Our panel of Latics experts have their say on back-to-back defeats heading into this weekend's clash against highly-fancied Leeds United.
MARTIN TARBUCK: If the season so far was a film, it would probably be The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. I don’t get carried away when we win, and I don’t get carried away when we lose, and I find that is a pretty useful philosophy to follow given the hysteria which surrounds modern-day football. Yet it seems the old home and away Jekyll and Hyde syndrome has reared it’s unwelcome head early doors this season, which does give rise to both things to be pleased about and things to be concerned about. The manager has been backed and assembled what looks like a very competent squad capable of moving us up the table, so I can’t blame plenty optimism creeping in after a barnstorming victory over Cardiff. I made a comment after the game, which was received with much disgust, that I hope Cardiff go on to get promoted. My selfish logic is that, if we can beat them and they are the best team, then we will indeed do very well this season. They could just be “this year’s Stoke” however. A team who have fallen from the Premier League and simply do not adjust and have a squad of players who believe they should still be in the top flight. Time will tell but, after some astute acquisitions in the run-up to deadline day, the narrative quickly moved on from “we need to strengthen” to “how is he going to keep the squad happy”. I must admit, as a human being (sort of), I get it. Those players did so well against Cardiff and they are quite likeable, it’s not fair for them to lose their places.
Unfortunately, after the PNE debacle, it could be argued that none of them deserved their places and any sympathy earned can be quickly defenestrated. Who’d have thought that watching a video all week of us getting battered at Preston would end up with us getting battered at Preston? As fans, we just have to take it on the chin, the endless taunting from our local rivals as we headed for the gate and took down our flags (though that song was quite good, shame it can’t be repeated!). Let’s face it, we always give PNE the highlight of their season.
I much prefer actual cup finals to having fake ones in the first couple of months of the season, followed by a steady decline. I am fishing of course, but there is probably some foundation in it. What with Preston’s time at the top being a mere 130 years ago now, and with all their near rivals enjoying spells in the Premier League in recent times, it’s no wonder they play their hearts out in local derbies as it’s their only chance of redressing the balance. So, well done (again) PNE, fully deserved, credit where it’s due! And come back when you’ve won a major trophy that you were alive to see. Fishing rod firmly retired for another week, I attended the game against, well, this year’s Stoke, with perhaps an air of resignation and slight interest to see how the rest of the squad performed. Stoke were Stoke: workmanlike, resilient, tough to break down, big units. Whereas we looked like a bunch of random individuals who had been thrown together at short notice. It’s evident from the team selection and subsequent substitutions that Paul Cook cares very little for the Carabao Cup, and neither do I. So let’s forget about this meaningless distraction and try and build up our league form, home and AWAY!!
SEAN LIVESEY: The less we speak about last Saturday the better, after the euphoria of the opening match with Cardiff this was as big a reality check as you could imagine. Paul Cook had spoken ahead of Saturday of how important it was to learn from last season’s disastrous defeat at Deepdale and he even explained how the side had watched the video back to ensure a performance like that wasn’t seen again. Sadly none of that seemed to work, the scoreline may have registered as 3-0 but make no mistake this was every bit as bad as the 4-0 drubbing we received last season. Paul Cook made two changes from the win over Cardiff – in came Kal Naismith for the injured Anthony Pilkington and Cedric Kipre for Chey Dunkley. The game was over as a competition by half time as Preston got their second and worse was to come in the second half as the third went in. It’s turning into somewhat of a bogey ground for us Deepdale. After not facing Preston for so long during the Premier League years ever since our first visit back there in 2016 it’s been three terrible performances and no points in what was once a happy hunting ground for us. It was disappointing to see us lose so early on in the season, but equally disappointing was the manner of the performance. Too many players had an off day on Saturday and with the talent at Paul Cook’s disposal now not many of those performances will be accepted with talented youngsters ready to come in at a moment’s notice. Ironically one of the better, if not best, performances on Saturday came from the man who received the most criticism, Kal Naismith has split public opinion ever since arriving at Latics in the summer of 2018. His performances improved greatly last year to the point where he finished as runner-up in the player of the year awards. That performance level seems to have continued this season, yet so has the criticism that follows him round. So is the life of a Wigan Athletic fan, one week you’re heralding the signings of Paul Cook and IEC whilst declaring that promotion is but a formality the next you’re on the verge of accepting relegation as a foregone conclusion and that’s all within the first two weeks of August. One thing that can’t be allowed to fester like last season is our away form, we need a positive result away from home as soon as possible this season. With any luck that will come at Jonathan Woodgate’s Middlesbrough in a week’s time. So it was on to Stoke on Tuesday and the EFL Cup, sorry the Carabao Cup. I don’t think there’s any shame in saying this is the competition at the bottom of our list of priorities this season. Paul Cook made it abundantly clear ahead of kick-off that we want to tackle the FA Cup and the Championship this season. The line-up reflected that with ten changes from Saturday but equally a number of those changes will be looking to get a starting place in the side in the very near future. A 1-0 loss against a strong Stoke side with a mixture of youth players and debutants is no shame, it just means that those lads who were behind on their pre-season will hopefully be a step closer to the first team picture now. All paths lead to Leeds on Saturday (see what I did there) and with the way Marcelo Bielsa’s team have started the season Latics will be in for a tough match. We’ll be going in to it as underdogs but we showed at Elland Road that means nothing and with our strong home record and some hurt pride following the weekend’s defeat to Preston we will hopefully show ourselves to have something about us this season. A positive result against Leeds would set us up perfectly for two arguably winnable matches against Middlesbrough and QPR to come over the next week. I would expect the likes of Kieffer Moore and Jamal Lowe to have played themselves into contention for Saturday while Joe Williams and Charlie Mulgrew may well be brought in to bring a bit of bite to the side. Whichever team Paul Cook chooses we’re in for a tough match – but when has that stopped us before?
MIKE GOODMAN: Everything that needed to be said about Preston on Saturday has pretty much been said already. It was hugely disappointing and it’s just a case of taking our medicine from the North End fans until we play them at the DW in February. It does hurt, though, especially after last year’s result, but this recent performance was probably worse than last season at Deepdale. I’m not looking at Saturday as a reaction to Preston too much as we’re a different entity at home, it’s Middlesbrough away on Tuesday night where I’m keen to see how we bounce back to prevent the away form ending up like it did last season. I’m hoping we don’t sit back too much against Leeds this weekend like we did last season at the DW. I felt we gave them too much respect where they dominated the game for 75-80 minutes or so (let’s not forget the infamous clip of Windass breaking forward on his own only to be surrounded by 5/6 Leeds players in a matter of seconds). We’re at our best when we’re hunting teams down and pressing the opposition all over the pitch so hopefully we can show this on Saturday. Take nothing away from Leeds though as they are tough to play against...unless your name is Gavin Massey! Tuesday against Stoke was a good opportunity for most of the new signings to get a run-out and Bright Enobakhare, Joe Williams and Dujon Sterling stood out for me from the new arrivals. Hopefully we can see Michael Jacobs return to his favoured position on the left-hand side at the weekend with either Gavin Massey or Jamal Lowe coming in on the right wing. Fingers crossed Sam Morsy is back as well, he’s been a big miss for us. With back-to-back away games coming up next week, let’s hope we can get a positive result on Saturday to give us all a lift. It’s safe to say it’s not been a dull start to the season. But it rarely is with ‘Tics, is it?