CONTRASTING fortunes, contrasting league positions… same result required.
Fans of both Wigan Athletic and Swindon couldn’t be waking up to more different Saturdays despite the fact they are destined to spend the final couple of hours of daylight in the same place.
Latics fans face a short journey, possibly via The Brick or Wigan Central, in high spirits as they hope to watch their team make it 10 games without defeat and consolidate their play-off place – or perhaps even climb up to fourth if Peterborough can do them a favour at Coventry.
Swindon fans are hoping their team won’t go 10 games without a win.
Instead of catching up with mates in the pub, they face around four hours trundling along the M5 and then M6 with service station coffee for refreshment on a 340-mile round trip.
Peril for their season would perhaps understate their predicament should they witness defeat today – although Sheffield United will be expected to beat Crewe to make sure defeat at the DW won’t send Swindon bottom.
To add more height to the already tall order facing The Robins, they are facing a side unbeaten at home in the league this term, and finding their rhythm with impressive displays of late – some gritty, some out-and-out class.
Not that Gary Caldwell is paying attention to any of that. The man at the helm in the home dugout will know looking at stats means little once the shrill of the referee’s whistle has pierced the autumn air, and he’s expecting his players to be braced for a scrap.
“They’re a good football team,” he said of today’s opponents.“I think their league position is a bit false for the football that they play and the quality they have in the squad so we have to be prepared for another difficult game.
“They’re a team that cause you a lot of problems in how they play. I think they are very similar to us.”
Such similarities haven’t done Swindon as much good as Latics though – four losses in the last five, including to fellow basement battlers Blackpool and Oldham leaves Swindon wounded. Their start to the season leaves an even more bitter taste for those fans making the trip today given their more than decent League One finish of fourth last season.
And Caldwell is expecting recent tough times to galvanise his opposition.
“It’s (going to be) a difficult game,” he acknowledged.
“They are obviously hurting.
“When you are down at the bottom of the league you are hurting as players,as staff, as a club, so they are going to come here and try and prove something.” But slippery floor signs aside, it isn’t lost on anybody how much Latics have improved of late.
The run they have put together since losing to Port Vale on September 12 goes a long way to justify the manager’s assertion that the squad has character and quality. And no one was unaware of the fact such wholesale changes as have been seen at the DW Stadium this summer would need time to tighten up.
Aside from long-term injuries, Caldwell has a fully fit squad to choose from, and a week off following a week with three games crammed into it has given the coaching staff precious time to work with the squad.
“It’s been good,” said Caldwell.
“We’ve used it to regenerate some players, work some players, and get the group and individuals in a better place to play come Saturday.
“When you’re winning it’s good to have games but it’s also good to get that time to recover and prepare again for Saturday.” But as satisfying as Latics have become to watch, as red hot as players such as Yanic Wildschut, Will Grigg and Max Power have become, as much as players say competition for places has them on their toes, Caldwell asserts the volume hasn’t been cranked up fully yet.
“I think in spells we’ve been very good and other times we’ve not quite had it. It’s a never ending process,” he explained.
“I don’t think you ever reach your potential or you don’t want to – there’s no ceiling on it. We have to keep pushing and keep trying to improve.
“The application they give me and the work they give me is fantastic and if they keep giving me that and keep improving and getting better then the team will improve as well.”
Caldwell’s words are exciting to hear for Latics fans, who will be hoping it is them, not the travelling Swindon faithful, who will be wanting to see the goals again on Football League Tonight.