We look back at Latics’ fourth campaign in the third tier as Bryan Hamilton’s side narrowly miss out on promotion.
- Derby County pip Latics to third spot by just one point.
- Hamilton’s side lose just two league games at Springfield.
- Warren Aspinall’s 27 league goals prove crucial, joint top-scorer with Reading’s Trevor Senior.
- Latics make the Freight Rover Trophy Northern Section final in their defence of cup, but lose out to local rivals Bolton.
First Division winners and UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup holders Everton were the star attraction of Latics’ pre-season campaign for the 1985-86 season.
The visit of stars such as Peter Reid, Gary Lineker and Kevin Ratcliffe kicked-off the pre-season preparations for Latics before a clash with Preston North End, a trip to the Isle of Man Football Festival and Lancs Manx Cup matches with Blackburn Rovers and Blackpool.
An array of stars from high-flying Everton visited Springfield in July 1985.
Come Saturday 17th August, Latics made the trip to Wales to open their Third Division campaign at Swansea with Ian Griffiths, signed from Port Vale, making his debut on the left wing.
Ian Griffiths was Bryan Hamilton’s sole addition ahead of the 1985-86 season, signing from Port Vale.
It was Graham Barrow who notched the game’s only goal in the second-half, giving Latics the perfect start to the campaign before Port Vale were defeated 2-1 in the first leg of the Milk Cup First Round at Springfield with Tony Kelly scoring twice.
Derby County, who would narrowly beat Latics to promotion at the end of the season, were the first league visitors to visit Springfield and they were met by a stylish performance from Bryan Hamilton’s side with Mike Newell and David Lowe on the mark in a 2-1 victory.
A 4-1 defeat at York City and 2-0 loss at Port Vale in the second leg of the Milk Cup proved a shock to the system for Latics with the visit of a Brentford side that they had defeated in the Freight Rover Trophy final just over two months earlier.
Another Kelly penalty, a Warren Aspinall strike and a double from Newell secured a resounding 4-0 win and return to fourth in the table.
Howard Pritchard’s second-half goal then gave Bristol City a 1-0 win at Ashton Gate to start September off on a low note for Latics, though they bounced back in style as Darlington were smashed 5-1 at Springfield as Newell bagged his first Football League hat-trick.
The young striker opened the scoring before Steve Tupling equalised for the visitors. Neil Bailey, playing for the first time in six months, then gave Latics the advantage before Alex Cribley made it 3-1.
55th and 86th minute strikes completed the rout for Hamilton’s side with his sixth goal in as many league games.
Following his hat-trick over the Quakers, Mike Newell was in the spotlight.
Early season inconsistencies were perhaps the biggest contributing factor to missing out on promotion as Latics lost their third consecutive away game with Karl Elsey and David Mehmet on the score-sheet for Gillingham in a 2-0 win at Priestfield.
Harry Redknapp’s Bournemouth were the next visitors to Springfield and home comforts were once again evident as two Aspinall penalties and another Newell strike secured a 3-0 win over the Cherries.
Latics were up to third after their next away game when Newell’s first-half strike was cancelled out by Brian Scrimgeour at Chesterfield before Kelly and Paul Jewell notched in a 2-0 win over Walsall.
A trip to Bury and home fixture with Blackpool returned draws as Latics made it six unbeaten, though that sequence was flipped to three without a win when Cardiff, who went on to get relegated at the end of the campaign and were on a five-game winless run of their own, defeated Hamilton’s side 3-1 at Ninian Park with Chris Marustik, Rob Turner and Nigel Vaughan on the score-sheet for the Bluebirds.
In his next programme notes, Hamilton bemoaned his side’s tendency to overplay but they were back to winning ways at Springfield as a Newell double and Kelly strike earned a 3-1 victory over Notts County.
A three-game winless run dropped Latics out of the promotion race before Barrow and Newell got Hamilton’s side back to winning ways against a Rotherham United side on a seven-game winless run of their own.
A Colin Methven strike wasn’t enough to earn anything from a long trip to Devon as Plymouth Argyle continued Latics’ woes on the road before the defender bagged what turned out to be the winner when Lincoln City visited Springfield at the end of November with Kelly and Newell also on the mark in a 3-2 win.
Centre-half Colin Methven had seven goals come the end of the season, his first two came in the last week of November.
By Christmas, Latics had fell off the pace with a draw at Wolves, who were eventually relegated, and defeat at Derby, who just edged Hamilton’s side come the end of season promotion race, leaving them in tenth come the visit of Bristol Rovers on Boxing Day.
Simply, Latics knew they needed to put a run together.
They went in goalless at half-time in the clash with the Gas before a second-half display of pure class saw Aspinall, Griffiths, Kelly and Newell secure a 4-0 win and return to winning ways.
A local derby at Bolton was next on the agenda on New Years’ Day 1986 and back-to-back wins were secured as Newell and Barrow earned another valuable victory.
For Newell, that would be a last goal for the club in his final league game as he moved to First Division Luton Town for £85,000.
After scoring 16 goals in 24 league games, Mike Newell moved to Luton Town in January 1986.
Aspinall set about the task of replacing Newell immediately as his double and a Barrow strike secured a 3-1 win at Brentford to keep spirits high and make it three league wins on the bounce.
