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LATICS IN THE THIRD TIER: 1986-87

3 June 2015

A look back at a campaign that saw Latics narrowly miss out on promotion and also make the last eight of the FA Cup.

  • Coach Ray Mathias replaces Bryan Hamilton as boss after the Northern Irishman took over at Leicester City.
  • Mathias led Latics to FA Cup quarter-finals after notable wins over Norwich City and Hull City.
  • Latics finish fourth and qualify for promotion/relegation play-offs in inaugural year but lose out to eventual winners Swindon Town.
  • October 1986 signing Bobby Campbell notches 20 in all competitions.
  • Only three league defeats at Springfield all season.
A busy summer saw multiple key players leave Latics after manager Bryan Hamilton moved to Leicester City and was replaced by coach Ray Mathias.

Steve Walsh followed Hamilton to Filbert Street for £100,000 whilst Warren Aspinall, last season’s top goal-scorer, returned to Everton having re-joined on Latics after his mid-season switch to Goodison last time around. He wouldn’t actually stay on Merseyside that long, moving to Aston Villa shortly after for a then club record £300,000.

Kevin Langley made the move to the Toffees for £120,000, Colin Methven departed for Blackpool for £20,000, Graham Barrow to Chester City for £6,000 and fringe player Neil Bailey to Stockport County.


Warren Aspinall was in an Aston Villa shirt early in the 1986-87 campaign.

Replacements arrived in the form of a trio of former Blackburn Rovers players in midfielder David Hamilton, forward John Lowey and the versatile Chris Thompson, midfielder Graham Houston (Burnley/Southport), striker Mark Hilditch (Altrincham) and goalkeeper Nigel Adkins (Tranmere Rovers) would also come in, the latter to provide cover for Roy Tunks.



Chris Thompson was one of six summer arrivals.

The campaign began with a trip to Notts County, who were looking to build on a solid campaign of their own from last time out, and it would the Magpies who came out on top as a first-half goal from Mick Waitt and an Ian McParland penalty secured all three points for Jimmy Sirrel’s side.

Latics then lost 3-1 in the first leg of their League Cup First Round tie with Second Division Blackburn Rovers before eventual Third Division winners Middlesbrough came to Springfield and won 2-0 thanks to Lee Turnbull and Tony Mowbray second-half goals.

Another defeat to Lancashire outfit Rovers made it four out of four in all competitions and, after a defeat at Bristol City and 2-1 home loss to Newport County – a game in which Hamilton notched his first Latics goal – Mathias’ side were sat rock bottom.


New signing David Hamilton opened his Latics account against Newport County.

Next up was the visit of a Walsall side who had lost three of their opening four league games and it would be the Saddlers who put to an end Latics’ losing run as an explosive first-half performance, that saw Mathias’ side leading 4-1 at the break, ended in a 5-1 success thanks to a Thompson hat-trick and strikes from David Lowe and Hilditch.

It took just four days for misery to return, though, as a trip to Lancashire rivals Blackpool ended in a 5-1 defeat with Alan Mayes bagging a hat-trick at Bloomfield Road.

With the pressure beginning to build on Mathias and his new-look side, local rivals Bolton were in town seeing if they could take advantage of any confidence issues in the Wigan Athletic camp. That couldn’t have been further from the case, though, Thompson and Paul Cook scored to secure a 2-1 victory.

That win sparked an upturn in fortunes as the first back-to-back wins of the season were secured when Hilditch and Lowe secured a 2-0 win at Millmoor against Rotherham United.

September finished with the arrival of Bobby Campbell from Bradford City and the Northern Irishman was on target on debut, though his strike was consolation after Swindon had accumulated a 3-0 half-time lead at the County Ground.


Bobby Campbell signed for £25,000 from Bradford City and went on to top score with 20 goals in all competitions.

Houston, who had only made a couple of appearances early in the season due to injury, bagged his first goals for the club in a 4-3 win over Bristol Rovers next up before Fulham’s visit to Springfield ended with Campbell and Thompson securing a 2-0 win that moved Latics up to 12th.

After winning four in five, confidence had evidently been instilled, but defeats at Chesterfield and Bournemouth left Mathias’ side back in 14th with just one win from their opening seven away league games.

November’s points total of ten points from a possible 15 further consolidated a top-half position as Houston notched in wins over Carlisle United and Port Vale whilst a Lowe double helped secure progress to the Second Round of the FA Cup at expense of Fourth Division side Lincoln City.

Welsh international Andy Holden also signed from Chester City and made his debut in the win over the Cumbrians as Mathias’ squad looked complete for the second-half of the season.

Latics were tenth by the end of the month as a Campbell double and Lowe strike earned a 3-1 win over Gillingham at Springfield.


