Wigan Athletic face ‘Premier’ test against Middlesbrough, says Paul Cook
Paul Cook reckons Middlesbrough will win promotion to the Premier League at the end of the season – as he plots a way for Wigan Athletic to beat Tony Pulis’ men at the DW Stadium this weekend.
Boro are handily-placed heading into the weekend programme, lying fifth in the Championship table with a game in hand over their rivals.
And Cook is under no illusions as to the size of task facing his men, as they look to extend a four-game unbeaten streak.
“We’ve had them watched and we walk into a side who are playing, very well,” acknowledged the Latics boss.
“As they say in the football world they are ‘bang at it’, and we’ve got our hands full I’m sure.”
“Do I think Middlesbrough will go up? Yes...yes I do...yes.
“I think they’ve got that mental strength through their manager, which is huge, and that will stand them in good stead.
“Leeds and Norwich have set a fantastic pace this year, and I love Sheffield United...I have to say that.
“For me, they’re probably my favourite team in the division, they’re doing great – from the manager (Chris Wilder) to the players.
“Certainly those three should be in the shake-up for the top two spots...then you’ve got West Brom, and of course Middlesbrough.
“Then you’ve got a few teams who would probably be happy to make the play-offs, the likes of Bristol City, Derby County, and a few others.
“It’s going to be an exciting climax but, come the nitty-gritty, it’ll come down to the managers.
“And in Tony Pulis, Middlesbrough have got one of the best.”
Pulis has come under fire over the years for his rather basic style of play, but Cook is having none of it.
“The distinctive style is simple – they win!” Cook enthused.
“In football we buy into all these theories about how teams play, but Middlesbrough are a very good side who are very well coached.
“They have a style of play where they stop you from scoring and they find a way of scoring in your net.
“Tony is doing well whatever the style of play, and we’ll give them full respect on the day.
“I can’t profess to know Tony very well, but I can imagine it doesn’t bother him in the slightest what people say or think about him.
“His record is up there with anyone else’s.”
Latics can certainly not afford to sit off and admire Boro, with plenty of work still to do to secure their own future in the Championship.
“The league is very much set up now in terms of teams that are challenging for their respective goals,” Cook admitted.
“You’re probably looking at a six-team league at the bottom, I think that’s fair to say.
“QPR had an outstanding result against Leeds in midweek, and we were very much looking at them with a view to maybe trying to catch them.
“That would have been a realistic target, but now the team directly ahead of us is Stoke – and if you look at their squad, you’ll see what we’re up against.
“We’ve always been five or six points clear of the bottom three. And as the games whittle down, we’re getting closer to what I would consider a successful season.”