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For the three major clubs in the region, the international break may well provide an unwelcome distraction from improving league form. Wigan, Preston and Blackpool were all looking to have turned a corner after tricky fixtures, only for the majority of their players to be whisked off to far-flung destinations to compete on the international stage.
Wigan look to have suffered the most, with several of their stars forced to travel huge distances during the so-called break. Maynor Figueroa will be the most frequent flier, with his Honduran side travelling to Wellington to face New Zealand, before returning to Washington and a game against Guatemala. However, Emerson Boyce can count himself lucky – trips to Montserrat and St Vincent & the Grenadines with the Barbados national side surely beat training in Wigan for the week. Meanwhile, manager Roberto Martinez will be reflecting on an invaluable 2-0 victory over Wolves, a tie that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons after Karl Henry’s late lunge earned him a red card. This success, coupled with a battling draw against Birmingham and progression in the Carling Cup, gives Wigan the basis to push on and climb the table in coming weeks.
Another Lancashire side that hit form just before the international programme was Preston. Despite occupying 20th place in the Championship, North End have taken seven points from a possible nine with an astonishing 6-4 win at Elland Road providing the highlight. This victory was all the more remarkable as Darren Ferguson’s side were trailing 4-1 during the first half while Leeds ran riot. The hero for Preston was Jon Parkin, who bagged a superb hat-trick.
Blackpool also provided a headline grabbing victory in their latest league game: a 2-1 victory against Liverpool, at Anfield. A penalty from captain Charlie Adam and a Luke Varney strike earned the Tangerines a famous victory despite desperate Liverpool pressure in the second half. Manager Ian Holloway was uncharacteristically subdued following the final whistle, no doubt acutely aware that Blackpool’s fate will be decided against other potential relegation rivals, not the ‘big four’. Holloway’s muted reaction was in contrast to his antics a week previous after the home defeat by Blackburn, when an expletive laden rant aimed at referee Mike Dean earned him a one game touchline ban. If Blackpool are to avoid the drop this season, they will need the inspirational presence of Holloway pitch-side and not confined to the Bloomfield Road stands.
The region’s lower league sides are also in sparkling form as their fixtures continue to come thick and fast. Fleetwood Town continue their upward rise in the Blue Square Premier Division thanks to a ten game unbeaten run. Three consecutive draws have slowed their progress slightly, but if they can continue to pick up points at a steady rate, the play-offs look to be a distinct possibility. Away from the league programme, the Cod Army also have an FA Cup fourth qualifying round tie to look forward to against either Buxton or old rivals AFC Telford. Victory here would see the side enter the draw for the first round proper and set up a potential clash with Football League opposition.
Lancaster City are also progressing well in cup competitions, with a 7-1 hammering of Woodley Sports seeing them advance in the FA Trophy, the elite competition for non-league football clubs in England. They followed up this impressive result with a comfortable 4-1 triumph over Ossett Albion on Saturday and now sit eighth in the Evo-stick First Division North table.