Wolves – Wigan Preview: It’s now or never

If the must-win theme in our match previews of late has been getting a bit repetitive, at least its message becomes truer by the week. Wigan has already lost two absolutely-must-win home fixtures, the first with a shambolic display against Bolton, the second a luckless affair against bogey team Fulham. The next three — Wolves away, Blackburn at home, and Sunderland away — are probably as crucial to our survival as any in the season run-in. Not only because they are matches we should expect to emerge from with some points. But because we have to emerge from them with some points. If we don’t, we go into December bottom of the table with fixtures against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man United in four of the five next games.

Assuming we don’t pick up much in that Christmas deathtrap, I think we need no less than 7 out of the next 9 points. Which means beating Blackburn at home, then beating either Wolves or Sunderland away, and drawing with the other. Given Wolves’ poor form, this may be the better chance for that away win.

The good news is that Latics have a strong record at Molineaux in recent times. We won 2-1 last year and 2-0 the year before. Their form has been poor, losing 7 of the last 9, although they won 3 of the 4 before that, and the most recent two losses were back-to-back exercises against Man City. They did draw at home to Swansea and lose to Newcastle, though, which should give us hope.

The bad news, of course, is that our form is worse. We are now on a staggering eight-match losing streak, although performances have not been as bad as the statistic suggests. With the exception of Man City away, Latics could have (in several cases should have) emerged with points. We live in hope that this will be the performance that delivers reward.

Not too much in the way of player news other than the excellent report on Mo Diame’s ankle injury not being serious. He may even be in contention for a starting spot on Sunday, and thank goodness given the rest of our midfield’s scoring record this season. Gary Caldwell is out suspended, which I daresay has been greeted with enthusiasm by many sections of Latics support. He appears to have lost a yard of pace — not that he was ever the quickest — and equally importantly, presence. I felt he was a good choice for captain when he first arrived at the club, but the defense is severely lacking the authority he was signed to provide, something has gone wrong. Roberto has a few options to replace him — none that steady — playing Steve Gohouri or Adrian Lopez in the centre with Antolin Alcaraz, or moving the ever reliable Emmerson Boyce into centre, drafting in Ronnie Stam at right-back. Or playing Gohouri or Lopez at right back. The main concern should be containing Matt Jarvis, who usually operates down Wolves’ left wing.

If Diame is fit, I would guess a repeat lineup in midfield, with Dave Jones and Ben Watson. Albert Crusat was dangerous against Fulham and should keep his place on the left, while Victor Moses will continue to provoke panic in goalposts country-wide on the right. Hugo Rodallega has been poor — a lifeless, dejected version of the livewire striker with the neon green boots that joined us under Steve Bruce. He remains the most likely player to score, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Martinez opted for Franco Di Santo, who at least looks like he wants to be on the pitch.

As for Wolves, it will probably be a 4-5-1 similar to ours, with Kevin Doyle the frontman. Matt Jarvis will be the main creative threat, while Jamie O’Hara will be energetic in midfield. Cristophe Berra is a bit of a weak link in their defense, though old Birmingham bruiser Roger Johnson always seemed to enjoy a good tussle with Rodallega, I’m sure it will be the same in different colours.

Not much more to say. We’ve played well in the last two outings but haven’t scored. We know we’ll hit the post at least once, but lets hope it bounces in this time.

Heart says: We are a bogey team for Wolves. The extra pace in centre of defense will do us well. We need to win. 1-0.

Mind says: If Wolves score first, we’ve had it. If we do, anything is possible. Realistically, 1-1, but lets hope I’m wrong.


Wigan Athletic – Fulham Preview: Moment of truth for Roberto’s men

Rarely does a game of such importance rear its head this early in a season. Wigan Athletic have now lost seven games in a row. The last time results were that bad, Dave Whelan moved swiftly to relieve Chris Hutchings of his managerial duties. Times have changed, and while there is no chance Roberto will suffer a similar fate, he must be feeling the pressure. This match is as crucial as they come, an absolute cup final.

Thankfully, it’s against a struggling Fulham side who are notoriously poor away from home. They’re in rotten form, sitting only two places above Latics in the league table with only two points more to their name. They too, have only won a single match so far, also against QPR, who have ironically left us both behind and sit comfortably in the dizzying heights of 10th place. While Roberto finally has a full squad to choose from, Martin Jol has a couple injury concerns in defense, with Aaron Hughes missing out and Philippe Senderos doubtful. Simon Davies is also still out with a knee injury.

All this said, Fulham are one of those teams we seem to find tricky. Theoretically, they should be one of those mid-table teams that we might lose to away but expect to beat at home. But our last five meetings at the DW/JJB have ended in draws, and more often than not, Clint Dempsey scores.

In addition to Clint, Latics will have to keep an eye on Bobby Zamora, Andy Johnson, Moussa Dembele, and big-money Costa Rican Bryan Ruiz, who is starting to click after a slow start, scoring a stunning lobbed strike against Everton last week. The Cottagers always hard to break down and play at a high tempo, though Martin Jol’s approach is more continental than both Roy Hodgson’s and Mark Hughes’ were.

