Latics stumble on the south coast – Portsmouth 2 Wigan Athletic 1

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Will Grigg scored his 20th goal of the season

Latics failed to regain top spot in the League One table after a below par performance at play-off chasing Portsmouth.

Both Blackburn and Shrewsbury secured three points on Easter Monday but Latics slipped down to third spot following the 2-1 defeat at Fratton Park.

Former Pompey manager Paul Cook will be disappointed that his charges never really got going in front of the TV cameras.

The hosts went ahead when Brett Pitman converted from the penalty spot after Dan Burn was adjudged to have fouled Ben Close on the edge of the area.

Early in the second half Pompey doubled their lead when Jamal Lowe produced a neat finish after Latics had failed to clear a low cross from the right hand side.

When Latics replaced the ineffective Gavin Massey and James Vaughan with Ryan Colclough and Will Grigg they started to create more opportunities.

Grigg forced a superb save from Pompey keeper Luke McGee before he pulled a goal back on 89 minutes with a fine header from Gary Roberts’ pinpoint cross.

Despite Latics’ late pressure Pompey held on to move level with six-placed Charlton in the play-off places.

Credit to Pompey for a resolute performance but Latics just weren’t at their best on the day.

Paul Cook made two changes from the team which defeated Oldham Athletic with Massey and Vaughan replacing Colclough and Grigg.

It was a scrappy opening with neither side gaining the upper hand.

Latics went closest when Max Power’s 25 yard low strike was turned around the post by McGee.

Latics had a couple of half-chances as first Michael Jacobs tried an acrobatic overhead kick from Dan Burn’s knock back and then Massey’s cross from the right-hand side was just too strong for Vaughan at the back post.

Chey Dunkley then headed narrowly wide from a Power cross before Vaughan had a great opportunity to put Latics ahead from the centre of the penalty area but he scuffed his shot wide.

But five minutes before the break a rare Pompey attack resulted in them taking the lead.

Dan Burn challenged Ben Close on the edge of the area and referee Tim Robinson controversially awarded a penalty.

Brett Pitman converted the spot-kick to give Pompey a surprising half-time advantage.

But matters got worse for Latics ten minutes into the second half when a somewhat incongruous low cross from Nathan Thompson on the right hand side evaded Callum Elder and found Lowe who turned in front of Burn and finished expertly at the near post.

Latics were stunned by the setback but they still weren’t making any headway until Colclough and Grigg replaced Massey and Vaughan on 66 minutes.

Colclough had a great chance after good work by Nathan Byrne but the winger somehow miscued his shot and it diverted off a defender for a corner.

McGee then produced two magnificent saves to deny Latics.

First he denied Nick Powell with a superb reaction save pushing the ball onto crossbar from close range after the midfielder had evaded several defenders challenges.

Then ten minutes later he denied Grigg at close range with an instinctive save diving to his left after a great move involving Byrne and Jacobs.

Grigg wasn’t to be denied however and on 89 minutes he pulled a goal back with a fine header from former Pompey player Gary Roberts’ pinpoint cross.

With five minutes of added time it was a breathless period as Latics went in search of the equaliser with a succession of dangerous crosses. But the hosts held firm and Latics suffered a rare defeat in League One.

Too many of Latics players had had an off day and manager Cook will expect much improved performances in the final eight games of the season as they go in search of automatic promotion.

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Posted in Brett Pitman, Jamal Lowe, League One, Paul Cook, Portsmouth, Wigan Athletic, Will Grigg | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Latics are back on top – Wigan Athletic 3 Oldham Athletic 0

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Man of the match Nick Powell

Wigan Athletic moved to the top of the League One table with a convincing 3-0 victory against relegation-threatened Oldham Athletic at the DW Stadium.

After a brisk opening 40 minutes with both teams creating chances it was the hosts who deservedly went ahead through Will Grigg following a fine pass from Nick Powell.

Early in the second-half substitute James Vaughan doubled the lead when he fired home from close range after a dreadful back pass from an Oldham defender.

Nick Powell rounded off a Man of the Match performance with a superb solo third goal on 66 minutes driving past several defenders before unleashing an unstoppable low drive into the bottom corner.

