It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...
Okay, I know it’s the wrong Dickens book for the time of year, but 2017 has been one to remember for Latics fans.
We started with one of the worst managers in our history, playing some of the worst football I’ve seen in my 40-odd years of watching Latics, and yet we end the year looking nailed on for promotion with (whisper it) a chance at 100 points and a record goal difference.
If anybody had ever said to me that we would be better under Owen Coyle than the man who had control of Manchester United reserves for years, I’d still be laughing now.
And yet, somehow, Warren Joyce turned us into a team for whom an attacking formation in a must-win game meant 11 men in our own area, even when we had a corner.
But, thankfully, that’s all relatively ancient history.
In the present day, we have a team full of confidence, and a manager in Paul Cook that seems to be pretty good at turning that confidence into results.
There’s no reason to suspect that it’s about to change any time soon, either.
Will Grigg is looking like his old self, Gavin Massey is looking more involved in games than he was up until a few weeks ago, and even Nick Powell looks to be something like fit.
Albeit Nick-Powell-fit, rather than actual-full-time-professional-footballer-fit.
2018 will, hopefully, continue in the same vein, with wins and goals aplenty.
What happens after May, though, is anybody’s guess.
Hopefully stability on and off the field, with a competitive Championship season and the ownership issue being cleared up instead of consisting of just speculation.
Although we all know about the Chinese interest, actual hard facts have been just about impossible to come by.
We hear snippets from inside the club regarding changes to ownership of the various Whelan holdings, or changes in personnel, but not much more.
Given the club normally leaks faster than Liza’s bucket, it’s a surprise we don’t know all the facts by now.
We all know how #massive Latics are, but Chinese investment in English football has rarely ended well, so it’s with some trepidation that 2018 is welcomed as the year which might prove pivotal to our future not just as a football team, but as a club.
The previous management have worked hard to make the tics a family club, with a decent degree of success.
It would be a shame if all that were abandoned so a foreign owner could chase money we all know doesn’t exist in this corner of South West Lancs.
Whatever happens, it will, again, be a year to remember. That’s just how we roll.
I pride myself on being a fair-minded, unbiased correspondent.
Alternatively, if I am going to put forward a biased opinion, I tend to put a disclaimer in at the time.
I have in the past referred to a situation where each group of supporters watching the same game often has a different lens on the same game and it certainly felt like that on Boxing Day.
The internet supporters of Shrewsbury spewed forth venom towards us post-match in perhaps what has been a stock response to those seeking to pour cold water over their unlikely rise to the top.
I personally felt the Shrews came with a game-plan (and note the use of the word ‘personally’ carefully added to denote an opinion not necessarily a fact!)
The game-plan involved kicking our better players, defending to the hilt, time-wasting, surrounding the ref, play acting, cynical after-the-ball digs and generally spoiling any attempts we had in trying to get a football match started.
I believe the phrase I’m looking for to describe our visitors is a colloquial term more commonly used to describe a collection of outside toilets.
This opinion was more or less backed up by esteemed local journalists, Kendrick and Farrimond. Hey, maybe they’re biased too!
There’s no harm in playing that way if you’re of limited means.
I’d just like them to admit it, indeed their manager more or less admitted that they had come to stop us play.
Getting their fans to admit it was a totally different story, and I had two days of phone bleeping accusing my lovely Wigan Athletic of being a team of divers and a dirty side, backed up by ‘fair play’ league tables and all sorts of meaningless gubbins I simply couldn’t be bothered to read.
What they couldn’t seem to get their heads around was that my opinion was based on the game itself.
Maybe they aren’t a dirty team generally, but they adopted certain tactics on this particularly day designed to disrupt and stifle us in order to collect the precious points they so wildly celebrated at the end.
That’s my opinion based on what I saw and I’m not going to change it.
The other comment from Shrewsbury fans was continual gloating about how they were a better side, and we were bitter because they have taken four points off us, and we hadn’t scored against them.
