Wigan Athletic: Five things we learned from Arsenal Under-21s (h)
Paul Kendrick reflects on five talking points from Wigan Athletic's 1-0 victory against Arsenal Under-21s in the Papa John's Trophy on Tuesday...
1 Que Sera Sera! It may be a much-maligned competition, but there was definitely more than a scent of Wembley in the air during the closing stages at the DW Stadium. The latest version of the EFL Trophy - the Papa John's - may have been badly damaged in terms of image by the decision by its own governing body to let in Premier League Under-21 sides. But it's a competition that was assured of its place in Latics folklore well before the Premier League years, FA Cup glory, and Europa League adventure. And just as the Freight Rover Trophy triumph of 1985 and the Auto Windscreens Shield victory in 1999 are still celebrated, the Class of 2022 would also be remembered forever if they were to go all the way.
2 The kids are all right! And given the rip-roaring displays of largely Latics Academy sides this year, who would back against them to negotiate the one last hurdle before booking a Wembley spot at the beginning of April? More than a few eyebrows were raised when the team sheets came out, showing 10 changes from the weekend. 'Why is Leam Richardson throwing away a gilt-edged chance of reaching Wembley?' asked some. The Latics manager's reasons were twofold. Firstly, to rest his senior figures ahead of a fixture pile-up that may yet get worse before it gets better. Secondly, because his youngsters had earned the chance to take on Arsenal, on the back of their earlier performances in the competition. And not only did they, in the manager's words, 'stand toe to toe' with some of the best young players in the country, the Latics lads emerged victorious on a famous night...watched by...
3 What a crowd! There's only one football club in the world that could open only one stand, and then see a crowd three of four times what was expected cause the kick-off to be delayed, with fans creating a real cup-tie atmosphere in the West Stand. The scenes both after Divin Baningime's winning goal and at the end showed how much this game meant to the players and the supporters, a fair few of whom were experiencing their first taste of the DW Stadium, thanks to the cut-price admission. Fans who will hopefully be back again and again, helping to grow the club's fanbase.
4 Divin intervention! What a story behind Latics' matchwinner. One year ago this week, 21-year-old Divin Baningime - who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but brought up in Wigan - was released by Latics, because of the EFL regulations on players during administration. Fast forward to the summer, after training with his old club, he earned a new deal, and fought his way back into the first-team set-up. And when opportunity knocked with seven minutes to go, he showed remarkable composure to chop back inside the last defender, before wrong-footing the goalkeeper. Cue wild celebrations!
5 Another headache! Another consequence of Latics' victory was, of course, another game being added to the fixture list. And the semi-final tie at the beginning of March means one less free midweek to fit in Latics' outstanding league matches. Leam Richardson's senor figures may have enjoyed their night off, but their task of winning promotion - the No.1 aim this term - just got even tougher. Any chance of some help, EFL...?
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