Wigan Athletic Season Preview: more memories to come?

With the 2018-19 Championship season coming up, The Football Lab spoke to Wigan Athletic fan Ian Aspinall from Let’s Hang On.

You not only secured the League One title last season, but also reached the FA Cup quarter-finals by beating three Premier League sides including Manchester City. Where does 2017-18 rank among the most memorable seasons in the club’s history?

After 23 years Dave Whelan is soon to step down as owner after what has been an unprecedented time in the club’s history: the rise through the leagues; eight seasons in the Premier League; a League Cup final; FA Cup winners and a European campaign.

So many amazing achievements but even so last season was special as Latics dominated League One and surged to the title playing some exciting football in the process. The FA Cup run made it extra special as Latics took the scalps of three Premier League clubs AFC Bournemouth, West Ham United and to top it all Premier League champions Manchester City. Given the current discrepancy in resources and the level of the two teams at the time of the game, it is probably the greatest FA Cup shock of all time.

You had a massive squad last season with lots of players who were evidently good back-up for League One, but might not have been able to step up. Are you glad you’ve condensed that squad by releasing 15 players?

The club suffered from the mistakes of former manager Warren Joyce and the transition to Paul Cook’s management has seen a significant turnover in players. Apart from Alex Bruce all the players that Joyce signed have now left the club.

The recruitment process is ongoing however, with several new signings in the pipeline as well as likely departures. Experienced Championship players Darron Gibson, James Perch and Ross Wallace are currently on trial at the club and Ryan Colclough and Devante Cole are reportedly surplus to requirements and are wanted by Portsmouth.

Christian Walton was arguably the best goalkeeper outside the Championship last year. You must be delighted that he has returned on loan from Brighton?

Walton is universally liked by the fans and everyone wanted him to return to the club after such a great season. It would be nice to think that he might sign permanently in the future but much will depend on how we do in the Championship and how Brighton fare in the Premier League.

Nathan Byrne has gained a reputation in League One for being a very exciting, forward-thinking right-back/wing-back. How do you see him adjusting to a higher league?

It was something of a surprise to see Byrne perform so well last season. After being sent out on loan the previous season the expectations weren’t high, but Cook and his coaching team instilled plenty of confidence in Byrne and gave him the freedom to attack. The Championship will be a much tougher proposition but I still expect him to do a good job going forward.

Chey Dunkley looked like one of the most complete centre-backs in the EFL last season. You must be delighted with his centre-back partnership with Dan Burn?

Dunkley was impressive last season alongside Dan Burn but I think he will find it harder against Championship opposition. He’s a big strong defender but the step up against quicker, more skillful forwards could prove problematic. I hope I’m wrong on this one.

Reece James has gone to Sunderland while Callum Elder has returned to parent club Leicester. With no obvious left-backs waiting in reserve, is this an area Cook needs to address?

Cook has been looking at several options for the left-back/wing-back and a return for Callum Elder hasn’t been ruled out. Another option would be for winger Kai Naismith to takeover the wing-back role.

Sam Morsy seemed to form a strong central midfield pairing with Max Power last season. Are you looking forward to seeing what both can do at this level?

Latics captain Sam Morsy has been outstanding since Cook took over and has been a major contributor to the team’s success and I’m expecting him to continue to perform well in the Championship.

Max Power had a poor season the last time he was in the Championship and he will have to show improvement if he wants to retain his place in the starting eleven. The experienced Shaun MacDonald has now returned from a long injury lay-off and is likely to challenge for a place in the central midfield.

‘New’ signing Callum McManaman needs no introduction for Latics fans… do you expect him to start on the right wing over Gavin Massey and Portsmouth addition Kal Naismith?

Callum McManaman will be hoping to resurrect his career at a club where he’s had most success. He’s had a very difficult few years at West Brom and Sunderland and will be desperate to succeed. He’s now in the right football environment with many fellow scousers on board and a Liverpudlian manager in charge. It’s a calculated gamble by the club to offer Macca a one-year contract but if he can re-create his FA Cup winning form it will prove to be a stroke of genius.

Nick Powell has scored in the Europa League and for Manchester United. Now he seems to have his mojo back, do you see him being an asset for the Championship?

Powell is an incredible talent who can light up the Championship with moments of brilliance. If it wasn’t for a succession of injuries he would surely be playing in the Premier League now. He is two footed with tremendous skill and technique. He is a good header of the ball and is usually clinical with his free kicks and penalties.

Cook has a good working relationship with Powell and although he rarely completes a full 90 minutes he gets plenty of game time. While he is on the pitch he is almost unstoppable. He is still only 24-years-old and should have a big season ahead if he can stay fit.

Michael Jacobs impressed last year with his runs in from that left channel. Do you expect him to be one of your main goal threats once again?

Michael Jacobs was an important member of the team last season contributing 12 goals to the cause but there is also a feeling he needs to be more consistent. He struggled last time in the Championship and didn’t make much of an impact at Derby and Wolves, so there’s a worry that he may not be able to perform as well at the higher level.

Will Grigg strikes me as a bit of a yo-yo striker; he always storms League One but has had a few opportunities in the Championship and perhaps hasn’t quite taken them. Could this be his last big chance to show he can perform in the second-tier?

I think Grigg was unlucky the last time he was in the Championship and really doesn’t deserve the yo-yo tag. He started very well the last time at this level scoring six goals early on but then suffered a serious injury and struggled under Warren Joyce’s management. I expect him to be amongst the goals this time around with Cook adopting a more positive attacking approach. I’m confident that if he is given the right service he will score goals against any opposition.

As back-up to Grigg, you’ve got powerful strikers in James Vaughan and Devante Cole. Will they give you the option to change things and go two up top when required?

It looks as though Devante Cole may be on his way out of the club with Portsmouth interested. Latics will be in the market for a replacement but James Vaughan does provide good back up at this level and has plenty of experience in the Championship with Sunderland and Huddersfield. Vaughan works hard and puts himself around but needs to up his goal tally if he wants to be playing regularly. Cook prefers one up top, but he’s not averse to going with two, if the circumstances dictate it.

Latics aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the Championship season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

The Championship looks tougher than ever this season with some big names competing against the relegated teams for the top spots. West Brom, Stoke, Swansea, Aston Villa and Middleborough should be thereabouts. As far as dark horses are concerned I’ll go for Bristol City to surprise a few people.

Where will you finish?

I’m hopeful with Cook in charge and some astute signings we can establish ourselves in the division and finish around mid-table. 12th.

Thanks to Ian for his answers. The Football Lab’s verdict on Wigan can be found on We Love Betting from 30th July.