No, how’s YOUR new year’s resolution to get back on the writing horse going? Well, I’m late. Three weeks since the turn of the year, 21 one days (nearly) since that season turning victory at Birmingham and two hundred and seventy minutes of turgid, energy sapping, inexplicably rubbish football since there was even a chink of hope that this season might end with anything but another spell in League One.
Still, three weeks late isn’t bad given my reputation for tardiness in this area, and three defeats? Well that’s just par for the course for Paul Cook’s side, isn’t it?
Still, all’s well that gets me off Twitter, and you can blame the dawning realisation that arguing with people on the internet was stifling my productivity for putting me in front of this keyboard tapping away like Elton John playing Crocodile rock. Just so I can share the things that have had me thinking this weekend gone.
Sticking plasters are alright whilst they last
It’s no secret that Latics needed a centre half in the summer, Mulgrew might have been the man, but he’s no longer an option so where do we look?
Kaldini? What a superstar, eh? Maybe, maybe not.
To start with a positive, the move of Kal Naismith from perennial whipping boy to centre half looked like a master stroke. After all, yer nan couldn’t have done any worse than Latics back four at that time, his stock was about as low as it could get and, if we’re honest, no one had anything to lose from the gamble.
He looked alright at first, especially as he played a key part in shifting Latics style of play from hit and hope to pass and hold. Part of him looking alright was the style of play meant we were having to defend less, which is a good thing in general but is also something that may have given us a false sense of security with regard to Kal’s defensive capabilities.
But the more time has gone on, the more chicks have started to show and the fact that Naismith is not a centre half has been as plain as day over the last couple of games. He’s come up against Diedhiou, Brewster and Ayew who’ve properly tested our defence with movement and power. Sadly, they’ve been found wanting.
Whilst you can analyse play and find fault in Kal’s positioning and tracking, none of it’s really his fault. He didn’t decide he was a centre half, he’s only trying to do the best he can for his club, but the simple fact is that he was only ever going to be a sticking plaster in the back four and if Latics don’t act to get a more permanent solution in place then we could end up in bigger trouble than we are already.
There’s more than one way to stop losing games
Yep, I know that’s not a brilliantly insightful statement, but it’s wholly relevant to our current plight. There’s a massive emphasis on our inability to hold onto leads and stop conceding late goals, which is understandable, but there are other ways of looking at that particular dilemma.
Latics have been caught with the old one-two on plenty of occasions this season, how often have we done the same? Ok, I don’t know the answer, but at best it’s rarely, more likely it’s not at all.
As much as 27 points lost from winning positions says that we can be a soft touch at one end of the pitch, it also says that we don’t press home advantages when we have them. We go one in front and then rather than upping the pressure we sit back and try not to lose what we have. “Let’s hang on” might have been Latics tag line at one point, but it’s not working for us right now. “We go again” isn’t working either, but maybe if we tried it in a game, and went for a second or third goal, then the slip-ups and switch-offs late in games wouldn’t be so significant?
But I’m guessing that will be too much to ask. Timidity is the watchword as far as Latics go these days. Whether it’s a lack of confidence, a fear of defeat or a tactical choice; every pass is the easy one, no half chance is pounced upon, no risk is taken. Playing a “passing” game means you must find ways to move the ball more quickly than the opposition can to adjust to, either through running at them or getting it around the pitch faster.
Remember the stat that Roberto Martinez’s Latics team played more long passes than most in the Premier League, except they were mostly cross field passes? Well that’s one example of how you might do it, even if you can’t do that reliably, you have to miss a man out every so often, or else you’re too slow, too predictable, too easy to contain, too much like… Wigan Athletic.
But then again, does any of it matter if you’ve no one to take the chances you create? With the best will in the world, and regardless of whatever you might think he is, Josh Windass is clearly not the man to do that. Neither, it seems is Jamal Lowe. So, where does Paul Cook go? (Woah, keep your powder dry).
He could try the striker he brought in last year that got ten goals in a struggling side. He cold try the lad who he paid millions for in the summer but then tried to use as a battering ram rather than a goal-scorer, he could try the young lad that looks like he’s chomping at the bit to get into the team and into the goals. Ok, so he did try a couple of those things at the weekend, but we all know that strikers need a run of games to get firing but Cook should stick with it. A half firing striker is better than… than… than whatever Josh Windass is.
Once… twice… three times…
So, if you’ve been following. We’re crap at defending and we’re crap at defending, as it happens, we’re also bad at midifielding, or whatever it’s called in the “Zonal Marking Dictionary of New Football Terms”.
That’s not to say that we’re crap in midfield. In Joe Williams, Lee Evans, Kieran Dowell and, go on then, Sami Morsy we’ve got some pretty good central midfielders. You can throw Lewis Macleod into the mix as well. The issue here is that five into three doesn’t go and whether through necessity or a desire to get as many of them into the side as possible each is being asked to do things that isn’t necessarily their strong point.
The shoehorning is made worse by one of those five being the club captain. Morsy having that role makes him hard to drop (in Cook’s mind at least) and so you’re trying to work out which two of the remaining four play alongside him when IN MY OPINION three of them are probably better than him, or at least offer a more balanced set up in terms of both defensive and creative abilities.
Why? Well, I could go into more detail, but I’ve already gone on too long and I’ve still got one more thing to get off my chest.
The elephant in the room…
Before I start on this, let’s get a few things clear. I got shot down for saying Paul Cook’s first big decision in charge of Latics, giving Morsy the captaincy, a mistake. I was derided for calling his style of play negative when we were riding high in League One. I was told I was watching different games when I said Cook’s tactics and selections were all wrong last season. Laughed at for saying he’d talked us into a relegation battle and put back in my box when we kicked on and avoided the drop.
Simply put, I don’t like Paul Cook’s approach to football management, without saying “I told you so”, I never have.
I’ve also never called for his head or hysterically claimed that he’s dragging us down into an end of days relegation battle that will kill our club. Yes, I’m convinced he makes our team less than the sum of its parts, yes I think that someone, anyone, else might do a better job, but we’re still only a win or two from safety and I’m not the person paying £500k a month for the privilege of making the decision of whether Paul Cook keeps his job, or not.
And I don’t think I’m wrong not to call it a crisis. Yes, it’s a terrible run of form. Yes, the football is far from acceptable, but we’ve been here before and we’ll be here again. Of course it’s easier to support your team when they’re winning games, but if you signed up to support Wigan Athletic on the premise you might see us win more games than not, then you probably got in the wrong queue.
My point? I don’t know really. I suppose it’s you’ve got every right to think that Paul Cook is doing a bad job, or even that he’s a bad football manager but frothing at the mouth calling for a man to lose his job isn’t a good look for anyone. No, pointing at the fat cheque he *might* get if given the boot doesn’t make it more attractive. He’s still just someone trying to do the best he can and, as far as we know, being told he’s doing the right things by his bosses…
Which is where I’ll leave it for now, there’s probably another fifteen hundred words just on that, after nothing changes this weekend, and I’ve got a game of Football Manager on the go.
See you on the other side.