The Opposition View: Wigan Athletic

By Jim Bonner
Last updated : 25 August 2017

Thanks to JJ of the Three Amigos Wigan site (twitter: @JJLos3Amigos) for responding to these questions.

What have you made of Wigan's start to the season so far and would it be fair to say that automatic promotion is the aim?

It has been the best start to the season that most of us can remember. Three wins in three games in the league, plus a League Cup win over local rivals Blackpool by the second string. The loss to Aston Villa in the League Cup on Tuesday can largely be put down to Paul Cook making eleven changes in his starting line up from the weekend.

Automatic promotion is certainly the aim. A couple of years ago Gary Caldwell’s team went on to win the League 1 title. At this moment in time the squad looks even stronger than the one that Caldwell had, but that could change within the next seven days.

The young chairman, David Sharpe, will want to try to balance the books. That means not only selling top players, but also reducing the wage bill by persuading others to move on for minimal fees. Nick Powell is reputed to be earning £16,000 per week and there are others who were recruited on Championship level salaries. Last season’s salary budget of around £18 million will be cut to somewhere close to £6m. 

Have Latics fans taken to Paul Cook and his style of football?

Cook was a bright spark in a really good crop of young players Latics had in the mid-1980s. He played in left midfield and was an elegant performer with a cultured left foot. Our greatest managers, Paul Jewell and Roberto Martinez, were also players at the club.

Cook has received broad acclaim for the way he has already transformed the horrible style of play of last season with the hapless Warren Joyce in charge. Being an ex-player certainly adds to his acceptance by the fans.

Cook’s football so far has not been what we might have expected. The manager arrived with a reputation of possession-based football, but what we have seen up to this point has not been on a par with what we saw in the Caldwell or Martinez eras. Cook’s team is by no means afraid to launch long balls and its central defenders will not hesitate to clear their lines when under pressure.

It is a more pragmatic approach than we anticipated, but it is attack-minded, with Latics pushing men forward in a way that we have not seen for some time. No longer is the centre forward isolated, ploughing a lone furrow. Moreover, the wide players are seemingly expected to pump balls into the box with teammates moving forward to be on the receiving end. At times it is reminiscent of the football of the era of Paul Jewell.

Has Noel Hunt featured for Wigan at all since leaving Pompey and if so, how has he performed?

Hunt’s only appearance so far was as an 80th minute substitute at Aston Villa. Will Grigg, Nick Powell and Ivan Toney are currently above him in the pecking order.

Who are the key players emerging from the current Wigan squad?

Goalkeeper was a problem position last season, but the loan signing of Christian Walton from Brighton has helped alleviate anxieties. Walton is a commanding young keeper.

The 6ft 7 in central defender Dan Burn was last season’s “Player of the Season” and his aerial ability in particular will be invaluable in League 1, providing Sharpe resists the urge to sell him. Chey Dunkley, signed as a free agent from Oxford and is forming a strong partnership with Burn in the centre of defence.

Sam Morsy, who played under Cook at Chesterfield, is a rugged midfielder who has flair on the ball. He has formed a strong partnership in central midfield with Lee Evans, signed on loan from Wolves.

The highly talented Nick Powell can destroy any defence in League 1, playing behind the centre forward. But fitness is a huge issue and he has not played a full 90 minutes for a long time. Will Grigg scored 28 goals the last season Latics were in League 1. He has now recovered from a knee injury, but has not been able to displace Ivan Toney in the starting line-up. He is in the last year of his contract and rumour tells us that Latics have already turned down a £1.2 m bid for him from Charlton.

What are the biggest strengths and weaknesses of your team?

The current squad is well balanced and Cook can field a strong starting line-up, with quality on the bench. This team is not afraid to attack the opposition from the get-go, pushing men forward into attack. The danger is getting caught on the counterattack, but that has not been much of a problem up to this point.

How do Latics fans feel ahead of this fixture bearing in mind many Pompey fans want to beat Wigan more than any other team this season after Cook's defection?

I can understand the feelings of Pompey fans regarding Cook’s departure, but the reality for Latics fans is that most of us see it as water under the bridge. If anything we see it as a tricky match because it is against a club that is on the up after winning League 2, after so many difficult years. Assuming Eisner will back your club in the transfer market we can expect Pompey to mount a serious promotion challenge. In that respect Saturday’s match is particularly important.

What kind of match can we expect at the DW Stadium on Saturday?

It depends on Jackett’s tactics and whether he chooses to nullify the talents of such as Powell by a physical approach. You can expect Latics to attack Pompey from the start. In previous years Latics have been outmuscled by some less skilful outfits, but this team has already shown that it will scrap it out if the going gets rough.

This is not to suggest that Pompey will adopt strong arm tactics. The hope for us as spectators is that it will be an open, flowing game.

Predict the outcome of the game.

Home win.

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