The 12th Man: Winning run over but feel-good factor remains!

Wigan Athletic celebrations
Wigan Athletic celebrations

So the winning run comes to an end.

And by rights it’s came in a game we could and should have won by a large margin.

Latics were simply unplayable against Portsmouth on Saturday and, on another day, would have been two or three goals up at half-time.

The fact we weren’t played right in to Pompey’s hands and, even though we started the second half much like the first, we still couldn’t find that elusive goal.

The sending-off of Chey Dunkley, a needless one, changed the game, and it was only a matter of time until Portsmouth equalised.

We still should have won it at that point but it wasn’t to be our day.

Nonetheless, the fact we’re annoyed we only got a point shows you the progress the club have made in such a short time.

Under Paul Cook, this Latics team go in to each game believing they will win.

It’s a complete contrast from Warren Joyce’s mantra of defend for your lives because we can’t compete.

It may not be a popular opinion, but I travelled over to Blackpool on Tuesday and had a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

It won’t get me many brownie points with the ‘against modern football’ crowd.

But I believe the Football League Trophy – the oft-criticised Checkatrade Trophy – is worth fighting for.

I fully commend those taking a stand and the B team boycott – indeed anyone found at the DW in November watching us against Middlesbrough Under-21s need their heads testing.

But it still has a place for clubs of our size.

Many on all sides – not just Wiganers – champion an outright boycott, whereas I believe the best way to show the league is to pack out (comparatively speaking) the senior games, and have virtually empty stadiums for the matches involving the Under-21 sides.

I’m sure people will disagree with me, but we’ve a proud record in this competition.

And for clubs of our size, who never had/have aspirations of getting to an FA Cup final, it was a route to a Wembley final, and a bit of prize money for clubs who often desperately need it.

The competition also offers invaluable senior minutes for clubs’ youngsters.

Ironically, that’s probably what attracted the competition to those in the Premier League.

Tuesday night saw Callum Lang, Luke Burgess, Chris Merrie and Josh Laurent get valuable minutes they wouldn’t necessarily have got.

Not to mention young Victor Maffeo, who came on for the last 20 minutes – a 16-year-old from Spain who impressed everyone in his short time on the pitch, and actually scored the winning penalty.

Let’s hope the Football League see sense and end this needless vandalism of their own competition and return the Football League Trophy to its clubs.

I was disappointed, and a little surprised, to see our match with Northampton postponed last week.

Mainly because I had booked the weekend off and a day round Wigan with BBC Sport’s resident Northampton fan Tom Rostance was in prospect!

Also last time we were at this level, we didn’t postpone any games for the international breaks.

I suspect Paul Cook doesn’t want to change his side if he can help it, so it’s a weekend free of football.

Which is hell for us shift workers.

Still the transfer window kept us all entertained this week, and I think the manager will be delighted with how the transfer window has gone.

SEAN LIVESEY

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 shell-shocked 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 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 fine 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.

IAN ASPINALL

The start to Paul Cook’s reign as Wigan Athletic manager has been close to perfect, but for more reasons than picking up 10 points from an available 12.

In Cook’s first game as boss (a pre-season game against Liverpool) the Latics picked up a well-deserved draw against a side which contained Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Jordan Henderson and Mohamed Salah.

An impressive feat for any team, but especially for League One Wigan, where no fewer than seven players who

featured that night came through the ranks.

Throughout pre-season, the three players who continued to catch the eye of supporters were striker Callum Lang, Sam Stubbs (son of former Everton defender, Alan) and playmaker Luke Burgess.

Lang scored twice and picked up an assist in three games, Stubbs confidently kept Daniel Sturridge quiet, and Burgess was apparently the subject of interest from none other than Monaco…

The trio went on to make their competitive debuts against Blackpool in the Carabao Cup, as well as midfielder Chris Merrie and goalkeeper Owen Evans.

In midweek, the Latics made the short trip to Bloomfield Road for the Checkatrade Trophy opener, which was another proud occasion for Gregor Rioch and his academy staff.

Earlier that evening, Stubbs secured a loan move to Crewe, where he will pick up some valuable first-team experience in the Football League, and hopefully eturn to Latics in January in the hope of staking a claim for first-team football.

It was then announced that Lang and Burgess would both start for the first time, and both impressed on the night.

Most notably Lang who came close with a free-kick on half-time which struck the bar.

Luke Burke, Chris Merrie, James Barrigan and Victor Maffeo all featured too – and it was the latter who stole the show.

Victor is the younger brother of Manchester City full-back Pablo Maffeo, who is on loan at Girona in La Liga, so the Latics full-back/winger will be looking to follow in his brother’s footsteps on the road to the big time.

Maffeo was introduced to the action in the 68th minute and nearly became an instant hero, but his shot flew inches wide of the post.

As the game went to penalties, the young Spaniard stepped up and coolly slotted his penalty in the bottom corner and the Tics went on to pick up a win in their first game of the tournament.

With the Latics involved in the league, FA Cup and Checkatrade Trophy, plenty more opportunities will arise for players from the ever-improving academy.

But will they take their chance and become the next Leighton Baines, or miss their opportunity and follow in the footsteps of Tim Chow, Daniel Redmond and Rakish Bingham?

JACK UNSWORTH