Cook’s experiment offers pointers for next season – Birmingham City 1 Wigan Athletic 1

St Andrews

The teams come out at St Andrew’s

Latics made seven changes against Birmingham City and they should have come away with all three points after creating the better chances in this 1-1 draw at St Andrew’s.

The hosts went ahead after only two minutes when acting Latics’ captain Jonas Olsson was slow to react and Lukas Jutkiewicz scored through the legs of keeper Jamie Jones.

But despite the setback Latics went on to be the better team with Joe Garner’s glancing header hitting the post and later seeing a great chance blocked on the line by Wes Harding.

The Blues rode their luck but were eventually undone when Nick Powell’s strike from 25-yards was deflected past Lee Camp for the equaliser.

The second half produced few clear cut chances but Garner might have done better from a good position when he turned the ball narrowly wide and 16-year-old substitute Joe Gelhardt produced an incisive run but shot tamely at Camp.

Latics are currently in 18th place in the table and could finish as high as 17th if they win their last game against Millwall and other results go their way. Birmingham hold 17th spot and are two points above Latics.

Cook had made seven changes from the 2-0 victory over Preston North End with keeper Jamie Jones replacing Christian Walton, and Cedric Kipre coming back into defence alongside Jonas Olsson, with Darron Gibson in midfield, and an upfront three of Josh Windass, Powell and Joe Garner.

Danny Fox, Samy Morsy, Reece James, Gavin Massey, and Leon Clarke were all rested on the day.

Latics made the worst possible start and went behind after only two minutes when Olsson’s hesitation in defence allowed Jutkiewicz to finish past Jones.

The signs looked ominous when Che Adams had a chance to double Birmingham’s lead after intercepting a poor Windass back-pass but he fired straight at Jones.

But Latics worked themselves into the game and went close on 13 minutes when Nathan Byrne crossed from the right for Garner who headed against the post from close range. From the rebound he looked to be in a good position to equalise and was brought down, but referee Stephen Martin turned down Latics’ appeals.

Soon afterwards Powell forced a good save from Camp from 25-yards as the visitors asserted their dominance.

Moments later Powell was played in by Garner and should have done better with only the keeper to beat but Camp spread himself to deny the equaliser.

Latics were in control now and Antonee Robinson’s cross from the left was fired wide of the target by Garner.

Olsson had a chance from Evans’ free-kick at the back post but he couldn’t finish although he appeared to be fouled by Camp when jumping for the ball.

Garner then wasted a glorious opportunity for the leveller when a loose ball fell to him in the area. After good composure to dummy the keeper he shot tamely and was denied by Harding on the Birmingham goal line.

But Latics did manage to deservedly draw level on the stroke of half time when Robinson cut the ball back for Powell to strike from 25-yards and the ball went in via a deflection.

All level at half time but Latics were in the ascendancy and the prospect of another away three points looked likely.

The manager made a double change at the interval with Kal Naismith and Gelhardt replacing Kipre and Windass.

Gelhardt burst onto the scene with the first effort of the half, beating several players but unfortunately shooting tamely at Camp.

Powell and Robinson once again linked up well to find Garner in the area, and it looked as if the striker would grab the winner but he saw his effort go narrowly wide of Camp’s left-hand post.

Latics continued to look the more likely to score but couldn’t make the breakthrough and the hosts looked relatively content to play out a draw with the season coming to end next week.

Cook had used the match to take a look at his squad players and youngsters and it had provided a few pointers for next season.

The positives had been a pleasing away performance and second half Championship debuts for England U17 youth internationals Gelhardt and Jensen Weir plus solid displays by Robinson and substitute Naismith. Robinson would certainly be an asset next season if Latics can retain his services from Everton.

Some other players might be playing their last games for Latics. Olsson was at fault for the Birmingham goal and I see little point in retaining the 36-year-old for next season. Gibson was ineffective in midfield and Windass had another poor game before being substituted at half time.

Nick Powell now looks likely to leave in the summer and the club must recruit a striker who can hit 15 plus goals in the Championship if they are to make progress next season.

Callum Lang should be given a chance in pre-season but it would be a big jump for the young striker to move from League 2 to the Championship and the new owners IEC must show their commitment by investing in the squad in the summer.

Posted in Birmingham City, Championship, Lukas Jutkiewicz, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Latics secure safety in style – Wigan Athletic 2 Preston North End 0

Reece James

Reece James was once again outstanding in midfield

Wigan Athletic secured their Championship status moving eight points clear of third bottom Rotherham with a deserved 2-0 victory over local rivals Preston North End on Easter Monday.

Latics went in front after only 11 minutes when Leon Clarke finished from close range after Ben Davies had inadvertently set up Kal Naismith in the penalty box.

The hosts were further boosted just before half time when Ryan Ledson was given a straight red card for dangerous play.

Despite going down to ten-men North End gave Latics a few anxious moments in the second half before Lee Evans’ deflected strike put them further ahead.

Latics should have added further goals but some good goalkeeping by Declan Rudd and some profligate finishing meant the margin of victory was only by two goals.

Latics have had a very successful Easter recording back to back victories against promotion contenders Leeds United and local rivals Preston and they are now mathematically safe from relegation.

They have moved up to a heady 18th in the Championship table while Preston are in 12th place with two games of the season remaining.

Paul Cook was forced into making one change to his starting eleven after Cedric Kipre’s appeal against his sending off at Leeds was surprisingly not rescinded and he was replaced by Danny Fox in defence.

