By Tony Leighton
Squad rotation has been key to Wigan Athletic qualifying for the Play-Offs of the Sky Bet Championship, said manager Uwe Rosler as he hailed his players after they had assured themselves of a top-six finish with a 1-0 Tuesday night win at Birmingham City in what was their 59th game of an exhausting season.
An early Callum McManaman goal was enough to give Rosler's team victory - only their third win in 10 games as the Latics, after climbing from 14th in the table to fifth and reaching the FA Cup semi-final, went through their worst run since the manager's December appointment before the vital result at St Andrew's.
Rosler said: "It was a monumental effort from the squad, starting on the 9th December when I came in. We had a mountain to climb to catch up [in the Championship] and in addition to that we had a fantastic FA Cup run. A lot of people said it was impossible for us to achieve the Play-Offs with that Cup run.
"But we did it by utilising the squad and managing players coming back from long-term injuries - Ivan Ramis, Gary Caldwell, Shaun Maloney, Roger Espinoza. Without utilising the squad and without everyone contributing to make that effort successful, to overcome this first hurdle would have been very difficult.
"So it is a big compliment to the players. Like I said it was only possible, the way that we did it, by everybody contributing and I am very proud of my players. But we're not over excited. We're keeping calm and we know what we want to achieve. We're over the first hurdle, but there are more hurdles to come."
Before attempting to negotiate those hurdles in what could end up as a 63-match season for his team, Rosler has to send them out at Blackburn Rovers on Saturday for their final outing of the regular season. And he will be demanding another victory to take them into the Play-Offs with real impetus.
"We will now have two days of active recovery," said the manager, "and I repeat, active recovery. We are not shutting down the engine completely. We will be in, treating the players and individualising training. We will make sure that we will have a very strong and motivated team pushing for a win at Blackburn.
"We just need to refresh, regroup. We want to head into the Plays-Offs with good momentum. Over 46 games, every team in the Play-Offs deserves to be there. But every team has its strengths and weaknesses - and for us to come in in the second half of the season so strong, I think everybody will have respect for us."
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