Paul Cook reckons his Wigan Athletic side have ‘found themselves again’ - just in time for the gruelling festive period.
Last weekend’s 1-0 defeat at home to Derby was their first in four matches, and harsh on Cook’s men who had to play for 75 minutes a man light following the sending-off of Kal Naismith.
Having lost four matches in a row prior to that, which had seen the side slip into the lower reaches of the Championship table, Latics are back on the front foot.
And despite still lacking a number of first-team regulars, the manager says it’s credit to the players for showing what they’re made of.
“I have to commend the lads,” Cook acknowledged.
“I do feel in the last three or four games they’ve found themselves again after a difficult run.
“The spirit’s always been there for all to see, there’s never been any doubt about that.
“But I think there are strong signs from the lads we’re coming back to what we want to be.”
Cook doesn’t want to dwell too much on the loss to Derby, although he believes, on another day, a point would not have flattered his side.
“When there’s five key decisions in a game, you’d expect to get one...two...possibly three,” he opined.
“For us to get no decisions at all is disappointing - but that’s football, and you have to accept that.
“The biggest disappointment is we never got anything from the game.”
Perhaps the most positive aspect of the Derby defeat was the way Latics managed to stem the early bleeding and finish the game so positively.
Jack Marriott scored what proved to be the only goal just five minutes after Naismith’s dismissal, and only a goalline clearance from Nathan Byrne denied the Rams a quickfire second.
But a double change from Cook on the half-hour mark, and a switch to five at the back, not only managed to repel the visitors - it also enabled Latics to ask some serious questions of their own in the second half.
“I’ve always thought the best teams are the ones who can adapt formations within a game,” Cook recognised.
“It’s something we’re certainly trying to work towards moving forwards.
“When you come up against teams like Derby at the weekend, and Blackburn the week before, you’ve got to adapt to the way they’re playing.
“It was quite clear from early on against Derby where their threat was coming from - and it certainly wasn’t out wide.
“Having strength in the middle of the pitch was important, and the formation we switched to was shown in a very good light.
“It was quite simple what we did to be fair - and that’s not me trying to be clever.
“We had three central defensive players and three central midfield players who didn’t leave the width of the 18-yard box.
“That was to negate Derby with the ball, and it worked.
“But long-term we don’t want to be seen as a team that can only negate the opposition.
“Would that formation necessarily work in the next game...when you would lack width, which might be important?
“What it did show was that the players are able to adapt to something like that within a game, which pleased me.
“If someone had asked me at 3.30pm last Saturday, when we were 1-0 down, with 10 men, and Derby opening us up at will, whether we’d have ended up losing 1-0 and been unlucky...we might have taken that.
“But I don’t want to go overboard on being delighted with last weekend, because we’re never delighted to have lost a game.”