A New Era For The Latics


May 10, 2018
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A New Era For The Latics

I'm not sure if any other side in English football has shared their time so equally across the top 4 tiers, than Wigan Athletic. Since 1978, The Latics have spent 8 seasons in League Two, 21 seasons in League One, 8 seasons in The Championship and 8 seasons in the Premier League. League One is where the club have spent more of their time than any other and that is once again where Wigan find themselves again following relegation last season, where they finished bottom of the 2nd tier. League One has been a happy place in the recent past with the club finishing as champions of the competition three times in the last eight seasons - however, when they get to The Championship, life there is short lived and it's fair to say the division above has proven to be a bit too tough.

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However, this season it isn't going to be all that easy for Wigan to win the league again. In fact, they will do well just to get to the playoffs as they start the season with an 8 point deficit for poor financial management. And this is just the latest of a whole host of off field financial issues for the club since 2020 when the club went into administration and were docked 12 points. During that time, key first team players and promising youngsters alike were sold on to try to help with the financial struggles. Things didn't really get better and in March 2023, Wigan were docked 3 points for failing to pay players after recording a £7.7 million annual loss. Then came more point deductions for the start of this season (two more rounds of 4 point deductions making the total of -8, both for failing to pay players on time again).

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It's fair to say the fans were becoming more and more discontented with the way their club was being run and fans groups urged the sale of the club by chairman Talal Al-Hammad. Two of the club's three directors resigned on 4th June 2023 as fears of a possible winding up order from the HMRC grew. Then on 12th June, there was some hope for the future of the football club when Wigan born billionaire and Wigan Warriors RLFC co-owner, Mike Danson, expressed a renewed interest in buying the club. Just two days later, the takeover was confirmed and a new era begins. An era where there are no debts and there is a positive bank balance.

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But Wigan still had some fall out remaining from the previous ownership, with first team players Jack Whatmough and Jamie McGrath terminating their contracts following repeated breaches of contract by the previous owners. Under the new ownership, there is a model which will focus on financial stability and it is a strict requirement that I work within wage budgets moving forward.

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As part of that, the philosophy has changed and the strategy at the club has been on trimming the wage budget and putting their faith in younger players. It could be a very exciting time for The Tics as they look to write new chapters in their history over the coming years.

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Especially, with Chris Ball at the helm.

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Chapter 1
Plenty Of Quality In The Squad

8th July 2023

You'll see from the squad above that it's decent enough and even with a minus 8 points deficit at the start of this season, we should still be strong enough to avoid relegation and cement our place in League One to then build on next season. That will be the initial plan anyway and is what is expected by both the board and supporters.

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One player that could be key to this year's success and for years to come is 19 year old centre back, Charlie Hughes. Despite his young age, he is already one of the best players at the club and my biggest challenge will be trying to keep him here as we have the likes of Sheffield United, Burnley and West Brom all sniffing round our prized asset.

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I have a great centre back partner for him as well in Jason Kerr, who is solid for this level. However, at the club where nothing is ever simple, Kerr starts the season out injured for 5 months and we'll have to get by without him for the first half of the campaign.

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The defence is certainly where we are strongest as we have an excellent full back/wing back (for this level) in Steven Sessegnon. Great player for this level and someone who, now at the age of 23, is really looking to kick start his career and we can give him that platform.

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Although, we do have some real quality in other areas of the pitch (not just defence) and Matthew Smith will be our main man in the centre of the midfield! Smith has come through the youth at Arsenal, so we know he has excellent pedigree, and he finally decided to leave them to find a new permanent home at the end of last season and we can be honoured he has come to us.

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Another player worth mentioning is forward, Stephen Humphrys, who will prove to be a threat for us down both wings this year with his ability to play with both feet.

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But he's certainly not our only attacking threat, as Callum Lang will also prove to be dangerous to any opposition we play at League One level this season. He could even prove to be our main goal threat and although described as an attacking midfielder, he looks to have all the attributes to make a decent pressing forward.

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With all these quality players in our squad, it is no surprise that the bookies think we will be good enough to overcome our points penalty this season and finish above the relegation places. In fact, we are only 50/1 to win the league which is pretty impressive considering we would need to effectively win it by a minimum of 8 points to actually lift the title. Despite having all the above quality though, none of my players are deemed good enough to make the media dream 11.

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And with the players I have at my disposal, this is the tactic I have created to test in pre season...assuming it goes well, we will start with the setup as the league campaign kicks off.

