For many years, I played in the Soccerdome leagues. We bulldozed through the divisions with attacking verve, and a solid rearguard where every player knew their role. We had a blinder of a ‘keeper, a man mountain who simply stopped everything. Then as we got to the top division, we (he) started leaking a lot more goals. He wasn’t getting down as quick, plus the opposition forwards were hitting the ball harder and finding the corners. We replaced the fella with great regret, in fact we replaced the entire team, until eventually we still had the best team in the league, but I often found myself brooding on the sidelines. That’s football.
And that anecdote wasn’t completely pointless and has every relevance to the situation at Latics at present. I wouldn’t say so much that Christian Walton’s frailties are being exposed but there’s definitely a giant Dan Burn sized hole in the middle of our defence. Plus three out of the other back four are completely new and Chey Dunkley is something of a rookie at this level. Add to this the second part of the equation, namely that we are coming up against better forwards, who need less time to take chances and bury them with more accuracy, and have more skilful, expensive midfielders behind them to create more chances. Well, yes it’s an easy summary to conclude that Latics are encountering a few growing pains right now.
There are positives though because we are scoring goals at the other end. As the defence gets more settled and starts to get the feel of each other, hopefully the goals against column will grind to a halt. If we keep scoring 2.5 goals a game then that should be enough to win most contests. Secondly, there are lots of options to play with all across the park for Paul Cook following a great transfer window. I think we all want Will Grigg to succeed at this level, but I’m sure, he himself will know that if he goes half a dozen games without scoring, then it’ll be time to give Josh Windass, Joe Garner or even James Vaughan a run. Out wide there are options with Walker and McManaman and Jacobs and Massey all set to interchange. Evans will be itching for a start in the middle, Darron Gibson looked outstanding in the opening game and if Shaun McDonald can regain his past form, he would be a real asset too.
On the left we have Leo Lopez and on the right Nathan Byrne is yet to return, which leaves us with the centre half conundrum. I think we can all agree that Cedric is a bit raw but let’s have patience and let the coaches do their job and coach him. Dan Burn will hopefully be fit again soon and when he leaves in January, we will need another centre half. In the meantime, from what I’ve seen Alex Bruce looks more than capable as well and is quite unlucky not to have had more game time.
So there we are, a measured assessment to contradict some of the more rabid comments, who fail to understand that we are in a new, higher division and adjusting takes time. If this trend of winning one and losing one continues till the end of the season then it would be a fascinating one. Paul Cook has stated his intent to take the game to the opposition, which is in stark contrast to the Warren Joyce training manual. Sometimes playing an attacking game means that you do end up on the wrong side of a 3-2 but when you are on the right side of one, it is usually great fun. So, come on let’s have that fun, recognise our limitations and remember that football isn’t a computer game and these lads are learning their trade and trying to prove themselves against much higher paid, more experienced counterparts and need our support.
Article first published in the Wigan Evening Post’s 12th Man column on Friday 17th August 2018