Our panel of Wigan Athletic fans return from their Christmas break to assess a worrying slump in the league ahead of the FA Cup third-round trip to West Brom.
Stuart Glover: So we’ve made it through that strange time between Christmas and New Year. But unless you’ve returned to your normal routine again you’re still in that period when no one has any idea what day it is. No one likes this time of the year. The days always seem to merge into one long day, with occasional periods of sleep, leaving people with a strange feeling of unease and a little disorientated.
A little like Latics current form. After such a positive and encouraging start, we are now in a real slump. Only one win in 13 and only two since the end of September! This leaves us feeling very uneasy, disorientated and very pessimistic. Not full of festive cheer. For me, the last two home games have been game changers. I am always pretty optimistic when it comes to Latics. That probably comes from beginning to watch us towards the end of the Bryan Hamilton era. There wasn’t much optimism around then, nor during Kenny Swain’s brief tenure which followed.
Yet even my optimism is waning. I am worried. The other Saturday against Birmingham was a big part of that. I really didn’t see that coming. We’ve been very good at home and a lot of our defeats, with a few notable exceptions, have been narrow ones and/or against good teams.
Birmingham were eminently beatable. And they hammered us. To be honest it wasn’t so much the result of the game which worried me, but the performance. While we have certainly played worse this season, and we did put a few good moves together first half, we were never really in the game and with only one shot on target in 90 minutes, we were never going to win it, especially with defending the likes of which we saw. At a time of the year when many have been remembering the Biblical nativity account, we may have witnessed the birth a very tough and concerning second half of the season. Announced with the clarity and certainty as if it has been foretold by a choir of angels!
During a game, which at times saw rain (reign) harsher than that of King Herod, the game saw disappointment pour down on the home crowd.
Rather than having a midfield that we hoped would take command and shepherd the game in our favour, they looked like lost sheep themselves.
We looked leaderless, without a guiding star to help us focus and lead by example.
Paul Cook, the manger [sic], who was universally praised and respected last season, has come in for some serious criticism during this campaign. He does look to be struggling to change the way we play to be more effective. Whether rightly or wrongly, there are questions over team selections, substitutions and style of play. This comes in between a takeover and a transfer window, and therefore does not make for a very stable period for the club at all. Who would be then Wise Men in this tortured illustration? I thought long and hard about that, and despite always wanting to watch Latics, always disappointed to miss a game no matter how bad we play, I concluded that on the Saturday before Christmas the wise people were those amongst my friends who didn’t go to the game at all!
The Biblical nativity story is all about new life which brings hope to a dark world. There certainly seems to be a need for rebirth and renewed hope at Latics right now. In fact the second half against Birmingham was so bad, I found the new game that my son invented, in which he slapped me in the face, much more entertaining.
The games against West Brom and Swansea sounded a little more positive, even though we didn’t win. But once again there looked to be some very poor defending. I understand that the second half against the Baggies and the first half at Swansea were somewhat positive, but we cannot reply on the occasional positive half here and there. Especially when the game on Tuesday was very poor from start to finish.
We are now clearly in a relegation battle and the worry is that we will continue to be in one for the rest of the season. I know that the start to this campaign was positive and encouraging, but we shouldn’t really have ever assumed that this season would be anything other than a fight for survival. The question is whether, unlike two and four years ago, we can win that fight. If we can, there will have been some progress and there may be more in the way of hope next year.
At a time when we are looking for something positive, some relief and some happiness, perhaps we need to turn our attention, once again, to our favourite of all competitions. Enter The FA Cup.
Martin Tarbuck: A Paul Cook fan writes. There are managers who get it, and there are managers who don’t and I’m fairly sure Paul Cook does. There are managers who come in and win stuff and managers who just talk a good game, and I’m always prepared to give the former more chance than the latter.
Losing two home games by three clear goals is not good for morale, and whereas there has been a ridiculous overreaction in some quarters, well, it’s clear that something isn’t right at the moment. There is plenty time to fix it, and I hope that Cookie is the man tasked with doing that job. We also have little to no idea what is going on behind the scenes – we can only look at the activity during the January transfer window for indicators as to where the new owners’ ambitions lie. But first let us look where we are: in a perilous state perhaps? Or maybe exactly where we expected to be. A million and one Latics fans trotted out the line about finishing 21st being a success back in August, especially given our two previous relegations. We are currently on track to achieve that, so maybe expectations have changed, partly due to the impressive start we made and secondly because nobody likes losing football matches – and we’ve lost quite a lot recently. All rationality goes out of the window and dummies get spat out. Yet, before I go all happy clapper on you, I feel like I should also repeat what I said earlier: something isn’t right at the minute, we have lost that spark that Cook ignited into the team. The spark and energy that won League One last season, fighting off some pretty stern competition and put several Premier League teams to the sword in the FA Cup. We carried that on in the early part of this season, the much fabled momentum of promotion carrying us through many games as we fearlessly took it many of the slumbering giants that wallow in the Championship.
