Despite signs that Roberto Martinez's passing game is starting to bear fruit, especially in the reserves and youth teams, it's been a slog for Wigan Athletic. So what happens if they stay up, and what awaits if they go down?
What it would mean to you to stay up or go down?
I don’t see going down as the end of the world, merely the beginning of a new chapter in the club. However, despite the extortionate ticket pricing, shocking refereeing and surfeit of overpaid, diving nancy boys (ours and theirs), clearly the Premier League is where it’s at and staying up would mean absolutely everything to most Wigan Athletic fans.
Not only would it vindicate Roberto Martinez’s footballing philosophy, but it would also stick two fingers up to all those who seem to think that Premier league status should be defined by crowd size and that because we are a small town team in a league full of big cities that we don’t belong. And let’s not forget our lovable neighbours, the rugby fans who have been planning their ‘Latics relegation parties’ for six years – these are Wiganers who follow football yet somehow hate their home town football team. I’ve never quite understood their mentality but they are a particularly spiteful bunch of individuals.
How it's been for you watching the team scrape through the season?
It’s been mediocre but steadily improving. Aside from a win against Tottenham in August, we haven’t experienced the highs of beating any big clubs but then we haven’t been drubbed as much either. However, the last couple of months, we have seen a real improvement and now performances are actually starting to yield results. I just hope it’s not too little too late.
On the field, there has been a lot of playing out draws and failing to kill games off when we’ve taken the lead.
Why are you in this situation? What have been the problems?
We always are in this situation: smallest town in the Premier league, lowest gates bar Blackpool, a chairman who is no longer as wealthy as most club owners (not that he’d ever let on), pressure to reduce the wage bill. The financial gap between us and those in the middle of the table let alone those at the top is huge and we just can’t compete. On the field, there has been a lot of playing out draws and failing to kill games off when we’ve taken the lead. If we’d have taken all three points in two or three of those games we’d have been home and dry weeks ago. Some silly defensive lapses and appalling refereeing decisions have cost us as well.
What have been the shining lights?
The performances of on loan keeper Ali Al Habsi have always been amazing and he won the player of the year award this week. He has performed heroics and although Chris Kirkland has been a great keeper for us, if Ali had been in the nets for the first two games of the season which we lost 0-4 and 0-6 then again, we might not have been in this mess. Sign him up Bob.
And then there’s Charlie or to give him his full name, The Mercurial Charles N’Zogbia who has been amazing again this season, he’s not the sort of winger who puts tons of crosses over, he’s more in the Lionel Messi mould – no don’t laugh – in that he just seems to make beating a man look so incredibly easy. You can give him the ball and he’ll dribble three times around the car park and then slot one in the corner. I’ve seen fans of Liverpool, who have been linked with him, call him average. I’d say he’s a match winner against any opposition and if/when he goes in the summer we should get £20m for him. We’ll probably get around £5m plus 50p a month for the next two years.
Before last weekend, particularly about 3pm on Saturday, I was convinced we were doomed
Do you think you'll stay up or go down?
Before last weekend, particularly about 3pm on Saturday after the results had come in, I was convinced we were doomed but if we play like we did in the second half against West Ham then we’ve a good chance of staying up. We’re all getting a bit too giddy after that game last week though, most of us are convinced that if we keep the faith then we’ll stay up and I hope we’re not destined for a big come down.
Thoughts on the forthcoming match? How do you rate the opposition?
Stoke are Stoke. I concur with those who say there are worse places to go when you need to get a result than Stoke, say Old Trafford or even White Hart Lane but not many away teams get a result at the Britannia, they’re a tough team with a tough home crowd behind them and a terrific home record. They’re not the sort of team who put their feet up now they’re safe either and probably the worst thing to happen for us was for them to get beat 3-0 midweek as Pulis will have been feeding them raw meat since Tuesday. I’m not one to criticise their style as it gets results. I’ve got nothing but respect for them, they’re like the Bash Street Kids of the Premier League, going around upsetting much bigger and better clubs and Tony Pulis is the one with the cap, was it Danny? Our only hope is that they’ve still got injury problems and we can put in a sterling defensive performance and use our little nippy fellas to get in behind them.
How has this season compared to previous seasons?
Much the same since we landed in the Greed League, some years we get the points early and put our feet up, other seasons we wait right until the last day of the season before getting them. It’s sh**e making up the numbers and battling relegation, we’ve just got to get it into our heads that staying up for us is like winning a trophy and develop that siege mentality, the sort of mentality Stoke do so well in fact. Treat every point like a prize and hope that if we can stay in the Premier league, one year we can go on a really decent run in the league and finish in the top ten or win one of the cups. Such heady ambitions eh?
For all Steve Bruce’s rhetoric about ‘shopping at Harrods now not Tescos’ when he left Wigan for Sunderland, I don’t particularly see it as much of a career advancement, more of a pay packet fattener.
Who do you think will be the three to go down?
Despite predicting that we’d go down to Sabotage Times at Christmas and being absolutely convinced we were down at half time last Sunday, I can’t bring myself to include my own team on this one so this time I’ll simply tell you what I’d like to happen. So obviously West Ham are down, although there’s still time for Sir Trevor and the FA to deduct everyone else points I suppose to save the team that won the World Cup.
We never do things the easy way, so I think/hope that we might scrape a draw and there’s a good chance both Blackpool and Birmingham could lose which would mean those two would go. I’m not wishing defeat or relegation on either of those teams, but it’s all about self preservation at this stage. Any two from five will do, as long as it’s not us.
What needs to be done next season to fix it if you're relegated or promoted?
I don’t expect any changes. I expect that if the worst happens, the entire squad will come out and say , ‘well we got the club relegated so we’ll all take a pay cut and stay here to help the club get promoted again’
Meanwhile, back in the real world, well, whatever happens I expect some big name departures, I just hope they make the right move. For all Steve Bruce’s rhetoric about ‘shopping at Harrods now not Tescos’ when he left Wigan for Sunderland, I don’t particularly see it as much of a career advancement, more of a pay packet fattener.
Martinez has got a long term plan for the club and it is already bearing fruit for the Reserves and Youth team who are playing fantastically
The blueprint is there with Antonio Valencia, who is a model example of a player who learnt his trade with us, improved his game throughout and despite a horrific injury has been a leading light for United in recent months, you won’t find a single Wiganer who doesn’t wish him well. N’Zogbia will go, maybe Rodallega and maybe Figueroa, who is well rated but would not be a massive loss save for the odd 65 yard free kick. I’d hope James McCarthy and Victor Moses might stay for another year regardless as they seem like level headed kids still learning their trade both with the potential to go to the very top.
Either way, there will be rebuilding going on during the summer. We need a proven goalscorer and a midfield general regardless and finding one who can succeed in the Championship will be a lot easier than in the Premier League.
Is the manager to blame?
Some will say yes but many others believe no. He’s not had an open cheque book like Steve Bruce had, and he’s not had the momentum of bringing the team up through the divisions like Paul Jewell did. To judge him as a success or failure based on one result now is not seeing the bigger picture but that’s football I guess. He has got a long term plan for the club and it is already bearing fruit for the Reserves and Youth team who are playing fantastically. When his team clicks, the results are amazing, it’s just not clicked enough times this season and the margins between victory or defeat could come down to something as thin as a lick of paint as it did in 2007 at Sheffield United. For those Wigan Athletic supporters who are patient, we can all see that in years to come, he will become an amazing manager and lead us to great things and take us to heights we never dreamt possible. Then probably leave for Sunderland under acrimonious circumstances.
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