Fair enough, but unless the league rules have recently changed, I’d say it’s a bit more important to collectively take more points off the other 22 teams in the league than the one at the top of the table.
I’ve previously had lots of praise for Shrewsbury but the victim mentality of their fans has left a bit of a sour taste in the mouth, in much the same way as Peterborough earlier this year.
Yet maybe just maybe, when I apply a different lens, we’re just bad losers (or drawers!).
Maybe that’s not a bad thing if we can bounce straight back with a home win against Charlton on Friday night.
Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser and all that!
Looking back on 2017, the contrasts from the start of the year are stark.
At the turn of the year Latics were on the floor – both in terms of the league position and the atmosphere surrounding the club.
The sacking of Gary Caldwell hadn’t had the impact it required. In fact most people would say it made a bad situation worse.
Graham Barrow got a reaction of sorts from the lads, but it was too little too late, and Latics embarrassingly crashed back to League One at the first time of asking.
The summer of 2017 will be seen as a watershed moment.
League One wouldn’t be as easy as last time, there were no parachute payments to make up for the loss of income.
No large transfer budget, instead Latics had to get clever and find a manager willing to take on the challenge of getting a club on its knees up again and back to a level befitting of the set up here.
That came in the form of a former player, and the best Latics managers have traditionally been old boys, or at least those with some association with the club.
They understand this most unique of clubs in this most unique of areas.
Certainly Scousers like Paul Cook and Paul Jewell understand what it means for Latics fans.
They know we’ve come from nothing because they’ve been on that same journey.
The fact Latics ended the transfer window without spending a penny on transfer fees showed the new conditions we were operating in.
This included a fascinating sub-plot of former Manchester City director Garry Cook being added to the board as a director supposedly to seek out investment.
I’m not sure any of us would have predicted the start the side made.
Even less so when that start was maintained and became an assault on the top of the league.
There have been a couple of disappointing defeats, but Latics have always bounced back well.
Players like Will Grigg, Michael Jacobs and Max Power, who looked jaded last season, now are revelations again.
All agreeing to stay with the club and fight for Latics.
That’s without mentioning the enigma that is Nick Powell.
Playing the most football he’s played since his first season with the club in 2013/14 and arguably his best football since then.
With 2017 drawing to a close, the question is whether this Latics side keep up the impressive start to the season through 2018.
I have every faith they can and, if Cook can get promoted at the first time of asking, he’ll have written himself into Wigan Athletic folklore.
Much like a previous incumbent of the managers office at the DW Stadium.
A Scouser also named Paul.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but being able to replicate what Jewell did would be nice, wouldn’t it?
Sometimes things seem so inevitable that they never actually happen!
What I mean is that on occasions it is so obvious a certain thing will happen, and everyone just assumes it will happen...right up until the point that it turns out that it hasn’t actually happened.
It has seemed inevitable for most of the season that at some point we would give a team a proper hammering.
Not a three or four nil job, but a proper hard-core hammering.
Last Saturday at Oxford we avoided it being one of those things.
Games like that are rare. Very rare. That was an all-time Latics record league victory.
Things like that don’t happen very often. I am gutted to have missed it.
Especially as I also missed the iconic David Perkins goal at Blackpool earlier this year.
If Saturday was a slap up pre-Christmas goal-fest with all the trimmings, Boxing Day’s top-of-the-table clash might have felt like a bit of a post-Christmas diet.
But make no mistake, Shrewsbury are good.
Quick to close down, fighting for everything, putting together some quick passing with good movement. From start to finish.
Perhaps a nil-all draw was inevitable after Saturday, but Latics were the better team, possibly could have had a penalty or two, yes, Ivan Toney should have scored, and Max Power nearly scored the goal of the season.
So not all was lost. It wasn’t all dull.
It would have been lovely to have gone seven points clear at the halfway stage of the season, but being four points clear will have to do.