You may recall that our early season results were littered with 3-2s, 2-2 and a barnstorming 3-0 trouncing of Stoke on their own patch. I’d have taken 3-2s all season, wins or losses - they aren’t very good for the heart but they show that we are having a go. Now, it looks like we have stopped having a go and the 3-2s are unsurprisingly turning into 0-3s. Let us not forget, we ARE one of the smallest clubs in this division with low crowds and wage bills so we might not be in a false position in the table. The game against Derby was a game where we lost, but we fought hard and I think the majority of fans walked off appreciative, despite the result. If we’re accepting 21st place as a reasonable outcome, then we are going to have to accept losing more games than we win, but it is the manner in which we are losing them which is grating the most. We seem to be losing without a fight, and once that initial team that started the season got broken up due to injuries, we simply haven’t got our mojo back (did I really use that phrase? Sorry, but it sums it up nicely). Without mentioning individuals, the back up has been somewhat below par or lacking in heart and application but then in some games like Blackburn and Swansea (first half) they have shown exactly the sort of desire required to haul us up the table. The other worrying factor is that this downturn in form seems to have coincided with the new owners taking over, and one must wonder whether Paul Cook has concerns about his own future, in much the same way he did at Pompey. I’m sure given some of the comments aimed at him on social media in the last few days, some fans would be delighted, but I would be devastated. We are too quick to turn on a manager when they go through a rough patch, even when that manager has earned the right to a bit of faith and support, having taken the team up to a higher division. I can’t see anyone out there who I would rather have manage our club than Paul Cook right now, and we know from painful experience that replacing managers midway through the Championship season doesn’t always work. Let us hope that IEC give him the funds to strengthen the team to get us playing without fear again and a period where we can all calm down rather than encounter more upheaval.
Paul Middleton: When Einstein declared insanity to be “doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results”, it’s doubtful he had Wigan Athletic team selections in mind. I’m not here to shout for Cook’s head, as that is just ridiculous, but I do have concerns. It seems, with just about every team sheet, that Cook is either unable or unwilling to look past the players he, himself, has signed. Otherwise, how else can it be explained that neither line up nor tactics change from week to week, even when it clearly isn’t a winning (or even drawing) combination?
We currently have defenders who can’t defend, midfielders who can’t create, and forwards who can’t score. It may, of course, be the tactics that are the problem rather than the personnel. However, if that’s the case, the issue still lies with the manager. There’s no point playing a particular way if you don’t have the players to pull it off. Yes, we’ve had massive injury problems, but that’s not the full story.
As a team, we started the season with a freedom that stopped the second we lost a couple of games. Now, we look like a big, collective rabbit caught in the headlights of other Championship teams. Nobody, or nobody with realistic expectations, expects us to challenge for promotion. But nor does anybody expect to be served up the type of football we’re currently playing. The only man we know will score goals is relegated to the subs bench. Our only creative attacking winger gets little more than the odd cameo. Oh, and we seem to have no defenders in the club at all. Would things be very much better if Grigg or McManaman played more? I have no idea, given the current lack of confidence in the squad. But I doubt it could be very much worse.
Which brings me to the new owners. That’s assuming we do actually have new owners. After all, apart from a single round of official interviews the day after the takeover, they may as well not be here. No mailshot to the database just to say “Hello”, and no word on potential transfers. Not a single word on anything, in fact. I’ve been worried all along that IEC are accountants and not football people. Every day that goes by does nothing to contradict that. I also have no idea what The Royles do, beyond taking what will surely be hefty salaries. The silence is both telling and terrifying. Never has a takeover of a football club been performed in such secrecy. Ask any Latics fan to name our chairman, and I’m betting 90 per cent won’t have a clue.
Our club used to be absolutely connected to the fan base. Whether through the Whelans or through the work done by the likes of Jonathan Jackson to engage supporters. Now, it seems that IEC have no interest in any aspect of Latics, either as a football club or as any kind of community asset. Okay, so IEC have never said they will invest millions in the team, but to not say anything at all, on any subject, is both strange and worrying in equal measure.
We should be looking forward into 2019 with optimism. Instead we look forward with dread as to what the next five months and beyond will bring. We’ve had chairmen in times gone by who had only their own interests at heart. IEC need to step up and give me a reason not to think they have similar motives. I’m not talking about mortgaging the club like that idiot down the road has done to Bolton. I’m simply talking about telling us who they are and what they will be doing. As it stands, we know neither of those things.
Sean Livesey: It’s a worrying time for Wigan Athletic and by far the most worrying time of Paul Cook’s reign so far.
I use the term worrying for a few reasons - our form is clearly a worry but equally the distinct lack of confidence that has been evident in the home matches against first Birmingham and then Sheffield United on New Year’s Day is a bigger worry for me.
One win in 13 is terrible - any way we dress it up - and I think the feeling of doom has been increased because of the way we started the season. Heading in to the autumn we were finding this Championship lark easy and everyone was talking about a play-off place.
Talk of that was premature at best, but you can’t quell that kind of excitement and atmosphere when momentum is with you. As it is now we’ve not got any sort of momentum apart from that pulling us in to the danger zone. We’re dropping like the proverbial stone.
I’ve been trying to pinpoint where it started to go wrong for us, was it against Millwall where a penalty miss from Josh Windass meant we squandered a chance to go 2-0 up in a game we eventually would go on to lose?
Or was it before that when we lost all of our attacking front three, our centre back and our left back along with the talisman of the side Nick Powell? It’s probably a combination of that.
Our away form has been a cause for concern all season long but sadly that has now transferred to our home form. In our last two home games we’ve had a chance to score early on in the game, squandered those chances and gone on to lose heavily. That shows the lack of confidence among the side at the moment.
Lee Evans’ miss against Sheffield United was unbelievable at the time and doesn’t get any better on subsequent watches. We should have been 1-0 up and in that situation who knows what the outcome of the match would have been?
It’s a crucial time for the club now, we’re in uncharted waters and what we do next could define us over the next few seasons. With a new ownership structure in place and Championship survival a must what do Darren Royle and IEC do? I personally hope we don’t make any rash decisions, I still believe Paul Cook is the right man for Wigan Athletic and I still believe we will retain our Championship status under him.
There will be temptation to change direction with a new manager but whenever that is mooted I ask people realistically who could we attract that would be an upgrade on our current manager?
Steve Bruce always an unlikely prospect anyway and has now gone to Sheffield Wednesday so can be discounted. Other than that David Unsworth keeps cropping up, is he really better than the manager who gave us the season of our lives last year? I don’t think so but the decision doesn’t lie with me, it lies with our new board.
I would hope they take lessons from our previous two Championship seasons where we got rid of previously successful managers in difficult times only to recruit replacements who exacerbated the problems rather than solve them. Loyalty in football is in short supply these days, but if anyone has earned some loyalty it should be Paul Cook.
That’s not to mask the issues surrounding the club at the moment, Paul Cook isn’t immune from criticism and he would be the first to admit mistakes have been made this season but equally as worrying as our recent run of form has been we still have five months of the season left to play, we’re not in the relegation zone and we’re not cut adrift by any means.
I’m the eternal optimist and I believe we’ll get out of this mess. Cook said it was down to him and his staff to find the answers and I believe he should be given the time to find those answers. The vast majority of Latics fans admitted survival was the aim at the start of the season, I believe I predicted a 16th place finish in fact. I would still be happy with that, but the fact remains we need to start winning football matches again.
It’s a return to the FA Cup tomorrow and that match probably comes at the ideal time. A break from the pressure of the league may just be what Latics need to freshen things up, bring in some players from the cold and see what those not getting game time can do. If that can in return influence our league form all the better.
We’ve had a torrid time over the last couple of months but all isn’t lost and there’s still a lot of football to be played. I know it isn’t fashionable these days but instead of berating this relatively young side on the terraces and on social media how about we give them our support? They’ve earned that from us at least.
Kieran Makin: I’ve not been as active on the 12th Man scene as I would have liked in recent times, mostly down to a busy festive period at work but partly down to unforeseen circumstances (spilling a Budweiser on my Mac after myself and some mates tucked away a few beers following Latics’ 1-1 draw at local rivals Bolton).
Luckily, the Mac has been fixed (for a very good price may I add) and now I’m back in action, but there isn’t such good news in terms of the football. One win in 13 is grim reading. Not even me, the eternal optimist, can glitter it up. However, it’s not the losses that worry me, it’s the way we’re losing games.
Granted we’ve had injuries to key players but I don’t think that should mean we tear up the blueprints and scrap our principals, which is exactly what we’ve done. In the first quarter of the season we were an attacking juggernaut that could cause any team in the Championship problems and that’s not an exaggeration. We were losing some games back then yet we always came away with our heads held high and, as fans, we were seeing a team giving it a right good go. Now because of aforementioned injuries we are not playing like a Paul Cook Wigan team, we’re playing like a Malky Mackay or a Warren Joyce Wigan team.
Negative tactics, drab football and baffling team selections are wearing thin, we’re a far cry from the team start started the season. We’ve gone from intricate play between Nick Powell, Michael Jacobs and Will Grigg to pumping hopeful diagonals to James Vaughan and Joe Garner, all while Callum McManaman still sits on the bench.
I’m not calling for Cook’s head, far from it. I don’t think that’s the answer as it would cost the club money and we’ve been down that road before, twice, and been relegated, twice.
It was okay when these injuries were fresh and in abundance; it’s the fact we’ve got some of these players back and he refuses to play them through stubbornness and what seems to be ‘trust’ in a handful of individuals.
I don’t want to speculate, it just seems like there is a bit of division in the dressing room at the moment. Like I said I don’t want him sacked but if things carry on as they are I think the new owners will certainly be taking things into their own hands.