Talking football: 'Having never once got carried away during the numerous opportunities to do so this term, he won't be throwing the baby out with the bath water now...'

So it's all going down to the last day. How very Wigan Athletic.

By Paul Kendrick
Friday, 29th April 2022, 10:49 am

And let's be honest, you wouldn't have it any other way.

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All right, we could have done without the last half-hour at Portsmouth in midweek which made the drive home even more painful than it would have been anyway.

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The DW Stadium

But it's just set up Saturday's trip to Shrewsbury as the latest in a long line of historic days in the history of this utterly unique football club.

When was the last season when it didn't go all the way to the wire? Either for promotion, play-offs, relegation or, even worse, administration.

You'd probably have to go back to season 2008-09, the last under Steve Bruce, for a final month with little riding on it.

Which is why, when Latics were closing in on promotion the best part of a month ago, fans of a certain vintage wouldn't have been getting carried away.

Tuesday's defeat at Portsmouth made it five games in a row without a win - at the worst possible time.

The only saving grace has been the similar nosedive in fortunes suffered by Rotherham and MK Dons.

It's all made for a dramatic final day - with three going into two for automatic promotion, seven into four for the play-offs, and five into three to join Crewe in the bottom four.

We've already had the predictable meltdown on social media, with calls for Leam to go, most of the players to be dropped/dumped, and Talal to sell up.

Meanwhile, for those with a degree of rationality, acknowledgement that things have slipped in recent weeks, balanced against a remarkably positive campaign that should have guaranteed players and management having more than enough credit in the tank.

Predictably, the manager has kept his feet on the ground.

Having never once got carried away during the numerous opportunities to do so this term, he won't be throwing the baby out with the bath water now.

Trust in the process has always been the mantra, and now is not the time to be reaching for the panic button.

If you're not convinced, try and get a bet on Latics to secure promotion.

You won't be able to. Because the bookies don't give away free money. And Latics are unbackable heading into the final day for good reason.

It's worth remembering the late-season glitches in many previous seasons, which meant both promotion and safety bids went further to the wire than they should have done.

It's what happens here. It's what this club does.

Every single one of the other 23 sides in League One would switch positions with Latics.

They've more than earned that for what they've produced over the last nine months.

One more effort...that's all we're asking for…

It won't be the only accolade picked up this year, but there won't be another that's been as well deserved.

The job Leam Richardson has done as manager of Latics has been little short of extraordinary.

And there shouldn't have been anyone else in the discussion for the League One Manager of the Year at Sunday's EFL Awards.

Let's be honest, he should have won the award last season, after steering the good ship Latics through the choppiest of waters on its way to the greatest of Great Escapes.

But he'd surely have settled for it 12 months down the line - with the added prize of promotion to go with it.

Bizarrely, Richardson has still to win a Manager of the Month award this season.

But that actually underlines what remarkable consistency he and Latics have shown over the last nine months.

Other managers at other clubs have enjoyed better calendar months, only to drop off the next month.

Richardson's been a virtual ever-present on the shortlist...with Latics having the second best record for many of those months.

Which over the course of the season explains why they are top of the pile.

Congrats also to Jack Whatmough and James McClean, who were both voted into the fictional 'Team of the Year'.

Even that's proof of what a collective effort it's been because - even though both have had magnificent campaigns - neither would be in my top two Latics players of the year.

Will Keane – 24-goal joint-top scorer in the division – must be wondering what he had to do to get in there.

While Callum Lang, Max Power and Tom Naylor have also made stand-out contributions.

And elsewhere, great to see two former Wiganers in the Championship Select XI.

No surprise whatsoever to see Antonee Robinson in there, having distinguished himself in the Premier League last term with Fulham.

But what an achievement for Lee Nicholls to make it, having proved a rock-like last line of defence in Huddersfield's unlikely play-off challenge.

Chris Kirkland was adamant, a decade ago, Nicholls would go on to play for England.

And with goalkeepers, like a fine wine, tending to get better with age, let's hope he manages to continue his progress all the way.