What a delight it was for a Latics fan to watch Shaun Maloney curl in that beauty for Scotland on Friday. It was reminiscent of the gem he scored in that 1-0 win for Latics against Manchester United in April 2012.
A lot has happened since that memorable first win over the Red Devils. Maloney was the creative force behind that incredible revival that saw Wigan Athletic not only beat United, but also win away at Liverpool and Arsenal. They were heady days for Latics and for Maloney.
It was only in the second half of that 2011-12 season that Maloney established himself in the team lineup. In the 2012-13 season, which ended in relegation from the Premier League, he made 41 appearances, scoring 7 goals. Sadly since then, following a long layoff through injury, he has not been an automatic choice in the team, even when fit.
Maloney’s performances for Latics this season have been intermittent and patchy. He was not fit at the start of the season and has not commanded a regular place in the Wigan Athletic lineup. This is in contrast with his position in the Scotland squad where he has been a first choice under Gordon Strachan.
Maloney made his debut for his country in 2005 and has since made 36 appearances, with 4 goals. His recent performances have been excellent, as he has fitted perfectly into Gordon Strachan’s tactical system. He scored a very well taken goal in the enthralling 1-1 draw with Poland in Warsaw and it was his deflected shot that won the previous game at home to Georgia. The gate at Celtic Park for the Ireland match was the highest for Scotland for 25 years, an indication of how much Strachan has lifted the Scots. After years of mediocrity Scotland are regaining respect on the international scene. Strachan’s positive tactical approach is to be commended and Maloney plays a key role in his team.
Maloney is in the final year of his contract at Wigan. He remains a fan favourite, although not always one of the manager. It has been rumoured that he did not see eye to eye with Uwe Rosler or Owen Coyle. Hopes were high when he returned from injury near the end of last season. He could have provided the magic to lift Latics through the playoffs, but maybe it was expecting too much after his recovery from hip surgery.
Seeing Maloney for Scotland the other night, he looked as fit as he ever has been for Latics.
Is Maloney more interested in shining for his country than his club? Is he prepared to deal with the physicality of the Championship division? Is he going to be supportive of a new manager at Wigan?
Will a change of manager at Latics inspire Maloney to show the kind of ability that will unlock defences in the Championship? One hopes that will be the case, with a player that has so much to offer.
The alternative could be his departure in January. Let’s hope that will not be the case.