Wigan Athletic boss muses missed opportunity
Paul Cook admitted Wigan Athletic were taught a lesson in finishing by Premier League Southampton as their FA Cup journey hit a brick wall at the quarter-final stage.
The Latics players threw everything they could at the Saints from the off, and looked on course to dump a fourth top-flight outfit out of this year’s competition.
But after going in scoreless at half-time, failing to convert a number of decent openings, Latics paid the penalty after the break as Southampton raised their game.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg put the Saints ahead just before the hour mark from close range.
And then - after Christian Walton had saved a penalty from Manolo Gabbiadini - Cedric Soares secured the win in stoppage-time.
For Cook, however, the damage had been done in the opening 45 minutes.
“I was fearful at half-time because we had played so well and hadn’t got enough out of the game,” the Latics boss mused.
“We were wary of Southampton’s quality, both on the pitch and on the bench.
“I thought the second half was a bit scrappy, but you could see them growing into the game.
“Did they deserve the victory? I think it was a bit harsh on us.
“But we certainly wish them well in the semi-final.”
Cook admitted he was in two minds at the break, with his joy at the way his side were playing tempered by a nagging fear they’d be made to pay for their profligacy.
“At half-time, it was a case of whether we could keep it going, whether we could keep up the intensity,” he revealed.
“The fitness levels to play like that have to be very good to press them high up the pitch.
“You could see them growing into the game as it went on, and the key moments in the game that you have to manage, we didn’t.
“The first goal was a massive disappointment.
“And the more you come on to them, the more gaps we knew there will be.
“We knew the prize of Wembley was so close, and to come up just short is hard to take.”
It could have been even worse for Latics, with Dan Burn perhaps fortunate to escape a red card for his foul on Gabbiadini that led to the Saints penalty.
“I didn’t think it was even a penalty at the time!” smiled Cook.
“I don’t know why I didn’t think it was a penalty, because the fourth official next to me was the one who gave it.
“The referee wasn’t in a position on the field to give it - and this is not me criticising officials by the way.
“We had a good debate about it, me and the fourth official...I’ve since been told it probably was a penalty, so he was right...well done him!”
Cook also revealed the thought process behind leaving Nick Powell on the bench for the first hour, four days after he limped off at Bradford with a hamstring strain.
“Nick suffers with fatigue and the like, but having him in and around the bench was massive,” Cook added.
“He’s played a lot of games this season, and it’s so important that we have him mechanically right.
“There was no risk at all in having Nick on the bench.
“The biggest risk was probably to play him from the start, given the amount of games we’ve got coming up.
“But you’re asking whether someone like Nick can come on and influence a game for 30 minutes...and of course he can.”