For the past couple of seasons both Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers have been stuck in dog-eat-dog relegation fights. Somehow, each has prevailed — but things are not looking good for either at the moment. When you are so hungry you sometimes have to settle for any morsels you can get. Odds are the two struggling teams will share points on Saturday. A loss for either would represent another nail in its coffin.
In order to survive relegation, a team needs to average around a point per game over the course of the season, although fourth-from-bottom Wolves needed 40 to stay up last year — an exceptional year. Wigan currently sit on 5 points, while Blackburn have one more, from 11 fixture. Two consecutive wins for either team would bring them within striking distance of the point per match relegation barometer.
So what to expect on Saturday? It will largely depend on whether either team is bold enough to go out and grab those three points or if the fear of losing will paralyze them. This columnist will continue to advocate the former approach for Wigan. A positive approach would be to start with at least three front players. In the Martinez system, this means a centre forward and two wide players. If Martinez is unwilling to adapt this tactical system to accommodate two central strikers, one would hope that two genuine wide players would be employed. Fine player as he can be, Hugo Rodallega is no left winger. The mistake of playing James McCarthy, a central midfield player, in a wide position against Bolton needs to be avoided. We have Moses, Crusat and Maloney for the wide positions. The centre forward position is up for grabs. Di Santo has proved to be a good target man and has scored spectacular goals, but one still lacks the belief that he can put himself into positions where it hurts, to get the tap-ins and scrappy goals typical of a top class central striker. Four of Wigan’s seven goals this season have come from shots outside the box, two more were penalties. The need for someone to latch onto those crosses, rebounds and deflections is crying out. Latics have the worst striking rate in the league with one goal per 17 attempts. Rodallega can do that but seems to be suffering a crisis of confidence. Being played on the left wing or as a lone forward with minimal support has not helped. Sammon remains a largely unknown quantity, not having had sufficient game time to prove himself. One recalls his opportunist goal that helped to turn the relegation match with West Ham last year, showing that there is definite potential. The midfield trio is likely to consist of Watson, Diame and Jones, but James McCarthy will probably appear at some point. In defence Gary Caldwell will return to replace the suspended Antolin Alcaraz.
Like Wigan, Blackburn can complain that luck (including refereeing decisions) has not favoured them this season. Again like Wigan, they have better players than their position suggest. However, they have only won two out of their last eighteen away matches in the Premier League. They have kept a clean sheet in only one game from twenty four. They are clearly beatable. Let’s keep an eye on the giant Chris Samba from set pieces and keep our concentration at the back and up front. More than anything else let’s go in with an aggressive, not passive, approach. A relatively bold team selection would send a message to the opposition that we mean business.
Prediction: draw or close win for Latics. Keep the faith!