Jack's Byrne-ing ambition to finish on a high
You'd be forgiven for thinking Wigan Athletic's season-ending visit of Leeds United on Sunday was a dead rubber.
After weeks of looking like the clash would prove decisive at both the top and the bottom of the Championship, neither side has anything riding on it.
As Latics were being relegated back to League One last weekend, Leeds were seeing any realistic chance of reaching the play-off ended by a home draw with Norwich.
But for Latics midfielder Jack Byrne, Sunday’s clash at the DW Stadium is the first step on the long road to promotion next season.
“Obviously with us being down and Leeds missing the play-offs people are going to be saying it’ll be a flat game,” he told the Wigan Post.
“But we’re looking at it as a real opportunity to look ahead to next year and maybe get an early start at that.
“It’s important we bounce back in the right way from the disappointment of relegation – and that starts this weekend.”
For Byrne, a January arrival from Manchester City, it represents an ideal opportunity to build on his two substitute appearances in a Latics shirt.
“I just want to play football,” the young Dubliner acknowledged.
“I didn’t come here in January expecting to play straight-away.
“I’d been training with Manchester City’s first team but I just didn’t get the chance to play first-team football.
“It took me at least a month here to get up to speed, but at the same time you understand the position the team is in and they’re fighting for points.
“I had to take that on board, but at the same I’m here to help if the team needs me, and hopefully that will mean some more minutes on Sunday.”
If interim manager Graham Barrow needs any extra prompting, Latics have won both games in which Byrne has appeared – against Rotherham and Barnsley.
“Yeah it’s been two good wins when I’ve been playing,” he smiled.
“But we’ve also had a few good goals from Nick (Powell), including a brilliant hat-trick, so I don’t think it was too much down to me.”
As well as putting down an early marker for next season, Byrne also feels it’s important Latics sign off on the right note for two more reasons.
Firstly, to thank the supporters for their backing this year.
And secondly, to give them something to cling to over the long summer months.
“It’s very important to sign off the right way,” the 21-year-old, who spent the first half of the campaign on loan at Blackburn, recognised.
“Any football club is nothing without its fans.
“The fans have been really good in the games I’ve been to so far.
“Even when I played here against Wigan for Blackburn at the start of the season, I thought the fans were excellent.
“They’ll feed off a performance, though, and we have to make sure we give them one.
“That’s not necessarily saying we need to go out and beat Leeds 5-0.
“It’s giving them just that sign that we can compete, we will compete, and we will be back.
“They need a sign that there are better things to come from this club.
“It’s important we show that at the weekend to take into the summer.”