Talking football: Wigan Athletic's fixture frustration
What a shame that two fantastic victories in four days – 6-0 at Oldham in the Papa John’s Trophy, and 3-2 against Blackburn in the FA Cup – was followed not by excitement at what awaits in the next round, but by concerns at the continuing damage being done to Latics’ league prospects.
As everyone knows, promotion remains the priority for Leam Richardson and Latics this term.
Through no fault of their own, Latics have slipped to fourth place in recent weeks.
Because the two sides directly above Latics in the League One table – Sunderland and Wycombe – have played FIVE games more.
They were both in action in midweek, playing catch-up fixtures of their own.
Latics were desperate to join them, only for their attempts to rearrange a fixture falling on deaf ears.
While two of the potential opponents – Portsmouth and Crewe – were in action themselves, Fleetwood and Accrington were not.
Despite both north-west sides playing at the weekend, neither felt able to step in and fulfil fixtures they themselves called off over the festive period due to Covid.
Now let’s have it right, if you were in charge of either club, you’d be forgiven for not wanting to play a very fresh, very in-form Latics side this week, when there’s a chance you could get to play them in March or April, at the height of a gruelling fixture pile-up.
I absolutely don’t blame either club for wanting to do what’s best for themselves.
Even a point from the game might be the difference between Fleetwood staying up, or Accrington making the play-offs.
But I do find fault with the EFL’s role in this, of merely asking both clubs whether they fancied it rather than ordering them to play.
Richardson says this is a switch in stance from last season, when clubs were obliged to play on the first available date.
Why? When anyone with a semblance of sense knew that Covid was going to still be a factor 12 months on.
Yes, the pile-up is partly of Latics’ own making.
They called off the Boxing Day trip to Crewe because of Covid.
And they have opted to postpone fixtures during international breaks rather than play without the likes of James McClean and Will Keane.
Of course, they could also have done what some other clubs have done, and got themselves knocked out of the Papa John’s Trophy.
Indeed, many fans would have been in favour of sending out a youth XI at Oldham to ease the fixture slog.
But had Richardson done that, he would have risked being hauled before *consults notes* ah yes, the EFL themselves, for not playing a strong enough side and damaging the ‘integrity of the competition’.
From where I’m sat – and the majority of Wiganers – there doesn’t seem to be much integrity in effectively asking clubs when they want to face certain opponents.
The Latics boss was noticeably – and uncharacteristically – prickly when discussing the subject before and after the Blackburn game.
When Leam’s annoyed, you know something’s not right.
Chairman TalalAl Hammad also took to social media to call on the EFL to extend the campaign – something his manager feels is merely ‘common sense’.
But when has ‘common sense’ ever mattered...?
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