Our panel of Latics experts have their say on a winning start to the Championship campaign, a brilliant end to the transfer window...and the small matter of a derby trip to Preston!
Sean Livesey: What a difference a week makes, or rather in Wigan Athletic’s case the difference eight days can make!
Prior to the end of July it had been a quiet old window for Paul Cook – and didn’t social media let us know. Some of the angst shown by Latics fans over what was being portrayed as an unsuccessful transfer window and as a result pre-season was quite something to behold. As July was set to draw to a close, Wigan Athletic had lost a number of first team players – either due to the end of loan deals or players moving on at the end of their contracts. The only arrivals at this point had been free agents David Marshall and Lewis Macleod – both fine players but not really anything to get the Latics faithful enthused about the coming season. Antonee Robinson had re-joined from Everton, a fine capture at the price quoted, but other than that it had all been quiet. Deals for Jordan Hugill and Lowe had seemingly fallen through and, with the season a few days away, Latics had a lot of work to do to convince some fans that it wasn’t going to be another season of struggle for the club. All of that changed last Wednesday when Joe Williams, a hard-tackling midfielder from Everton arrived on a three-year contract. Swiftly followed by the number one target of the close season, Jamal Lowe, Latics had held firm on their valuation of the player and, as is always the case, the player ended up forcing the issue.
As Portsmouth decided they didn’t want an unhappy player on their hands, Latics got their man – not for the £3 million quoted by Portsmouth but significantly less. The difference a couple of signings can make to the outlook on our season really is amazing. Instantly overnight there was a positive feel to the chat surrounding the club and, for some more excitable elements of our fan base, promotion was now a formality. No doubt that spring in the step transferred itself to the Cardiff game. Latics went in to the game as under dogs with all the pre-match focus being on Neil Warnock and his recently-relegated Premier League side. But as shown time and time again under Paul Cook, Latics are adept at upsetting the odds. Despite falling behind and going in to half-time 1-0 down, Latics had been the better side in that first half. The front three of Josh Windass, Joe Garner and Michael Jacobs had caused Cardiff’s defence no end of problems. With a better referee, Latics should have been at least level and Cardiff down to 10 men following an horrific challenge from Joe Ralls (who went on to score Cardiff’s first). This would have been the ideal motivation for Cook and the lads at half time, and Latics started the second half like they ended the first. Windass was awarded a penalty but hit the post. His last penalty for the club was an effort that was last seen flying out of the New Den in to the Bermondsey night, and he must have wondered what he had done wrong to have such horrific luck. Other players would have faltered after that penalty miss Windass, meanwhile, had different ideas. His free kick ricocheted to Michael Jacobs, who got Latics back on level terms, and Windass himself was on the scoreboard with a first-rate goal of his own. Even a Cardiff equaliser from the pantomime villain himself, Omar Bogle, wasn’t enough to keep Latics down. Eight minutes later, Lee Evans picked up the ball on the edge of the area before unleashing a rocket of a shot towards the top corner. Latics had completely turned the game around in some fine style as well. And as Latics held on to see out the match and earn an invaluable three points, the latest spin of the transfer wheel saw prolific Barnsley and former Rotherham and Ipswich striker Kieffer Moore have a medical at the DW. Once again at a price cheaper than had been mooted, Moore finally completed his move to Wigan on Monday evening, and he really is something different from what we have elsewhere in the squad. A target man with pace and an excellent goal scoring record over recent seasons. If he can hit the ground, running who knows what we could achieve this season? Tom Pearce, a highly-rated left-back from Ormskirk via Everton and Leeds, was the next arrival for Latics – to be sensationally followed by Bright Enobakhare and Charlie Mulgrew just before the deadline – as the squad looks to be competitive all over the pitch with at least two players competing for every position.
Things seem to be falling in to place, and the new owners – alongside Darren Royle and Jonathan Jackson – deserve all of the plaudits heading their way. They have backed the manager completely in this window with an emphasis on young talent that can develop the club, but equally make an impact immediately. So it’s off to Preston next – and we’re due a result at Deepdale after our last two visits. That poor performance in 2016 was somehow eclipsed by the drubbing we received last season, but hopefully buoyed by Saturday’s performance we can go to Deepdale in great voice and put those demons to bed. It’s been a fascinating few weeks and, as Latics move in to a new era under new ownership, who knows where we’re heading?
But it’s going to be exciting.
Martin Holden: A simply superb week for Wigan Athletic.
It’s not often you get to write that, so I think we need to celebrate what the club has achieved over the last 10 days or so, with some great signings and of course that performance and three points against Cardiff City. Starting a game against one of the promotion favourites without your captain and midfield general was not the best way to get the new season underway. But we adapted and discovered newfound confidence and a direct approach to the game. We certainly matched if not bettered Cardiff, and thoroughly deserved the points in the end. David Marshall started poorly, arguably his fault for their goal, but as the game went on he got better and more confident. None more so than with the punch from that corner deep into injury-time, you could see the lift it gave his defence. A defence that throughout last year crumbled late in games, and that is really positive and highlighted how important Marshall might be for us this year. Josh Windass and Lee Evans quite rightly got all the plaudits with some brilliant work and very well-taken goals.
