Wigan Athletic season review – Survival experts peak at the right time

Wigan Athletic: 15th

FA Cup:– 3rd Round

League Cup: 2nd Round

The experts’ pre-season dismissals of Wigan Athletic and eventual climb-downs are becoming somewhat familiar. Having finished the 2010-11 season by sneaking out of the Premier League drop zone on the last day thanks to Hugo Rodallega’s goal at Stoke, the Latics were amongst the bookmakers’ favourites to struggle again.

The club’s transfer activity did little to suggest otherwise. Goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi made his loan move from Bolton permanent while Jean Beausejour, fresh from relegation with Birmingham, was also snapped up. The serial underdogs had managed to hold onto the majority of the squad which kept them up the previous season. Dynamic winger Charles N’Zogbia departed for Aston Villa but the £9.5m the club landed for him funded the aforementioned recruitment.

The Latics started the season by immediately facing expected relegation rivals Norwich, Swansea and Queen’s Park Rangers. Having collected five points from those three games, it was a solid start, indeed their best in top-flight history.

But, by mid-November, the victory over QPR at the DW Stadium was still their only win to date and, having also been dumped out of the League Cup by Championship dwellers Crystal Palace, pressure was mounting on manager Roberto Martinez.

Nevertheless Wigan chairman Dave Whelan is known for his patience and refused to pull the trigger on Martinez – even in early November after losing 3-1 at fellow strugglers Wolves, who ended their own lengthy winless run in the process.

Whelan’s tolerance looked to be justified when Martinez’s men picked up their first point since August in a draw against Blackburn and then an impressive last-gasp away win at Sunderland, thanks to Franco Di Santo’s slotted finish.

But December turned out to be a mixed month for the Latics and, all-in-all, it seemed the only people tipping Wigan to stay up at Christmas were Wigan themselves. A crushing home loss to Sunderland and a humiliating FA Cup defeat to Swindon Town greeted them into 2012 as the writing looked to be on the wall for the Lancashire side.

However the then-bottom club won at Bolton to lift themselves to within just a point of their geographical rivals and give themselves a faint sniff of redemption – a hope which looked to have been extinguished once and for all after Swansea won 2-0 at the DW Stadium. That defeat caused Whelan to initiate showdown talks with Martinez, whose team had won just one of their previous 12 matches.

Again Whelan kept faith and, amazingly, the Swansea humbling represented a turnaround in Wigan’s fortunes. Consecutive draws were churned out before Gary Caldwell’s cool finish secured an unlikely victory against Liverpool – and lifted them to within one point of 17th place.

The performances which followed showcased a completely different outfit to that which had been painfully ineffective for the majority of the season. Caldwell was at the heart of a concrete defence; Victor Moses was at his dazzling best. A hard-fought win against Manchester United derailed their title bid before an amazing victory at Arsenal had the neutrals almost drooling with appreciation.

By the time the season’s darlings, Newcastle, had been comfortably dispatched, Wigan were almost safe. A 1-0 win over doomed Blackburn Rovers rubber-stamped another season in the top division. Everyone should have read the script by now – write off Wigan at your peril.

Manager – Roberto Martinez: Had the form between September and November been repeated at any other Premier League club, Martinez would have struggled to remain in the hot seat. But his footballing philosophy was justified in the end. His real challenge lies ahead – cementing Wigan as an undisputed top division mainstay by impressing for more than a few months each season.

Player of the season – Ali Al-Habsi: There are strong cases to be made for Gary Caldwell and perhaps Victor Moses but the Omani international was sensational between the posts for the second season running. Former employers and eventually relegated Bolton Wanderers could have done with his safe pair of hands.

Turning point: Leaving Anfield with all three points in late March was not expected by anyone, despite Liverpool’s dismal home form. That result sparked a run of six wins from eight which eased Martinez’s men away from the Premier League trapdoor and towards the magic 40-point total touted for survival.

Check out the Euro 2012 odds and get some tips on the European Championships betting.

Related posts

Leave a Comment