Wigan have long been in the Championship basement, but a haul of eleven points from five games has seen Paul Cook’s side move clear of the automatic relegation places.
By Anthony Crewdson
With ten games to go in the Championship, the automatic promotion places remain occupied by West Bromwich Albion and Leeds United respectively.
Both teams overcame sticky patches over Christmas and into the New Year to put together an impressive run of form. Leeds most recently recorded their fourth win on the bounce with an impressive 4-0 win at toothless Hull City. The Whites only have Fulham to play of the teams currently occupying the top six and appear to be a good shape as they aim for promotion to the Premier League after a sixteen-year absence.
But they will have to do without much their much maligned Spanish goalkeeper, Kiko Casilla, following the eight-game ban handed down to the former Real Madrid number 2 by the FA after having been found guilty of directing a racist comment at Charlton Athletic’s Jonathan Leko during a game at The Valley in September.
The subsequent release of the FA’s investigation into this unedifying incident has not put Leeds, or those teammates who supported the Spaniard at his recent hearing, in a good light. It remains to be seen if this will cast a shadow over the remainder of their season.
HULL IN FREEFALL
The Tigers, however, are in freefall after having picked up just two points from their previous ten games. The relegation trap door is opening ever wider for Grant McCann’s side and especially following the departure of arguably his two most influential players in Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki.
Bowen was comfortably Hull’s leading scorer with 16 goals, after having scored 22 goals last season, and yet the £18m offered by West Ham United, with up to £7m in potential add-ons, proved impossible to turn down. The loss of another attacking player in Kamil Grosicki, capped 73 times by Poland, was another body blow.
The 31 year-old Pole joining West Brom on transfer deadline day for a fee of £800,000. Grosicki was out of contract in the summer and this would have brought about his exit as a free agent. The signs are ominous for the team from Humberside, they have scored just 8 goals in ten games and conceded 24.
Coupled with this, there is growing disenchantment among a fanbase who have long grown tired of their controversial chairman, Assem Allem and his perceived lack of ambition. The average attendance at the KCOM stadium this season is just a shade over 11,500 and the lowest since Hull left their old stadium, Boothferry Park, in 2002. It remains to be seen whether Hull can recover some form as they approach the final furlong.
BORO HIT THE BUFFERS
Hull currently sit in 18th place, on 41 points, with Middlesbrough, Barnsley and Luton Town in the bottom three. Boro, like Hull, have hit the buffers and the optimism brought about by their excellent run of form in December, where they recorded four wins in a row, has long since dissipated. Jonathan Woodgate’s team last won on New Year’s Day and their plight hasn’t been helped by losing against fellow relegation candidates, Luton and Barnsley.
Despite occupying the bottom two positions, something they have become familiar with, both the Hatters and Tykes have cause for optimism after having picked up ten and nine points respectively from their previous five games. They have been anything but cut-adrift from the rest, both teams have 34 points going into their remaining ten fixtures, and they will feel well capable of reeling in the likes of Hull, Boro and Charlton Athletic in particular.
One team absent from this list, despite presently sitting in 19th place, are Wigan Athletic. The Latics have long been basement companions of Luton and Barnsley but a haul of eleven points from five games, including an excellent 1-0 win at WBA, has seen Paul Cook’s side move clear of the automatic relegation places for the first time in three months.
Wigan were relegated from the Championship at the end of the 2016/17 season but the appointment of Cook, in May 2017, proved a masterstroke. The Liverpool-born manager guided his former club to the 2017/18 League 1 title and an immediate return to the second tier. Cook then managed to consolidate Wigan’s status in the Championship last season with a 19th place finish.
Results this season have not always done their performances justice but their form of late has been just reward for their efforts. Cook hasn’t swayed from his principles and a run of three successive victories is testament to the hard work done on the training ground during more fallow periods.
Wigan, the town, has long been associated with Rugby league, not to mention Northern Soul, and the town’s football team have struggled to share the limelight with their illustrious neighbours since being elected to the Football League in 1978.
They might share the DW stadium but they retain a smaller fanbase and also have to compete with the footballing powerhouses of Liverpool and Manchester along with their more famous near neighbours in Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End and Blackburn Rovers. But despite this, Wigan have continually punched above their weight, winning three League One titles, one League Two title and most famously the FA Cup in 2013 under Roberto Martinez’s management. Paul Cook might have less lofty ambitions but if the Championship’s youngest club can retain their status as a second-tier side it would be no mean feat.