Back in fourth place, the promotion bid was reaffirmed and the confidence was evident as Swansea, who had won back-to-back games for the first time in the season, visited Springfield only to be on the end of a 5-0 annihilation. Aspinall was again on the mark, giving his side a 1-0 half-time lead, before Paul Cook’s first league goal, a Methven double and another Kelly strike made it a five-star show.
Cook was on the mark again a fortnight later as Bristol City earned a point at Springfield as Rob Newman levelled in the second-half.
In his breakthrough season, Paul Cook made 13 league appearances, notching two goals with both coming in consecutive league games.
The unbeaten run continued at Meadow Lane next but Latics again surrendered the lead as another Barrow strike was cancelled out, this time by Dean Yates.
Aspinall and Lowe were then back on the mark for a 2-0 victory over Cardiff City as Latics made it seven unbeaten, Lowey notching his first goal since the second day of the campaign.
David Lowe helped secure a 2-0 win over the Bluebirds with a rare goal in this campaign.
Next up for Hamilton’s side was the visit of an in-form Gillingham and a meeting of two of the division’s most free-flowing sides didn’t disappoint as the Kent outfit played their part in a six-goal thriller with Kelly, Aspinall and Griffiths on the mark in a 3-3 draw.
Three days later, Latics continued their Freight Rover Trophy defence with a 3-0 Northern Section quarter-final victory over Rotherham United as Aspinall, Lowe and Barrow notched after Hamilton’s side had already defeated Chester and Rochdale.
Latics’ superb run continued the following Saturday as a long trip to Bournemouth returned all three points thanks to second-half Methven and Jewell efforts.
Chesterfield were the visitors to Springfield when Hamilton’s side were going for ten unbeaten and the Spireites were put to the sword with Methven again on strike after Aspinall had opened the scoring.
Warren Aspinall on target as Latics made it ten league games unbeaten with a win over Chesterfield.
A fourth consecutive clean sheet in all competitions saw Latics defeat Bury for a third consecutive win next up, thanks again to Aspinall.
Eamonn O’Keefe then notched against his former club for Blackpool but it wasn’t enough as Kevin Langley’s first of the season and a Jewell effort earned a 2-1 victory at Bloomfield Road.
Paul Jewell’s goal secured another valuable win as Latics extended their winning run to four, moving up to second in the table.
Aspinall continued the fine run of form with the only goal in a 1-0 win over York City before Newport County, who were narrowly above the drop zone come the end of the season, were edged out in a 4-3 thriller as Latics came from behind to win after trailing 2-1 at half-time. A first-half Kelly penalty was followed by Langley, Lowe and Aspinall goals.
Next up was the Northern Section semi-final of the Freight Rover Trophy; with Port Vale the hosts as Latics looked to continue their defence. Goals from Barrow and Aspinall secured a 2-1 win and set up a two-legged final with local rivals Bolton Wanderers.
Latics defeated Port Vale at Vale Park to secure a place in the Freight Rover Trophy Northern Section Final.
After eight consecutive wins in all competitions, Latics were brought back down to earth against the Trotters in the league as Asa Hartford, Mark Gavin and Tony Caldwell secured a 3-1 win for the hosts.
A further four winless games proved pivotal in Latics missing out on promotion as draws with Bristol Rovers, Rotherham and Walsall and a defeat against Doncaster dropped Hamilton’s side to fourth going into the final five matches of the season.
That defeat against Doncaster was also Kelly's last appearance for the club before he re-joined in 1994, the Liverpudlian midfielder moved on to Stoke City for a fee of £80,000.
A rare David Lowe goal helped earn three points at home to Plymouth in mid-April with Jewell also on the mark with a double in a 3-0 win.
David Lowe notched his fifth goal of the season in the 3-0 win over Plymouth at Springfield.
A 1-0 defeat of Reading thanks to another Aspinall goal, a penalty, further strengthened the promotion bid, especially as Derby’s four-game winless run dropped the Rams to fifth.
Latics won a 5-3 thriller against already relegated Wolves in their final fixture with an Aspinall hat-trick, two of which were penalties, backed up by goals from Steve Walsh, who had been injured for most of the campaign and Barrow too.
Derby had three games in hard, though, whilst Latics turned their attentions to a double-header with local rivals Bolton Wanderers as Hamilton’ side looked to defend the Freight Rover Trophy.
The first leg, at Springfield, ended in a 1-0 defeat at Caldwell, who had notched in the league fixture just over a month before, scored the decisive goal.
On the same night, Derby defeated Swansea 3-0 to keep their chase for promotion alive with two games remaining in their league schedule.
The second leg, played on the same night as Derby’s home clash with Rotherham, saw Jewell’s first-half aggregate leveller cancelled out by goals from George Oghani and Caldwell again.
The Rams defeated the Millers 2-1, and thus secured promotion with a game to spare, a game they in fact lost at Darlington.
Latics lost out in the second leg to Bolton, also, with Paul Jewell’s first-half leveller outdone in the second-half by George Oghani and Caldwell.
All in all, this was a solid campaign for Latics, and the defeat to our local rivals in the final was less crippling as the Wembley final saw Southern Section winners Bristol City smash the Trotters 3-0!
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