Wigan Athletic: Talking football - 'This time, it’s a complete 180...and Leam Richardson won’t be complaining one bit about the extra aggro...'
As Wigan Athletic prepare to report back after the first half-term of the campaign, the report card so far would have to make for pretty reading.
Two points per game is something any team would take at any stage of the campaign.
Let alone five games in, under a new ownership group, a new-ish manager, a new backroom staff and a completely new playing squad.
Oh, and a fixture list that threw up FIVE pre-season promotion favourites in the first five fixtures.
Yes, it’s not quite clicked in every department so far – particularly in the final third – but as a work-in-progress things are ticking over nicely.
The defence has looked as watertight as a submarine door, meaning one bit of magic at the other end has been enough to secure the win.
That was the case last time out against Portsmouth, with Callum Lang popping up with the winning goal in the closing stages, after hardly having a kick of the ball up to that point.
And although the natural instinct would have been to keep the positive run going, I’m not surprised Leam Richardson opted to exercise his right to postpone last weekend’s trip to Fleetwood.
He may have upset a lot of Latics fans in doing so, and he certainly upset a few pub owners on the Fylde coast, who’d have been rubbing their hands at the thought of a couple of thousand sun-soaked Wiganers rocking up with dry mouths and open wallets.
But the opportunity to get his new-look squad together at Christopher Park for a fortnight will stand Richardson and Latics in good stead.
With deadline-day arrivals Joe Bennett, Jason Kerr and Curtis Tilt – in addition to the dozen other summer signings – taking the number of senior players to 24, it gives the gaffer a different kind of headache.
Take Tilt for example, the first defensive name on the team sheet last season.
This term, it may not be as straightforward.
Jack Whatmough and Kell Watts have hardly put a foot wrong, either individually or collectively, since arriving.
And there’s around half a million reasons why Latics didn’t prise Kerr from St Johnstone to warm the substitutes' bench.
Last season, Richardson was the first to admit it was often too easy to pick a team, because of the lack of options in the group.
This time, it’s a complete 180...and Richardson won’t be complaining one bit about the extra aggro...
It might have slipped under the radar this week, but products of the Latics Academy provided half of the England Under-20s goals in the 6-1 win over Romania.
Inevitably, there is a bittersweet aspect, with Joe Gelhardt and Jensen Weir no longer here. But that shouldn’t mean the Latics Academy staff should be any less proud
It won’t be long before Alfie Devine, Kyle Joseph and Sean McGurk add to their burgeoning reputations, which again will evoke thoughts of ‘what might have been?’
But it’s been heartening to see one of the priorities of the new regime being to secure the futures of the next generation of stars.
Under-18s skipper Charlie Hughes this week penned his first pro deal, as did James Carragher.
And with Callum Lang securing his long-term future, it means if and when these lads move on – it’s on Latics’ own terms.
This weekend should see the second coming, with Cristiano Ronaldo poised to make another ‘debut’ for Manchester United – more than 18 years after his first.
And I’m guessing someone in the Sky Sports planning department has already been hauled over the coals for not having the foresight to select the United-Newcastle game for live coverage.
Pretty much every football fan on the planet will have access to the game...apart from those in the UK.
Which is why social media has been awash this week with the ‘why do I pay £xxx a month to Sky and I can’t watch while xxx living in xxx pays far less and can?’ type rants.
The reason, quite simply, is the 3pm Saturday blackout – which, while upsetting ‘Outraged of London’, has to stay.
For a bit of background - and Twitter guru @DaleJohnsonESPN, a former colleague of mine, is well worth a follow for stuff like this - Article 48 of the UEFA Statutes allows any association to decide on 2.5 hours on a Saturday or Sunday, during which any transmission of football may be prohibited within the territory. England (and Scotland) applies this as 2.45pm to 5.15pm on a Saturday.
This is done primarily to protect attendances throughout the football pyramid - not merely the top flight.
It’s not to stop Latics season-ticket holders staying at home to watch Ronaldo. They’ve already handed over their money, it's already accounted for.
It’s the thousands of walk-up, casual fans who keep the turnstiles ticking with new cash – and the away fans who travel in numbers.
Interestingly, this isn’t an issue in other countries, who spread their fixtures to avoid clustering - no other league in Germany goes up against the Bundesliga, tier two fixtures in France and Italy are played either earlier or later on the Saturday, while La Liga fixtures are generally spread to avoid 'clustering'.
That would never work here, because it would affect far too many matchgoing fans for whom Saturday 3pm means only one thing.
Which means the blackout is the only way to preserve the pyramid...at all costs.
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