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Chapter 2
A Mixed Pre Season
4th August 2023

Pre season didn't entirely go to plan and hasn't left me in the most confident mood going into the new season. We kicked things off OK with a 3-0 victory over lower league opposition - a result I had expected. We were then hammered by Newcastle - again a result maybe I had expected. I then felt we had taken a big step forward by beating Championship opposition in Rotherham, before we took a huge one back with defeat at Woking. At least we did finish on a win, but it's quite hard to know exactly where we are at for sure.

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Our best performer through pre season was left back Tom Pearce. He started all five friendlies and picked up 2 assists from his wing back role, whilst being solid enough defensively as well. Not one of the players I'd highlighted as key when I joined the club, but based on what I've seen so far, he could be incredibly important for us especially if he can keep up that level of creativity.

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In contrast, Callum Lang was incredibly disappointing. Again, he started all 5 games and played down the left, right and up front during the pre season campaign but failed to impress in any position. He will have to step up his game if he wants to remain in my first team plans.

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The draw for the EFL Trophy has been made and although it won't be a priority for us this season, there is a chance we could do something in this competition I feel and if you can make it to the final, it does at least give your fans a day out at Wembley.

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There was only one signing into the club over the past few weeks and that was loanee Guilherme Montoia who comes in for the season from Norwich. The Portuguese left back came through the ranks at Benfica so he has decent pedigree but the 19 year old is still to make a senior club appearance. He will simply provide cover for Tom Pearce.

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So we're ready to kick things off and our first game of the season will be at home to newly promoted Leyton Orient. It should give a good indication of our hopes for the season ahead as they were predicted to finish only one place higher in the league than us this year!

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Chapter 3
Good Start Halted By Lack Of Discipline

31st August 2023

Our opening game of the league campaign resulted in a very nice victory in front of our fans! Tom Pearce was our best player in pre season and he continued that form, picking up the man of the match award here. It was his cross that came in from the left for Charlie Wyke to rise above two Orient defenders and head down low into the back of the net to give us the lead in the 4th minute. Pearce was again the provider for goal number 2 as his free kick from the right was driven in with power towards the back post where Omar Rekik met the ball and his header beat the keeper down the centre of the goal. The game was done and dusted and we looked in no doubt as Orient created very little, but that didn't stop us pressing forward for another goal and we had a 3rd through substitute Callum McManaman as he capitalised on an error from Rob Hunt to smash home a powerful strike at the back post after the Leyton defender had completely missed the ball.

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Baba Adeeko has been ever present through pre season and played the full 90 for me against Orient as well, in my DM role. But someone else will now have to step up as he's out for 5 weeks.

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Our first game without him will be in the first round of the Carabao Cup, where we will face off against none other than the Hollywood club, Wrexham. Despite them being in the division below, we would be under no illusions that they will be favourites with a squad of players that have played at a higher level than League Two and home advantage also on their side.

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But we made an absolute mockery of the bookies odds and put the Welsh side firmly in their place that they might just be miles off League One standard for now. Five goals which included a brace for Charlie Wyke see us into the next round!

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Back in the league we stick another win on the board away at Wycombe as well. Stephen Humphrys was the star of the show this time round as he scored twice and set up the other for Thelo Assgaard for his first goal of the season. No surprises for guessing it was Tom Pearce that got the two assists for Humphrys' goals.

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We weren't the only team to kick off this season on minus points. Reading also started with minus 4 on the board before a ball was kicked and like us, they have made an unbeaten start in their opening two games, beating Oxford United and drawing against Cambridge United. They would be next up for us!

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Our first defeat of the season came at their hands, but only by the narrowest of margins and possibly only because we had to play the 2nd half with ten men. Omar Rekik lost his head after the restart going right through the back of Paul Mukairu with a two footed lunge in the middle of the pitch...completely unnecessary and the centre back really let the lads down! We still went on to create some chances though and both Charlie Wyke and Callum McManaman missed good opportunities to level things up late on.

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We will play two of our fierce local rivals this year in both Bolton and Blackpool, with the latter being our next opponents. These games always mean more to the fans than any other, so it's important for a good performance, especially as we look to make a quick recovery from the Reading defeat.

