Tomorrow Wigan Athletic face a resurgent Tottenham side currently in fifth position, desperate to reach the top four and thereby gain a place in the lucrative Champions League. Very difficult opposition for a team like Wigan, in the relegation zone.
The nerves will be jangling for both Latics and Spurs, with so much at stake for the two clubs, at opposite ends of the table. The odds favour Tottenham, who have caused Wigan so much damage in previous years. No Latics supporter will forget the horrible 9-1 drubbing at White Hart Lane three seasons ago. However, they will also point to stoic performances, which produced 1-0 wins at that compact London stadium in November of this season and in August two years earlier. Wigan have surprised the Spurs before and can do it again.
The loss of Antolin Alcaraz – for what looks like three weeks – is a body blow for Wigan. The question is whether Gary Caldwell can step up to the plate and make a seamless transition. This time last year Caldwell’s form was a revelation and it led to a player, who had many fierce critics among the fans, being voted ‘Player of the Year’. Can he do it again this year?
Alcaraz had been building up a defensive partnership with Paul Scharner. With the two together the aerial threat of the opposition had diminished and the defence had conceded a lower proportion of goals than over previous months.
Caldwell will have to forge an understanding with Scharner, not an easy matter, given the Austrian’s maverick tendencies. The interaction of those two strong personalities will prove pivotal in Latics’ attempts to avoid that trap door of relegation.
Despite his frustrating ways, Scharner has already proved to be an excellent January loan signing. Wigan fans cannot help but warm to his effort, his excellent interceptions and his technique in the tackle. We are told that Paul Jewell never really trusted him as a central defender, but Scharner has always had the skills to excel in the position. However, years after Jewell’s reign, doubts still remain of the Austrian’s ability to be a reliable team player.
Providing Caldwell and Scharner can forge a strong partnership Latics will approach their remaining games with a strong defensive backbone. It is going to be particularly crucial tomorrow. Dealing with Bale and co is never easy, but Wigan have done it successfully before and can do it again.
Gary Caldwell has had a difficult season, having been dogged by niggling injuries. Fans have rarely seen him at his best. This is the time for him to show what he can do. He has shown himself capable in the past and much will depend on his performances.
Roberto Martinez will certainly consider the opposition when he decides on his lineup. Given that Tottenham are likely to start with a lone striker – Jermain Defoe or Emmanuel Adebayor – he may well revert to a conventional back four. This would push Jean Beausejour into a left wing position. Up front he can choose between Franco Di Santo and Callum McManaman, to join Arouna Kone. Jordi Gomez will most likely continue to operate as a midfield anchor, although Martinez might think of putting in James McArthur to neutralize the threat of the Tottenham midfield.He might also consider packing the midfield by including the two of them with James McCarthy.
A tough game for Wigan, with the odds stacked against them. However, Wigan Athletic have proved their resilence, time after time. Providing there is strength in the centre of defence, an upset is by no means impossible. Believe Latics!