The 12th Man Column: Let's finish the job in style on the seaside!
Our 12th Man Panel discuss the final straight of the League One campaign.
Be honest – you were worried weren’t you? You were.
It’s OK to admit it, we all were.
At this stage of the season it is the results that matter.
That is all that matters.
A dour 0-0 draw against Rotherham last Saturday was about to be followed up with another one against Oxford on Tuesday until everything changed late in the game.
Games can be won or lost based upon one mistake, or one piece of quality.
This time it was pure quality.
Latics showed they have a superior squad and won the game.
But it wasn’t one piece of quality which won the game, it was three strung together.
A fabulous through ball from Sam Morsy split the defence.
Devante Cole was on the end of it in a flash and, as the goalkeeper came out towards him, he resisted the temptation to take the glory for himself.
Rather he plays a perfect square ball for Will Grigg.
It would have been natural for Cole to try and finish it himself.
He hasn’t played much and must be frustrated about that.
A goal would make the gaffer notice him.
Yet he plays the ball to Grigg, who doesn’t need any more goals, for a tap-in.
Very unselfish but absolutely the right thing to do.
Cole is not a novice. He has scored goals at this level already.
Trying to go for goal himself must have gone through his mind. Yet it genuinely is split-second decisions like that that can be the difference between promotion and play-offs, and promotion and the title.
Actually Grigg’s finish was a little more than a tap-in.
It came to him sharply and he hit it powerfully and accurately into the centre of the goal.
That was the third bit of genuine quality.
We should also point out the draw at the weekend was not a bad result.
Rotherham are good. They will be one of the favourites in the play-offs.
Likewise Oxford are not a terrible team. They may not have a lot left to play for, though they are not yet safe from relegation, but they will certainly have been playing for pride after the 7-0 defeat before Christmas.
Yes it was nervy, yes it was frustrating, but yes it was a win.
7-0 or 1-0...they all count, especially at this stage in the season.
Our win, added to Shrewsbury’s loss, gave us a six-point swing on Tuesday night.
The day when the top three finally had all played an equal number of games was a pivotal night in the promotion race.
Five points will guarantee our place in the Championship next season. Four points will do it in practice.
I said last week that promotion was pretty much done.
It certainly is now.
Not mathematically but to all intents and purposes.
For the record, I thought that following the Rotherham game we would win last five games.
If we do, then we’ll win the league with 102 points.
Already we have won six of the last eight games.
If one sign of a good team is winning when you don’t play well, the other one is getting the job done at the business end of the season. Latics are.
We should also point out it must be rare Karl Robinson isn’t the least popular person in a stadium.
However, this was the situation that the current Oxford manager found himself in on Tuesday.
Referee Trevor Kettle seems to be one of those impartial officials who annoy both sets of fans, players and managers equally.
From memory the other Latics game he was in charge of this season – the home 0-0 draw against Karl Robinson’s Charlton at the end of 2017 – was a difficult night for him as well.
I seem to recall some awful kitchen-based puns from a certain local journalist!
But we’re only five points away from the Championship now – and the prospect of leaving the Trevor Kettles of this league behind.
Except that if I remember correctly, even if we can avoid Kettle next season, the officials up there are not much better!
Promotion was all but wrapped up on Tuesday night after substitutes Will Grigg and Devante Cole inspired the Latics to a 1-0 win over a resolute Oxford side.
For 86 minutes, it looked as if Karl Robinson had perfectly executed not one, but two defensive masterclasses at the DW Stadium this season.
That was until the pass of the season from captain Sam Morsy set Cole away down the right-hand side, and the former Fleetwood forward unselfishly squared for Grigg, who tapped in his 18th league goal of the campaign.
Whoever doubted him?
With Shrewsbury also losing at home to Charlton, it means Wigan can mathematically confirm promotion to the Championship with three points on Saturday, providing Shrewsbury fail to beat relegated Bury.
However, Fleetwood will be a tough test.
John Sheridan has dragged the Cod Army away from the relegation zone and will now be aiming for a top-half finish.
