12th Man – Deja vu?

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Will Grigg be on fire at Shrewsbury?

It was only in April 2016 that Latics eased to the top of the League One table with an emphatic 5-1 victory at Shrewsbury Town and they will be hoping for a repeat of that performance tomorrow.

The big win at Greenhous Meadow included a brace from Will Grigg and the Northern Ireland striker’s form has been a major talking point amongst the fans at the beginning of this season.

Grigg has been recovering from five months out after a knee injury required surgery and has made a slow start to this campaign. He hasn’t yet found the net in the handful of games in which he’s either started or come on as a substitute.

He was involved with the second team on Monday night against Blackburn Rovers in the Lancashire Senior Cup but he failed to score during the 90 minutes and missed his spot kick in the penalty shoot-out, which Latics lost.

It’s been a quiet period for the striker who was a global centre of attention with the ‘Will Grigg’s On Fire’ song in 2016, but surely it is only a matter of time before he regains his sharpness in front of goal.

Grigg achieved a superb 25 league goals when Latics won the League One title and there is still a strong belief that he can replicate that form this time around. If Grigg can find his scoring boots he could make it a remarkable four promotions to the Championship.

He was promoted with Brentford in 2014, then with MK Dons in 2015, with Latics in 2016 and hopefully he will do it again with the club in 2018.

Much has changed at Latics and Shrewsbury since that game in 2016 and The Shrews look like an improved outfit and currently sit above Latics in second in place in the League One table.

Like Latics they are unbeaten in their opening games and they have won four and drawn one of their fixtures so far. In fact they are now in their highest position in the Football League since September 1989.

Shrewsbury are also doing some great work off the pitch by promoting safe standing. They have applied to be the first English club to have safe standing at their stadium. The plan is to have rail seats fitted and in use, in a section of one stand, before the end of this season.

They have initiated a crowdfunding campaign to create a showcase for safe standing, which should help to bring forward its introduction at other clubs.

All the proceeds from the campaign will support the first installation at Shrewsbury, and after that, future Football Supporters Federation-backed safe standing projects. Details of how to support the campaign can be found at: http://www.tifosy.com/safestanding

This article was first published in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 8th September 2017.

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12th Man – Cooking up a feast

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Latics’ captain Sam Morsy

You can’t help but love Paul Cook after such a great opening to his tenure as Wigan Athletic manager. Cook has won five, drawn one and lost one of his opening seven games and the style of football has been an absolute pleasure to watch.

Gone are the dour defensive days of Warren Joyce’s time in charge. Cook has quickly eliminated the despondency of last season and created an upbeat feeling around the club.

Last Saturday the performance against Portsmouth was a case in point as they set about their opponents right from the kick off.

Portsmouth had to contend with wave after wave of attacks and looked shellshocked as Cook’s team provided a feast of attacking football.

Latics created chance after chance in the opening half and went ahead through Ivan Toney after only eight minutes.

Toney could easily have had a hat trick and Nick Powell hit the crossbar and forced Luke McGee into a reflex save as Latics were in total control.

How Latics weren’t five or six goals ahead at half time was a complete mystery to everyone inside the DW Stadium.

After Chey Dunkley was red carded Portsmouth got an unlikely equaliser but Latics still had plenty more chances.

Will Grigg should’ve sealed the three points when he had a golden chance but headed straight at McGee. But surely it is only a matter of time before Cook’s attack minded team gives someone a serious hiding.

On paper, Cook’s formation of 4-2-3-1 might appear negative to some, with two holding players in front of the back four, but the shield of Morsy and Evans gives the four offensive players the freedom to get forward at every opportunity.

Cook’s style of football has been exhilarating and the way that the team constantly push forward is providing great viewing for the fans.

Comparisons with another scouser and former Latics’ manager Paul Jewell are inevitable.

Jewell’s team won the Division Two championship in 2002–03 with a points total of 100 and with a run of 10 consecutive wins along the way. The club lost only four times all season as they secured promotion.

