Talking football: 'Why I knew the claim Wigan Athletic didn't "want it" as much as Rotherham was utter nonsense'
At approximately 3.30pm on Good Friday, Wigan Athletic’s Championship status was hanging by a thread.
With relegation rivals Rotherham winning 1-0 at Swansea, Latics were trailing by the same score at second-placed Leeds, having been reduced to 10 men in controversial fashion.‘In-play’ they’d dropped into the bottom three for the first time all season.
Social media was already a pretty grim place to be.
‘Players not good enough’, ‘manager out of his depth’, ‘Rotherham want it more than we do’.
While the first claim is clearly subjective, and even Paul Cook has acknowledged his first season at this level hasn’t been without problem, it’s the third point – which has been voiced by a fair few in recent weeks – that always struck me as being complete and utter nonsense.
Because one thing you can never level against this group of players is that they didn’t care, it didn’t matter enough.
Does anyone seriously think a side managed by Cook, captained by Sam Morsy, would be lacking in heart, desire, belief, passion?
And it’s those qualities which inspired Latics to upset all the odds – and a fair few coupons – by coming from behind the produce the shock of the season at Elland Road.
The result of the season, at both ends of the division.
All of a sudden, Monday’s visit of Preston, which could have been drowning in tension, anxiety and nerves, was played out in a carnival atmosphere, with Latics cementing their survival with a 2-0 win.
And I don’t think anyone can seriously dispute Latics aren’t worth another campaign at this level.
They started the season like a house on fire, playing some magnificent swashbuckling football that had them third in the table by the end of September.
Yes, the wheels came off somewhat for a number of reasons – including injuries, loss of form and a catastrophic away record – but the belief was always there.
Speaking to the players on a regular basis, it was never downbeat, despondent, despairing.
There was always a sense that things would come together sooner or later.
A positive mood, I have to say, that wasn’t in evidence in each of the last two relegation seasons – under Malky Mackay and Warrren Joyce.
Injured players returned, and so did the level of performance we’d seen in the opening few weeks.
The January recruitment – unlike 2015 and 2017 – reaped instant dividends.
And for a change we can enjoy the last couple of games with nothing riding on it. Job done!
I’m often asked if I’ve watched the same game as other fans – usually when my player ratings have just been ripped apart by all and sundry.
But I was left wondering if I’ve been watching a different league to everyone else when the PFA Championship team of the season was unveiled yesterday – without the name of Reece Ja mes in it.
I won’t profess to watch every single game played by every single team multiple times over – I’m not Marcelo Bielsa.
But I have seen every single Latics game this season.
And I haven’t seen a finer player playing for or against Latics than the 19-year-old Chelsea loanee.
I can only think his recent switch from right-back into central midfield may have split some of his votes.
Because that’s only feasible explanation I can think of why his peers went against the 24 Championship bosses – who last month selected him in their fictional XI.
Wigan Athletic’s fabulous win at Leeds on Good Friday wasn’t just reward for their long-suffering fans who’d waited SEVEN MONTHS for a win on the road.
It was also richly deserved by the 75 supporters who walked the 58 MILES from Euxton to Elland Road to raise money for Joseph’s Goal.
It was an incredible experience to take part in, and one I won’t forget.
The camaraderie among the group kept everyone going through the peaks and troughs of East Lancashire and West Yorkshire – building friendships that will last for a lifetime.
Special thanks to Martin Tarbuck, editor of the Mudhutter fanzine, who spent much of the last few months planning the event.
His efforts – and the support of everyone – saw the total pass through the £31,000 mark last night.
And there’s still time to donate via this link: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/josephkendrick2