to deceive keeper Christian Walton.

The Gas created the best opportunities in the first-half with Ellis Harrison firing wide early on and Kyle Bennett curling a right-footed shot against the post.

Walton made a superb double save on 43 minutes from Sercombe and Byron Moore to prevent Latics falling further behind.

With the match seemingly slipping away from Latics manager Paul Cook made a triple substitution introducing forwards Will Grigg, Devante Cole and Ryan Colclough and it was Colclough who rescued what could prove to be a vital point on 80 minutes.

The winger cut inside and unleashed a low drive which beat the despairing dive of Rovers keeper Sam Slocombe at his near post.

Cole had earlier been adjudged to have what looked like good goal ruled out for offside, but Rovers might have won it at the death when Lee Brown hit a post and Latics held on for what could prove to be an important point.

Blackburn secured automatic promotion on the night with a 1-0 win at Doncaster but remain one point behind Latics and with a significantly inferior goal difference with two games remaining.

Cook made two changes to the team which had so convincingly won at Fleetwood with Michael Jacobs and James Vaughan replacing Grigg and Colclough.

Latics made a tentative opening with none of their usual slick passing in evidence.

Rovers might have taken an early lead when Ellis Harrison had a one-on-one with Walton but fired just wide of the target.

The signs were ominous for Latics and the hosts went in front on 28 minutes after some unconvincing defending. Bennett’s pass to Harrison was deflected off Nathan Byrne and into the path of Sercombe whose low drive seemed to deceive Walton.

Latics were now under the cosh, Bennett curled a shot against the post and just before the interval Walton produced a superb double save to deny Rovers.

Rovers pressure continued to mount at the start of the second-half. Dan Burn had to make a crucial interception to deny Sercombe and then Moore fired wide of Walton’s near post.

Cook needed to shake things up if Latics were to get anything from the game and he duly made three changes. Colclough and Grigg were introduced on 67 minutes and Devante Cole came on ten minutes later.

Cole had what looked to be a good goal ruled out for offside after Colclough’s initial shot was saved by Slocombe, as Latics upped their game.

With ten minutes remaining Colclough cut inside and unleashed a dipping drive from 25-yards which beat Slocombe at his near post, much to the relief of Latics’ travelling fans.

In stoppage time Rovers hit the post with a Brown free-kick but Latics held on for what could prove to be an invaluable point in the title race.

If Latics can win their final two games at home to AFC Wimbledon and away at Doncaster they will be promoted as Champions with 100 points.

Posted in Bristol Rovers, League One, Liam Sercombe, Ryan Colclough, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Fantastic day in Fleetwood as Latics are promoted – Fleetwood Town 0 Wigan Athletic 4

fantastic day at Fleetwood

Fantastic day in Fleetwood

Wigan Athletic thrashed Fleetwood Town 4-0 to return to the Championship at the first time of asking. Promotion was achieved on a glorious day on the Lancashire coast with an emphatic display of attacking football.

Latics’ result and Shrewsbury’s failure to beat Bury ensured they were promoted with three games to spare.

Paul Cook’s team moved three points clear at the top of the table and will secure the League One title if they win two of their three remaining games.

Max Power opened the scoring on 33 minutes with a side-footed effort from the edge of the area into the bottom right-hand corner.

Latics were soon two up when Gavin Massey produced a piece of magic with a Bergkampesque flick and turn before curling the ball into the bottom right-hand corner.

The visitors were now in cruise control and they dominated proceedings with some scintillating attacking moves.

Dan Burn added a third when Ryan Colclough set him up inside the area and Chey Dunkley added a fourth following a good initial save by Alex Cairns, but it could so easily have been six or seven as Latics tormented their opponents.

Cook made three changes to the team that defeated Oxford United with Nathan Byrne, Will Grigg and Massey all coming into the starting eleven.

Latics were the first to threaten when Gary Roberts’ curled strike was pushed onto the post by Cairns.

Ashley Hunter was proving to be the hosts main outlet and he fired over the crossbar from a good position early on.