Although it’s still early in the season Cook’s team look capable of emulating Jewell’s success. But like Jewell’s game-at-a-time philosophy, Cook won’t be getting carried away and will want to keep expectations contained at this stage in the campaign.

It’s a pity that we’ve no game this weekend due to the International call ups, but it’s important recognition of the hard work done by Sam Morsy (Eqypt) and Lee Evans (Wales) who have been key to Latics’ excellent start to the season.

This article was first published in the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 1st September 2017.

Posted in League One, Lee Evans, Paul Cook, Paul Jewell, Sam Morsy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chances galore but Latics are held – Wigan Athletic 1 Portsmouth 1

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Ivan Toney on target for Latics

Paul Cook’s Latics somehow failed to win a game they totally dominated against his former club Portsmouth at the DW Stadium.

Wigan created chance after chance in the opening half and went ahead through Ivan Toney after eight minutes. Toney could easily have had a hat trick and Nick Powell hit the crossbar and forced Luke McGee into a reflex save as Latics were in total control.

But the second goal didn’t come and when Chey Dunkley was dismissed for lashing out at Brett Pitman early in the second half Pompey gained a foothold in the match.

A pinpoint header by substitute Conor Chaplin gave Portsmouth an unlikely equaliser but Latics still had more chances and Will Grigg should’ve sealed the three points but he headed straight at McGee.

Gareth Evans was dismissed for a second yellow on 88 minutes as both teams finished with ten men and a point each.

Latics had kept the same starting eleven from the win at Oldham and they were on the front foot right from the kick off and went ahead after only eight minutes.

Powell found Gavin Massey who ran into the box and set up Toney who finished from close range.

They could have doubled the lead after 14 minutes when Massey put in a terrific low cross that Toney reached but McGee managed to block with his body.

Then Powell saw his stunning effort from the edge of the box come back off the crossbar after 22 minutes.

Latics struck the post again after 37 minutes with another great move. Sam Morsy sent Massey clear down the right, who crossed low to the near post. Toney slid in, but McGee somehow blocked his effort on the goal line.

McGee then deflected Powell’s bullet of a drive for a corner a minute later, before he palmed away Lee Evans’ goal bound effort a minute after that.

Latics should have been five or six goals ahead at the interval such was their dominance but a warning sign came from Pompey when Jamal Lowe fired over the crossbar from a great position in added time.

Latics continued to create opportunities at the beginning of the second half with McGee making good saves to deny Michael Jacobs and Lee Evans.

But on 58 minutes a moment of madness by Chey Dunkley gave Pompey an advantage. Dunkley shielded a ball out for a corner with Pitman, the two clashed and Dunkley struck out. The referee gave a straight red.

Latics had to reshuffle, Terrell Thomas replaced Toney and slotted into defence, with Powell moved into the lone striker role.

Latics still managed to create opportunities and Powell hit the post again on 68 minutes but substitute Chaplin gave Pompey an unlikely equaliser when he peeled away at the far post to head past Walton.

Adam May might have given the visitors the lead on 80 minutes when he forced Walton into an excellent full length save with his long range effort.

Latics could then have secured the three points when substitute Grigg got on the end of Nathan Byrne’s right-wing cross but his header was straight at McGee.

Pompey were reduced to ten men on 88 minutes when Gareth Evans was shown a second yellow card for bringing down Jacobs on the edge of the box.

In added time Evans’ free kick was denied by Jack Whatmough’s header and the match ended in an unlikely draw.

Posted in Conor Chaplin, Ivan Toney, League Cup, Portsmouth, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

12th Man – Cooking up a storm

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Paul Cook – the centre of attention

Latics unbeaten run came to an end as they lost 4-1 to Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday night but they will be hoping to maintain their winning League One form against Paul Cook’s former club Portsmouth tomorrow.

Pompey are expected to have a 2,000 strong following at the DW Stadium and they are likely to give Cook a noisy reception after he left them for Latics. There has even been talk of inflatable snakes and other gimmickry to chastise him.

The Pompey fans were obviously disappointed when Cook moved to the DW Stadium but surely he deserves tremendous credit for getting them promoted from League Two.