Meanwhile, the Wigan camp has been strangely energized by last week’s 1-0 loss to Newcastle. It will be interesting to see if Martinez sticks to the same XI who performed so well, particularly in the first half, or re-introduces Franco Di Santo and James McCarthy to the lineup. Albert Crusat and Dave Jones both performed well at St. James’ and would deserve a repeat start. Di Santo has done nothing wrong, but there is little doubt Rodallega is more likely to score if deployed in the centre-forward role. And James McCarthy has not been himself, but would add a bucket of energy as a second half substitute.

The fixture list over the festive period does not look kind. We have yet to face Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool, which means we must play them twice, and Man City and Spurs each another time. So results must come soon. Seven points from Fulham, Wolves, and Blackburn should put things back on track, but three of them must come tomorrow.

Good luck lads, let this be the turning point we’ve been waiting for.

Heart says: 2-1, Rodallega and Moses to get off the mark for Latics, and who else but Clint Dempsey for the visitors.

Mind says: 1-0, Rodallega.

Wigan Athletic – Newcastle: Morale may be low but strongest XI are finally fit

Under normal circumstances, this match preview would address a history of relative success against Newcastle with measured optimism. I’d point out our last result at St. James Park (2-2 draw that we should have won), and the fact that Newcastle tend to be in that mid-table pack that has been very much accessible to us in our Premier League years; a much bigger club, but one that tends to let its guard down when minnows like us turn up.

But we won’t discuss such things because these are not normal circumstances. While we’ve slumped to six consecutive defeats and half our supporters are calling for our manager’s head, Newcastle have enjoyed their best start to a season in years. They may not have the glamour of the Shearer, Ginola, Asprilla era, but they look something they haven’t in years — solid. They’ve uncharacteristically invested well, and while Alan Pardew is no rocket scientist he has created an organized, talented and competitive side. Getting rid of Andy Carroll and Joey Barton can’t have hurt the atmosphere in the locker room either — or at the very least halved the team’s collective criminal history. Midfield pair Tiote and Cabaye are one of the most underrated partnerships in the league, while Hatem Ben Arfa, Jonas Gutierrez and Gabriel Obertan offer pace and invention from the wings. Demba Ba has started to click up front after a slow start, and Leon Best, despite always looking thoroughly workmanlike, scores more frequently than our strikers do.  The defense has been playing together for several years and you can tell. If anything, the only possible weak link — the player I would try to expose if I were Roberto — is rejuvenated ex-Wiganer Ryan Taylor, who is doing a job at left back. Steve Bruce used him as a left midfielder and it looks like Pardew has caught on as well. He may lack pace, but if you can keep him on the pitch long enough to take a few set pieces, he can win the match for you.

So while it is very possible Ryan will wreak havoc with his corners and free-kicks, there is at least hope that Victor Moses, and possibly even Hugo Rodallega if he’s down that wing, can get past him without too much fancy footwork and cause some problems.

I don’t anticipate any surprises in the lineup, but will breathe a huge sigh of relief if our strongest back four is finally restored, albeit nine games into the season. In midfield, I imagine Roberto will stick with McCarthy for his tackling ability, despite his poor attacking contributions of late, while Rodallega should be on the pitch from the start on the left wing. The bench too, should look strong. Crusat, Maloney and Sammon offer attacking options, while Dave Jones seems to have leapfrogged James McArthur in the pecking order. Hendry Thomas has been frozen out — a shame, because on his day he is the best tackler at the club. One of last weekend’s villains, Steve Gohouri is the most versatile defender available and worth a bench spot, although Van Aanholt really did little wrong in his appearances and could provide defensive cover. And the old Ronnie-Stam-for-Emmerson-Boyce-after-a-crap-first-half is a Martinez favorite, so he’ll probably be there. My best guess for the starting XI: Al-Habsi; Boyce, Caldwell, Alcaraz, Figueroa; Watson, Diame, McCarthy; Rodallega, Moses, Di Santo.

Results have been bad, but performances have largely been decent. The squad is finally fit. There is of course, plenty to lose, but three points in this forgiving league table would see us to mid-table. Unfortunately, no one else has beaten Newcastle this season and it’s a big ask away from home. But nothing much — except the eradication of mindless defensive mistakes — is expected. The stage is set for our boys to bounce back as they’ve done for us so many times in the past.

Heart says: Massive defensive performance, with a Victor Moses goal, 1-0 Latics.

Mind says: Early lead, eventually crumbling to sustained pressure. 2-1, Magpies.

Wigan Athletic – Bolton Wanderers Preview: Time For a Drubbing!

There has never been a better time for Wigan Athletic to give Bolton Wanderers a drubbing. The ‘auld enemy’ lies bottom of the table after seven matches with 21 goals conceded. They have lost 11 of their last 12 Premier League matches.

