A look back at a transitional campaign that saw Latics change their squad around in pursuit of promotion after two near misses.
- Latics miss out on play-offs by three points.
- Ray Mathias’ side lose final four league games to miss out on top five spot to Bristol City.
- Early season exits include David Lowe to Ipswich and Graham Houston to Carlisle United.
- Breakthrough year for Peter Atherton.
- Bobby Campbell top scores again with 16 in Third Division, FA Cup and League.
One player no longer with the group was David Lowe, who moved to Second Division Ipswich Town for a fee of £80,000. John Lowey, who never fully established himself as part of Mathias’ side also moved on, joining Preston North End.
And so, Meadow Lane was the first assignment for Latics in the 1987-88 season with Notts County, like Latics, keen to build on a solid platform built last season.
Local rivals Bolton Wanderers, who had just been relegated, were next up in the Littlewoods Cup First Round, with the first leg ending in a 3-2 defeat at Springfield as Campbell gave Latics a half-time lead before a double from Trevor Morgan and Storer own goal gave the Trotters a 3-1 lead, with Thompson netting a late consolation for the hosts.
The second leg saw Latics progress in style as the visitors initially went behind at Burnden Park to a John Thomas strike before Campbell was at his prolific best to notch a second-half hat-trick and secure a 3-1 win on the night.
Another local affair followed when Latics were back in league action as a short trip to Preston ended in a 1-0 victory with Cook scoring a neat second-half goal in front of over 7,000 at Deepdale.
The first league game of the season at Springfield ended in a 1-1 draw with Gillingham thanks to another Cribley penalty before a trip to Bristol Rovers once again produced a goal frenzy.
Paul Beesley headed Latics in front from a Thompson cross on 40 seconds before Philip Purnell levelled for the hosts. David Hamilton then made it 2-1 from a Beesley cut-back before Devon White equalised before the break.
‘Mr. Reliable’ Campbell popped up with the winner at the Twerton Park before Latics were up to sixth after a dream debut for Orrell-born striker Andy Ainscow who came off the bench to score the winner in a 2-1 success over Doncaster Rovers at Springfield Park.
Andy Ainscow, pictured two months after his debut in a 1-1 draw with Bristol City at Springfield, enjoyed a dream debut after coming through the club’s ranks.
A Cribley penalty secured a 1-0 win at Mansfield Town before Paul Jewell’s first two goals of the season added another three points at Walsall, leaving Mathias’ side top after seven games and yet to taste defeat in the league.
Eventual Littlewoods Cup winners Luton Town beat Latics 1-0 in the first leg of the Second Round tie at Springfield to spark a downturn in form as Bury then came to Wigan and won 2-0 before a trip Aldershot was fruitless with the Hampshire side winning 3-2 at the Recreation Ground.
A rare John Butler goal stopped the losing run and earned a point in a 1-1 draw with York City at Springfield in a game which was also the debut of goalkeeper Dave Redfern, on loan from Rochdale, who came in and made three appearances prior to Nigel Adkins and Phil Hughes taking the number one spot from Roy Tunks who moved to Hartlepool United.
Goalkeeper David Redfern had a brief stay at Springfield Park on loan from Rochdale.
Eventual Division Three winners Sunderland then smashed Latics 4-1 at Roker Park in front of nearly 14,000 as Eric Gates and Marco Gabbiadini notched a brace apiece before Fulham’s visit to Springfield ended in the Cottagers winning 3-1.
Midfielder David Thompson arrived from Rochdale and helped Latics get back to registering points as Mathias’ side drew 2-2 with Brighton & Hove Albion at Springfield thanks to a Mark Hilditch double and Chris Thompson effort.
A young Peter Atherton was handed his Latics debut in the next fixture, a goalless draw at Blackpool, before going on to play 16 league games in what was his debut campaign as Latics looked for a right midfield solution as Storer returned to Everton.
The answer to Storer’s departure on right midfield was Steve Senior, who signed from Northampton Town.
Steve Senior came in and impressed as Mathias began to freshen his side up with the season stagnating.
An alarming drop to 14th had to be addressed and Senior’s debut saw Latics back in form as Rotherham United were despatched 3-0 at Springfield with Jewell’s first-half opener backed up by a second-half brace from Campbell.
