It’s difficult to describe how disappointing the last few days have been, following the home draws against Stoke and Middlesbrough Paul Cook’s side had the ideal opportunity in games against Derby, Reading and Blackburn to put some clear distance between them and the bottom three and actually go a long way to sealing Championship survival for another season.
What went on in the last seven days can only be described as Latics imploding, not many would have expected us to get much from Derby when the match was first re-arranged but Latics fans could have been forgiven for thinking the away day gods were finally about to offer the tics some solace as Michael Jacobs combined with Gavin Massey to put Latics in front.
A game that could have earned us a decent point was turned on its head as Mason Bennett scored the sort of goal that he couldn’t repeat if he tried a thousand times over. We know how that match ended. I certainly felt that all wasn’t lost at that point, in fact I was quite confident ahead of the trip to the Madjeski.
In 2013 Roberto Martinez took his beleaguered team to relegation threatened Reading and put on an excellent performance that saw Latics emerge as victors with a 3-0 win. I thought the match may be heading the same way as Nick Powell back in the starting line-up gave Latics a lead midway through the first half. Latics defensive frailties were exposed once again as Reading pulled level with a dubious free kick during first-half injury time.
The impressive Joe Garner notched his sixth goal of the season to put Latics ahead once again – and all was well with the world. The Reading goalkeeper made a wonder save to once again deny Nick Powell from making it 3-1 but the game seemed to be fizzling out as the clock ticked down to 90 minutes. As the board went up to indicate seven minutes of injury time – Reading rather than allowing Sam Morsy to return a drop ball to their goalkeeper went on the attack with players in yellow completely out of place. It was no surprise to see the net ripple with a Reading equaliser.
As disastrous as it was to fall behind it was still a point, admittedly it was a game we needed to win but a point even at this stage of the season counts. Sadly a point was even more than we could hope for, Reading earned a corner in the 97th minute. With virtually the last kick of the game Jonas Olsson lost his attacker and Reading amazingly made it 3-2.
There is no way to describe fully the emotions that supporters went through on Saturday, how do you manage to be the best side in the match – score two goals yet still fail to come away with anything. Not even a point. Paul Cook explained later in the week that the referee’s advisory panel had told Latics that they could feel hard done to with defeat to Reading and that all three of the goals could and should have been disallowed.
Words of comfort that I’m sure do wonders for Cook and the Latics fans who had to suffer that defeat on Saturday. Still – one last away game to go in a crazy week, surely we would see a reaction and finally eight months later get our second away win of the season. There was talk of the team stepping up on Tuesday night, having minds focused on the job in hand and knowing that the time was now to earn those wins to get us out of a situation we should never have been in.
Sadly those words of encouragement must have been left on the M65 as Latics turned in arguably their worst Championship display since the horror days of Warren Joyce, and certainly their worst under Paul Cook. Once again Latics started brightly enough. Up against a Blackburn side in just as bad a run of form as ourselves, sadly though we created very little in the way of chances again and as soon as Blackburn had any sight of goal we crumbled.
Where there was an argument that we were unlucky against Reading it was all down to ourselves against Blackburn. A needless penalty given away just before half-time to give Blackburn the advantage before two horrific defensive mix-ups for the second and third goals. I wasn’t at Ewood Park on Tuesday but I can’t imagine the atmosphere was anything but toxic. Latics have had a torrid time on the road this season – one away win is truly terrible, indeed we’ve gone close on many occasions. None more so than Reading on Saturday but the facts remain we have one away win all season, if we are to be relegated this season that will be the single biggest contributing factor. One or even two more away wins would see us virtually safe at this point.
So where now? Well Saturday is really do or die stuff, we are precariously hovering over a relegation zone we have not entered in to all season and face a Bolton side who although looking certainties for relegation have already beaten both Bolton and Birmingham in recent weeks. With a takeover for our neighbours due to go through any day this week, they could well be coming to Wigan with a spring in their step.
The tide seems to have firmly turned against Paul Cook over the last week, I’ve been steadfast in my defence of the manager in the last few months but even I’m struggling to find positives in recent weeks. I don’t think he’s lost the players, but equally I do think he shares some of the culpability for our current position. Poor player selections, strange substitutions and negative tactics have led us to this situation and that lies with one man. We have to remember it’s Cook’s first season as manager in the Championship, it is clearly a different beast from League One and League Two.
Many thought that Cook may well have been given his marching orders following the defeat at Ewood Park but I think he may well see out the season. Whether Cook remains in place going forward will depend on how these next nine matches go. If we are successful and Cook manages to get us out this mess he will have earned the chance to stay in place over the summer if he wishes. If he fails to get us out of it I think we all know that it won’t be Paul Cook leading us in to a third League One campaign.
If we were to sack Paul Cook now who would be able to come in and get a rise out of the players. Peter Reid is one shout, but he may well be too close to the current management team. Joe Royle was another shout but he hasn’t managed for over ten years now. Greame Jones – still a Wigan resident is a shout but would Bobby’s faithful assistant even be on the radar of IEC?
Am I confident we’ll get out of it? Ask me after the Bolton match. Beat our nearest neighbours and we’ve a fighting chance, fail to do that and I believe we’ll be looking at an immediate return to League One. Who would have thought that after we beat West Brom in October?