If Wigan Athletic is a team in the ascendancy with four wins out of six, then Norwich is one fighting valiantly to arrest the opposite. After an amazing run of unbeaten games in late 2012, the Canaries find themselves just seven points clear of Latics in 12th place, having drawn five of their last seven matches.
Tellingly, all of those stalemates came against mid-table or relegation-threatened sides. All signs point to a loss of momentum for Chris Hughton’s charges, and if left to the Laws of Form, a victory for Wigan appears the most likely outcome.
Of course, it’s never that simple, and nothing shakes things up quite like an international break. Some players, most vocally Paul Scharner, have benefited from a two-week break. Internationals at both clubs, however, will have played two matches in the space of five days. People like Maynor Figueroa and Ali Al-Habsi were not only key performers for their countries in high stakes World Cup Qualifiers, but have had to recover from flights back from Panama and Australia and the jet lag that comes with it.
Enough has been written about Wigan’s post-international break struggles, however. There is a real opportunity at the DW this weekend, and there is a squad to achieve it. Many eyes will be focused on Callum McManaman, so influential in Latics’ two most recent victories. The last few weeks will have brought very mixed emotions for the young winger, after the ecstasy of scoring against Everton followed by the media witch hunt after his bad challenge on Massima Haidara. Glad that discussion is over. But it will be interesting to see how the player reacts. If recovered from his own injury, one would expect him to start. Roberto Martinez’s comments in the build-up to the match about his potential as a future England star should not only give him a shot of confidence, but hopefully minimize ill-treatment from the visiting supporters.
Given he has now fielded the same starting XI for consecutive victories over strong opposition, there is no reason to believe Martinez will not do the same tomorrow. This should mean another start for young Spaniard Joel Robles in goal, who looks increasingly likely to be permanent signing in the summer. He’ll — hopefully — be protected by a back four of Emmerson Boyce, Antolin Alcaraz, Paul Scharner and Maynor Figueroa. James McCarthy and Jordi Gomez would continue in midfield, with Shaun Maloney ahead of them in a free role. McManaman and Beausejour should retain their places on the wings, while Arouna Koné will lead the line. This leaves Franco Di Santo, who partnered Lionel Messi in attack for a period of time in Argentina’s 1-1 draw against Bolivia, on the bench once again. As it does Ali Al-Habsi, captain Gary Caldwell, and James McArthur.
A win tomorrow would heap pressure on Southampton, Sunderland and Aston Villa, who are four, four and three points ahead of Latics respectively having played an extra match. It could also suck Norwich into the battle — although with 34 points already and home fixtures against Reading, Aston Villa, West Brom and Swansea, they should be fine.
More importantly, another win would make it five in seven for Wigan and fuel the belief that they can do it yet again.