The first away game of the new season sees Paul Cook take his Wigan Athletic side to Villa Park to face former boss Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa.
Last seasons beaten playoff finalists will be in buoyant mood after an opening win at Hull on Monday night and, more importantly for their bid to return to the Premier League, managing to keep hold of Jack Grealish on Deadline Day despite him being a rumoured target for Tottenham throughout the entire window. That in turn means that Nick Powell will be lining up in a Wigan shirt tomorrow afternoon when there were strong rumours he could be in the claret and blue of Villa if they lost Grealish.
The transfer window was a success for Wigan with Josh Windass (Rangers) and Joe Garner (Ipswich) signing on permanent deals whilst Callum Connolly and Lee Evans returned on loan from Everton and Sheffield United respectively. Dan Burn left the club to join Brighton but has been loaned back until the January window and Max Power joined Sunderland in a late deal but Evans would be seen as an almost direct replacement for the fans favourite. Dan Burn will be a big loss when he does eventually leave but with his contract set to expire in the summer, a deal to sell him for £4m and keep him until January is a great piece of business and the £4m looks to have funded the transfers of Windass and Garner who were both highly sought after by sides in this division.
The key to this window and the main difference from two seasons ago is that the spine of last seasons title winning squad is still at the club in one way or another. Christian Walton, Chey Dunkley, Dan Burn (albeit he is leaving), Samy Morsy, Nick Powell, Michael Jacobs, Gavin Massey and Will Grigg all started the game at Doncaster on the final day of last season and aside from the injured Burn all started against Sheffield Wednesday last Saturday. Building on the morale and energy of last season could lead to some vital early season wins that will be valuable towards a survival bid.
The transfer dealings over the last few weeks have led to a strong squad being assembled at The DW Stadium but the main priority will still be to survive this season and look to consolidate for a few years at this level. That may change next season if the expected injection of cash from new owners IEC comes to fruition, but for now it is paramount that The Latics remain in the second tier for as long as possible.
A strong squad inevitably leads to selection dilemmas and there will certainly be a few of them for Paul Cook no more so than in the midfield with 14 midfielders in the squad but the strength of resources available to Cook off the bench could be the difference in winning and losing a game as there are genuine game changers going to be sat on the Wigan bench.
Predicted line-up: Walton, James, Dunkley, Kipre, Robinson, Gibson, Morsy, Massey, Powell, Jacobs, Grigg. SUBS: Jones, Bruce, Connolly, McManaman, Windass, Garner, Vaughan.
Paul Cook: “I don’t think we’ll get a better fixture than Aston Villa away and that’s just my personal opinion. They are possibly the biggest club in the division, other clubs may argue that but I’m just talking for me, they are the benchmark of what a Premier League club should be. I think Steve (Bruce) has inherited a multitude of problems as they’ve gone along and he’s had to deal with them very professionally. They got beat at Wembley last year which will carry disappointment but I’m sure Steve’s track record will pick them up, they’re a fantastic club and we know we’re in for a difficult afternoon. It’s one we’re very much looking forward to in a weird sort of way.”
The opening day of the 2009/10 season was Roberto Martinez’s first game in charge of the club and his reign started in style with an impressive 2-0 win at Villa Park. There was nothing more impressive than Hugo Rodallega’s opening goal just after the half hour when he hit a half volley past Brad Friedel. Jason Koumas finished off a flowing move just before the hour to seal the win.
A dominant, free flowing performance gave fans confidence of a successful era under the Spaniard which when his ‘tika taka’ style of play worked it definitely was but there was probably more frustration around than joy most of the time.