But Latics soon took control when Nathan Byrne fed Power on the edge of the area and the bubbly midfielder side-footed the ball into the bottom right-hand corner.

Three minutes later and Latics were two up. Grigg played a neat ball to Massey and the winger produced a special piece of magic with an audacious flick and turn before curling the ball into the bottom right-hand corner.

Just the 2-0 at the interval with Latics in command but it was an even more impressive display in the second-half.

Centre-half Burn added a third on 57 minutes firing home with a low drive after a good cut-back by Colclough.

Power should have added a fourth soon afterwards when Man of the Match Roberts broke down the left and produced a perfect ball for him in front of goal but the midfielder fired wide of the target.

Latics continued to exert pressure and they added a fourth on 66 minutes when Dunkley finished from close range after Cairns had initially done well to save Colclough’s header.

Roberts and substitutes Jamie Walker and Devante Cole all had chances increase the advantage, but it didn’t matter as news that Bury had equalised at Shrewsbury meant the players and fans were in celebratory mood as a well deserved promotion had been clinched.

It’s already been a record breaking season as Latics set a new clean sheet record with Christian Walton and Jamie Jones reaching a combined 26 in League One. They also reached 86 league goals for the campaign. But they could also surpass Paul Jewell’s 2002/03 team’s 100 point record if they win their final three games.

Posted in Chey Dunkley, Dan Burn, Fleetwood Town, Gavin Massey, League One, Max Power, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Latics strengthen their position at the top – Wigan Athletic 1 Oxford United 0

Will Grigg Wigan Athletic

Will Grigg scored a vital late winner

Wigan Athletic are now in prime position for the League One title after a hard fought victory against a stubborn Oxford United at the DW Stadium.

Latics had to wait until the 87th minute to break the deadlock but Will Grigg’s 25th goal of the season was enough to secure a vital win and lift them three points clear of second place Blackburn and eight ahead of third place Shrewsbury with four games remaining.

With time running out Man of the Match Samy Morsy produced a defence splitting pass which found substitute Devante Cole who squared the ball to the prolific Grigg who finished from close range.

It was no more than Latics deserved against Karl Robinson’s team who had set out to frustrate and stifle the League leaders.

Michael Jacobs and Max Power twice had chances to open the scoring in the first half and Grigg scooped the ball over from inside the six yard box in the second half as the hosts made most of the running.

Oxford had a couple of opportunities on the break but it was mostly one-way traffic as Latics secured their 27th league win of the campaign.

Paul Cook made four changes from Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Rotherham United with Jay Fulton, Gary Roberts, Ryan Colclough and James Vaughan all coming into the team.

Latics started slowly and it was Oxford who went close early on when Ricardinho fired wide of the target from 20 yards.

The hosts struggled for fluidity in the early stages and were clearly missing the creativity of the injured Nick Powell and the attacking runs of Nathan Byrne.

But as the half wore on Latics started to create some chances and Power tried his luck from distance and Jacobs rattled the crossbar with a strike from a tight angle.

Simon Eastwood then superbly tipped over Power’s free-kick before Alex Mowatt headed Chey Dunkley’s effort off the line

The visitors had a rare attempt on goal when Canice Carroll volleyed narrowly wide of Christian Walton’s goal and the teams went into the interval goalless.

Latics continued to dominate possession in the second half but they were struggling to create clear-cut chances until Grigg replaced Colclough on 65 minutes.

Latics top scorer almost broke the deadlock on 75 minutes when he turned in the area but scooped the ball over the crossbar from close range.

Gavin Massey replaced Fulton on 68 minutes and Devante Cole replaced Vaughan on 82 minutes and Latics gradually started to carve out more opportunities.

The deadlock was finally broken on 87 minutes when captain Samy Morsy played a delicious through ball to Cole who squared it to the unmarked Grigg for his 25th goal of the season, much to the relief of the home fans.

Cole might have added a second soon afterwards with a super run and shot but keeper Eastwood managed to tip the ball onto the post and prevent the young striker’s first goal for the club.

