Yeovil Preview – Goliath versus David

Over recent years Wigan Athletic have typically been cast as the underdog, but nevertheless capable of slaying the biggest of giants. A second successive FA Cup victory over that Goliath of English football, Manchester City, shows what Latics can continue to do when the odds are stacked against them.

However, in tonight’s encounter at the DW Stadium it is Latics who will be the giant Goliath, with little Yeovil playing the role of David.

Like Latics, Yeovil have come a long way over the years. In fact their path up the ladder has been somewhat slower. It took them 108 years to get into the Football League after being founded in 1895. However, they  got promoted to League 1 at the end of their second season  there. They finished fifth in their first season in League 1, but languished in the bottom half of the table for the next six years.

Under manager Gary Johnson Yeovil won the League One play-offs last season. Remarkably they did that on an average crowd of 4,071 and with a budget reputed to be less than £1m.

“We’re definitely going in as the underdogs, but we said that in League One let alone the Championship. We’ve got to embrace it as a club and we’ve got to be excited about it.” said Johnson in summer.

The odds are that Wigan Athletic will be too good for a Yeovil team which stands in 23rd place, three points away from Millwall, the nearest club above the drop zone. Figures have been bandied about the social media contrasting the vastly different budgets of Latics and Manchester City. It would be interesting to get a comparison between tonight’s two clubs. Underpinned by parachute payments Latics have a large squad of players who are relatively well paid for the Championship division. The combined salaries of a handful of those players probably exceeds that of the whole Yeovil squad.

However, Lady Luck has once more stricken Wigan Athletic with a series of injuries. The excellent Leon Barnett limped off at Ipswich on Saturday and could be out for weeks with his hamstring injury. However, Latics have adequate cover in central defensive positions and Thomas Rogne will probably step in. Ivan Ramis had another good game at the weekend, but Uwe Rosler will have to weigh up whether he wants to risk the Spaniard in his second game in three days. Emmerson Boyce and James Perch are due to be rested, but Rosler will not want to disrupt the understanding that has developed in a settled defence by making too many changes. However, his hand may be forced.

It is in midfield that injuries are hitting hardest with Ben Watson, Chris McCann and Roger Espinoza unavailable. The press reports that Rosler is about to sign Jack Collison on loan from West Ham.  Although still only 25 years old Collison has made over 100 appearances for the Hammers. Not only is Collison experienced but he can play in either wide or central midfield. It is understood that Collison’s contract is up at the end of the season and that West Ham will probably release him. The situation parallels that of Martyn Waghorn, signed under similar circumstances on loan from Leicester in January. It appears to be another shrewd move by the East German.

Callum McManaman and Nicky Maynard are due to return, forming two of the front three. Nick Powell is likely to join them some time during the match. Josh McEachran is due to return in midfield and Jean Beausejour at left back.

It is unusual for Wigan Athletic to be playing the role of Goliath in a league match. They will need to roll down their sleeves to carve out a victory against a Yeovil side that has nothing to lose. Nobody expects the Somerset team to come out with a result, but Latics will surely know how Yeovil feel as the underdogs.

It promises to be a fascinating encounter.

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Proud day for Wigan as the fairy tale rolls into Wembley

Latics' team for their debut match against Port Vale Reserves,  Thanks to Ron Hunt and WiganWorld for photo.

Latics’ team for their debut match against Port Vale Reserves,
With thanks to Ron Hunt and WiganWorld for photo.

* this post was co-written by the father and son writing team, from the perspective of the Jakarta Jack, the father. 

My father loved Wigan Athletic Football Club. Hardly a minute would go by after the final whistle before he would launch into talk about the next match. Conversations – and in some cases, monologues – about line-ups, tactics and referees were a feature of my life as long as I can remember.

His love affair with the Latics began the year the club was formed in 1932, and never wavered until his passing in 2005. His devotion to such a modest club was difficult for others to understand in a region saturated with prestigious football clubs such as Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton. It was especially difficult to understand for the rugby fans in the area.

