Talking football: Pivotal break for Wigan Athletic

There’s never, ever a dull week with Latics.

Friday, 15th November 2019, 3:19 pm
Paul Cook
Paul Cook

Only seven days ago, the glass was firmly half-full after a magnificent performance – their best of the season – saw them desperately unfortunate to lose at home to table-topping Swansea.

Fast-forward a week, the glass wasn’t so much half-empty, but lying on the floor, smashed into a million pieces, with liquid everywhere.

Brentford – a much-admired side, but in the bottom half of the table pre-match – rarely had to get into second gear to enjoy an embarrassingly easy 3-0 victory at the DW.

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Cedric Kipre sent off, Joe Gelhardt carried off, it was about as miserable afternoon for Paul Cook as could be imagined.

During his post-match press conference, the manager himself brought up the issue of the ‘little bit of anger inside the stadium’.

He had a point that Latics shouldn’t be expecting to be ‘steamrolling’ sides at a level they’ve twice been relegated from in the last five years.

But at the same time – and pointed out by a fair few fans in response – there’s a difference between expecting to ‘steamroll’ sides, and at least giving them a game.

Which sadly wasn’t the case against the Bees.

The problem is Latics failed to make hay while the sun was shining, and when they were playing well in previous weeks.

They left too many points out there on the field that their generally positive displays had warranted.

Left playing catch-up points-wise, knowing the reverse – winning when playing badly – rarely happens in this league.

We’ve come to expect disappointment on the road during the last 18 months, with only two wins – at Stoke and Leeds – since the beginning of last season.

That’s been made easier to swallow by the fantastic form on home soil, which has been pretty much play-off stuff since Latics returned to the second tier.

The hope was that eventually the two sequences would fall into line, with the side managing to transfer a bit of their home form on to the road and hopefully kick up the table.

The fear was that the opposite may occur, and Latics would lose their magic touch at the DW, and things would get even worse.

With ‘Fortress DW’ now having lost some of its aura, the focus on the away form will now intensify.

Latics have had an extra week to prepare for the trip to Stoke – a side who look rejuvenated under Michael O’Neill – on Saturday week, and they have to use that as productively as possible.

A trip to Millwall – a side who look rejuvenated under Gary Rowell – three days later would be just about the least appealing fixture, but Latics have to get on with it.

Next up after that is the visit of Reading – a side who look rejuvenated under Mark Bowen – before we head into December and the festive programme.

While each of their next three opponents elected to make an early change of management, Latics have resisted the temptation, with IEC wanting to give Paul Cook every opportunity.

And that’s an admirable stance for new owners to make.

While the players would probably have wanted to get straight back out there onto the pitch to put things right, the international break has probably come at the perfect time.

Whether it’s harsh words or reassuring arms around shoulders, Cook must use this time to his advantage – and ensure Latics hit the ground running when the action resumes.

His summer arrival was far from the most heralded of the club’s new recruits.

His transfer fee paled into relative insignificance against those of Jamal Lowe and Kieffer Moore.

And his league debut could not have ended in more ignominious circumstances, with a red card inside 20 minutes against Leeds.

But since then, what an impression Joe Williams has made in the Latics engine room.

You’re struggling to think of a game where he hasn’t been in the man of the match reckoning.

And his deliveries from set-pieces and wide areas have helped fill the void left by Reece James.

Williams never really got a chance at Everton before they allowed him to join Latics.

Maybe two relegations on his CV – from loan spells at Barnsley and Bolton – counted against him somewhere.

But it would be no surprise whatsoever to see the 22-year-old back in the top flight at some stage to prove his former employers wrong.