WEMBLEY fever will be in the air this weekend when Wigan Athletic entertain Barnsley in the northern area semi-final of the JPT.
As any football supporter will tell you, the JPT is the new FA Cup, and Latics are just two hurdles away from a return to the national stadium.
And they’ll only have themselves to blame if they don’t get there.
Standing immediately in their way are Barnsley, who are currently rock bottom of League One.
Assuming they beat the Tykes, standing between Latics and Wembley would be a two-legged tie against another struggling League One side, Fleetwood, or League Two outfit Morecambe.
Little wonder the bookies have Latics strong favourites to not only qualify for the final, but also win a competition they’ve already twice won in its previous guises.
However, as Latics know all too well, the underdog very often has its day in knock-out football.
And Gary Caldwell’s men will need to give Saturday’s clash as much focus as they would a league game to ensure there are no unwelcome surprises.
Speaking to players and the manager this week, they absolutely understand the importance of the competition to the fans, and will be going all-out to bring home the trophy.
It’s also great to see the clash being brought forward from next Tuesday to what would have been a blank weekend for both clubs to ensure a bigger crowd.
And Latics deserve great credit for capping admission prices at £5 adults and £1 concessions.
When was the last time Latics fans could watch a competitive game of football on a Saturday afternoon for a fiver?
LEIGH Sports Village played host to a high-profile Under-21 fixture on Monday night with Manchester United taking on Liverpool.
Marouane Fellaini scored United’s opener in the 3-2 win, but Latics fans would have been more interested to see the names of Nick Powell and Jerome Sinclair also on the scoresheet.
We hardly saw Sinclair during his time at Wigan, but Powell did show - particularly in the first half of the 2013/14 season – why he was once tipped for big things.
Only he will know why he hasn’t kicked on to achieve his full potential, but it’s both a shame and a waste he is not plying his trade on a much bigger stage by now.
THE nominations for BBC Sports Personality of the Year were announced this week, which provoked the usual debate up and down the country.
Once again there were no male footballers on the not-so-short list.
Although it’s not been a vintage year for the sport, I was surprised to see one name missing.
Not only does Gareth Bale remain a major player at Real Madrid, he also helped Wales qualify for a major tournament for the first time since 1958.
I wouldn’t go as far as to call the Welsh as one-man team - that would be insulting to the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Ashley Williams.
But Bale is their talisman, their go-to man, their inspiration...arguably the most important, pivotal player in any national team at the moment.
It’s not just for his match-winning contributions, as shown in the qualifiers against Andorra, Israel, Belgium and Cyprus that helped make him join-top goalscorer in qualifying.
It’s the extra 5-10 per cent he brings out in colleagues like Ramsey and Williams that lift the team to another level which marks him apart from the rest.
As far as the BBC award goes, I’m going for Andy Murray to win both Sports Personality and Team of the Year following his incredible exploits at the Davis Cup.
Phenomenal stuff from a living legend.
WHAT an achievement it was to see Jamie Vardy score for the 11th Premier League game in a row last weekend to break Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record.
There was also a nice symmetry that the new record was set against Van Nistelrooy’s old club, Manchester United.
Six years ago, Vardy was playing against not Manchester United but FC United – in the colours of the mighty Stocksbridge Park Steels. Proof that you should never give up on your dreams, and that anything is possible given the right attitude and a bit of luck.
I’M SURE I wasn’t the only one to chuckle when TV cameras picked up Diego Costa throwing his pink training bib in the direction of Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho when it became apparent he wasn’t going to be brought off the bench at Tottenham.
Costa’s aim – not for the first time this season – was way off, as he missed Mourinho by some distance.
Which is largely why the Spain striker found himself on the bench in the first place.