Wigan’s rise from the old Division Two to the top tier in just two seasons and subsequent plucky existence in the Premier League remains a good old fashioned underdog story in a game that looses further touch with common sense by the week.
Chairman Dave Whelan, despite his many outspoken imperfections, would not sack his manager for gaining two promotions in two years with his side sitting fifteenth at the top table, he would probably back him if he guided his team to relegation which seems increasingly likely with Wigan four points and four places below Southampton and staring a return to the Championship down the eye after eight dogged years competing with the very best.
The Latics have won just five times in 23 games and the weekend’s defeat to Sunderland became their eleventh winless game from their last thirteen matches. They are known for being risers to the occasion when it really matters, they had four points less at this stage last year before a great climax to the season eventually kept them up, but as Sunderland condemned them to their seventh home defeat of the season, the most in the league, it looked likely this year could see their stay of execution under the amicable Roberto Martinez finally ended.
Wigan’s football remained as stylish as ever as they slipped to the 2-3 reversal to Martin O’Neill’s in-form team, as expected under Martinez who has refused to compromise his continental roots despite desperate streaks of form that have become habitual at the DW. It has been the strangest of back-stories, the Spaniard landing in the obscurity of an unestablished club in Division Three, they were only elected to the Football League as recently as 1978, who has gone on to become a sophisticated hero in the rugby-fanatical lands of north Lancashire.
Dave Whelan, one of the few remaining working class hero owners involved in the game, has led a one-man crusade against extortionate season ticket prices, they have the cheapest in the Premier League at £250 and remarkably, the 6th cheapest out of the whole 92 clubs in the league pyramid.
It is hard to imagine how a club like Wigan, living on a paltry attendance of an 18,000 average despite the attractive prices, can survive amongst the behemoths of Arsenal, Manchester United and co. but they do, and they do it with fluid football on the pitch to boot, it would take the sternest of hearts to wish the league would lose Wigan who continue to fly the flag for the little guy amongst the rich and powerful.
One wouldn’t expect to find tactical innovation in the unfashionable setting of Wigan, but Martinez’s 3-4-3 is a pioneering system driven by the brilliant James McCarthy in the heart of midfield allows for high pressing and neat passing which is a product of Martinez’s Spanish footballing education.
Against Sunderland however, defensive fragility caused by the recent long term injury to Ivan Ramis which could tip them closer to the brink of relegation, saw an early David Vaughan own goal cancelled out by three strikes that the home side, despite Angelo Henriquez’s late header, had no tangible answer to.
The second half display which saw vast improvement and Martinez “pleased”, had come too late and it left the Latics a meagre five points from the last possible thirty on offer. Attacking has also been a problem despite the neat build-up that Martinez presides over, twenty five goals have been scored in the league but the side remain short of a consistent source of goals.
Arouna Kone, a summer budget signing from Levante, is top scorer with just 6, while Franco Di Santo, despite showing glimpses this season of a talent that once swayed Chelsea to his services, has been once again frustrating in front of goal, he has just four. Martinez will be hoping Manchester United’s Angelo Henriquez produces his proposed talent to bridge the quality gap that has gone missing in losing Victor Moses and hasn’t yet been sufficiently been replaced.
The likes of Mohamed Diame, the midfield powerhouse now at West Ham, Hugo Rodellega and Charles N’Zogbia who have departed for Fulham and Aston Villa respectively in recent years have been relied upon to provide the quality needed for Martinez’s modest outfit to barely survive, but this season such individual threat seems worryingly absent.
Jordi Gomez, Jean Beausejour and Roger Espinoza provide an exotic influence in servicing Di Santo or Kone in attack, in front of the energetic midfield of James’s McCarthy and McCarthur, but there appears to be nobody wiling to step up and make the difference like Moses did last year and form is suffering as a result.
Defeat to Sunderland is just the latest setback in a long line for Martinez and he will set about trying to guide Wigan on another belated change of course back to safety with fourteen games left, yet it is increasingly looking ominous that the small Lancashire will finally lose their flimsy Premier League status after eight years at the top spent proving small clubs can cut it with the best without selling their soul.
It will be sad to lose them.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow him on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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