But my dad wasn’t too perturbed by that. In his 73 years as a supporter, he witnessed the transition from non-league to Division 4, all the way up to the Championship, or second division as it was known for most of his time. Wigan were second in the Championship under the leadership of Paul Jewell, propelled by the dazzling strike partnership of Nathan Ellington and Jason Roberts, when he passed away. The Latics were promoted to the Premier League four months later. They have remained there ever since.

Were you to tell my father that his Wigan Athletic would go on to spend eight consecutive years in the Premier League and reach both the League Cup and FA Cup finals during that period – he almost certainly would not have believed you. He would have beamed with pride.

Thankfully, pride is something that is passed down. My son and co-writer, Ned, once told me that,  while the inspiration for the name of this fan site was a tip of the hat to the symbolic arrival of Wigan’s Three Amigos from Spain –  a pivotal moment in Wigan’s rise up the tables and Whelan’s revolution – it also on a more personal level represented the relationship between himself, his dad and grandad, who all shared that same passion for the club.

Neither Ned nor I were at that very first Wigan Athletic match back against Port Vale Reserves back in 1932, but we each remember our first Latics experience and know the previous history thanks to my dad. We know where the club came from, and we know we are living the Wigan Athletic dream.

No matter what the result is on Cup Final Saturday, or the outcome of the relegation fight in the Premier League, Wigan Athletic have confounded people with their achievements. The club has come farther than any of us imagined in our wildest dreams, and their achievements will leave an indelible memory.

What’s more – the work that Roberto Martinez has done in his return as manager of the club has been transformative. Rather than playing the role of the little fish up for a Premier League cameo, his plan has been one of consolidation.

While Steve Bruce did a job in keeping the club in the top flight, the money he spent on players and their wages was hardly sustainable if Latics were to suffer a bad season and go down. There was no investment in youth development or infrastructure.

Martinez’s work to cut operating budgets, sell the top players in order to fund long-term growth sets the club up to survive for years to come. Sure – relegation is a threat each year and is to many clubs with more money, more fans and so on — but the club and its support are rapidly growing behind the scenes with every year that passes.

It is somewhat fitting, then, that Wigan’s rival in the final is Manchester City – not only a club with massive support, but also the beneficiary of the largest cash injection in world football thanks to their billionaire owner. In comparison with Wigan Athletic and Manchester City even David and Goliath seem evenly matched!

Only a deluded romantic would expect a Wigan Athletic squad depleted by injury, mentally worn-down, in the middle of the most intense Premier League survival fight to date, to beat Manchester City on Saturday. But if the club’s history is anything to go by, the seemingly  impossible can happen. The supporters of this club believe anything is possible because they are continuing to live it.

The Wigan Athletic story is far from over. Three matches in less than 10 days will determine whether the 2012-2013 season goes down in history as the year Wigan conquered the FA Cup, or survived for a ninth consecutive Premier League season against all odds.

But even if neither materialises, we could not be more proud of our club which takes pride in doing things in a sensible way and never gives up. Just to be in the FA Cup final, with the guarantee of Europa League football next season boggles the mind. A win on Saturday would just be icing on the cake.

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Man City vs Wigan Athletic: Focus needed

Latics

It’s hard to remember a senior member of the current Wigan squad who has not publicly stated that league survival trumps cup success this year — but no one put it better than Roberto Martinez yesterday in comments to The Guardian, in reference to today’s clash with Manchester City.

“In many aspects the league game is bigger,” he said. “I don’t think there are games which are more important than others. They are all very significant. But if you are asking me what it represents for a club like Wigan winning the FA Cup final or staying in the Premier League, then staying in the Premier League would mean the next 10 years of the football club would be financially very stable. The new facilities that we have planned can happen and behind the scenes the club can go to a different level.

“But when you have the opportunity to win the FA Cup, you can’t disregard it and say that’s not important. They are both important. This is the sort of season we want. There’s only Manchester City, Chelsea and Wigan who are involved in two competitions at this moment. It requires a strong mentality and we’ve never had that before.”

