Wigan Athletic boss Paul Cook proud of fighting spirit shown by side
"Shattered...shattered...just very tired."
That was the over-riding emotion felt by Paul Cook after watching his Wigan Athletic side secure their Championship safety with two matches to spare.
Goals from Leon Clarke and Lee Evans gave Latics a 2-0 victory over Preston that, coupled with Rotherham's 3-1 home defeat to Birmingham, means survival is assured.
And rather than crack open the champagne bottles, Cook was in far more sombre mood as he reflected on a season's objective being achieved.
"It's been a long, long season for everyone, with long trips home from all over the country, which have been really draining," he acknowledged.
"When you're constantly checking the league table, and fixtures coming up, you start to go mad.
"Every time you sit on the bench, somebody tells me Rotherham are winning - and that takes its toll.
"When you start off a season like we did, so strong and playing so well, we all thought staying up might be a formality.
"But then you get into the winter, injuries kick in to key players, and it's a really tough time for the club.
"In the lowest moments we all thought about possibly getting relegated.
"But football is a long, long season, and you have to stay the pace.
"League tables don't tell lies, everyone finishes where they deserve to finish, and we're delighted to be staying up.
"I'm so pleased for the players and the staff, because those are the ones who've had to pick themselves up from the lowest moments.
"I thought we responded well at the right time, and I'm sure the Wigan fans are proud of their side.
Clarke gave Latics the perfect start with the opening goal inside 11 minutes, a tap-in thanks to the unselfish Kal Naismith.
Preston's cause wasn't helped by the 34th-minute sending-off of Ryan Ledson for a dangerous high challenge on Naismith.
And Evans made the game safe with a clinical finish midway through the second period, to continue Wigan's excellent run at the DW.
"The home form was always going to be what kept us up," acknowledged Cook.
"Certainly the fighting spirit we showed here, where we've beat a lot of very good teams, is something to be proud of.
"We know the away form hasn't been good enough, but our home form would have to be up there in the top five or six in the division.
"To be fair, Preston were better than us today - even with 10 men.
"We looked leggy, we looked tired, we couldn't get going, we couldn't get to grips with the game.
"As energetic as we've looked for the last two games (against Leeds and Norwich) we looked the opposite today.
"We spoke about that to the players at half-time...if we hadn't been winning 1-0, I'd thought I'd picked the wrong team.
"Great credit to the players for digging in, getting another result and seeing us safe."