Portsmouth had been on a downward trajectory until Cook took over and transformed the fortunes of their club. They really should be very grateful for what he achieved during his time at Fratton Park rather than berating him for moving on.

There are a number of reasons for Cook’s decision to leave, but his desire for a new challenge at Latics, a return to his native North West and the takeover at Pompey by the former Chief Executive of Disney Michael Eisner were all contributing factors.

Many Portsmouth fans said they were actually pleased that Cook left, as they believe they now have a better manager in Kenny Jackett. Only time will tell who is right but Latics fans certainly feel that they have got the best of the deal.

Pompey’s fans have high expectations after the takeover by the Eisner family and the promise of investment. They wanted a fast start under new manager Jackett but they have had a mixed opening to the campaign winning one against Rochdale, drawing one against Walsall and losing one to Oxford United.

I still expect them to be challenging near the top of the table but they will not want to fall too far behind at the start of the season.

Latics made eleven changes during the week at Villa Park as Cook rightly demonstrated where his priorities lie. The cup game gave the manager the opportunity to assess his players returning from injury, fringe players and some of the younger players but he rested his League One starting eleven.

He will be expecting his first team to be refreshed and raring to go against Pompey but he also made it clear that he wasn’t happy with the second half performance at Oldham.

“From half time onwards we weren’t the better team on the pitch and we allowed Oldham to get a foot hold in it, so looking back I was a bit disappointed. I felt we should have been stronger and put the game to bed, but luckily we won the game and I’m sure everyone will be pleased with that. There’s still a lot of improvements and work to be done.”

It could be a feisty encounter tomorrow as Portsmouth will be keen to get one over on their former manager but Cook will be equally determined to show that he made the right choice coming back to Wigan.

This article was first published in the 12th Man column for the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 25th August 2017.

Posted in Kennt Jackett, League One, Paul Cook, Portsmouth, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Unbeaten run comes to an end – Aston Villa 4 Wigan Athletic 1

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No joy for Latics at Villa Park

Latics unbeaten opening to the season came to an end as they lost 4-1 to Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup (League Cup) at Villa Park.

Both Latics and Villa made eleven changes from their starting line ups from Saturday’s league games as both teams demonstrated where their priorities lie.

Scott Hogan gave Villa the lead after 19 minutes when he slotted home from Albert Adomah’s cross. Adomah then added a second on 36 minutes when his first time volley flew into the top corner past debutant keeper Jamie Jones.

Latics reduced the arrears on 43 minutes when Ryan Colclough picked up Max Power’s pass and drove past Jed Steer from 12 yards, but almost immediately Villa went up the other end and restored their two goal advantage when Hogan scored from the edge of the box.

Paul Cook’s team started positively at the beginning of the second half with Terell Thomas heading narrowly wide of the post. However Villa’s progress to the Third Round was confirmed when James Bree’s cross wasn’t cleared in the 74th minute and Bikir Bjarnason poked the ball home at the far post.

At least Latics’ fans won’t have to get up at 4.15 am to see the draw for the next round of the Carabao Cup in Bejing!

 

Posted in Albert Adomah, Aston Villa, Birkir Bjarnason, League Cup, Ryan Colclough, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wigan cruise to another victory – Oldham Athletic 0 Wigan Athletic 2

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Wigan threaten from a corner

Wigan maintained their one hundred per cent record and moved to the top of League One with a comfortable win at struggling Oldham.

Wigan went ahead after only eight minutes when Ivan Toney turned home Lee Evans’ cross from close range.

Oldham were in disarray and it was not long before Michael Jacobs increased Wigan’s lead when he converted another chance following a goalmouth scramble.

The away team were in total control and should have added further goals in the first half but some poor finishing and good saves by Ben Wilson denied them.

The second half was a scrappy affair and Oldham did try to make a fist of it but they rarely looked like penetrating Wigan’s defence which was well marshalled by Dan Burn.

Paul Cook’s team have had a remarkable start to the season and are looking a very good bet for promotion.

Wigan were on top right from the kick off pressing deep into the Oldham half.

