"Wigan fans can only hope that Hutchings is better for that experience."
Everton look to build on last season’s sixth placed finish, kicking off the new Premiership season with a gentle looking home clash with Wigan Athletic on Saturday (August 11).
The Latics only avoided relegation by a single goal last term, and were rocked less than 24 hours after their final day victory over Sheffield United by the resignation of manager Paul Jewell. It brought to an end a highly successful era for the Lancashire outfit in which they rocketed up the league pyramid before finally taking the Premiership by storm in 2005/06. A mid-table finish and an appearance in the Carling Cup final represented massive achievement for a club for whom languishing in the lower divisions had become the norm.
Yet last season proved less enjoyable for Wigan and Jewell, whose departure led to the appointment of his number two Chris Hutchings. Wigan fans might want to look away now as they are reminded of Hutchings only other attempt at football management at Bradford City. It was Jewell who had vacated the hot-seat on that occasion also, but Hutchings lasted only 13 games as the Valley Parade club began their fall from grace.
Wigan fans can only hope that Hutchings is better for that experience. He has not been slow to add to the squad in time for the start of the season, with Antoine Sibierski, Mario Melchiot and Jason Koumas among his summer signings. All three are set to make their competitive debuts for Latics, with Titus Bramble also in line to make his bow. The former Ipswich Town and Newcastle United defender is one of the more maligned Premiership players, and one feels that he must grasp what could be his last opportunity at this level.
Wigan will also be missing former Tottenham and Fulham midfielder Michael Brown through suspension.
Everton will be without the injured Leighton Baines, signed from Wigan earlier this week for an undisclosed fee suggested to be around the £6million mark. While former Toffee Kevin Kilbane takes the place of Baines in the Wigan line-up, Everton could replace their newest recruit with another new-boy, Phil Jagielka. Relegated with Sheffield United last term, the versatile Jagielka arrived at Goodison Park in the off-season for around £4million.
Up front Everton will rely mostly on Andrew Johnson once more, having allowed James Beattie to join Sheffield United in an apparently separate £4million deal. James Vaughan remains sidelined with injury, as do other attacking weapons such as Tim Cahill and James McFAdden. Manager David Moyes may choose to deploy Johnson in a lone front role, or else pair the England man with the promising Victor Anichebe.
As one of the Premiership’s newer outfits, Wigan have only ever faced Everton four times in league play. Both sides have won one game each, with two matches ending level. One of those draws was last season’s corresponding fixture at Goodison Park, when the sides fought out a 2-2 draw in September 2006. However, Wigan can claim victory on their only other Premiership visit to Goodison Park, winning 1-0 with a goal from Damien Francis in their debut season in the top flight.
Everton’s only home win over Wigan came in the FA Cup in 1980, but expect that poor record to improve here. Wigan look set for a battle against relegation this term, while Everton will be out to prove that they can trouble the top six on a more consistent basis. It will be close and may not be pretty, but the home side should just about claim a winning start.
Verdict; Everton 1 Wigan Athletic 0
By Stephen Orford
August 11 2007