Misfiring Wigan Athletic face newly promoted West Ham at the DW Stadium on Saturday. West Ham have made a good start to the season, currently in 8th place with 14 points. Despite their poor results Wigan are placed just above the bottom three with 5 points from 8 games. However, another adverse result is likely to push them down into that psychologically daunting relegation zone.
The last time the teams met in a Premier League fixture at the DW Stadium was on May 15th of 2011, when a thrilling fight back from the home side condemned West Ham to relegation after six years in the top flight. West Ham had been 2-0 up at half time and relegation looked a certainty for Wigan. The players who scored the goals for Wigan that day – Charles N’Zogbia and Conor Sammon – have since moved on. West Ham’s current XI is unrecognizable from the team that played that day, Sam Allardyce having since brought in a swath of new players. Wigan retain seven of that starting lineup, one notable absentee being Mohamed Diame who now plays for West Ham.
The teams have met six times at the DW Stadium in the Premier League, ending in three wins apiece. Latics beat West Ham 4-1 in a League Cup encounter at the Boleyn Ground a month ago, but Hammers supporters would tell you that their team was largely composed of fringe players. There will be few surprises in their style of play and you can expect long balls to be played forward for Andy Carroll, with the dangerous Kevin Nolan sniffing around the box for rebounds. Nolan has already scored four league goals this season. Once again Wigan will have to be prepared to resist a physical barrage. In their win at QPR, the Hammers committed 22 fouls and received 8 yellow cards.
Given the potential aerial threat from Andy Carroll, Roberto Martinez might be tempted to bring back Antolin Alcaraz in central defence. Ivan Ramis has done well since his unfortunate debut against Chelsea, but Alcaraz’s ability in the air and his understanding with Gary Caldwell make him a strong contender if fit. Another possibility is that Maynor Figueroa will be rested, with Ramis moving across top the left. Figueroa has played non-stop for the past year, having spent the summer playing for Honduras in the Olympics.
Despite the poor results this season Roberto Martinez is once again likely to keep faith in his trusted first team regulars. One of the criticisms leveled at Wigan teams in the Martinez era has been that they pay too much respect to the opposition. The flawed tactic of playing deep in defence against Swansea allowed the opponents to get away with their defensive deficiencies, which Latics only started to expose when they were two goals down. The substitutions came too late and were largely uninspiring. Bringing on Jordi Gomez at a time when urgency was required was unfortunate. The effect was to slow down play and have the ball retreat back into the Wigan half. Mauro Boselli clearly deserved an opportunity, after banging in goals regularly in cup games and for the under 21 team, but bringing him on 7 minutes from the end was not ideal. Franco Di Santo has played some good stuff this season, but was not on top of his game at Swansea. He could have been replaced at least 10 minutes earlier. However, the introduction of Ben Watson into a holding role in front of the defence allowed greater freedom to James McArthur and James McCarthy to play further forward and create opportunities. A definite option for future substitutions.
One could say that Wigan Athletic have been unlucky so far this season. Refereeing decisions have not gone their way and they have not played as badly as their record suggests. Critics would say that you create your own luck and have to go into a match with a positive attitude and really “get at” the opposition. Let’s hope that Martinez resists the temptation of putting Jordi Gomez into a forward role and plays with three upfront. That would likely be his preferred formation of Di Santo, Kone and Maloney. Boselli, Miyaichi or McManaman might enter the fray at some point.
Given an attacking lineup and assertive approach this game is definitely winnable. Prediction: a win for Wigan Athletic.