On Tuesday a largely second-string Wigan Athletic side travels to Dean Court to play Bournemouth in a Third Round FA Cup replay. So what are the odds of Wigan pulling off a victory? Shouldn’t a team composed of Premier League squad players be expected to beat a team from League 1, given the gulf in quality between them? Judging by the 1-1 draw between the teams at the DW Stadium 10 days before, it appears this game could go either way.
The bookmakers, William Hill, currently offer 6/4 on a Wigan win and 9/5 on an opposition victory. They clearly see it as tight. Much will depend on the lineup that Roberto Martinez puts out and the Wigan players’ willingness to physically match a rejuvenated Bournemouth team that has gone 18 matches without defeat since manager Eddie Howe’s return in mid October.
Much has been said in of Wigan’s cup performances in the Martinez era. Last year they exited the FA Cup Third Round after being beaten by League 2 Swindon, much to the chagrin of their loyal supporters. This season their performances in the cup – in this case the League Cup – have been mixed, with excellent 4-1 wins at both Nottingham Forest and West Ham, followed by an abject defeat at home on penalties to Bradford City. However, the away wins were largely due to fine counterattacking and bode well for tomorrow’s cup fixture.
So what type of lineup will Wigan put forward tomorrow? The cruel injury to Ivan Ramis at Fulham on Saturday leaves Martinez in a quandary as to whether he should risk his first choice centre backs to bolster what would be an inexperienced central defensive line. It appears that Antolin Alcaraz is still not ready to return after injury, leaving only Gary Caldwell and Maynor Figueroa of the normal back three, unless Emmerson Boyce were to revert there. However, to play any one of the three would be a gamble with the important Sunderland match looming on Saturday.
Martinez has limited options available. Roman Golobart will be keen to show his quality. By most accounts Golobart played well in the previous encounter and Martinez has made it clear that the 20 year old Catalan is a prospect for a first team place in Ramis’ absence. This encounter could prove to be the acid test for him. Given the absence of experienced central defenders Martinez might well revert to a flat back four for this game.
Mike Pollitt might well start in goal, giving Ali Al Habsi a well-earned rest. Ronnie Stam will probably play at right back/wing back, but the left side position could be up for grabs. New signing Roger Espinoza and Fraser Fyvie are likely to feature in the centre of midfield and there are lots of possibilities for the front three positions. Mauro Boselli, inexplicably left out of the lineup at Fulham , will be set to line up at centre forward with Angelo Henriquez, Callum McManaman, Nouha Dicko and Daniel Redmond all pushing for places. Jordi Gomez tends to play in cup games and it would not be surprising to see him appear at some time during the game.
On paper Wigan have the quality to beat League 1 opposition. However, whatever side Wigan put out it is not going to be a team which has the mutual understanding developed between players who consistently play together. It remains to be seen whether Martinez is going to be willing to risk first choice defenders, given Wigan’s precarious position in the Premier League. But then again, playing an inexperienced defence against a team full of confidence and motivation could prove costly. However, the development of young players is a key driver in Wigan Athletic’s future plans. Roberto Martinez has not yet thrown his youngsters into the Premier League arena, being fearful of plunging them into a team that is stuggling. The cup competitions remain the main outlet and a good performance at Bournemouth could open doors for a young player. The opportunity is there to be taken. Roman Golbart in particular will surely take note.