West Brom – Wigan Preview: Living in hope

Let’s start with an admission. I don’t have the faintest clue what is going to happen at the Hawthorns tomorrow.

Since Roberto’s tactical switch three matches ago, we’ve seen all shades of Wigan. The best attacking performance of the season came in the Blackburn draw, which would have been a win but for Andre bloody Mariner. The best defensive performance came in the away win at Sunderland. The worst performance full-stop, began the second Mikel Arteta scored Arsenal’s first.

Football has way of clouding one’s judgement. Having most recently watched 65 minutes of capitulation against an Arsenal team at their imperious best, co-starring ourselves at our demoralized worst, it’s hard to view this next fixture with any real optimism. And yet, in the first 25 minutes of the game against that same Arsenal side, we played some of our best football all season. How would I feel if Arsenal had gone 4-0 up and Latics had finished with those excellent 25 minutes of football. Ok, still probably not great, but certainly a bit more optimistic.

If Latics were a craft beer, it would be high gravity stuff. One week I’m blabbering about turning points and the next I can’t see a way out.

The encouraging thing about this Latics side, that separates it from most sides doomed to relegation is that, in more matches than not, we look capable of winning. We haven’t been getting the points yet, obviously, but we didn’t last year either. I had an exchange with a fellow supporter on Twitter earlier today, during which we discussed the lack of goals from our forwards. He felt that Rodallega was on his way and wasn’t too sad to see the back of him. So I asked him who he’d rather see up front, Franco Di Santo or Conor Sammon? His response pretty much sums up what it’s like to be a Wigan supporter these days: “Probably Franco, but it’s hard. Sammon looks like he can score goals but isn’t. Franco doesn’t look like he can, but has.” In recent times, the match we actually won was one of the few (against beatable opposition) that we didn’t deserve to. On the other hand, quite how we didn’t beat Blackburn, Newcastle, Fulham, Norwich, Swansea is beyond me. If we’d managed even two wins out of those, we’d be 14th, the position West Brom is currently in.

So off we go to the Hawthorns, living in hope. Or faith? West Brom away was an exciting fixture last year. It may have even been the one that got Roberto Di Matteo the sack (not beating us has proven to be the final straw for quite a few teams over the years). They are usually fairly open affairs, 2-1s or 2-2s. There is obviously a lot of pressure, in last place, with fixtures against Chelsea, Liverpool, Man United, and a resurgent Stoke away coming up. But did the walloping by Arsenal lift some of it?

Most everyone is fit, to my knowledge. Emmerson Boyce and Antolin Alcaraz will be welcome returnees. Roberto has been answering a lot of questions about Hugo Rodallega, who has still not signed a new contract and has presumably been spending his time begging someone else to sign him. Which in fairness is some task since he is a striker but hasn’t scored since May. But there have been hints in there that suggest the Colombian will make an appearance at some point tomorrow. Lets just all hope it’s not on the left wing. That said, I don’t think Conor Sammon has done anything to deserve losing his place — he did well against Blackburn and Sunderland, starved of service against Arsenal. Nor has Franco Di Santo, for that matter, he remains the only Latics striker to score a goal this season.

I won’t predict a lineup this time, but will instead suggest one (assuming the same tactical system with wingbacks):  Ali Al-Habsi, Figueroa-Alcaraz-Boyce in the middle, Stam and Jones as wingbacks; McArthur & Diame in the centre of midfield; Jordi & Moses, but only if they are allowed to roam, rather than getting stuck on the wing. What’s the point of having wingbacks if it doesn’t allow these two to cut inside; Franco Di Santo up top.

Heart says: West Brom are organized and committed as all Roy Hodgson teams (except Liverpool) tend to be. But they aren’t particularly creative, so our defence holds strong and we run out 2-0 winners. C’mon Latics!!

Mind says: Hard to see a clean sheet here, but we should be good enough to score a goal. 1-1.

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.