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The bragging rights unfortunately go to our rivals on this occasion after what was a game of two halves. The first 45 minutes so us completely dominate and Blackpool hadn't even had a shot on goal, but we had only managed to score once despite having 11 chances, of which I'd saw 3 or 4 were really good chances too! The second half saw us come out of the blocks slowly and The Tangerines were quickly level, before the sending off of Ryan Sessegnon which tipped everything in our opponent's favour. The resulting penalty from the challenge that saw Sessegnon dismissed was converted before they scored a couple more just to rub salt in our wounds.

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So after the opening 4 games of the season, we remain bottom of the table on a minus points tally for now. However, we would be 10th if we hadn't started at minus 8 so we have plenty to be optimistic about going forward, but we need to keep our discipline as I feel the last two games that have ended in defeat may not have done without the sending offs.

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For now we will have another cup game though as we face off against Derby in the second round of the Carabao Cup. A game that we would again be outsiders to progress through.

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But again we defy the odds and continue on into the next round. A 0-0 draw over the 90 minutes saw the game go to pens where we prevailed in the lottery of the shootout. We got off to the worst possible start, missing our first penalty, but the following four were near perfect.

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It's the third round of the competition where all the big boys come in, but we manage to avoid them all in the draw and will instead play one of only three League Two sides still left in. We should feel confident we could make it to another round at least!

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Chapter 4
Out Of The Relegation Places
30th September 2023

We head into transfer deadline day with one main aim...hold on to Charlie Hughes! Our 19 year old centre back is strongly linked with Luton and Sheffield United, but it is Burnley that are emerging as favourites to secure our prized asset.

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As it happened, we didn't have any bids to contend with for any of our players...thankfully!! However, what we did manage to do is strengthen with a couple of new loanees and one that could make a real difference to our season. Joe Gelhardt is a young striker that for a long time has been highly though of at Leeds and he will now get an opportunity to show his parent club what he can offer as he'll play plenty of games under me this year.

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The second loan signing on deadline day wasn't as marquee, but instead will just help with squad rotation and providing cover. Paul Smyth comes in from QPR and I like him as he can play multiple positions and will be a key squad player.

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Joe Gelhardt came to us with next to no match fitness so wasn't able to start against Northampton as we struggled in front of goal again and saw another player sent off (that's three league games in a row now). However, Steven Sessgnon's tap in from close range on 47 minutes was enough to get us the win that takes us into a positive points balance for the first time this season.

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Gelhardt did get some minutes under his belt in our first EFL Trophy (this year named the Bristol Street Motors Trophy) game as I took the opportunity to rotate a few players in the first team. This competition doesn't mean much to the fans, by the fact only 1100 turned up for this, so we won't take it too seriously. Despite that, we do get off to a good start with a win over Manchester City's youngsters.

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We had a 10 day break before we were back in action in the league again, but return with a really good win away at Cheltenham. Now on paper, they might not look like the toughest opposition, but we had to respect the fact they were sitting 7th at kick off after a solid start to their season, so this win can't be underestimated and is a very positive result.

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It was the win that lifts us out of the relegation places for the first time this season!

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The question then would be if we had it in us to really push on as we faced 3rd placed Bristol Rovers who'd had an even better start than Cheltenham. The answer to that question was yes! Callum Lang had us in front against the run of play just before the half hour mark and then it was a tightly contested game where Bristol Rovers were pushing for an equalizer but always looked suseptable to a potential counter attack. It was eventually Stephen Humphrys who came off the bench to bag a late brace and ensure we took all 3 points.

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Last time we played a rival, we were smashed 4-1 by Blackpool, so we needed a better result against Barnsley to get the fans back on side that we can handle these big occasions. And we did manage to get the win, albeit by a narrow margin! We had dominated the play for a long time without creating too many solid chances and even Charlie Wyke's goal wasn't the easiest as he pulled out an outstanding header from Stephen Humphrys cross to net a winner 9 minutes from time.

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In the Carabao Cup, we will take on a Gillingham side that have made a positive start to their season in League Two. Gills fans will be hoping for promotion back to the third tier this year and their team have only lost once so far this year and will provide a stern challenge for us despite being in the division below.

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But the match wasn't as testing as I was expecting it to be as we romped to victory with the game over by half time! It was a game where our wide men flourished, with three wingers getting on the scoresheet, including Jonny Smith who comes off the bench to get his first goal for the club in his second appearance of the season.

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We are the last remaining club in the competition outside of the top two divisions, which is an achievement we can be proud of. However, it is now extremely likely that our progress in the Carabao Cup will come to a halt as we face off against Newcastle in the next round. The tie of the round is the Manchester Derby.

