Wigan Athletic and the possibility of last-day roulette
Last season, with just nine games left in their Premier League campaign, Wigan looked doomed to relegation. And then something amazing happened. Winning seven of their last nine matches, the Latics turned the form book on its head.
A run that included wins over Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle meant Roberto Martinez had yet again worked miracles, maintaining his side’s place in the top flight for an eighth-successive season.
It is for reasons such as this that when you look at Wigan’s current lowly position you still assume they will get out of it. You assume another seemingly impossible run will be masterminded. And you already picture owner Dave Whelan’s euphoric grin on the final day.
But this time it could be different. Because this time the team – arguably the strongest Martinez has had in his time there – are only showing glimpses of what is needed to survive. And that is despite the fact that they are currently clear of the relegation zone, if only on goal-difference.
Where last season they were unified and steadfast, particularly in those final few games, this year they are yet to keep a clean sheet at home.
And while it is wrong to paint a mere tiff as anything more than that, Saturday’s altercation between Emerson Boyce and James McArthur would have been a worrying sight for Martinez, even if publicly he said otherwise.
The disagreement came about following one too many misplaced passes. But that in itself is a concern, as Martinez’s Wigan have always tried to play football the right way. It is an ethos that should have seen them finish higher in the past, but one that may see them relying on the failure of others to survive this season.
With such a small squad, Martinez has successfully utilised tactics and formations that have reaped rich rewards, most notably last year when Shaun Maloney excelled as a playmaker and Franco Di Santo began to understand what he could do.
Yet despite the introduction of Arouna Kone – their most consistent goal-threat since Nathan Ellington and Jason Roberts – they could fall short if plucky late comebacks and last-minute equalisers are not turned into wins.
Of their remaining 10 league games, seven are winnable. And the Wigan who ended last season would achieve that with ease.
But it is their next four that are crucial, as an away match at QPR is sandwiched between home games against Norwich, Newcastle and Swansea. It is a run they are more than capable of navigating, and if they are at least nine points better off afterwards, this article is all but redundant.
Then again, it could all come down to Wigan against Aston Villa on the final day; and what better time than that to keep their first home clean sheet of the season.