The 12th Man: Cook’s vision for short and long-term is great to see

The celebrations following Nick Powell's goal at MK
The celebrations following Nick Powell's goal at MK

You’ll win nothing with kids!

An infamous statement made all the more pertinent by the fact it was made by a Liverpool stalwart, Alan Hansen, about none other than Manchester United.

Back then it was proven to be a statement of folly, as the class of ’92 overcame an early season reversal at Aston Villa to romp to one of United’s many title wins as the golden crop bore fruit.

I think if he made the same statement now, it may hold more weight given that multi-million pound deals to bring in global superstars are en vogue in the Premier League, thus meaning that young home grown players can no longer get near the first teams of top-flight clubs.

Yet closer to home, there appears to be a quiet renaissance of the long forgotten youth policy.

It might have only been the League Cup, and it might be symbolic of us sinking back into the third tier, but seeing so many young lads wearing the shirt of Wigan Athletic with pride in midweek was indeed a heartwarming sight.

Four products of the youth system were on the pitch, one of them – Jordan Flores – scoring the winning goal, and another one – Owen Evans – keeping the equaliser out on a few occasions.

With another four on the bench, and watching Callum Lang and Luke Burgess running around like their lives depended on it in the last half an hour, was also impressive.

Much of the credit must go to Gregor Rioch, who had a fantastic reputation at Coventry prior to joining Latics.

Indeed, it must be something of a miracle that he is still here, given all the managerial turmoil of recent years.

Yet we are now seeing the fruits of his labour as a very decent youth coach, and one of Wigan Athletic’s biggest assets.

Of course, we can’t get too carried away, nor put too many expectations on young shoulders.

But when Paul Cook talks of having too big a squad (of experienced players), his woes are amplified when there’s a handful of young bucks knocking on the door of the first team as well.

This is, however, a nice problem to have and bodes well for the future.

What we saw on Tuesday night was effectively a second team, who had barely played together, led by the veteran Will Grigg (at 26!) giving it a real good go.

Once we have cleared a bit more off the top, and the “outlawed three” have been sold on, then we look to be in good shape.

Two players for every position, but also enough flex to give opportunities to the younger players, and those not in the team, to slot in at various times, during an unforgiving 46-games-plus-three-cup-competitions-season.

The model which Cook seems to be building is to have a settled first-team XI but also to have a back-up player for every position.

Over time those back-up options will naturally include some of our own youngsters, or ones we have signed like Josh Laurent and Terrell Thomas, or the odd, older experienced head like Noel Hunt or – dare I say it – David Perkins.

You know we’re in a good place when I start to feel a bit sorry for the ones who aren’t getting a game.

It’s a sign I’m starting to actually like our players again, and the reason for that is because they are showing the right attitude.

And that is surely because Cook is getting the coaching right throughout the club, and managing to mould that harmony I spoke about last week.

Still, let’s see how positive we feel after a tough test against Bury on Sunday, though.

MARTIN TARBUCK

As first weeks go it’s not been a bad start to the season for Paul Cook and his Wigan Athletic side – not bad at all.

An excellent-opening day win at Milton Keynes was followed up by a hard-earned victory over Blackpool in the League Cup.

Clearly not a competition that is at the top of Latics’ list of priorities, but a win is a win.

And the team that earned that win will be more pleasing than the manner of it.

Paul Cook elected to make 11 changes to his side giving opportunities to fringe players such as Jordan Flores, those returning to fitness like Will Grigg and Donervon Daniels, and young lads like Luke Burgess, Chris Merrie, Sam Stubbs and Owen Evans.

It wasn’t a comfortable win for Cook’s youngsters – Blackpool looked a strong side and probably should have taken it to extra time.

But the win will do them a world of good.

Although it was a different side in each match, that’s two wins in two difficult games now.

It’s very early days, of course, but Latics looked excellent against Milton Keynes and, with better finishing, could have been two or three goals ahead despite being down to 10 men for a large part of the match.

Saturday would have been the first time a lot of Wiganers had seen a Latics side under Cook, and I imagine most would have been pleased with what they say.

There was fluidity to our play, we played decent football without ever over complicating it, we looked solid in defence, and we tried to use our width at every opportunity.

