WHEN Gary Caldwell puts the finishing touches to his Christmas list this year, somewhere near the top will surely be wanting his Wigan Athletic side back.
After finding their feet in October and November, Latics have tailed off alarmingly in recent weeks.
Caldwell himself recognised the side weren’t firing on all cylinders towards the end of their recent 11-game unbeaten run.
But since the scrappy 1-0 win over Shrewsbury on November 21, it’s been one disappointment after another for Caldwell and Co.
Three home setbacks in a row, with league losses to Burton and Blackpool sandwiching a shock JPT exit at the hands of lowly Barnsley.
The solitary point in the last month came at Southend, with Latics’ luck being summed up by Leon Barnett twice having efforts cleared off the line before hitting the crossbar in stoppage-time.
This weekend’s trip to Barnsley gives Latics the perfect opportunity to kickstart their season – and exorcise some of the demons of the Tykes’ win at the DW a fortnight ago.
Rock-bottom of League One, devoid of confidence, questions marks over the manager, there for the taking...and yet Barnsley were thoroughly deserving winners on the day.
A Latics performance anywhere near their capabilities would surely have seen them stay on the Wembley trail in a competition they have twice won.
But for now, it’s promotion or bust.
And in many ways, that was the scenario at the start of the season.
Of course, a return trip to Wembley would have been more than welcome.
But the success of this season will be solely assessed on whether promotion is achieved.
“Judge us in May,” was how Caldwell reacted to the boos that followed the most recent reversal against Blackpool.
If the real Wigan Athletic is lurking at the bottom of Caldwell’s Christmas sack, there’s still more than enough time to ensure that end-of-term report card is enjoyed with champagne.
THE Leicester City fairytale is showing no sign of ending any time soon.
All of a sudden those ‘Can Leicester really win the title’ questions don’t sound quite so ridiculous after all.
The January transfer window will, of course, prove pivotal to that – and I don’t just mean in terms of holding on to star men like Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.
The temptation will be for boss Claudio Ranieri to bolster his squad as much as possible with the finishing line coming ever closer.
But the Foxes must be careful not to fall into the same trap as Newcastle United exactly 20 years ago.
Holding a 10-point lead at Christmas which grew to a 12-point advantage in January, the Toon shelled out big bucks on Faustino Asprilla and David Batty – which seemed to upset the balance of the team – and blew their big chance.
Ranieri must strike the right balance between strengthening his squad while not changing the things that have got them into this position in the first place.
If he can, anything is possible in this league.
IT’S not been a great week for Louis van Gaal, with Manchester United losing 2-1 at Bournemouth just days after crashing out of the Champions League at Wolfsburg.
“The problem is that we have to meet the expectations – and the expectations at a club like Manchester United are very high,” argued the Dutchman.
“You have to analyse the club now. You cannot compare it with 10 years ago, because there is an evolution in football and in European football.”
Managing ‘expectations’ surely shouldn’t be new to a man who has bossed Ajax, Bayern Munich, Barcelona as well as the Holland national side.
And if we are to ‘analyse the club now’, I can’t fathom how a club that’s spent over a quarter of a billion pounds in the last 18 months can finish a must-win Champions League tie with an XI containing (and no offence intended) the likes of Guillermo Varela, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Jesse Lingard and Nick Powell.
Yes, the same Nick Powell whose last win in a competitive fixture was Wigan Athletic’s 3-0 win over Reading back in April 2014.
IT wasn’t the most promising start to Bournemouth’s first ever season in the top-flight, with injuries and failure to hang on to leads proving a real thorn in their side.
But back-to-back victories over Chelsea and Manchester United have given Eddie Howe’s men a massive lift.
That’s six points they wouldn’t have budgeted for when the fixtures came out – and a real confidence-booster they can make sure their stay in the Premier League lasts beyond one season.