Wigan Today's 12th Man Panel discuss this week's Wigan Athletic topics
It was a pretty decent point that in midweek.
Stoke City on paper look like a good team, a squad brimming with talent and experience, recently relegated from the Premier League and coming to terms with it.
Our victory away at Stoke was a real achievement, and our recent record against them has been impressive, so while a little wary, I was also quite enthused about our chances.
I wanted a different viewpoint to this game and so chose my tickets in West Stand down near the tunnel and benches.
I wanted to check out the words and actions, the body language and how the teams performed off as well as on the field. I think that can be a good marker for the relegation battle ahead.
From the moment the teams came out to warm up, there were issues in that Stoke squad.
Ashley Williams’ distinct lack of control, mistakes, slices, and air of disinterest should have rung alarm bells, and there were many others like that – the balls rattling the boards near us with regularity gave me optimism.
Wigan, on the other hand, were bright and energetic, a good solid warm-up.
The match itself was always going to be a tough, drab affair, from the moment the visitors kicked off with a huge hoof up to the East Stand (and to be fair, we did the same too in the second half), from the countless long kicks from the keeper. It was a night for scrappers.
Wigan were encouraged to play, Paul Cook constantly screaming at Sam Morsy to play, play, play.
I liked that and the team responded – we played some good stuff in the first half. But other than the Michael Jacobs effort which he should have buried, we created little else.
We did look solid, though, Kal Naismith especially impressed in that back line and, with a solid performance from the goalkeeper, we probably shaded the first half.
In the second half, it was all Stoke really, we battled and hung on in parts.
That is exactly what we need at this point in the season, we certainly don’t want to be losing matches.
It was fascinating down below on the touchlines, and what interested me was the body language of the subs who were warming up right in front of me.
The Wigan players looked relaxed, focused and ready for it – Nicky Powell eager and buzzing to be back, well as buzzing as he ever gets of course – and the other subs were all really professional and ready. Good signs.
The Stoke boys, however, were not interested one bit – there was one point close to 80minutes when Berahino and Bojan (the new Messi, so my lad sarcastically mentioned) were literally stood together sulking and not moving at all, muttering to each other with disapproving glances to the bench.
Other signs of dissent, too, with Ryan Shawcross telling his manager in no uncertain terms what to do when being asked to “strip, get ready” when their full-back was down injured. He had a point as the replacement was all ready to go on.
There are major issues at that club, for sure, and it reminds me a bit of the time we dropped from the big money zone. But at least we had a cup win to smile about.
We had to work hard and with the effervescent Morsy and Reece James powering the engine room.
We were always going to get that, and I thought the forwards worked and battled hard with little supply or reward, the wide men worked in patches and the defenders were pretty solid, but with the odd mistake as time ticked by.
A better team than Stoke would probably have punished us.
Great to have Gavin Massey and Powell back on the field although, in the context of the game, both could do little to change the outcome and at the end.
I was happy with a point, another small step to safety, and something we could never manage in our most recent forays in this league.
In my last piece, I wrote of the fact I was unsure about Cook. But getting closer to the action and the man himself, I am changing that view.
He was good, he impressed me with the way he encouraged and spoke to the players, and also by the way the players responded to him. He worked well with his coaching team and had the right blend of sanity and madness.
We might not be winning many games at present, but the manager has the players’ belief. They are working hard for him and we cannot really ask for more.
The team flies off to Dubai for some warm-weather training now, while we will wait for the next test, surely a ‘must-win’ affair with Ipswich and I still think there is lots to be encouraged by.
It’s a time for scrappers. And I think we have them.
I think we can describe that as a successful week, can’t we?
Two points where four probably should have been the result.
Either way, Latics are now unbeaten in three matches, unbeaten at home since January, and have a much stronger looking side than we had at the start of the year – thanks to signings but, more importantly, players returning from injury.
There’s a six-point gap between us and the relegation zone now, which could be crucial as we take a week off this weekend due to the progress of Frank Lampard’s Derby County (c) in the FA Cup.
Results went against us this week...who would have thought Bolton would snatch a win at play-off chasing Birmingham?
And then for Reading to snatch a win at the death against Blackburn shows just how tight it’s getting at the bottom of the table as we enter the final quarter of the season.
Back to the Stoke game, it was end-to-end stuff for the first 20 minutes, and we should have been ahead at the half time stage. We rode our luck but defended well to ensure we at least got a point.
There’s been a bit of frustration at the result across social media, which I can understand. But equally, when you’re in a dogfight, every point counts – and I think that’s a game we could have easily lost a month or so ago.
Stoke are a side full of talent, full of internationals, expensive signings and ex-Premier League players.
Regardless of how they’ve fared this season I think a return of four points against them is a good return. Our big issue is still, as it has been all season, our away form.
A point at Rotherham last week was probably a fair result, especially considering the physical onslaught we were under.
But if we had even picked up just a couple of wins away from home, we would be in a much healthier position of the table.
Luckily for us we’ve two home games up next – Ipswich, is very much in the must-win category, and promotion-chasing Middlesbrough a week later.
Ipswich look as good as gone, despite a point in midweek, so we really do need to get back to winning ways against Paul Lambert’s side – especially as we lost out to them back in December.
Paul Cook revealed the lads were off on a warm-weather training trip later this week, with a friendly scheduled for Saturday.
