“Nil volentibus arduum” – Latin for ‘keep reaching for that sack of potatoes’.
It’s an odd condition, new season optimism. Your team could take PR blow after painful footballing blow on the way to their worst season in two decades, but you retain that same cheerful outlook strolling to Robin Park for the first home game of a fresh league campaign.
Perhaps it’s those vivid memories of the last time Latics were stalking this league, the 100-point League Cup Quarter Final season of legend. A youthful Leighton Baines, the strike pairing of (Neil) Roberts and Ellington, victories over Premier League Man City and Fulham – the culmination of six years’ hard work and countless managerial experiments in the old Div 2.
Or maybe it’s the knowledge that Wigan Athletic is entering a new phase that encourages teamwork and unity above all else – there will be no big ‘eads in David Sharpe’s backroom, nor in Caldwell’s dressing room. As for his living room, well… we’ll have to ask him about that one. But we’ve learned over the past month that there’s a Whelan-esque ruthless streak in grandson that has the club’s best interests at heart.
I can’t help but think, however, that cries of ‘there will be no individuals’ can be translated as ‘I can’t name these individual players’. Because somewhere in this hearty bunch of collected footballing prodigies are the £5million Everton and Sunderland signings of 2018 – of this, I am (fairly) convinced. A bold statement on the basis of one Sunday lunchtime league match with Doncaster, perhaps, but a statement that reflects my current bout of new season optimism.
It’s all downh- er, uphill from here, baby!
ES3, 12.28pm. Recruits from Knowsley Safari Park lead the new cheering section.
I can’t say for certain whether I would have been so confident had Harry Forrester capitalised on an early Latics defensive scramble, but as the ball rolled past O’Donnell’s left post, that (artificial?) positivity virus was just as infectious as ever. After all, there had only been 100 seconds of play… hardly enough time for the medicinal steak pie to take effect.
Similar scrambles occasionally bothered the South Stand goalmouth as the half grew older, but O’Donnell was on hand to, well, stick out a hand. Or, in the case of Richard Wellens’ effort, his entire body – much to the great relief of the sheepish Latics defenders jogging silently back to their positions.
The North Stand goal wasn’t at all lonely, either. Michael Jacobs tickled his crossbar with a free kick, causing many (not to mention the goalmouth) to giggle with delight. Mighty Max also threatened to bisect the goal’s uprights, but Thorsten Stuckmann nonchalantly scooped up The Power’s controlled punt as if he were collecting pick and mix sweets at the local supermarket.
What time do you call this?
Half time arrived with Latics in possession (naturally) but with opportunities roughly equal. Dashing down to the East Stand toilets, I caught a glimpse of the gentleman in Mickey Mouse pyjamas brushing his teeth – I’m not sure which member of the Latics first team squad this could have been, but I guess such things are to be expected with 12.30pm kickoffs.
Latics’ dressing room mp3 of the week: ‘Who Are You’, The Who.
The visitors engaged Operation Death By Corner Kick, executing consecutive back post deliveries as if they were an Australian opening bowler. Luckily for Latics, they were about as successful as an Aussie quick, even if the North Stand goal was excited once more by another tickle of his crossbar. Hey, you can hit the stumps as hard as you like, but it’s no good if the bails aren’t dislodged.
Although Donny had pushed the hosts back in their proverbial (and literal) box, subs Shaquile Coulthirst and Sean Murray were to force open the window of opportunity with a creak not dissimilar to that emitted by the hinges of Whelan’s infamous warchest. A solitary Will Grigg couldn’t keep it open on his own, however, as the collective strength of three beaming Doncaster defenders weighted it firmly in place. Assorted ‘promising’ efforts from Power and Grigg himself did nothing to shift them. With respect to Max, Latics were in need of his bigger brother – Man Power.
(Okay, sorry, this is almost over now.)
As 2.15 approached, one more over of Donny spin bowling remained. With the ball flying past the edge… of the 6 yard box, wickie O’Donnell parried one and caught another. Still time for a boundary or two before bad light stopped play? Yes.
Momentarily, excitement. A hopeful smash forward fell favourably for Grigg, and within seconds, Power was running at the Rovers defence just ten yards from goal. This was it, the winner… but as so often tends to happen, an advancing defender blew a great big raspberry in his face and the two ended in a heap on the ground. Ah, I do so love contact sports – they remind me of the school playground.
Yes, I think I’m going to enjoy this division and its associated nostalgia. As for the football, ask me again in four months… or at least, three days.