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This town is a rugby town. The red and white horizontal stripes of the Warriors have always been the biggest team in the Greater Manchester town of Wigan, dominating the Rugby Super League with names such as Martin Offiah, Jason Robinson and Andy Farrell standing tall as the sons of Wigan. The blue and white vertical stripes, those that share the DW Stadium with their rugby league brothers, are represented as the lesser sibling of the Warriors in a town that is synonmous pie eating and harsh North Western living conditions.
Wigan Athletic, however, have shared the spotlight with their time in the Premier League tandemed with a slight drop in the Warriors’ rugby league success behind Super League rivals Leeds Rhinos and St. Helens. Now, the Latics stand on the brink of a plummet to the Championship and with manager Roberto Martinez and his boys fighting to try and retain their Premier League identity.
In 1995, the Latics were languishing in the final tier of the Football League, then named the Third Division. Local millionaire and former Blackburn Rovers and Crewe Alexandra footballer Dave Whelan paid peanuts to purchase the club and vowed to have them in the Premier League in the next ten years.
The vow was ridiculed by the press and public, but the owner of DW Sports and Fitness had the last laugh by pushing his side through the divisions and obtaining Premier League status. Whelan’s investment in the club and the stadium seemed to be worthwhile when the newly promoted side finished in 10th place in their first season, spearheaded by former manager Paul Jewell and players such as Jimmy Bullard, Pascal Chimbonda and Jason Roberts.
After the heady heights of that first year, the buyers came calling for Wigan’s top players and they were duly sold to various clubs around the Premier League with top players Bullard and Chimbonda going to Fulham and Tottenham respectively. The breakage of that successful squad resulted in detrimental effects for the Latics and since then, they have been scrapping in a dogfight to stay in the Premier League.
They have survived narrowly in all the seasons leading up to this year and find themselves in the uncompromising position of 19th having to travel to Stoke City, one of the best home sides in the Premier League this season, who have won 10 games at the Britannia this season and only lost 4 times. Wigan manager Roberto Martinez, one of the ‘Three Amigos‘ along with Isidrio Diaz and Jesus Seba that chairman Dave Whelan brought in back in 1995, has the belief that his players can get the job done away at Stoke and become a force to reckon with in the Premier League.
Martinez said: ‘ If we can get the points to stay up, I am convinced we can reach another level next season and be the sort of team that doesn’t have to worry about relegation every year. We are very close to being a good side.’
The Spaniard is correct. His side certainly do have the talent; it is just whether they are wiling to showcase what they have. Winger Charles N’Zogbia comes into the Stoke game off the back of two great goals against West Ham last week, goals that sent the Hammers down, but he is often described as being unmanageable, despite the abundance of talent and finesse he holds.
The future also seems to be bright at the DW Stadium with the youth talents of midfielder James McCarthy, star striker Hugo Rodallega and loanee Tom Cleverley, from Manchester United, being the stand out players for the Latics and with manager Martinez’s policy to play a free-flowing passing game and concentrate on exciting football, the neutral will be praying that Wigan can survive.
However, Wigan have shown severe frailties defensively both this season and previous Premier League seasons that they have been down at the bottom of the league. The Latics have kept 6 clean sheets in the League this season and have conceded 61 goals. With the free-flowing forward football Martinez instils in his side, they need a sturdy defence to deal with any counter-attacks Wigan fall foul to. Unfortunately, their backline do not possess the capabilities to deal with Premier League attacking play and Wigan have suffered.
Left back Maynor Figueroa is famous for his audacious strike at the Britannia Stadium last season, where he scored from his own half, but when it comes to defending, Figueroa lacks the strength to deal with the tricky wingers English top-flight football has to offer. Emmerson Boyce’s central defensive skills leave much to be desired and captain Gary Caldwell is the only Wigan defender who can actually stop attackers getting easy goals at the DW.
Their task was always made difficult after conceding 10 goals in their first two games this season, a 4-0 thumping at home to Blackpool and an even bigger beating at home to Chelsea, losing 6-0 to the three time Premier League champions.
Wigan have it all to do. Even if Wigan get three points away in the Potteries, they still are not guaranteed survival. The Latics are totally dependent on the results of other sides. The confidence will be high in the Wigan dressing room, especially after the last-gasp victory which condemned West Ham to the Championship, so there is no reason why Martinez’s boys can’t go and keep Dave Whelan’s dream of establishing his hometown football club as a solid Premiership side for years to come.