Five things we learned from Sunderland (a)
Paul Kendrick reflects on five talking points from Wigan Athletic's 2-1 defeat at Sunderland on Saturday...
1 Football's back! First and foremost, after almost 18 months of fans-free-football, how good was it to see social media full of supporters getting back into their routine of following their respective teams up and down the country? That included 2,000 Wiganers making the trip to Sunderland, and they certainly made themselves heard in a cracking atmosphere at the Stadium of Light. Charlie Wyke probably didn't appreciate the thoughts of 30,000 Mackems as he struggled to get a kick, but the whole day was just one long reminder of what we already knew - that football without fans is nothing.
2 Reality check! Leam Richardson has been preaching the message all through pre-season, but it's still worth remembering just how far Latics have come in such a short space of time, since ending last season with five contracted players. The 18-man squad at Sunderland represented pretty much their entire senior squad at present, and there's plenty of work to be done between now and the end of the transfer window to put Latics in a position to be competitive at the top end of the division over a long season. That said...
3 Huge grounds for optimism! Latics couldn't really have picked a tougher fixture first up than promotion favourites Sunderland - backed by the biggest home support in the division. And for the first 15 minutes they looked like a side that had been playing together for years. However, the soft concession of a penalty allowed Sunderland back into the game, and the home side gradually took control as the game went on. Latics ended the game looking every inch like a side literally just thrown together, lumping long, high balls in the direction of Wyke to get out of their own half. That's not the way Leam Richardson wants to play, but the first few weeks might be tough as the understanding in the side grows.
4 Long future ahead! One of the bright spots from the game was another accomplished display from Adam Long, the young centre-back who - along with several of his Academy colleagues - stood up to be counted last term and did his bit to save the club. It's pretty well documented the heart of the defence is the area of the squad most urgently in need of reinforcements. But the way Long took his impressive pre-season form into the campaign gives huge cause for optimism. With James Carragher last week also pledging his future to Wigan, the future looks to be in safe hands. And they will also benefit from the experienced bodies Latics are looking to bring in, to prevent them being exposed to too much, too soon.
5 The 'Tics are back! While Latics fans - and players - were on the receiving end of a fair amount of stick from the Sunderland crowd this weekend, it was also very reassuring to see. For the last 12 months, there's been a general feeling of pity aimed towards the club from well-meaning outsiders, given the well-documented problems off the field. To see little old Wigan back to boiling bodily fluids so soon in the rebuild is a sure sign they are once again seen as a threat. It may not happen overnight, but the Phoenix is rising. And the big hitters of League One are well aware of that.
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