Whether Latics go on to beat Bolton resoundingly, or to even beat them at all, is going to depend on their approach to the game. To play the ‘cat and mouse’ stuff  that Wigan supporters  have seen too often in the past couple of years would surely play into Bolton’s hands. Despite the propaganda  that comes from Coyle, Cahill and company their confidence has to be at a low point and we cannot afford to show them too much respect. Let’s have an attack-minded lineup and get at them from the start!

Wigan Athletic’s season really needs a kick-start. As has happened so often in the past two years, the team has promised but not delivered. A dynamic performance in this game could prove to be a turning point for the season. Wigan Athletic  have the talent. It is the belief that they  need.

On the injury front it appears that neither  Antolin Alcaraz nor Hugo Rodallega will make this game, despite rumblings about the latter having a chance. There are doubts about the fitness of new signing Albert Crusat. It has been disappointing not to have seen more of the diminutive winger who can give many more  options to  the attack.  It looks like Steve Gohouri will come back into the centre of the Wigan  defence following his suspension. This will allow  Maynor Figueroa to return to his better position of left back. Although Figueroa has played most of his 70 plus games for Honduras in the centre of defence he has not looked the part in that position against the powerful forwards that grace the Premier League. So it would be Boyce and Figueroa at full back and Gohouri and Caldwell in the centre of defence.  The central midfield trio is likely to consist of Watson, McCarthy and Diame, but one cannot rule out the possibility of one of Jordi Gomez, James McArthur or David Jones stepping in there. Let’s hope that Martinez puts on an attacking front three. Moses and Di Santo are obvious choices, with either Shaun Maloney  or Albert Crusat (if fit) providing the best offensive options.  There is the  alternative of playing the more defensive minded Ronnie Stam, or even Jordi Gomez,  wide on the right.  A bold move would be to play three attack-minded forwards, with Shaun Maloney in the “hole” as the third central midfield player.

Bolton are going to have several players out with injury. This could include their excellent goalkeeper, Jussi  Jaaskelainen. Whatever lineup they put forward one can expect the usual Bolton level of  effort and commitment, together with their threat at set pieces.

Prediction: a good win for the Latics, hopefully a thumping. There has never been a better time to play Bolton in the Premier League. Victor Moses is due to get on the scoresheet and a goal from a defender is long overdue.

Everton vs Wigan Preview: A good time to play the Toffees?

Match Preview:  Everton vs. Wigan Athletic

Everton is one of those strange clubs that always seems to start the season poorly, grow as it goes along, and end with a flourish, often pushing for a spot in Europe. This season has been no different, losing to QPR and failing to beat Aston Villa at home, and scraping a 1-0 victory away at Blackburn. They’ve lost a couple strikers in Yakubu and Beckford. The Nigerian wasn’t contributing very much and shouldn’t be missed but Beckford appeared to be settling in last season and it does seem a strange decision to let him go. One would guess that promise of first-team football, a non-promotion clause and a big paycheck at Leicester probably did the trick.

The real dagger though, has been the loss of Mikel Arteta. While his form at Everton in the last season or two has been a little inconsistent, largely due to injuries, he was always the creative heartbeat, one of the few players in their squad capable of a little magic. And an excellent set-piece delivery, although former Wiganer Leighton Baines has taken over those duties rather excellently. In fact, it’s Bainesy’s free-kicks, direct and indirect, that Latics will probably be most wary of in tomorrow’s clash.

All in all, you get the sense that the traditional Everton bounce-back may be less of a sure thing this year. They still have too much quality and resilience to get sucked into a relegation battle, but they look a decidedly mid-table team — particularly if their poor home form continues — and as such, are a team Latics should be looking to snatch a point or three against.

While always tough matches, Latics don’t seem to fear the trip to Goodison, and got a valuable point there last year. The year before that, they might have emerged with all three had a Jordi Gomez shot gone in rather than striking the post, and a Scott Sinclair breakaway ended up in the back of the net as it should have. Instead, Everton got a last minute penalty, and took all three points. Point is, this game will be a battle, but is up for grabs.

Meanwhile, Latics will arrive at Goodison on the back of two losses in a week. The 3-0 result at City could have been much worse — although we did fail to report in our match report that there were some decent passages of attacking play, particularly through the legs of Victor Moses — while the League Cup loss at Crystal Palace (albeit with 7 reserves in the starting lineup) was disappointing. Martinez spoke highly once again of new signing Shaun Maloney yesterday, so we can expect to see him on the bench, at least. Otherwise, the only change should be in midfield, where McArthur will probably make way for Jordi Gomez or McCarthy. Probable starting XI:  Al-Habsi; Boyce, Lopez, Caldwell, Figueroa; Watson, Diame, Jordi/McCarthy/McArthur; Rodallega, Moses, Di Santo.

Prediction:  as always, hard to tell. My main concern is Lopez’s ability to cope with the aerial threat Everton always pose. But I’m think Latics, particularly with their new signings coming off the bench, have goals in them. Moses for one, is due a bit of luck. I’m saying 1-1.