DW proves perfect for a Wild frontier
Yanic Wildschut reckons Wigan Athletic's biggest achievement in this incredible season was dealing with the huge expectation levels inside and outside the DW Stadium.
Latics conclude their campaign on Sunday with a home game against Barnsley, after which they will receive the League One title in front of a bumper crowd.
And it’s no more than Latics deserve, having bounced back in perfect fashion following the ignominy of relegation from the Championship last term.
After a patchy start – inevitably so, following a summer of upheaval last year – Latics quickly found their stride, and suffered only one defeat, at Doncaster, in the last five months of the campaign.
Opposition fans – and some managers – have regularly pointed to the huge advantage Latics have enjoyed this year in terms of parachute payments still trickling into the DW coffers from the Premier League days.
But Wildschut says the club’s achievement in regaining their Championship status at the first attempt should not be under-estimated.
“It’s never as simple as that,” he told the Evening Post.
“You just look at Chelsea, who were Premier League champions last year, and yet this year they’ve struggled.
“It’s been difficult, because there was a lot of pressure on us.
“The club had obviously invested a lot of money, and everybody came here looking to win promotion.
“We managed to put together a really long unbeaten run, and I feel we deserved to go up.”
That 20-game unbeaten sequence - between mid-December and mid-April – saw Latics climb from play-off contenders to a shoo-in for the title.
And Wildschut says that incredible level of consistency explains why Latics were able to outlast the rest of the division.
“Even in difficult games we got the win, and when we weren’t at our best we didn’t lose, and I think that’s the sign of a champion team,” the flying Dutchman recognised.
“This is what we wanted, and we got there in the end.”
Having experienced play-off heartache last term with Middlesbrough, Wildschut – who joined Latics initially on loan in September and then permanently in January – says it was important the club avoided the end-of-season lottery.
“We didn’t want to go through the play-offs, because it’s really difficult as there are a lot of teams in there playing well,” he added.
“This is the best way to go up – you get a longer holiday for a start, as well as the other benefits!
“The play-offs is such a stressful situation, and the team that deserves to go up doesn’t always get there – like last year at Middlesbrough.
“As a footballer, you want to win things, and that’s what we’ve done.”
Wildschut reached 10 goals for the season last weekend with a brilliant brace at Blackpool, despite starting the game on the bench.
“It’s the first time I’ve scored two goals in one game since I’ve been a professional, so it was about time!” he laughed.
“I was a little bit disappointed to start on the bench, and when you come on you’ve got to make a difference.
“It worked out quite well for me, and now we’re all looking forward to the next challenge in the Championship.
“I hope and I think we will do good, with the nucleus of this squad and maybe some more additions.
“That’s for later in the summer, though.
“We just want to enjoy the moment, and Sunday, because days like this don’t come around very often.”