A marked improvement sees Bryan Hamilton’s side finish comfortably in the top-half.
- Potential play-off place lost by two defeats in final three games.
- Kevin Langley and Ian Griffiths return to Latics.
- Bryan Griffiths top scores with 17 in all competions.
- Latics take First Division Coventry City to FA Cup third round replay at Springfield.
After guaranteeing their Third Division status for a ninth consecutive season, Bryan Hamilton’s Latics set about staying well clear of the dropzone in the 1990-91 campaign, though, they’d have to do it with the club still in a difficult financial situation.
Mark Hilditch departed over the summer to move to Rochdale with his contract not renewed whilst Dave Thompson moved on to Preston North End for a fee of £77,500.
Ronnie Hildersley arrived as a replacement from Blackburn Rovers but an injury-hit campaign meant he made just four Latics appearances whilst the return of Ray Woods from a season-long injury also proved positive news.
Former Liverpool forward David Fairclough was another arrival, joining from Tranmere Rovers and popular figure Kevin Langley returned from Birmingham City after previously making 160 appearances between 1981 and 1986 whilst Ian Griffiths also came back for a second spell with the club.
Popular former player Kevin Langley returned to Latics for a second spell at Springfield.
The season began with the visit of Mansfield Town, who would go on to finish the season bottom of the table, with the Stags recording what would be the first of only three away wins all season as second-half strikes from Steve Charles and Ian Stringfellow secured all three points.
The newly-named Rumbelows Cup came up next for Hamilton’s side as Second Division Barnsley secured a 1-0 first leg win at Springfield thanks to a 66th minute Steve Cooper goal.
A delicate finish from Woods opened Latics’ account for the season and his own personal account for the club to give Hamilton’s side an early lead at Grimsby Town before Gary Childs levelled and Don Page gave the visitors a half-time lead. However, Chris Hargreaves levelled for the Mariners before Neil Woods, who would have a loan spell with Latics later in his career, scored twice to make it 4-2 with Page adding his second 15 minutes to set up a tense finish, though the hosts held firm.
With three defeats out of three, a trip to Oakwell to face Barnsley in the second leg of the Rumbelows Cup offered little optimism, though Page did score the game’s only goal to send the tie to penalties with Latics losing out 4-3 to the Tykes.
Buoyed by their performance in Yorkshire, Latics were off the foot of the table after the visit of Bournemouth as goals either side of half-time from Phil Daley and Darren Patterson secured a 2-0 win.
When Page gave Latics a 12th minute lead at Rotherham United, it looked like Latics had turned a corner, but Stewart Evans equalised before the break to instigate a second-half capitulation with Bobby Williamson, Clive Mendonca, an Ian Griffiths own goal and second Evans strike securing a 5-1 win for the Millmoor outfit.
Three days later, Latics reacted in style as a Daley double, after Glen Thomas had initially equalised for Fulham, secured an impressive win in the capital before Page’s 46th minute strike was cancelled out by Paul Tait eight minutes from time.
Next on the agenda in a busy September was a local derby with rivals Bolton Wanderers at Springfield as Patterson opened the scoring on the half hour before Bryan Griffiths’ penalty gave Latics a 2-0 lead at the break despite being down to ten men after Neill Rimmer was sent off. Tony Philliskirk added a second-half penalty for the Trotters but Hamilton’s side moved up to tenth with the win.
A draw at Tranmere and defeat at Crewe plummeted Latics down to 15th but the young group reacted bravely and put together a run of five wins in six games between October and November.
Daley’s strike earned a 1-0 win over Reading at Springfield before the Walton-born striker notched again to open the scoring in a 4-1 victory over Southend United with Page and a Bryan Griffiths brace completing the rout. Alan Johnson, Daley and Page were on the mark in a 3-2 win at Cambridge to make it three in three with Latics in sixth place and becoming real promotion contenders if they could find a solid level of consistency.
