I was wondering yesterday when the last time was that Wigan Athletic played Southampton and all I could remember was a cup tie that I went to in the mid 1980’s. It was at The Dell, an awfully designed stadium, but a cauldron of atmosphere. Latics were in the 3rd division at the time and Southampton in the 1st. My abiding memory is of Danny Wallace’s pace being too much for Cribley , Butler and Co in the Latics defence. We lost 3-0.
Checking the facts today I found this was their last encounter. The two teams have strangely never met before in a league match. Times have certainly changed. Southampton have been through lean times in recent years, the purchase of their new ground in their spiritual home of St Mary’s (hence the ‘Saints’ nickname) seemingly a millstone around their necks. However, under the excellent leadership of old Latics’ goalkeeping favourite, Nigel Adkins, they are back in the big league.
Once again Latics play a newly promoted team early in the season. Southampton put up a very spirited display last week, before going down 3-2 to champions, Manchester City. Spirit and high morale is something we can expect from a promoted team, used to getting good results. They are not team of household names, but nevertheless strive to play good football under Adkins’ influence. In Rickie Lambert they have a centre forward with a superb goalscoring record. He scored a well taken goal against Man City last week, but the jury is still out as to whether he can make the transition to the Premier League. He has scored 79 goals in 129 appearances for the Saints since joining them in 2009! A man marking job by Gary Caldwell might well be on the cards.
Wigan Athletic come into the match following a 2-0 reverse at home to Chelsea, both goals down to the kinds of defensive errors that have dogged them since joining the Premier League. Such errors cannot be afforded against a resurgent Southampton side. Despite Maynor Figueroa’s good performance at wing back last week one hopes that Jean Beausejour is fit so that the Honduran can move back into the centre of defence. The mutual understanding between Figueroa, Caldwell and Alcaraz was a key part of Latics’ success last season. Ivan Ramis is clearly a very capable defender, but it is going to take him time to adjust to the pace of the English game.
As expected it seems Victor Moses is on his way to Chelsea. In terms of excitement he will be sorely missed – with that “buzz” he has caused around the ground when taking on multiple defenders. His crossing and finishing in general will not be missed. Martinez has the prospect of playing two of his central strikers – Di Santo, Boselli and Kone – together. However, given his previous history and tactical preferences this is unlikely. A wide player is a more likely possibility and there are Crusat, Miyaichi and McManaman to choose from. However, there remains the prospect of playing Gomez in the nominal wide position.
As a newly promoted team Southampton are likely to come into this match with an air of confidence. However, the long term question is whether they have the quality and depth in their squad to stay the course. My hope is that Martinez will field a well balanced, positive lineup, signaling to the opponents that Latics are not a team to trifled with. Too often we have gone into these matches nervously. Let’s have genuine forwards, with wing backs overlapping and central midfield players going box to box. This, combined with a strong defence and work ethic, helped us get fantastic results in the latter part of last year. Let’s go to win it!