The term ‘six-pointer’ is one of the biggest cliches in football, but if anything it understates this weekend’s trip to Burton Albion.
Wigan Athletic travel to the Pirelli Stadium six points adrift of safety in the Championship with games fast running out.
Opponents Burton occupy that fourth-bottom spot, and will be doing everything they can to make sure the gap at least remains intact come Saturday evening. Without being disrespectful to the Brewers, if Latics are to get themselves out of their self-inflicted plight, it’s games like this they have to be winning.
If Warren Joyce’s men are to avoid an immediate return to League One, Burton look the team most likely to replace them in the bottom three.
Let’s be honest, Rotherham are down in all-but name, despite a spirited showing of late (and deserved victory over Latics on Boxing Day).
Looking at the league table, Burton and third-bottom Blackburn are the teams about whom you could make the weakest claim to keep their heads above water.
Which makes three points this weekend imperative if Latics are to extend their stay in the Championship.
To do so, Latics have to break the pattern under Joyce – and give a fair assessment of their quality against lower-half opposition.
Sure, Latics have been plucky losers against teams in the top half, giving huge cause for optimism against weaker sides.
But they’ve also missed the chance to fill their boots against teams in the bottom half. Joyce seemed to settle for a point before kick-off at Barnsley, against a side that have admittedly done well this term but are hardly Brazil.
Then, in a crucial double-header over Christmas, Latics pressed the self-destruct button in losing 3-2 against both struggling Ipswich and rock-bottom Rotherham.
They should at least take confidence from last week’s FA Cup win over an admittedly-dreadful Nottingham Forest side.
And if they can hold the form that could easily have seen them beat Burton’s neighbours Derby on New Year’s Eve, and retain the goal touch they rediscovered against fellow East Midlanders Forest last week, they can give themselves a real shot in the arm in their fight against the drop.
End of the dream back formation
The departure of Nathan Byrne this week, to League One Charlton on loan for the rest of the season, draws a temporary line under a thoroughly disappointing chapter for both player and club.
Latics have suffered this season with a chronic lack of a right-back, yet both Gary Caldwell and Warren Joyce chose to field centre-backs, left-backs, centre-midfielders, wingers and even a No.10 in there rather than Byrne, supposedly a right wing-back by trade.
That speaks volumes for me about a player who didn’t once complete 90 minutes in a Wigan shirt.
Not to mention the end of the dream of a back-four consisting of Byrne, Burn, Burke and Burke...at least for now.
The votes are in?
Cristiano Ronaldo was named FIFA World Player of the Year this week...but as ever the real interest was sifting through the full voting lists.
Somehow both Wayne Rooney and Gareth Southgate failed to put Lionel Messi in their top three, which doesn’t reflect well on either of them to be fair.
But my highlight was Chile manager Juan Antonio Pizzi voting for Chile captain Alexis Sanchez as his top player...and not even casting a vote for second or third. Just don’t ever ask him to apply for you child’s high-school place.
A high-risk strategy if ever I saw one...
Chant of the week
“City of culture, we know what we are!” sang the Hull fans during Tuesday night’s League Cup defeat at Manchester United.
As for Sky’s decision to book Mike Phelan as a guest to talk about the impressive CV of his successor, at the club which sacked him days ago? That was just cruel
Powell still has time yet
How do you solve a problem like Nick Powell?
For years a number of managers have tried and, sadly, been largely unsuccessful.
Since leaving boyhood club Crewe in the summer of 2012 for the bright lights of Manchester United, arguably only one man has got even close to tapping into Powell’s undoubted potential.
Ironically, that was Owen Coyle during the first half of his season-long loan at Latics in 2013/14.
Hopes were high that Gary Caldwell – a former team-mate during that loan spell – and then Warren Joyce – his former mentor in the United Under-23 side – could bring out the best in the player.
But a succession of injury niggles has so far put paid to that, and it seems we may not see Powell again until next season after he broke down again against Nottingham Forest at the weekend.
Bringing Powell back to the DW last summer was a gamble that was always going to prove to be either an absolute masterstroke or a total catastrophe.
I don’t mind admitting I thought (and hoped) it would be the former, and a return to his blistering form during the first half of his loan spell three years ago.
A colleague at Evening Post Towers – a Latics season-ticket holder – insisted it would be the latter, remembering the way he’d gone spectacularly off the boil after Christmas.
Well, for the time being, I was wrong.
Greg, you were right (and it galls me to say that!).
But at just 22 years of age, there is still plenty of time for Powell to turn things around, and fulfil the potential that once made Sir Alex Ferguson shell out £6m for his services.
Fingers crossed there is still a happy ending to be found for Nick Powell and Wigan Athletic in the not-too-distant future. What a waste if that’s not the case.
It’s goodbye to the Craig of the (highly rare) moment
Craig Davies also left the DW this week, after a largely frustrating 18 months at the club. On his day, the former Wales international was simply unplayable, his ability to shield the ball and roll a defender perfected to an absolute art form.
However, that ‘day’ was annoyingly rare, meaning he moved on having netted just three times in his Latics career.
However, one of those goals was at Chesterfield last season, meaning he’ll always have a starring role in one of THE moments of a wonderful campaign for the club.
The more World Cup matches the merrier
So the World Cup will include 48 teams from 2026.
It’s a move that’s largely been panned, but I personally don’t have a problem with it.
It’ll be more games to watch during work every four years (if my editor is reading this, it’s research for my job....honestly!).
It will obviously also improve the chances of all of the home nations making it through – although rumours Scotland have requested the competition be extended to 96 teams just to be on the safe side are as yet unconfirmed.
Further afield, expect Australia to swiftly and ‘reluctantly’ reverse their decision to move from Oceania to Asia to improve their chances of qualifying, now their ‘home’ federation has a guaranteed qualifier.
One thing is for sure, though. My decision to buy shares in Panini stickers on Tuesday morning has certainly paid off...