'I think all Wigan Athletic fans probably want Joe Gelhardt to start,' admits Paul Cook
Paul Cook admits Joe Gelhardt is hammering on the door for a regular starting spot after his latest sparkling cameo for Wigan Athletic.
The 17-year-old was sent on as a 55th-minute substitute against Preston with Latics fortunate to only be two goals down.
He immediately set up Chey Dunkley to pull one back with a deft cross from the left, and lifted the whole side - and the crowd - with his efforts.
Only a brilliant save by Declan Rudd in the last minute denied Gelhardt an equaliser, and his manager is well aware of the clamour for him to be more involved.
"When you don't get results, players out of the team - and certainly certain players - will always get magnified to be in the team," said Cook, whose side are back in action against Middlesbrough on Tuesday night.
"I think all Wigan fans probably want him to start, and the hard thing for me as a manager is trying to protect the young man - as good as he is.
"Eventually he must come off that leash to start and, looking at today's performance, we will digest everything and pick a team for Tuesday."
When asked if he was knocking on the door, Cook replied: "I think he is, everyone knows that.
"But I don't really want to speak too much about him after the game, because I think it's unfair on a young lad to have to shoulder too much, too soon.
"He's only 17, he's a fantastic talent who makes things happen on a football pitch. His time is coming, that's for sure."
Cook's decision to stick with the five-man defence that worked so well last week at Leeds backfired, with the visitors well on top before Gelhardt's introduction and a switch to the usual flat back four.
Of the decision to start with five defenders, Cook explained: "We just thought Preston's front three would run on.
"Preston are always going to expose gaps between centre-backs and full-backs, and we felt today those gaps wouldn't be there.
"It was tough for us, because even in the week we were working on it being much more of a positive shape.
"But unfortunately, whereas we defended so well at Leeds last week, I didn't see that today."
Cook elected to stick with Tom Pearce at left-back, with Antonee Robinson - whose deadline-day move to AC Milan broke down - not in the 18.
When asked about Robinson, Cook said: "I'm not going to debate players who were out of the team today.
"That's one of the things sometimes we go off on.
"The squad was picked today for the game in mind.
"Integrating the new lads into the squad, and Jedi coming back, will all come in time."