Talking football: Wigan Athletic must seize chance to Pott away hoodoo

Paul Cook
Paul Cook

Wigan Athletic will experience a rare feeling when they travel to the Potteries this weekend to face Stoke City.

The feeling of visiting a Championship away ground where they’ve won under Paul Cook.

It’s 15 months since Latics cruised to a 3-0 victory at the bet365 Stadium, thanks to a brace from Will Grigg and another from Gavin Massey.

A display of attacking football that was as impressive as Latics produced all season.

Since then, of course, it’s been slim pickings on the road, with only one victory – a backs-to-the-wall effort at high-flying Leeds United on Good Friday – from the next 30 fixtures in all competitions.

It’s a wretched run that saw Latics dragged a little too close to the relegation dogfight last term, as well as hampering any attempt to kick on towards the safety of mid-table this season.

Cook remains at a loss to explain the record, which has been even more baffling when put against the home form over the same period, which has been generally very good.

And it appears an impossible conundrum to solve.

It’s been the same players, sent out by the same manager, in the same formation and the same system – experiencing vastly differing fortunes.

While some of the performances during this time have been poor and deserved nothing, others – such as the last away game at Bristol City – deserved better. Much better.

But the situation’s gone on for so long now that a mental block seems to have come in, where the side has been unable to see out games in which they’ve been on top, so desperate have they been to protect what they have.

With Millwall to come next Tuesday, what an opportunity to smash the hoodoo to smithereens – against a Potters side that were dismantled in such clinical fashion last term.

Failure to do so, and the pressure cranks up even more ahead of the festive period.

Players signing new contracts rarely cause the same excitement as new signings being unveiled.

But Young England starlet Joe Gelhardt signing a long-term deal with Latics this week could go down as one of the best pieces of business in recent years.

The 17-year-old may not have started a single league game yet, but his exploits at junior level – and on the international stage – have not gone unnoticed at the highest level.

There isn’t a club in the land who wouldn’t want Gelhardt given the chance.

And what a super show of faith and support in the club, and its burgeoning Academy, that his family and advisors think he’s at the best place to continue his journey to the very top.

Great to see Latics will be represented at next summer’s Euros, with Kieffer Moore and Wales having booked their place thanks to Tuesday’s 2-0 victory over Hungary.

If you were watching the game with no idea who any of the players were, you’d be forgiven for thinking the big Wales No.13 would be perfect for the lone striking role at Latics.

Yet despite scoring twice in his last four internationals – and playing a vital role in the set-up of the Welsh team – Moore has yet to score for Latics, apart from his recent penalty against Swansea.

Latics have a player clearly good enough to plough the lone furrow up top against top defences.

The challenge for Paul Cook and co is to work out how to get more bodies further up the field to support him – and get the best out of him at club level too.

There isn’t a team in the world that gets burned by former players with as much depressing regularity as Latics.

And the sight of Nick Powell lining up in Stoke colours this weekend will be setting alarm bells off already.

The maverick forward hasn’t endured the best start to his new life in the Potteries, with injuries having limited his game-time.

But no Latics fan will need reminding of what Powell can do on the field.

Seeing him in a Stoke shirt will be weird enough.

Seeing him scoring against Latics would be the ultimate kick where it hurts.