Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man
Our panel of experts look forward to Wigan Athletic's long trip to Norwich City this weekend...with Paul Cook's men looking to consolidate their play-off position!
PAUL MIDDLETON: So, here we are. Fif th in the Championship and already 20 per cent of the season gone. It’s not exactly the doom and gloom laden, apocalyptic situation many of our supporters predicted. We’ve won four and drawn one at home and won one and lost three away. Despite the seemingly disappointing away form, we’re only minus 1 on the goal difference, so the results don’t quite tell the whole story. When I was asked, at the beginning of the season, where we’d finish, I was quite happy to predict 16 th or 17 th. I’d still be happy with that, if I’m honest, but now I’m looking more for solid mid-table. I think we’ll struggle to last the pace all the way to the play-offs, as the squad depth isn’t at the level of many clubs with much bigger budgets than us. But, hand on heart, I really think we’ll do all right. The crunch will come in January. With the takeover now feeling like a bad smell than a breath of fresh air, no contracts are being renewed. Nick Powell, by all accounts, wants to stay. The problem is nobody in the club is able to offer him a new contract until the takeover is completed. With the club reportedly losing money every month, nobody benefits from any further delay. IEC keep on putting delaying statements out, and nobody is any the wiser as to what’s going on. In my, admittedly limited, experience of company takeovers, such delays usually mean one of two things. Either the buyers can’t put the cash together, or the sellers have over sold the value of the assets. Let’s face it – it could be either of those. One thing is certain, though, in that it feels like the longest takeover in football history. To finish on a positive, after the wild success of last season, it would have been difficult to follow it up with any level of success in a league higher. And yet, that’s what’s happening. For now, we should embrace it, enjoy it and, above all, keep supporting Paul Cook – the best manager we’ve had since Roberto Martinez.
SEAN LIVESEY: Six days, three games, six points. Not a bad return by any stretch of the imagination. Especially when you consider two of those wins came at home, extending an excellent record at the DW Stadium and for a short time pushing us up to an impressive third place in the league. The start to the season has been beyond all expectations, and Paul Cook – after such impressive work last season – has continued it this term with an impressive round of recruitment, consistently pleasing football and more important than that...results. Last time out in the Championship, Gary Caldwell’s side took until September 27 to register two wins in the league. This time out we’ve won five games already. Results are such an important part of what Cook and the lads are doing. Under Caldwell we looked a decent side at times, but didn’t have the results to back that up – now we do. The match against Bristol City was your classic cagey affair. Neither side had much in terms of chances, but Latics showed that killer instinct with Nick Powell once again on the scoresheet. He’s made such a difference this season and, with the long-running takeover saga hopefully drawing to a close soon, we have to hope a new contract for Powell isn’t far away. It’s on to Norwich this weekend, not usually a happy hunting ground for Wigan Athletic. But with the form we’re in, who knows what could happen? A point at Carrow Road would be an excellent result, and give us further confidence ahead of the big one at Deepdale in a couple of weeks’ time. Meanwhile, as reported by the Wigan Post this week, it seems ex-England international Steven Caulker is training with the club in view to earning himself a contract. Although Caulker has suffered with his personal life and documented gambling problems in recent years, if there is anyone who can get the best out of him it would be Cook. He’s already shown he has a way with wayward players such as Powell and Darron Gibson. Add Caulker to that list and you’re potentially getting a Premier League class centre back for free, just at a time when we’re about to lose Dan Burn to Brighton. Elsewhere, I was glad to see Sean Dyche and Burnley get their first win of the season last weekend – and not because I share any sort of affinity to Burnley. But because I believe if Burnley ever did despose of Dyche, Cook would be right at the top of any potential list of replacements. When you think about it, Cook comes from similar stock to Dyche, he plays an exciting brand of football, gets the best out of young British players and is an ex-Burnley player. So for our sakes let’s hope that lot from the wrong side of Lancashire continue to do well this season!
BARRY WORTHINGTON: They say you shouldn’t judge a team in a new campaign until at least 10 games have been played. Well we will play our 10th game of this particular season on Saturday when we visit Carrow Road to face Norwich City. We have already accumulated 16 points in what has been a fantastic start, so after 10 games we will sit on at least that many. Cast your minds back to the last time we were here, no go on, I know you’d like to forget it...but please humour me! Ten games in we met Wolves at the DW, beat them 2-1 to reach eight points, so we will at least double that tally come 5pm Saturday. In fact, we didn’t reach our current total in the 2016/17 season until we beat Huddersfield Town on November 28, though following that win we only managed one point from our next seven games. In danger of becoming somewhat repetitive, I cannot believe just how good we have been so far this season. When the start is looked at in context, we can see how promising it is. The 2004/05 season, which saw us promoted to the top flight, had us on 19 points after nine games. We are within touching distance of that amount. Although I’m not advocating we all start getting carried away, I feel we are in for an exciting season ahead. The proposed takeover of the club has been put back once again, if reports from the Hong Kong Stock Exchange are anything to go by. I’m no expert, but reading dates that jump out it looks like October 12 could be significant. Following the hullabaloo when the deal was first mooted, it has now turned into something of a matter-of-fact situation, and it appears the Latics support is quite blasè about it all. However, I am sure once it does go through there will be a buzz of excitement and anticipation! Roll on October 12...isn’t that the next international break? Well it will at least give us something to talk about. Up the Tics!
KIERAN MAKIN: It was great not being involved in the Carabao Cup midweek. Obviously, we might not have even reached this stage, but you never know in football. After three games in six days last week from which we accumulated an excellent six points from nine available, it was wise of Paul Cook not to prioritise the League Cup. I know that’s not what the purists want to hear but we’ve got bigger fish to fry his season. We’ve started the campaign extremely well and we need to capitalise on our good form when we head into a winnable away fixture at Norwich City this weekend. Our lack of involvement in Tuesday/Wednesday’s antics means we’ve had a full week of recovery and preparation ahead of Saturday’s trip to Carrow Road. Meanwhile, our opponents played out a 4-3 thriller at Wycombe Wanderers. They probably made changes to their starting 11, but they still haven’t had as much time to prepare as we have. If we can reach anywhere near the level of performance that we showed against Bristol City last Friday then I’m confident we can come away with a positive result. Having said that, I was confident about the away game at QPR earlier in the season and that didn’t turn out so good. What I will say is that we look as though we’re learning and improving each and every match. The exciting thing is that there’s definitely more to come from this group of players.