Latics move to the top of the table, one point clear of second-placed Blackburn, with a game in hand, and two ahead of third-placed Shrewsbury, who have played two games more.

Paul Cook made two changes to the team that defeated Bury, with captain Samy Morsy returning from international duty and replacing Jay Fulton and Grigg coming in for Vaughan.

Powell nearly opened the scoring after six minutes when the Oldham defence parted in front of him and the mercurial midfielder curled a low shot into the bottom corner but keeper Johny Placide did well to turn the ball around the post.

Dan Gardner tried his luck at the other end but Christian Walton saved well low down.

Ryan Colclough then forced a save from Placide at close range and from the rebound Grigg skied his effort over the crossbar.

The visitors then had a great opportunity when Eoin Doyle broke free of the Wigan defence and had a one-on-one with Walton but the striker’s weak effort was easily saved by the keeper.

The visitors were made to pay for the miss on 40 minutes when Powell played Grigg in on goal and the striker lifted the ball over the advancing keeper and the into the net for a quality finish.

Grigg took a knock from the keeper in the process of scoring and was replaced by Vaughan at half time.

At the beginning of the second-half Vaughan was almost immediately presented with a gift wrapped opportunity to double the lead and he duly obliged blasting the ball home from close range following a poor back pass.

Oldham kept plugging away but Wigan were always the more likely to add to their lead and they sealed the three points on 66 minutes when the maestro who had orchestrated the victory got on the scoresheet.

Powell was head and shoulders the best player on the pitch and he evaded two defenders and drove into the penalty area before unleashing an unstoppable low drive into the bottom corner.

Powell nearly rounded off his virtuoso display with a second goal soon afterwards but his goal bound effort from inside the area was deflected wide by a defender.

Michael Jacobs should probably have made it four late on, but his shot was saved by Placide at his near post.

A comfortable victory for Wigan, and with Shrewsbury losing at Rochdale, it puts them in a very strong position for automatic promotion with nine games remaining. They are likely to face a much sterner test at Portsmouth on Easter Monday, but a good result at Fratton Park would consolidate their place at the top of the table.

Posted in James Vaughan, League One, Nick Powell, Oldham Athletic, Wigan Athletic, Will Grigg | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

12th Man – Latics must learn from Pompey’s mistakes

Paul Cook suit

Paul Cook

With ten games still to play Latics go into the Easter fixtures against Oldham and Portsmouth knowing that automatic promotion is in their own hands. If they can keep up their current form they have the games in hand to finish above both Shrewsbury and Blackburn.

Paul Cook has already achieved remarkable things in his first season in charge at the DW Stadium but he will want to round it off with the League One title.

Cook and his coaching staff have transformed the club from the dark days of last season’s relegation. The atmosphere around the club is now very healthy and this season’s target of promotion is within their grasp.

It is essential that the likeable Scouser is given an extended contract as soon as possible but unfortunately the protracted takeover means the decision may have to be delayed until the new owners are in place.

Hopefully this delay won’t prove detrimental to the relationship between Cook and the club.

Cook’s stock is certainly rising after masterminding an incredible FA Cup run when they knocked out West Ham, Bournemouth and Premier League Champions elect Manchester City.

Latics are in pole position for automatic promotion but Cook could be tempted away by the security of a long-term contract elsewhere.

Unfortunately there are similarities between the situation at Latics and his time at Portsmouth and the uncertainty at the end of last season contributed to his departure from Fratton Park.

At Portsmouth there was the takeover limbo and impending arrival of new owners, the absence of a long-term contract to meet his satisfaction and a feeling of under appreciation.

The destabilising factors at Pompey meant Cook and his coaching team were receptive when Latics came calling at the end of last season.

Cook was seeking long-term security on the south coast but that security just wasn’t forthcoming. The departure of the supportive Chairman Iain McInnes was a further blow to Cook’s long-term plans.

A fan-owned board had run Pompey, but the takeover by former Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner meant Cook’s future was uncertain, particularly as a Director of Football role had been suggested by Eisner.

Cook was also disappointed that there was to be a limited playing budget available to bring in new players.

