'˜I've never seen a day as fantastic as this' - Caldwell
Gary Caldwell took one look at his Wigan Athletic players celebrating their League One title success and declared: '˜It doesn't get much better than this'.
Although Latics ended a memorable campaign in defeat, 4-1 at the hands of Barnsley, they had already achieved their seasonal goal in terms of promotion and all-but secured top spot with a week to spare.
And Caldwell says he was never in any doubt they would retain their Championship status at the first time of asking.
“It doesn’t get much better than this,” the Latics boss said.
“You set out your goals in pre-season, and it’s a long road to the title.
“I believed from minute one in this club, and in the group of players we assembled.
“I believed we were the best team in the league, I’ve said it for a number of weeks now.
“I said we should be judged on May 8, and you look at the table, and we’re top.
“Looking round the stadium, in my six-and-a-half years at the club, I’ve never seen a day as fantastic as this.”
The afternoon had started according to plan, with Will Grigg giving Latics the lead with only nine minutes gone.
But the players soon started to show the after-effects of the celebrations following the clinching of promotion last weekend, and the Tykes came up with four goals without reply.
“I thought we were outstanding for 25 minutes - probably as good as we’ve been all season,” Caldwell assessed.
“To be honest, I had worried about how we’d start the game, because of the week we’d had.
“But having started so well, I thought ‘great’, they’d signalled their intent, and I thought we’d carry on.
“We just got sloppy after the first half hour, we gave the ball away cheaply, energy levels dropped, the atmosphere dropped, and the game kind of petered out.
“Playing against a team with more desire and hunger to win, more than we did, I think showed.
“We paid the price, and it’s a good lesson moving forward.
“You can’t ever take your foot off the gas in this game or you get punished.”
It was a tough day at the office for young goalkeeper Lee Nicholls, handed his first start of the season in place of Jussi Jaaskelainen.
“Lee’s worked extremely hard since he’s come back from his loan, and I wanted to give him the opportunity,” admitted Caldwell.
“He’s been incredible in training, showed great dedication to his job every day, and he deserved the opportunity.
“It was something I had in the back of my mind to do if we got the chance, and I would have played him last week as well if we’d have wrapped it up.
“I wanted to find out things today, and I found out a lot of things about a lot my squad - some of it I knew already, some of it confirmed certain things.”
The title success caps an impressive first full season in management for Caldwell, who was unable to prevent Latics tumbling into the third tier at the end of last term.
“I want to be successful, and I think I’ve shown that since I got the job in difficult circumstances,” he added.
“We were already relegated, and not many people would have taken it, because it goes on your cv all the same.
“This year has been a great success, and next year will be extremely hard considering the quality we’re going to be up against.
“But throughout my career as a player, I wanted to be the best, and I’m no different as a manager.
“I never felt pressure as a player and I don’t as a manager - what will be, will be.
“I know if I work hard enough, and I give it everything I’ve got, I can look myself in the mirror.
“Some times it goes well, some times it goes badly.
“But you’ve got to enjoy moments like this, because they don’t happen very often.”