Lee Evans fired wide after five minutes and created the opening goal on eight minutes crossing for Ivan Toney to score his first goal for the club since joining from Newcastle United on loan.

Jacobs then quickly doubled the lead on 15 minutes, his first effort from inside the box was saved but his follow up was fired through a group of defenders and past keeper Wilson.

Wigan were now in total control and should have added a third after a slick move in the 23rd minute. Nick Powell and Jacobs had a neat interchange on the edge of the box and the former Manchester United midfielder’s low drive had Wilson at full stretch to make the save.

Gavin Massey then forced another fine save from Wilson after 36 minutes after being set up by Jacobs.

It was looking as though Wigan would get five or six goals but some poor finishing and good keeping by Wilson somehow prevented a massacre.

Only 2-0 at the interval but there was an expectation of further Wigan goals in the second half.

However, Oldham started the second half more positively, probably after receiving a verbal rocket by manager John Sheridan.

Aaron Amadi-Holloway’s header forcing an early save for Christian Walton.

The game then descended into a scrappy affair with both teams cancelling each other out and Wigan knowing that as long as they kept Oldham at bay the three points would be confirmed.

Toney did fire just over on 57 minutes and Evans was denied by a late Peter Clarke tackle in the box, but clear opportunities were few and far between for either side.

Oldham substitute Darius Ossey did have a late chance, firing straight at Walton but by then the three points were already sealed for the away team.

Wigan had eased their way to the three points and moved to the top of the table against a team who look likely to be struggling at the opposite end of the table.

Posted in Ivan Toney, League One, Michael Jacobs, Oldham Athletic, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

12th Man – Cook’s positive vibes

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Paul Cook has banished the negativity

I’m trying not to get too carried away so early in the season but Latics have made an impressive start to the campaign. They rarely have a good start and it is the first time they’ve won their first three games since Paul Jewell’s team conquered the Second Division with 100 points in 2002/03.

New manager Paul Cook has quickly changed the atmosphere around the club and banished the negativity surrounding last season’s relegation.

Cook’s banter and plain speaking has endeared him to the fans and the players have responded with improved performances on the pitch.

Latics have some very talented players at the club but they simply weren’t performing to their potential last season.

The managerial changes certainly did not help matters and the high turnover of players inevitably created unrest in the camp, but the transformation under Cook and his coaching staff is remarkable.

Admittedly they are now in a lower division and the calibre of the opposition is not as good but the improvement in performances is for all to see.

The manager has let some players leave the club but he has also brought in quite a few new faces with five making their home debuts against Bury.

Christian Walton, Chey Dunkley, Gavin Massey, Lee Evans and Ivan Toney have all settled quickly and they were integral to Sunday’s win.

Cook has quickly established an attacking style of play with a 4-2-3-1 formation and the players already look comfortable playing possession football.

Against Bury they demonstrated their promotion credentials with a confident 4-1 victory. There was a stand out performance by Nick Powell who has started this campaign where he left off last season and grabbed a brace.

Like his hat trick against Barnsley last season the former Manchester United midfielder was unstoppable being involved in three of the four goals and most of Latics’ best moves.

Powell is a massive asset at this level and if the club can repel any suitors and keep him fit then he is certainly capable of helping them to promotion.

Playing alongside Powell were Michael Jacobs and Lee Evans who both ran him close for the Match of the Match award. Jacobs looks to have regained the form that was so important in Latics’ title win in 2015/16.

As well as getting on the score sheet he singlehandedly took on the entire Bury defence in one dazzling dribble setting up a great opportunity for Will Grigg.

New loan signing Evans bossed the midfield and created numerous chances as well as setting up Powell’s first goal with an inch perfect curling cross. He rounded off a great home debut with a superb 25-yard net buster.

Latics have another local derby tomorrow when they travel to Oldham Athletic. They will be expected to come away with the three points but Cook will have to guard his players against any complacency after such a positive opening to the season.

This article was first published in the 12th Man column for the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 18th August 2017.

Posted in League One, Lee Evans, Michael Jacobs, Nick Powell, Oldham Athletic, Paul Cook, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment