Best Blog or Account to Follow: Not to be confused with the other Latics down th’road, Cockney Latic is a fanzine that originated in paper form during the 1980s and whilst it has a large, modern online presence today, it is still going strong in the physical world and is sold outside the DW Stadium.
Record Last Season + Quick Summary:
Championship - 23rd; W 10 / D 12 / L 24 / F 40 / A 57 / Pts 42
Wigan found life back in the second tier a real struggle after being so impressive in their march to the League One title in 2015/2016. Gone was the swashbuckling attack with both goals and victories at a premium for the south Lancashire outfit under the auspices of Gary Caldwell. The former Scotland international was sacked in late October with his side only one rung higher than bottom of the pile. Warren Joyce was appointed to replace him but in truth, he had very little experience of managing a senior side at any level. He wasn’t a popular choice with supporters and could only muster five wins in the league, although besting high-flying Huddersfield Town 2-1 at the John Smith’s Stadium.
A further blow was dealt to their survival hopes with the departure of Yanic Wildschut to divisional rivals Norwich City at the end of the winter transfer window. Interim manager Graham Barrow did restore a bit of pride with improved performances but the results themselves didn’t alter for the better. Relegation was confirmed after a 1-0 loss away at Reading in April and Barrow ended a long association with the club once the season was over. The board then turned to League Two champions Portsmouth’s Paul Cook, agreeing a compensation package and putting him in place before the end of May, giving him and his staff plenty of time to plan for the new season.
Top Goalscorer: Nick Powell (6 goals in 10 starts/955 minutes)
Top Creator: Max Power (6 assists in 40 starts/3,603 minutes)
Manager/Head Coach: Paul Cook; retired from his playing career at the age of 39 with Accrington Stanley. The Liverpudlian has since held six management posts, most notably at Sligo Rovers for five years, Chesterfield (where he won the League Two title in 2013/2014 and reached the third tier play-offs the following season) and latterly, Portsmouth. His side lost in the play-offs in his first year in charge before finally getting Pompey up after an all-too long hiatus in the basement division, snatching the championship trophy on the final day. Persuaded by Latics chairman David Sharpe to make the move north and back closer to his roots, he has significant resources relative to the level to call upon to make their stay in League One pass in the blink of an eye. A disciple of 4-2-3-1, he favours expression on the ball from his players and certainly has no shortage in the squad of individuals capable of doing just that.
Ins: Gavin Massey (Leyton Orient), Chey Dunkley (Oxford United), Terrell Thomas (Charlton Athletic U23s), Christian Walton (Brighton & Hove Albion on loan), Lee Evans (Wolverhampton Wanderers on loan) & Callum Elder (Leicester City U23s on loan).
Outs: Gabriel Obertan (Levski Sofia), Matt Gilks (Scunthorpe United), Andrew Taylor (Bolton Wanderers), Jack Hendry (Dundee), Stephen Warnock (Burton Albion), Billy McKay (Ross County), Jake Buxton (Burton Albion), Mikael Mandron (Colchester United), Sanmi Odelusi (free agent) & Jussi Jääskeläinen (free agent).
Predicted First XI & Shape:
Tactics: As stated above, Cook is unlikely to stray too far from a formula that has brought him success in previous jobs. That will mean the full-backs providing most of the width in the first two transitions. In Callum Elder and Nathan Byrne (the latter possibly back in contention after featuring in a recent friendly), he has the ideal pairing who will bomb forward whilst not neglecting their defensive duties. Dan Burn is one of the tallest players in the EFL and backs that up with consummate strength. He is on the slower side but should still offer good protection for Christian Walton, who has regained his self-belief. Burn will be a massive threat from corners and so will Chey Dunkley. The former Oxford defender is renowned for his heading accuracy and together, they will should provide Michael Jacobs with two easy targets to aim for.
Captain David Perkins is still very agile at the age of 35 and will provide the runners ahead of him with a wide variety and range of passes to latch onto. He has a tremendous ‘engine’ and whilst he might be not be as heavily involved in attacking phases of play under Cook’s system as he might have been previously, he will still be a big influence on the game. New loan signing Lee Evans has a similar reputation for passing and will look to make a late run to hit one from range if the opportunity presents itself.
Nick Powell has quality in abundance and like Will Grigg, he is returning to fitness at just the right time on the eve of the new season. The playmaker can certainly shoot accurately from outside the area and will seek at all times to dictate the tempo of the game and get close to Grigg in order to pick up any loose balls.
The aforementioned Jacobs will split his time between cutting inside and trying to skip round the full-back to square for his teammates, who will be under instructions to swarm the area. Gavin Massey was the brightest spot for Leyton Orient during their calamitous exit from the EFL; his technical wizardry on the ball will delight Latics fans if he can hit the ground running. Grigg will be low on confidence but should be afforded a little more respect back in the third tier, where once again he will be deployed as far up the pitch as possible and on the shoulder of the last defender.
Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Comfortably mid-table. The Latics have a squad that is currently strong in all areas on paper. However, the rigidity of the system Cook will employ has already come at a big cost: Omar Bogle has been placed on the transfer list as he doesn’t think he’s a good fit for it and Max Power also wants to leave for pastures new. The departure of Bogle would leave them with little competition for Grigg and it cannot be assumed that he’ll simply tear up League One again after such a dispiriting year in the Championship, even though the club has an excellent midfield with plenty of depth behind him. Wigan are just one of many clubs this season with real aspirations of promotion and one or two of them are going to fail and fail badly. I’m not fully sold on Cook as a manager, especially if Plan A doesn’t immediately bear fruit. Does he have the tactical nous to be flexible? I’m not so sure. They could of course keep parity with the bookies’ predictions of automatic promotion but I just have a feeling a lot of their supporters’ high expectations will be disappointed. Time will tell if I’m correct.