Plenty for our 12th Man panel of experts to get their teeth into this week...not least the speculation linking Will Grigg with Sunderland!
Paul Middleton: The last 24 hours have seen rumours circulate that Will Grigg will be a Sunderland player by the end of the month. If that’s true, you have to question what possible reason Latics could have for justifying such a piece of business.
August, if I’m honest, now feels like a different season. For those first few weeks, Latics was a team scoring and conceding goals like none of it mattered.
The results were mixed, but easily enough to keep everyone happy. To stay in the Championship quite comfortably, all any team needs to do is to average one win, one draw and one loss in any three game sequence. For a while we did that, and more, until the wheels started to come loose.
I’m still a big fan of Paul Cook and truly hope he is the man to turn things around. But, if he doesn’t, and our anonymous Chinese paymasters decide they need to protect their investment, it must be said that Cook will have brought about his own downfall. Unable both to see past his own signings and tactics which have now seen us take just two points in seven games since the beginning of December, his stubbornness will do him far more harm than good.
This stubbornness has peaked with Grigg now being only third-choice centre forward. Possibly fourth-choice, actually, with the announcement of us signing Anthony Pilkington on an 18 month contract.
In the current squad, we have only two players who can turn a game, of which Grigg is one and the other being Nick Powell. We should be setting teams up to utilise Grigg and let him do what he does best, not letting him go to a League One club.
Grigg is still, without any question, the best goalscorer we have. It’s easy to say he hasn’t done it at this level, but we’ve never actually had a manager who gave him a chance to prove it. Strikers need confidence, and confidence isn’t gained by not knowing if you’re playing, even when you’re the club’s leading – and possibly only – goalscorer.
I certainly wouldn’t blame him for wanting to go to Sunderland if he’s not going to get a game at Latics. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he gets 20 goals by the end of the season. Nobody in this squad could have scored that goal against City, but Will Grigg. That he now can’t get a game on a regular basis makes no sense whatsoever.
You only have to look at Cook’s record of signings at Latics to know that more have failed than succeeded. We currently have players almost guaranteed a place in the match day squad who haven’t justified a single penny of any transfer or signing fee. At the same time, we have players with proven track records all but being frozen out.
Cook is a good manager, his record proves that. Or he is when things are going well. When things don’t go well, it seems, he struggles with both team selection and tactics.
Whatever good will Paul Cook still has amongst Latics fans will be seriously undermined if and when Will Grigg goes North. I’ll still support him, but I’ll also understand why some won’t.
Sean Livesey: It never rains but it pours, or so the saying goes. Another Saturday another defeat, though I doubt many Wiganers will be shedding a tear at departing the FA Cup so soon this season.
It simply has to be about survival this year, no heroics to match up with 2013, 2014 and 2018 for Latics this time out. It shows the difference that a year can make. Last year we were flying in the league and our league form transferred seamlessly to the FA Cup as we put Bournemouth to the sword and should have won without the need for a replay.
The game at the Hawthorns followed a well worn path, we dominated for the first 25 minutes, had numerous chances to take the lead, failed to take them and before you know it West Brom take the lead and we’re heading out. It’s been the story of our season, certainly since the end of November. It’s a mental block and one we need to get over before it’s too late.
But instead of looking back let’s look forward. Latics desperately need to recapture that form of last season, that spirit, that attacking know how. Paul Cook has spoken about this transfer window being one of the most important the club will have experienced. It’s clear that we are lacking in a number of areas and as a result our form has tailed off dramatically over the last few months.
Latics have made a quiet but solid start to the window. Last season’s player of the season Nathan Byrne has signed a new contract which ties him to the club for another two years.
Whilst Anthony Pilkington, a proven attacker with extensive Championship and Premier League experience has arrived. Could Pilkington be the key to turning our season around? Time will tell, but if he can help to provide the goals we so desperately need he’ll have been an astute signing.
More worrying news has emerged from the exit door at the Dave Whelan Stadium. Numerous internet rumours have been gathering pace all week in regards to Will Grigg’s future. If those rumours are to be believed a move to Sunderland is imminent.
You can see why Sunderland see Grigg as such an attractive proposition, he is deadly at League One level and at 27 years of age still has plenty of game time in the bank. But equally those are some of the reasons why he should be remaining at Wigan Athletic. Grigg has spearheaded two title-winning campaigns now and is still our most deadly finisher at the club.
He has been unlucky with injuries again this season, as he was in 2016/17 but his class is clear and I would be extremely disappointed if the club were actively looking to sell Grigg. He still remains our best goal threat and with an extended run of games and some decent service, I believe both Grigg and Latics’ luck could change.
