The 12th man column: 'Wigan Athletic's performance silenced the critics of Paul Cook'
Our 12th man columnists discuss Anthony Pilkington's debut, the trip to Sheffield Wednesday and last weekend's 3-0 victory against Aston Villa...
Several results have surprised me in the last few weeks, but perhaps none more so than Saturday.
Faced with a good, if not an overly confident Villa side, Latics put them to the sword and swept them aside.
The week before, when we were dumped out of the FA Cup by a below-strength West Brom team, we started well but faded badly. In fact at the Hawthorns when we conceded the goal, you could see the confidence disappear from the team.
It was a poor goal to concede, poor defending, and it was a terrible way for the FA Cup dream to die for another year.
But the thing that really struck me against West Brom was the tackling. There just wasn’t any of it. I actually monitored it closely for a five minute period. In that five minutes, there was one tackle by a Wigan player. And it was rightly rewarded with a yellow card!
Only Reece James was willing and able to put himself about and get stuck in. It really didn’t look like the third round of the cup, it looked like Wigan had mistaken it for a pre-season friendly.
It was just generally as disappointing as it was cold. The ticket prices were really the only positive thing. It was one of those games where I ended up deciding that I’d rather us lose than have a replay to watch...although it was also clear that we really needed the extra game as practice. We were second best to a second string side.
But that contrasts clearly with last Saturday. Arriving at the DW perhaps some of us were thinking Latics would warm up for the political week by going down to a historic defeat. There can’t have been many of us expecting Latics to win, let alone to win by three clear goals.
But we fully deserved it. We were excellent from start to finish. No it wasn’t even close to being a penalty but the scoreline did not flatter Latics. There were so many positives not least the return of Michael Jacobs who scored an absolute cracker of a header.
Everything about the game was impressive. The defence looked solid. The shape looked good. The attacking play was more effective. There still isn’t a huge amount of invention in Latics play, it is all a little predictable, but it isn’t right to complain when we were effective at what we did do. And in Anthony Pilkington we seem to have found a player with some ability.
If he can deliver the ball into the box a little more consistently then he will have every chance of being a good signing. Let’s hope that he is the first of a few quality signings in the next couple of weeks who can really make a difference. We don’t need lots of new faces, but clearly a bit of extra quality will help the team and give the squad and the fans a lift. Along with other key players returning to fitness.
And with the transfer window open and a couple of eminently winnable games, even away from home, the end of January could be a very important period for Latics.
And with February containing some more games that we absolutely can win all is not lost and this new found optimism, albeit based upon one game, can see us heading back up the league and leaving the relegation fight to others.
If Paul Cook wanted a performance to silence his critics I doubt even he could have envisaged what we witnessed on Saturday afternoon as Aston Villa arrived at the DW Stadium. Latics comprehensively beat Dean Smith’s Villa side and despite the aforementioned Smith’s sour grapes in the post-match press conference this was no fluke, the stats show that Paul Cook’s side dominated from start to finish.
They managed to prevent Aston Villa having any worthy attempt on target and a superb defensive display managed to limit one of the league’s highest scoring teams to virtually no chances.
Saturday’s display was like a throwback to August, gone was turgid build-up play of the las weeks, gone too were the long balls.Instead Latics attacking play had purpose, it had guise and it had a touch of class.
The attacking play built from the back, Jamie Jones making his first league start of the season was solid and impressive. He deserved his start and he guarded his box with confidence, apart from one mishap between Jones and Cedric Kipre the defence were solid throughout and shut out a strong Villa attacking line. Latics finally had a touch of good luck, for what felt like the first time in months.
Getting the first goal was clearly a turning point on Saturday, in recent weeks we’ve started well, failed to get that early goal, and then go behind. Many around me on Saturday thought it would go the same way as Josh Windass was denied with an early chance, luckily we managed to get that first goal and you could see the confidence in the lads grow as a result.
Anthony Pilkington settled in to the side right away and on a free transfer he could well be the steal of the season. His turn and subsequent lay off for his old team mate Gary Roberts was a thing of beauty, whether it was bettered by Kal Naismith’s vision for the second goal as he set up Michael Jacobs I’ll let you be the judge.
Both Roberts and Naismith should get a lot of praise for what they bring to this Wigan Athletic side, whenever called upon by Wigan Athletic Gary Roberts has never let the side down. He’s going to be 35 soon but looks like he is simply getting better with age, eye brows may well have been raised when the club signed him last season. Even more so when he was given a contract extension last summer, but he has more than repaid the faith that Paul Cook put him in. He runs himself into the ground, has a touch of quality and is a genuine attacking threat whenever he plays.
As for Naismith I feel he’s been unfairly criticised since he arrived at Latics, as due to the injury of Antonee Robinson he’s had to fill in at a position he clearly isn’t a specialist in but has managed to always offer an attacking threat, and despite the criticism he’s received I feel he’s improving every week.
Saturday was important in many ways, Latics getting their first win since November was of course important. It’s been a torrid time for the club since the win over Blackburn at the end of November. The lads have been close on a few occasions and seemingly miles away on others, the pressure surrounding Paul Cook was beginning to overshadow what our real aims this season need to be.
Survival is the primary aim this season and with the confidence flowing following Saturday’s win the hope has to be that Paul Cook’s side can now go on a run, that will go a long way to achieve that.
Next up is Sheffield Wednesday, another club in its own form of downturn. Steve Bruce, who will be taking up the job at the start of February, should have enough to keep Wednesday up but they’re not safe by any means and Saturday should be an ideal time for Latics to try to capitalise and get that second away win of the season.
Things are looking up, and although we’re not out of it by any means, with more reinforcements due in before the end of the transfer window, players returning from injury and our goal scoring touch seemingly re-appearing, we’re in a better place than we were last week. Amazing what a week can do in football. It’s important that we now build on that and we keep the momentum flowing.
Well I have no idea where that result came from.
Having previously not won since the 3-1 victory over Blackburn in late November, and looking at the next five fixtures (including the Aston Villa game), I was wondering where any form of point would come from, never mind three points, three goals and a clean sheet in the first of those five matches.
We were excellent on Saturday, that was the team that we saw at the beginning of the season. We’ve tried to be negative and shut up shop in recent times and it hasn’t worked, it seems our best form of defence is attack.
Anthony Pilkington showed the class that Norwich and Cardiff fans were raving about. Even half-fit, he provided the forward areas with a much-needed spark. A mention to Gary Roberts as well who, in the twilight of his career, is so consistent week-in week-out. In all honesty, I could praise the whole team.
Now, our next five games don’t look as daunting. Sheffield Wednesday away up first - they seemed to have a mini-revival under their caretaker boss and since the announcement of Wigan favourite Steve Bruce as their new manager as of February, but the Owls were brought back down to earth with a 3-0 trouncing at the hands of in-form Hull. They concede lots of goals and we look like we’re back scoring them.
Providing we keep hold of Will Grigg and injury-hit players return as planned, we will once again have a dangerous Championship forward line: Grigg, Joe Garner, James Vaughan, Nick Powell, Josh Windass, Gavin Massey, Pilkington, Gary Roberts, Michael Jacobs and Callum McManaman.
And it’s great to see we’re using the January transfer window to recruit players that we need to strengthen the team. Pilks has that touch of class and we’re clearly in the market for someone who can operate as a left-back and provide cover for the centre-backs, which is exactly what we need.
Despite having bids rejected for Tyler Blackett and Danny Fox, I am confident we will get the right type of player through the door. Last week we were worried Grigg would leave and relegation fears were at large.
Don’t get me wrong, those two outcomes are still very much a possibility, but turning points come and go in football and I am confident we can capitalise on what was our turning point against Villa. Keep the faith.
What a difference a week makes! From doom and gloom, idiotic calls for Cook to be sacked and Twitter awash with Will Grigg rumours to a 3-0 romp of 12th-placed Aston Villa. The Latics put in a fantastic performance against the Villans, playing with a high press and physical game plan which the Villa players didn’t want any part of.
New signing Anthony Pilkington had a brilliant debut playing on the right of a forward three behind striker Joe Garner. He was composed on the ball, found space well and linked up great with Reece James. Pilkington gave us in the East Stand a perfect view of his move that set-up his former Huddersfield teammate Gary Roberts for the first goal. Spinning on the ball at the touchline and then put it through a helpless Neil Taylor’s legs in one fluid motion to put the ball on a plate for Roberts which he clinically finished past league debutant goalkeeper Kalinic.
Wigan also made a change at goalkeeper seeing Christian Walton dropping to the bench for the first time in the league this season being replaced by Jamie Jones. Jones had a good game, he commanded his area well but wasn’t called upon often with the Claret and Blues having no shots on target in 90 minutes.
Pilkington’s lack of game time started to show in the second half which was to be expected having not played a game for Cardiff this season and was replaced on 60 minutes by the returning Michael Jacobs, much to the pleasure of Latics fans.
Jacobs picked up from where he left off in terms of his great form before his injury and 19 minutes later netted the second goal. A brilliant deep cross by Lee Evans, coming from the breakdown of a corner, found Jacobs at the back post who did excellent to keep his header down while putting plenty power behind it. I believe Jacobs and Pilkington continuing to increase their fitness will be pivotal players in the coming weeks.
Cook’s men managed the game well, slowing down and breaking up play, to the annoyance of Villa boss Dean Smith in his post-match comments. They stopped Villa getting into the game and finished them off with Garner slotting home from the penalty spot after Josh Windass was brought down in the box. Windass capitalised on a mistake caused by the Latics’ great up field pressure.
The back four played well, in particular the centre back pairing off Chey Dunkley and Cedric Kipre, who kept in form on loan Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham quiet.
The hunt for a left back continues but recent Twitter activity and rumours looks positive as reports of rejected bids for Reading’s Tyler Blackett and Nottingham Forrest’s Danny Fox points to that we are working through our targets to bring in new blood.
Hopefully we can make this game a turning point in the season, but that would all be in vein if we can’t follow up this win by getting something out of this week’s game away a Sheffield Wednesday. The Owls are currently being led by caretaker manager Steve Agnew until the arrival of former Latics boss Steve Bruce in February, Wigan will be looking to take advantage of the strange managerial situation.
Onwards and upwards, up the Tics!