Latics had not been at their best on the night, with plenty of signs of fatigue amongst the  players, but they had persevered against stubborn opponents and got a vital win  strengthening their position at the top of the table.

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Latics held but retain top spot – Wigan Athletic 0 Rotherham United

James Vaughan

James Vaughan might have won it for Latics at the end

The League One leaders Wigan Athletic were held at home by play-off contenders Rotherham United on Saturday but still retain top spot in the table.

The free-scoring Latics had bagged nine goals in their previous two games but on this occasion they had an off-day in front of goal against a resolute Rotherham team.

The Millers made a brisk start and could have gone ahead early on when both Michael Smith and Ryan Williams wasted good opportunities.

Latics best chance of the first half came when Will Grigg forced a good save from keeper Marek Rodak at close range and then fired the rebound just wide.

Grigg then headed narrowly wide of the target as Latics gradually grew into the game.

Unfortunately Latics lost the creativity of Nick Powell at half-time due to injury and he was replaced by Gary Roberts.

Latics were having the lion’s share of possession but they weren’t creating too many goalscoring opportunities and Williams rising drive from outside the box nearly found the top corner for the visitors.

As the game moved towards the final whistle both Michael Jacobs and substitute James Vaughan had good opportunities to break the deadlock but it was not to be and the points had to be shared.

Latics retain top spot on goal difference from second placed Blackburn, and are five points ahead of third placed Shrewsbury, whilst Rotherham remain in fourth place.

Paul Cook retained the same starting eleven that had so convincingly defeated Rochdale 4-1 on Tuesday night.

Rotherham were quickest out of the blocks and created a couple of very good early chances.

Chey Dunkley had to be at his best to block a goalbound effort from Michael Smith and then Ryan Williams forced a very good save from Christian Walton at his near post.

After the early Rotherham pressure Latics started to assert themselves and Grigg went close on two occasions. First when he forced a good reaction save from Rodak at close range and then when he headed narrowly wide from Nathan Byrne’s pinpoint cross from the right-hand side.

The teams largely cancelled each other out in a rather uninspiring second-half but the Millers went close when Williams fired over the angle of crossbar and post and Latics had two late opportunities through Jacobs and Vaughan.

First Byrne’s free-kick from the right-hand side was headed back by Vaughan into the path of Jacobs who shot over the crossbar from eight-yards out.

In added time, they might have sealed the three points when Vaughan headed high over the crossbar from a very good position from Jacobs’ knock back. But Latics’ frustration was somewhat alleviated when news of Blackburn conceding a 94th minute equaliser at Bristol Rovers came through.

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12th Man – 100 points and more

Paul Jewell’s title winners in 2002/03

Latics surged to the top of the League One table with two magnificent performances against MK Dons and Rochdale. The finishing in those games has been nothing short of breathtaking with some stunning goals from Will Grigg, Michael Jacobs, Nick Powell, James Vaughan and Dan Burn.

The two superb attacking displays have produced nine goals and it looks like they could add plenty more in the remaining six games.

Will Grigg has scored 24 goals with four in the last two games and is very capable of reaching at least 30 before the end of the season.

Nick Powell has 15 goals and would almost certainly have scored many more if he wasn’t being hampered by a succession of injuries.

Winger Michael Jacobs has a very creditable 11 goals to his name and has now surpassed his tally from the League One title winning team in 2015/16.

Not only are Latics firing on all cylinders but also they are keeping them out at the other end.

The defence has been outstanding and only conceded a miserly 27, which is the best in the Football League and only Manchester City and Manchester United in the Premier league have conceded fewer goals.

Latics are in a rich vein of form and if they were to maintain their current form with an average of 2.15 points per game they would reach 98 points, which you would expect to get them promoted.

But they are surely capable of getting the 100 points achieved by Paul Jewell’s title winning team in 2002/03. Jewell’s team only lost four games all season and scored 68 goals in total and conceded 25.

The current team has already scored 81 and you would expect them to score plenty more in their remaining six games.

