After returning to the Sky Bet Championship ahead of the 2018/19 campaign, few expected Wigan Athletic to struggle – with some bookmakers even offering odds of 10/1 for them to achieve back to back promotions.
Manager Paul Cook strengthened in the summer, with Callum McManaman returning to the club after three years along with fellow Sunderland teammate and former Republic of Ireland international Darron Gibson.
Joe Garner, Josh Windass, Kal Naismith and Cédric Kipré also arrived at the DW Stadium, while explosive full-backs Reece James and Antonee Robinson joined on loan from Premier League sides Chelsea and Everton, respectively, to add more pace in wide areas.
In terms of outgoings, Ryan Colclough and Dan Burn departed on deadline day, with the latter returning on loan from Brighton and Hove Albion until January. Midfielder Max Power left for Sunderland on a temporary deal, which was made permanent at the turn of the year.
A 3-2 victory at home to Sheffield Wednesday on the opening day was just the start Latics were hoping for, with Michael Jacobs continuing his fine form from the 2017/18 League One title winning campaign.
Wigan then fell to defeat at Aston Villa courtesy Birkir Bjarnason’s stoppage time winner, despite leading 2-1 in the Midlands. Another late concession, this time at home to Nottingham Forest, saw Cook’s side with four points from their first three fixtures.
Four wins from their next six saw the Lancashire outfit hit the lofty heights of third, two points off Leeds United at the summit, and dreaming of a potential return to the Premier League for the first time since 2013.
But a run of eight matches yielded just four points as the Latics plummeted to 16th in the Championship, just four points above Hull City in the drop zone. Another disappointing spell followed, with stalemates against fellow strugglers Reading and Bolton Wanderers, and an uninspiring loss away to basement side Ipswich Town.
A New Year’s Day humbling at home to high-flying Sheffield United preceded a comprehensive victory over mid-table Villa as Wigan dented their seemingly fading play-off hopes.
Four straight draws – three of which were against teams around the Latics in the table – left them 19th and only three points above the relegation zone with 12 games remaining. There was time for this to go either way for Cook’s side, who had finished 23rd in their previous two Championship campaigns.
Wigan were in no sort of form and suffered consecutive defeats against Derby County, Reading and Blackburn Rovers, but teams around them were also losing and there was still a three point cushion between themselves and the drop.
Then came the turning point; a huge basement battle at the DW as Bolton made the short trip down the M61. A resounding 5-2 victory for the Latics was just the morale booster needed, and they went on to pick up 13 points from their remaining eight games – including a shock 2-1 win at stuttering Leeds – to record an 18th place finish.
Barnsley have only played Wigan 14 times since our first meeting in 1954, winning four and losing six of those. Our most recent victory against the Lancashire side was a memorable one back in May 2016 as Paul Heckingbottom’s Reds claimed an emphatic 4-1 win at the DW to secure their place in the League One play-offs.
And the rest, as they say, is history.