Finally, he felt there was an absence of enthusiasm from the Pompey board to deliver a new contract in recognition of his performance. Despite winning the League Two title for Pompey he felt undervalued by them.

Latics must not repeat Pompey’s mistakes and should reward Cook with an improved contract as soon as possible, or they risk losing him to a rival and undoing all the good work that has been done this season.

Cook is aiming for back-to-back promotions with two different clubs and ironically his former club Portsmouth will do everything in their power to stop his progress on Easter Monday.

Pompey currently sit just outside the play-off places in eighth place but are only two points behind sixth placed Plymouth.

The scene is set for a high-stakes encounter with two teams striving for the three points in front of the TV cameras.

This article was first published in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 30th March 2018.

Posted in League One, Paul Cook, Portsmouth, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Latics move into automatic promotion places – Bury 0 Wigan Athletic 2

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Chey Dunkley headed the second goal

It wasn’t a pretty performance by Wigan Athletic but it was an important victory as they moved back into the automatic promotion places.

Bottom of the table Bury had the better of the opening exchanges but Latics went ahead against the run of play when Michael Jacobs’ cross was converted by Nick Powell.

Latics might have increased their lead before the interval when Jacobs had an effort cleared off the line and Jay Fulton’s drive was saved by Connor Ripley.

But the visitors did increase their lead early in the second-half when Chey Dunkley rose highest at the back post to head home from Max Power’s corner.

The Shakers battled to the end but lacked any real conviction in the final third and it was Latics who nearly added to their lead when James Vaughan flicked Nathan Byrne’s low drive into the net although it was ruled out for offside.

Latics move up to second in the table and are just one point behind leaders Shrewsbury with two games in hand. Blackburn slip to third, one point behind Latics who also have a game in hand on them.

Paul Cook retained the same line-up that had defeated Walsall with captain Sam Morsy still on international duty.

On a pitch more akin to a beach Latics started slowly and it was the Shakers who had the early possession and they threatened when Nathan Cameron headed wide of the target from a Harry Bunn corner.

But against the run of play Latics went ahead on 26 minutes when Ryan Colclough fed Michael Jacobs out wide on the left and he cut the ball back to Powell who found the net from close range.

Latics surged forward now and they might have had a second when Powell headed over the crossbar at the back post from a Power corner.

The hard working James Vaughan then charged to block keeper Ripley’s clearance and the ball broke free to Powell who took the ball to the byline and cut it back to Jacobs but his tame effort was cleared off the line by a defender.

At the other end Christian Walton made an excellent save low down at his near post to deny Neil Danns powerful goal bound drive.

1-0 at the interval but Latics took firm control on 50 minutes when Dunkley headed home at the back post following Power’s corner.

Walton was again called into action by Jay O’Shea as the match hit the hour mark, but it was Latics who were looking the more dangerous.

They looked to have added a third soon afterwards when Nathan Byrne’s shot was deflected into the net by Vaughan but the linesman ruled it out for offside.

The Shakers kept plugging away to try and get something from the game but in truth Latics had not really got out of third gear and they still had enough to comfortably secure all three points.

It had not been one of Latics’ best performances but it was still an effective one and the players received rapturous applause from the 2,000 travelling Wiganers at the end.

Posted in Bury, Chey Dunkley, League One, Nick Powell, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

12th Man – The qualities required for promotion

JAy Fulton

Jay Fulton scored his first goal for Latics at Walsall. Photo courtesy of Wigan Athletic

The League One table is looking much healthier for Latics after two very important away wins at Bradford City and Walsall. Latics have not been at their fluent best in these games but they are now showing the qualities that should get them automatic promotion.

Blackburn and Shrewsbury have been pushing Latics all the way with a consistent set of results but they are now only one point behind the Shrews and two behind Rovers with two games in hand.

At Bradford last week their character and determination were tested as they battled against adverse weather conditions and a poor pitch.

The match looked to be heading towards a disappointing draw but the players once again demonstrated their never-say-die attitude with a vital winner in added time.

On Wednesday night at Walsall they looked a little tentative in the opening minutes and it appeared that captain Sam Morsy, who was on international duty with Eqypt, would be missed.

