Wigan Athletic (2005-2006)

An impressive debut

Wigan Athletic made their Premier League debut in 2005-2006 and impressed many throughout. The Latics made a stunning start, reaching the dizzy heights of second position in the table in early November following a nine-game unbeaten run. A run to the League Cup final also added to an exciting season for the supporters. Although results were harder to come by in the second half of the season, a 10th place finish was still considered a remarkable achievement.

Heading for the summit

After promotion to the Premier League, Wigan Athletic initially struggled to attract new players but made some breakthroughs just before the start of the new campaign. Among the new recruits were Henri Camara from Wolverhampton Wanderers for £3 million, Damien Francis for £1 million from Norwich City and the experienced Stephane Henchoz on a free transfer.

Wigan’s first fixture in the top-flight was against champions Chelsea and they played incredibly well. Francis hit the crossbar and the home side deserved something from the game in terms of points. They were cruelly denied by a spectacular strike from Hernan Crespo in stoppage-time. Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho immediately went over to Paul Jewell afterwards to console him, admitting the newly-promoted side didn’t deserve the ultimate final result.

Another narrow defeat followed next time out away at Charlton Athletic but Wigan would then embark on a nine-match unbeaten run, winning eight of those games. Their first victory came at home to Sunderland where Jason Roberts’ 2nd minute spot-kick proved to be the decisive difference. Straight after the international break, the likeable Jimmy Bullard scored a stoppage-time winner away at West Bromwich Albion to ensure Wigan claimed a first-ever Premier League away victory.

They were helped in this sequence of results by a terrific defensive record. By early November, Wigan had only conceded five Premier League goals with Jewell settling on a consistent back four line-up, helped by the experience of Henchoz and the talents of the unheralded Pascal Chimbonda. The right-back had arrived quietly in the summer for just £500,000 from Bastia but he was making a big impact, scoring a stoppage-time winner against Fulham and the opening goal of a 2-0 victory against Portsmouth. Wigan went into the November international break just six points behind reigning champions Chelsea.

TABLE ON 7th November 2005

1 Chelsea 12 10 1 1 28 7 +21 31
2 WIGAN ATHLETIC 11 8 1 2 13 5 +8 25
3 Bolton Wanderers 12 7 2 3 14 11 +3 23
4 Manchester United 11 6 3 2 16 11 +5 21
5 Arsenal 11 6 2 3 16 8 +8 20
6 Tottenham Hotspur 12 5 5 2 13 8 +5 20
A reality check

November and December would bring together a tough run of fixtures for the Latics as the top five clubs in the Premier League awaited them in succession. First up was Arsenal but Wigan gave them a real contest, only losing 3-2 to the Gunners and that was largely to some brilliance from Thierry Henry.

Tottenham Hotspur won the following weekend at The JJB Stadium with Edgar Davids scoring his first goal in English football, before Peter Crouch finally broke his goalscoring duck for Liverpool FC in the Reds’ convincing 3-0 victory.

Chelsea and Manchester United also inflicted defeats on Wigan with the latter strolling to a 4-0 victory but Wigan still were sitting in the top six after this sequence of results.

It was a reality check for the supporters after such a sensational start.

Jason and Henri combining well

Jason Roberts and Henri Camara combined well in-attack for Wigan during the season. The club scored 45 goals in 38 games and 20 of them came from this attacking duo. Senegalese striker Camara enjoyed his best season in the Premier League, scoring 12 times including a hat-trick in a 3-0 victory over Charlton just before Christmas.

After the five-game losing sequence, Wigan bounced back fabulously, stringing together another run of three consecutive victories. The 3-0 triumph over Charlton was followed by a thrilling 4-3 Boxing Day win against Manchester City where Roberts scored twice. Both Roberts and Camara then scored in a fine 2-0 success at Upton Park 48 hours later. Wigan finished 2005 inside the Premier League’s top six.

The January transfer window saw Jewell add to his squad with the arrivals of Austrian utility player Paul Scharner and midfielder David Thompson, whilst Neil Mellor joined on-loan for the rest of the season from Liverpool FC.

Injury restricted Mellor to just three appearances for Wigan but he did score a stoppage-time winner away at Middlesbrough, whilst Scharner’s first Premier League goal earned the club another point in a 1-1 draw with Everton at the end of the month.

A top-half finish secured

Away from the Premier League, Wigan enjoyed a fairytale run to the League Cup final. Watford, Newcastle United and Bolton Wanderers were among the victims on the way to the semi-finals, where Roberts scored a dramatic away goal in the closing moments of extra time at Highbury to knock Arsenal out in the semi-finals over two legs.

Wigan faced Manchester United in the final at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium but lost the showpiece event 4-0. They weren’t helped by losing goalkeeper Mike Pollitt to an injury early in the first half. A week later, a late Chimbonda own goal saw the Red Devils record their third victory of the season over Wigan, whose league campaign started to fall away.

Their only home victory in the Premier League in the second half of the season came in April as Aston Villa were beaten 3-2. Camara scored twice and Bullard also found the target. It was the last goal Jimmy would score for the club. The fans’ favourite would agree a transfer to Fulham days later for the 2006-2007 campaign.

The Latics ended the campaign with three successive defeats, including a 4-2 loss on the final day of the season at Highbury as Arsenal and Henry bid farewell to the historic ground in-style. Although there were only three league victories after the League Cup final appearance, Wigan’s 51-point haul and 10th place finish in their debut top-flight campaign was a brilliant achievement.

The 10th place result remains their best-ever top-flight campaign to-date.

FINAL 2005-2006 TABLE

7 Newcastle United 38 17 7 14 47 42 +5 58
8 Bolton Wanderers 38 15 11 12 49 41 +8 56
9 West Ham United 38 16 7 15 52 55 -3 55
10 WIGAN ATHLETIC 38 15 6 17 45 52 -7 51
11 Everton 38 14 8 16 34 49 -15 50
12 Fulham 38 14 6 18 48 58 -10 48

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