New season, same problems

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The less we speak about last Saturday the better, after the euphoria of the opening match with Cardiff this was as big a reality check as you could imagine. Paul Cook had spoken ahead of Saturday of how important it was to learn from last season’s disastrous defeat at Deepdale and he even explained how the side had watched the video back to ensure a performance like that wasn’t seen again.

Sadly none of that seemed to work, the score line may have registered as 3-0 but make no mistake this was every bit as bad as the 4-0 drubbing we received last season. Paul Cook made two changes from the win over Cardiff – in came Kal Naismith for the injured Anthony Pilkington and Cedric Kipre for Chey Dunkley.

The game was over as a competition by half time as Preston got their second and worse was to come in the second half as the third went in. It’s turning in to somewhat of a bogey ground for us Deepdale. After not facing Preston for so long during the Premier League years ever since our first visit back there in 2016 it’s been three terrible performances and no points in what was once a happy hunting ground for us.

It was disappointing to see us lose so early on in the season, but equally disappointing was the manner of the performance. Too many players had an off day on Saturday and with the talent at Paul Cook’s disposal now not many of those performances will be accepted with talented youngsters ready to come in at a moment’s notice.

Ironically one of the better if not best performances on Saturday came from the man who received the most criticism, Kal Naismith has split public opinion ever since arriving at Latics in the summer of 2018. His performances improved greatly last year to the point where he finished as runner up in the player of the year awards. That performance level seems to have continued this season, yet so has the criticism that follows him round.

So is the life of a Wigan Athletic fan, one week you’re heralding the signings of Paul Cook and IEC whilst declaring that promotion is but a formality the next you’re on the verge of accepting relegation as a foregone conclusion and that’s all within the first two weeks of August. One thing that can’t be allowed to fester like last season is our away form, we need a positive result away from home as soon as possible this season. With any luck that will come at Jonathan Woodgate’s Middlesbrough in a week’s time.

So it was on to Stoke on Tuesday and the EFL Cup, sorry the Carabao Cup. I don’t think there’s any shame in saying this is the competition at the bottom of our list of priorities this season. Paul Cook made it abundantly clear ahead of kick-off that we want to tackle the FA Cup and the Championship this season. The line-up reflected that with ten changes from Saturday but equally a number of those changes will be looking to get a starting place in the side in the very near future.

A 1-0 loss against a strong Stoke side with a mixture of youth players and debutants is no shame, it just means that those lads who were behind on their pre-season will hopefully be a step closer to the first team picture now. All paths leads to Leeds on Saturday (see what I did there) and with the way Marcelo Bielsa’s team have started the season Latics will be in for a tough match.

We’ll be going in to it as under dogs but we showed at Elland Road that means nothing and with our strong home record and some hurt pride following the weekend’s defeat to Preston we will hopefully show ourselves to have something about us this season. A positive result against Leeds would set us up perfectly for two arguably winnable matches against Middlesbrough and QPR to come over the next week.

I would expect the likes of Kieffer Moore and Jamal Lowe to have played themselves in to contention for Saturday whilst Joe Williams and Charlie Mulgrew may well be brought in to bring a bit of bite to the side. Whichever team Paul Cook chooses we’re in for a tough match – but when has that stopped us before?

Sean Livesey

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