Our panel of Latics experts have their say ahead of the tough trip to Hull at the end of a long international break...
Sean Livesey: International breaks are really quite tedious, aren’t they? To be fair, I don’t share the same hatred of international football that some do. The international programme is definitely an important part of the international calendar, it’s how it’s scheduled that’s the issue. To be finishing for the international break inside the first month of the season is ridiculous, and makes me long for the days of League One where we would play on through the break. Some work has been done by UEFA, with the Nations League replacing meaningless friendlies, but there’s definitely a stop-start feel to this season. With Fulham being moved to a Friday night and Hull pricing out a lot of families, I won’t be the only one feeling a distinct lack of football this early in the season. Roll on those cold autumn days and some regular football for us to get our teeth in to again. Speaking of getting our teeth in to something, Paul Cook and those players not travelling with their international sides will have been getting their teeth in to some extra training over the last 10 days or so to truly get this season back on track as we head in to the Autumn. Cook and the management team spoke about letting Latics gel which, as we know from our Premier League days under Paul Jewell and Roberto Martinez, was always a constant theme. With a club like ours, it means a big turnover of players each season, as players depart and players arrive. It’s a constant juggling act to get those players in to a succinct team, and hopefully the international break has helped that. As my esteemed fellow columnist ‘Caddy from the 5’ pointed out last week, some respectability was restored with that point against Barnsley a couple of weeks ago. And although it wasn’t the win that many myself included said was essential, it at least stopped the rot. I doubt it’s done much to reduce the pressure on Cook, mind you. The gaffer alluded to as much in his interview with this newspaper earlier this week and, although he’s railed back from his position after the QPR match – where he stated someone else would be standing in the Latics dugout unless performances improve – there’s still clearly some tension surrounding the management team. As I’ve said in this column over the last few weeks, I still have faith in Cook. He’s quite right when he points out he’s the only manager to keep Wigan Athletic in the Championship other than Uwe Rosler and Paul Jewell, and he’s quite right to point out that consistency is key to improving our current position. But he and the club hierarchy will also be aware just how poor the start of the season has been, especially when you consider the financial backing offered by the new owners. Looking ahead to the next few games, there are opportunities for points, and opportunities for us to climb the table. None more so than the Hull match. The Tigers, under Grant McCann, have had a difficult start to the season – sitting just one point ahead of ourselves in the table. If there’s a match to re-start our season and get over that horrific away form, it’s this one. The only way to get that particular monkey off our backs again is by winning away games. We managed it in the most difficult of circumstances at Leeds last season. Let’s see if a trip to Humberside can help us to get over it this season. A much fitter squad, including Welsh debutant Kieffer Moore, will travel across the M62, and a win would set us up nicely to start climbing that table again. Stick with the lads, says Cook – and that’s a message we can all get on-board with.
Craig Wigan: I’d consider myself a Paul Cook supporter, and one of those rare ‘optimistic’ Latics fans. But even I found myself spending the international break researching alternative managers that might lead this great club. Living in a realistic world, I don’t see a Chris Hughton coming here, and the only other name that really excited me (Danny Cowley) has just joined Huddersfield. So it re-affirms to me that we simply need to support Cook. Because I don’t think there is a better alternative. Hull away is a huge game on Saturday. We won’t have many more winnable away games this year and, with two weeks to prepare, it’s a chance to kickstart our season. I’m looking forward to seeing a fit Josh Windass return to the team, but who knows if that’ll be in time for Saturday? We miss his pace, energy and clinical finishing in that final third. I think Jamal Lowe will get better once his first assist and goal goes in and, if we can work off Kieffer Moore (or, dare I say it, see a partnership of him and Joe Geldhart up front) then goals will come I’m sure. We just need it to be sooner rather than later. At the back, I think continuity is key. Charlie Mulgrew and Chey Dunkley kept the first clean sheet of the season against Barnsley, and I would like to see them partner each other again. We do have good options in each position this season, but the problem is no-one is really finding any consistent form. I wouldn’t be against trying one of the youngsters from the start to bring youthful optimism to the squad - it may bring an end to the flatness we watched all September. But the main thing I hope we do is attack, play an attacking line-up and give our young team confidence to express themselves. When we’ve done this, we’ve seen the best results, and it’s fair to say the conservative away formations, team selections and long-ball tactics have brought us very little reward in the last two seasons. So let’s please go back to ‘Plan A’ that we saw in League One and the first handful of games last season. It’s much easier to get behind that Wigan team...boy do they need us now.
Mike Goodman: Hull won’t be an easy game on Saturday. Like us they’ve also had a mixed start to the season as they’ve also only won one game so far. But when you look at their results, they’ve been competitive in the matches they’ve played. “They’ve not been comprehensively beaten when they have lost and they’ve scored in all but one game, so they will fancy themselves at the weekend. Some of the stats that have come out about our start to the season aren’t too surprising. Joe Garner and Kieffer Moore lose possession more than anyone else in the league, probably due to the lack of support they have around them when they do have the ball. We also play the third highest amount of long balls in the league, which is disappointing considering we’re better when we get the ball down and play. You could put that down to a lack of confidence and players just want to get rid of the ball when they have it, or maybe that we’ve now got a 6’4 striker in Moore, who’s seen as our out-ball instead of us looking to playing through midfield. I’m sure Paul Cook has looked into this during the international break to try and find a solution. Anthony Pilkington might be involved at the weekend, which is great news. His return could be the answer to the lack of support around the strikers and he adds some much needed creativity to our attack. He’s got that bit of flair about him that we’ve not had in the side recently and he can create something out of nothing. If he can stay fit, he’s going to be a big player for us this year.