Unlikely Wigan survival bid gathers pace with Newcastle triumph

Just a matter of months ago the situation for Wigan Athletic looked bleak. As the full-time whistle blew on the Latics’ 3-1 defeat against Tottenham Hotspur blew on January 31, Roberto Martinez’s side were marooned at the bottom of the Premier League, four points from safety with the knowledge that they still had to play Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle United before the end of the season. But 12 points from those four games has transformed the outlook at the DW Stadium.

Since that depressing late January evening Wigan have played 13 matches, winning six and drawing four, adding 22 points to their tally – when January ended Wigan had only 15 points to their name from the whole season to that point. Champions League hopefuls and title challengers have been dispatched with shocking precision. Witness the ruthless counter-attacking football that defeated Arsenal at their own Emirates Stadium, or the blitzkrieg that brought four goals inside 45 minutes on Saturday as Wigan damaged Newcastle’s top four ambitions. Martinez’s side are ending the season with the form of a team hoping to win the Premier League, not merely survive in it.

Newcastle went into the match propelled up the table by six consecutive wins, not having conceded a goal in their last four. Wigan shattered both of those records. Within a quarter of an hour Victor Moses, arguably the individual star of Wigan’s upsurge in form, had bagged a brace. Shaun Maloney and Franco di Santo confirmed victory before half-time. Built on the back of a rarely-seen back three, Wigan have found the balance of defensive solidity and attacking potency that had been missing prior to February. Perhaps the gravity of the situation brought out the best in Wigan’s players, forcing them to dig deeper to preserve their top-flight status, or maybe the ideas Martinez had been preaching all season finally clicked into place. Whatever the reason, the outcome is spectacular.

A run of fixtures against Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal at one point seemed too tough an ask for a relegation threatened side. But if the officiating at Stamford Bridge had been up to scratch Wigan could have been celebrating wins over four of the Premier League’s top five, rather than having to make do with the still quite satisfying record of beating three of the top four. A stutter away at Fulham aside, Wigan could not have imagined a better April.

And yet, the league table, while a far prettier picture than on the morning of February 1, does not offer full comfort to Wigan. Having played a game more than Bolton Wanderers, who sit 18th, Wigan have only a three point advantage, although QPR are level with Owen Coyle’s men but for a better goal difference and have played the same amount as Wigan. Such is the danger to Wigan of leaving their comeback so late, but Martinez’s men have at least saved their best for last.

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