Uwe Rosler got the result he needed last night when Latics ground out a 1-0 win at Birmingham. He can now focus on the route back to Wembley for the playoff final on May 24th.
Next week Latics are due to play the first leg of the first phase of the playoffs at the DW Stadium. They will entertain either Derby County on Thursday or Queens Park Rangers on Friday, depending on whether they eventually finish 5th or 6th.
Although Latics have limped to secure that playoff spot Uwe Rosler deserves great credit for getting them there. When he took over in mid-December they were in 15th place and had lost their preceding five matches. Moreover he took them to an FA Cup semi -final too.
Latics have looked jaded over recent matches, particularly the key players who played too many matches game over these weeks. Rosler has to rest them for Saturday’s final league match away at Blackburn. A draw or win at Blackburn will guarantee Latics 5th place and a confrontation with QPR. Whether they can get a result with a weakened team remains to be seen.
Both Derby and QPR are fine footballing sides with experienced and capable managers in Steve McClaren and Harry Redknapp. Rosler will have to get his tactics right, no matter which of the two Latics meet.
Last night Rosler played with a backline of three central defenders, with Gary Caldwell returning triumphantly. Both he and Rob Kiernan were preferred to the out of sorts Leon Barnett. That central defensive trio of Boyce, Caldwell and Kiernan could well line up in the first playoff game next week. Ivan Ramis is getting close to resuming training, but it might be a gamble to put him in, probably in place of Kiernan. Jean Beausejour is clearly at his best at left wing back, with James Perch operating on the other side.
None of Josh McEachran, James McClean and Nick Powell appeared in the nominated eighteen last night and one wonders if they will be in Rosler’s plans for what remains of the season. Lots of rumours have been flying around the social media, but there has been nothing from the club.
Rosler’s Latics team have shown the kind of determination to grind out results that will serve them well in the playoffs. From mid-February towards the end of March they went on an unbeaten run of 10 matches, where the football was not always pretty but it was certainly effective. High pressing was a key feature of that run.
Neither McClaren nor Redknapp will be keen to face Latics in the playoffs. They are likely to meet a Wigan team founded on a solid and experienced defence, but with potential match winners in Callum McManaman and Shaun Maloney further forward.
Another trip to Wembley is a distinct possibility.