When the Wigan team news for the EFL Trophy quarter-final was released an hour before kick off it took many by surprise. Originally, 7 academy graduates were due to feature from the start, but due to EFL ruling a late change saw Max Power replace Luke Robinson in the starting 11. The bench was completely packed out with lads that have spent much of their adolescence under the tutelage of our academy staff, and all the lads involved continue to be a credit to the club.
In his post match interview with Latics TV, Leam Richardson gave huge credit to the youngsters and highlighted the important role the academy have played in sustaining the club during administration, as well as the role it will have in pushing us back up the football pyramid.
The match itself was difficult for our young 11, with Arsenal’s youngsters dominating much of the ball. Had it not been for Jamie Jones, who further cemented his cult hero status as the best cup goalkeeper in the world (yes, the world), Latics would’ve found themselves trailing by 2 or 3.
But one thing we’ve been able to rely on all season is that Leam Richardson’s men love to leave it late. They love to have us fans on the edge of our seats with their tight 1 goal victories.
Player of the Match
Our time in administration created many stories, but when Divin Baningime was sent through on goal in the 82nd minute and slotted home calmly it felt like an extra special moment.
Less than one year ago Divin was released by the club to help free up money and a squad space, forcing him to leave the club he’d been at all his life. After the takeover by Phoenix 2021 LTD was completed, many staff members that lost their jobs were reinstated. And in September 2021, Baningime returned to Christopher Park.
The goal itself was brilliantly taken, fantastic control to bring down a long punt up field before sensational composure to slot past Ovie Ejeheri in the Arsenal goal. It was the shining light on a night where our young side had to show resilience, patience and determination, something they will all need if they are to have careers in professional football.
The win takes us through to the semi-finals of the EFL Trophy, where we will meet one of Hartlepool United, Rotherham United or Sutton United. Whilst the young lads that featured in this match have given us the chance to dream of another Wembley trip, I’d like to think Leam will put out a more recognisable first 11 to give us the best chance of reaching there.
However, with fixtures coming thick and fast we could see another rotated 11 in a bid to prioritise promotion from League One.
So we may have to rely on another Divin intervention to send us to Wembley…