Jetlag can be a real problem. I should know, I’m jelly-legged after just a short trip down the high street in a shopmobility buggy (not that I’ve been stealing my grandad’s scooter again). But no, the only time I ever left the country was when I got lost in the Welsh part of Wrexham – I swear they speak a different language there (they do – it’s called ‘Welsh’ — Ed.) Hey, shurrup Ed, if that *is* your real name! I hope you’re not going to be plaguing me for the whole blasted season with your ‘witty’ remarks.
Anyway, as I was saying before I rudely interrupted myself –or not, because I lost my train of thought– I needed a good dose of actual football to balance the pessimism-inducing summer virus that had put me in no mood for the sport whatsoever. On discovering this game was to take place, I forced myself to make the short trip to far-flung Leigh in a (vain?) attempt to cheer myself up in the midsts of these (competitive) football-free months.
Sacrificing a trip to Morr- erm, the local supermarket for provisions, I opted to arrive at the ground just that bit earlier to secure a decent halfway line seat. As it happened, I needn’t have bothered – Leigh Rugby Club had ample seating for a friendly this far from the season’s genuine kick-off, even with two ‘giants’ of the European game on show. The price? A hilariously expensive bottle of water as opposed to the bog standard, yet wholly satisfactory 30p offering at the cigarette kiosk. See, we’re complaining about this nonsense and the season hasn’t yet started! Ahh, it’s so good to be back.
For a team fresh from their ‘arduous’ tour of the States, Latics were playing some surprisingly sound football (soccer?) from ref Darren Hanley’s first whistle. Before the Athenians even knew it, Marc-Antoine Fortune was marauding through their penalty area and falling over Stathis Tavlaridis’ foolishly placed leg. Pen. Gomez went left, Sifakis went right, Wigan went 1-0 up.
James McArthur, along with Crainey, McCarthy, Dicko and Holt, played over 30 minutes of second half football
Fortune was heavily involved in Wigan’s second goal, too, smacking a truly untouchable left-foot piledriver firmly into the inside netting, almost destroying the stancheon in the process. A smug, subdued celebration signalled what would prove to be a winning lead, but this pre-season cavalcade (wait, what?) had one or two twists in store yet.
Though the nominal home side closed out the first half on top, the visitors gradually dragged themselves back into proceedings as fresh legs entered the fray. Wigan remained a threat even with substitutes taking time to find their feet, but Atromitos started to test Lee Nicholls and his defence with increasing regularity. Anastasios Karamanos finished superbly on 76 to set up a potentially interesting final quarter of an hour, and so it proved to be. Well, after a fashion.
Previously a good-natured affair, things were to become a might tasty as the referee had no option but to flash the yellow card at assorted Atromitos miscreants. A disgusted member of the Greek Superleague side booted the ball into a noticeably flimsy advertising hoarding, which shuddered and rattled in its casing upon impact. A ball boy went over to check the local sweet manufacturer’s boarding was not irreparably damaged – it wasn’t. Hey, they make them tough in Leigh, you know.
One decidedly iffy challenge on a Latics midfielder later, ref Hanley was becoming visibly irritated. And when James McCarthy was brought down unceremoniously with but minutes remaining, the whistle-wielder had had enough – he ordered the Atromitos bench have him subbed off. Said individual took his seat in the dugout to a chorus of boos, bringing proceedings to a pantomime close as he hastily removed his shirt in disgust.
Latics were certainly more impressive in the first half when the exciting Fortune was working his magic on the pristine turf of LSV. Once he left the field, Grant Holt was more content with holding up play than poaching goals while Nouha Dicko didn’t have enough time to impress on the right wing. On the whole, however, Wigan’s was a pleasing performance at a time when such things aren’t necessarily the norm. It indeed bodes well even now, some two weeks and two friendlies before the season proper. The countdown to the Championship continues.