Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man
Our Latics experts have their say on this weekend's visit of Nottingham Forest...and an interesting fans forum at the DW Stadium...
Craig Wigan: So another international break is over and the return of the league is usually greeted by seeing the Latics pick up points. We’ve W3 D4 L1 since our return to the Championship when we’ve had more than a week to prepare for a game. But Nottingham Forest are flying high this season, and we’ll need to be at the top of our game to get anything. In recent weeks, our only realistic downfall has been the performance of the front four as a unit. They seem to lack cohesion and, although they are all great players on their own merits, we need them to work together to create chances. Kieffer Moore will be flying high after his performances and goal for Wales, but I can’t remember him being given any clear-cut chances this season – other than one header. Is it because we’re relying on him so much to win the first ball just inside the opposition half, that by the time the ball is in and around the penalty area he is too far away from a good position? Is it because we’re not getting many high crosses into the box from good areas? I just don’t see much creativity from those around him, Gavin Massey is more of a power player, Josh Windass is a great finisher and I think will be a big player for the Latics, but isn’t high on the assists list, and I think Jamal Lowe has been very one-directional for us and been found out by Championship defenders. So who will unlock that door? It used to be a certain Nick Powell but, let’s be honest, 70 per cent of the time he was here he was sat on the treatment table anyway, so we can’t use that as an excuse. I think Michael Jacobs needs to take more responsibility to be this man. I was personally disappointed with his contribution the last time we were relegated from the Championship, but that was in a difficult team playing a style of play that really didn’t suit him (or any player who liked to leave his own half). But since our return last year, I can count on one hand the amount of games where I think he repeated the performance levels we saw of him against League One opposition so often. So, as many are, I look to our young lad Joffy as a potential spark. He seems to be creative in committing defenders and releasing key passes, but then also getting back on the end of a return ball/cross. His goal after 12 seconds for England Under-18s in the week showed just this. Massey and Jacobs may be great at the defensive side of their game, but shouldn’t we have that covered by the other seven on the pitch? So personally, at home, I’d love to see a a front four that includes Moore & Joffy, hopefully alongside a fit and firing Windass and one other. We all agree we have a better squad this year, but not a better team, so let’s use that squad and give spots to those that earn it and not be afraid to ask some players, who are currently starting, to make an impact off the bench. In a tight game going into the last 20 minutes, we often go too defensive, so bringing on experienced quality attacking players can only be a good thing, and let’s leave the likes of the much-maligned Kal Naismith to only come on when we’ve got a lead to hold onto. I think Kal does a great job at what he does, but he isn’t that creative spark we need to turn a tight game our way. So roll on Sunday, at the quarter way though the season, a win could put us on 14 points, and I think show a solid start to build on despite a lot of challenges. But a loss and we could even be back in the bottom three depending on other results. With a tough run ahead of us, and trips to Derby and Bristol City on the horizon, it’s a chance i feel we can and must take.
Sean Livesey: Anyone coming away from the latest fans forum on Tuesday night could have been forgiven for wondering what the problem is. So impressive were Darren Royle, Jonathan Jackson and Paul Cook that one would think we were riding high at the top of the league rather than languishing towards the bottom. In the absence of any football for the last two weeks, it was interesting to hear where the club’s hierarchy believe we currently are. Of course away form was the main topic of conversation and, in fairness, Paul Cook answered every question asked of him with good grace and a lot of humour. Those following from home may have disagreed, but Cook is an eminently likeable fella, and you get the sense he would be happy to talk football all night long. It’s clear he still retains the backing of Royle and Jackson and, although not coming out fighting, he was definitely in the room to defend his position. The numerous answers on away form were fully answered, but the crux remains that there is a serious issue with the team’s mental ability to see matches through away from home. The answer lies in improving that mental resilience through the side. Cook and the management spoke about the difference in tactics away from home, which he argued there wasn’t, and that Latics will always set up to play a high-pressing game to force the opposition in to mistakes. It’s clearly working at home and has done for the last two-and-a-bit seasons, but currently isn’t away from home. I often wonder if our home form was a bit more average but our away form was better, whether Cook and his team would be under the pressure they undoubtedly are - even if it meant we had obtained the same number of points. The Sunderland rumours were touched upon, and Jackson and Royle made it clear they would not entertain an approach for Cook from Sunderland, or indeed any other club. I thought it interesting that Cook himself, when questioned on the strength of the team, said we have a stronger squad this season but not necessarily a stronger starting XI. Away from the football side of things, there was clear clarity on the business side of the club. Following the departure of the Whelan family I had grave concerns over the future, but everything IEC have done so far, in conjunction with Royle, seems to have been to the benefit of the club. They also spoke about the achievement of the academy under Gregor Rioch and his team, and how the changes that have been a decade in the making are finally bearing fruit, with the arrival of Jenson Weir and Joe Gelhardt graduating to the first team. There was confirmation the club has achieved Category 2 status for the academy, and further details on the Soccerdome and its future as the exclusive home for the club’s 6-16-year-olds. There were also further details on the investment in the infrastructure surrounding the club, and it’s certainly extremely positive as regards to the future of the club. If Cook and his team can arrest this away form, and Latics start to climb the table, we could very well have a bright future ahead of us. But first things first – we need to win away from home again soon. Luckily for us it’s a return to home comforts on Sunday afternoon as high-flying Nottingham Forest visit the Dave Whelan Stadium. Forest have had a great start to the season, and look to have been galvanised following the mixed results under Martin O’Neill’s short reign. We’l have to be at their best to get anything, but with the Sky cameras there who knows? We need points on the board with another unforgiving set of fixtures coming up. Although it may sound like I’m a ‘Happy Clapper’, as those attending the fans forum were labelled, I know Cook will have the lads up for Sunday and, with a bit of luck, we’ll get another big result.