Five things we learned from West Brom (h)
1. That's more like it! Given the level of doom and gloom among a fair chunk of the supporters heading into the game, the selection problems caused by injuries and suspension, and the form of opponents West Brom, it's hard to believe how well Latics - to a man - stood up to be counted. Right from the off, they ripped into the Baggies, whose manager Slaven Bilic was the first to compliment the opposition for their 'aggressive' approach. They could and should have been out of sight before the ridiculous chain of events that led to West Brom equalising on the hour mark, with their only meaningful attempt on goal. And although it deserved to have been three points, it still represents a massive step forward for Paul Cook and his side.
2. Paul Cook has a set of cojones on him. Given the lack of troops at his disposal, and the way West Brom have been brushing sides away - crushing Swansea 5-1 in their last encounter - the Latics boss would have been forgiven for packing the defence and midfield and trying to kill any chance of an open game breaking out. Instead, the Latics boss made a whopping SEVEN changes to his weekend line-up, introducing flair and pace into the side, and took on the Baggies at their own game. And it worked a treat. If Jamal Lowe had found the net rather than the body of goalkeeper Sam Johnstone in the first half, and Michael Jacobs not hit the bar just after the opening goal, we'd be reflecting on a vital victory. That it wasn't takes nothing away from the manager's bravery, with his back firmly to the wall, in coming out swinging.
3. Kal Naismith has a set of cojones on him. The versatile Scot has, for some reason, found himself an undeserved scapegoat since arriving from Portsmouth in the summer of 2018. That came to a head during the Reading game a fortnight ago, when he was booed on the field by a section of the home 'supporters'. After being left out of the 18 at Luton last weekend, Naismith answered an SOS from his manager, who was left with only one available senior centre-back. Despite being an alien position to him, Naismith showed incredible mental strength, as well as positional adaptability, to produce a performance that will hopefully see him shake off the boo-boy status he does not warrant. On that display, the shirt is his to lose now.
4. Josh Windass has a big part to play. The Latics forward has endured a frustrating campaign to date, with injury and fitness concerns limiting his effectiveness. Having been expected to step into the 'Nick Powell mantle', Windass has found it difficult to translate a sensational pre-season into the real action. But brought back into the starting XI in a change of formation and approach, the former Rangers man ran his blood to water, and allowed Latics to play with more of a fluidity and style than they've previously managed. The ovation he received when he came off showed the fans appreciated his efforts, and it remains to be seen how - and even if - Paul Cook chooses to reintegrate Kieffer Moore on his return from injury.
5. Paul Cook should watch more games from the gantry! The Latics boss was serving a one-game touchline ban for reaching four yellow cards, and admitted after the game he had a totally different view - quite literally - of the game from up above. With Leam Richardson calling the shots in the technical area, in contact with Cook via mobile communications, the Latics boss perhaps gained a unique insight into the way his side were shaping up, which is impossible to appreciate at pitch level. And the side produced arguably their best performance of the season. Another thing's for sure...the officials would have appreciated their ears being spared 90 minutes of the Cook treatment...