Latics took an early lead when Antonee Robinson’s cross was deflected by Davies into the path of Naismith, who squared the ball to Clarke for an easy finish.

The hosts were now well on top and creating plenty of chances with Chey Dunkley going close with a header and Naismith putting another header wide of the target.

Gavin Massey had a great opportunity when Christian Walton’s route one kick found him clear inside the penalty area but he failed to lift the ball over the advancing keeper Rudd.

But Cook’s team were given a man advantage soon afterwards when Ledson’s high boot caught Naismith in the face and the Preston midfielder was dismissed for dangerous play by referee Andrew Madley.

Despite the dismissal Preston remained keenly competitive and they had a great opportunity to equalise when Callum Robinson was set up by Lukas Nmecha but the forward swung his boot and failed to make contact with the ball.

The visitors had another good opportunity just before half time but Joe Rafferty headed wide of the target from Paul Gallagher’s corner.

At the beginning of the second half Clarke had a chance to double Latics’ lead but the striker’s low effort was pushed away by Rudd. Substitute Nick Powell managed to pick up the loose ball and set up Sam Morsy in a great position but instead of shooting Morsy squared the ball to Naismith, who was ruled offside.

It was end to end stuff now and Clarke blocked Davies’ goal-bound header at close range before Dunkley had to get his body in the way to deny Darnell Fisher.

Latics were struggling to contain Preston down their right hand side with Nathan Byrne being left exposed on several occasions.

From one such attack Byrne gave away a free kick and Walton was forced into making a flying save from Gallagher’s curled free kick.

But Latics got the vital second goal on 68 minutes when Powell crossed for Clarke at the back post and the ball fell to Evans whose driven effort was deflected off a Preston defender and into the net.

The ten-men’s heads visibly dropped and Latics should have added further goals before full time.

Evans fired wide of the target before Clarke might have done better when he met Evans’ cross at the back post but was unable to turn the ball home from a good position.

As the match moved into added time Powell forced another good save from Rudd but by then the points had already been secured and Latics would be playing Championship football again next season.

Posted in Championship, Lee Evans, Leon Clarke, Preston North End, Reece James, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Massey magic seals vital away victory – Leeds United 1 Wigan Athletic 2

Gavin Massey

Gavin Massey grabbed a brace 

Ten-man Wigan Athletic produced the Championship result of the day with 2-1 victory at Elland Road to ease their relegation worries and dent Leeds United’s automatic promotion prospects.

Latics went down to 10 men after only 14 minutes when Cedric Kipre was harshly adjudged to have handled on the goal line, although Pablo Hernandez missed the resulting spot kick.

It looked as though it would be a long afternoon for Latics when Patrick Bamford’s sharp finish put Leeds ahead on 17 minutes but the visitors managed to reorganise and drew level just before the interval when Gavin Massey broke clear to finish with some aplomb.

A Massey header then put Latics in front on 64 minutes after good work by Sheffield United loanee Leon Clarke had set him up.

Although Leeds dominated possession and produced 36 attempts at goal the visitors weathered the second half onslaught and hung on for a vital victory in their battle for Championship survival.

Paul Cook’s team are now in 20th place in the table on level points with 19th place Reading and five points above third bottom Rotherham. Leeds meanwhile slip to third in the table on goal difference behind second placed Sheffield United.

Paul Cook made one change to the team which had drawn at home to Championship leaders Norwich City with Cedric Kipre coming in for the injured Danny Fox.

Leeds pressed from the kick off but Latics looked lively on the counter attack and Clarke headed narrowly wide on seven minutes.

But disaster struck on 14 minutes when Bamford’s goal bound effort hit Kipre in the chest but referee Scott Duncan harshly awarded a penalty and gave the big Ivorian defender a red card.

Fortunately for Latics Hernandez’s spot kick hit the post but it was not long before the hosts were ahead as Bamford swept home Luke Ayling’s cross.

Latics might have capitulated at this point but Cook re-jigged the formation and they still looked threatening on the break. They might have equalised on 22 minutes when Leeds keeper Kiko Casilla came too far out of his area and Clarke lifted the ball over the crossbar.

Leeds continued to get men forward in numbers and Latics struggled to contain them but they drew level on 44 minutes when Lee Evans put Massey in the clear and the former Leyton Orient winger smashed the ball past Casilla for the equaliser.

All level at the interval but Latics would have to be at their most committed if they were to get anything against Marcelo Bielsa’s promotion contenders.

Leeds made two changes at half time with Kemar Roofe replacing Tyler Roberts and Adam Forshaw replacing Calvin Phillips.

Roofe had a glorious opportunity to restore Leeds’ lead on 50 minutes but he headed straight at Christian Walton from the centre of the six yard box.

The miss was to prove costly as on 64 minutes the visitors silenced the home crowd with a swift counter attack. Nathan Byrne’s deep cross found Clarke and the seasoned striker rose superbly, cushioning his header to Massey who headed into the corner of the net from six yards out.

Leeds surged forward and Latics defended deeper and deeper seemingly inviting more and more pressure. Walton made some important saves and Leeds wasted good opportunities.

But Latics might have added to their lead when James clipped the crossbar with an audacious free kick and the Chelsea loanee could possibly have had a penalty when he was pushed over in the penalty area.

Latics rode their luck but for once they managed to hold on away from home for a memorable victory that could go a long way towards preserving their Championship status.

Posted in Championship, Gavin Massey, Leeds United, Patrick Bamford, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Norwich City, Reece James, Teemu Pukki, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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 edition of Late Tackle magazine.

Posted in Jonathan Clegg, Joshua Robinson, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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