Job done – that will no doubt be the overriding feeling as Wigan Athletic take to the pitch at the DW for the final time this Sunday. It’s been quite the turnaround over the last month, Latics looked to be staring down the barrel following the last minute defeat against Hull but truly turned it around against three of the strongest sides in the division. Where seven points could very well have been nine.
As we’re in the mood for reflection let’s take a look at this season, the achievement of Wigan Athletic securing their Championship status shouldn’t be overlooked. In two of the last five seasons Wigan Athletic found themselves relegated from the second tier. To buck that trend is quite the achievement. Especially when you consider the fact that Latics unlike in previous Championship campaigns are without parachute payments and have one of the lowest budgets in the league.
That isn’t to say it has been all plain sailing on the good ship Wigan Athletic, a season in which there was going to be wholesale changes to the ownership structure of the club was always bound to represent challenges. The fact that change was made mid-season meant it was a bigger challenge to overcome.
I think the departure of the Whelan family and David Sharpe in October has been underplayed, but when one family and one chain of command has been in place since the early 90’s it must have been difficult for the club as a whole to overcome and get used to that new structure. Credit should go to both Darren Royle and Jonathan Jackson who have managed to oversee a seamless transition, certainly in terms of what we as supporters have witnessed.
Credit should also go to the pair for not panicking when results weren’t as expected over the last few months, it’s been a difficult season for a number of seasons but the learning curve that the club has been on will stand both Latics and hopefully Paul Cook and the management team in good stead. He and his players have been unwavering in the belief that we will eventually stay up, that belief was clearly with the owners of the club as well and it has paid off.
I don’t think it’s a surprise that the first season that Wigan Athletic have shown faith in their manager in three Championship seasons is the first season that we have been successful in surviving as a Championship club. Both Uwe Rosler and Gary Caldwell can count themselves very un-lucky to lose their jobs but it does show that consistency is an undervalued commodity in modern football.
Of course at times this season hasn’t been good enough – I’m sure Paul Cook and Leam Richardson will admit that, performances haven’t generally been poor but individual mistakes have been our un-doing on so many occasions. Our away form clearly hasn’t been good enough, and the slow acceptance of it being an issue among the management team. But generally at home we’ve been strong, apart from two games in December our home form has been fantastic and with a couple more wins on the road we could well have been looking at a finish much higher up the table.
So on to next season, with no takeover to concern the club this summer it should all be about recruitment and indeed retention of our core assets. Principally Gavin Massey and Nick Powell, both have been offered new contracts but I expect the former to be the one to stay with us. Nick Powell is one of the best players we have seen in a Wigan Athletic shirt and I would be delighted if he remains with the club but I’m also realistic in that we can’t match the sort of money he could earn elsewhere.
The future of Callum McManaman will also be solved this season. But with his lack of opportunities surely he will be moving on in the summer?
Along with our out of contract players there will be question marks over those who have joined us on-loan this season. Christian Walton has improved in recent weeks, he said after the Leeds game that he felt part of Wigan Athletic now and it will be interesting to see if we can retain his services for a third season. Antonee Robinson is another who has improved greatly in recent weeks, at 23 years of age could he break in to the Everton side? If not he may well be worth a look at – the question is whether we could afford him.
There will of course be a Reece James sized hole in our side next season, how we replace that marvelous young player will be an interesting challenge for Paul Cook and the team.
But that time isn’t now, Sunday will be a party and rightly so as Latics get ready to celebrate their Championship status for a further season. We have done the hard bit so let’s enjoy the fruits of our labour. Thankfully our friends from Bermondsey don’t need anything from the game either – a prospect where it went down to the final game of the season, a few weeks previously wasn’t one that held much attraction to me or I imagine many Latics fans.
So looking ahead to the summer, let’s see how the first summer transfer window under the control of the Royle family and IEC goes. It’s going to be an interesting summer ahead and I look forward to seeing it unfold, as one club up the road in Horwich seems to be on life support our own club seems in robust good health.
Long may that continue.