Skipper Stephen Warnock hopes there will be more nerves and more excitement around the DW Stadium tonight, and in the coming weeks.
An atmosphere on a knife edge, fans biting nails and barely being able to watch, players running on empty as they chase down every ball. If it’s like that, it means Latics are still in it - there’s still hope.
We have to look after ourselves and hope that teams around us falterStephen Warnock
When supporters stop listening in on other games through headphones plugged into portable radios (okay these days they will be checking tweets, but the imagery is more nostalgic) it means it’s over and a swift return to League One is sealed.
But not everyone is resigned to that fate yet, and Latics get the chance tonight to apply pressure on their relegation rivals when they host Barnsley a day before the rest of the Championship clubs start their Easter weekend.
And Warnock admits the players will be keeping a close eye on tomorrow’s action if they get a result tonight.
“Anyone who says that’s lying,” he said about players who say they don’t look at the table.
“You do look, you’ve got to look. You’re only human and you’re all wired up the same way and think the same way.
“We’re no different. We know what’s going on around us and we know who the teams are playing. As soon as we come off the pitch it’s the first thing we look at.”
While looking at the teams ahead of Latics in the table can’t be allowed to act as a distraction while their Championship status is still in the balance, Warnock is aware his side’s fate is out of their hands. But he is determined to ensure there is still reason for fans to hope before Cardiff arrive at the DW Stadium on Saturday, April 22, when there will be just three games to go.
“We have to put ourselves in a position come Tuesday morning that we’re in a better place and that’s through our own doing,” he said.
“We have to look after ourselves and hope that teams around us falter over the Easter weekend period but we only concentrate on ourselves.”
Some might argue now is the ideal time to face Paul Heckingbottom’s Tykes, given their 2-0 over Blackburn last weekend mathematically secured their status in the second tier for next season. There is hope they might relax.
But Warnock warned Barnsley will be out to prove a point, given they were heavily tipped to be in a relegation scrap themselves having come up from League One behind champions Wigan last season.
“For them they want to finish as high as they can in the league,” said the captain.
“They’ve come into the league and they’ve thought they’d be one of the favourites to go down.
“They’ve proven a lot of people wrong and are a very good team.
“We’re under no illusion that it won’t be a walk in the park and they won’t be lying down and letting that happen. They came up with us last year and we were the champions so they want to prove a point against us.”
When the sides met at Oakwell in November, the second game in charge for then Wigan boss Warren Joyce, the sides drew 0-0, a result which Warnock knows won’t be good enough should there be a repeat tonight.
Even after last weekend’s dramatic 3-2 win over Rotherham, supporters and players could have been forgiven for needing replacement phone screens when other results came in.
Bristol City’s unexpected 3-1 win over Wolves kept the gap between Latics and safety at seven points, while Nottingham Forest’s win over Huddersfield kept them away from trouble for at least another weekend.
“Where we haven’t picked results up over the past few weeks, other teams haven’t either so it’s stayed the same,” he explained.
“In a sense we’ve been more optimistic after games we’ve lost because we haven’t lost any ground but we’ve won at the weekend and you think we should make some ground up and we haven’t. That’s the disappointing thing.
“We needed a result but obviously we could have done with results outside of our game going our way.
“The most important thing was to get a victory in any way that it would come.”
Tonight’s clash is followed quickly by a trip to promotion-chasing Brighton on Monday, while tomorrow, all eyes will be on Bristol City’s home match with QPR and Nottingham Forest’s basement battle with Blackburn.
A win for Bristol would do damage to Wigan’s cause regardless of the result tonight, with games running out, while even though Blackburn are immediately above Latics in the table, fans will probably want to see a Rovers win to drag Forest back into trouble.
Burton, also not out of trouble, host Ipswich, while Birmingham will be expected to effectively lift themselves to safety at already-relegated Rotherham.
Monday sees Burton and Birmingham also clash at St Andrew’s while Blackburn stand in the way of Bristol taking a huge leap towards their safety.
It reads like a minefield of nerves for supporters of all the clubs involved, but the longer it goes on, the longer fans will wait before looking up places like Plymouth and Portsmouth, both on course to come up from League Two, in the A-Z.
“I think the other thing is there will be that feeling around the stadiums because of the games we’ve got to play,” said Warnock.
“They’re all games where we know there’s a lot on the line for both teams going into it so it makes it very difficult but it makes it exciting as well.”