Talking football: Time Wigan Athletic banished the demons of 'fine margins'

It was hard not to feel some kind of compassion for Paul Cook as he entered the press room at the DW following last weekend’s defeat to Swansea.

Friday, 8th November 2019, 11:55 am
Paul Cook

As he sat down, he held both his arms outstretched and shouted ‘Oh My God!’ in an attempt to release some of his understandable pent-up frustration.

Post-match press conferences have been a depressingly familiar affair of late.

Played well, didn’t take chances, switched off at the back, couldn’t see the game out, deserved better.

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For Swansea, read Bristol City the week before, and then Derby the midweek before that.

Three games that could so easily have brought nine points.

With five minutes to go in each, they looked like returning five at least.

They ended up producing just a solitary one.

Which would, incredibly, have been zero had David Marshall not pulled off a miraculous save in the dying seconds at Ashton Gate to preserve a point.

With negative hat on, it would be easy to focus on the black-and-white facts – the team is continuing to fall into the same traps, and getting cruelly punished.

But with positive hat on, it must be pointed out the side is playing so well it’s impossible to see things not picking up if performance levels remain.

Social media was its usual cesspit of doom and gloom on Saturday evening – which is pretty much a given.

‘Get rid of the manager’, ‘player x/y/z is useless’, you know the drill.

But that performance was the best I’d seen Latics all season.

Sent out by a manager to take the game to one of the best teams in the division.

A team arriving with – alongside Liverpool – the best away record in the country.

A side who knew victory would take them top of the Championship.

Anyone watching that game will know Latics thoroughly deserved the three points.

If Jamal Lowe’s blistering strike had been a coat of paint lower, they wouldn’t have been chasing the game late on and caught by a sucker-punch.

The week before, in Bristol, it was a similar story.

Again, facing a side aiming to go top of the table, Latics not only negated their threats, but more than matched them all game.

If Gavin Massey had converted a two-on-one chance on the hour – with Sam Morsy screaming for the ball – City would have been out of it long before the frantic last 10.

And three days earlier at Derby, on no fewer than five occasions at the beginning of the second period, Latics created then squandered decent chances to go in front.

Which against a Rams side struggling for confidence, would have been all-important.

The stoppage-time wondergoal that won it for Derby was just salt into the wounds.

Cook and his staff must be wondering where it will end.

He’s been in the game long enough to know that, in a results-based industry, glorious failure is still failure if it goes on long enough.

But he’ll also be well aware that his side are surely within touching distance of the end of the tunnel.

We’ve heard ‘fine margins’ so much over the years that it’s lost any sort of meaning.

It’s become a byword for excuses.

But unlike the tenures of Malky Malkay and Warren Joyce, you can see how close Cook’s side are to getting it right.

They aren’t just hanging in there, playing negatively, grinding out results, hoping for the luck to change.

They’re doing their best out there on the pitch – even with a new-look three-man midfield – to make it happen.

Let’s hope they catch a break on Saturday at home to Brentford, which would make the international break far more enjoyable – and provide a platform from which to kick on.