Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man
Our panel of Latics experts reflect on two away games that ought to have brought about more points, ahead of this weekend's visit of Swansea City.
A point gained or two points dropped? It was another disappointing set of results on the road for Wigan Athletic this past week, but the results don’t tell the story - not by a long stretch. Following up on the excellent win over Nottingham Forest a couple of weeks ago, Paul Cook would have been hoping for more from the two matches at Derby and Bristol City. Despite the results, there were encouraging signs. Latics could and should have taken six points from the last two matches, as it was we ended up with one, but I felt heartened with the performances from both matches.
Let’s tackle the match at Pride Park first, like the match at Derby last season Latics could and should have been ahead early on. The first-half performance was excellent and for better finishing we could have been two if not three goals ahead. As is so often the case we didn’t take our chances and then suffered an injury-time sucker punch that was one of the cruellest ways for a side to lose. Jamal Lowe spurned a number of glorious chances that would have seen us at least take a point back to Lancashire, and lo and behold the same thing would happen a few days later. We’ve a decent enough record at Ashton Gate, we haven’t won there in a while but we’ve picked up some valuable points over the last few seasons, and should have won at Ashton Gate back in 2016 under Gary Caldwell. Latics had once again been the better side in the opening exchanges against City, there was lots of intelligent build-up play and with better finishing could have been in front early on. After a City goal against the run of play Chey ‘stick him up front’ pulled Latics level before getting an amazing second goal to put Latics ahead away from home. Could it last? No sadly it couldn’t, Gavin Massey spurned an amazing chance to make it 3-1 which really would have been the difference between a point and three points. In the end Latics would have to settle for a point, it was certainly two points dropped but Cook and his side should be heartened by the last week.
The performances were impressive in both matches and there seems to have been a marked improvement in those away performances, if not the results. A good gauge of how we’ve done on the road is those supporters who’ve travelled to watch us away from home and what they think of their performances and from what I’ve seen at least there was a positive reaction to both matches. It’s two consecutive matches back at home this week before the international break, what a difference two wins would make for us as we head into the winter. So it’s back home and it’s back on Sky this Saturday, we’re becoming quite the fixture on Sky Sports this season – let’s hope the coverage fares better than it did last Sunday where the last 15 minutes of the Bristol City match was interrupted as the feed cut to a black screen and the commentary was replaced by commentary from the Formula 1 race.
One point from a possible six, and still no away win this season. At a glance it’s not good, but at last something positive seems to be stirring. The performances at Derby and Bristol City were much better – we could have nicked a win at Derby and we should have beaten Bristol City. Poor finishing and sloppy defending let us down, but the positives outweigh the negatives. The team is looking more solid and settled, and four to six points instead of one would have put us on the edge of the play-offs. I had previously been sceptical of having Joe Williams, Sam Morsy and Lewis Macleod in the same team, as it seemed over-cautious. I stand corrected, as Morsy seems to be playing in a more advanced role and was even on hand for a tap-in had Gavin Massey passed at the weekend. When Warren Joyce brought him back from his loan spell at Barnsley, he scored twice against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup. Maybe we have stumbled on a decent midfield set-up. The fact Chey Dunkley is leading goalscorer on five goals – and all from set-pieces – tells its own story. While it is an asset to have a goalscoring centre-half, no-one else has scored more than one goal. No wonder the fans are hoping to see more game-time for Joe Geldhardt, if not as a starter then maybe as an impact sub.
Speaking of subs, there has been some scape-goating of the subs for not doing better in these two away games. Kal Naismith is often singled out for some unwarranted stick in my opinion. He seems a good, honest pro, and he can’t take flak when we are simply not converting the chances we create. An upturn in away form is not just desirable, it is essential. Two points from eight games so far, if replicated across the season, would yield five or six points in total. Historically to avoid relegation from this league, around 50 points is needed. That would need around 45 points at home – which is equivalent to 15 wins, or a permutation of wins and draws akin to promotion form. Good as our home form is, we can’t rely on it to survive. Let’s hope the two encouraging away performances are repeated, but with better rewards. The two upcoming home games may be a decent springboard for us to climb the league and have the decent season we are capable of.
In my opinion - and many others - Paul Cook needs to play our little magician more often whether it’s a start or coming on as a sub. Cook even admitted Joe Gelhardt essentially saved his job and then doesn’t play him again – it’s stupid. He makes such an amazing impact on the game. He can pass the ball well, his shots are pretty much guaranteed to be on target, and he is amazing with his feet. He could find the space in a phone box to turn and shoot or to get past one or more defenders. It’s almost like Cook’s disrespecting him, and if he’s not careful he’ll be snatched up in January by a Premier League club. And he will want to go, because he’s not getting played here. Then all the fans will be super-annoyed with Cook, and he will probably lose the fans’ trust. Which could end up with the club sacking him, which could be bad or good depending on how we are doing at that point.
Talking about Cook being sacked, I think Chris Hughton would be an amazing manager to bring in. He would be able to take us to the Promised Land and maybe even further. Another manager we could bring in is David Moyes I think he’d be great and would also be able to take us to the dizzy heights of the Premier League.