Caldwell reveals '˜turning point' in promotion-winning campaign
Just three games into the season and self-doubt crept into Gary Caldwell's thoughts.
His new-look Latics side had travelled to Coventry on the opening day and lost, been knocked out the Capital One Cup by Bury midweek and then lurched to a tepid 0-0 draw against Doncaster.
Even accounting for an expected sluggish start, it made for painful viewing for Caldwell and his staff.
“We were really, really poor against Doncaster,” he reflects.
“We’d lost at Coventry, lost to Bury and then that.
“We were unsure how to play, there was no real cohesion, and after the game there were discussions, questions of ‘What are we going to do?’”
Patience and persistence.
“We stuck to our principles, we played Scunthorpe the following Wednesday and we were outstanding,” he continued. “For me, that was possibly the turning point.”
Caldwell had overhauled the squad in the summer and, as well as knitting the new players together, had the challenge of putting his own fingerprints on the style of play.
He admits his approach has been influenced by former mentor Roberto Martinez, but says their approach now has a reflection of his own personality.
“I would hope people can see Wigan play and see a different team to Roberto’s team – I hope the centre-halves are better, for a start,” he grins, nodding to his own playing career.
“I hope they see an aggressive team, and that Scottishness – Roberto had a Spanish influence – my team plays the way I want them to play.
“The start of the season was very slow, we had to find our best formations and teach them the way we play. It’s difficult to bring in five or six in, so to bring in 20-odd – I lost count – and for them all to get on and buy into what we wanted to do, they deserve tremendous credit.
“But they’ve grown in belief and stature and the togetherness has come to the fore.
“The way they play, they’re brave, some of the play – for a League One team – has been exceptional.”
Since the turn of the year Latics have steadily climbed up to the top of the League One table, with just one defeat along the way.
Sometimes they have won comprehensively, other times they have won in more nervy circumstances.
“Those late goals... they’re not great for anyone in the dugout,” smiled Caldwell.
“But they have been exciting and I think that’s added to the experience for the fans.
“It’s been good for them – they can see a group of players fighting for the club.
“We’ve scored so many late goals that I got a feeling that it’s not luck – this is a group of players who have a never-say-die attitude.”
Promotion can be confirmed today, but that is merely a formality now – it would need a mathematical miracle to deny Wigan Athletic a place in the Championship next term.
To suggest they can now start planning for the next step would be wrong, however; Caldwell has been planning for it for months.
“We had to grow into the season but we’ve had plans in place for a long time,” he said.
“I don’t think I had League One plans, they were always plans for the Championship, I always believed in this group of players. We want to take the club back to where they were before, and the hard work starts now.”