It seems like more than nine months ago since Wigan Athletic demolished Huddersfield Town in a fifth round FA Cup tie at the Galpharm Stadium. Callum McManaman was the star for Wigan, repeatedly ripping open the Terriers’ defence in a 4-1 win.
How times have changed. Latics were then a Premier League team, a class above opponents who were languishing in the lower reaches of the Championship.
So far this season Wigan Athletic have outclassed only one team, a woeful Barnsley in the first competitive match under Owen Coyle.
But the good news is that the Wigan defence is getting stronger and not throwing away goals like it did in the Martinez era. The goalless draws at Charlton and at home to Queens Park Rangers are an indication that Latics can become a ‘mean machine’ capable of grinding out results.
There is certainly no shortage of effort and commitment from the current Latics side. They are now physically imposing, with height in defence, less likely to give away soft goals from aerial set pieces than they were even a couple of months ago.
Latics remain unbeaten at home, largely down to their resilience. They trailed to both Doncaster and Middlesbrough in their first two home games, but came back with late goals to secure draws. The subsequent wins over Nottingham Forest, Ipswich and Blackburn were gained through hard work and determination. The bore draw with QPR was not one for the spectator to enjoy, but Latics showed that same resilience. In previous times they might well have come away without any points in such a match.
Huddersfield currently lie a point above Wigan, but their away record is not good – W1 D2 L3. Moreover they are without top scorer James Vaughan, who is suspended.
Despite the FA Cup win last year, Latics have a poor record against the Terriers. In league matches over the years they have a home record of W6 D1 L5 against the Yorkshire team, but Latics’ away record against them is W0 D5 L5.
Owen Coyle believes that Latics are close to fulfilling their potential. He commented this week that “We know that if we keep knocking on the door it will fly open and someone will be on the end of three or four goals. There’s so much more still to come from this team, players to come back from injury and money to be spent come January.”
Coyle will once again have to rotate his squad.
Having started in three consecutive games in less than a week, Emmerson Boyce is due for a rest. Ryan Shotton will probably move over to the right back position, with Thomas Rogne returning in the centre of defence. Chris McCann has silenced his critics with an excellent trio of displays in central midfield, but is likely to find himself rested with Ben Watson coming back in.
Nick Powell and Leon Barnett too have started in those three games, but both seem to get included in the starting lineup despite the physical demands they might face. Both have become key players.
Marc Albrighton could well make his debut on the right flank and Jean Beausejour is due to return on the left. Marc-Antoine Fortune will probably take over from the out of form Grant Holt at centre forward. However, Holt might well be used as an impact substitute later in the game.
Were Latics to really click and win this match in style and by a clear margin it could be the turning point that Coyle seeks. Latics fans have been patient up to this point, but the time has come for a convincing display to reward them for their loyalty and support.
Maybe this will be the game in which the team will show what it is capable of.