Talking Football: Stage is set for title-bid
Well here we are then. One more game to go... and another quite extraordinary campaign following Wigan Athletic is over.
It doesn’t seem nine weeks let alone nine months since Nick Powell’s goal at MK Dons set Latics on the long and winding road to promotion.
But at the same time so much has happened since that day... and almost all of it good!
Paul Cook last week reckoned there was only one time – the 2-0 home defeat to Blackpool – when he genuinely felt disappointed with what his side had served up.
For balance, I’d also throw in the 3-1 loss at Southend the same week, but we’re being churlish now.
And let’s not forget both of those games were in the days preceding THAT night at the DW, when runaway Premier League champions Manchester City were dumped out of the FA Cup.
It’s only natural the players had their minds drifting to that one, and the chance to rub shoulders with the likes of Silva, De Bruyne, Aguero and so on.
Not only did they rub shoulders, of course, but they stood firm in the face of almost-constant City pressure, and managed to produce a piece of magic at the other end through Will Grigg to end City’s hopes of a quadruple.
That night alone would have made the campaign memorable. But the side have also proved that, not only can they produce one-off heroics, they have been the most consistent side in the division on a weekly basis.
Sure, they were playing catch-up to Blackburn and Shrewsbury for a few weeks during the midst of the FA Cup. But Cook and his players always insisted the games in hand would restore normality to the league ladder.
And sure enough, the cream has risen to the top, and it’s Latics who are in control of their own destiny heading into the last weekend of the season.
A point at Doncaster will add the title icing to the promotion cake that’s already been baked.
And speaking to the players and management this week, they are fiercely determined to complete the job and pick up the trophy. It maybe doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. But when these players come to hanging up their boots, it’ll be the medals, and the memories of celebrating title success with the fans, that they’ll look back on with most fondness.
The omen’s aren’t exactly in Wigan’s favour ahead of the trip to Doncaster. Latics have lost in each of their last SIX visits there...by a combined aggregate of 18-6.
On the flip side, mid-table Doncaster have precious little to play for, and haven’t mustered a goal in any of their last FOUR outings.
Fingers crossed it works out in much the same manner as the trip to Fleetwood a fortnight ago, with the players doing their bit on the field and the fans doing their off it with a magnificent wall of noise.
There’ll be almost four times as many Wiganers there on Saturday – around 4,500 – so the stage is certainly set for a big occasion.
I just hope social media is ready for the scenes that will follow if – and surely when – Latics complete the job and the title party begins in earnest...
During my trips over to Euxton for Latics media duties, I regularly bump into Shaun MacDonald.
One of the most genuinely nice blokes in football, he’s been out for over a year now with the broken leg he suffered in the penultimate game of last term at Reading.
After briefly returning to the bench during January, an injury setback has meant he still hasn’t kicked a ball for the first team.
Not only is that an absolute tragedy for a man who has spent the last 12 months working tirelessly behind the scenes to get back to where he was.
But it’s also a frightening example of just how strong this Latics squad is, given he was a stand-out performer – along with Dan Burn – in the Championship last year.
Having signed a new deal with Latics only recently – a great statement from the club in acknowledging his contribution and standing in the dressing room – MacDonald will hopefully have a big role to play in acclimatising to the second tier next term.
He’ll also effectively be the first, and potentially one of the most significant, signings of the summer from Paul Cook.
It’s just over a week until this year’s Joseph’s Goal Latics Legends game against Manchester City at Ashton Town FC.
And the latest Wigan signing has certainly raised an eyebrow or two!
Pascal Chimbonda is perhaps better known by Latics fans for handing in a transfer request in the immediate aftermath of the final game of the 2005-06 season at Arsenal, while still in his kit.
Clearly not acceptable behaviour, and a shame because it slightly tarnished a campaign where he excelled at right-back, and became – to this day – the only Latics player ever to be named in the PFA team of the year by his peers.
His appearance in the Latics Legends side will inevitably lead to one or two pantomime boos. But his willingness to support a local charity should be applauded, and hopefully go some way towards building bridges with a fanbase that once adored him.