THE phrase ‘fixture pile-up’ is a very well-worn cliche, especially at this stage of the campaign.
But never has it been more appropriate than with Wigan Athletic’s run-in this term.
It was always going to be a difficult season for the club, on the back of relegation from the Premier League and having seen half of last year’s playing staff, as well as the management, moving on.
As well as eight extra games in the Championship, there was also the small matter of a Europa League campaign and a Community Shield to negotiate.
And that was factoring without the club’s new-found but already deep-rooted affinity with the FA Cup – which they clearly won’t be giving up without an almighty fight.
Three times Latics have been drawn against Premier League opposition, and three times Uwe Rosler’s men have prevailed.
Yet, quite remarkably, rather than hinder their promotion push, the cup run actually seems to be underpinning it.
While progressing to a second successive Wembley semi-final, Latics have also been making mincemeat of their rivals for promotion.
In consecutive away games, Latics have seen off play-off rivals Brighton, Nottingham Forest and Ipswich on their own pitches to surge into the play-off picture.
Top two Leicester and Burnley, unfortunately, look to have too many points in the bag – but you never know.
With the likes of Derby, QPR, Forest and the rest all showing signs of flagging, it is looking increasingly likely that Latics could finish as high as third spot.
Which, considering where they were when Rosler took over in early December, is a quite incredible transformation.
Latics will have to continue to do it the hard way, with players dropping like flies at the moment.
In the last week alone, Chris McCann, Roger Espinoza and Leon Barnett have joined Ben Watson on the injured list.
And one look at the upcoming fixture list underlines just how much a victim of their own success Latics have become.
In the 34 days between the FA Cup quarter-final and semi-final, Latics will face nine league games.
Just the NINE important games that will go a long way towards shaping their season. However, as we’ve already seen, with Rosler at the helm, anything is possible.
THIS Thursday’s clash between Warriors and Warrington is already shaping up to be a real blockbuster.
A repeat of last year’s Grand Final, the stakes have been raised by Warrington’s ‘assisting’ of Sydney Roosters’ preparations for the recent World Club Challenge – something that naturally didn’t go down too well with Shaun Wane.
While that sort of ‘grudge’ has been lapped up by the media, when the whistle goes at the Halliwell Jones, it will be all about the players.
It’s fair to say that neither side has hit their straps so far, but it’s very early days yet.
As Wigan proved last year, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
And it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if the two teams doing battle on Thursday are the two teams at Old Trafford again in October.
And here’s hoping to the same outcome as well...