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.

 

 

 

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Posted in Anthony Pilkington, Bristol City, Championship, Kasey Palmer, Matty Taylor, Reece James, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bristol bound on a wing and a prayer

Bristol City's Ashton Gate

Bristol City’s Ashton Gate

I’m travelling down to Bristol City on Saturday for another Latics away-day but it’s more in hope than expectation. It’s a very tough fixture as the fifth-placed Robins will be desperate to consolidate their play-off place after an important mid-week victory at Middlesbrough.

Latics are just four points above the relegation zone and have a dreadful away record, unable to win in 17 Championship away games.

I keep thinking that the poor away form will come to end soon, but the miserable defeats at Reading and Blackburn do make you wonder where the next away win is going to come from.

Both those games were winnable but Latics conspired to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at Reading when they led 2-1 with only one minute of the 90 minutes remaining.

Then at Ewood Park they had started well enough but gave away a silly penalty, the heads dropped and they went on to concede two more goals due to defensive mistakes.

Latics’ excellent home form is in stark contrast to their away form and it just shows that they are capable of competing at this level. But I think a number of factors have contributed to this terrible away sequence of results.

Firstly, the manager must take some responsibility for the away form. Cook’s team selections and desire to make too many changes to the starting line-ups has contributed to the problems.

His resort to long ball tactics has generally been ineffective and his reluctance to utilise winger Callum McManaman remains a mystery.

Secondly, the players have to take responsibility for their poor performances. They are making far too many mistakes on their travels and their heads go down far too easily if they go a goal down away from home.

Thirdly, the injuries to attacking players have certainly had a damaging effect on the results, with Nick Powell, Gavin Massey, Michael Jacobs and Will Grigg all absent for long periods of the season. Any team would struggle without their star players.

Fourthly, because the players have not won away since August they now seem to have a psychological barrier when playing away. It seems there is a lack of belief amongst the players that they can pick up three points when playing away from the DW Stadium.

Cook has recently taken the players to a Boxing Gym to toughen them up. Maybe he should also try a psychologist, or even a hypnotist to try and break the away-day hoodoo?

At least the Robins recent form has been inconsistent – two defeats, two draws and two wins in their last six games – which does offer some comfort to those travelling to Ashton Gate.

Posted in Bristol City, Championship, Paul Cook, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Trying to find the finishing touches – Wigan Athletic 0 Brentford 0

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Chey Dunkley twice went close for Latics

Wigan Athletic remain in the relegation dogfight after a 0-0 draw at home to Brentford and are four points above the drop zone with seven games remaining.

It was a creditable performance by Latics who had the best chances to secure all three points in a closely fought game.

Brentford had comfortably dispatched Latics earlier in the season at Griffin Park and had previously looked capable of being promotion challengers.

The Bees did threaten sporadically but Latics were the better outfit on this occasion.

Reece James’ 35-yard volley forced an acrobatic save from Luke Daniels, Gavin Massey had a one-on-one saved and the Bees keeper produced a full length save to deny Chey Dunkley’s diving header.

Dunkley also headed against the crossbar and Anthony Pilkington had a goal disallowed for offside but they just couldn’t find the finishing touches to secure the three points to pull them further away from the drop zone.

Latics made one change to their starting eleven following the win over Bolton Wanderers as Danny Fox returned to the side in the place of Cedric Kipre.

Both teams threatened in the opening ten minutes. Massey and Antonee Robinson had goal-bound efforts blocked for Latics before Neal Maupay dragged a shot wide for the Bees.

Latics player of the season Reece James went close with an improvised half volley on 25 minutes which was well tipped over by Daniels.

But the best chance of the first half fell to Massey after Nick Powell had done superbly to take the ball from deep in his own half. The winger was put in the clear by Powell but his final shot lacked real conviction and was saved by Daniels.

Brentford had enjoyed the greater possession and looked a threat on the break but Latics had created the better chances in the first half.

Early in the second half Christian Walton was at full stretch to deny Said Benrahma’s powerful effort from the edge of the box.

Latics then went close when Daniels denied Dunkley’s diving header following James’ corner-kick.

The hosts looked to have broken the deadlock on 75 minutes when Joe Garner’s towering header found substitute Pilkington at the back-post for an easy finish, but the goal was disallowed for offside.

The match was finely poised with Latics doing most of the pressing but with the Bees always a threat on the counter.