Equally since that injury he has been in and out of the side and may feel personally his time at Wigan is coming to an end. I hope that isn’t the case and that Sunderland’s approach is rejected out of hand. All eyes on a certain Mr Cook at Euxton on Friday for an answer to that one.
We’re in the mire at the moment, there’s no doubt about that, but we’re not finished yet. Not by a long stretch, Saturday’s match with Aston Villa seems a daunting prospect but scratch below the surface and Villa’s form is patchy at best. We need a positive result from somewhere to turn around our season.
Could Saturday be that? There’s talk of the infamous meet and greets making a return this Saturday. They worked a treat back in that glorious run of 2011/12 where we blew everyone in front of us away and showed that - although we may be a small club when we stick together no-one can compete with us. It’s that kind of attitude and approach that we need to recapture this season. As I said last week there’s no point shouting abuse at young lads from the terraces are on social media. Let’s get behind them, let’s remind them what we’re about and let’s recapture some of that famous Latics spirit.
Kieran Makin: Finally, a little bit of positive news after what’s been a grim Christmas period and start to the New Year.
Nathan Byrne signing a new two-and-a-half-year contract and the arrival of Anthony Pilkington should hopefully bring some positivity to a injury-hit dressing room short of confidence.
Pilkington comes with real pedigree having enjoyed a good goalscoring record with Norwich City and Cardiff City in the Championship.
He can also play numerous positions including on the wings where we are missing guaranteed starters Gavin Massey and Michael Jacobs, who, alongside Nick Powell, were so influential in our great start to the season.
Admittedly, even though Pilkington may give us a bit more sting in what’s recently been a starved attack, he shouldn’t have been a priority.
It’s there for everyone to see that we need a left-back as soon as possible, and I also feel that we need cover at centre-back with Alex Bruce being our only current back-up option to Chey Dunkley and Cedric Kipre.
Having said that, I’m sure these will be on the agenda for Paul Cook and, at the moment, he has a much bigger decision to make.
Will Grigg is the best centre forward at the club and if you can’t see that I can’t help you, but I’m seriously worried he’ll be on his way to Sunderland.
For some strange reason he is currently our third choice striker and listening to Cook recently it seems as though Joe Garner will be his lead number nine for the foreseeable.
I absolutely believe the manager should be given this transfer window and the time to turn this campaign around, however, the current form and league position coupled with the sale of Grigg could be his downfall.
It is clear that a lot of fans are already not on his side and selling our star striker, who has given us so much, will be volatile for the club in my opinion.
As a fan, I will be sad to see Grigg, Cook or both leave the club, but as we know modern football is results-based and a business, so I’m sure we’ll discover the intentions of IEC very soon.
Nathan Griffiths: With Christmas and New Year done for another year the majority of people will have returned to their normal routine of work and school this week with a case of the January blues.
Any hope of the Latics cheering us up and turning around their recent dismal form was thwarted by West Brom in the FA Cup on Saturday.
Despite the bright opening 30 minutes the 1-0 away defeat now makes it one win in 14 games in all competitions and drawing blanks in five of the last six.
Since the loss of Powell, Jacobs and Massey, along with Grigg missing time due to fitness, the absence of creativity and any form of attacking threat has been glaringly obvious.
Many are laying the blame at Cook’s feet due to the recent negative tactics, some rash vocal minority calling for his head.
I believe the deficiency of depth in the squad has partially forced Cook’s hand.
The side is currently without a creative number 10 to fill the void of Powell and Jacobs, Windass has tried his best but there isn’t anyone linking play between the midfield engine room and the forward line, as poor Garner and Vaughan have been they haven’t been getting the best service.
Coming into the season with one recognised left back (no matter what Cook tries to tell you about Naismith) was always a headscratcher.
Yet here we are, 10 days into the transfer window with no currently fit left backs.
Naismith has looked ok going forward but his defensive ability leaves a lot to be desired, in fairness to him it isn’t his natural position and is only highlighted more due to the glowing talent who is playing full back on the other side of the defence.
Reports of interest in the Reading defender Tyler Blackett have been doing the rounds and hopefully reinforcements will arrive sooner rather than later.
I hope we stick with Cook and IEC and the recruitment team back him in this window.
A left back, creative midfielder, winger, backup centre back and a different striking option would be brilliant but while operating within the means of the club.
During our previous two stays in the Championship we changed manager mid-season in both, we all know how that ended!