The 12th man column: 'Paul Cook needs to get Wigan Athletic back to basics'

Our 12th man columnists give their thoughts on the team's form ahead of the visit of Barnsley tomorrow.

Friday, 30th August 2019, 9:33 am
Paul Cook watches his Wigan Athletic players at QPR

Mike Goodman: I didn’t expect a performance as bad as what was served up against QPR last Saturday, especially after going a goal up so early on. It’s clear that something’s not right at the moment and for me, Paul Cook needs to go back to the basics of what worked so well for him in his first season in charge and for the impressive home form last season.

That would include ditching the 3-4-3 formation and reverting to the 4-2-3-1 and being much more positive away from home.

When he first joined, Cook was such an attacking manager in that first season in League One, there was no fear of who we were playing against and attacked teams from the off.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Last season he started off in a similar way, attacking teams with us putting in good performances at Aston Villa and Stoke City, but there was a time when he became too cautious away from home.

Take Norwich away for example in September last year, after an hour we’re drawing 0-0, competing well and have a chance to move into 2nd place if we win. After 70 minutes, Cook took off Joe Garner and brought on Darron Gibson, a defensive change which seemingly looked like he was happy to take a point. Will Grigg only came on after we conceded an 88th minute penalty.

You could argue that the tactics nearly worked as we were close to a point but when you are in the game and holding your own against the eventual champions, based on the previous season I would have expected us to go for the win, but we didn’t. Since then, there have been several cautious substitutions made by Cook away from home including last week against QPR which has baffled fans.

I do think we’ll win against Barnsley, at home we’re a different entity and can take on anybody but please let’s go back to attacking teams on the road, it’s a psychological problem now and hopefully by going back to basics, we can start to put a run of form together. If not, I do fear that IEC will look to make a managerial change sooner rather than later, which Cook admitted himself last week. Let’s hope we get the win on Saturday, Cook uses the international break to sit down and re-evaluate and go again at Hull with a fresh mindset.

Craig Wigan: As we look ahead to a huge game on Saturday, I think it’s fair to say our season starts now. It’s been a tough start, two home league games against teams you’d expect to be challenging for promotion (and a strong stoke reserve team in the cup) and away games also against strong teams, as are most in this league.

But Barnsley on Saturday is a game where we’d be disappointed not to pick up three points at home, if we do win then we’ll pull away from the relegation zone and I think can draw a line in the sand with an international break on the horizon.

Hopefully use that time to fully integrate the 10 new signings into a positive atmosphere, focus on overcoming our defensive weaknesses and really get ourselves focused on a first away win at hull when the league returns and we then follow that up with a winnable home game against recently promoted Charlton. So by mid September we could all be wondering what we were worried about.

Therefore I’m staying positive, but if we do lose at home to Barnsley, then my unwavering support for Cook may start to sway.

I love the guy as a person, think he’s done a great job with us so far, but I think our squad has stepped up a notch, we’re in a really tough league and we may need fresh ideas to bring the best out this young group of lads.

But I really hope it doesn’t come to that as our recent history of changing managers mid season in the championship has always resulted in a further downturn in form, rather than any resurgence. Not what anyone wants.

David Perry: At the time of writing Paul Cook is still at the helm and I hope he still is at the time of print .

It’s hard to put some context and perspective on our current plight but here goes. When the fixtures were announced in June the general consensus was that the August games looked tough.

We would not have been bookies’ favourites to win any of the games and most neutrals would not have backed us. The opening game against Cardiff was entertaining and could have gone either way or ended 5-5 just like last season opener against Sheffield Wednesday .

We all know what has happened since so no need to scrutinise the other games. Our league position probably comes as no surprise to most observers but the results, bad as they are, are compounded by the performances .

There is a real lack of leadership on the pitch and dare I say it a lack of urgency. Cook is jovial and amiable but his style of football is at odds with his persona. I like him a lot and have met him and he is equally nice away from football.

His trademark formula is a cautious one with two holding midfielder players and an isolated striker. May sound brutal but he looks like his priority is to play for a draw and hopefully nick something. Even at home .

I thought Martinez was stubborn but Cook is even worse. Last season we had Grigg, Vaughan , Garner and Clarke ploughing the lone furrow upfront with little joy. Kiefer Moore’s debut was a stark example of the limitations of these tactics.

Despite some rough handling by Leeds defenders , Moore won lots of aerial balls but with no one to take advantage of flick-ons and knock downs. Adding a third centre half has made us even more negative with even less attacking intent and options. Injuries have not helped but that’s a lame excuse and sub standard referees might hinder us but that’s often a cop out as well. Cook is his own worst enemy and he wont change tactics even if his job depends on it.

His post match interview after QPR had an air of goodbye about it. I felt for him as he side stepped his true feelings to avoid a melt down. There seems to be a mental block about away games now among the players and fans alike. I am not an apologist for Cook but I hope he gets more time and turns our fortunes around.

I understand the discontent but its not even September. It could be a case of “careful what you wish for” Caldwell was replaced by Joyce. Enough said.

Sean Livesey: Wigan Athletic have played five games since that opening day victory against Cardiff and in the process have lost all five conceding 10 goals in the process – not a good record whichever way you dress it up.

I think there was a sea change on Saturday following that second half capitulation at Loftus Road.

There was a sea change in the attitude to the management, it felt like a return to some of the dark days of last season. Paul Cook alluded to as much in his post-match comments when he said that someone else will be standing in his place if results don’t pick up.

It feels bizarre to be discussing a managerial change so early in the season, in fact we’ve another match left in August yet and are only two wins away from Fulham in fifth place but so bad has the season start been it’s something that for once isn’t just limited to the more excitable among our support.

There are genuine reasons for concern at the start we’ve made, in how similar it is to elements of last season.

We seem to be making the same mistakes, having the same issues on capitalising on our pressure and the same problems with getting back in to games when we fall behind.

There are mitigating factors of course – we’ve had horrific injury luck for the opening month of the season, a lot of the players Cook would want to field simply haven’t been available to him.

The new signings haven’t had the time required to get fully up to speed with our style of play (or lack of it) and as a result those partnerships that the manager has spoken of haven’t had time to develop. Despite this – there are always mitigating factors, for every football club.

It’s about over coming them, and we haven’t got close over the last few weeks. Last week I spoke about indifference, mainly due to the fact we were still in the midst of the summer holidays and we had two eminently winnable games coming last week.

Unfortunately we lost those and the situation has taken on an all more serious feel to it.

I stood by Cook last season and I still think he’s the right man for Wigan Athletic but time is fast running out for him and his team. We need results and we need them soon, Barnsley is simply must win for Cook.

I fear if we fail to win the man who has done so much to lift the gloom at Wigan Athletic that had surrounded the club in 2017 will be given his marching orders.