Talking football: A United front this weekend...and you never know...

Wigan Athletic players celebrate a goal against Brentford
Wigan Athletic players celebrate a goal against Brentford
Share this article

It’s not so long ago that Manchester United against Wigan Athletic was a regular on the fixture list.

Sadly that’s no longer the case, although we can but dream it may once again be restored.

In the meantime, we’ll have to do with FA Cup trips such as this weekend, when Latics travel to Old Trafford with nothing to lose and absolutely everything to gain.

The visitors will be cheered on by 3,000 travelling supporters on the day – and the club deserves massive credit for subsidising the cost of the tickets, meaning no Latics fan will pay more than £25.

Of course, Latics stand to make well over £1million from the game thanks to a share of gate receipts and TV money, but it’s a gesture that needs to be applauded nonetheless.

Hopefully there will be plenty of applause from the away end on the day, and certainly no-one connected with Latics needs to be reminded of the magic of the FA Cup.

Stranger things have indeed happened and, boosted by the confidence and belief generated by three big wins on the bounce, Latics should go there with no fear.

In many ways it’s a ‘free hit’, with the only priority this term being to stay in the Championship.

But that doesn’t mean Sunday’s game can be taken lightly.

An absolute spanking at the hands of Pogba, Zlatan and Co could damage morale in the camp, with some massive games coming up that will shape the season.

But a battling performance and, who knows, even a win would be a massive shot in the arm at a crucial stage of the campaign.

It’ll be a special day for boss Warren Joyce, who returns to Old Trafford just weeks after ending an association with United going back the best part of two decades.

He’ll want to prove that he can stand on his own two feet away from the Theatre of Dreams, and build on the promising building blocks he’s put in place.

As a sideshow, how about the potential battle in midfield between Paul Pogba and Ryan Tunnicliffe, who rejoined Latics at the end of last week on loan?

The pair formed the central midfield combo when United won the FA Youth Cup in 2011 – with Ravel Morrison also in the side – and they are still very close friends to this day.

Tunnicliffe admitted this week he can’t wait to get stuck into his mate – if selected – and let him know he’s there.

If the rest of the side can take the lead and win their own personal battle, who knows – there may just be another page of FA Cup folklore about to be written...

As Latics were hanging on for all three points against Brentford on Saturday, a much less significant event was taking place over at the Bet365 Stadium, Stoke.

After weeks of ‘almost there’, Wayne Rooney finally became Manchester United’s all-time leading goalscorer, taking the record outright from Sir Bobby Charlton.

It was fitting, too, that goal No.250 was right out of the top-drawer, where Rooney will rightly be regarded when he comes to hang up his boots.

Also very telling was the way Rooney chose to celebrate such an incredible landmark, which will probably never be beaten.

Even at the height of self-achievement, all he could think about was getting the ball from the net, and trying to force what would have been an unlikely winning goal for the team.

It’s that mentality that separates the wheat from the chaff, the winners from the also-rans.

For further proof, think back to Olivier Giroud’s reaction earlier this month to equalising for Arsenal at 10-man Bournemouth – with 10 minutes still to go. Skipping around like Eric Morecambe in reference to his scorpion-kick goal the week before.

It’s partly why Rooney’s trophy cabinet includes five Premier League titles, a Champions League, the FIFA Club World Cup, more than a century of international caps and half a century of goals... while Giroud’s does not, and never will.

The other good thing about Rooney breaking the record last weekend, was it stops him making history against Latics on Sunday.

Because if ever a club specialises in being on the receiving end of records, or breaking goalless/winless sequences for the opposition, it’s Latics.

How good was it to see Reece James and Alex Gilbey making successful comebacks for the Wigan Athletic’s Development Squad in midweek?

Gilbey has been out for four months with ankle ligament damage, while James hasn’t kicked a ball in anger for the first team for 53 weeks due to his own, more serious, ankle problem.

The return of both will be like two new signings for boss Warren Joyce as he tries to shape his squad for the second half of the campaign.

Midfielder Gilbey was Wigan’s outstanding player in pre-season, and he took that form into the first six weeks of the campaign before fate intervened. Left-back James was a virtual ever-present in the side before being cut down in January last year but, having worked with Joyce at Manchester United, his quality will be well known to the gaffer.

When Josh McEachran’s number was held up at the DW Stadium only 10 minutes into the second half on Saturday, it capped a miserable and uneventful run-out for the Brentford midfielder, whose main job seemed to be trying to get near enough to Max Power to kick him.

In fact, almost as miserable and uneventful as his loan spell with Latics three years ago.

Back then, McEachran looked to have the world at his feet, as he was tipped for super-stardom with both Chelsea and England.

But his lack of progress since should serve only as a warning to other promising youngsters – that there are no guarantees of success in this game.

There was much consternation when referee Mike Dean – who’d been stepped down from Premier League duty – gave a dodgy penalty for Leeds against Barnsley last weekend, for a handball OUTSIDE THE AREA.

‘Why should Championship teams/fans have to put up with bad refereeing?’ was the general gist of much of what I saw on social media that night. Having seen fellow whistle-blower Keith Stroud give Ipswich a penalty at the DW just before Christmas for a PERFECTLY FAIR TACKLE which was OUTSIDE THE AREA, I’d argue Dean has work to do before he finds his feet at this level.