Who will play?


On such an historic occasion for Wigan Athletic it seemed in a strange way inappropriate to focus on lineups, tactics and the XI that turned out to represent the club in its first ever FA Cup final.

But it is the biggest game in the club’s history, so we decided to write this up as an add-on. If you haven’t already, please do give our preview a read. In the meantime, here is the traditional match preview.

While defending champions Manchester City were busy resting their eight of their starting XI during their 1-0 victory over West Brom — a team Wigan had spectacularly, but only just, beaten three days prior – Wigan suffered yet another season-ending injury. Ronnie Stam had only been on the pitch for a matter of seconds, before apparently breaking his leg.

The list of defenders unavailable to Roberto Martinez is now five strong: Ivan Ramis, Antolin Alcaraz, Maynor Figueroa, Jean Beausejour, Ronnie Stam. If Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott, Matija Nastajic, Gael Glichy and Alexander Kolarov were injured and missing, it is arguable that Manchester City would be a bit worried too.

But for a club of Wigan’s resources, the situation is disastrous — thus the defensive errors of the last two matches.

The good news is that the attack has been magnificent. Without creating that many chances, Wigan have managed seven top quality strikes in the past three matches, with scorers in each of the defensive, midfield and attacking lines.

The biggest question ahead of tomorrow’s FA Cup final must surely be who will play? Should Roberto field his strongest team, whatever that currently is given the injury crisis? Or should he reserve players for the crucial survival fixtures three and seven days later against Arsenal and Aston Villa?

One player whose presence will please most Latics supporters is Ali Al-Habsi. Given Martinez’s pattern of playing the current league reserve goalkeeper in cup fixtures it looks like the big Omani will return. The twist here is that it will be intriguing to see if Al-Habsi — something of a talisman to Wigan supporters — can perform well enough to keep his place for the final two league fixtures. Joel Robles is a really exciting prospect and talented young keeper, despite for his horrendous mistake against Tottenham.

It will be interesting to see if Martinez continues with Ben Watson in that hybrid role of part holding midfield player, part central defender. Martinez has done much for Latics in the realm of tactical innovation, but  the stats show that in the last three matches, using that new system,  they have let in seven goals. However, given the lack of defenders available to him, Martinez might have to use it again.

Wigan fans will pray that Antolin Alcaraz will return from injury in time for Saturday, although it appears unlikely. Gary Caldwell was vulnerable  against Swansea and is likely to struggle against City’s speedy forwards. Roger Espinoza was used on the left of defence against the Welsh team and looked like a fish out of water. If he is to play on the left he will need the support of a strong central defence.

It therefore appears that Martinez has two choices for his defensive lineup – persevere with his recent tactical plan or revert to a system with a back three and wing backs.

One thing he can be sure of is that, if he plays, Gary Caldwell’s commitment will be second to none. Last year’s player of the season has been fighting against a chronic hip injury, with tremendous courage,  having to take injections to even play. It would be a wonderful tribute to the skipper if he makes the starting lineup. Without him Latics would not have been in the Premier League this season.

The back three will most likely be Roman Golobart, Gary Caldwell and Paul Scharner, with Emmerson Boyce and Roger Espinoza at wing back. Alternatively he could play Caldwell at right wing back, putting the more pacy Boyce in the middle. City do not normally play with a left winger, although Caldwell would have to cope with an overlapping full back,  Clichy or Kolarov.

Maybe Martinez will surprise us with another new tactical innovation. But no matter who is playing where, Wigan will need to keep things tight, keeping possession, not giving away suicidal goals.

Just over three weeks ago Wigan Athletic gave an excellent account of themselves at Eastlands, being pipped by a spectacular late goal from Carlos Tevez. If they can play like that tomorrow and get a little bit of luck, then an upset remains on the cards.

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QPR v Wigan Athletic Preview – Keep Grinding, Latics!


Joel Robles – the young Spanish goalkeeper is key to Wigan’s hopes tomorrow at Loftus Road.