But I think a lot of the media overlooked what a sensational first league outing it was for Lewis McLeod filling in for Morsy in that midfield battle area. He was solid and his reliability allowed Evans the freedom that produced the goal – not a man-of-the-match performance but one that should get some praise. Will he keep his place when Morsy returns? Probably not, but a great man to have in the squad for those times when injuries strike. Michael Jacobs and Anthony Pilkington were very impressive throughout the whole match, a constant threat from wide out and through the middle, pace and trickery and both will be key to the season ahead. We didn’t really see too much of Jamal Lowe, who was thrown on to do a job on the right-hand side and did just that. However, the defensive fragility of Nathan Byrne and Lowe together allowed Cardiff a lot of success down that flank and that is something that needs addressing.
The team was further strengthened this week with the signing of a what looks like a great addition in Kieffer Moore – similar in style to Garner but about 8ft taller! Those two are going to cause defenders all over this league major headaches...plenty of action guaranteed with those two. So as the window starts to close, as fans I don’t think that we can fault the owners.
They came here with a plan and have progressed the club very well so far, they have spent money and the team looks all the better for it. On to PNE this weekend, and surely a much better outcome than last year’s nightmare!
Craig Wigan: What a week we’ve had!
When times are bad we never seem to be able to catch a break, but at the moment I feel like we’re riding the crest of a wave and we have a whole town (well the blue side anyway) buzzing! Last week I called out that we’ll probably wait until deadline day to do all our business, we’ll make a slow start in the league and that Lee Evans wasn’t the man for me to hold down that CM spot. Well he shut me up pretty quickly! Great signings, goals, a new big screen and a tasty looking mascot mean that all is looking rosy for us at the minute. But I remember a similar feeling being flipped on it’s head after a visit to Deepdale last season. I actually think this is a huge game for us as a club right now. Our new owners have eventually made their mark, everything seems to be right, but is the away day record going to haunt us again this season? If we lose on Saturday then it will be in the back of the players minds once again and that anxiety in young players could hold back our away form and ultimately our season. But if we can make it two from two, in a winnable game by all accounts, then I think we start with real fresh optimism home amd away and who knows what the season could bring? New signings mean selection headaches all over the pitch for Paul Cook and his back room team. But last week he generally stuck with tried and tested and, contrary to many other opinions, I hope he does the same on Saturday. We have energy to come on at right back, brute force to come on in attack and tricky pace to support our front line, so let’s use that if the game isn’t going our way. I think these players coming off the bench are a lot more likely to heed us extra points than bringing on the safe men, like Kal Naismith and Gary Roberts, in the attempt of holding on to points and slowing the game down. This was a trend of our poor patch last year that clearly didn’t work... attack, attack, attack! I’m sure over time the performances of these new guys will warrant starts, but let’s make them earn it first!
Apart from a centre-back, I think our squad looks pretty much complete. We have good depth, a young squad and, unlike previous seasons, our starting line-up isn’t littered with temporary loan signings, but players willing to learn and develop to the benefit of this football club long term. I must admit I was a bit miffed at the signing of Kieffer Moore initially. He has had ‘fairly good’ seasons in League One, but is he what we need to take us to the next level in the Championship? Well upon learning more about him, I think he could be vital. Could he be a Will Grigg and Joe Garner rolled into one? If Saturday was anything to go by, we’ll get plenty goals from the forward three running beyond our front man, so is he actually exactly what we need? Trust in Cook has been my overriding feeling since he walked through he door two years ago, and this is just another example to test that faith. So here I am, five days into the season, and I’m trying to calm my excitement and expectations already, because there’s a part of me thinking that if we can sort out the away form, then we can push for something special this season. How long can we ride this positive wave and at what point do these tiny thoughts become real possibilities? For now it all comes down to a local derby, a big away following and the impact of these new signings. It leaves me feeling optimistically nervous... aren’t we glad it’s all back?
Mike Goodman: I think we all enjoyed the performance against Cardiff, who you’d expect to end up in the top six at the end of the season.
We matched them across the pitch and were unlucky not to get another goal or two in the game. I said last week that I hoped we’d get the players in to help us compete this season and we’ve brought in some real quality in Jamal Lowe, Joe Williams, Kieffer Moore and Dujon Sterling. Last season we had maybe five or six loan players in the squad, so far we only have a couple. That’s huge progress made thanks to the financial support from IEC. They’ve really put their money where their mouth is in this transfer window (though they have been pumping £1million a month into the club to keep it running since taking over so they have been doing so regularly). As a club we’re in a very strong position with the strength in depth across the team. With Preston away on Saturday, let’s hope the players have last seasons result at Deepdale on their minds to help make up for a very poor performance on the day. Paul Cook has a headache as to who will make the starting XI, but it’s a great problem for him to have. I wouldn’t expect to see too many changes, but should Sam Morsy be fit, hopefully he can come back into the team and offer his typical combative edge he always brings. I’m really looking forward to the game and if we can get a positive result then we’ll hopefully be setting down our marker early on this season.