Talking football: Time to leave any negativity at home as Wigan Athletic fight for their lives
Games between Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers are always very eagerly-awaited affairs.
The ones you immediately circle on the calendar when the fixture list is released in the summer.
But this weekend’s clash at the DW Stadium could well be the biggest one for years – with Championship status possibly on the line.
Looking at the league table, you’d have to say this weekend’s clash is absolutely must-win for Bolton.
With nine games to go, they have to find four, maybe five, wins to give themselves a chance of another great escape.
Apart from a home game against rock-bottom Ipswich, they’ll see this as by far their most winnable game left.
Against a Latics side who have won just three of their previous 25 fixtures.
Form which, over the course of a season, would see them dead and buried already.
The good news for Latics is that Bolton are in even worse shape, rock-bottom of the form table over the last 30 matches.
Worse than Latics, worse even than an Ipswich side that have stunk out the Championship all season (admittedly, the same Ipswich side that have taken four points from Latics this season, coming within seconds of completing a league double).
Given Wigan’s woeful away record – one win in 21 matches in all competitions – you’d have to imagine most, if not all, of the points are going to come at home, where the record is thankfully very good.
Along with the final-day visit of Millwall, this game represents the biggest opportunity to pick up three points to give everyone a lift ahead of the international break.
Going into that fortnight on the back of a loss – and in the bottom three – doesn’t bear thinking about.
The annoying thing is: It needn’t have been this way.
As Paul Cook alluded to after the Blackburn game, Latics have spurned repeated chance to put breathing space between themselves and the bottom three.
Most of us appreciated at the time that Latics were punching way above their weight when they were in third place at the end of September.
But I also believe Latics are punching way below their weight at the moment to even be mentioned in the relegation dogfight.
But the unhappy formula of misfiring up front, and switching off at the back – not to mention a catalogue of costly, long-term injury absentees – means here we are.
As Cook regularly says: It is what it is.
The difference between the gaffer after the Reading and Blackburn games were like chalk and cheese.
Post-Reading, there were plenty of positives to cling on to.
Post-Blackburn, it was only negatives.
Hard as it may be, Cook and his players have to draw a line under what’s gone, and press restart.
A nine-game season where they still have a decent start over the drop zone.
And the fans have a massive part to play as well.
We all have our opinions on what’s gone wrong, but that’s for another day...hopefully in the summer, after survival has been assured.
As far as Saturday goes, it’s time to leave any negative thoughts and gripes at home - and get behind the team, the manager, the club.
Only last weekend, the Reading fans produced the most amazingly positive 90 minutes of support for a side teetering on the brink - even with their team a goal down heading into the last minute.
Yes the official gave their side a piggy-back to three points, but the players were encouraged to keep going to the end by the partizan backing from the stands.
An early goal could potentially make or break Saturday afternoon - and maybe even the season.
The stats show that, when Latics fall behind, they have the worst record in the Championship at getting anything out of the game.
If Bolton were to go ahead - perish the thought - it’s important that everyone sticks together, and channels everything towards giving Latics the support they’ll undoubtedly need to fight back.
It’s worth remembering Latics have not been in the bottom three all season.
From week one to week 37. Let’s hope it stays that way
It won’t be easy. But this is Latics.
It’s very rarely any other way.