Even after seeing your team win the FA Cup just months earlier, there is no better feeling than waking up on the first morning of the new football season. Not even the prospect of starting two weeks earlier for Wigan’s (glorious?) return to the Championship can blemish the refreshing sensation that puts a spring in your step… until your team go and muck it all up by losing.
But for that brief few hours, nothing can stop your enjoyment of what is surely the best Saturday of the footballing calendar – the day your team kicks off their new campaign. Unless you’re Sheffield United or Notts County, in which case you started on a Friday. Alright, I can sit here and pick holes in my own ropey reasoning or I can review today’s game in 700 words or less. Heh, knowing my own verbal diarrhoea, my own self-imposed challenge for the season will be something of an ordeal.
Dropping down a division may have proved a culture shock for Latics’ FA Cup winning Premier League stars (cough), as an early tackle on Emmerson Boyce might possibly have warranted a booking in the top flight. A reassuring reminder this was real men’s football, not some poncey holographic projection of the game, and license to roll up your socks and dislodge a few teeth. Boycey hastily explored his kitbag for the emergency mouthguard.
The visitors adapted quickly to any perceived refereeing incompetence, however, and Shaun Maloney forced the game’s first save from captain Luke Steele just before the quarter hour mark. Heartened by this encouraging start, an already boisterous 2,000(ish) visiting supporters were soon close to full voice – well, one person politely asked Owen Coyle to put on some pants.
Presently, the Tykes survived a concerted Latics penalty appeal and settled into a period of possession as Wigan’s early pressure gave way to a more even contest. This internet blogger shuffled around uncomfortably in his seat as Scott Carson was almost made to come for the ball in anger for the first time.
Just when it looked as though the home side were finding their foothold, however, some excellent work from Grant Holt helped create a Latics move which culminated in a 30-yard cracker from Ben Watson. How on earth could we have forgotten to mention him on the Progress With Unity season preview? That’ll show us, I suppose.
Blast fromt’ past: Barnsley FC, 1910.
Latics returned to the pitch a side revitalised, and made the (not too strenuous) step up to Premier League quality almost immediately. Jean Beausejour squandered a superb opportunity admittedly from a tight angle just moments before James McArthur saw his effort cleared off the line. It was to prove telegraphing at its finest – Boyce’s strike found its way home via goalpoacher extraordinaire Holt to send Latics to the top of the table… as it stood.
Chants of ‘up the football league we go’ and ‘You Are My Sunshine’ filled the pristine South Yorkshire air as the visitors continued to push that increasingly shaky Barnsley backline. And the home side’s ranks were to be weakened with less than half an hour to play, sub Dale Jennings earning himself an instant ticket to the dressing room (and a place in the Great Britain Winter Olympics team) with a luge-esque challenge on James McArthur.
The hard work done, Coyle saw fit to unleash an eager Callum McManaman for his ‘big’ ‘comeback’. Certainly, the Latics fans gave a rather large cheer as he replaced James McArthur on 71 minutes. It was a perfect time for the FA Cup Final man of the match to clock up some competitive game time as Barnsley were rapidly fading, a fact backed up by the almost inevitable third goal. Debutant Leon Barnett the beneficiary on this occasion, game won.
Shaun Maloney sprinkled on some sugar, polishing off a true team goal just prior to time added on and banishing any memory of this being a competitive game. BBC Sport, incidentally, had the visitors 4-0 ahead long before their fourth went in, such was their confidence in this fantastic Wigan side:
Wake up, Championship, Wigan Athletic are in town.