The 12th man: '˜Cook is Wigan's best signing in a long time'
Our 12th man columnists reflect on the FA Cup win, and look ahead to tomorrow's league match at Plymouth.
Oh ye of little faith. And by “ye” I mean me.
It is with a slightly reddened face that I peer through my fingers and look at what I wrote last week, about not fancying the cup much and needing to concentrate on the league, because Wednesday night was truly magical.
A lot has been said about the level of moaning and grumbling coming out of the stands for a team that is top of the league.
However (no pun intended), one beautiful thing that will live with me for a while was the pure roar that went up as the third goal went in, and at full time, as Premier League Bournemouth were dispatched 3-0.
Even just before kick off, there were grumblings on social media about Paul Cook seeing fit to make six changes.
Perhaps with some merit.
As recently as last month, the same sort of line-up laboured to get past Fylde in the last round.
Sometimes, we get a situation where fringe players sulk a little bit, as if they know they’re only playing because it’s a cup game.
Maybe that was part of Bournemouth’s problem?
Yet from our perspective, every one of those 14 players did themselves and their club proud, chasing every ball and closing down incessantly.
It was a terrific performance, and should hopefully not take too much out of the squad, given many of the key players were rested, although it was perhaps worrying to see Will Grigg leave the field early after putting in a terrific shift.
There is always going to be a concern about fighting on two fronts at this stage of the year.
Yet the alternative view is winning is a habit, and knowing the whole squad seems up for it should give us confidence that we can manage to compete for both.
It is a shame more home fans weren’t in attendance, as it was a great reward for the recent home goal mini-drought.
Hopefully the fourth-round tie with West Ham gives Wiganers the chance to turn out in numbers and give this team the support it deserves.
There’s little love lost between us and the Hammers and I’m sure they will travel up in big numbers.
Probably in limousines. Limousines so long they span the length of the M1 and M6.
They will get on at the back in London, walk to the front, and be in Wigan already.
From our perspective, we’ve been out of the Premier League for long enough to find a tie like this attractive, and there’s only just over a week before it happens.
On the league front, it does mean we have to postpone a home game against Oxford, which is going to make keeping our spot on top of the table a little bit harder, so it becomes imperative we win at Plymouth this weekend.
We’ve hit a bit of a wobbly spell, at least at home, but hopefully that’s all it is and we can kick on towards the business end of the season.
There’s something special happening this season. Something very special indeed.
Most people, myself included, would have argued our best chance of beating Bournemouth and reaching the fourth round of the FA Cup had been and gone.
That late equaliser knocking the stuffing out of an already tired Latics side, leading to our eventual defeat in the replay. Or at least that’s how the script should have gone.
Instead a patched-up Latics side ran themselves in to the ground for their manager, their supporters and their club, leading to one of the famous cup victories at the DW Stadium – and we’ve had a few of those over the years.
Every single one of those players who played in the win over Bournemouth earned all the plaudits and praise heaped on them.
There was no doubt the odd groan or two expressed when the starting XI was named. But the six changes made only enhanced Latics.
Sam Morsy’s early goal helped to settle Latics down but Bournemouth, who were a constant threat, were marshalled well by a makeshift defence of Callum Elder, Alex Bruce, Chey Dunkley and Max Power.
Bournemouth had plenty of chances to get themselves back in the game, but they never did.
That was down to a combination of poor finishing on their part and fantastic defending on our part.
The elder statesman who came in to the line-up did fantastically well – in particular Gary Roberts, David Perkins and Noel Hunt, who led the line for most of the second half.
Roberts ran himself in to the ground, and performances like that make you realise how important players like they are.
They may not play every week but, when called upon, they put a shift in.
And what of Perkins? Rumours said he was departing for Bury this week. After that performance, I wouldn’t be letting him go anywhere.
He’s still a big part of that dressing room, and was fantastic alongside Morsy in the engine room.
The introduction of Dan Burn to shore up the defence for the last quarter couldn’t have gone any better.
Scoring after two minutes, ‘Superman’ showed just why he’s been voted player of the month.
The goal from Elder topped off a fantastic night and sets us up nicely for a glamour tie with West Ham in the next round.
There’s a tinge of sadness that it’s not at the Olympic Stadium, certainly for us ground hoppers but I think we’ve every chance of beating them.
The belief surging through the club is fantastic at the moment, and that’s all down to Cook, the coaching staff and the environment they’ve nourished since coming in.
You can’t quite put your finger on that something special and what exactly it is.
But whatever it is, we need to harness it – because it could well see us head back to the top.
I’ve spoken about the similarities between Cook and Paul Jewell before, not least both being Liverpudlians who played together in the same Latics team.
But that never-say-die, 100 per cent commitment we had under Jewell during our rise through the leagues feels like it’s back.
If new owners are to takeover in the near future, their first job should be an extended contract for Cook and his staff.
He’s the best signing Latics have made for a long, long while.
Saturday felt a little disappointing. No goals for the third league game in a row at home is not what we’ve come to expect.
But while it is unfortunate this spell has hit us at the coldest time of the year, when we would prefer more excitement to keep us warm, actually these games haven’t been dull.
In each of the last three home league games, we’ve had lots of shots on target!
In fact we’ve had similar numbers of shots in each game to that which we had during the 7-0 win at Oxford.
So we are not having a problem creating chances. It’s a problem of being more clinical – getting the ball in the net.
That will return to us – we can be sure of that with the quality of players that we have. With the addition of James Vaughan, Latics now have three players capable of scoring over 20 goals a season.
Will Grigg did it two years ago. Vaughan did it last season. No one thinks Nick Powell couldn’t achieve that if he put his mind to it…and possibly even if he doesn’t.
A potential 60-goal forward line, along with a midfield and defence also capable of chipping in.
This is why the goals will return to the side. The squad is too good not to be productive. That isn’t arrogance, it is reality. OK, maybe it is a little bit of arrogance as well!
But we can see the truth of it in our performances in the FA Cup with five goals in the last two games.
But what do the three recent draws mean for our league position? Not much.
We are still top and have a three-point lead.
This, of course means we are guaranteed to be top after the next game, due to our far superior goal difference.
Over the last four games, when we have had our rough patch which yielded us six points, Shrewsbury have gained seven, Blackburn eight, Scunthorpe eight and Bradford six.
So, yes we have lost ground. But not much.
Hopefully we will be more clinical and the goals will return at Plymouth.
A good little run of wins would really heap the pressure on the chasing pack when none are in fantastic form.
We need to maintain our form to ensure we get automatic promotion.
This is important because I’ve just realised I’ll be in Washington DC for the League One play-off final. If that isn’t the final motivation the squad need, I don’t know what is.
Oh yes, and Latics must have one of the worst play-off records of any team. One competition we have a good recent record in is, of course, the FA Cup.
No-one will ever forget the cup run of 2013.
In fact the cup run to the semi-final the year afterwards was even better in some ways, as we were all paying attention to it from the start as defending champions.
You have to go a long way to find a set of fans who love the FA Cup more than Latics these days, and it doesn’t take much for cup fever to get going.
I’ll openly admit I’ve come down with an acute case of it after Wednesday.
A 3-0 win over a Premier League club and we have suddenly found ourselves in the fourth round.
While West Ham at home may not be a tie to get the pulses racing, hopefully we can get past that one as well which would leave us just a step away from the quarter-finals.
Yes, it is unlikely we’ll win the FA Cup again, but if football is about anything, it is not the money, or the video technology or the TV rights.
No, it is about the fans, it is about the dream, it is about the passion and the glory.
While it is unlikely we will win the cup, we all know that it is possible. The FA Cup is a cup competition we can all get behind.
Exactly what a cup should be. Unseeded and straight knockout. Yes, cup fever is alive and well in Wigan, and with all Latics fans, wherever they are.
We are all believers now.
At least I am still scheduled to be in the country on May 19!
It was an exhilarating performance by a mixture of fringe players and first-team regulars in midweek.
Prior to the game, it looked as though Paul Cook was prioritising the league games over the FA Cup, with six players rested from last Saturday’s draw with Peterborough.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece suggesting Latics’ squad players would have to step up to the mark if the club was to be successful in the second half of the season, and they certainly did that to great effect on Wednesday.
Cook’s team adopted a high-pressing game with Will Grigg, Gavin Massey, Ryan Colclough and Gary Roberts all pushed well up the pitch.
The work-rate by the forwards and midfield players in particular was phenomenal, as they ran and harried their Premier League opponents into submission.
Winger Colclough was instrumental in the first goal and had one of his best games in a Latics shirt.
Roberts and Perkins worked tirelessly throughout, Elder got on the scoresheet with a pinpoint header, and substitute Noel Hunt provided the flicked header for Burn’s second goal.
It was an exemplary effort by Latics’ fringe players, and Cook rightly praised the work-rate, effort and commitment of the players after the game.
The squad really showed their mettle on the night, and they have now gone 13 league and cup games unbeaten.
But they’ll have to be at their best when they make the long trip to Plymouth.
They could be severely tested by an in-form Pilgrims side who have moved into mid-table following a meteoric rise from the relegation zone.
Derek Adams team are on a seven-game unbeaten run of their own, and have only two defeats in the last 16 matches.
They are now only eight points off a play-off spot with 18 games still to play.
Will Grigg could be a doubt for the game, but at least Latics will have new signing James Vaughan available as they seek to consolidate their lead at the top of the table.
The Tics put in a tremendous performance on Wednesday to book a fascinating FA Cup fourth-round tie against David Moyes’ West Ham.
Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth came to the DW in fine form after dragging themselves away from the relegation zone towards mid-table mediocrity.
Before their visit up north, the top-flight outfit hadn’t lost since visiting Manchester City and had since gone on to beat Everton and Arsenal, as well as picking points up against West Ham and fellow relegation candidates Brighton.
Noel Hunt put an unbelievable shift in off the bench and didn’t give the Bournemouth back line a moment to think.
And it was another substitute, Dan Burn, who provided the game-changing moment 73 minutes in with goal number two.
A change in system occurred, as the Tics went to a back three with wing backs, and 2-0 soon became 3-0 with Callum Elder calmly finishing into the bottom corner, in order to complete an almost-perfect night for Wigan.
Honourable mentions must go to David Perkins who, as always, NEVER stopped.
Also to Gary Roberts for his tremendous pressing which led to numerous mistakes.
And to Mr Reliable, Chey Dunkley, who swept up superbly, and kept £5 million man Lys Mousset quiet all night.