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Friday, 10 September 2010

Wigan-a Stay Up

When you’ve conceded 10 goals in your first two games of the season, the immediate solution that almost certainly doesn’t spring to mind is, ‘let’s go and sign an attacking midfielder and a striker’. Not, that is, unless you’re Roberto Martinez.

As the face-meltingly exciting Transfer Deadline Day™ drew to a close, Wigan were fairly busy. Messrs Martinez and Whelan picked up Franco di Santo from Chelsea and Tom Cleverley on loan from Manchester United. No £13 million powerhouse strikers for Martinez, just hunger and youthful exuberance and certainly in di Santo’s case, signed on a three-year deal, a career to develop.

With a new centre-back in the Paraguayan Antolin Alcaraz and having signed Steve Gohouri on a permanent deal in time for the start of the season, perhaps Martinez feels his work on the defence, with the Caldwell brothers in reserve, is done for the season. If you’re familiar with Caldwellian lapses in concentration though, or familiar in fact with the 10 goals Wigan have conceded this season with Alcaraz and Gohouri at the back, it appears Martinez has been particularly brave. Or stupid. Of course, we don’t know if Alcaraz will turn out to be a shiny red apple or a horrible red onion, but much depends on him settling quickly. If you ask Alan Hansen, who seemed to delight in picking over the bones of the Latics’ early season woes, I think he’d pick the latter.

What I’m getting at is that Martinez appears, to the outsider, to be ‘doing a Mowbray’. His footballing principles, so well-executed at Swansea, are admirable and against Chelsea in particular (in the first half) Wigan looked capable of moving the ball around very nicely indeed. He acquires players of significant potential – not only Cleverley, who I fully expected to be making an impact at United this year, but also Victor Moses and former Hamilton midfielders McCarthy and McArthur (yes, I thought they were the same player as well). Good players, all, but are they up to the rigours of a Premier League campaign? It could make or break their careers. It will make or break Wigan alright.

Wigan welcome Sunderland to the north-west on Saturday in what will be a fair old clash of styles. Though both share excellent results from their last matches (Wigan triumphing at Spurs and the Black Cats seeing off City), the visitors’ shoddy away record and the host’s abysmal home form so far this season could make it difficult for either to find a win.

This is a really important game for Wigan, but this ‘woeful form’ and ‘crisis’ I keep hearing about seems a little overblown. It’s probably where they expected to be after three games, having seen the fixture list. Did anyone really expect them to get more than one win from their opening three fixtures (Blackpool (h), Chelsea (h) and Spurs (a))? Well then. Martinez has been working hard to get the shock of Blackpool’s opening day win out of Wigan’s system. Now that it is – with a morale-boosting victory at Europe-weary Tottenham to boot – a first home victory would be very welcome.

Returning to the line-up should be Charles N’Zogbia, whose retention in slightly strange circumstances will also benefit the club, as long as the Frenchman can channel his talents into significant performances and not into continually trying to leave. With all Martinez’s personnel in fact, consistency is going to be the key. Another new signing, Ronnie Stam looks like he could provide plenty and despite being only 26, he is one of the older squad members.

Martinez’s squad, therefore, is brimming with youthful potential. What will become clearer on Saturday is whether, in a game they should really be winning if they are to stay in the Premier League this year, is whether the potential can be filled by exposure to this division. History suggests otherwise, but I’d love to see Martinez’s style vindicated.

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