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We turn our immediate attention back to League One now and a huge game with another local rival, Bolton Wanderers. This could well be the toughest game of our season so far as well, with The Trotters lying second in the table after winning 6 of their opening 8 matches.

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Neither team had recorded a draw prior to this one but both have now as we shared the points in a tightly contested game.

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So a great run of form which has seen us string together a 5 game unbeaten run in the league has seen us rise into a mid table position and leave the relegation zone well behind us. Onwards and upwards from here I hope!

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Chapter 5
A Sensational Rise Up The Table
28th October 2023

As we head into a game with league leaders, Charlton, we know we are up for a real tough game, just by looking at their recent form. They are free scoring, netting 11 times in the last 5 games, but have also kept things very tight at the back with 5 clean sheets in their last 6! However, they're confidence might be a little dented with them coming off the back of a loss to Leyton Orient in their last fixture.

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Charlton keeper, Harry Isted leads the way in League One with the highest number of clean sheets so far this season. However, they know that we might make it just as hard for them with Sam Tickle only one behind Isted with 5 clean sheets of his own!

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As was expected, it was a tight affair with both goalies doing their bit, although neither could add to their clean sheet tally. The Charlton penalty was soft though and Tom Pearce definitely appeared to get the ball when the ref blew up for the spot kick. However, we responded well and Joe Gelhardt scored his first goal for the club after cutting in from the right wing and playing a lovely one two with Humphrys.

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No less than 9 changes to the starting lineup were made, to play Crewe in the Bristol Street Motors Trophy just 3 days later. With some tired legs in the squad, it was mostly necessary but I can once again stress that this competition is not important and can be used to give fringe players much needed game time.

Despite the heavy squad rotation, we managed to get the win to make it 2 from 2 in the group stage of the competition.

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It was lucky we had taken the opportunity to rest majority of the first team as back in the league, we'd have to play 3 games in the space of 7 days. On the plus side, all three opponents sat in the bottom half of the division and there was a real chance we could take 9 points from 9 in our current vein of form.

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And we did indeed go on to win all three matches! Callum Lang has started to hit some form and his hat trick earned us the victory over bottom side Carlisle, before our biggest league win of the season came against Port Vale. It was 0-0 at half time in that game, but an emphatic second half attacking display saw us absolutely hammer them! Callum Lang was back on the scoresheet again as we came from behind to beat Cambridge United in the latest fixture. Coming from behind isn't something we've had to do much of so far this year, so to show we have it in our locker is a positive sign!

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The three wins not only escalated us into the playoff position, but even higher and into the automatic promotion spots! We know we might not be there for long with most of the sides below us having at least 1 game in hand, but it's been an exceptional rise through the league table!

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We continued our winning streak at home to a stubborn Shrewsbury side. They proved tough to break down and create anything clear cut against and in the end it was a great strike from Matthew Smith and a goalkeeping error that allowed Kelland Watts his first goal of the season, which got us over the line.

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Fleetwood proved every bit as stubborn as The Shrews, but eventually, after battering their goal for 90 minutes, Charlie Hughes got up to head home the winner from a corner!

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That's five league wins in a row and four clean sheets as well - defensively we are looking solid and a large part of that is down to keeper, Sam Tickle, who has been in sensational form between the sticks!

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So it will hurt us that he is out of action for the next 3 weeks!

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Luckily, we have put ourselves in a very strong position in the league so we could afford a small dip in form if there were one to come without our first choice goalie.

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There's no denying it's been a wonderful October though and I am personally rewarded with my first Manager of the Month award.

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Chapter 6
We're Just A Great Cup Team
13th November 2023

November is going to be a big month across multiple competitions for us. We will have back to back knockout games in both the Carabao and FA Cups, before our 3rd and final group game in the EFL Trophy will be sandwiched between 5 league games! Eight games in a month is going to be tough on the leagues and will really show us what the squad, not just the first team, is made of!

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It's fair to say Newcastle wasn't going to take us lightly in the Carabao Cup as they fielded pretty much an entire first team! I was really hoping they might throw a few youngsters out there, but I guess we can take their strong lineup as a sign of respect!

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Eddie Howe will be livid with his players as we incredibly win the game and knock them out of a cup I'm sure they would have been targeting this season for their trophy cabinet! He was clearly taking it seriously with his team selection, but despite that we have prevailed with an excellent performance and nobody can even say we were lucky as our win was thoroughly deserved!

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Clearly Eddie has sour grapes! Was he even watching the game?!

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The Quarter Final draw has allowed both us and Sheffield Wednesday to avoid all 6 Premier League sides and play each other...both of us will be very happy with that! The Merseyside Derby will top the bill!

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That will be in over a month's time though and for now we turn our attentions to another cup, the first round of the FA Cup, where we will play Shrewsbury who we beat 2-0 in the league just 3 games ago. With that in the bag and coming off such an impressive win over Newcastle, we will go into the game full of confidence.

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Our confidence would not be misplaced either as we cruised past our fellow League One opponents and into the second round.

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That's now seven games across all cup competitions that we have gone unbeaten! Great to have little cup runs as a League One side even though you have no real hope of winning them.

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Back in the league, it's Derby County up next and they top the table with 10 wins from 14 matches this year. Could this be the end of our unbeaten streak?

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No it isn't and in fact it's another big result as we come away from Pride Park with all the points thanks to Sean Clare's winner in the 81st minute. Just as the game looked like it was fizzling out into a bore draw, Clare sparked life into the fixture when his run through the centre of the pitch resulted in him despatching a neatly placed shot from just outside the area into the top right hand corner.

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After that Derby game, pretty much every player in the squad was suffering from tiredness with only 3 days between matches!

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It meant that every single player except for the keeper was swapped out for the league game against Peterborough!

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So I'll take this draw! A point is a good point after being forced into so many changes.

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It is a point that takes us to the top of the league. It's likely it will only be for a short period of time, with the two sides below us having a game in hand, but we shouldn't forget that we'd be 8 points clear without having to start on our points deficit!

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Chapter 7
Continuing Our Strong Form

4th December 2023

Charlie Wyke and Callum Lang are the club's top goalscorers so far this year with 8 a piece. However, the latter has the opportunity to go ahead in their own little battle as Wyke has picked up an injury that's going to keep him out for up to 3 months. It's a big blow for us as my other two strikers Joe Gelhardt and Josh Magennis have only a single goal between them!

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It's time for the other strikers to step up and Joe Gelhardt has immediately staked his claim for a starting berth in the team with Wykes out injured, by scoring a brace against Carlisle in the EFL Trophy.

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Three wins from three in the competition sees us top our group and progress to the knockout stages, where we will play Fleetwood.

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There's no denying our confidence is at an all time high right now and that was confirmed as we absolutely hammered Oxford United back in the league. I mean, we really shouldn't be battering the team that's in 4th place this badly should we! I'm not complaining though - what a ****** result!

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Weirdly, the fixture list has thrown up two league games against the same opponent in the space of a week for us next. Burton Albion matches home and away will be sandwiched either side of a tough game against promotion chasing Portsmouth. Burton sit 16th in the table and just 4 points above the relegation zone, so they desperately need to get some points on the board.

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And they did get a point against us in the first encounter as we have an entire lapse of concentration in the last 5 minutes of the game to throw a 2-0 lead! Disappointing from our point of view.

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There was no such complacency in our second meeting though as we despatched of Albion in much more dominant fashion on their own turf.

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In between those two games was a defeat against Pompey! We weren't at our best in the game for sure, but it still hurts to concede in the 98th minute :-(

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It was our first defeat in 15 matches! Never did I think we would put together a run like this in our first season so I am happy!

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And I'm not the only one that is happy either. The board and supporters couldn't be more pleased with the job I'm doing so far!

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And why wouldn't they be. I mean, this team that was supposed to be just looking to survive in the league this year, currently tops the division! Granted we have played a few more games than majority of the teams below us, but still we are massively overachieving right now!

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Our next game will see us take a break away from the league, for the second round of the FA Cup. We've drawn Warrington from the National League North - a club of much smaller stature than us and with home advantage also on our side, an easy win was expected.

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It was never really in doubt!

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And we will now go away to Birmingham in round 3!

Chapter 8
A Busy Christmas
1st January 2024

It was time for the second round of the most underwhelming competition in English football, the EFL Trophy. I really don't know at what point you start taking this competition seriously - maybe the semi final when a day out at Wembley for the final becomes so close? Well we are one step closer to those latter stages after a 2nd round win over Fleetwood.

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Stevenage were up next for us in League One and it only took 97 seconds for Liam Shaw to put us in front against Steve Evans' men! Within 8 minutes we were 2-0 up when Finley Burns scored a bizarre own goal when his inaccurate pass back to his keeper nestled in the bottom corner of the net. From then it only ever looked like how many we would score and the answer was 4! A nice victory!