Northern Ireland international goalkeeper Phil Hughes then arrived from Bury and kept a clean sheet in his first two three games between the sticks as 1-0 wins at Chesterfield and at home to Southend United were secured thanks to Cook efforts.
Phil Hughes signed from Bury and kept consecutive clean sheets in his first three games between the sticks.
Campbell and Butler then secured progress to the Second Round of the FA Cup at the expense of non-league Altricnahm, though Wolves would halt the cup run in December, winning 3-1 at Springfield.
That defeat against the Black Country outfit came after a defeat at Brentford and home draw with Bristol City as inconsistencies began to creep in once again, the defeat at Griffin Park saw the Bees come out 2-1 winners with Wigan-born midfielder Andy Pilling scoring on his debut after joining from Preston North End.
The defeat to Wolves re-inspired the promotion bid for Latics, though, and they were back in the groove for a trip to Grimsby as Don O’Riordan’s first minute own goal was followed up by another Cook goal for a 2-0 win.
Dave Thompson’s first goal for the club and a Pilling effort secured a 2-2 home draw with Northampton Town, the latter being named Man of the Match after an impressive display again.
Andy Pilling’s Latics career got off to a good start and he was named Man of the Match for the draw with Northampton Town.
Next up was a Boxing Day trip to Bury as former Liverpool man, Alan Kennedy (signed from Sunderland) and defender Stan McEwan (signed from Hull City) came in for their debuts. It turned out to be another goal-scoring debut in this campaign as the latter, McEwan, bagged the second after Andy Holden had opened the scoring at Gigg Lane in a 2-0 win.
Hilditch enjoyed the Christmas period in particular, he notched in a 1-0 defeat of Chester at Springfield before his double secured another win over Preston on New Years’ Day to leave Latics fourth on the first day of 1988.
A day later, Latics were off to Yorkshire for the challenge of Doncaster and it would be another enthralling encounter in a season full of goals. Struggling Rovers were ahead at half-time against the odds after Dave Thompson had tapped home the opener for Latics and Steve Burke was sent off for the hosts with Ken Brannigan and Paul Raven notching the goals. Tony Kinsella made it 3-1 after the break but Latics bounced straight back as Ainscow and Jewell levelled the affair before man of the moment Cook won it in the last minute.
Walsall and Gillingham were brushed aside as Latics moved up to third come the end of the month with McEwan, Ainscow and Hamilton all adding to their tallies.
Another Cook goal earned a 1-0 Springfield win over Bristol Rovers and Latics were well on course to challenge for promotion when Jewell scored the winner in a 2-1 home success over Notts County, especially with the Magpies being fellow promotion contenders.
Dave Thompson opens the scoring in the win over Notts County.
After a 4-0 win over Aldershot at the start of March, a game in which Jewell bagged a second-half hat-trick, Latics struggled to find form as a defeat at Fulham was followed by three draws with Sunderland, Rotherham and Blackpool.
A home win over Mansfield Town thanks to an Ian Griffiths winner kept Latics in fourth but a miserable April, beginning with defeats at Southend and Brighton with a home draw with Brentford in-between proving costly.
Mathias’ side were back in fifth place when they edged out Port Vale at Springfield in what was a re-arranged fixture from what should have been the first home match of the season only for the rain to wash it out. Chris Thompson opened the scoring in the first-half from a Jewell flick-on. Cook then provided a cross for Campbell to head home in the second-half, leaving Latics well in with a chance of promotion heading into their final four games.
Next up, Campbell’s last goal for the club could do little to stop Chesterfield coming to Springfield and strengthening their survival bid with a 2-1 win.
A similar result followed at Port Vale and Latics knew their chances were all but over when promotion rivals Bristol City ran out 4-1 winners at Ashton Gate in Latics’ penultimate game of the season.
Latics knew that, even if they beat Grimsby on the last day, two Robins wins from their games with York and Doncaster would secure a play-off spot for Joe Jordan’s side and they duly delivered whilst McEwan missed a penalty for Mathias’ side as Marc North earned the Mariners a 1-0 win at Springfield, though they would still be relegated.
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