To further assert the point, Martinez yesterday admitted that the season would be assessed as a failure internally should the team win the FA Cup but subsequently be relegated from the league. The money involved in another season in the league is what keeps the club developing behind the scenes, and a year without it would represent a huge setback to the excellent progress of recent years.

He also outlined the strength of his squad. This is a squad that was torn apart by injuries for the first half of the season but is finally approaching full strength. The lessons of Birmingham and Portsmouth — teams fighting on two fronts that eventually lost out in the league — are valuable, but neither team was peaking in form or fitness as Latics currently are, or had strength in numbers. Wigan’s bench, with Franco Di Santo, Gary Caldwell, James McArthur and until recently, Ali Al-Habsi, has never been stronger.

With a very important fixture at West Ham looming next Saturday, we may witness some changes to the starting eleven tonight. It will be interesting to see if Ali Al-Habsi retains his place, or if his role for the rest of the season will be that of Cup Goalkeeper, as was Joel Robles’ before the Everton performance changed things.

It’s hard to forsee any changes in the back four unless there is concern over the fitness levels of either Paul Scharner or Antolin Alcaraz, who played very few minutes in 2012. In midfield, it wouldn’t be surprising to see James McArthur included to add steel in midfield. And Franco Di Santo must be itching for a game. The Argentine has been the victim of Callum McManaman’s emergence and the change of shape to accomodate traditional wingers instead of wing-backs. But with a contract on the negotiation table, Martinez will want him to feel involved and important to the team.

While it is highly unlikely that Wigan should obtain two positive results against an in-form Manchester City side at away and neutral venues respectively, the pragmatist among us would happily settle for one. The impossible question, of course, is which of the two?

A loss today in the league would not crush Wigan’s hopes of staying up, considering there are more accessible fixtures remaining from which to gain the necessary 8-9 points such as West Ham and West Brom away, or Swansea, Spurs and Aston Villa at home. On the other hand, every point matters at this stage and the league table is tighter than ever.

The key today will be whether our players can retain their focus and energy levels after their Wembley adventure, against a wildly different opponent, and one they’ve struggled against. The odds are not favourable, but Manchester City was one of the few scalps Wigan did not claim in the amazing run last season — can they do it this time around?

Wigan Athletic vs. Newcastle United: Positivity pervades

2012-alcaraz

A refreshing wind of optimism swirls around the DW Stadium ahead of Sunday’s crunch match against Newcastle. As painful as the Liverpool setback was a fortnight ago, Roberto Martinez’s team is enjoying a fine run of form that has seen Huddersfield, Reading and Everton dispatched by three-goal spreads, with two clean sheets obtained in the process.

The results are almost as concerning as they are remarkable, however, given the successes were achieved away while the 4-0 fracas was suffered at home. Much like the bulk of last season, Wigan just cannot seem to get going on their home patch. Of course, last time around it did finally click, and in some style, with the 4-0 demolition job of Newcastle a highlight. With Norwich next in line to visit, these two home fixtures are crucial.

In any case, the injection of positivity has not jut come from reaching the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time in the club’s history, but the manner in which it was achieved. I cannot remember a team so dominant at Goodison Park in the past decade — and this is certainly the strongest Everton team in that time. That Latics achieved it with a mixed lineup and attacking formation was all the more remarkable. It also makes the guess-work quite tricky for a potential lineup against Newcastle this weekend.

One unfortunate loss is that of Callum McManaman — a driving force in Wigan’s cup run — to an ankle injury. While he has not been starting in the league, he would have made a solid case to do so this weekend — particularly if Martinez continues with his more traditional back four and wingers, as opposed to his previously preferred wingback system. The switch has resulted in improved attacking play and offered much-needed unpredictability against opponents who had figured out that they key to stopping Wigan was to stop their wing-backs. It has also surprisingly improved the defensive record with two clean sheets out of four, although this may have more to do with the fitness levels of the personnel available now versus earlier in the season. Given the performances of Antolin Alcaraz and Paul Scharner against Everton, it is hard to foresee a return for captain Gary Caldwell this weekend.

