Fast-forward 12 months and it’s pretty much the same scenario – only this time the challenge is for Richardson’s playing squad to fulfil an increasingly crazy number of fixtures between now and the end of the campaign.
Latics – who haven’t played in the league since December 18 – return to their bread-and-butter at Doncaster on January 15.
It’ll be the first of 25 league games they’ll have to fit in before the end of the campaign on April 30 – a period of only 105 days.
The Carol Vordermans among you will have worked that out to be a league game every four days...but that’s only the best-case scenario.
Latics are currently still fighting in both the Papa John’s Trophy and the FA Cup, with knockout matches to play before they return to league combat.
Further progression in both competitions would further complicate the fixture list – and leave them possibly requiring snookers.
There are currently a dozen blank midweek programmes between now and the cut-off.
Latics already have FOUR matches – the postponed festive fixtures against Crewe, Fleetwood and Accrington, plus the scheduled trip to Portsmouth on Saturday which has been superseded by the FA Cup third-round visit of Blackburn.
Three of the those midweeks are also problematic, given two of those involve Friday fixtures – against Rotherham and Cambridge – as well as the long trip down to Ipswich on Easter Monday.
So that leaves a maximum of five possible midweek dates for Latics to utilise – which will become three if they beat both Oldham in the Papa John’s and Blackburn in the FA Cup.
The final of the Papa John’s, on Sunday, April 3, would also mean the home fixture against Bolton that weekend also having to be rearranged.
Oh, there’s also the return in March of international football, which put paid to three Latics fixtures in the first half of the campaign.
Can you see where this is heading?
And that’s before we’ve even looked at the Covid situation which, given the worrying trends up and down the country, doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon.
You’d think the authorities would be looking at possibly extending the season, but play-off dates – which could mean an extra THREE matches being added to Latics’ workload – are set in stone and would be problematic to tweak.
Especially with next season having to start early to accommodate the World Cup in Qatar in November and December.
So if you see Leam Richardson or Mal Brannigan with a worried look this month, it won’t necessarily be due to the usual transfer window shenanigans.