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Unfortunately, the win came at great cost as we lose two first team players for lengthy periods of time.

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Despite their absence, we were still able to take maximum points from our next two games, with a couple of really dominant performances where we had over 20 shots at goal in both.

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Paul Smyth hadn't made a single appearance for us so far this year since joining on loan in the Summer. Partly due to injury and partly just due to other players being in good form and him not being required. But maybe I've been missing a trick by not playing him as he scored twice on his debut in that Exeter game!

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Next up would be our Carabao Cup Quarter Final with Sheffield Wednesday and our injury list going into the game is going to make our task of overcoming the Championship club a whole lot tougher!

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But what a great effort we put up and were actually dominant throughout the 90 minutes. However, with Charlie Wyke out injured and Joe Gelhardt cup tied, we had very little to offer up front and couldn't find the back of the net. Ultimately, Sheffield Wednesday can be very thankful for that as they went on to beat us in a penalty shootout and our Carabao Cup run ends here...but the boys have certainly done me proud in the competition this year.

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Our next three league games were going to be massive. All three of our upcoming opponents currently reside in the top 8 of the division and are all very much involved in the race for promotion or the playoffs at least.

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They threw up a mix of results, with a win, a draw and a defeat. We salvaged a draw against local rivals, Bolton with just a minute of the game remaining, before a very rare poor defensive showing against Charlton - that's only the fourth time this season we have conceded more than 1 goal in a game! However, we did at least bounce back with a very solid defensive performances against Cambridge as Omar Rekik nodded home our winner in a 1-0 win.

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That would bring us to the end of the year 2024 and our New Year's Day fixture for 2025 will pit us against a Carlisle side deep in the relegation battle. Twice we have played them this year already and twice we have cruised to 3-0 victories...we had no reason to think this would be any different.

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We'll also kick off the new year with a new injury as we lose Callum Lang for the first 6-7 weeks! We have certainly had our fair share of injury problems this season that's for sure!

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For the third time this season, we do record a comfortable win over Carlisle. It's a nice way to kick off the New Year and hopefully a sign of things to come as we look to maintain our push for promotion.

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So we still remain top of the league for now although Blackpool and Charlton are hot on our heels and ready to pounce with a couple of games in hand. Blackpool have only lost 1 game all season, but recording the most amount of draws in the league is what is holding them back at the moment.

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There was another departure from the club as 33 year old striker, Josh Magennis leaves the club. He joins Glentoran for just under £15k, but more importantly than that we get his £6k per week off the wage bill as it just wasn't justified after he made 11 appearances in the league without scoring a single goal.

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Also, Omar Rekik returns to Arsenal as his loan spell comes to an end. He has played an important role in our season so far featuring in half of our league games with an average rating of 7.31 so will be missed. Unfortunately, Arsenal wouldn't renew his loan deal to the end of the season and now I just hope he doesn't end up with one of our promotion rivals.

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Chapter 9
January Transfer Window
27th January 2024

With the transfer window open, I knew I might have to fend off some interest in centre back, Charlie Hughes and sure enough, the first bid came in from Sheffield United and it was a decent one to be fair. However, it was quickly rejected.

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That did prompt talks with our key asset, but I have managed to convince him to stay at least until the end of the season. However, if we don't get promoted I have had to promise to allow him to leave the club.

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The transfer window can always present these sorts of challenges, but at the same time they bring opportunity to strengthen our own squad. And that is what we have done by bringing in another option for central midfield as Miguel Azeez joins us from Arsenal for the remainder of the season.

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Azeez went straight into my starting lineup for our FA Cup 3rd Round tie against Birmingham.

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Unfortunately, our new man wasn't able to stop us falling defeat and going out of the competition. Although there is no shame in going out to a team from the division above us.

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Azeez did score our goal and was our best player on the pitch though, so I'm hoping he will shine against weaker opposition in the league. We could have a little gem on our hands for the rest of the year.

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It means the only cup competition we are left in now is the EFL Trophy, which is at least the most winnable one. And that is becoming a real possibility as we move to the Quarter Final after knocking out Accrinton Stanley.

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It's another big injury for us though as Joe Gelhardt could be out for up to 2 months!