But in a crazy nine minutes the game turned in Latics’ favour. Nick Powell produced a moment of brilliance as he used the outside of his right boot to curl an inch-perfect pass to Michael Jacobs at the far-post and Latics had made the crucial breakthrough.

They followed that up four minutes later with Jay Fulton’s first goal for the club, a powerful strike from 20-yards into the bottom corner.

Then the three points were sealed when Chey Dunkley fired home from close range following a corner and a goalmouth scramble.

Latics only had three shots on target all night but they had shown the qualities in the final third of the pitch that should get them promoted.

Paul Cook has strength in depth with plenty of options available. Defensively they have looked very strong in the last two away games but with Jamie Jones, Alex Bruce, Donervon Daniels and Reece James they also have plenty of back up available.

The manager picked Jay Fulton to fill in for Sam Morsy in midweek but he could easily have selected David Perkins, plus Shaun MacDonald played for the second team in mid-week against Mansfield so could soon be available for selection.

Going forward Cook has plenty of options to consider. Will Grigg, James Vaughan and Devante Cole are all vying for the central striker role, but if things aren’t going to plan Cook has the option go with two upfront with Vaughan, Grigg or Cole in a 4-4-2 formation as they did away at Blackburn.

Next up for Latics is another away fixture at Bury. The Shakers have had a dreadful season so far, currently rock bottom of the table and 10 points from safety. They have conceded 55 goals and only scored 31 in their 37 games.

Ryan Lowe and Ryan Kidd are currently in joint caretaker charge at Gigg Lane after both Lee Clark and Chris Lucketti had been dismissed following poor results.

Player-coach Lowe and coach Kidd have been appointed until the end of the season, which unfortunately for them looks likely to end in relegation to League Two.

Latics will be firm favourites for the three points but they mustn’t take anything for granted on what is likely to be another difficult pitch.

If they can harness the good qualities shown in the last two away games they should secure another victory in their quest for automatic promotion.

This article was first published in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 23rd March 2018.

Posted in Bury, Chey Dunkley, Jay Fulton, League One, Michael Jacobs, Walsall, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Latics up the pressure – Walsall 0 Wigan Athletic 3

Walsall attack

Latics pile on the pressure

Wigan Athletic eased past Walsall with a comfortable victory at the Bescot Stadium and upped the pressure on Shrewsbury and Blackburn at the top of the League One table.

Walsall didn’t get the new manager ‘bounce’ under Dean Keates as Latics scored three goals in nine first-half minutes.

Michael Jacobs opened the scoring on 31 minutes with a clinical far-post finish from an inviting low cross from Nick Powell.

Swansea loanee midfielder Jay Fulton increased the lead with a powerful 20-yard drive and Chey Dunkley stabbed the ball home for the third after a goalmouth scramble.

The visitors couldn’t add to their lead in the second-half but the points had already been sealed after the first-half performance.

Latics weren’t at their best on the night but they still came away with a vital three points in the race for automatic promotion. They are now one point behind Shrewsbury and two behind leaders Blackburn but with two games in hand.

Paul Cook made four changes to the starting line-up from Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Southampton, with Fulton, Powell, James Vaughan and Ryan Colclough replacing Sam Morsy, Gary Roberts, Will Grigg and Gavin Massey.

Latics had an early opportunity when Max Power’s corner found Dunkley at the near post but the big defender couldn’t quite get his effort on target.

Powell then headed over the crossbar from a Colclough delivery as the visitors started to look dangerous.

Erhun Oztumer briefly threatened as Walsall counter-attacked but his shot was well blocked by Dunkley and the ball was claimed by Christian Walton.

Despite creating some chances, Latics looked a little tentative in the opening minutes and it appeared that captain Sam Morsy, who was on international duty with Eqypt, would be missed.

But the opening goal quickly turned the game in Latics’ favour as Jacobs converted Powell’s fine cross at the far-post and set in motion a crazy nine minutes.

Four minutes later Fulton then took aim from 20-yards out and produced a powerful low drive into the corner past keeper Liam Roberts.

Five minutes after that Latics effectively sealed the three points when Dunkley stabbed the ball home after the Saddlers had failed to clear Power’s corner.