Losing just twice in 10 matches, Fleetwood are among the form teams in the third tier of the Football League.
Goalkeeper Alex Cairns was pipped to the League One player of the month for March by the one and only Chey Dunkley.
The 25-year-old shot-stopper was part of a defence that conceded just once throughout the month, so it will be up to Nick Powell and co to produce that bit of magic at Highbury.
Title-winners with Latics in the 2015/16 season, Conor McAleny and Jordy Hiwula, will also present obvious goal threats, while midfielder Kyle Dempsey is the glue that keeps the team together in the middle of the park.
If promotion fails to occur on Saturday, focus will turn to the long trip down to Bristol on Tuesday night.
Similarly to Fleetwood, the Gas have absolutely nothing to play for and will hopefully ‘be on the beach’ for our rearranged trip to the Memorial Stadium.
Until defender Ryan Sweeney was sent off in the 30th minute in the reverse fixture, I think Bristol were one of most threatening teams to come to the DW this season.
With one of the Football League’s best up-and-coming managers at the helm in Darrell Clarke, Rovers are capable of turning up against the best sides in the league.
Look no further than their deserved point against Blackburn less than a week ago.
Throughout the season, Clarke has tried to play the ‘right way’ despite their home pitch looking more like a beach than a football playing surface at numerous points this year.
The loss of key man Billy Bodin in January to Preston North End was a huge blow, but young striker Ellis Harrison has led the line well in his absence and has netted 12 goals this term.
Neither game will be anywhere near easy. However, you wouldn’t back against the Latics picking up six points in their quest for the title.
Nearly there, the finishing line is in sight we’re that close.
Tuesday was a difficult match, no doubt about it.
Oxford under Karl Robinson are a different prospect to the Oxford we faced in December.
Gone are the open, free-flowing football side we faced, and in its place are a carbon copy of Robinson’s Charlton side that we also faced in December.
Time-wasting from the first minute, cynical fouls all over the pitch and very little in the way of attacking enterprise from the opposition and it very nearly worked for them.
That is until Devante Cole and Will Grigg combined to give Latics all three points.
I, and I’m sure many other Wiganers, thought our chance to extend the lead at the top of the league had gone until Cole broke in to the box and squared the ball to his striker partner on the left.
Devante deserves some credit, he’s been very unlucky to find himself on the side-lines since his arrival from Fleetwood.
One of the leading scorers in the division when he arrived, he hasn’t had a chance.
But when you look at Will Grigg and James Vaughan’s performances since the turn of the year you can understand why.
Hopefully Cole will have a part to play in the last four games of the season and can leave his mark going in to next year.
The relief at that goal going in was massive and, although a draw wouldn’t have been disastrous in our search for promotion, it would have been a blow and leave us looking over our shoulder at both Blackburn and Shrewsbury.
As it is we know that we’ve got the upper hand.
If we keep ahead of the opposition, we’ll be promoted.
It’s amazing to think we’ve already hit the 90-point mark but haven’t yet had promotion confirmed.
It looks as though Shrewsbury’s defeat to Charlton could well finish off their automatic promotion hopes.
It’s sad to see Shrewsbury falter at this stage in the proceedings, mainly because I’d much prefer an away day in Shrewsbury next season than Blackburn!
But if their struggles see us promoted, I’m not too sure many of us will be complaining.
Promotion could well be sealed this weekend depending on results elsewhere – and what a way it would be to celebrate.
With over a thousand Wiganers on the Fylde coast, along with those hearty souls – including Emmerson Boyce, David Sharpe, Jonathan Jackson and David Clarke – who are walking all the way to Fleetwood in aid of Joseph’s Goal.
The lads have looked tired in the last couple of games against Rotherham and Oxford, which isn’t surprising considering how much effort has been put in over the course of the season.
If they can squeeze every last ounce out over the last four games we will be promoted – and Paul Cook will have over- exceeded any expectations I had of what we could possibly achieve at the start of the season.
It’s nearly there, four more to go.
Let’s help the lads over the line.