Talking football: What a difference a fortnight makes!
Well what a difference a fortnight has made for Wigan Athletic.
Back-to-back wins, back-to-back clean sheets, four goals, a glamour FA Cup tie against Manchester United on the way, and quality players bolstering the squad ahead of the second half of the campaign. And just as much as the results, it was the manner of the victories over Nottingham Forest and Burton Albion that give great cause for optimism for the coming weeks and months.
Warren Joyce would certainly argue those wins have been coming, the gaffer insisting again at the weekend that the side is not playing any better now than it has for much of his reign.
But no matter how much Joyce and the players believed that, actually coming off the field following a win has to give them an extra spring in their step, with added belief and confidence they can climb out of the drop zone.
One thing Joyce has done is build from the back, and it was interesting to hear him point out recently that every team he has ever worked at, at senior and junior level, has always had the best defensive record in its division.
Conceding six goals in one-and-a-half games against Ipswich and Rotherham over the festive period rightly caused high concern.
But it’s worth pointing out that, since half-time at Rotherham on Boxing Day, Latics have conceded just one goal in their last four-and-a-half matches – and that an individual error from Jussi Jaaskelainen against Huddersfield.
With Latics starting to click in attack too, it certainly bodes well for the future.
Of course, it always helps when you have on-loan full-backs who can’t stop scoring, and Callum Connolly’s brace at Burton was the first debut goal from a Connolly...since David’s at West Brom in 2005!
The win at Burton was also an historic one for the club, with Latics now having beaten all 100 of the teams they have faced in the Football League/Premier League.
A truly astonishing achievement that may only be appreciated in the years ahead, when the going may not necessarily be as good as it is at the moment.
Player re-signings rarely generate the same excitement as new arrivals.
But that certainly wasn’t the case when Sam Morsy extended his contract with Wigan Athletic this week.
The Egypt international had looked as though he’d played his last game for Latics after falling out of favour last summer with then-boss Gary Caldwell, and his subsequent loan move to Barnsley.
But his attitude since being recalled to the DW at the start of the month has been superb, and it’s no consolation Latics have won both matches with him back in the side, with two clean sheets – Barnsley, incidentally, have yet to win without him.
It’s easy to look back in hindsight, but it was a major error to allow Morsy to leave, and thankfully that wrong has been righted in time for the second half of the campaign.
Latics already look a far more potent threat going forward, and a more solid side at the back, with him in the side, and fair play to all concerned for realising the mistake before it was too late.
Best wishes to Gary Caldwell as he embarks on his next challenge in charge of Chesterfield.
Without going over well-worn ground, his sacking at Wigan in October is still being debated on message boards and social media.
But he’ll be as anxious to move on as anyone, and prove last season’s success with Latics was as much down to his leadership and inspiration as the huge budget and quality of player at his disposal.
And how fitting he has chosen Chesterfield to kickstart his managerial career.
Because although the Blackpool and Barnsley games at the end of the campaign will obviously stick out as highlights, was there a more exciting afternoon – or at least the last 10 minutes – than THAT win at Chesterfield?
Manchester United flexed their financial muscles last summer to land Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but tying Antonio Valencia to a contract extension this week was also a hugely-impressive piece of business.
Many eyebrows would have been raised in the summer of 2009 when United earmarked the then-Latics winger to replace Real Madrid-bound Cristiano Ronaldo.
Indeed, I remember the fee of £16million being seen at the time by many as excessive.
Valencia, of course, has now reinvented himself as a right-back – arguably the best in the top flight on present form.
And with only Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick having been at United longer, he has to go down as one of the best signings Sir Alex Ferguson ever made as Old Trafford chief.
It was hard not to sympathise with West Ham boss Slaven Bilic as he opened his heart about wantaway star Dimitri Payet.
“He’s on a fantastic contract – the highest-paid player in the club’s history. He’s signed it. Now he wants a move, so there’s nothing we can do. West Ham are a big club in our eyes, but he feels otherwise.”
Not the words of Bilic.
The words of Harry Redknapp in 1997, when one of his West Ham defenders was fixing for a move.
The man in question? A certain S. Bilic.
It is, indeed, a funny old game.
How good was it – Manchester City fans apart – to see Everton running riot at Goodison Park last weekend?
Young Tom Davies in midfield looks a certain England player in the not-too-distant future, while Ademola Lookman marked his debut in style with goal No.4.
As a neutral, I was enjoying the moment...until I realised young Lookman happened to be born on my 21st birthday.
What a way to ruin a weekend!
Stat of the week: Aston Villa have the 20th highest wage bill in world football.
Yes, the same Aston Villa who are currently 13th in the Championship...and only recently beat Wigan Athletic thanks to an 89th-minute goal!