Over the last 15 years, the story of Wigan Athletic is quite remarkable. The Latics have endured a roller coaster of triumphant highs and heart-breaking lows. At the start of the 2001/02 season, the Greater Manchester outfit were in Division 2. They had just appointed their former forward Paul Jewell as manager; his end of season objective being promotion to Division 1.
Despite a mediocre first campaign in charge, the same objectives were set for Jewell in his second. Boosted by the summer signing of Nathan Ellington for a club record £1.2 million, Wigan were a club on the march. They only lost four games in the 2002/03 season, resulting in promotion to Division 1 for the first time in the club’s history.
For Dave Whelan and Paul Jewell the sky was the limit. Why stop at Division 1? Within two years, Wigan Athletic had sealed promotion to the Premier League. A town most associated with its rugby teams now had a footballing outfit to boast about. They almost had a dream start too. On the opening day, Wigan were holding the champions Chelsea, 0-0 at the JJB Stadium. As the clock ticked over into the 90th minute, they soon discovered how cruel the English top flight can be, as Hernan Crespo curled in a dramatic winner for the Blues, leaving 20,000 home fans devastated.
Things were to only get better however. After a successful 10th place finish in their first Premier League campaign, the Latics managed another seven successive seasons in the top flight. There were some disastrous games along the way; most notably the 9-1 humiliation at White Hart Lane, yet there were some memorable moments too. These included victories over Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. For little old Wigan Athletic, these games will live long in the memory. Chuck in an FA Cup victory over Manchester City, (an astonishing story in itself) and you have a truly astonishing eight years.
However, the fairy-tale had to come to a halt sooner or later. They had been battling to avoid the drop for a few nail-biting seasons before the inevitable happened. In 2013 Wigan were relegated from the Premier League and in 2015, they were relegated from the Championship. It was quite a fall from grace for the Latics, who were left to lick their wounds. Two disastrous years and three disastrous managerial appointments in the Championship meant they were back where the 15-year story had all started.
They began the 2015/16 season with Gary Caldwell; former player and club legend, at the helm. A good omen in their quest for promotion: two of the managers at the heart of their Premier League years were ex-Wigan fan favourites Paul Jewell and Roberto Martinez. A variety of new signings joined Caldwell in the summer. Once again these new acquisitions resembled the players signed during the rise to the top division. Jussi Jääskeläinen, Craig Morgan and Craig Davies provide the experience in the squad – similar to that offered by Stephane Henchoz, Graham Kavanagh and Mike Pollitt during their initial Premier League campaign. Will Grigg is in terrific goal scoring form, just as Henri Camara was during the 05/06 season. They also have a young prodigy in Max Power who is being tipped to achieve great things in his career – Leighton Baines was the up and coming youngster from their Premier League squad.
So, everything looked promising going into the campaign, but would results match the expectation? At the time of writing, Wigan are on course for a successful season as they sit in 4th position, two points off the automatic places. Will Grigg is their leading scorer with ten league goals. Michael Jacobs, the talismanic midfielder has an impressive eight goals and five assists. Whilst the team have the second best goal difference in the league with +21.
With strong opposition pushing alongside Wigan, promotion is by no means a certainty. However, the Latics have been here before. They know what it takes. They’ve had a taste of the Premier League high life and are determined to make it back.
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