Talking football: Wigan Athletic in prime position to win the war
Blackburn boss Tony Mowbray's words '“ and body language '“ said it all in the post-match press conference on Sunday.
“It’s down to them – we can’t affect Wigan any more now,” he said.
“We can only affect us, so we’ll try to get as many wins as we can and see where it takes us.”
The thoughts of a man who knew his side had blown a huge opportunity to strike a significant psychological blow ahead of the run-in.
Two goals up inside 17 minutes, everything looked rosy in the Rovers garden, with Latics struggling to get into the game.
But after stemming the bleeding – and introducing James Vaughan off the bench – Paul Cook’s men showed what they are made of.
“We’re not going to go down with a whimper to anyone,” Cook acknowledged after the game.
“We brought too many fans to the game to let them down.
“The message at half-time was: ‘Do not let our fans travel home and have Blackburn fans taunting us without fighting’.”
And boy did those words resonate with the Latics players.
The scenes at the final whistle – after goals from Will Grigg and Max Power had restored parity – spoke a thousand words.
Blackburn players on the ground, on their knees, hands on hips...feeling two points had slipped away.
Latics players hugging each other, high-fiving, celebrating in front of the jubilant away end...feeling like they’d won, rather than only drawn.
Not much may have changed in terms of the league table, but it’s very much advantage Wigan heading into the final straight.
The six-point gap to Blackburn is still sizeable but, with four games in hand, you’d have to fancy Latics to make that up – and then some.
With a vastly-superior goal difference effectively worth an extra point, Latics are in the box seat.
The result also more than suited second-placed Shrewsbury, who can now overtake Rovers – five points clear – with their two games in hand.
But with a Checkatrade Trophy final now to deal with, you wonder exactly how much Shrewsbury have left in the tank – both mentally and physically.
Latics, of course, have also Wembley on their minds, with an FA Cup quarter-final against Premier League Southampton to come on Saturday week.
But progress in that competition so far has
served only to energise the players and capture the imagination of the supporters in the stands.
And looking at the level of quality that is struggling to get on to the field at the moment – such as Ryan Colclough, Gary Roberts, Noel Hunt, Jay Fulton, Vaughan and Devante Cole – Latics look to have the strength in depth to be able to cope with an admittedly hectic run-in.
They may not go up this season, but Shrewsbury Town have to be contenders for club of the year.
Tipped by many experts (and me) to get relegated this term, Paul Hurst has worked wonders to have had them punching miles above their weight for so long.
Still holding one of the automatic promotion spots (for now, at least), the Shrews made it through to Wembley in midweek in the Checkatrade Trophy
Ah yes, the Checkatrade Trophy. Memories of Latics all-but throwing that final group game against Accrington – by fielding the youngest team in the club’s history – to get themselves eliminated.
Many Latics fans (me included) thought that was the wrong thing to do at the time, feeling a realistic chance of going to Wembley had been too easily discounted.
But with Latics going great guns in the FA Cup, and with four games to make up in the league, it becomes apparent why Paul Cook reluctantly made the difficult call.
He said at the time to judge him on that decision at the end of the campaign.
And if Latics have regained their Championship status – and maybe even visited Wembley in an FA Cup semi-final, or even better – his judgement will have proved to be absolutely spot on.
Much of the pre-match talk before Latics played Blackburn was who would get the better of the battle of the superstars – Nick Powell or Bradley Dack.
With two assists and the man-of-the-match gong from Sky, Dack undoubtedly took the honours on the day.
Powell ‘only’ came up with one assist, although he did play a holding midfield role for most of the second half in the reshuffle that followed Nathan Byrne’s substitution.
Dack’s stony expression as he was interviewed on the pitch – in stark contrast to the laughing and joking of Grigg next to him – suggested he didn’t feel like he’d won anything of significance.
The battle, maybe.
But the war remains to be won – and that’s where Powell, and Latics, can have the last laugh.