My aim as I set off on the Scottish leg of Latics’ preseason tour was to produce two mach reports, one per game very much in the mould of my normal match reports.
However as the games unfolded with multiple changes, loanees and trialists, it became apparent that a road trip blog would probably reflect the days (and nights) more accurately.
I have to say Glasgow is one of my favourite UK cities, a fine Victorian city which made its money through the ship yards and port and this is reflected in some superb architecture which has been restored in recent years to its former glory.
This was reflected in the properties around Partick’s compact ground just off the Maryhill Rd, a ground that is the nearest Glasgow city centre and could claim to be Glasgow’s team as other grounds are situated in the suburbs. Formed in Partick in 1876 they have retained the name even though it is over one hundred years since they played in Partick they are a club that in a city of 1.75 million people see their natural supporters gravitate to the old firm something that grates with their very friendly diehard fans.
Having set off early to drive up to Glasgow I was amazed to find free parking right next to the away stand next to a beautiful peaceful fishing lake, an oasis of calm in the bustling metropolis that is Glasgow. Sawdoctor and I set off on a mission to find the nearest curry hose but after walking around for an hour all we had found was one takeaway curry/kebab house and two chippies serving the classic Glasgow fayre of deep fried everything including Mars bars, pies and pizzas which even with my unhealthy diet was too much to stomach so we were forced to settle for a Subway.
Another reason for going early was that I had arranged to meet a Partick Thistle fan who I had been corresponding for years with in his role as fanzine editor for the greatest rock and roll band of all time, Rose Tattoo.
We had arranged to meet John in a local bar; a classic single story flat roofed structure which looked like it had seen better days and had several “characters stood outside of it. Maryhill is where the fictional detective Taggart was based and I expected him to appear at any moment shouting “there’s been a murder”.
Any trepidation about entering was quickly dispelled as we were given a warm welcome on entering by the locals who were watching with bemusement the antics of a couple of drunken Wigan fans. Jon and his fellow Jag fans were the perfect hosts but we did hit a language barrier I that I struggled to understand his fast Glaswegian accent and some of my Lancashire nuances left him confused. The next cultural difficulty was the provision or lack of it of none alcoholic drinks for sale. The request of a bottle of water brought a look of puzzlement, followed by laughter and “there’s a guy here who wants to buy water. A debate followed amongst the staff before a glass of tap water was proffered….with ice and we settled down for a discussion all things football.
The intense dislike of the old firm was evident in the conversations with the local Jags fans been sick and tired of all the locals’ allegiance to Rangers/Celtic and the impact it has on their support and finances, much like the impact of the two Manchester and two Liverpool clubs on us.
We left for the ground about half an hour before kickoff and joined the other two hundred or so Latics fans in a well appointed stand on the side if the pitch. The ground itself has three stands with a “Shevvy end” type banking making up the fourth.
Wigan opted to leave most of what is expected to be the first eleven coming August on the bench with trialist Lundstram starting alongside new loanees John Joe Kenny and Fransisco junior. These youngsters were joined by local development players in Robles and Flores in a side which was very much one for the future.
The first half was an even affair with the Jags hitting the post with a long range shot. Wigan was employing patient build up play with McCann catching the eye at left centre back and Francisco providing bite in midfield. If anything Wigan’s passing was a bit too measured with the Jags content to sit back and pick off any Wigan mistakes and then break at pace.
The first half ended nil apiece and then on going onto the concourse for refreshments from the segregated away section we ended up in the single queue with the Jags fans for the one and only food kiosk with a plethora of different variety of pies on sale, thankfully not deep fried.
The second half started off with a brace of goals, firstly the home fans took advantage of an error by Barnett to slot the ball past the despairing dive of Nichols but this was countered by a fine break and shot by young starlet Ryan Jennings.
Wigan manager Gary Caldwell continued to ring the changes and the tempo of the game increased as the game wore on. For Wigan Grigg went close twice and for Partick two goal bound chances were saved well by Nichols.
The final whistle brought to an end a typical pre season game in which many players had the opportunity to push for a starting place.
A quick exit was followed by another four hour journey and the news that Reece James who had been sat behind us for the game had signed a three year deal from Manchester United.
Another day, another pre season trip to Scotland, this one to the beautiful Tayside city of Dundee to see the aforementioned Dundee play at Dens Park. Dundee is the oldest of the two clubs that share the same street in the city but has fallen on financial hard times in recent years and their neighbours from up the road’s investment in youth development has seen the dark blues struggle to remain in the S.P.L.
A lovely journey up through the beautiful Scottish countryside saw us arrive early in a city which is affluent, modern and well appointed although once again we were left frustrated in our attempt to find a local curry house ending up “having an English”.
On entering the ground you are left with an impression of how much hasn’t changed. The main stand is set on a curve around the touchline, probably the remnant of dog racing, it is a predominantly wooden structure with very narrow walkways on the concourse and a linoleum covered floor which vibrate when you walk on it. Two modern stands are at either end of the ground with a disused stand opposite the main stand.
Wigan rang the changes again with Andrew Taylor assuming captain duties in the unfamiliar position of centre half and a debut for new signing at left wing back Reece James. The game was an even affair with James being the standout player along with Francisco and McCann. Wigan struggled to break down an over physical Dundee defence and the Latics strike force of Grigg and Davies looking increasingly frustrated at the lack of protection received from the referee. Grigg did manage to slip the shackles and was rewarded with a penalty following a clumsy challenge but in tune with Wigan’s recent penalty attempts he blazed high over the bar in one of the worst penalties we have taken for quite some time. Wigan continued to suffer under the Dundee challenges and Power was forced to limp off with an ankle injury. Dundee had a couple of long range shots which had O’Donnell scrabbling across his goal.
The game ebbed and flowed with few clear cut chances and this continued into the second half with Wigan introducing more changes, some enforced such as Chow following a horror challenge which went unpunished. The game looked more like a work out for fitness with neither side busting a gut to score when a defensive mix up by Wigan allowed former Rangers starlet Loy to tap the ball home past ‘Donnell. This stung Wigan into action and with Odelusi looking sharp and Kenny breaking at pace down the right they almost equalised near the end with a back flip by Odelusi went narrowly wide.
Full time saw the Wigan players limp off to acknowledgement of appreciation of their 150 or travelling faithful and we all then made our way back to hotels or cars the latter resulting in a five hour journey home on some very dark roads.
All in all it was difficult to read much into the games, the preferred formation seems to be 3-5-2 with McCann, Francisco, James and Jennings all improving their chances of a starting place come August the eighth. Areas that need improving were the defence, a creative midfielder and goals, goals, goals. Last season Wigan were subject to criticism that they went into last season underdone, something Gary is determined won’t happen this time around.
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