Latics youngsters withdrawn from league combat

Alex Gibson, Gregor Rioch and Peter Atherton

Alex Gibson, Gregor Rioch and Peter Atherton

Wigan Athletic have taken the revolutionary step of withdrawing their Development Squad from league action this term.

Peter Atherton’s charges enjoyed huge success last season in winning the Youth Alliance League, finishing second in the Final Third Development League, and reaching the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup for the first time.

But the decision has been made to focus only on cup combat as well as some carefully-selected ‘glamour’ friendlies against clubs with a similar or higher academy status.

“The ultimate aim of any academy is to get players through the system and contributing to the first team,” said Gregor Rioch, head of the Wigan Athletic Academy.

“That is what we are all here for. We want to provide a clear structure whereby a young player can see a pathway through to the first team.

“Myself, Peter Atherton, the manager, the chairman and the chief executive sat down in the summer and agreed that what we need is a challenging games programme for the development of our young players, alongside the cup competitions we take part in.

“Effectively, we’re designing our own season, where we are in control, we decide who we play, and when this happens.

“We are certainly not alone in adopting such a policy – several other clubs operate on a similar basis at Under-21 level for all different kinds of reasons.

“And in fact we had occasions last season when we were offered fixtures against higher-ranked academy sides, which we had to turn down to fulfil league fixtures.

“It is not a decision taken lightly, but it is one we feel is in the best long-term interests of developing our young players.”

The Latics youngsters, who have played eight times already this season as opposed to only three at this stage last year, are in action on Tuesday afternoon when they face AFC Wimbledon in the Premier League Cup qualifying round.

Atherton’s men are also scheduled to participate in the Lancashire Senior FA Cup and the Central League Cup.

The production line at Christopher Park has proved particularly fruitful in the last couple of years under Rioch’s watchful eye.

Tim Chow and Jordan Flores established themselves in the first-team squad last term, while 18-year-old Luke Burke has become a regular at right wing-back this season.