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With both my first choice strikers out of the side through injury, it could be up to other players to step up and score our goals over the coming month or so. And that's exactly what happened against Fleetwood as Thelo Aasgaard came off the bench to hammer home a 30 yard banger into top bins to give us the lead. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough for us to win the game though.

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Callum McManaman getting sent off as early as the 6th minute certainly did us no favours against Shrewsbury and it's probably the reason we have to settle for a draw against them.

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Our discipline this season leaves plenty to be desired as we have recorded the most yellow and the most red cards in League One.

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When we keep our heads, we're generally a winning side and that was once again proven as we beat Northampton in our next match, with all 11 men remaining on the field of play. Charlie Wyke returned from injury after 2 months out and it was good to see him mark that return with a goal.

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We drop to 2nd in the league table, but find ourselves very much in the promotion race with 15 games of the season to go. A position I never imagined we'd be in at the start of the campaign.

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Chapter 10
Deadline Day Signing Helps With Promotion Push
12th March 2024

Another day, another injury! Callum McManaman is the latest to spend some time on the sidelines as he is set to miss nearly 2 months of action.

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Even without McManaman in the side, we were able to comfortably overcome Bristol Rovers.

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It was time for our EFL Trophy Quarter Final now against Oxford United. 1st vs 4th from League One was going to make for a very competitive game and the winners would likely become favourites to win the trophy.

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That game will come on the same day as transfer deadline day, so maybe our new signing could make an immediate impact. With funds obviously non existent for permanent transfers, it's another loan deal as we bring in Burnley's Macedonian international winger, Darko Churlinov. A very impressive player for League One!

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Churlinov went straight into the starting lineup, but maybe I rushed him in too quick (just 4 hours after joining the club) as he had an awful debut with a 6.1 match rating. The match itself was a very closely contested battle and went all the way to a penalty shootout. It was us that come out on top and progress to the semi finals.

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Churlinov made a much better impact on his league debut for us, scoring our second against rivals, Barnsley. A much better performance from our new man as he makes a solid contribution to our win.

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But that was followed up by our worst team performance in a while as we lose only our 5th league game of the season against Port Vale. We weren't clinical in front of goal at all and were ultimately punished for our inability to score.

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I needed a reaction from my lads after that and there is no better way to do that than with a solid victory over one of the best sides in the division that are also chasing down promotion. Massive result!

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It's always important to back up a big result with another win and we did just that against Cheltenham, although not in the most convincing fashion.

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Our next two matches saw us only take a point from the 6 available and there was plenty of talk that we were starting to drop form right at the business end of the season. Were we about to bottle it?

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Well our next result against 3rd placed Oxford United would suggest not! Signings can definitely make seasons and our January deadline day capture of Darko Churlinov certainly paid off as his brace had us 2-0 in front and then it was his cross that was turned in by Oxford's Elliott Moore to make it 3-0 as well. It was a man of the match performance from Churlinov and hopefully a bit of a reassurance for our fans that we are back on track.

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We also have to show our fans that we can get down and dirty and grind out those tough wins when it counts now! And we did just that against Wycombe who made it really tough for us and we had to work really hard to get the 3 points here.

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Darko Churlinov really is proving to be a big signing for us as he has been key in our last two games, scoring 3 and bagging an assist as well.

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Hopefully, he can keep it up to keep us at the top of the table. Just 6 games to go and with Reading 8 points back, maybe 3-4 wins might just seal automatic promotion (depending on what they do in their game in hand).

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Chapter 11
Chasing Down Promotion On The Final Run In
1st June 2024

Very slight dilemma for us now in terms of the fixture schedule. We have the semi final of the EFL Trophy against Portsmouth and reaching this stage of the competition has given us a real shot at Wembley and a potential trophy. However, just 3 days later, we have a top of the table clash with our rivals, Blackpool...a fixture that is huge in the title race! Do we go full strength against Portsmouth, do we rest the better players for the league, do we mix it up for both games! This is where football manager's earn their money!

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I decided that for the Portsmouth game, we wouldn't rest everyone initially and went with a lineup that would be at least at half strength.

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It doesn't pay off though as we are knocked out of the competition by the south coast club.

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And to make matters worse, Callum McManaman picked up an injury that will mean he won't kick another ball this season...and may not even make it back in time for next year's pre season either!

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However, on a positive...possibly the biggest positive of our whole season....we beat Blackpool! Boom...not only are they one of our biggest rivals, but they were also our nearest challengers at the top of the table and this win is absolutely huge in the title race!