The maximum points available to the three automatic promotion contenders is now, Latics 104 points, Blackburn 101 points, and Shrewsbury 97 points.

Both Blackburn and Shrewsbury still have promotion chasing teams Peterborough and Charlton to play and Latics face fourth placed Rotherham United at the DW Stadium tomorrow.

The Millers have had a remarkable rise since Latics won 3-1 at the New York Stadium in November with goals from Grigg, Bruce and Jacobs.

It looked as though they would remain marooned in mid-table but former Latics player Paul Warne’s team have soared into the play-off places.

Despite losing on-loan top scorer Kieffer Moore to Barnsley they have continued to get results by spreading the goals around the rest of the team.

Latics will need to be on their guard against any complacency after two comfortable victories but if they can maintain their current performance levels they should retain top spot.

Paul Cook’s men must now be very aware that the exciting prospect of winning the League One title and of overtaking the 100 points achieved by Paul Jewell’s team is within their grasp.

This article was first published in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 13th April 2018.

Posted in League One, Paul Cook, Paul Jewell, Rotherham United, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Latics are back on top – Rochdale 1 Wigan Athletic 4


Dan Burn opened the scoring for Latics

Wigan Athletic moved back to the top of the League One table with an impressive 4-1 hammering of relegation strugglers Rochdale.

In an end-to-end first half Latics went ahead in the 17th minute when Max Power’s corner was headed towards goal by Chey Dunkley and Dan Burn diverted the ball past keeper Josh Lillis.

Nick Powell went close for Latics hitting the post and Joe Rafferty headed against the crossbar for Dale.

But Latics were having the better of it and early in the second-half they increased their lead when Will Grigg played a delightful ball through to substitute James Vaughan and the striker finished with some aplomb.

Michael Jacobs produced a stunning finish from the edge of the area for Latics third on 60 minutes. Then Grigg sealed the result with a fourth on 63 minutes, after Lillis could only push the ball into his path from Gavin Massey’s goal bound low drive.

Dale managed a late consolation from the penalty spot when Dunkley brought down Calvin Andrew and Steven Davies converted the spot-kick.

Latics move to the top of the table with a superior goal difference to second placed Blackburn and with a game in hand on them. Third placed Shrewsbury are now five points behind Latics having played the same number of games.

Paul Cook retained the same starting eleven from the 5-1 drubbing of MK Dons at the weekend.

It was a brisk opening by both teams, on Rochdale’s newly relayed pitch, with chances aplenty.

Callum Camps volleyed wide for Dale before Latics took an early lead. Dunkley getting his head to Power’s corner and Burn diverting it home past Lillis.

Dale responded and Andrew, Matty Done, Rafferty and Camps all had opportunities to get them back in the game.

Latics also had chances before the break and Powell hit the base of the post and Nathan Byrne forced an acrobatic save from Lillis.

Powell had to be withdrawn just before the interval, with what appeared to be a re-occurrence of his hamstring strain, and was replaced by Vaughan.

Early in the second-half Vaughan linked up superbly with Grigg and the former Everton striker coolly finished past Lillis to increase Latics’ lead.

It was not long before Latics went further ahead as they quickly put Dale to the Sword with some breathtaking attacking play.

Jacobs produced a stunning finish from the edge of the area after first turning the Dale defence first one way and then the other.

Soon afterwards Latics were 4-0 up when Massey’s long-range drive was gratefully turned into the path of Grigg who delightfully received the gift and added his 24th goal of the season.

Latics perhaps understandably eased off in the final 15 minutes and Dale managed a consolation from the penalty spot, converted by Davies, after Dunkley had brought down Andrew.

It was another magnificent performance by Latics, who have now scored nine goals in their last two games and have an incredibly positive goal difference of 54. As the other results came in the travelling supporters not only celebrated the night’s performance but also Blackburn’s draw at Gillingham, which ensured Latics moved to the top of the table.

Posted in Dan Burn, James Vaughan, League One, Michael Jacobs, Rochdale, Steven Davies, Wigan Athletic, Will Grigg | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment