Talking football

Nick Powell

Nick Powell

Well, it’s a start.

To be fair, a goalless draw at Barnsley wouldn’t ordinarily be reason for a great deal of optimism.

It certainly wouldn’t have been good enough last season, when Latics came away with a comfortable 2-0 victory just before Christmas, en route to the League One title.

But the goalposts have been moved somewhat since then, as we all know.

And so a first point, and a first clean sheet under new boss Warren Joyce, has to be welcomed.

After the utter carnage that unfolded during the first four minutes of his reign against Reading, you have to say it represents a huge step forward.

With the luxury of two weeks to work with his players behind closed doors at Euxton, thanks to the international break, it was clear Joyce’s first priority had been to shut up shop at the back.

And bar one brilliant save from Adam Bogdan in the first half, and a couple of Barnsley headers that really ought to have at least hit the target, it was a case of job done as Latics successfully shut-out a side that remain the third highest-scorers in the Championship.

The next challenge, of course, lies at the other end of the field.

And on the basis of Saturday, there is much work to be done to ensure Latics at least threaten the opposition.

It was a surprise to see Joyce leave all three recognised strikers – Will Grigg, Adam Le Fondre and Craig Davies – on the bench at Oakwell.

Admittedly, the new-look pairing of Nick Powell and Yanic Wildschut didn’t have much time to prove itself before the former limped off after half an hour.

And while I can see Joyce’s thinking in considering Powell as more of a forward than a midfielder – think of the stunning impact he made up top at the beginning of his loan spell three years ago – Wildschut will surely find his way back out to the wing from where he produces his best work.

The real conundrum for Joyce is how to get the best out of Grigg, last season’s 29-goal top scorer.

Clearly, the fact he spent much of the summer away at the Euros – even though he didn’t get out on to the field – has affected his start to this campaign.

Joyce has suggested more than once already that he believes the striker is in need of a break to recharge the batteries.

But with the festive period just around the corner, it’s difficult to see where that can be fitted in.

We all know money will be tight when the transfer window reopens in a little over five weeks’ time, and the answers to Joyce’s problems will largely have to be found within the existing squad – which I maintain is good enough to be nearer mid-table than the bottom three.

In the meantime, games against Huddersfield, Derby, Aston Villa and Newcastle over the next three weeks or so will test Joyce and his new squad to the extreme.

What a shame it was to see Adam Bogdan confirm the news most of us feared that the knee injury he sustained at Barnsley on Saturday will effectively signal the end of his time with Wigan Athletic.

The on-loan Liverpool goalkeeper has returned to Merseyside for his treatment and rehab, but it could be well into next season when he is back on a football field.

It’s fair to say not every Latics fan took to the ex-Bolton stopper during his short time at the DW.

But the criticism he received from some was, in my book, way over the top, and seemed to be born more from his previous ties rather than anything he did on the pitch.

Nick Powell is another to have attracted the ire of some supporters this term, with a section of the away suppport at Oakwell taking delight in his own injury-enforced substitution at the weekend.

The ex-Manchester United, with his languid style, is the kind of player that is always going to polarise opinion among the fans.

I won’t profess to knowing exactly how to get the best out of such a clearly-talented player who frustratingly flatters to deceive so often.

But I’m certain the answer isn’t to berate the lad – who’s still only 22 – from the stands.

Waiting to collect my press pass for Saturday’s game, I happened to bump into Sam Morsy – on loan at Barnsley from Latics – who was picking up his own ticket from reception.

Morsy was in good spirits, albeit understandably gutted at missing the game through the terms of his deal.

Having played a big part in Barnsley’s fine start to the season, the Tykes certainly missed him in the engine room. But having been squeezed out of the DW during the summer merry-go-round, hopefully we’ve not seen the last of him in a Latics shirt.

While most of the attention is rightly focused on first-team matters, it’s important to keep an eye on the work being done beneath the surface at the DW.

And the Under-17s’ 4-1 thrashing of Everton this week is a welcome reminder that the future of the club – despite parachute payments running out next summer – remains very bright.

Ireland striker Robbie Keane is being linked with Shamrock Rovers after leaving the Los Angeles Galaxy.

If/when he inevitably claims it’s a ‘dream come true’ to finish his career in Ireland, it’ll complete the set for a man whose ‘dream come true’ has previously been to play for Liverpool, Celtic AND in the MLS!

Football fans, as we know, get a raw deal on an all-too-regular basis.

But spare a thought for the Exeter diehards, who travelled all the way up to Carlisle at the weekend – and watched a 2-1 lead on 89 minutes turn into a 3-2 defeat by the final whistle.

“We’ve walked 10,000 miles, as the Pogues once sang.”

Sounds like it’s been a while since Grimsby boss Marcus Bignot had his ‘Best of the Proclaimers’ CD out!