It brought to mind the anger that such a trip generated amongst the #wafc faithful on Twitter when Roberto Martinez planned a similar trip in 2011, with Latics languishing in the bottom three.
Who could forget the fury as Gary Caldwell and Franco di Santo were pictured diving in to the swimming pool?
‘No one gives me a holiday for being c*ap at my job’, one informed individual commented. Let’s hope this training camp has the desired effect, and the 2019 incarnation of Wigan Athletic can move up the table to Championship safety.
Our football clubs are supposed to inspire us.
They are supposed to generate feelings which can’t be replicated elsewhere.
From the heights of winning trophies to the depths of relegation, being a football fan isn’t a pastime for the faint of heart. So why is it I feel like I’m stuck in a perpetual groundhog day as a Latics fan?
All I’m seeing is uninspired, even boring, football brought about by tactics which set out only to avoid defeat, rather than trying to win games.
The very odd exception aside, is the football we’re seeing from Paul Cook any better than under Coyle or Mackay? I’m not entirely sure it is.
Post-match interviews full of ‘little Wigan’ type comments, telling us we need to be grateful for a draw against big teams like Stoke. I mean, come on!
In the last two games, we’ve played for a draw from the first minute to the last. Not against Norwich and Leeds, but Rotherham and Stoke.
These are teams which were 19th and 17th , respectively, before each game.
These are games we need to be winning, not grimly holding out to draw.
We will likely survive this season, but only because we have Rotherham and the multi-car pile ups that are Ipswich and Bolton below us. Had Ipswich got their act together, and Bolton not been in the mess they’re in, we might well be in the bottom three now.
I know...’ifs’ don’t matter...it’s points on the board that count. But I can’t help feeling we’re out of the immediate relegation fight in spite of Paul Cook and not because of him.
And I don’t understand how we ended up here. We showed last season, and in the first few weeks of this, we can mix it with anybody.
But, after a couple of losses in September, all sense of adventure was dispensed with and we ended up with what we have now.
I would truly rather see us get relegated and go down fighting, than limp along hoping someone else is worse than us, as is the case this season.
I’ve said before about Cook lacking any kind of ability to switch things round with his substitutions.
We did okay in the first half in midweek, but Stoke started to dominate after half-time. His only response was to switch like for like and hope for the best.
Leon Clarke has wandered about like a big drunk baby since he got here.
Without the goal in his first game, you’d be pushed to even remember he’s been playing.
It’s all well and good lumping the ball up to a big forward who can knock it down for someone to run on to but, when that forward jumps like he’s draped in a wet duvet, it’s a pointless tactic.
What happened, even, to the team that took Villa apart just a few weeks ago?
We might be six points clear of relegation, but we won’t be if we don’t start trying to win games. When we draw against 0-0 at home against Ipswich, and Paul Cook is hailing it as a triumph for little old us against a huge club, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
It is Valentine’s Day (as I write this) so let’s consider who are, and are not, the object of our Latics related affctions at the moment.
There is still nothing to either love or hate about IEC as of yet. They haven’t really done anything.
A low key start to the regime may well be a good thing, as may well be the fact that people who, as far as we know, have no experience in football have handed control to people who have.
But certainly having a low key, under the radar owner does seem to be a significant change which will take some getting used to.
I think Nick Powell is universally loved. We love him for his ability and his attitude.
He plays it cool, doesn’t seem that interested at times, but I think the truth is that he loves us too.
And we all love the fact he is back to fitness and t’s likely all our immediate hopes and dreams are now pretty much on his shoulders.
Yet, if we’re honest, we know that his eyes will be roving right now, possibly to trade us in for a seemingly more attractive model this summer.
Many people love a bad boy, and so Sam Morsy is also well loved.
He is not always orthodox in his methods, and he is sometimes outright on the wrong side of the law, but we know he cares about us and he does what he thinks is best for us and so we are happy to overlook his imperfections.
Will Grigg is the one who we loved and lost. And the stages of a break-up are well documented.
Questioning, denial, bargaining, trying to win them back, anger, acceptance and hope.
It is interesting to see Latics fans going through these stages at different rates.
One stage not documented is schadenfreude, though there was an outbreak of that after Grigg missed some good chances during the week.
Gavin Massey is the one we are learning to love.
There wasn’t much love or respect for him last season but his absence for a lot of this campaign has been the source of much disappointment and frustration.
Hopefully he can keep his fitness and make an impact in the final months of the season. That will further deepen our affection for him.
Some fans have found their love for Paul Cook tested recently. Almost universally popular last season he certainly has been the cause of some anger and frustration.
Yet if we are to stay up, he should be given more than just respect for achieving something that we haven’t been able to on our last two attempts.
Cal McManaman is the returning ex. He burst onto the scene in 2013 and stole our hearts, playing a pivotal part in our most lovely moment.
But we drifted apart and eventually went our separate ways. He’s back on the scene now though and is hanging around in the wings.
No-one is sure whether he’ll ever be a central character in our lives again, but a significant number seem to want him to be, if only to revive the memories of the passion of the past.
However, our love for Wigan Athletic is undiminished. At times there is not a lot to attract them to us, they disappoint and frustrate and we spend thousands of pounds on them. But what a return we get!
Moments of the greatest joy and some of the most satisfying time together.
Whatever else happens, we remember that we love the club. Always and forever.
And on that note, congratulations to Blackpool fans on seemingly getting their club back and being able to fall in love with it all over again.