The past twelve months have provided a rollercoaster ride for Wigan Athletic fans. Shock winners of the FA Cup in 2013, the club then experienced the heartbreak of Premier League relegation, before their popular manager Roberto Martinez was snapped up by Everton.
The 2013-14 campaign has also provided its fair share of highs and lows but as the season draws to a close, the Latics are perfectly poised for a return to the top flight.
An unsteady start
Former Bolton and Burnley manager Owen Coyle was named as Martinez’s replacement and at the time it seemed a good appointment. The Scot had a good track record with Championship sides but early results were mixed and by December, Wigan were sliding down the table.
A 2-1 defeat at Millwall was the club’s third loss inside seven days and the owners acted to avoid back-to-back relegations – a fate that has hit the likes of Wolves in recent years.
Uwe Rosler was brought in to steady the side but few could have expected the transformation under the German’s stewardship. His first league match in charge ended in a 3-2 win over Bolton and that sparked an unbeaten run of eight games that ended in defeat to Doncaster in January.
That loss at the Keepmoat Stadium proved to be a rare setback as Wigan began to steadily climb into the play off places. Since that Doncaster defeat, Rosler’s side have lost just twice in the league from 12 matches and now seem certain to finish in the top six.
Sadly for Latics fans, Leicester City and Burnley are pulling away at the top of the table and the automatic promotion places are virtually decided. Once they get into the play-offs however, Wigan are the best placed of the four sides to return to the Premier League ahead of 2014-15.
Wigan’s run of just three league defeats under Rosler is in sharp contrast to the records of the teams around them and that momentum is just one of the reasons why the club should claim that last promotion place. Nottingham Forest are in free-fall after a dismal period of form forced the sacking of Billy Davies and while the new manager might help the club reclaim sixth place, current displays suggest a play-off final win is beyond the East Midlands side.
Derby County may be the biggest threat having undergone a similar transformation to Wigan after Steve McClaren took over from Nigel Clough. The Rams’ 5-0 win over Forest prompted Davies’ sacking but that result followed a run of four games where Derby failed to score and it’s also worth noting that Wigan won 1-0 at Pride Park on New Year’s Day.
QPR and Reading are the other main rivals for a place in the play-offs but once again, these teams are experiencing mixed form as the season reaches a crucial stage.
It’s a Knockout
League form is a good indicator but Wigan’s performances in the FA Cup give another clear reason why the Latics are now just 9/4 with Betfair to be promoted at the end of this campaign.
Uwe Rosler’s side have made it to the semi-finals for the second year running and having dispatched top flight opposition on the way, their place at Wembley is no fluke. Cardiff City, Crystal Palace and 2013 finalists Manchester City have been brushed aside and although Arsenal will be another tough test, it’s their performances in this competition that make Wigan the most likely to succeed in the battle for the final promotion slots.
The play-offs are effectively a semi-final over two legs followed by the final at Wembley and while sides such as Forest and Derby may have been there before, it’s Wigan’s experience in the FA Cup over the past two seasons that gives the Latics a clear advantage.
Some may say that a Cup run gets in the way of league aspirations but Wigan have already disproved that theory. Their ability to get through the knockout games, coupled with an immensely impressive run of form under the new manager makes them the best bet to get through the dreaded play-off ties and reclaim their place in the Premier League at the first time of asking.