In our hands or in the mix?

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How do we spin this one then? Football club goes on tremendous cup run, gets global exposure and is now just one game off an unlikely Wembley trip. Yet back in the humdrum world of League football, it feels like we are tumbling fast, despite barely playing a game.

You can’t fault Blackburn Rovers for taking their opportunity to keep winning league matches while we go off in pursuit of cup glory, coupled with a few unfortunate weather postponements. I hate to admit it, but if I was in their position I’d probably feel quite content. They have amassed the points, and can now watch eagerly, hoping for a slip up when we eventually play our games in hand.

For us though it is much simpler, we just need to win those games in hand (plus most of the others!) and we will be top of the league when it matters. I find myself mulling over whether luck plays a part in all this as well. Sometimes it is all about timing, better to play a team on a bad run than one on a good run.

We undoubtedly bumped into Southend at a bad time. Had the hapless Phil Brown still been in charge, it might have been a different story. Plus, since we last played them, Bradford, Oxford and Bury have changed managers.

However, on the flip side to this, the later in the season that these games in hand take place, the more likely it is that other teams will have less to play for. Which should make our task easier on paper. ON PAPER. The two most dangerous words in footballing lexicography right there.

We have a very strong squad to call upon but Paul Cook likes to play a settled first team and managing that mix is a fine art in itself. Did we possibly disrespect Rochdale last week by playing a weakened side? Does it matter as long as we squeezed out a narrow 1-0 win? Making changes is absolutely vital given the fixture backlog, but not at the expense of getting the result. I’m fine with that – a “doing just enough” approach, which is exactly what we did against Rochdale.

If there’s one game where I would expect the strongest possible side to be played, it is this Sunday. In spite of all of our games in hand, it feels like Blackburn are now in the box seat and have a great opportunity to see off a rival and put a nine point gap between us and close the goal difference gap.

Again, the other outcome is that a rare victory for us at Ewood Park would mean a three point gap with a full four games in hand which would look much more healthy. Is it better to be on top or chasing down top position? We’ve had both this season but Blackburn seem to be particularly resilient right now and Sunday will be an incredibly tough game.

It will come down to the key players on the day, ours and theirs, as to who prevails. Of course, given the strength of the two squads and the high stakes, it is also highly likely that the game could end in a draw. Is that a better result for us or better for Rovers? I suppose we’ve come full circle back to the start – it depends whether you prefer points in the bag or games in hand?

Article first published in the Wigan Evening Post’s 12th Man column on Friday 2nd March 2018

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