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With just 5 games of our season to go and a 4 point lead at the top of the table now, it's fair to say I'm getting pretty excited about our title chances. Our next game is another huge one against Reading!

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One thing that I can't get excited about is this year's youth intake, which is ******* ****.

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But let's forget about that for a minute, because we might have just had a title winning victory over Reading! What a performance, what a result! We could well be on our way to Championship football after beating the sides in 2nd and 3rd in our last two games.

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It opens up a 10 point gap between us and Reading and just 1 more win would secure automatic promotion.

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We wasted no time in getting it! A 4-2 win over relegation threatened Lincoln ensures it's Championship football for us next year, despite the referee handing them soft penalties to try to give them a chance! Now to try to win that title!

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With promotion in the bag, next season's budgets are announced and although the wage budget gets a £50k per week boost, the transfer kitty is quite a ridiculous number - I mean I'd rather just have zero than £929!

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With promotion secured, we needed to win 2 of our remaining 3 matches to seal the League One title. However, a 4-0 win over Stevenage in our next game was enough to get the job done with Blackpool losing to Bristol Rovers! The lads went on holiday early after that as we lose our final two matches but I'm certainly not going to lay into them about that! To overturn a minus 8 points deficit this season to win the league with 2 games remaining is nothing short of an amazing achievement!

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CHAMPIONS! Winning 30 of our 46 games in the league is incredible! Best attack, best defence! I can have no complaints this year! Fair play to Reading as well who finish 3rd and miss out on automatic promotion by a single point, considering they also had a minus points number to overcome at the start of the season. Any one of those 4 clubs in the playoffs could realistically win it and they should make for some good competitive football matches.

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It's Portsmouth and Reading that will play out the final at Wembley.

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And it was Portsmouth who came out on top, scoring an extra time winner to join us and Blackpool in the 2nd tier next season. Not great news for us as we played them three times this season and lost all three!

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Premier League = Arsenal

Championship = Leicester
League One = Wigan
League Two = Stockport County
National League = Rochdale

FA Cup = Manchester City
Carabao Cup = Arsenal
EFL Trophy = Port Vale
Community Shield = Arsenal
FA Trophy = Yeovil Town

UEFA Champions League = Bayern Munich
UEFA Europa League = West Ham

UEFA Europa Conference League = Aston Villa

Well, an incredible league campaign saw us come from a -8 start to go on and win the division against all the odds. Without that deduction, we would have won the league at a canter by 11 points.

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The FA Cup saw us knock out a couple of teams we expected to beat before coming up against Championship opposition and there is no shame in going out via a narrow defeat to Birmingham.

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We did ourselves really proud in the Carabao Cup and knockout out Newcastle was one of our results of the entire season. Eventually, we dropped out on a penalty shootout in the quarter finals but it was a really positive little cup run that we enjoyed in the competition this season.

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We never really took the EFL Trophy entirely seriously, but despite that we still had a good run in the competition, before being knocked out by Portsmouth who we really struggled against this year.

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The New Arrivals

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The Best 11

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Club Awards

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League Awards

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The Commercials

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The Finances

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The fans will be happy as, even with promotion, the club have taken the decision not to raise ticket prices this year.

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As we go into our new season in the Championship, there is one major aim for the supporters and board alike. Attempt to avoid relegation! It's something that has been really tough for Wigan over the years as they have yo-yo'd between the 2nd and 3rd tier, with the Championship often being found far too tough for them. Can I change that?!

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One thing that was key for me was to tie down a couple of players to new deals. The first is Stephen Humphrys who was our best player this year and won League One player of the year. 13 goals and 13 assists in League One was impressive and it was important to keep him at the club. He gets a pay rise from £7k per week to £11.5k per week as he commits his immediate future to us.

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The other player I am really pleased to have tied down on a new 5 year contract is 20 year old centre back, Charlie Hughes. We managed to fend off bids of up to £4 million for the youngster in the January transfer window and we know he would likely be in high demand again this Summer, so getting him to sign a new deal not only keeps him with us for the next few years, but also massively increases his market value if clubs in the Prem want to come in for him. The new contract certainly doesn't guarantee he will stay, but it does mean that if he goes, we can likely command a transfer fee of more than £10 million+.

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Going into next season, this new partnership we have set up with Arsenal could prove to be pivotal in our quest for survival in the Championship. If we can bring in a couple of their talented youngsters, they would enhance our chances of staying up significantly.

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