Millwall's final game of the 2018/19 Sky Bet Championship takes place on the division's final day this Sunday (kick-off 12.30pm), making the trip north to face Wigan Athletic. As The Lions look to finish the season on a high note, we review the season of Paul Cook’s side.
Wigan Athletic approached the summer in high spirits under Cook, following an emphatic promotion campaign the previous term in which The Latics took the League One title with 98 points to their name. Cook recruited players such as Josh Windass, Reece James and the returning Callum McManaman, whilst the likes of David Perkins and Ryan Colclough – huge contributors at third tier level – moved on from the DW Stadium. Pre-season matches included trips to Glasgow to face Rangers, as well as to Tranmere and Chesterfield.
Wigan began the season with a mixed bag of results, which provided a good foundation on which to build and saw the club start the campaign in the top half of the League. Starting with a 3-2 win at home against Sheffield Wednesday in a tasty opener, The Latics then suffered heartache in the same scoreline at Aston Villa, conceding a last-gasp decisive goal. Wigan’s Carabao Cup campaign suffered a premature end, losing 3-1 at fellow promoted outfit Rotherham, before playing out a 2-2 home draw with Nottingham Forest as they returned to Championship action, conceding late once more. One of Wigan’s finest performances of the season came on the road at recently relegated Stoke, coming out on top by three goals to nil at the bet365 Stadium. A narrow defeat at QPR rounded off August with Cook’s men in a respectable 12th position.
September witnessed three wins and two defeats for Wigan, rising the team in the division and continuing an overall positive start. A 1-0 win over Rotherham at the DW preceded a 2-0 setback at Brentford, but two more successive home wins over Hull and Bristol City gained momentum for the side. An unlucky 1-0 loss at now-promoted Norwich ended the month with the side in eighth.
Unfortunately for Cook’s side, the Norwich defeat began a period of 20 games which bred just three League wins. A goalless draw with Swansea started October, with a disappointing 4-0 defeat to neighbours Preston coming before the international break. A 1-0 win over West Brom saw the peak of the month, before The Latics visited The Den to face Millwall. A first-half own goal gave the visitors the lead, before Shaun Williams dispatched a penalty and Steve Morison’s late tap-in sealed the three points for The Latics. A 4-2 defeat at Sheffield United rounded matters off for October with the side slipping into the bottom half for the first time.
Four League games took place in November, with tough games against Leeds and Middlesbrough beginning the month for Cook’s team. Defeats by two goals to one and 2-0 respectively, alongside a goalless draw at home to ensuing survival rivals Reading, sent Wigan into 17th place. The Latics did however secure a 3-1 home win over Blackburn to finish the month positively, and move into 15th.
Competition was to be rife during December in The Championship, with plenty of points to play for and the festive schedule taking its toll on many of the division’s squads. It was to be another frustrating month for Wigan fans, with the side picking up two points from a possible 18. A draw at neighbours Bolton started the month, before four successive damaging defeats against Derby, Birmingham, West Brom and Ipswich – the latter claiming their first home win of the season against Cook’s men. The Latics did impressively take a two-goal lead at Swansea in their final contest of 2018, eventually settling for a 2-2 draw and entering the turn of the year in 19th.
With the team’s form causing them to slip into potential relegation trouble, Cook acted quickly to make necessary alterations to the Wigan squad. Experienced Championship players Lee Evans, Anthony Pilkington and Danny Fox arrived at the DW, along with loan signing Leon Clarke among others. Max Power and Will Grigg moved to League One Sunderland in high-profile deals, with Alex Bruce another departure. On the pitch, Wigan began 2019 in mixed style, with a 3-0 home loss to Sheffield United followed by an impressive win over Aston Villa by the same scoreline. Stuttering away form again proved the side’s downfall in the next two games, resulting in defeats at Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest. Though previously stalwarts of the competition, the club’s Emirates FA Cup campaign was not to come to fruition this time around with a 1-0 Third Round reverse at West Brom.
Sitting an undesirable 20th and battling with The Lions among others to retain Championship status for next season, Wigan’s form took a lift in February. New signing Clarke’s winner helped towards three points at home to QPR, before a 1-1 draw at Rotherham. A goalless stalemate at home to Stoke followed, prior to a late Joe Garner equaliser against his former side Ipswich to save a point in the next clash.
A fourth successive draw started March for Cook’s side, namely a goalless draw with Middlesbrough at the DW. The side’s away form – which had to this point produced just one win – scuppered their progress further, losing three consecutive games on the road at Derby, Blackburn and rivals Reading – against whom they led until the 89th minute, eventually going down 3-2 at the Madejski Stadium. The team’s frustration after the 3-0 loss at Blackburn was taken out on troubled local foes Bolton in emphatic fashion, putting five past Phil Parkinson’s men. A stalemate with Brentford rounded off March with the side moving regularly between 18th and 20th, crucially keeping their heads above water.
April was a packed month for Wigan, but one from which they certainly produced some of their best football at a critical time of the season. Nathan Byrne’s dramatic leveller secured a 2-2 draw at Play-Off-chasing Bristol City in the month’s opening fixture, before the team’s only loss from their last eight came late on in the form of a 2-1 reverse at Hull. With two huge challenges approaching against Norwich and Leeds, Cook’s men delivered when it mattered and took four points from the 180 minutes. Denied a win over The Canaries at the DW with nine minutes remaining, the side followed up the 1-1 draw with only their second away win of the campaign, coming from behind to sink Leeds 2-1 with 10 men at Elland Road. The Latics were far from finished there, moving back up to 18th and securing Championship safety for good with a 2-0 home win over Preston. Wigan’s last outing and penultimate game of the season came last Saturday, a 1-1 draw at Birmingham.