The international break presented a well earned period of rest and reflection for Wigan Athletic.
Top of League One after their 2-0 win at Gillingham last time out, Leam Richardson’s side now sit third – a point behind both Wycombe and Plymouth, who won their respective games last weekend while the Latics meeting with Lincoln was postponed due to international call ups.
Four of Wigan’s first-team players went away with their respective countries, while a weakened side had a Papa Johns trophy game to contend with on Tuesday.
This gave the first team a chance to recover and prepare for Saturday’s massive derby-day trip to Bolton Wanderers where Richardson will hope to take all three point and return to the top of the league.
Will Keane’s strong start to the new season earned him a first ever call up to the Republic of Ireland squad two-years after pledging his allegiance to the country.
The 28-year old – who is the twin brother of England and Everton defender Michael Keane – represented England up to under-20 level but switched in 2019 in the hope of international football.
And after five goals in 10 games this season, Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny was left with little option but to call Keane up.
Unfortunately though, the Latics frontman featured in neither the 2022 World Cup qualifying win against Azerbaijan nor their friendly thrashing of Qatar, with Kenny explaining the reasoning as to the strikers omission from both matchday squads.
He said: “Will had a tight groin. He missed one-and-a-half sessions so it interrupted his training week.
“He never really got to show what he had but he’s actually a very good player, very good.”
Fellow ROI international James McLean featured in the 3-0 win in Azerbaijan, playing the full 90 minutes and setting up Callum Robinson for the opening goal seven minutes in, following a sharp turn and quick turn of pace – McLean was rested for the Qatar game on Tuesday.
Club captain Tendayi Darikwa was cleared to play the first of Zimbabwe’s qualifying double-header against Ghana on Saturday – a 3-1 defeat – but he returned to the UK before the second-leg in order to be available for Saturday’s trip to Bolton.
Winger Jordan Jones also earned a call up for the Northern Ireland squad, twice coming off the bench as his side lost both of their World Cup qualifiers against Switzerland and Bulgaria.
The defeats end Northern Ireland’s faint hopes of a trip to Qatar for next year’s World Cup as they now sit nine points behind both Italy and Switzerland with two games left.
Papa Johns Trophy Defeat
Despite the break in the league calendar, the Latics still had to contend with the challenge of a Papa Johns Trophy game against Crewe last Tuesday.
Richardson used the game as an opportunity to blood a few youngsters and made 11 changes, most notably Sam Tickle and Chris Sze making their first starts for the club.
It was a night to forget for those in blue and white, however, as they lost 2-0 to the side 22nd in League One, conceding either side of half-time.
Results elsewhere pushed Wigan down to the foot of the group and eliminated them at this early stage, although with a League One title to challenge for an early exit from a cup competition may well be a blessing in disguise.
In the aftermath of all of this comes the highly anticipated derby against Bolton Wanderers – Wigan’s first trip to the University of Bolton Stadium since December 2018.
Ian Evatt’s side sit eighth in League One after last weekend’s defeat at Sheffield Wednesday, but former Wigan defender George Johnston, who spent five months on loan at the DW Stadium last season before signing for Wanderers in the summer, is optimistic about his side’s chances.
He said: “It should be a good atmosphere, I can’t wait…
“I know they are quite direct, aggressive, well-organised, well-drilled but I think we have the tools to dominate the game.”
Richardson will be hoping that the injury Keane picked up whilst away with the ROI isn’t too serious to cause him to miss this Saturday’s game, information which will hopefully be revealed in the pre-game press conference.
Meanwhile, Wigan Athletic’s Twitter page decided to treat us to a flashback of the last league meeting between the two in 2019, a flashback offering plenty of hope for the ‘Tics…
Original image by Terry Robinson.