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03/04: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 27/03/04, 3.00pm
Wigan Athletic
By Matt Rowson

The plan is to visit Ethiopia again in May. Between the end of the season and the European Championships, naturally. But such ventures are not undertaken lightly, and require slightly more preparation than nipping across to France or something... specifically, innoculations need to be considered.

Yellow Fever is a particular concern (Insert your own Watford-related pun here). Last time we were over there in 2000 an innoculation certificate was actually a prerequisite of obtaining a Visa... I'm not sure that this is still the case, but the innoculation is at the very least still recommended.

Which is no problem for me, as it's a ten-year jab and so I'm still sorted. Except that, being utterly incompetent, I can't find the sodding certificate that says so. Can't have the jab again, live vaccine, not safe on top of an existing dose. Can't get in without a certificate. Options dwindling by the second...

Decide to contact BA Travel Clinic that administered the vaccine in 2000 with a view to getting a duplicate certificate. Except that it doesn't exist any more. Bugger. Contact a one of BA's London clinics with expectation falling through the floor. Helpful lady on end of phone advises that the specific BA Clinic I was looking for still exists, but is no longer a BA Franchise. Is run by Masta... she suggests I try for contact details.

This I did. But I wouldn't recommend that you do the same. Unless you're into that sort of thing, which is of course completely your affair. We've not linked to it deliberately, put it that way. And I wouldn't check it out at work. I really am so bloody naïve. was the next site visited. Even more disturbing, but not in a dontdothisintheoffice kinda way. Not what I was looking for, in any case, although again what you spend your free time (and money) on is your own concern.

The point is, there's often more to a name than immediately meets the eye. Take Wigan Athletic, for example. Not, I think it's fair to say, a big name in English football. Members of the Football League only since 1978 - the last side to be "elected" to League membership, at Southport's expense - this is their first season at this level. That they've done as well as maintaining a play-off position could, to a casual observer, be attributed to momentum carried over from last season's all-conquering Division Two campaign... this is probably true in part, but more than a little simplistic.

Because despite the club name's lack of pedigree there's no lack of experience in the first team squad... nine of whom have played in the Premiership, let alone Division One. Recent form has been patchy with a limp draw with Bradford, defeat at home to Crewe and at the Hawthorns before Saturday's victory over Coventry. However the West Brom game marked the Latics' only away defeat in their last eight trips... on the evidence of September's exhausting trip their game is well suited to soaking up pressure and hitting sides quickly on the break. Nor will they be a soft touch... nine sendings off contribute to the worst disciplinary record in the division.

John Filan will be in goal for Wigan, for the last time before a suspension kicks in interrupting an unbroken run of League outings that goes back to 2001. Veteran Gary Walsh, now a lot chubbier than when he made his debut for Manchester United, will step into the breach for next weekend's game against the Franchise.

At the back, Paul Jewell will need to pick two centrebacks from three strong options. A messageboard discussion seems to favour former Norwich City captain Matt Jackson alongside Ian Breckin, a former Rotherham man who has had a decent campaign. Jewell is expected to favour enormous Canadian skipper Jason de Vos, however, a big threat at set pieces but a little slow on the turn.

Fullbacks are likely to be Nicky Eaden and Leighton Baines. The experienced Eaden, formerly with Barnsley and Birmingham, started the season indifferently and Athletic have been linked with a permanent move for Chris Baird at various points throughout the campaign; Eaden's form has reputedly picked up of late. The versatile Paul Mitchell is his understudy. On the left, youngster Baines owes his start to a groin injury to Steve McMillan, but is expected to hold his place when the Scot returns. Peter Kennedy, loaned to Derby earlier in the season, is out and in any case some distance from the first team.

In the centre of midfield former West Ham trainee Jimmy Bullard pulls the strings, with Jason Jarrett doing the fetching and carrying. Gareth Farrelly, now on his fourth club of the season, has been brought in on a short-term contract until May to add competition and young Welshman Michael Flynn is another option. Tony Dinning, however, is out on loan and picked up an LDV-winners medal with Blackpool at the weekend.

Options are reduced in wide positions with the first-choice on each flank out injured recently. Lightning quick Scottish winger Gary Teale is still a week or two away following a broken collar bone meaning that Andy Liddell, the Latics' all-time leading scorer, should play on the right. The large and aggressive Lee McCulloch, scorer in our visit to the JJB earlier in the season, has been playing on the left but Alan Mahon is due back from a hamstring problem so McCulloch may have to give way.

Up front, the 1999-2000 Bristol Rovers forward line is reprised as Nathan Ellington is partnered with Jason Roberts. Never get a Rovers fan started on strikers that came and went, by the way... Marcus Stewart, Bobby Zamora, Barry Hayles, Jamie Cureton, Devon White...

Both are quick and work exceptionally well off each other; Roberts in particular has a strength and nous that is rare in Division One and was missed by Wigan during a recent three-game suspension. He also became the first ever Wigan player to score an international goal (for Grenada) recently. The willing but altogether less potent Neil Roberts is likely to be on the bench, whilst McCulloch and Liddell can both adopt more central offensive positions.

Wigan have a tough run in featuring trips to Norwich and Palace and home ties with play-off rivals Sunderland and West Ham. Would be nice if they overlooked Saturday. For us, of course, all home games are massive... if we do go down, it won't be as a result of losing at Ipswich, which we've always survived before. I can't help thinking back to March 1996, when a thunderous atmosphere propelled us to victory over relegation rivals Oldham... only for limper levels of noise in subsequent home games against West Brom and Portsmouth to not force the issue home. There's more to winning a game than what goes on in the stands, of course, but a bit of a racket doesn't half help as Tuesday illustrated.

As for Wigan, they're already drawing crass jibes from "voice of the people" (my arse) Rodney Marsh so they get my vote. Wigan in the Premiership would annoy more than just the Sky "expert" and so has to be a good thing... all power to them.

After Saturday.

And it's, by the way.