Nick Powell getting on the scoresheet was a massive plus – less so the flare-up of his injury – but with any luck the management will have got him off early enough.

So all in all it looks like it’s been a decent start. Let’s not get carried away, though.

Big-spending Bury (comparatively speaking) are Sunday’s opponents, and seemed to always know how to get round us last time we were at this level.

There’s also the small matter of the transfer window closing to negotiate.

I imagine if Cook manages to keep hold of both Grigg and Powell, he will be delighted.

That’s easier said than done, of course – and there’s still the futures of Max Power, Jack Byrne and Omar Bogle to resolve yet.

SEAN LIVESEY

Latics continued their good start to the season with a somewhat lucky 2-1 League Cup victory against a combative Blackpool team.

Paul Cook’s rotation policy for the League Cup was an eminently sensible approach to what is a lengthy fixture list.

He made 11 changes to the team which won at MK Dons, but he will have learned some valuable information about his fringe players and those returning from injury.

The manager has clearly stated his list of priorities for the season with the league as the number one, then the FA Cup, League Cup and finally the tarnished Football League Trophy.

Although Latics progressed past Blackpool, Cook was rightly critical of the performance when he said: “In general we want to control games better than that, we had no real control of the game, we were hanging on and that’s the disappointing thing but it was a great experience for the young lads.

“Without a doubt fitness is an element but this team had never played together, they only trained Sunday and Monday and it’s important that you develop all the good habits on a daily basis and those lads’ habits will ultimately get better as we go on.”

For whatever reason some of Latics’ returning players didn’t impress on the night and that will affect their chances of breaking into the league team.

I expect there will be a much different starting eleven for Sunday’s home game and it will be interesting to see if any of Tuesday’s team start against Bury.

Cook rightly sets high standards and will be demanding a much-improved performance in what could be a tricky local derby.

Bury have shown ambition by recruiting extensively in the close-season.

Manager Lee Clark has signed 18 players either permanently or on loan in the belief that they can be challenging near the top of the table.

The Shakers may have lost last season’s top scorer James Vaughan to Sunderland, but among those signed are Jermaine Beckford, Nicky Ajose and Harry Bunn.

Bury opened their League One campaign with a 1-0 victory over Walsall and the margin would have been greater if they had not missed two penalties.

Beckford and Chris Maguire both missed from the spot but Beckford made amends by heading home what proved to be the winner in first-half stoppage time.

Cook will be determined that Latics continue their good start to the campaign against Bury but he may lose his fast-fading voice in the process.

IAN ASPINALL

Wigan Athletic have made a perfect start under Paul Cook, who has become the first Latics manager this century to win his first two opening games.

Fans have been impressed immediately by Cook, due to his attacking football and hard-working side.

I must admit, I thought MK Dons would be one of the most difficult away games we will have this season, and was happy when it was the first game of the season, to get it out of the way.

However, I was pleasantly surprised we won 1-0 comfortably, which could have been a lot higher margin if it wasn’t for former Latics keeper Lee Nicholls, who was deservedly awarded the man of the match award.

The performance was really impressive, with the team defending well under pressure, and looking like we would score in every attack.

Cook has worked hard to rebuild a winning mentality at the club, after he claimed following the Southport friendly that the lads didn’t believe a goal would come.

In the second fixture of the season, Wigan played a complete changed XI, having a mixture of first-team players coming back from lengthily absences such as Reece James, Donervon Daniels and Will Grigg, and youth players with a point to prove.

Although the performance wasn’t the greatest, Wigan still managed to progress to the next round against Blackpool, who look like they can surprise a few people in League One after promotion from League Two under Gary Bowyer.

Not only did Tuesday show the great depth in the Latics squad, but seven academy products featured on the night.

This highlights the great work Gregor Rioch has done over the last few years, delivering David Sharpe’s initial promise when taking over that he would look to improve players coming from the academy set-up.

Bury travel to the DW Stadium in the Latics next round of action, which I’m hoping will continue our 100 per cent start to the season.

The Shakers won’t be pushovers, as they have recruited well, bringing in Jay O’Shea, Chris Maguire and Jermaine Beckford.

However, I’m hopeful Wigan can prove too strong for the, to handle.

Fingers crossed this time next week I’ll be writing about making it three wins in a row to open the season.

JAY WHITTLE