End of season dinner time. As the nation prepared to park their hounds outside polling stations island-wide, Wigan Athletic’s resident canines were leashed firmly to a large post inside the DW Stadium. Ever-so-slightly tender, they shielded their bleary eyes from the glaring spotlights, a bittersweet flashback to last weekend’s festivities on the Golden Mile. Legend has it the Illuminations were powered up for one evening in honour of the (virtual) League One Champions.
The time for Player of the Season voting had long since passed. It only remained for this dogged crew to gingerly saunter onto stage, bare a few teeth and stutter back to a seat… any vacant seat, trophy in hand. If they could keep a grip of it, that is.
Such are the luxuries of securing the title a week prior to 8th May. Such are the by-products of scoring eight goals in two (well, one and a half) outstanding games. Such are the rewards for finally living up to the eleventy billion pound parachute payment standard (c)almost every League One opposition manager.
Blackpool’s piers are terrified
But the season’s final game took many by surprise. Mostly because it was played on a Sunday, as I discovered at the cost of half my weekend – I took my seat at 11.30am on Saturday and waited eight hours for non-existent players to arrive.
“They must be on their way back from Blackpool Promenade at this very moment,” I (incorrectly) reasoned… twenty five times.
When they did finally materialise a whole day later, the promotion celebrations appeared hastily thrown together. Whereas Premier League Champions Leicester were delighted by opera legend Andrea Bocelli, League One-winning Latics had to settle for the returning Mauro ‘Ten Million Dollar Man’ Boselli and his (admittedly pitch perfect) rendition of Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’.
But it was just as fun, honest.
The party lasted a whole fifteen minutes, which was just enough time for Will Goldenboot Grigg to tap home his 25th – and easiest – goal of the 2015/16 season. Encouraged by a surprisingly inebriated West Stand, Yanic Wildschut terrorised the left touchline with his third sprint ‘n’ cross, and Griggsy needed only sweep home via a Barnsley defender’s outstretched arm. Thanks for the… er, hand. Hyuk!
Your shins are terrified
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that reserve goalie Lee Nicholls was (surprisingly?) the only real ‘new’ name in Latics’ starting XI. All I can suggest is that Jussi J, foreseeing blame and misfortune, asked to sit this one out due to a ‘headache’.
‘Saint’ Nicholls may have safely gathered the first deadly through ball, but he could do naught about Stephen Warnock wrapping his legs around Ashley Fletcher’s. Nor could he prevent Sam Winnall’s resultant penalty rolling inside the exact opposite post to the one he’d just crashed into.
The shock stand-in goalie also baulked Lloyd Isgrove’s tricksy dash linewards, cleverly utilising his right shin pad to guide the ball away. But he could do naught about Winnall’s subsequent 3-yard follow up, a Will Grigg special from League One’s joint Bronze Boot winner. (It’s like the Golden Boot but for the third placed goalscorer. And yeah, it certainly isn’t something I made up just now.)
Griggmeister, where are you now?!
If you’d like an answer to that supposedly rhetorical question, he was meandering aimlessly around the centre circle, willing the ball towards him with his (allegedly) fizzy pop-weakened mind control skills. But after 35 minutes had passed, he became increasingly anonymous as trophy presentation time rapidly approached.
The Tykes, meanwhile, were imbued with a force even Luke Skywalker would envy. As soon as the ball left Conor Hourihane’s boot, you sensed it was destined to spin beyond a (slightly unfortunate) Lee Nicholls for a well-earned third Barnsley goal and sixth spot in the league.
It’s amazing that Barnsley were languishing in the relegation zone before Christmas. Who’da thunk it, eh? Well, apart from those who witnessed that Johnstone’s Paint Trophy game at the DeeDub in December. Which I expect is pretty much all of you.
As for the fourth, it brought scattered applause from an appreciative Latics faithful. Josh Brownhill evidently satisfied their hunger for a quality free kick, something not seen at Stade DW until the very last goal of the season. While it’s obviously possible to smash League One without a free kick taker, one does like to partake of such goals every now and then.
Speaking of which, the afternoon’s biggest disappointment was that David Perkins was shooed away from taking a free kick he would surely have buried. Rampant celebrations would have subsequently detached the East Stand ceiling from its fixtures… just as a fat, pink, snorting animal winged its way towards the River Dougie.
…But enough about your small time internet weblogger.
Your shins are terrified Vol II
A clearly jealous Chris McCann stole some late plaudits the only way he could, collecting a red card for his cheeky nibble at Adam Hammill. But of course, it was all an elaborate excuse to receive an early round of applause from 14,000 Wiganers!
That’s right, 14,000 people. An extra 5,000 floating voters turned up to ask how on earth Latics smashed League One after a performance like that.
But hey, with weather like this, you can’t be disappointed. And the reason for those increased temperatures? Well, the obvious answer is…
Will Grigg’s on fire, your defence is terrified! Na na na na na na na na na….