Around this time last year the great revival started. Wigan Athletic were to not only beat the elite, but to beat them on merit, through champagne football, winning 7 of the last 9 games. Before the revival started we saw an awful performance from Latics at Loftus Road in January, with Queens Park Rangers winning 3-1. Somehow QPR managed to stay up, but by the skin of their teeth. Given the upturn in recent results for Wigan Athletic can we expect a better result in tomorrow’s key encounter at Loftus Road? Some champagne football, even?

Wigan Athletic come into this game after gaining 6 priceless points from home games against Newcastle and Norwich, following a momentous 3-0 win at Everton in the FA Cup. Only one goal has been conceded in these last three matches and late goals have sealed the league wins. Last week Norwich did not force Joel Robles to make a single save, such was the quality of the Wigan defence. In those home games champagne football was a scarce commodity, but the results have been just what the doctor ordered. Latics ground both Newcastle and Norwich down, restricting them, then delivering the hammer blow.

“Must win” is a term that is banded about too freely. Wigan supporters have seen their team lose “must win” games, but nevertheless survive. If this game is a must win for one of the teams tomorrow , then it must be more so for QPR. They lie 8 points adrift with only 7 games left. Even a draw would put them under great pressure in the matches that remains. A draw would not be ideal for Wigan, but it would help keep them afloat. Put simply, this is a more crucial game for QPR than for Latics.

Roberto Martinez deserves credit for sticking his neck out and rewarding the players who helped the club reach the FA Cup semi final. Ali Al Habsi and Gary Caldwell were pivotal in last year’s revival, but they are now on the bench. How times can change. The upturn in results coincides, not for the first time, with the return from injury of Antolin Alcaraz. His recent performances have been a revelation and one wonders what league position Wigan would be in now, if he had been available all season. His central defensive partnership with Paul Scharner has been the centrepiece of recent performances.

Joel Robles is clearly a very capable young goalkeeper, tall and dominant. It was never going to be easy to step into the shoes of fans’ favourite, Ali Al Habsi, but he has handled it well so far. The Omani has not been in the same form this season that he showed previously. However, he is such a capable goalkeeper that his time will come again. For the moment Robles is first choice. The defence has managed to shield Robles up to this point, but tomorrow could well prove to be the acid test for him. His performance could well be the main factor that helps decide the result.

Harry Redknapp refuses to accept that QPR will go down. Looking at the real quality players they have in their squad they should be able to stay up. However, like Wigan they have a penchant for throwing away good results through appalling defensive errors. Tomorrow’s result might well depend on which defence gives it away, rather than which team plays better.

Wigan will probably field an unchanged lineup, although there is a possibility that James McArthur will replace Jordi Gomez in the holding midfield role. Although he made the pass for Arouna Kone’s goal against Norwich, Gomez did not have a good game.

With the FA Cup semi final coming up next weekend, this game comes at a difficult time for Latics. Wembley is sure to be in their players’ heads, although Martinez will surely emphasise the need for a good result tomorrow.

QPR have a wealth of good players to choose from. At their best they could thump Wigan. However, they are in deep trouble and they are playing a team that has a good record against relegation rivals. It is one of those matches that is very hard to predict: it could be a stalemate or even a spectacular result for either team. As far as Wigan are concerned, grinding out another result though strong defence, is probably the way to go. Keep grinding, Latics!

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Everton v Wigan Athletic – Nothing to Lose


Only the brightest of optimists could expect a second string Wigan Athletic team to go to Goodison Park tomorrow and get a good result. The Wigan team will be largely composed of players who have spent most of their time on the bench or on the treatment table in recent months. In contrast Everton are likely to put out a strong lineup.

Everton are a formidable team at Goodison, where they have lost only one of 14 league games this year. It is going to be a tall order for Wigan, but who knows what might happen?

There are players in the Wigan squad who will be anxious to impress in this game, none more so than ex-Everton youth player, Callum McManaman. The 21 year old forward has excelled in cup matches this year and has been unlucky not to have appeared more in the Premier League. He will be joined up front by either Angelo Henqriquez or Nouha Dicko, although Ryo Miyaichi is fit again and will probably appear at some stage during the game. Jordi Gomez will be charged with the creative role for the strikers.

Fraser Fyvie, a 19 year old with more than 50 senior games prior experience under his belt for Aberdeen, is another who has waited patiently for his chance. He is likely to lineup in the centre of midfield alongside the committed American/Honduran, Roger Espinoza, who continues to adapt to the pace of English football.