David Lowe, Bobby Campbell and Andy Holden in action against Gillingham.

Paul Jewell’s first two goals of the season helped Latics into the Third Round of the FA Cup at the expense of Darlington with Campbell also grabbing a brace in a 5-0 success.

Latics were in destructive mood in the build up to Christmas and Mansfield Town felt the full force as a Lowe hat-trick and Campbell and Jewell goals secured a 5-1 win and ninth place after a Boxing Day draw at home to Chester City against former manager Harry McNally and midfielder Barrow.


Bobby Campbell in action against Chester City on Boxing Day.

The new year began with a short trip to Bury as Latics made it six unbeaten in the league with a 4-1 success courtesy of a Cribley penalty and Jewell and Cook strikes before Darlington, defeated 5-0 just under a month earlier, secured a point at Springfield.


Mark Hilditch was on the mark as Latics made it seven unbeaten with a draw against Darlington.

Another FA Cup assignment followed as Gillingham, who had been defeated 3-1 in November, were beaten 2-1 thanks to goals from Campbell and Thompson as Colin Greenall, who finished his career Wigan Athletic player, scored for the Gills.

A 3-1 win over Bristol City, thanks to another Campbell brace, moved Mathias’ side up to seventh in the Third Division before January closed out with Jewell scoring the only goal of the game to secure progress to the Fifth Round of the FA Cup at expense of First Division Norwich City.


Chris Thompson challenges for the ball with future Latic Steve Bruce in the 1-0 FA Cup Fourth Round victory over Norwich City.

After the win over the Canaries, spirits were high and Latics came out on top of five-goal games with Walsall (3-2) and Blackpool (4-1) in the build up to the visit of Second Division Hull City in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup at the end of February.

Thompson, Jewell and Campbell scored second-half goals to secure the win over Brian Horton’s side to set up a clash with Leeds United in the quarter-finals at Springfield Park.


Bobby Campbell, Chris Thompson and Paul Jewell celebrate after scoring in the 3-0 upset of Hull City, highlights of this game available by clicking the picture.

League matches with Rotherham United and Carlisle preceded the visit of Leeds and Latics made it five consecutive wins with two successes whilst also extending their unbeaten run back to mid-November.


David Lowe with what turned out to be the winner in a 2-1 victory over Rotherham United.

Nearly 12,500 packed into Springfield for the quarter-final clash with Leeds on 15th March, but the Wigan faithful didn’t see their side produce another shock as John Stiles and Micky Adams scored to give Billy Bremner’s side victory.


Fans packed into Springfield to see if Latics could continue their remarkable FA Cup run.

Following their cup exit, Latics turned their attentions to their growing promotion bid but their initial form wavered as a draw with Chesterfield was followed up by a defeat at Bristol Rovers.

Serious about their prospects, Latics bounced back; producing a remarkable five-game winning run as Notts County, Swindon Town and Port Vale were beaten at Springfield with wins at Newport County and against local rivals Bolton Wanderers sandwiched in.


Bobby Campbell celebrates scoring the winner against local rivals Bolton Wanderers to keep Latics seventh in the Third Division.

Bournemouth then inflicted a surprise third home league defeat of the campaign on Latics but they made sure it would be their last as three days later Hilditch notched to earn a 1-0 win on Bury’s visit.


Mark Hilditch scored the only goal of the game as Latics got back to winning ways against Bury.

Four points followed from trips to Chester and Doncaster with the Cheshire win moving Latics up to fourth, their highest position of the campaign to date.

A busy April that included eight league games finished with Lowe, Campbell and Jewell scored in a 3-0 home win over Mansfield Town before Lowe and Jewell earned a 2-2 draw at Craven Cottage against Fulham.

Fellow play-off chasers Gillingham held Latics to a 0-0 draw at the start of May before a 3-2 win over York City, Hamilton bagging the winner, secured a top four spot for Mathias’ side ahead of a game in hand with already promoted Middlesbrough (0-0) at Ayresome Park.

A rare Barry Knowles goal secured a 3-2 win at Brentford on the final day and Latics turned their attention to a two-legged play-off semi-final with Swindon Town as they searched for promotion via the new format which included fifth place Gillingham facing third bottom of the Second Division, Sunderland.

Dave Bamber, Jimmy Quinn and Peter Coyne scored at Springfield with Thompson and Lowe on the mark for Latics in the first leg as the Robins ran out 3-2 winners.

The second leg at Swindon ended goalless and it was Lou Macari’s side who went on to win promotion in a replay of the final with Gillingham.

Latics were left to reflect on another near miss on promotion whilst Bolton Wanderers joined Carlisle United, Darlington and Newport County in dropping into the bottom tier

For Mathias and his side, this campaign lives long in the memory for a memorable FA Cup run.

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