Rarely does a game of such importance rear its head this early in a season. Wigan Athletic have now lost seven games in a row. The last time results were that bad, Dave Whelan moved swiftly to relieve Chris Hutchings of his managerial duties. Times have changed, and while there is no chance Roberto will suffer a similar fate, he must be feeling the pressure. This match is as crucial as they come, an absolute cup final.
Thankfully, it’s against a struggling Fulham side who are notoriously poor away from home. They’re in rotten form, sitting only two places above Latics in the league table with only two points more to their name. They too, have only won a single match so far, also against QPR, who have ironically left us both behind and sit comfortably in the dizzying heights of 10th place. While Roberto finally has a full squad to choose from, Martin Jol has a couple injury concerns in defense, with Aaron Hughes missing out and Philippe Senderos doubtful. Simon Davies is also still out with a knee injury.
All this said, Fulham are one of those teams we seem to find tricky. Theoretically, they should be one of those mid-table teams that we might lose to away but expect to beat at home. But our last five meetings at the DW/JJB have ended in draws, and more often than not, Clint Dempsey scores.
In addition to Clint, Latics will have to keep an eye on Bobby Zamora, Andy Johnson, Moussa Dembele, and big-money Costa Rican Bryan Ruiz, who is starting to click after a slow start, scoring a stunning lobbed strike against Everton last week. The Cottagers always hard to break down and play at a high tempo, though Martin Jol’s approach is more continental than both Roy Hodgson’s and Mark Hughes’ were.
Meanwhile, the Wigan camp has been strangely energized by last week’s 1-0 loss to Newcastle. It will be interesting to see if Martinez sticks to the same XI who performed so well, particularly in the first half, or re-introduces Franco Di Santo and James McCarthy to the lineup. Albert Crusat and Dave Jones both performed well at St. James’ and would deserve a repeat start. Di Santo has done nothing wrong, but there is little doubt Rodallega is more likely to score if deployed in the centre-forward role. And James McCarthy has not been himself, but would add a bucket of energy as a second half substitute.
The fixture list over the festive period does not look kind. We have yet to face Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool, which means we must play them twice, and Man City and Spurs each another time. So results must come soon. Seven points from Fulham, Wolves, and Blackburn should put things back on track, but three of them must come tomorrow.
Good luck lads, let this be the turning point we’ve been waiting for.
Heart says: 2-1, Rodallega and Moses to get off the mark for Latics, and who else but Clint Dempsey for the visitors.
Mind says: 1-0, Rodallega.