On Saturday, Wigan Athletic play host to Dundee United at the DW Stadium. It will be their final warm-up fixture before the Championship season starts for the at Barnsley on August 3rd.
By the time it gets to the final pre-season game a manager tends to have a good idea of what his first choice lineup will be.
Owen Coyle has skillfully shuffled his pack in the previous four pre-season games, giving game time plus an opportunity to all his available squad players to show their mettle. However, we can expect the starting lineup for the United match to be pretty similar to the side which lines up at Oakwell.
Dundee United had a disappointing season last year, finishing sixth in the SPL – but important to them – they were six places above Dundee, who were relegated. The bitter rivalry between the two clubs – whose grounds are just 150 yards apart – continues after already spanning a century.
Dundee – the “True Blues” of the city – were formed in 1893 and have won the Scottish League once, in 1962-63.
Dundee United – originally known as Dundee Hibernian – were formed by the Irish Catholic community in the city in 1909. They changed their original green colours to tangerine in the 1960s. Like their close neighbours they have won the Scottish League once, that being in 1982-83. However, the Blues have had hard times over recent years and it is the Tangerines who have maintained their status in the highest level of Scottish football, as well as reaching the European Cup semi final in 1984 and the UEFA Cup final in 1987.
The last encounter between Wigan and United was at Tannadice Park three years ago when Latics won 3-1 in a pre-season match, when Mauro Boselli scored two and set up a cracker for Victor Moses from 25 yards.
Owen Coyle will have fond memories of his time at Tannadice, playing for United from 1993-1995, having joined them from Bolton. He was to return there briefly in 2003-2004.
A team which has finished in mid-table in the SPL is clearly going to offer Coyle’s side some degree of challenge. Results have gone well for Wigan in pre-season up to this point, although the opposition has been weak at times. Latics did well to beat Atromitos, only a day after returning from their US journey, with the associated jet lag. The Greeks have been their strongest opponents so far.
Coyle is still lacking mainline defenders and it looks like big Norwegian centre back Thomas Rogne is still not fit enough to play. If he is not available the Coyle will have to choose between rookie Adam Buxton at right back or midfielder Chris McCann at centre back, the versatile Emmerson Boyce being able to switch as needed. James Perch, who has had an excellent pre-season at centre back, and the experienced and solid Stephen Crainey will make up the rest of the back four. If fully fit, Scott Carson wil start in goal.
Latics are blessed with a fine squad of midfield players. Coyle has lots of options available. However, Ben Watson is likely to start in the midfield holding role, just in front of the back four. James McCarthy and James McArthur are favourites to take the other central midfield roles. Callum McManaman and Jean Beausejour are the natural wide players and Marc-Antoine Fortune has done enough to justify selection at centre forward ahead of Grant Holt, with fine displays capped by well taken goals so far.
Shaun Maloney has not appeared as much as he might have liked in the pre-season up to this point, due to a niggling injury. One wonders if Coyle will use him in the playmaker role – where he is most effective – or push him out wide. Maloney could play a key role in the promotion push.
Jordi Gomez and Roger Espinoza have looked lively in pre-season and will also be knocking on the door. Nouha Dicko is at hand to provide the unpredictable element if brought on.
It promises to be a fascinating encounter. It will certainly provide us with an insight into Owen Coyle’s thoughts about the formation of his team, with the new season coming up the following week.
In the meantime Coyle will continue to pursue his transfer targets – at least four more according to his own words – some of which will be on loan. The saga with the transfer of winger Albert Adomah from Bristol City continues to muddle on, but it is going to be defenders that will be the main priority.
Coyle has achieved so much up to this point, but he still has a lot of work to do in getting his squad ready to challenge for a return to the Premier League.