PREVIEW: Luton Town v Wigan Athletic
Although Wigan Athletic look set for a season of struggle in the Championship once more, boss Paul Cook is hugely positive that the Latics will avoid the drop to League One 'quite comfortably.'
Despite sitting in the bottom three ahead of the trip to Kenilworth Road after going down 3-1 at home to Reading, Cook, who led Wigan to safety last term, wasn't losing faith in his players.
He told the Wigan Post: “We've got to knuckle down and keep going.
“We've got central midfielders out at the minute, we've got other players who affect games out at the minute.
"We're in a tough position, but we got out of it quite comfortably last year.
"And I believe we'll get out of it quite comfortably again.
"Certainly November and December is not the kind of time you can be saying what may or may not happen further down the line."
Cook has experience in Championship survival, masterminding Wigan to 18th last term, securing an impressive 52 points in the process after winning League One the previous campaign.
It was enough to end up 12 points clear of the bottom three, as looking to build on that, Cook moved to bring in left back Antonee Robinson for Everton for a reported fee of £2m in the summer, after the American had been on loan at the DW Stadium.
The Latics boss also opted to snap up some of the leading striking talent from League One, bringing in Kieffer Moore from Barnsley, with Portsmouth's Jamal Lowe joining too, although the pair have scored just two goals in a combined 35 appearances so far.
Lewis Macleod (Brentford) and the experienced keeper David Marshall signed up too, as although Wigan lost midfielder Nick Powell to Stoke, Cook used the loan market, adding Chelsea's Dujon Sterling, Blackburn's Charlie Mulgrew and Wolves youngster Bright Enobakhare to his squad.
The season looked to have got off to a good start with Wigan defeating Cardiff City 3-2 in front of their own fans.
However, five straight defeats followed in all competitions, before two draws stretched the club's winless run to seven.
Charlton were then seen off 2-0 at home, as although Athletic lost at Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday, three consecutive home wins, with Birmingham and Nottingham Forest also defeated, led to a revival of sorts.
That was stopped by another away defeat, at Derby County, as worryingly for Cook's side, the home form has taken a turn too, losing their last three outings.
It means that going into the trip to Kenilworth Road, Wigan are on a run of seven games without a win, with five defeats and two draws, as they have dropped the table.
Their away record is quite simply woeful too, no wins and just three draws from 10 games, taking just three points from a possible 30, with eight goals scored and 19 conceded, as they haven't tasted victory on their travels since at Leeds of all places on April 19.
The poor form has seen some Wigan fans turn on the manager, but Cook was remaining level-headed, telling Wigan Today: “I know the rules of the game - if Wigan fans aren't happy, they'll vent their frustrations.
“It's what football fans do these days, and I've no problem with that.
“I could sit here and tell you I'm going to be manager for the next four years.
“I might not even be the manager beyond the next four minutes.
“That's football today, I've been in the game long enough, and I've had a great time as a football manager.
“If the powers-that-be here at Wigan deem that someone else can do better than me, then I'll be a Wigan supporter for life."
Team news: Luton boss Graeme Jones will make a late call on Martin Cranie, but Glen Rea is out, while Danny Hylton isn't expected to feature.
Izzy Brown and Brendan Galloway are both missing too, the pair out for the long term after serious hamstring and knee injuries at Brentford last week.
For Wigan, Danny Fox (groin) and Joe Williams (hamstring) are out, as is midfielder Lee Evans with a calf issue.
Top scorers: Hatters: James Collins (6). Latics: Cheyenne Dunkley (5).
Milestones: Harry Cornick will reach 100 games for the club if he is selected against Wigan tomorrow.
The 24-year-old moved to Kenilworth Road from AFC Bournemouth in August 2017 and has scored 18 goals in that time, including five this season.
Man in the middle: Andrew Madley - taken nine games so far this term, including three Premier League fixtures, with 30 yellows and four reds, three of this dismissals coming in his last two games.
Had Luton's 3-0 defeat against Hull back in September, while he also took Wigan's 2-0 defeat to Leeds, sending off the hosts' Joe Williams on 21 minutes.
Officiated the Hatters twice before in his career, a 0-0 draw with Cambridge in January 2016, Nathan Jones' first game in charge, plus the 1-0 home defeat to Burton in April 2015.
Darren Cann and Nick Hopton are the assistant referees, with Nicholas Kinseley the fourth official.
In charge: Paul Cook – 52-year-old who had a playing career that spanned well over 20 years, featuring in the Premier League for Coventry City, while also having stints at Wigan Athletic, Norwich City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Tranmere Rovers, Stockport County and Burnley, with non-league spells for Marine and Accrington Stanley.
Retired with almost 600 appearances to his name, and was appointed manager of Conference side Southport in June 2006, sacked just over six months later.
Named Sligo Rovers chief in April 2007, guiding the club to a UEFA Cup place, before departing by mutual consent in January 2009, although returned a few weeks later.
Won the League Cup and the FAI Cup twice, leaving the club for England as he took over at former club Accrington in February 2012.
Went to Chesterfield in October of that year, as the Spireites just missed out on the play-offs in his first season and then finished sixth the following year, as Portsmouth came calling, Cook heading south in May 2015, as he delivered the League Two title two years later.
However, just two weeks after winning promotion, he left Fratton Park for his former side Wigan, who had just been relegated to League One, as he ensured the Latics won promotion back into the Championship at the first attempt.
View from the opposition: Defender Charlie Mulgrew speaking to the Wigan Post: “We just have to go again, that’s all you can do.
“It’s hard to get rid of the disappointment, but we have to be ready for Luton on Saturday.
“We’ve got to be up for the fight and ready to show a reaction.
"That’s easier said than done, because you can’t just make the feelings of disappointment disappear.”
One to watch: Cheyenne Dunkley – although a centre half, Dunkley is easily Wigan's leading marksman this season, with five goals in his 18 appearances so far.
The former Oxford defender bagged doubles in the 2-0 win over Charlton, plus 2-2 draw with Bristol City to move to the top of the club's scoring charts.
After beginning his career at Kidderminster, he headed to Oxford in November 2014, where was a team-mate of Hatters striker Danny Hylton.
Spent three years at the Kassam before moving to Wigan in June 2017 and Saturday will be his 100th league appearance for the club.
Friendly faces: Town boss Grame Jones signed for Wigan from Doncaster Rovers in July 1996.
Had an excellent spell with the club, scoring over 50 goals in his three years, heading to St Johnstone for £100,000 in November 1999.
When his playing career ended, he moved into coaching in March 2007 at Swansea City, becoming the new assistant manager of Roberto Martínez.
Followed Martínez to Wigan Athletic in June 2009, where he spent four seasons, winning the FA Cup in 2013, before moving to Everton a few months later after the Latics were relegated from the Premier League.
Winger Callum McManaman came through the ranks at Wigan, playing over 100 times between July 2008 and January 2015, winning the FA Cup with the Latics.
Joined West Bromwich Albion for £4.75m and then headed to Sunderland in August 2017.
Spent a year with the Black Cats, going back to Wigan in July 2018, but found it an unhappy time, as from his 22 league appearances, 21 were as substitute.
Moved to Luton in the summer and has played 15 times so far, scoring twice.
Ryan Tunicliffe went to Wigan from Fulham in February 2014, as he played five league games for the club.
Headed back to the DW Stadium in January 2017 for the second half of the season, making 10 appearances and scoring one in a 1-1 draw with Leeds.
Town defender Donervon Daniels headed to Wigan in 2015 from West Bromwich Albion as he played 51 times for the Latics, scoring three goals.
Moved to Blackpool in August 2018 and then Luton in September this year, but has yet to represent the Hatters, going straight on loan to Doncaster Rovers.
Played for both: Emmerson Boyce - An academy graduate with Luton, he made his professional debut in August 1998, spending six years with the Hatters, and playing 212 games, scoring nine goals.
Left for Crystal Palace in July 2004 once his contract expired, playing over 75 times for the Eagles and was then snapped up by Wigan in August 2006.
Spent almost a decade at the DW Stadium, playing nearly 300 games, captaining the side to an FA Cup victory in 2013.
Headed to Blackpool August 2015 where he finished his professional playing career.
We've got form: Luton have faced Wigan just seven times at Kenilworth Road during their history, and haven't often enjoyed the meetings either.
It started well enough, Town winning the first contest, a League Cup tie in 1978, Brian Stein scoring twice in a 2-1 win.
Wigan were then defeated 4-2 nine years later in the same competition, Mick Harford bagging a treble, but that was Luton's last success.
Since then the Latics have enjoyed the better of their visits, with two wins and three draws, including a 4-0 triumph back in 1999.
In fact, Town have not beaten their opponents anywhere in the last eight games, since a Division Two clash in August 1998, Steve Davis, Sean Evers and Phil Gray on target.
Last time out: Luton were held to a 1-1 draw at Kenilworth Road by Wigan in their last clash, that a Division Two contest in October 2002.
Town looked to be on their way to three points, Aaron Skelton scoring on 24 minutes for the hosts.
Wigan then had former Luton defender Matt Jackson sent off with five minutes left, but Jason De Vos rescued a point with two to go.
Hatters: Cedric Berthelin, Emmerson Boyce, Chris Coyne, S Davis, Aaron Skelton, Russell Perrett, Matt Spring, Steve Robinson, Peter Holmes, Steve Howard, Andrew Fotiadis.
Subs not used: Carl Emberson, Alan Kimble, Ian Hillier, Ahmet Brkovic, Tony Thorpe.
Referee: Steve Tomlin.