Talking football: Wigan Athletic chief right to be happy

Two more away games without a win – but Paul Cook was a happy man in the press room at Bristol City on Sunday.

Friday, 1st November 2019, 12:56 pm
Paul Cook at Bristol City
Paul Cook at Bristol City

And he had every right to be.

“I’m really enjoying watching us play at the moment,” he said.

“You think back to the game at QPR in August, and I couldn’t enjoy it – because I just couldn’t see what we were trying to do.

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“But I really enjoyed watching us against a very good Bristol City side.”

Indeed, Latics could easily have come away from both Bristol, and Derby, with six points.

As it was, one point was a pretty dismal return for their efforts.

To be fair, they only had themselves to blame, for their own failures at both ends of the park.

At Derby, several decent chances were created and squandered before the hosts literally pulled off a Ram raid in stoppage-time.

At Bristol City, Gavin Massey will know he should have done better with the glorious chance on the hour mark at 2-1, while both City goals were awful ones to concede.

But the positivity generated from both performances show things are at least going in the right direction.

Let’s be clear – it’s not been the case that Latics have played well and simply been unfortunate during the last 29 away league matches, which has produced only one win.

Far too often, they’ve been below-par, offered little, got nothing.

But it’s also important to acknowledge recent progress, and improvement, in performances, if not results.

The new-look three-man midfield of Sam Morsy, Joe Williams and Lewis Macleod has seen Latics dominate two sides with promotion aspirations on their own patch.

If those further forward can step up similarly – and do justice to Kieffer Moore’s heroic work-rate in recent weeks – things will (surely) begin to look up.

With two home games coming up before the final international break of 2019 – against Swansea on Saturday and Brentford next weekend – Latics at least should have the confidence to sign off in style.

If they can do so, it won’t have been a bad first third of the season.

It’s fair to say Dujon Sterling had more to live up to than most when he arrived at Wigan Athletic this summer.

Not only was he arriving as a highly-rated youngster from a Premier League club.

He was arriving from the same Premier League club as Reece James, who’d just produced possibly the greatest loan spell in history.

A year older than James, Sterling had to be patient as he waited for his opportunity.

Until last week, his only sighting at first-team level was in the Carabao Cup defeat to Stoke in August.

But just as an injury to Nathan Byrne on the eve of last term handed James an unexpected chance, this time it was a suspension – for five bookings – that opened the door for Sterling.

After an impressive league debut at Derby last Wednesday, Sterling deservedly kept his place at Bristol City, where he again showed up well both in defence and attack.

As Paul Cook confirmed at Ashton Gate, he’s now in on merit – and Byrne will be hoping he doesn’t have to wait as long as last season for another look-in.

Well done to Antonee Robinson for making it into the EFL ‘team of the month’ for October.

Hot on the heels of Chey Dunkley being named Sky Bet ‘player of the month’ for September, it’s more welcome recognition for Latics.

I can’t help feeling Joe Williams would arguably have been an even louder shout for inclusion.

The young midfielder has settled into life at the DW like a duck to water, since being sent off on his debut against Leeds in August.

He paid the price for being over-zealous that day, but has since managed to channel the natural bite, which Paul Cook was desperate to add to the side, into perfectly controlled aggression.

In addition, he’s also driving the team forward from the engine room, and providing the set-piece quality provided last year by Reece James.

Both goals at Bristol City on Sunday came from Williams corners.

And with set-pieces being the side’s best source of joy at present, the role of Williams in an attacking sense – as well as his defensive duties – cannot be underestimated.