Wigan Athletic boss sends out defiant survival message

Paul Cook will send out his Wigan Athletic side to beat Stoke City tonight – which would ‘make it very difficult’ for other sides at the bottom to catch them.
Paul Cook and Leam RichardsonPaul Cook and Leam Richardson
Paul Cook and Leam Richardson

Latics host the Potters at the DW looking to extend the five-point buffer they currently hold over the bottom three.

With only six matches to go after tonight, Cook knows a third victory in a row since returning from lockdown would be a massive statement to their relegation rivals.

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“If we were to get three more points against Stoke, we’d be making it very difficult for some of the clubs to catch us,” the Latics boss acknowledged.

“There’d still be a few games left, but we’d have to have a horrifically bad run to end up in trouble.

“But football’s funny, isn’t it, and you never know how it’s going to turn out.

“What we do know is we will be getting a very wounded Stoke here on Tuesday night, who will certainly have a point to prove.”

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The game is probably more of a must-win for the visitors, who stand only a point above the drop zone after Saturday’s 2-0 home defeat to Middlesbrough.

That said, Cook refuses to see the game as ‘must-not-lose’ first and foremost.

“Winning is the only thought heading into the game,” he insisted.

“We’ve spoken about this before, and you’ve seen us hanging on in games at the start of the season.

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“We just want to win football matches. If you keep winning football matches, you will be safe.

“If you happen to draw, then that’s not the end of the world.

“But certainly our focus going into the game is not trying to avoid defeat – it’s trying to win the game.”

Latics will be out for revenge after suffering an agonising stoppage-time defeat at the bet365 Stadium earlier in the season.

Not that Cook will be seeking to settle a score.

“I don’t work like that, I can’t work like that,” he added.

“It’s football, it happens, sometimes you get beat.

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“You’ve got to learn how to manage those disappointments and defeats, that’s what drives you on.”

Cook must decide whether to rotate his side, after naming an unchanged starting XI at the weekend.

Tonight is the first of seven matches in the next 23 days, with the squad set to be tested like at no other point of the campaign.

Fortunately, Cook has a virtual full-strength pool of players to select from, with on-loan Brighton defender Leon Balogun returning to the bench against Blackburn.