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This is the first time in three seasons in which Wigan Athletic have not been bottom of the table come March. An attractive side with a good manager, Wigan have long been stifled by financial constraints in the league. Under Martinez, their league position has gotten progressively worse (in Steve Bruce’s final season, Wigan finished 11th, and Martinez’s highest league finish was 15th the following season), but this is due in no small part to Wigan’s development into a selling club. The fans have seen Antonio Valencia, Charles N’Zogbia, Hugo Rodallega, Leighton Baines and Emile Heskey all leave for greener pastures in recent years, with players like Franco Di Santo and Jean Beausejour coming in in their stead, although not to the same effect.
The next month of games is crucial for Wigan. They play Liverpool, Newcastle and Norwich, and I feel that the whole squad need to up their game to get points from any of these games. Koné and Di Santo have scored just under a third of all Wigan goals this season, but the latter needs to hit the back of the net more than he does to live up to his potential. If they are to stand a chance against Liverpool in a week’s time, their defence will need to emulate their performance against Reading, in which the Royals did not register a single shot on target. Paul Scharner put in a great performance, and the Wigan legend has to be sharp against a Liverpool side who have scored 32 of their 41 goals in the league against sides in the bottom half.
If they fail to stay above the top three following the next month of matches, we could be in for a great finale to the relegation battle. All the teams in the bottom half have to play each other, and we could be set for a fantastic game for the neutrals as Villa and Wigan face off on the final day of the season, although as a huge fan of both sides I would rather they both stayed up. With the title race well and truly over, my eyes will be fixed on the bottom of the table.
A key factor to Wigan’s Houdini-esque knack to escape recently has been Martinez’s cool head in the most stressful situations. The phrase “cool as ice” could not be better applied to any other manager in the league. I feel that it is a major advantage to his players, one which the players under Paul Lambert and Brian McDermott more than likely don’t enjoy.
“I don’t think ‘can we find three teams weaker?’ I consider Wigan a top-eight team in the league”
The above quote shows just how confident Martinez is in his Wigan project, and this is surely rubbing off on his squad. The fact he looks beyond this season to a point when Wigan are contenders for a place in Europe is a sign that Martinez firmly believes his side will remain in the Premier League for their ninth consecutive season.
It could be deemed premature, but the Spaniard has made his name in management through a series of Great Escapes, and of the teams in and around the drop zone, none can claim to have a manager so capable of bringing the best out of his players as Martinez.