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Hot Off The Press: Wigan Athletic

Paul Kendrick of the Wigan Observer previews tomorrow's game

3 July 2020

Championship clubs are right back in the swing of things now, following the three-month lay-off due to the coronavirus pandemic. How did Wigan players and staff alike cope with that enforced break?

It was obviously difficult for every team to cope with the enforced break, but even more so for Wigan, who were on their best run of the season when the action stopped. But there's a very good dressing room here, with several senior players acting as Paul Cook's lieutenants, which meant everyone got on with their own personal programmes without too much fuss, and they were in great shape when they returned to the training ground last month.

After the win over Huddersfield in the first game back, Latics boss Paul Cook said his players had picked up where they’d left off. How impressed were you with their return to action?

It's been extremely impressive to see how quickly they've got back into the swing of things after the break. Wigan are notoriously slow starters in the league, so there was a slight concern - with it only being a nine-game campaign - they could find themselves in trouble and not much time to turn it around. But they've picked up where they left off, and are the form team in the division since the turn of the year, which speaks volumes.

For a team in the lower echelons of the table, the fact they’ve conceded just 50 goals  - at the time of speaking – is impressive. In the absence of a 20-goal-a-season striker, is the defensive side of the game something they pride themselves on?

I wouldn't say so, although the stats would suggest otherwise! The team is set up to keep the ball and score goals, but they've struggled all season to find the net - indeed, still they are the division's second-lowest scorers. They were leaking late goals at an alarming rate in the first half of the campaign, although thankfully they've sorted out that problem. And six clean sheets in a row heading into the Stoke game on Tuesday show how hard they are to break down at the moment. Paul Cook would be the first to point out it is a team effort, though, and the forwards and midfielders are as much responsible as the defender and the goalkeeper for the record.

With six games remaining the threat of relegation is very slowly starting to ease - what do you make of the Latics chances of staying up?

It's fair to say at the halfway mark, it was looking pretty bleak for Wigan, lying in the bottom three with an awful habit of conceding late goals. Fast-forward a few months, the defence has shored up, the side is playing with confidence, and they're getting the results they probably deserve. It's in their own hands now, and there's several teams below them in the table who'd swap positions in a heartbeat. I fully expect them to stay up, possibly quite comfortably in the end.

Who would you say is looking likely to get your vote for Wigan Player of the Season?

Good question. This time last year it was a one-horse race, with Reece James - on loan from Chelsea - sweeping the board by an absolute mile. This year it's been far more of a team effort, with a number of players in contention for player of the season. Antonee Robinson has been hugely consistent on the left-hand side of the defence, midfield duo Sam Morsy and Joe Williams are as good a combo as any in this league, while Kieffer Moore (pictured above) hasn't scored a great deal of goals, but his worth to the team has been far in excess of his tally.
 
How is Cook likely to set up his side?

There's rarely any surprise with Paul Cook sides - 99 per cent of his time here he's played with a 4-2-3-1 formation, which means everybody pretty much knows their job and what's expected of them. It's possible he may draft in a more defensive midfielder and tweak to a 4-3-2-1 for this game, but Wigan won't try to contain the opposition and play for a draw, they'll be coming here believing they can win.

Wigan last won at Griffin Park in a Division Two clash in November 2002. What’s your score prediction for their final trip to the stadium?

It's obviously not been a particularly happy hunting ground for Wigan over the years and, given the way Brentford are flying at the moment, it will be another tough day at the office. Brentford were by far the best visiting side I've seen at the DW this season, winning 3-0 at a canter back in November. But Latics have won at both Leeds and West Brom this year without conceding, so they are more than capable. I'll stick my neck out and say 1-1.

This interview was conducted earlier this week before The Latics victory over Stoke City on Tuesday. 

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