Roman Golobart, at 20 years of age, is another fine prospect. He made his debut in the starting lineup in the Premier League game against Stoke in January. His extra height in the centre of defence will be useful against an Everton side which always poses a strong aerial threat. He will almost certainly be joined by Antolin Alcaraz, back from long term injury. Adrian Lopez is also back to fitness and will probably take up Gary Caldwell’s position in the centre of defence.

Ronnie Stam will take the right wing back position, but Martinez might have to throw in Maynor Figueroa or Jean Beausejour on the left. With David Jones and Jordan Mustoe out on loan he lacks alternatives in that position. Young Spanish goalkeeper, Joel Robles, faces an acid test where he will have the chance to show that he can compete with Ali Al Habsi for the first team spot.

Likely starting lineup: Robles – Alcaraz, Lopez, Golobart – Stam, Fyvie, Espinoza, Figueroa or Beausejour – Gomez, McManaman, Henriquez or Dicko.

However, in previous rounds Martinez has surprised us by including a smattering of first choice players. At this stage of the season he is less likely to do so. If he were to choose between the FA Cup and Premier League survival, the latter would be his most likely option.

A second string Wigan Athletic is still strong enough to give Everton a run for their money – they have nothing to lose!

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FA Cup Fifth Round: Huddersfield Town v Wigan Athletic

John Smith's Stadium,  Huddersfield

John Smith’s Stadium, Huddersfield

Wigan Athletic have reached the  6th round of the FA Cup only once before. That was in the 1986-1987 season, when they were unluckily beaten by Leeds United on a bitterly cold and blustery afternoon at  Springfield Park. On Sunday they will be hoping to get there again when they travel to meet a Huddersfield Town team that pulled off a surprise 2-1 victory at high flying Championship rivals Leicester on Tuesday.

The last time Wigan played Huddersfield in the FA Cup was in 1973, when Latics were a non-league side and the Terriers were in Division 3. The result at the old Leeds Road stadium was a 2-0 win for the home team. Huddersfield moved to their new ground, now known as the John Smiths Stadium, in 1994. Not surprisingly there have been some concerns about the state of the pitch, since Town share the ground with the local rugby league club.  There has been  debate among Town supporters as to what has caused the  recent  problems. Some say it has been churned up by having rugby matches played on it;  others say it is been because of the bad weather and the need for undersoil heating.  A familiar debate well known to Wigan fans. Let’s hope the issue does not rear its ugly head again in the matches remaining this season at the DW Stadium.

Given their current predicament  in the relegation zone of the Premier League,  Wigan will be reluctant to risk first choice players for this game. However, a few are likely to be drafted in to provide balance. There appears to be an outside chance that Emmerson Boyce will make  a return, following his recent hamstring injury. However, Martinez will probably play safe and play Ronnie Stam at right wing back, saving the senior professional for the Reading game.

The big Spanish goalkeeper Joel Robles will have the opportunity to stake a claim for a  first team place. He is likely to see much more action against a Championship side than he did against Conference side Macclesfield in the last round. Roman Golobart is likely to step into central defence, with Adrian Lopez alongside him, if fit. The third central defensive position would go to a senior player, although the return of Antolin Alcaraz is still in doubt. Jordan Mustoe staked a claim at left wing back in the Macclesfield game in the previous round, but it could also be taken by Maynor Figueroa or Jean Beausejour.

David Jones  will surely start in the centre of midfield, but Fraser Fyvie is injured, so Roger Espinoza will probably step in. Jordi Gomez will surely start in the front three, together with two of Callum McManaman,  Angelo Henriquez and Nouha Dicko. Given that he has not had much football in recent weeks we can expect Arouna Kone to feature at some time during the game.

This will be a stern test for the second string. Huddersfield currently lie 18th in the Championship table, but they have only lost 4 matches out of 16 at home. All teams in the Championship are competitive and this Huddersfield side is likely to stretch a Wigan lineup that only plays together in cup matches. However, the second string has already shown this season that it can take its chances clinically and grind out results. A good result at the John Smith’s Stadium would lift the spirits of all at the club.

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