Latics almost got the all important winner on 83 minutes when Danny Fox’s cross was met by Dunkley but the centre-back’s looped header landed on the top of the crossbar and the match ended in stalemate.

Paul Cook’s reluctance to use Callum McManaman remains very puzzling. With 20 minutes remaining Latics needed a creative player who could unlock the Bees defence, but the manager left it until the 87th minute before introducing McManaman.

The change almost did the trick as the winger immediately breached the Bees backline before being brought down before he could cross.

Surely the change should’ve been made sooner if Cook wanted to secure the three points. Cook’s failure to use McManaman is one of the great mysteries of this season.

Latics now have some very tough fixtures ahead as they have to face several of the top teams, including Bristol City, Norwich City and Leeds United, and in that context this result inevitably felt like a wasted opportunity to take all three points.

 

Posted in Brentford, Callum McManaman, Championship, Chey Dunkley, Paul Cook, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Which players should be released if Latics survive in the Championship?

Reece James

Star man Reece James

With eight games remaining Latics are in a relegation scrap and sit just three points above the drop zone, but if they do survive in the Championship this season what are the player options for next season.

Latics’ best player Chelsea loanee Reece James was this week deservedly named in the Championship team of the year but it is unlikely that the club will be able to retain his services for next season.

Several Premier League teams are keen to secure his signature and if Chelsea don’t sell him on he is likely to be loaned out to either a Premier League or top Championship outfit.

Manager Paul Cook will no doubt endeavour to make good use of the loan system next season but he is unlikely to find a young player of James’ quality again.

A new goalkeeper is on the wanted list as Brighton loanee Christian Walton will probably return to his home club. Latics other keeper Jamie Jones has signed an extended contract but they will need another experienced keeper to compete with Jones for the Number 1 spot.

The International Entertainment Corporation (IEC) have said they have money available to invest in the squad and that the Will Grigg transfer money is going to be used on recruitment.

As I’m not expecting loan striker Leon Clarke to stay on after completing his loan from Sheffield United, it is therefore important that the recruitment team seek out a goal scorer to replace Grigg as soon as possible.

Striker Joe Garner has been a useful addition to the squad but he is unlikely to score enough goals to fire Latics up the table.

Highly regarded midfielder Nick Powell and winger Gavin Massey are in negotiations about new contracts and if the new owners are serious about success on the pitch they should try their hardest to keep both players at the club.

In my opinion Callum McManaman deserves another contract, but it is evident that the manager has other ideas, so it would seem likely that he will move on.

Loanee full back Antonee Robinson has spent much of the season injured and loanee midfielder Beni Baningime has had very limited game time, so both could well return to their parent club Everton.

Midfielder Darron Gibson has not contributed much to the campaign and I would be very surprised if he got another contract.

Centre back Jonas Olssen came out of retirement to provide defensive cover recently but his performance against Blackburn did not augur well for an extended contract.

Midfielder Shaun MacDonald has not managed to get back into the first team after suffering a broken leg in April 2017 and is likely to given the opportunity to find another club.

Latics allowed several squad members to go out on loan during the course of the season. Midfielder Leonardo Da Silva Lopes is currently at Gillingham and will probably be recalled to see if he has progressed sufficiently to compete for a place next season.

Winger Jamie Walker was on loan at Peterborough but returned mid-season and hasn’t got back into first team contention. Similarly striker Devante Cole was on loan at Burton Albion and returned mid season and hasn’t been in first team contention. So I expect both of them to leave the club in the summer.

Striker James Vaughan who is currently on loan at Portsmouth is also likely to be released.

Latics do have several promising young players who might challenge for a first team place next season, in particular, England youth internationals Jensen Weir and Joe Geldhart. However the step up from youth team football can often be problematic, so we shouldn’t expect too much from them in the short-term.

With so many player departures likely it’s going to be a big close season of change for the club. It will be the first summer in charge for the new owners and it will provide a strong indicator of IEC’s intentions for the future.

In a fiercely competitive Championship the owner’s commitment to providing the funds for new players will be crucial if Latics are to make serious progress next season.

Posted in Championship, Paul Cook, Reece James, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Big win for Latics and under pressure Cook – Wigan Athletic 5 Bolton Wanderers 2

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Joe Garner gave Latics an early lead

Relegation threatened Wigan Athletic recorded an emphatic 5-2 victory against fellow strugglers Bolton Wanderers and relieved the pressure on manager Paul Cook.

