Tactics Talk: Could N’Zogbia’s late charge save Wigan?
As the Premier League season reaches its climax this weekend, the main drama is undoubtedly at the foot of the table. With West Ham United’s relegation confirmed with defeat to fellow strugglers, Wigan Athletic, five sides find themselves competing for survival with just a single game left to play.
Wigan’s season culminates in a trip to the Britannia Stadium, to face a Stoke City side, off the back of their FA Cup Final defeat to Manchester City, facing City again midweek before the visit of the Latics. With Wigan’s dramatic 3-2 victory condemning West Ham to the Championship, but still in the bottom three themselves, Wigan will undoubtedly be the side with the most to play for. The victory over West Ham, from two goals down, came courtesy of Conor Sammon’s first Wigan goal in between two strikes from Charles N’Zogbia, his seventh and eighth strikes of the season, leapfrogging Hugo Rodallega to become his side’s top scorer this season. It is this late surge in form which could ultimately see Wigan complete a dramatic escape.
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On a frantic January transfer-deadline day, as the dust settled on the headline-grabbing deals of the day, with Fernando Torres leaving for Chelsea, replaced at Liverpool by Newcastle’s Andy Carroll, Newcastle sought to continue the chain, reportedly launching an 11th hour bid to bring N’Zogbia back to St James’ Park, a bid rejected by Wigan owner, Dave Whelan. While Wigan’s season has been a difficult one as relegation candidates from the outset, with N’Zogbia staying at the DW Stadium, Whelan has given his side the strongest possible chance of survival, with the French midfielder finishing the West Ham game with four goals in his last five matches. While the results since the turn of the year have still not seen Wigan steer clear of the relegation zone, they still find themselves with a chance of survival, with N’Zogbia, who also became a France international this season, finding a run of form at a crucial time, with his goals in 1-1 draws at home to Everton and away at Aston Villa, as well as his brace at Upton Park, earning his side five points in their last three games, with one match still to play.
With Wolverhampton Wanderers hosting Blackburn Rovers in an almost-literal relegation six-pointer, Birmingham City facing a daunting trip to Europa League-chasing Tottenham and Blackpool visit newly-crowned champions, Manchester United, some would argue Wigan’s trip to Stoke would be one of the least daunting fixtures of the bottom sides, with Stoke’s season culminating in last weekend’s FA Cup Final, and a side plagued by injury to key players, with Robert Huth and Matthew Etherington subjected rushed back from injury in time for the Wembley showpiece, as well as an ankle problem suffered by Jermaine Pennant against City, Wigan will be optimistic about their final assignment, compared to that of their rivals.
At face value, it would seem unlikely that of the five teams fighting for survival this weekend, the side currently lowest-placed would have a serious chance of survival. However, ahead of their final fixture, with key players, led by N’Zogbia, finding their form, Wigan find themselves with a realistic chance of preserving their Premier League status.