If Martinez were to preserve the Everton back four, the only difference to the defence would be the return of Ali Al-Habsi. Up front, Franco Di Santo will probably join Arouna Kone, with Shaun Maloney taking McManaman’s place on the right wing. It’s anyone’s guess whether Jordi Gomez, excellent against Everton in a central midfield role, will retain his place or lose out to James McArthur.

Meanwhile, Newcastle are “fresh” from a 1-0 victory over Guus Hiddink and Samuel Eto’o’s Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala. The hope, of course, is that they will not be so fresh. Stand-in captain and Yohan Cabaye limped off in the first half of match on Thursday and will surely be a doubt. Hatem Ben Arfa has also been out with a hamstring injury. Both are quality players and important for the cause, but Newcastle nonetheless have the look of a refreshed side, reinvigorated by January signings and recent improvement.

Crucial to Wigan’s chances is striking the first blow. The team has a dangerous tendency to implode upon conceding, but has looked increasingly deadly on the break and likely to increase a lead when striking first. A patient first half approach would be wise, with a second half push if things remain cagey. A win would do wonders for the Wigan survival cause, but this is likely to be the trickier of the back-to-back home fixtures. Four points from them should be considered a success.

Macclesfield vs. Wigan Athletic: Morale boost needed from young guns

2013-henriquez

While it is likely the XI to face Macclesfield will be comprised largely by fringe players, the need for an injection of belief and positivity is as great as it has been since this time last year.

Many supporters were rightly optimistic going into the season, but a myriad of circumstances has conspired to see Latics slump into the all-too familiar bottom three this January. The common thread has been poor defending — no surprise given the unprecedented number of injuries to senior defenders in recent times. If any of the senior players start tomorrow, they are likely to be defenders, and a clean sheet should be a big priority.

Elsewhere, Angelo Henriquez will likely feature following his debut league goal against Sunderland last weekend. Mauro Boselli has a very good cup record and should partner him, although Callum McManaman will be pushing them for a starting berth. David Jones, Fraser Fyvie and Roger Espinoza will be favourites in midfield — the latter, so energetic against Sunderland, will benefit from the minutes as he adapts to Roberto Martinez’s tactical setup.

New loan signing Joel Robles is also likely to make an appearance. Of the club’s loan signings, he looks the most likely to potentially sign on full-time if his time loan stint is a success. The Spaniard immediately endeared himself to the Wigan faithful with a video in which he expressed his delight at the move. Latics’ supporters responded in kind with a barrage of welcoming tweets and a Welcome to Wigan YouTube video that you can see here. Big potential, by the looks of it.

The optimists among us will be hoping for the reappearance of Antolin Alcaraz — whose importance can only be measured by the defensive struggles his teammates have endured without him. His injury in the previous season also coincided with the team’s long losing run, while his return to form alongside Gary Caldwell and Maynor Figueroa was the foundation of their resurgence. Ryo Miyaichi, also injured for several months, would be a welcome sight as well.

Meanwhile, the transfer window rumours continue. Sources are rarely reliable at this time of year, but the most exciting possibility is certainly Aidan McGeady of Spartak Moscow. The Russian club has apparently rejected a loan, instead asking for something in the region of 5 million pounds. He would certainly add that little bit of pace and trickery that has been lacking. As excellent as he has been, Shaun Maloney can’t do it all.

More pressing is the need for a defender, with Craig Dawson, Danny Simpson, John Stones, Sebastian Coates and Ronald Zubar getting mentions in the papers. While none of them are established, experienced centre-backs, they all sound useful in their own ways — if a right back like Simpson, Stones or Zubar were to come in, it would allow Emmerson Boyce to drop into that centre-back role more permanently. It would also signal the end of the road for Ronnie Stam, whose defending continues to let him, and Emmerson Boyce who has to cover for him, down.

It is no coincidence that Latics have been historically poor in January. Not only does the congested festive period drain the thinner squads in the league, the transfer window is a huge distraction for players at a selling club. Ironically, the team’s poor results of late have helped keep the spotlight away from their major talents, so no one is likely to leave. Shaun Maloney, the team’s best performer, just signed a new contract and Martinez will be hoping others follow suit.