Latics took an early lead when Joe Garner headed home from Reece James’ free-kick and went further ahead in the 51st minute following a deflected finish from Gavin Massey.

Four minutes later Wanderers keeper Remi Matthews made a major blunder allowing Michael Jacobs to steal the ball off him and set up Nick Powell for an easy tap-in.

The visitors then pulled a goal back through Gary O’Neil on 62 minutes but Latics restored their three goal lead when Michael Jacobs produced a stunning finish from the edge of the box.

Substitute Sammy Ameobi added a second for Wanderers on 80 minutes but Latics soon restored their three goal advantage when Nathan Byrne found substitute Leon Clarke at the back post to head home the fifth and final goal.

Latics move up to 19th in the Championship table and three points above the drop zone. Wanderers remain in 23rd spot and eight points from safety.

After some poor performances in the defeat at Blackburn on Tuesday Cook made three changes to his starting line-up with Christian Walton, Nathan Byrne and Cedric Kipre coming in for Jamie Jones, Lee Evans and Jonas Olsson.

Latics got off to a great start as they went in front after only four minutes. Reece James’ excellent free-kick found Garner in the box and the former Preston striker headed home from close range.

Wanderers were hitting high balls up to their two big strikers but the Latics central defensive partnership of Dunkley and Kipre held firm.

The hosts could have doubled their lead before the break as Powell played in Antonee Robinson and the USA international forced a superb save from Matthews.

Just before the interval O’Neil was denied by the excellent Walton at his near post.

Latics started the second-half brightly and soon doubled their lead when Powell slipped the ball into the path of Massey who drove forward before hitting a shot which deflected off a defender and the post before finding the back of the net.

Just four minutes later it was 3-0 as keeper Matthews was dispossessed by Jacobs and Powell was left to casually knock the ball into an empty net.

O’Neil almost immediately managed to pull a goal back for Wanderers to make it 3-1, but the prospect of a comeback was short lived as Jacobs broke clear and produced an unstoppable finish from the edge of the box.

Christian Walton produced a superb save with his legs to deny former Latics loanee Callum Connolly before Ameobi did reduce the deficit on 80 minutes.

But a minute later Latics got their fifth when Byrne’s deep cross to the back post found substitute Clarke who headed past Matthews.

Byrne might have added a sixth before the end when he crashed a shot from distance against the post, but it had been a very special victory for Latics against their local rivals and Paul Cook can sleep easily tonight.

Posted in Bolton Wanderers, Championship, Gary O'Neil, Gavin Massey, Joe Garner, Leon Clarke, Michael Jacobs, Nick Powell, Sammy Ameobi, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Latics press the self-destruct button – Blackburn Rovers 3 Wigan Athletic 0

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Paul Cook out of luck and out of ideas

Dark days at Wigan Athletic as Paul Cook’s team engineered their own downfall and gifted Blackburn Rovers an easy three points at Ewood Park.

After enjoying plenty of early possession Latics contrived to present Rovers with three goals following defensive mistakes.

Reece James recklessly fouled Harrison Read in the penalty box after 39 minutes and Danny Graham comfortably converted the resulting spot kick.

Early in the second half substitute Callum McManaman set up Nick Powell but the former Manchester United midfielder was unable to capitalise as he headed narrowly wide of the target and soon afterwards Chey Dunkley’s miskick allowed Graham the easiest of tasks to add his and Rovers second goal.

Rovers wasted further chances to increase their lead before Jonas Olsson provided another gift when his poor back-pass allowed Bradley Dack another easy finish.

Latics remain in 20th spot in the Championship table just three points above the relegation zone while Rovers are comfortable in 16th spot.

The visitors made one enforced change from the team defeated at Reading on Saturday with Lee Evans replacing Nathan Byrne who had to miss out due to illness.

In difficult wet and windy conditions Latics enjoyed the majority of the early possession but Rovers went closest when Bradley Dack forced a good save from Jamie Jones.

Neither team carved out any clear cut openings until eight minutes before half time when Latics gave away a penalty. James caught Reed with a high boot and referee Chris Kavanagh had no hesitation in awarding a penalty.

Graham stepped up and fired Rovers into a one goal lead going into the interval.

Cook replaced Gavin Massey with McManaman at half-time and the winger had an almost immediate impact when crossing for Powell but the midfielder was inches wide of the target with his header.

Latics pressed for the equaliser but their good work was undone when a long ball from Rovers was not dealt with by Dunkley and Graham had an easy task to slot home past Jamie Jones.

