It’s fair to say that Wigan Athletic fans will be forgiven for not being 100 per cent concentrating on the action when Southend United visit the DW this weekend.
After all, the events at Colchester and Bradford – who host Burton and Walsall respectively – could also prove hugely significant in whether Latics achieve an instant return to the Championship.
If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard something go through the permutations since Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw at Burton, I’d have more money than Latics have received in parachute payments this year.
And as most opposition managers and chairmen have helpfully pointed out in recent months, that’s quite a lot.
But it’s worth reiterating one more time the state of play at the top of League One, in case your brain suddenly starts working overtime between 3-5pm on Saturday, and panic starts to set in.
Latics are currently three points clear of second-placed Burton at the summit, with three games to play. Walsall are three points further back, with a game in hand.
So basically, it’s in Wigan’s hands.
Three wins from three, or even two wins and a draw, and it’s promotion and the League One title – regardless of what Burton or Walsall do.
Even two wins a a loss would do it, given Latics’ goal difference (+33) is worth an extra point compared to Burton’s (+16) and Walsall (+18).
So basically if Latics beat Southend on Saturday, they can secure top spot in the early kick-off the following week at Blackpool, with their opponents powerless to do anything about it as they lunch.
Any slip-up from Burton and Walsall, and obviously Wigan’s task becomes even more straight-forward.
And Burton’s three fixtures are no gimmes – relegation-threatened Colchester and Doncaster away, and play-off chasing Gillingham at home.
Walsall’s run-in kicks-off with the toughest game any of the top three have to face – away to a Bradford side who need a win to clinch a play-off berth.
Home games against relegation-threatened Shrewsbury and Fleetwood should be far more difficult now than they would otherwise be, although their fabulous away record should ensure they finish with a final-day win at mid-table Port Vale.
If Latics drop points against either Southend or Blackpool – andtheir rivals win them all – Gary Caldwell’s men still have a final-day visit of Barnsley to put things right.
And the last time they went up from the third tier – back in 2002-03 – the final game of the campaign was the visit of...you got it, Barnsley
Happily, Latics won 1-0.
Strap yourselves in – the next two or three weeks should be very interesting...and hopefully very enjoyable!
If Latics are to get over the line, they have to tighten up their defence at set-pieces.
While they continue to enjoy dominance over opponents in open play, they are showing their Achilles heel far too often for comfort.
Indeed, the last five goals Latics have conceded have all been from set-pieces – a free-kick at Burton, two corners and a penalty against Doncaster, and a corner against Shrewsbury.
The last goal they shipped from open play was the late consolation at Swindon a month ago.
Craig Morgan’s timely return will help, but it’s certainly something Gary Caldwell and Co will be working on at the training ground this week to avoid the rest of their fabulous work going to waste.
Manuel Pellegrini reckons the collapse of Manchester City’s Premier League title challenge can be traced back to February 1, when the club announced Pep Guardiola would be taking over as manager next term.
It was immediately followed by back-to-back losses to Leicester and Spurs, from which City have never recovered.
“At the start of February there was news about the change of the manager, about a lot of things that involved the minds of all the players,” Pellegrini mused this week.
This comment is in stark contrast to a leading City figure, who said this on the day the news broke: “I don’t think it is good to have speculation about different things. I prefer to finish (by announcing) today. That is why I have told the press and told the players. I told the club two weeks ago that I would do it.”
The source of the original quote?
A Mr M.Pellegrini.