Dave Whelan’s Wigan Athletic back in the third tier after four-year absence.
- Latics back in the Second Division after winning the league a season earlier.
- John Deehan’s side finished 11th and also make the Third Round of the FA Cup, losing out to Blackburn Rovers.
- David Lowe top scores with 17 goals in all competitions and becomes club’s leading scorer in the process.
- Scott Green, David Lee, Brendan O’Connell, Jorg Smeets and Paul Warne arrive at Springfield in busy summer.
- Fourth highest scorers in the division, Latics enjoy good home form but 12 away defeats mean Latics fall short of play-off chase.
Back in the third tier and refreshed under the ownership of Dave Whelan, over 4,500 were at Springfield for the season opener with Wycombe Wanderers.
New signings Scott Green (Bolton Wanderers), David Lee (Bolton Wanderers) and Brendan O’Connell (Charlton Athletic) were on show as Latics kicked off their campaign against the Chairboys. O’Connell had a dream debut as he notched a hat-trick whilst Green also marked his first appearance with a goal as John Deehan’s rampant side ran out 5-2 winners with Ian Kilford also on the mark.
Latics turned their attention to the Coca Cola Cup next, with a two-legged First Round affair with Chesterfield on the agenda. Lee gave Latics a second-half lead at Springfield but Roger Willis notched twice to give the Spireites an advantage to take back to Derbyshire for the repeat fixture a fortnight later.
A league defeat to Bournemouth and home draw with Plymouth Argyle – David Lowe’s first-half strike cancelled out – sent Latics into the second leg searching for form after their opening day rout. But John Duncan’s side offered little sympathy as Tony Lormor scored the game’s only goal to send the hosts through 3-1 on aggregate.
Nemesis Shaun Goater scored a hat-trick to give Bristol City a 3-0 victory over Latics at Ashton Gate next up before defeat at Carlisle United left Latics winless in six in all competitions. Where had the opening day performance gone?
A home double with Wrexham and Blackpool offered Deehan’s side chance to regain form on their own patch and they duly obliged as the Welsh side lost a five goal thriller 3-2. O’Connell gave Latics a half-time lead before Dean Spink levelled for the visitors with Lowe again putting the hosts ahead 18 minutes from time. Graeme Jones bagged his first goal of the season to double the advantage from the penalty spot after Roberto Martinez was fouled in the area. Spink added a second late on to setup a tense finish but Latics held firm. The Tangerines arrived on the back of three wins and three defeats in the league and they were put to the sword by a reinvigorated Latics side as Gavin Johnson scored his first of the season from Lee’s cross before a Lowe double secured a 3-0 win.
Defeat at Northampton Town was a step back but Latics were up to sixth after defeating Fulham on their return to Springfield with Colin Greenall scoring an 89th minute winner.
Again, away form damaged Latics’ prospects of featuring in the higher echelons of the division as a defeat at Grimsby dropped Deehan’s side back into the bottom-half.
But they were back to winning ways and ended their run of six consecutive away defeats when they visited Chesterfield again, this time in the league. Tony Lormor and Steve Wilkinson twice gave the Spireites the lead but O’Connell and Greenall equalised before Lowe won it in the 67th minute.
Up to eighth after a 1-1 draw at Luton Town, a Latics challenge for promotion wasn’t off the radar, especially given the ambition of Chairman Dave Whelan.
However, Latics were winless in their next five, losing at home to Gillingham and at Oldham Athletic and Southend United whilst recording draws with Millwall and York City.
A trip to Carlisle United, a ground Latics had lost as three months earlier in the league, faced Deehan’s side in the FA Cup First Round in early December and progress was secured with Jones firing home to set up a second round tie at home to York City.
Back to the league, and Latics’ winless run continued after they were hammered 4-1 at home to Preston North End and lost 2-1 at Watford, leaving them in the relegation zone heading into December.
Deehan’s side were quickly out of the drop zone when a Kilford strike and a Lowe double secured a 3-0 home win over Bristol Rovers who had four men sent off before a break from the league schedule saw Latics kick-off their Auto Windscreens Shield campaign with the visit of Lincoln City as a Jones double secured a safe passage to the second round.
Ian Kilford scored ten league goals during the campaign, making him the second-highest scorer for the club.
York then visited in the FA Cup and looked as if they would take Latics to a replay when Rodney Rowe cancelled out Martinez’s opener but Lee popped up two minutes from time to set up a Third Round clash with Blackburn Rovers early in the New Year.
The win over the Gas and the subsequent cup wins had signalled a change in fortunes for Deehan and his side and they were rampant in the build up to Christmas as first-half goals from Lee and Jones secured a 2-0 win over Burnley at Turf Moor.
Brentford were the final visitors to Springfield before Christmas and festive cheer worked in Latics’ favour as Lowe and Kilford were on the mark, as well as a Jorg Smeets double, to secure a 4-0 win and a move up to 16th in the table.
Smeets, who had been signed for £100,000 from Dutch side Heracles earlier in the campaign, was on the mark again on Boxing Day as a trip to Wrexham ended in a 2-2 draw as Kilford’s 71st minute equaliser earned a point and extended Latics’ unbeaten run in all competitions to seven games.
The year ended on a low note as Carlisle United were victorious at Springfield thanks to goals from Ian Stevens and Gareth McAlindon.
Attentions may have already been turned to the trip to Ewood Park to face Premier League Blackburn Rovers and 1998 kicked-off with a 4-2 defeat after a superb performance from the hosts. Pat McGibbon converted into his own goal before a Kevin Gallacher double and Tim Sherwood goal gave Blackburn a 4-0 lead. Lee and Lowe scored in quick succession to give Latics late hope but the Premier League outfit held firm.
Pat McGibbon diverts into his own goal, under pressure from Chris Sutton, in the FA Cup clash at Blackburn.
Latics kicked off the New Year in the league in the same manner in which they began their campaign, with a trip to Wycombe ending in a 2-1 victory thanks to Martinez and Lee goals.
Bristol City, who would go on to win promotion, won 3-0 at Springfield next before progress to the Auto Windscreens Shield quarter-finals was secured with a 3-0 win over Rotherham United with Jones at the double and Lowe adding a late third.
The inconsistencies were rife, though, and Latics lost 3-2 at Plymouth in their next fixture before the Auto Windscreens journey was ended by a 1-0 defeat at Blackpool.
Four days later, Latics ended January with a 2-0 win at Bloomfield Road where Paul Warne, signed from non-league Wroxham earlier in the campaign, opened his account.
A four-game winless run followed with a home draw with Northampton and 1-1 at Luton split by a home defeat to Grimsby Town and 2-0 loss at Fulham.
Hanging perilously close to the relegation zone, Deehan’s side lost just three of their last 15 games with home wins over Chesterfield and Oldham Athletic, dissected by an away draw at York lifting Latics up to 17th.
Further wins over Watford and Bournemouth kicked off April before a 5-0 defeat at Bristol Rovers took the wind out of the sails briefly on the Easter weekend.
Easter Monday saw Burnley visit Springfield and find themselves on the end of a superb Latics performance as goals from Stuart Barlow, signed from Oldham Athletic for £45,000 a month earlier, opened the scoring before a Lowe double, and Warne and Kilford strikes, helped earn a 5-1 win.
The final four games of the season yielded eight points with victories over Brentford and Walsall followed by goalless draws with Millwall and Gillingham leaving Latics in 11th position, a solid return on their first campaign back in the third tier.
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