The issue simply was the inability to accumulate points in short periods with defeat at Bradford followed up by an impressive 2-1 win over Preston with Woods and Page on the mark before ‘Super Donny’ bagged his first Latics treble in a 4-0 demolition of Chester with Bryan Griffiths also on the mark, Latics now up to fourth.
Defeat at Stoke City and home defeats to Leyton Orient and Bury had Latics in 15th again in early December, though they did defeat Carlisle United 5-0 in the First Round of the FA Cup at Springfield as a Bryan Griffiths double, Rimmer brace and Woods strike set up a Second Round tie with Hartlepool United three weeks later.
It was Page and Griffiths again on the mark in the win over Pools that secured progress to the Third Round and a fixture with First Division Coventry City.
The five league games prior to the Highfield Road fixture underlined the problem Latics were facing with consistency as just one win was achieved, coming in the form of a Boxing Day success over Exeter City.
After the New Year had been kicked off with defeat at Huddersfield Town, Latics embarked on their trip to Coventry with a new goalkeeper between the sticks as Nigel Adkins and Phil Hughes were both unavailable thus handing Tony Pennock, signed on loan from Stockport County, a Latics debut. The Welsh keeper turned out a fine performance and Latics got themselves a memorable draw against the First Division side with Patterson heading home a late equaliser after Michael Gynn had put Coventry ahead.
Three days later at Springfield the replay ended with Gynn’s goal sending the Sky Blues through, though Page, Woods and Fairclough all had great opportunities to score for Hamilton’s side.
When attentions turned back to the league, Fairclough bagged his only goal for the club in a 2-0 win over Grimsby Town before Darren Boughey, signed on loan from Stoke City, earned Latics a point at Mansfield Town.
Defeat at Reading at the end of January sparked a seven-game unbeaten run through February, with Fulham the first to lose at Springfield thanks to a Bryan Griffiths first-half goal and superb Andy Pilling strike in the final minute.
A draw at Birmingham was then followed up by arguably the win of the season as Stoke were downed 4-0 at Springfield with a Daley double and Patterson and Page strikes moving Latics back up to 13th.
Wins at Chester and Bournemouth were dissected by a draw at Bury as Latics moved up to 11th with two months of the season remaining.
A brief blip that included defeats against Tranmere and at Bolton was ended with a late Carberry winner against Crewe Alexandra before the former Everton man was on the mark again as Gary Powell, on loan from the Toffees, opened his Latics account.
Gary Powell moved to Latics on loan from Everton midway through the 1990-91 campaign.
Gary Worthington, who had been at the club a fortnight after Ian Griffiths had moved to Wrexham in part exchange deal, scored his first Latics goal in a 1-0 win over Brentford.
Gary Worthington's switch to Latics saw Ian Griffiths move in the opposite direction to Hereford United.
Swansea City, who were struggling at the bottom end of the table, were smashed as Hamilton’s side found their attacking peak in a 6-1 win over the Welsh side at Springfield at the beginning of April. Carberry, a Worthington double, Griffiths, Daley and Phil Jones bagged the goals at the Vetch Field.
Griffiths and Powell were on the mark again for the visit of Chester before a win at Southend moved Latics up to seventh with Worthington again on the mark before a late Rimmer strike.
Hamilton’s side were in the play-off places when Langley scored eight minutes from time at Leyton Orient to break the deadlock but a late goal from Michael Tomlinson proved critical for Latics’ play-off bid.
Dion Dublin’s goal gave Cambridge a 1-0 win at Springfield as the U’s went on to be Champions before a 3-0 home win over Bradford thanks to two Griffiths first-half goals, one of which was a penalty, and Powell strike kept the slim play-off hopes alive.
Unfortunately for Latics, though, the hopes were ended against local rivals Preston in the final fixture of the season as Powell gave Hamilton’s side a first-half lead before Ronnie Jepson and Gary Shaw notched second-half goals for the hosts to leave Latics in tenth place come the end of the season, seven points off the play-offs by the time other teams had finished their schedule.
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