I like to try and get to the odd Latics reserve– oh sorry, U21– game when I can. Not entirely sure if the new ‘U21’ tag is any more attractive than ‘reserves’, but it is fair to say the vast majority of the side I saw today looked under the age of 21. Like the Olympics, however, it seems you are allowed to field some overage players as well.
Alright, I will come clean. I had an afternoon free and a weekly rail pass doing nothing, so decided to go and watch a bit of football at the last minute. What swayed it for me was the inclusion of first team ‘overagers’ Callum McManaman and Mauro Boselli – the latter of which I thought would get at least a few minutes’ run out against Manchester United on Saturday.
I turned up just in time to see Barnsley running through our defence as if they were sat in the stand or something, and go 1-0 up just minutes after I took my seat. Danny Rose‘s (no, not that one) penalty hit the back of Latics reserve keeper Calvin Hare’s net before I could even get comfortable. This was actually on the 15 minute mark but I arrived at the Robin Park Arena slightly late. There’s that traditional JWAW (non-)punctuality for you once more!
The first half was punctuated by Latics fouls, some niggly, some less so. Josh Langley was at fault for the infringement that led to the penalty, which the Barnsley-born frontman slotted away with some ease.
John Rooney (no, not that one) would double the visitors’ lead some eleven minutes later with an impressive sprint-and-finish that put Wigan squarely on the back foot. Big bro Wayne, who I don’t think was watching live (not that much media presence at the ground), would have been proud. A ripple of applause spread across the stand for an increasingly dominant Barnsley side, who seemed to be pinning the hosts to their own goalposts, Manchester United style, with their strength and fleetness of foot.
Wigan began to create some chances of their own, first-team fringeman McManaman making some dangerous runs deep into the Barnsley half from the right wing. Apart from a Mauro Boselli header over Luke Steele’s crossbar, however, they hadn’t much to show for it.
The hosts were on the verge of complete breakdown on 43 minutes, when Danny Rose chalked up another goal for his tally. It was John Rooney’s shot that forced an initial save from Hare, but Danny Rose was on hand once again to mop up and Barnsley were truly flying at 3-0 to the good.
Latics had to fight back quickly, and luckily they had Callum McManaman at their disposal. Capitalising on a defensive error, Macca beat his man before firing low past Steele’s right hand – an accomplished finish that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a first team match.
And it wasn’t long before Wigan really were back in the game thanks to a second, well-taken McManaman goal just minutes after the restart.
This latest Callum Mac strike seemed to bring about a changearound in fortunes, as Barnsley hardly had a sniff of goal in the game’s remaining time. The home side looked more alert than in the first half, playing the ball amongst themselves with more confidence and success.
A previously quiet Mauro Boselli, who had struggled to pick a pass, was now being brought more into play and did quite well considering he usually had at least two men marking him. It was McManaman causing the most trouble, however, and a couple more shooting opportunities almost fell his way in the next quarter of an hour.
Though no goals would ensue up until this point, the final fifteen minutes of the game saw increased excitement as Barnsley also looked to add to their lead. Josh Sumner, brought into the fray for a final Wigan onslaught, held the ball well. He almost set up Boselli and McManaman, who to all intents and purposes was now playing as a forward as the hosts sought an equaliser.
You sensed it would come, and on 86 minutes that third Wigan goal hit the onion bag. One will inevitably draw comparisons with Mauro’s headed goal at Nottingham Forest, and indeed the cross was just as good. Boselli, deadly from eight yards, could nod the ball past Luke Steele to add some colour to his frustrating afternoon.
Naturally, both teams searched for that winner in the final few minutes. Neither came very close, though there was time for Boselli to pick up a yellow card for blasting the ball into the Robin’s Nest in the final minute. The ball did make a satisfying thwack as it hit the wall, even if it did not necessarily help Wigan’s cause.
Well, I’ve gone on for a bit longer than I expected here, probably more than the official match round up, and I didn’t even speak about Fraser Fyvie’s performance. I guess it shows just how much I enjoyed the game, and witnessing Callum McManaman cut through defences like a samurai sword has added some cheer to an otherwise forgettable long weekend. Perhaps the lad has earned himself a sub appearance against Fulham on Saturday? I would hope so. It’d be fantastic to see such sights in a first team game.
Make no bones about it, Macca will start against West Ham next week. I’ll be watching intently. Or listening, because I don’t know if many TV stations would be very interested in the tie.