COMMENT: Teenage kick-starting Wigan Athletic revival

On the face of it, the League One visit of Blackpool was the most important midweek fixture for Wigan Athletic.

Wednesday, 27th January 2021, 9:50 pm
Gregor Rioch

But it could well be the Development Squad’s clash at Nottingham Forest 24 hours later that gives a far greater indication of the overall health of the football club.

The visitors’ 2-1 victory at Forest probably wouldn’t have raised much of a ripple up and down the country.

But it reinforced the incredible potential behind the scenes at a football club that’s been battered on and off the pitch for much of the last seven months.

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And pointed to an incredibly bright future at the end of the tunnel...if we can only hurry up and get there.

It wasn’t just the manner of the victory at league leaders Forest that was so impressive.

It was the fact it was achieved with Under-23 players who'd been on first-team duty the night before, alongside a smattering of Under-18s.

Under normal circumstances, the likes of Kyle Joseph, Ollie Crankshaw, Alex Perry, Chris Merrie, Emeka Obi, Adam Long, Owen Evans and Luke Robinson would have been regulars at that level all season, had they not been fast-tracked into the first team set-up.

Indeed, the likes of Jensen Weir, Joe Gelhardt and Alfie Devine – who were sold to Premier League clubs last year – would also have been eligible.

Despite being robbed of a full team of club-produced talent – due to completely unforeseen and totally unavoidable circumstances – the next batch of youngsters are stepping up and proved they are also capable of big things.

Indeed, if they win their games in hand, they will take over at the top of the English Professional Development League.

And it’s perhaps this aspect of the whole situation with Latics that is the saddest.

Thanks to the incredible work of Gregor Rioch and his team of coaches over the last few years, Latics have a production line that is up there with the best in the country.

That was shown last season, when the Under-18s wiped the floor with their Tottenham counterparts at the DW in the FA Youth Cup, before narrowly losing at Manchester United by the odd goal in three.

Under normal circumstances – yes, that phrase again – we would be looking forward to these starlets being brought on slowly but surely, making their way in the Latics first team, before hopefully going on to bigger and better things.

With the club able to bank a sizeable transfer fee to reinvest into the Academy, to ensure the next batch of starlets are just as promising.

Unfortunately, that long-term plan hit a brick wall last summer, when the likes of Weir, Gelhardt and Devine were moved on before their time – and certainly for less than their outstanding potential merited.

Sadly, Latics weren't so much willing as desperate sellers - and the big boys knew it.

Showing all the compassion of a traffic warden the week before Christmas.

While it’s galling to see them reach that potential elsewhere, the fact remains it is their departures – before the transfer window opened – that literally saved the club.

Paying the July wages, which prevented the rest of the players being able to leave for nothing.

The next batch of youngsters are saving the day a second time, by showing they’re up for the fight of keeping Latics in League One - until the cavalry arrives.

And fingers crossed the next batch after that will be able to do their bit, and write an exciting new chapter in the history of this great football club...when all this utter madness is over.

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