Wigan Athletic Season Preview: Cookie returns

This time last year, the whole footballing world was proclaiming Will Grigg to be on fire. So were Wigan Athletic, who had just won the League One title, scoring 82 goals, of which the Northern Irishman scored 25 goals. In the Championship however, Grigg was hosed down and the Latics could not even manage half their 15/16 goal tally. Supporter Ian Aspinall of Let’s Hang On reflects on relegation and looks ahead to the new season…

Last season does feel like a massive wasted opportunity as Gary Caldwell’s team had comfortably won the League One title and there was a belief that they could build on that momentum. But Caldwell’s sacking after only 14 Championship games was a poor decision by David Sharpe and Dave Whelan and the appointment of Warren Joyce was a completely disastrous one.

Most clubs opt for stability after a title win. Was it a mistake to bring in 27 different players last season and sack Gary Caldwell?

Latics did recruit too many players both during Caldwell and Warren Joyce’s time but we should still have had enough quality to stay up. There has to be better recruitment this season but the board and Joyce must ultimately take the responsibility for relegation.

Graham Barrow has left – would it have been good to keep a well-respected figure like him at the club?

Graham Barrow was a great servant of the club as a player, coach and manager but the new manager Paul Cook wanted his own coaching team around him and it was probably time for some changes after the disappointments of last season.

Paul Cook has won titles with Portsmouth and Chesterfield in recent years, guiding the latter to the League One play-offs in 14/15. You must be pleased with this appointment?

Paul Cook was my first choice for the job, as I believe he has the right profile for a club, which is trying to rebuild itself after relegation. He’s a former Latics player, has been successful as a manager in League One and Two and his teams play football in the right way.

Cook is a firm 4-2-3-1 disciple. Is it reasonable to assume that either Will Grigg or Omar Bogle will have to settle for playing second fiddle?

Cook may have a preferred system but I think it’s too early to fully know how he will play at Wigan. We’ve still got over a month before the season starts and there will be a lot of ins and outs before then. Pre season form and injuries will also dictate the starting eleven.

Nick Powell and Michael Jacobs should be very creative players at this level. Are you hopeful they’ll stay?

Latics have some very talented midfield players with Powell, Jacobs, Sam Morsy, Alex Gilbey and Max Power and although I’d like them all to stay I think there will be some outgoings in this area.

As well as those two, you’ve also got the likes of Gavin Massey, Kaiyne Woolery and Jordan Flores who have done well in the lower leagues. Does this show the strength in depth you’ve got?

It’s hard to know if Massey, Woolery and Flores will break through into the team, as a lot will depend on who leaves the club before the season kicks off.
We already have a large squad and I expect quite a few will leave or go out on loan.

Cook was adventurous enough to convert winger Gareth Evans into a right back at Portsmouth last season. With no right-backs brought in yet, is it possible that Nathan Byrne will be used there?

Cook will no doubt experiment with players in different positions. Young defender Luke Burke has the potential to fill the right-back berth and Nathan Byrne can play there if need be, although I think he is better as a wing-back rather than a full-back.

You’ve not yet signed a goalkeeper this summer. With the unproven Dan Lavercombe the only stopper in the squad, you must expect at least one to join before the MK Dons game?

England U21 goalkeeper Christian Walton has now joined on a season long loan from Brighton and is expected to be the number one keeper.

Some fans feel Stephen Warnock might have had something to offer in League One. Will younger left-backs Reece James and Andy Kellett vindicate the decision to release him?

It was a surprise when experienced defenders Stephen Warnock and Jake Buxton and keeper Matt Gilks left the club but that may have been down to the large wage bill rather than any shortcomings of the players. Both Reece James and Andy Kellett have been troubled by long-term injuries so it remains to be seen if they have recovered sufficiently to claim a place in the team.

Chey Dunkley is quite a brave centre-back while fellow new defender Terell Thomas has experience of playing in midfield. If Cook wants defenders who will play on the front foot, could Dan Burn fall out of favour?

I’m expecting Dunkley and Thomas to be back up players and for last season’s Player of the Season Dan Burn and Craig Morgan to start in the centre of defence.

Most fans are pleased to see veteran midfielder David Perkins sign on for another year. Do you like the idea of his experience and Morsy’s control in central midfield?

The midfield is very strong and we currently have plenty to choose from. Perkins is a reliable option and Morsy is expected to be a big part of Latics promotion push but we also have Max Power, Jack Byrne, Alex Gilbey and Nick Powell who can play through the centre. So it’s going to be very competitive for a place in the team.

What are your thoughts ahead of the League One season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

I think Blackburn will be the favourites for automatic promotion as they have a strong squad and have done well since Tony Mowbray took over. There’s about eight or nine teams who could be in the hunt for the play-offs. Portsmouth are hardly a dark horse but I expect them to be amongst those challenging at the top end alongside Latics, Fleetwood, Scunthorpe and Bradford.

Where will you finish? We were both some way off with our predictions last summer…

I think we’ll be challenging near the top of the table but whether we’ll be good enough for automatic promotion will depend on how many of our the current squad we can hold on to. As far as predictions go Latics rarely have a boring mid-table finish; we’re either at the top or struggling in the relegation zone. Let’s hope it’s the former.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Wigan have the best squad depth in League One. Morsy will dominate midfields, keeper Walton was a timely addition while Grigg is a proven goalscorer. Cook consistently measures up to his resources and a continuation of that trend should mean only one thing. 2nd

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