Talking football: What a difference a year makes!
Today marks a very special day for Wigan Athletic, and specifically boss Gary Caldwell.
Exactly one year ago, Caldwell was unveiled as the club’s new manager at the DW Stadium, drawing a line under a catastrophic few months that saw Latics hurtling uncontrollably towards relegation from the Championship.
Fast-forward 12 months, and you’d struggle to believe it’s the same football club.
Almost completely unrecognisable from last year – both on and off the pitch.
Last year, everything that could have gone wrong, did. And then some.
This year, everything Caldwell – and chairman David Sharpe – has touched has turned to gold.
Players appearing happy to be playing for the football club.
Fans looking forward to games, rather than the dread of having to be put through more torture.
This time last year, Latics had won only two games at the DW Stadium.
This term, they’ve lost only two – both by the only goal, to Burton and Blackpool respectively.
The Blackpool reversal – back on December 12, when most folk hadn’t put up their Christmas decorations – is the last time Latics lost a game.
The club that last year boasted the worst home record in England this year has the best.
Wigan’s form on the road has been even more impressive, with the side unbeaten for seven months – all the way back to September 12, the day Jeremy Corbyn was named Labour leader.
Their latest away win – 5-1 at Shrewsbury – saw them reach the summit of League One, with only six matches to play.
While their rivals have all showed visible signs of wilting in recent weeks, Latics are looking stronger with each game.
This weekend’s opponents, Coventry City, allows us the perfect chance to reflect on how much progress has been made this season.
On the opening day, a Latics side that looked as though they’d only just been thrown together – probably because they had – were well-beaten by a City side that started the campaign with a bang. But while the Sky Blues have faded badly into mid-table mediocrity, Latics have done the reverse and been climbing ever since mid-September.
Caldwell takes a massive amount of credit for that, as does Sharpe.
Okay, outsiders will cry ‘parachute payments’, and point to a budget Sharpe claimed would be ‘five times bigger than anyone else in League One’.
And it would be stupid not to acknowledge the massive advantage that has afforded Latics this term.
In January, when promotion rivals Burton, Coventry and Peterborough were selling star players, Latics added Sam Morsy, Ryan Colclough, Reece Wabara, Conor McAleny and Yanic Wildschut – later to be joined by Stephen Warnock – to an already strong squad.
All have played their part in keeping the good ship Latics on course for promotion. For the first time in years, Latics have been able to proudly put season tickets on sale well before the end of the current campaign – knowing, rather than hoping, they will be snapped up.
The incredible pricing policy – starting from just £179 – is another reason for the massive feel-good factor around the club and the town.
With South Stand adult season-card holders able to claim a free Under-16s season card, it means a dad can take his lad for less than £4 each per game.
That’s cheaper than the parking outside the DW!
While all clubs will aim to look after their fans, Sharpe has put his money where his mouth is.
After so much doom and gloom, it seems absolutely nothing can stop Latics at the moment.
Meanwhile, this weekend’s visit of Coventry will see Marc-Antoine Fortune return to the DW.
All right, almost nothing...
If Leicester go on to clinch the Premier League title – and everything points to that at the moment – it could produce a couple of fabulous pub quiz questions in the years to come.
Mark Schwarzer is on the verge of being involved in back-to-back Premier League title-winning squads, despite not having moved from the bench.
Last season Jose Mourinho bought the veteran custodian a medal out of his own pocket as he hadn’t played in the required five matches.
And the onus would surely be on Claudio Ranieri to do the same if the Foxes hang on to secure this year’s title, with Schwarzer’s three appearances having all come in the League Cup.
A Leicester title win would also mean a medal going to Ritchie de Laet, who stands to complete an unprecedented double if Middlesbrough - the club he joined on February 1 – go on to win the Championship.
The future of Louis van Gaal at Manchester United remains unclear, despite an impressive upturn taking the Reds to within a point of the Champions League places.
Last weekend’s victory over Everton means United have now taken 16 points from a possible 18 against the Toffees, Liverpool and Manchester City.
Predecessor David Moyes took 0 from the same games.
And it has to be pointed out that United’s record this year against the European chasers stands up against their immediate rivals’.
But it’s the Dutchman’s record against the ‘lesser’ clubs that could prove to be his downfall, with United having slipped up far too often when in previous years they would have strolled home.
Hoping to nick fourth spot is certainly not what the Glazers would have anticipated having shelled out over a quarter of a billion pounds, and the less-than-swashbuckling style of football has meant recent reports linking United to Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino are far from surprising.
Huddersfield Town have confirmed the signing of Kaiserslautern defender Chris Lowe on a three-year deal
I reckon ‘It’s A Sin’ the German side have let him go.
*For readers under the age of 30, ask your mum/dad...
“Wes Morgan is very unlucky not to have got an England cap by now,” wrote Harry Redknapp in his national newspaper column at the weekend. “It is almost certain too late for him to make it into England’s Euro 2016 squad, but I do not think he would let anyone down if given the chance.” Not sure ‘unlucky’ is the best way of describing Morgan’s absence of England honours...or more the fact he has already been capped 25 times by Jamaica.