Walsall briefly threatened at the start of the second-half as Kieron Morris was twice denied by saves from Walton.

Jacobs then had a great opportunity to increase Latics’ lead when he collected Colclough’s cross-field ball but the winger curled his shot wide of the post.

Amadou Bakayoko then tested Walton before Colclough forced a save low down from keeper Roberts.

The match fizzled out as as contest as Latics had secured the vital three points in nine crazy first-half minutes which had made all the difference.

Posted in Chey Dunkley, Jay Fulton, League One, Michael Jacobs, Walsall, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cup final touch eludes Latics – Wigan Athletic 0 Southampton 2

Southampton prog

FA Cup Quarter-final programme

Small margins often decide games and on another day Wigan Athletic might now be preparing for an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

League One Latics had been the dominant outfit for long periods of the game and had a succession of chances but they just weren’t able to make the final touch count.

So it is Premier League Southampton who progress to face Chelsea with two second-half goals from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Cedric Soares.

Paul Cook made two changes to the team that defeated Bradford City on Wednesday night with Gary Roberts and Will Grigg replacing the injured Nick Powell and the cup-tied James Vaughan.

Latics made a bright opening and Gavin Massey fired just over the crossbar after only five minutes.

Latics were pushing Southampton back into defence and in the windy conditions forced a succession of corners.

Following a short corner Nathan Byrne’s shot from the edge of the area was deflected into the path of Chey Dunkley but the big centre-half couldn’t make the vital contact and the ball went inches wide of the post.

Latics continued to dominate and Gary Roberts had a great chance to put them ahead when he tried to chip the keeper from the edge of the six-yard box but he looped the ball over the crossbar.

The Saints always looked dangerous on the counter-attack but Latics were in the ascendancy.

Great play by Massey set up Roberts in the area who fed Jacobs and then Grigg but the final shot was not forthcoming.

Michael Jacobs then broke free of the Saints defence but just when he should have set up Massey, who was in the clear, he went for goal and his shot was blocked by a defender.

Max Power’s in-swinging corner nearly deceived Alex McCarthy at the near post as Latics continued to force corners.

Another dangerous cross resulted in Dunkley’s knock down to Grigg but the striker  couldn’t make the vital contact to put Latics ahead.

Jacobs sprinted free down the left and delivered a dangerous low cross which nearly found Grigg but the striker once again couldn’t make the vital contact inside the six-yard box.

A blistering first-half by Latics but unfortunately they hadn’t been able to make the breakthrough despite their dominance.

New Saints manager Mark Hughes will probably have given his players a hard talking to at the interval and his players responded as they gained more possession at the beginning of the second-half.

But it was Jacobs who might have given Latics the lead when he curled an effort over the angle of post and crossbar.

Gavin Massey then drove forward towards the Saints area but fired narrowly wide of the target from the edge of the box.

Sofiane Boufal curled a free-kick onto the roof of the net for the Saints.

The visitors should have been in front when Nathan Byrne inadvertently set up Manolo Gabbiadini with a poor back pass but Christian Walton made an excellent stop to deny him.

Walton then made another good save from Hojbjerg but the Danish midfielder was not to be denied and from the resulting corner he put the Saints ahead, firing through a group of players past Walton.

It was all Southampton now and when Gabbiadini was clean through on goal Dan Burn was forced to bring him down for a penalty.

But Walton made a superb one-handed save diving to his left to keep out the spot kick.

The hosts were still in it and Grigg couldn’t quite make contact after Powell’s initial effort came to him on the corner of the six-yard box.

Latics final chance came when Ryan Colclough’s deep cross found Noel Hunt in a great position at the back post but the Republic of Ireland international couldn’t convert the opportunity to draw them level.

It was all over in added time when Southampton went down the other end and Cedric ran free before finishing past Walton to send the Saints into the semi-final.

It had been a fantastic FA Cup run by Paul Cook’s team defeating three Premier League clubs including the Champions elect Manchester City. They had pushed Southampton all the way and with a little more luck they might still be in the competition.

Latics must now concentrate their minds on gaining automatic promotion with 12 cup finals to achieve the season’s primary target.

 

Posted in Cedric Soares, FA Cup, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Southampton, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment