Talking football

Michael Jacobs
Michael Jacobs

It certainly doesn’t get any easier for Wigan Athletic.

After narrowly coming up short against in-form Derby County last weekend, next up is a trip to an Aston Villa side who have picked up markedly in recent weeks under Steve Bruce.

Oh, and it’s only Newcastle United to come next Wednesday in front of the Sky cameras.

Three of the biggest teams, the biggest budgets, in the Championship.

One look at the Villa attack this weekend underlines the size of the task facing Latics to even compete at this level.

Villa splashed out £27million in the summer on strike duo Jonathan Kodjia and Ross McCormack, with the latter struggling to get game-time lately despite his £12million price-tag.

The Latics starting XI will have cost between £2-3million, depending on who gets the nod from Warren Joyce.

It’ll be harder still next Wednesday against Newcastle who, in the opinion of some onlookers, have assembled the best and most costliest squad in Championship history.

When Latics dropped into the second tier from the Premier League in 2013, they were among the biggest fish, the biggest payers in the division.

This time, having arrived from League One last summer, they are small fry, and working to one of the smallest budgets.

Battling against the odds, you need the bounce of the ball to go in your favour every now and then – and that’s something that’s certainly not been the case for most of this season.

Okay, they got away with a couple of strong opposition penalty shouts in the recent win at Huddersfield but, for the majority, it’s been Latics coming off the field feeling they didn’t quite get what they deserved.

There was no greater example of that than against Derby, when the Rams scored with virtually their only effort on goal, with Latics left to yet again rue a lack of cutting edge, as well as absence of luck when Max Power’s header smacked the bar.

I still don’t think Latics should be relying purely on ‘luck’ to stay in the division, given the quality in the squad.

But they’re certainly doing things the hard way, and a decent bounce of the ball from the footballing gods wouldn’t go amiss this weekend.

It’s fair to say this week’s FA Cup third-round draw was uninspiring to say the least.

Now no-one needs to explain to anyone in this parish – most of whom are still dining out on memories of Ben Watson and co – that the magic of the FA Cup is alive and well. And none of us would swap that day for all the money in the Premier League.

But it has to be said even then Latics only really started taking the competition seriously at the quarter-final stage.

When I was growing up, I remember the FA Cup was just as big if not more important than the old First Division, and it’s sad to see how much it’s slipped in recent years.

And something needs to be done to see it restored to its former glory.

This post on social media on Monday sadly sums up the feeling of all too many football fans.

“Don’t know what date it is, but can I work the Saturday of the Wigan-Forest game? I really don’t want to go.”

Even though he’s now plying his trade over in France, Mario Balotelli continues to make headlines over here.

The Sunday Times this week published an extract from Balotelli’s contract at Liverpool that amazingly made reference to a £1million pay-out – on top of his £85,000-a-week salary – if he avoided being sent off three times or more in a season.

“If during each season of the term of this contract the player is not dismissed from the field of play on three or more occasions for violent conduct, spitting at an opponent or any other person, for using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures and/or for dissent by word or action… then on the 30th June at the end of each season he shall receive a bonus payment of £1million,” the extract read.

Only Balotelli could come up with a deal where he could get sent off twice in a season for spitting at an opponent and STILL be in line for a seven-figure good behaviour bond!

There was a fair amount of horseplay in the aftermath of Manchester City’s Champions League clash against Celtic on Tuesday.

Whoever runs Greater Manchester Police’s twitter deserves a medal for this gem: “Man arrested Drunk & Disorderly throwing hamburger at police horse on @ManCity v @celticfc got £90 fine. Horse remains in stable condition.”

As long as the horse is okay, that’s the mane thing.

Neigh bother.

Only one contender for stat of the week, and it is an absolute beauty from @oilysailor on Twitter.

“23 of Sadio Mane’s 28 Premier League goals have come within two nautical miles of the English coast.”

Brilliant.

The referee of last Friday’s Nottingham Forest-Newcastle game had an absolute Barry Crocker.

His name happened to be Steve Martin.

Cue this tweet from the Hollywood comedy legend of the same name:

“Evidently, there’s someone who’s a bad referee with my name, and now there are thousands of English who won’t go see my films anymore.”

Certainly won’t stop me watching Planes, Trains and Automobiles this Christmas!