Two games in the space of 72 hours, both seemingly set to end all square.
Stick or twist time for Wigan Athletic.
In pushing for a late winner at Fulham on Saturday, the visitors were caught on the break as Neeskens Kebano plundered a 94th-minute winner for Fulham.
Now let’s be fair, it was no more than the Cottagers deserved on the balance of the 90 minutes when they should have been out of sight long before the dramatic finale.
But it said much about Latics that they were still thinking about winning the game when most teams in their position would have been settling for a pretty good point.
Then, with three minutes left at Wolves on Tuesday night, Latics twisted again by sending forward the artillery for a corner, and were this time rewarded when Jake Buxton got his head to Max Power’s corner and broke the collective heart of Wolves.
It was a far more exciting finale than one of the worst, most uneventful, dour games in recent memory warranted.
But not one of the Latics fans who made the trip to Wolverhampton – on Valentine’s night, remember! – will have cared one jot.
In backing themselves and being positive, Latics have ended up with three points from the two games, rather than the two they’d looked set for approaching the last few minutes. And who knows, it could be that extra point that proves all-important come the final shake-up in May.
For weeks now, Latics fans have been looking at how Burton Albion – who have been an almost constant staple in fourth-bottom place – have been faring, but a more considered look at the table tells a far bigger picture.
While Latics can now leapfrog Burton with a win against Preston this weekend, they are also within three points of Bristol City – who’ve been sinking the the proverbial stone in recent months – and only five adrift of QPR, whom they visit next Tuesday. Wolves – with a big FA Cup fifth-round tie against Chelsea this weekend to preoccupy themselves – are only six points clear, and far from safe, while Nottingham Forest – due at the DW on Saturday week – are only a further point better off alongside another side in freefall, Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa. Even 15th-placed Brentford, eight points clear of Latics at the moment, can’t consider themselves out of it, especially as they try to find another way of scoring goals following the January sale of star striker Scott Hogan.
All of which means a very interesting final 15 matches – a third of the campaign – coming up. And with Latics top of the form table for sides in the bottom half of the table – with 10 points from the last six matches – there’ll be more than a few nervous looks over shoulders come 5pm on Saturday if Warren Joyce’s men can keep up the good work at home against PNE.
It’s been a long time since Latics entertained Preston at home in the league.
More than 12 years, in case you were wondering.
Sunday, December 5, 2004 – Latics 5 Preston 0.
Of course, it’s hardly been Wigan’s fault that the derby fell off the radar for just over a decade, as they continued an upward trajectory into the Premier League that their north-west neighbours were unable to match.
But it will be good to see the return of a fixture that used to be the highlight of the campaign not so long ago.
Of course, both Latics and North End are small fish in the Championship these days.
But while Latics are desperately seeking three points to see them hopefully move out of the relegation zone, Preston have been nearer the top six for most of the campaign.
Given the relatively tiny budget of Simon Grayson’s men, it’s been one of the success stories of the season to see them maintain an almost constant presence in the top half.
And a real positive example that, even in this day and age, it’s not all about throwing millions around in search of instant glory.
Right, that’s enough with the pleasantries.
Latics have a score to settle from the corresponding fixture at Deepdale back in September, when a ridiculously fortuitous winning goal from Jordan Hugill proved decisive.
At the other end, Latics had chances to not only level but come away with all three points, Nathan Byrne hitting the post with the best of them when it seemed easier to score.
It was results – and hard-luck stories – like that which eventually did for then-boss Gary Caldwell.
Fingers crossed Latics show more of a killer touch – and have the rub of the green – this weekend.