A look back at a second campaign of transition as Latics narrowly avoided the drop.
- Ray Mathias replaced as boss by Bryan Hamilton, who had returned as chief executive, in March 1989.
- Allen Tankard and Neill Rimmer debut campaign.
- Latics begin life without Cribley, Campbell, Knowles, Thompson, Jewell and Cook.
- Hamilton oversees run of just one defeat in final ten league games to ensure safety.
- 16 points and ten places worse off than previous season.
Following the retirement of popular players Alex Cribley and Bobby Campbell, the release of Barry Knowles and Alan Kennedy and the sales of Chris Thompson, Paul Jewell and Paul Cook, it was a new-look Latics that set about gaining promotion to the second tier after a third consecutive ‘nearly’ year last time out.
The main arrivals for Latics came in the form of Allen Tankard from Southampton, Neill Rimmer following his release from Ipswich Town and Colin Russell who signed after a brief spell with Scarborough.
The league campaign began with a trip to Bristol Rovers, the Gas, under the stewardship of Gerry Francis, had finished a place below Latics last season and would go on to reach the play-offs this season only to lose out in the final to Port Vale. Despite debut goals for Rimmer and Russell giving Latics a 2-1 half-time lead, the hosts won thanks to Gary Penrice’s double and a Devon White strike.
Mansfield Town were the visitors for the first home league game of the campaign after Latics had drawn 0-0 with Preston in the first leg of their Littlewoods Cup First Round tie and Ray Mathias said in his programme notes that the Bristol Rovers performance had gave him extra focus on improving his side’s defending, an evident progress being made as another clean sheet was returned with the Stags being held to a goalless draw.
A trip to Brentford followed and, despite Hughes saving a first-half Gary Blissett penalty, the former Crewe Alexandra striker did give the Bees a half-time lead only for Rimmer to salvage a point in the second-half, with Andy Pilling seeing a goal disallowed for offside too.
Bottom of the table and recently relegated Reading were next to visit with manager Ian Brantfoot feeling the pressure and Latics turned out what would turn out to be one of their best performances of the campaign as Russell gave Mathias’ side a half-time lead before Mark Hilditch doubled the advantage just after the break. Russell making sure of the points, notching his final goal for the club in what was the fourth of eight league games he’d play before departing for Colne Dynamoes.
Latics were at Craven Cottage a week later and determined to build on their first win of the campaign as John Butler secured a half-time lead. Andy Sayer replied for the hosts, though, and Mathias’ side were back in 15th.
Next up was a home clash with Blackpool and the manager spoke of his pride in the results in the capital and that he felt consistency was beginning to show in his new group of players. They didn’t let him down in this one neither, as Rimmer’s first-half penalty was cancelled out by Mark Taylor for the Tangerines before Butler finished neatly to give Latics a win in what was Joe Parkinson’s Wigan Athletic debut.
Four consecutive league defeats followed for Latics, though, as away defeats at Aldershot, Wolves and Sheffield United, as well as a home defeat to Port Vale, heaped the pressure on with Mathias’ side sat in 20th ahead of the visit of local rivals Bolton Wanderers.
Nicky Brookman gave the Trotters a second-half leaf but Wayne Entwistle, on his home debut after signing from Bury, levelled the score late on.
Wayne Entwistle equalises for Latics on his home debut against Bolton Wanderers.
David Hamilton’s first goal of the season and a Butler strike then earned a 2-1 victory at Southend United to give Mathias’ side their first success on the road of the campaign.
Home defeats to Swansea City and Northampton Town put Latics in further trouble by the time of a visit to rivals Preston North End in mid-November. David Thompson and Tony Diamond, who had recently signed on loan from Blackburn Rovers, gave Latics a 2-1 half-time lead before Mark Patterson levelled in the second-half for the hosts.
Latics were in the relegation zone as the season entered December with their winless league run stretched to six games after Bristol City and Huddersfield had won at Springfield and Entwistle had earned a point at Bury.
A run of four consecutive home league defeats was ended by the visit of Southend United, though, as Thompson gave Mathias’ side a 1-0 half-time lead before Bryan Griffiths notched his first Latics goal and Andy Holden made sure of the points with his first of the campaign.
Defeats to Notts County and Chester City put Latics on the back foot and they finished 1988 in the drop zone after a 2-2 draw at Cardiff with Bryan Griffiths, signed from St. Helens Town, earning Mathias’ side a point.
The New Year began with the visit of Gillingham to Springfield and Hamilton, Entwistle and Hilditch were on the mark to move Latics out of the drop zone.
However, a home defeat to Chesterfield dropped Mathias’ side back into the bottom four before Parkinson’s goal, on his full debut, secured a 1-0 win at Mansfield Town.
A week later, Thompson notched to earn a point against Brentford at Springfield before the former Notts County man and Griffiths scored to defeat Aldershot in early February after Ian McDonald had given the visitors the lead.
By the time of the next home game against Chester City on 27th March, Mathias had been relieved of his duties and chief executive, and former manager, Bryan Hamilton was placed in caretaker charge alongside Tommy Cavanagh.
Bryan Hamilton, who had been club chief executive for a brief period, returned as manager to replace the sacked Ray Mathias.
After losing his first game in charge 2-1 at Gillingham, the Northern Irishman watched on as Steve Senior, Griffiths and Craig Ramage, who signed on loan from Derby County a fortnight earlier, scored in a 3-0 win over Chester City.
A defeat at Notts County and a draw at Chesterfield left Latics still in the relegation zone with nine games to go but it was Ramage again who was on hand to prove his worth as Cardiff City were downed 1-0 at Springfield.
Wins at Swansea and Reading, both thanks to goals from new signing Don Page - who had arrived from Runcorn - kept survival hopes alive heading into the final month of the campaign.
Bryan Griffiths and Don Page in action against Cardiff City, the pair would prove crucial in the bid for survival.
Fulham continued their push for a play-off place when they defeated Latics 1-0 at Springfield before Tankard’s first goal for the club earned a 1-0 win at Bristol City.
Fighting spirit was evidently instilled into the group and, after Beesley’s second-half equaliser earned a point as Preston came to Springfield before Bristol Rovers were smashed 3-0 thanks to goals from Griffiths, Thompson and Pilling.
Latics knew victory over Bury in their next game would guarantee safety and they duly obliged with Alan Johnson’s second-half goal earning a 1-0 victory.
Alan Johnson’s first goal for the club, on his sixth appearance, ensured Latics’ safety.
Draws with Bolton Wanderers, Huddersfield Town and Wolves rounded off the campaign with the Black Country outfit given a guard of honour on the final day as they won promotion to the Second Division as Champions.
Peter Atherton, who made 40 appearances in his first full season with the first team, was awarded the club’s Player of the Year award.