The visitors tried to respond and Evans fired just wide and substitute Josh Windass forced a good save from David Raya, but the points were sealed on 86 minutes when Olsson’s back-pass was intercepted by Dack who finished calmly.

Either side of the third goal Rovers had very good chances to add to their tally through Joe Nuttall and Dack as Latics lost any semblance of defensive organisation.

This had been a disastrous performance by Latics which leaves them perilously close to the drop zone and desperately low in confidence.

Cook’s long ball tactics had proved ineffective and too many Latics players had performed way below the standard required for the Championship.

Basic mistakes had presented Rovers with three goals but it could easily have been five or six as Latics defenders offered limited resistance at times.

Even Latics player of the season so far Reece James had not been at his best, but others such as Evans, Dunkley, Olsson and Antonee Robinson should be ashamed of their performances.

Cook’s charges seem incapable of winning away from home and they could find themselves in the relegation zone if they lose at home against fellow strugglers Bolton Wanderers on Saturday.

Posted in Blackburn Rovers, Bradley Dack, Championship, Danny Graham, Paul Cook, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cook on the brink? Reading 3 Wigan Athletic 2

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Nick Powell scored the opening goal

Wigan Athletic failed to capitalise on their dominance and succumbed to a late Reading fight back to slip nearer to the Championship relegation zone.

Latics went ahead through Nick Powell after 20 minutes and, although Reading equalised through a John Swift free kick in first half injury time, Joe Garner restored their lead on 64 minutes.

But with Latics looking to see the game out the Royals equalised through Mo Barrow’s 30-yard strike on 89 minutes and with the clock showing 97 minutes Yakou Meite broke Wigan hearts with a stooping header at the back-post.

Latics are now below Reading on goal difference and are just three points clear of the relegation zone with ten games still to play.

Paul Cook made four changes to his starting line-up from Tuesday night’s defeat at Derby  County, with Antonee Robinson, Jonas Olsson, Powell and Garner replacing Danny Fox, Cedric Kipre, Lee Evans and Leon Clarke.

After an even opening period, Latics started to take control of the game and went ahead after 20 minutes when Powell produced a neat finish from a Michael Jacobs cross after some excellent work by Reece James in midfield.

Latics again threatened when Powell set up Jacobs but his shot was well saved by Emi Martinez.

At the other end, Tyler Blackett’s cross found Garath McCleary but his effort was saved by Jamie Jones.

In added time at the end of the first half the hosts drew level when Swift’s excellent free kick beat Jones from the edge of the area

Early in the second-half Gavin Massey forced Martinez into another good save before Chey Dunkley fired over the crossbar from a James corner.

Latics went back in front on 64 minutes when Powell’s attempted overhead kick found the unmarked Garner at the back-post and the well-travelled striker finished with aplomb.

Dunkley forced another good save from Martinez before the keeper produced a superb reflex save to deny Powell at close range.

Martinez then presented Latics with a golden opportunity when he rolled the ball into the path of James but the Chelsea loanee was unable to capitalise and fired wide of the target from 25-yards out.

Samy Morsy then produced a stinging 25-yard strike but a full stretch Martinez was equal to the task.

Cook replaced the tiring Massey and Powell with Kal Naismith and Leon Clarke and Latics lost their attacking threat. Naismith looked uncomfortable on the right wing and Clarke was once again out of sorts.

With the clock ticking down to 90 minutes a lack of composure by Latics was to prove costly.

Morsy allowed a free kick to be taken quickly while out of position and with James off the pitch, Mo Barrow was allowed plenty of space to run into before firing past Jones from 30-yards.

Latics’ inability to manage the game out proved even more costly on 97 minutes when from a corner Meite was allowed to head home unmarked at the back-post.

It was a game that Latics shouldn’t have lost and their inability to win away from home is proving to be their achilles heel.

They have won only one game away all season and that was at Stoke back in August. If they are to survive they must pick up more points on the road.

The pressure is mounting on Cook and the next two fixtures against local rivals Blackburn (a) and Bolton (h) could well determine the manager’s future.

Cook did so well in getting Latics promoted to the Championship but if there isn’t a quick improvement he is likely to take the club back to League One.

Latics are in the relegation mire and in a downward spiral, if they don’t get a win very soon Cook will surely lose his job.

Posted in Championship, Joe Garner, John Swift, Mo Barrow, Nick Powell, Reading, Wigan Athletic, Yakou Meite | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments