The 12th Man: Whatever you do, do NOT talk about Nick until the transfer window shuts
Oh my word, how was that for you? There's no such word as average in the Wigan Athletic dictionary.
We go from famine to feast every year. From the garbage of last season, we have apparently turned into a team who would give the Brazil World Cup side of 1970 a run for its money.
Bury were simply blown away on Sunday by a fantastic attacking display by a focused and energised Latics side, and it’s getting increasingly difficult not to get too excited about matters if that is setting the benchmark for the rest of the season.
In Paul Cook, we seem to have a manager who has adopted all the positive attributes of our great past managers and very few of the bad traits of some of the terrible ones. He encourages passing of the ball like Martinez and Caldwell did, but also gets his teams attacking at a much higher tempo like Jewell or Bruce used to. And remember that much fabled German pressing which Uwe Rosler used to advocate? Well, we aren’t giving our opponents a second on the ball either!
Of course, dropping down a division and retaining most of that squad is always going to put us in a strong position if we can get their heads right and Cook’s infectious, no-nonsense approach is certainly what the dressing room needed to change the mentality.
Plus, the fact that he has ostracised three players who would walk into any other League One side and still we have a great squad shows that he isn’t going to compromise any fragile egos and points to a strength in depth that is the envy of many.
All we can do now is hope and pray that the next two weeks do not present too much upheaval until the transfer window shuts, and that we only sell the players that we want to.
On that subject, there’s one player in particular whom I think we should all stop mentioning for fear of raising interest in him. He’s scoring goals, appears to be winning his fitness battles and is arguably too good for the Championship let alone League One. If we can somehow keep him all season and free from injury, he will get an uncalculate-able number of goals as he has been a real talisman in the team, both the end of last season and moving into this one.
I’m sure we would survive should an offer of silly money come in, given that we have one of the top midfielders in League One in Alex Gilbey, wondering whether he’s run over a black cat to end up on the bench most weeks. Yet imagining a full season of Nick, er I mean that bloke, running League One defences ragged is enough to put a smile on every Latics’ fans face.
Though we’re only a few games in and of course, to say Oldham hate us would be something of an under-statement. They always seem to find a bit extra in their games against us, all because somebody in 1932 forgot to carry out a full risk assessment when deciding what name to give our lovely football club.
When you look at the paths that the two clubs have followed for the last 20 years it’s hardly surprising that their diehard fans don’t like us. They are in their 21st consecutive season in League One, which must be some kind of record. Give me the famine – and the feast – any time.
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.
Similarity between Wigan Athletic and Oldham Athletic ceases once you note that both clubs are nicknamed Latics. Wigan enjoyed an unbeaten pre-season, then followed that up with two League One wins and victory in that cup that does all the draws wrong. On the other hand, Oldham won just two of their seven friendly matches and have lost all of their competitive fixtures so far this campaign.
As a result, Paul Cook’s side are now the bookies’ favourites to lift the title and Oldham are favourites to finish bottom. Everything points to a handsome away win and Cook enjoying another post-match drinking session.
But if the match was played through the means of numbers and statistics, Wigan would have been beaten 5-0 at home by Rotherham United last season. That’s what the much-respected Football Manager simulation game’s database predicted in an official publication (yes, really).
In reality, April’s fixture against Rotherham turned out to be the start of Nick Powell’s heroic goalscoring run. Powell has scored eight goals in his last 330 minutes of competitive football and last week saw his odds on winning the League One golden boot tumble. If any man can ensure Oldham don’t give the form guide a kicking - it’s him.
Battle of Latics
Wigan’s perfect start to the season continued as Paul Cook’s new-look side cruised past Bury in what will probably be one of the best performances of the season. A 4-1 victory was an accurate reflection of Wigan’s dominance! Nick Powell’s brace undoubtedly caught the headlines from the media, but it would be naïve to suggest that he was the sole reason for the victory, as he was against Barnsley last season. A midfield pairing of Samy Morsy and Lee Evans is comfortably the best duo in the division, and when you add talent like Michael Jacobs into the equation, you realise why this side is getting the best out of Powell. Personally, my man-of-the-match from the game was Evans. The Wolverhampton loanee looks a shrewd bit of business from Cook after controlling two games against MK Dons and Bury – two teams who will be hoping to push for the play-offs don’t forget! Evans didn’t play a minute in pre-season which makes his start to the season even more impressive.This Saturday will be the first ‘Battle of the Latics’ since the start of the 2016 / 17 season. That time Oldham came out on top in a 2-1 victory, courtesy of a late winner from Josh Law. Wigan fielded a strong enough side to defeat Oldham that night, but the performance summed up last season’s woes. Wigan will be hoping to end the unwanted record of two red cards in two games at Boundary Park – Jordan Flores and Jake Buxton the previous players to be dismissed. Despite Wigan winning both of their games this season, and Oldham losing both, it will be by no means a straight forward encounter for Paul Cook and co. John Sheridan and his troops will look to sit deep for the majority of the game and frustrate Wigan by time-wasting etc., like Bury did. And if they are in the position to, they will either ‘shut up shop’ and settle for a draw, or look to hit us on the counter. Also, it is the first time Craig Davies will be facing us since he was released in January, so 15/2 for him to be first goalscorer looks to be tremendous odds. With all things considered, I’m going to go for a late 1-0 win, thanks to a Ryan Colclough goal from the bench. The only worry from the last two weeks from supporters hasn’t been issues on the pitch, but what is happening regarding Omar Bogle, Max Power and Jack Byrne? Well, on Wednesday afternoon news broke that Cardiff have won the race for Bogle, and Sky Bet reduced the odds to 1/5. So with the rumoured £1,000,000 coming in, does David Sharpe and Cook go all out and replace him with a Marcus Maddison type player who would come in and strengthen us straight away, or do we keep funds in the bank for the January transfer window? Just in case the league hasn’t already been wrapped up by then…
Early days yet The contrast between last season’s Wigan Athletic and this is vast and in many ways unbelievable. There are positivity levels flowing through the club that haven’t been present since the march to promotion in the spring of 2016. Credit must go to Paul Cook and his staff for their ability to build that positive environment in such a short space of time. Of course results always help, if we had three losses in the first three games as oppose to three wins I imagine the environment would be very different but that’s part of what Cook has brought to the table.Latics have improved in every game so far this season, the win against a strong Bury side was as impressive as it was important. Bury have spent big for League One and will be expected to have a better season than last time around, when they only just avoided relegation. The first half was a bit more competitive although Latics always looked dangerous but there was only one side in after the break. Cook’s side looked like they could score with every break and central to that were Michael Jacobs and Nick Powell. Powell was instrumental in the first three goals and it’s imperative that Latics manage to keep hold of him in the next few weeks.
Jacobs who struggled at times in the Championship looks a class above this league, and looks like he will thrive back in League One. Add to that Ivan Toney who was a constant presence up-front and Will Grigg on the bench, Latics attacking abilities should be the envy of League One.
Although I’ve spent the first part of the article extolling the virtues of this Wigan Athletic side and in particular Paul Cook’s management of the side it’s still early days. Although it’s easy to get carried away with the start we’ve made we must remember the last time we were at this level we had a more than average start and yet ran away with the league after January. So it isn’t always the team who starts the season well who finishes it, but regardless it’s always good to make a positive start and Cook and his team have definitely done that.
That positive vibe running through the club looks like it will head over to the other side of Lancashire on Saturday and a trip to Boundary Park (Ice Station Zebra) to face Oldham Athletic. Over 1400 tickets for our trip to Oldham have been sold already, with a first allocation sold out.
Darren Sheridan’s side are without a win in three games, conceding seven goals in the process. But we know from the last time we were at this level just how dangerous sides like Oldham can be.
The other Latics will no doubt raise their game, and will be hoping to get their season up and running.
If we can keep up the standard of our opening three games we should have more than enough to get a win at Oldham. Consistency is the key at this level and Paul Cook has already spoken of getting that consistency building throughout the side, another win on the road would be most welcome ahead of a tricky looking home match against Portsmouth next week.