The Wembley arch is just over the horizon as the Bristol Street Motors Trophy reaches the last 16 stage with Rovers hosting Wigan Athletic.
It has been a season of inconsistency in Sky Bet League One for Wigan so far, with an eight-point deduction ensuring they continue to look over their shoulders as they move into the second half of the campaign.
The Latics have won just once in their last seven matches in all competitions but beat League Two high-flyers Stockport County 2-0 to reach this stage of the Bristol Street Motors Trophy.
LAST TIME OUT
Northampton Town 1 Wigan Athletic 1
Sky Bet League One, Saturday, January 13, 2024.
Line up: Tickle, Chambers, Hughes, Morrison (McManaman 61), Jones, Adeeko (Smith 61), Sessegnon, Clare, Aasgaard, Magennis (Wyke 73), Good (Smith 73). Unused subs: Humphrys, Amos, Kerr.
Former Wigan midfielder Shaun Maloney returned to the DW Stadium in January 2023 to take up the role of manager and is now into his first full season in charge.
As a coach, the Scotsman has worked with Celtic and Hibernian but he also has experience on the international stage with the Belgium national team.
Maloney also played for Celtic as well as Aston Villa but perhaps his most famous moment as a player came in the 2013 FA Cup final when he assisted Ben Watson for a stoppage time winner for Wigan over Manchester City.
THE KEY MEN
Goalkeeper: Sam Tickle
Wigan keeper Tickle had somewhat of an unconventional journey to professional football having initially been released by the Latics in 2018 and joining local side Pilkington FC.
The 21-year-old was named player of the season alongside winning the Cheshire Football League in his first season before rejoining Wigan as a scholar a year later. He made his debut for the club in this competition in 2021 and is now into his third year as a professional.
Defender: Charlie Hughes
Another youth product that has gone on to cement a place in the Latics starting XI is 20-year-old centre-half Hughes.
The Wigan-born defender started his youth journey with Manchester City before moving on to Liverpool and then Wigan where he has now made 55 appearances.
In the middle: Steven Sessegnon
Sessegnon joined the Latics in the summer following the expiration of his contract with Premier League side Fulham.
He only played 19 times for the Cottagers but spent time on loan with Bristol City, Plymouth Argyle and Charlton Athletic. Sessegnon also featured for every England age group side up until the U21s. He has played 18 times for Wigan this season.
Up top: Josh Magennis
Northern Ireland international Magennis is into his third season with the club and has scored ten goals in 79 outings in the blue and white.
The striker has experience in League One and has won the title twice with Hull City in 2021 and the Latics in 2022.
Rovers first met Wigan Athletic in FA Cup third round action in January 1966 and drew 2-2 at Belle Vue. That round would be as far as Rovers got in that campaign though as they lost 3-1 in the replay on the road.
The Latics lead the head-to-head rivalry between the two sides with their 18 wins in comparison to Rovers’ 10 and a further 10 occasions have resulted in draws.
Rovers last win against Wigan came in April 2016 when then-Darren Ferguson’s side ran out 3-1 winners thanks to a brace from Andy Butler and another goal from Andy Williams.
TURNED OUT FOR BOTH
Midfielder Dan Gardner turned out for both sides following the turn of the last decade but he first wore the blue and white of Wigan Athletic in 2020 and only scored one goal for the side in a season that was played behind closed doors.
The following season the Englishman joined Rovers in League One and scored three goals in 24 appearances including a match-winning penalty against Lincoln City at Sincil Bank before departing at the end of the season.
Gardner is currently back in the north west with Oldham Athletic and has played 14 times in the Vanarama National League this season.
Contributor: Jefferson Hall-Nolan