‘It’s a brand new group over the last three weeks. It closes the gap. There are a lot of points to play for. It’s about personality and character and we’re beginning to show that”.
So said Malky Mackay after his team of scrappers had thrown him a lifeline, with the reemergence of Dave Whelan breathing down his neck. The beleaguered Wigan Athletic manager was delighted – not just with the 1-0 win, but with the fight that his players showed.
After seven games without a win it had looked like Latics were going to be marooned in that relegation zone, with little indication that a lifeline would appear. They are now six points behind Brighton in 21st place and the Seagulls are due to visit the DW on April 18th. Will that be a crunch match or will things have changed significantly by then?
There are now 15 games remaining. They include four away ties for Wigan against clubs hovering close to them in the relegation zone – Blackpool, Fulham, Millwall and Rotherham.
Once again Mackay did not include new striker Billy McKay in the starting lineup, the goal-shy Marco Fortune being preferred. Another hamstring injury to Leon Barnett and the departure of Liam Ridgewell led him to introduce a new central defensive pairing in the combative Harry Maguire and Jason Pearce. They are the types of uncompromising defenders that bless so many Championship clubs. At 6 ft 4 in the 21 year old Maguire is not surprisingly good in the air and he was given lots of practice last night. For once the centre of defence looked solid.
Ironically Latics’ other 6 ft 4 in central defender, Thomas Rogne, has not played in a single league game this season. Rogne might not be as physically imposing as Maguire, but he is certainly good in the air and his presence might have prevented some of the “soft” goals that Latics have given away to high crosses. One wonders what the Norwegian has done to upset the powers that be at the club. He continues to languish in the development squad
Maguire and Pearce are not going to allow burly opposition strikers to dictate play, as has been too often the case for Latics this year. One wonders if Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson would have been able to run round them in the way he did at the DW ten days prior. The test for the partnership will come when they play the more skillful teams and Latics have a home encounter with Derby County and an away game at Middlesbrough to negotiate still.
McKay was once again brought on in the second half, this time in the 81st minute. What is it at the club that has them treat their strikers this way? Fortune has his attributes and plays his part as a tireless worker. However, goal scorer he is not and never has been. However, he has already seen off the challenges of Andy Delort and Oriol Riera. Will McKay be the latest in the line of Wigan Athletic strikers who have been badly handled? He has come into the club in good goalscoring form in the SPL, as did Delort and Riera in France and Spain, so why not put him in the starting lineup?
The victory at Reading still leaves Latics a steep hill to climb. A win against Charlton at the DW on Friday night would give cause for genuine hope of avoiding relegation. Last time Latics won a game – a 2-0 win at Leeds on Boxing Day – they followed it up with an abject 1-0 home defeat by Sheffield Wednesday.
Fans will therefore be wary of building up their hopes too high for Friday. However, the win at Leeds could be described as somewhat fortuitous, with a bizarre own goal putting Latics ahead. Most Latics fans who saw last night’s match would say that the victory was well earned, despite some of the reports on national media. They hope it will be the springboard for a genuine rally.
Who knows – another win on Friday might even provide the impetus for the “Believe” motto to blossom again.
But at the same time it could be another false dawn. Let’s hope not.