Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man
Our panel of Latics experts use the international break to assess the season so far - with Paul Cook's men signing off in the worst possible manner against Brentford.
MIKE GOODMAN: Brentford last weekend was an awful game. Right from the start, we just didn’t look the same team from a week earlier against Swansea. How can we produce a dominant performance against one play-off contender one week, to utter drivel against another team pushing for the top six the next? I talked about the performances hopefully leading to positive results last week, but after Brentford, it’s almost changed my mind on that. It’s now twice this season where Paul Cook has spoken out to say he’s told the players a few home truths. How many times will that continue to happen before that approach loses the desired effect?
There was a lot of hope over the summer of us stabilising ourselves in the division, but it’s looking like another relegation battle is on the cards. We’re the joint-lowest scorers in the league and surely have the worst record when scoring from open play. We have one win in five since the last international break, two wins in eight games if you go back to the Fulham game at the end of September. The big question is whether Darren Royle and IEC will give Cook time to turn this poor form around. I’m not so sure and, if we fail to get points soon, I think a change may come sooner rather than later. Because so far this season has not been good enough.
CADDY FROM THE 5: “BOOOOOOOOOO!!! RUBBISH COOK” was one of the printable reactions to last weekend’s God-awful display against Brentford. Which was definitely up there with Preston away as the worst performance of the season. The lead-up to the game was all positive... “We’re decent at home, just need a bit of luck and these men are there for the taking”. Oh how wrong we were. Take nothing away from Brentford, they were well worth their victory, and the scoreline flattered us, not them. The only positive I can take from the game is Cedric Kipre is suspended for Stoke after being sent off, and surely Danny Fox (even better if it’s Charlie Mulgrew) will start instead.
Right, on to Paul Cook...I’ve defended him to the hilt all season, but after Brentford I’m sorry to say he’s on borrowed time. Our home form was keeping him afloat, but that’s hit the pan now as well as our pathetic away form, surely he can’t survive if we get done at Stoke. I really did think that we’d wake up last Sunday looking for another manager, especially with it being a two-week international break. I like Cook, but I think his thinly-veiled attack on the fans last week is a sign he knows he’s in deep trouble. Can he get us out of it? My head says no, my heart says hopefully. The players are still playing for him, that’s not even up for debate. But the question is: are they good enough?
Kieffer Moore can’t just keep ‘doing all the graft’, he’s got to start hitting the net! Jamal Lowe? I’m still unsure what he actual brings to the team, and he’s definitely not lived up to his hype...YET. Michael Jacobs has been terrible this season, absolutely terrible, and you can file Gavin Massey alongside him as well. Chey Dunkley alongside Kipre are both as bad as each other, they look like they’ve never met every time they play. The positives for us are Joe Williams who, after his Leeds red card, has come back way better and is the stand-out man week in, week out, Lewis Macleod at the side of him is also very steady, Antonee Robinson has also settled down well and just needs to work on his crosses, while David Marshall is showing us now why he’s the Scots No.1, a very capable goalkeeper. We’ve got the players to cause teams trouble, we know that, but we have to start putting points on the board quickly. Will it be with Cook? I fear not if I’m honest. Right, I’m off for a ‘Bow, UP THE TICS!
SEAN LIVESEY: “I think there’s been a lot to be positive about over the last few weeks, we’re getting closer to getting it right.” My words in this column last week. Shows what I know, eh? After last weekend’s disastrous showing against Brentford, it feels like we couldn’t be further away from getting it right. I don’t mean to sound glib with that – football fans are well known for jumping from one extreme to the other. But last Saturday really was horrific. From minute one, Latics – in contrast to the previous four matches – could not get a foothold in the game. Brentford outplayed us and outfought us, the only surprise was that it was 1-0 at half-time. The second half saw Latics briefly raise hopes of a fightback, but before long Brentford got a second, Cedric Kipre was given his marching orders and the visitors made it three. It truly was an horrific afternoon for all involved.
So where now? Can this be put down to simply an off-day? Is Paul Cook’s time in charge coming to an end? Who knows. But it felt like, for the first time last Saturday, that a lot of the home crowd visibly turned against the manager. I hate the term fine margins and the excessive use of it, but for our last month it’s probably quite apt. We were a Jamal Lowe or Gavin Massey goal away from picking up wins at both Derby and Bristol City. Add momentum to that and a more positive result against Swansea, and we could be much higher up the table. But that’s very much ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’. Instead, we’re once again staring down the barrel of a relegation battle, and I’m not sure we have the know how to get out of it. At this stage last season we lost 2-0 to Middlesbrough, but we also had five points more than we do now, and were sat in the relatively safe position of sixteenth. The following week we would go on to pick up a further four points against Reading and Blackburn Rovers. A results sequence like that would be a dream at the moment, given such a poor return points wise in recent weeks.
It’s been a week since that defeat against Brentford, and it seems as though Cook once again retains the support of the board of directors. The question mark is how much longer can this situation continue? Because Latics desperately need a run of results from somewhere. Is Cook still the right man for the job? I want to say yes. But only because I can’t see an alternative, not because I think we’ve been witnessing a soon to be all-conquering Latics side that would take us back to the Premier League. Cook has done wonders for Wigan Athletic since his arrival in 2017. The League One title and FA Cup quarter-final run will go down as one of the most memorable seasons in Wigan history. While last year, Cook became the first Wigan manager to keep us in the Championship since Uwe Rosler, and Latics finished the season in style by beating Leeds and Preston to stay up. Has he any more to offer to the club? I sincerely hope so, but it’s looking ominous for him.