From the first weekend in the Sky Bet Championship, it was clear promoted Wigan Athletic were going to show no fear with their approach.
A side that knocked history-making Manchester City out of the FA Cup last season, Paul Cook’s men have been quick to ruffle feathers and get on the front-foot again this year.
And, as a man who’s seen every minute of the league campaign so far from his defensive role, few are better placed than Chey Dunkley to truly assess how things have worked out for them on the pitch:
“It’s been good so far if you look at us being a team that’s just come up from League One.
“Obviously for a team that’s come up it’s tough, but we’ve done well so far and we’ve just got to keep trying to get as many points as possible really.
“Every point in the division is crucial and it’s a tough game every week.”
All three teams from League One have held their own so far this year, but it’s clear from Dunkley’s words that a bit of respite isn’t coming anytime soon:
“It’s definitely a bit more challenging.
“I’ve come through the leagues fortunately and each step up I’ve noticed the improvement. As a defender you notice the strikers are a bit sharper, a bit brighter and the intensity of the Championship is known anyway so of course it’s always going to be challenging stepping up a league.”
Intensity is a good word to describe the second tier and, as mentioned already, the defender is well-placed to discuss it – he’s played every league minute so far:
“If I do manage to get 46 games I’d be over the moon.
“It’s a long season so touch wood nothing does happen and I have a positive run and play as many games as possible this season.
“The aim is just to stay fit and be available for selection for the gaffer. It’s a squad game so you just need to be ready when called upon. I wouldn’t say it’s an objective I’ve written down but of course every player wants to play as much as they can.”
Certainly, to play all 46 games would be some feat, especially when you consider the Latics’ style of football that is high-tempo and high-pressing.
Far from taxing, though, it’s a style from Paul Cook that Dunkley enjoys:
“He’s definitely a footballing manager.
“We are very offensive and that helps us defensively. He likes his defenders to be comfortable in 2v2 situations and even 1v1.
“Our best form of defence is offence if you like where our flair players up front and our midfielders allow us to do what the gaffer would like us to do.
“In most teams now if you do more work in the offensive third of the pitch you’ve got less work to do in the defensive third as a defender because the ball is usually in the other half of the field.
“I do like playing under the gaffer – it’s attractive football. Yes, I am a defender but one thing you do like to do is play good football and try and implement that on the field and he definitely allows us to do that.”
It’s an approach that has given a fair few sides a chastening experience already this season and clearly, the Latics are confident enough to implement it against anyone:
“We’re always set up to go and win games, I’ve never gone out where before the game the gaffer has said we’re here just to take a draw.
“The objective is to try and win the game first and foremost. Obviously, later on in a match where things might not be going how you want it to go man management comes into it and you think ‘let’s just make sure we don’t the lose the game, let’s just get a point from it at least.’
“A point in the Championship is so crucial but I think on our day we can hurt most teams in the division and that’s the same for every team.
“We’re at a standard where every team on their day can hurt any other and you see that in games every week where predicting a result is not clear-cut. Bottom of the league can beat top of the league but on our day I think we can hurt anyone.”
The second-tier is proving as open as ever this year, of course, but there are some sides and players in particular that left the defender impressed after playing them or having watched them so far:
“Nottingham Forest played well against us and West Brom coming down from the Premier League have started well and look strong whilst another team I was impressed with was Brentford.
“Obviously, they’ve just lost their gaffer but they play attractive football and have done for a number of years. And keeping with them I thought Neal Maupay was really good. His movement was good but that’s not to take away from any of the other sides we’ve played.
“Sometimes it comes down to form. On another day we might have played Sheffield Wednesday and not picked up points. They’ve looked really strong in recent weeks, but we played them at the start of the season and won so if we were to play them now it might be different – form does have a lot to play in it with what striker or team was good against us.
“But those teams are probably the best and Maupay as a player and it’s shown as he’s scored quite a few goals this season and has started well.”
Forest, West Brom and Brentford were all tipped to challenge for promotion this season by many at the start of the campaign but Wigan, at 10/1 with some bookies, were potentially dark horses.
Indeed, they’re in a decent position right now just outside the top six but, right now, Dunkley and co. remain focused on staying in the division before looking too far ahead:
“I think our objective right now is probably the same as at the start of the year.
“You obviously have a few objectives at the start of the season and the first one for us as a team is to just acclimatise to Championship football.
“We want to stay in the league – that’s the first objective – and we’re only 12 games in but we’ve started very well. We have belief in our camp and feel that we have the players in the building to be able to climb up the league, but I think it’s a bit early to say actively we’re going to get into the play-offs because there are so many teams that can do it and it’s so tight at the moment.
“We’ve only played 12 games so it’s hard to say where we are but the first objective when we set out was definitely acclimatise.
“If we do find ourselves after 25 games in and around the play-off places then, of course, the second objective is to see if we can make the play-offs.
“It’s not always rigid from the get-go. I’m sure the Stokes and West Broms that have just come down will be aiming for promotion but we’re a side that’s just come out of League One so whilst we have good players we have to keep ourselves level-headed, keep our feet on the ground and just achieve the first objective.”
Wigan aren’t getting ahead of themselves yet, then, and that is surely a good sign for a team that, as Dunkley says, is packed full of very good footballers.
As we get towards the end of our chat, though, attention turns away from the football to some of the characters in the dressing room – starting with his taste in clothing:
“It’s a hard one to say who’s worst-dressed because I feel like I get banter for whatever gear I wear!
“I wouldn’t say myself, I would say I actually dress fine but for the other lads they might say I don’t dress too well.
“The answer I’m going to give – and I’m probably only saying it because he usually digs me out – is Powelly (Nick Powell.)
“I’m going to say him because he’s always on to me. He always banters me!”
Despite the incessant ribbing from Wigan’s attacking midfielder, though, Dunkley sees three other Latics men as the jokers in the pack:
“We have a few. The three main ones are Kal Naismith who’s only just signed, he’s a big joker.
“I’d say James Vaughan is another one he’s a lively character in our dressing room and the third one is Gary Roberts he’s been in football for so long so he’s picked up a lot of stuff…
“They’re the three.”
When things get serious and competitive, though, there’s only one man that wants to win everything:
“The skipper Sam Morsy, 100%.
“He’s just a winner even if you play him at two-touch – it’s never just a game, he wants to win.
“Even if you’ve just won a point he’ll debate it or contest it every single time asking why.
“If you’ve won a point he’ll contest it. In the gym, he works hard and he does his extra stuff so he’s a very professional player but he’s definitely the most competitive and it doesn’t have to be at football.”
When it comes to the music, though, it’s a new face in charge right now:
“As of late, it’s been Josh Windass on the music.
“Obviously, he’s come in he’s a new lad and he’s just taken ownership of the music.
“That’s probably in part because the guy that did it before has left now for Sunderland, Max Power.
“To be fair I tried to take over but some of the lads weren’t having my music and he’s come up with a few good tunes.
“He has a bit of RnB, pop, everything really which is good because we’ve got a mixture of lads.
“He plays some of The Kooks, The Arctic Monkeys so a mix of everything.
“I don’t know if eventually he’ll be kicked off like he’s on a probation period but for now he’s in control of the music!”
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