I doubt many people expected us to be so far ahead at this stage.
If we continue to play as we have been, and continue to get the sort of results that we have done in the first half of the campaign, then we will be playing Championship football next season.
Right now we are certainly showing no signs of letting up or giving others a chance.
The biggest threat to our success right now is the impending transfer window.
While we all like to focus on which players will join is in the next month, the truth is that we’d probably settle for no incomings, if we could guarantee no exits during January.
What do you put on top of your tree? A star? An angel?
In League One, Latics are top of the tree at the festive halfway stage.
Will Grigg is our star, Michael Jacobs is our angel and Nick Powell is the fairylight flashing on and off with occasional moments of brilliance.
The strands of Dan Burn and Sam Morsy tinsel are perhaps less obvious but you would notice if they weren’t there. And dotted around are the brightly-coloured baubles that are the rest of the squad.
Our immediate needs are to keep our squad together, though I still think it would be wise to start to think a little about next year.
After last season it is not clear how many players will be good enough to keep us up, should we achieve promotion.
That said, the best time to sign most players for next season is in the summer.
If we can keep our key playing assets together then we should be in for a very happy new year.
What a difference a year makes!
Last December Latics were mired in a desperate relegation struggle, but this season they have been in tremendous form and look likely to go up as the League One champions.
The appointment of Warren Joyce was a huge mistake by Dave Whelan and David Sharpe, and it resulted in an unnecessary relegation.
Joyce was untried at Championship level having spent the last eight years in the protected atmosphere of reserve-team football, and a more experienced manager might have stabilised Latics after Gary Caldwell’s abrupt exit.
Sharpe’s decision to recruit Joyce stands in stark contrast to his appointment of the experienced Paul Cook, who was successful in Football League management with both Chesterfield and Portsmouth.
This time around one of the world’s youngest football chairman spent time doing his due diligence, did his research properly, got to know Cook and confirmed he was the right man for the job.
The likeable Scouser has been a breath of fresh air since taking over the hot seat in May.
Cook and his coaching team have created a positive atmosphere around the club.
His good humour and plain speaking has endeared him to the fans and the players have responded with improved performances on the pitch.
Cook has developed a successful system of play at Chesterfield and Portsmouth and his 4-2- 3-1 formation has resulted in Latics opening up a four-point gap at the top of the table having scored a remarkable 49 goals and only conceding 12 in 23 matches.
Latics were breathtaking at the Kassam Stadium as they demolished Oxford with a superb attacking display scoring some cracking goals in the process.
The possibility of emulating Paul Jewell’s team, which conquered the third tier with 100 points in 2002/03, is now a real one.
The festive period got off to a very jolly start, as the Latics won emphatically at Oxford, while being held at home against Shrewsbury.
We hit seven at Oxford, and a battering of that nature has been coming for some time.
The majority of teams have often put men behind the ball against us, and hoped to hit on the counter.
However, Oxford came at us to look for a game – and were ultimately punished.
Latics hosted Shrewsbury for a Boxing Day clash, with the game having multiple implications with a victory either way, although the sides split the spoils on the day.
I’ve seen a few Latics fans moan at Shrewsbury’s approach to Monday’s game on social media platforms.
And to be fair, I can see why they’ve been at the top for the most part of the season.
Although Shrewsbury probably did not try to win the game, they made it very difficult for us to play our game, and got what they desired.
I can certainly see them reaching the play-offs at the very least, and they will beat a lot of sides this season due to them being hard to break down, and quick to counter.
Blackburn have been picking up momentum of late, although we still have a five-point lead on them.
The festive period is close to coming to an end, with a home tie against Charlton tonight, and a trip to Northampton on New Year’s Day.
Charlton are on a downfall of late, which makes them even more dangerous to us as they will be wanting to prove a point.
Northampton will be difficult, as they were at the DW in September, with only former Cobbler Michael Jacobs’ cracker separating the sides.