Talking Football: The road to redemption starts now

Stephen Warnock after relegation was confirmed last week
Stephen Warnock after relegation was confirmed last week

Well, sadly there wasn’to be another ‘Great Escape’ to add to the long list of others inWigan Athletic folklore.

After a season of languishing in the bottom three, Latics found themselves in the drop zone, needing snookers, when the music stopped at Reading last weekend.

Shaun MacDonald (middle) is visited in hospital by former team-mates

Shaun MacDonald (middle) is visited in hospital by former team-mates

The time for reflecting on how and why that happened will come over the long summer months.

For now, Latics have to negotiate one more frame before putting the cue back in the rack.

Sunday’s visit of Leeds United looked like being a pivotal game at both ends of the table for much of the season.

While Latics have been fighting for their lives, the West Yorkshiremen have been in contention for promotion for much of the campaign.

At one point it looked like Garry Monk’s men may even threaten the top two, which makes their slip out of the play-off picture even more alarming.

On paper, the game means nothing for either team.

If ever there was a fixture you could roll out the cliches about heads being on the beach, it’s this one.

While that may well be true for Leeds, the reality is that it’s anything but for Latics.

The Wigan fans have had to put up with some, let’s be honest, pretty dreadful fare at the DW Stadium this term.

The 18 goals they’ve seen their side score on home soil is the worst in the Football League.

Indeed, if it hadn’t been for Nick Powell-inspired, three-goal wins over Rotherham and Barnsley in the last month, it would have threatened the record books.

With that as a backdrop, Latics have to sell season tickets for next term. They have to try and persuade their supporters that next year will be different.

Most will buy out of habit. Others, though, may take some persuading.

The imminent choice of a new manager will, of course, go a long way towards creating a positivity for the future.

But a rousing display this weekend against Leeds would at least give the fans something to take into the summer months.

In difficult circumstances, Shaun MacDonald has been a class act during his first season at Wigan Athletic.

One of the most genuinely nice guys in the game, MacDonald certainly didn’t deserve to have his season end with a double leg break.

His class on the pitch extended to off it over the weekend, when he absolved Reading’s George Evans of any blame for the challenge that team-mate Sam Morsy reckoned was ‘a disgrace’ – even going as far as to urge the Royals to get promoted for him.

No wonder his hospital room was quickly filled by former team-mates (above) eager to travel for miles and show their support.

We wish him well.

As several Reading players stopped in the mixed zone on Saturday to chat about the upcoming play-offs, Ali Al Habsi preferred instead to talk glowingly about his time with Wigan Athletic, and his hopes that his former club could bounce back from relegation to League One.

A class act on and off the field...and hopefully a Premier League player once again next term.

First things first...fair play to Bolton Wanderers for winning promotion back to the Championship.

As anyone who watched Latics during the first couple of months of last term will testify, it isn’t the easiest of divisions to get to terms with. Considering the well-documented off-field problems at the Macron, it’s a great achievement.

But a trophy for coming runners-up?

Nope, me neither.

This weekend’s visit of Leeds United will evoke memories of that famous afternoon two years ago, when Dave Whelan went on to the field to draw a line under his 20-year stint as Wigan Athletic chairman.

Or, as it soon became, the day Whelan silenced 5,000 Yorkshiremen by reminding them their team ‘haven’t won the FA Cup for 25 years’.

One of my all-time 
top 5 football moments. Absolutely no question!