It would appear that Wigan Athletic are only capable of winning 3-0 away from home at the moment, which is fine by me. Saturday’s win at the Madjeski to me is the rallying cry from the Latics for yet another survival run in. So belt up guys, you know the drill.
Last season, with Latics seemingly marooned with a mere 22 points from 29 games, a trip to Anfield wasn’t what the doctor ordered. Although Liverpool weren’t the all conquering footballing giant of yesteryear (and still aren’t), a venue Wigan had never won at before probably wasn’t the place where Wigan thought the revival would come from. Yet the 2-1 victory kick started the season and set the ball rolling for what was yet another unbelievable story, and probably the best so far.
Forgive me if you think I’m getting carried away, but I think the win at Reading could play a similar role this time round.
Let me explain. Firstly, although Roberto wouldn’t have admitted it beforehand, this game was pretty much a must win affair. If we’d surrendered three points to a main relegation rival on Saturday, we’d be at a serious disadvantage right now. I wouldn’t have wrote us off, but I wouldn’t have been optimistic either. I think that completing the double over Reading and providing such a confident and accomplished display away from home in a high pressure game will give the players the confidence to really push on now.
You may think that maybe I’m being naive in suggesting we’ll experience a run of performances verging on the miraculous just as we did last season, but I don’t think it needs to be as heroic as last season. Of course, a big improvement in performances and results needs to occur but it’s nothing that is unreasonable to expect.
Secondly, as a club, we’re used to these scenarios and over the years have always played our best stuff when we’ve been under pressure. Furthermore, at the end of the season, the teams at each end of the table (especially the bottom) seem to up their game by uncanny amounts, whilst those in the middle go off on their holidays a few months early. This may be a generalisation, but it generally rings true. The teams that perform best in the final third of the season are those who are most determined to win, those that have nothing to play for seem to tail off and those who are really desperate for results will get them if they show more hunger and desire than the teams they’re facing. How else can you explain our victories against Man United, Arsenal and Newcastle last season? I’m fairly sure these teams became complacent against us and we took full advantage because we were that desperate for the points.
Looking at our remaining fixtures, we have several mid table teams to play. By the time we play Norwich, Swansea, West Ham and West Brom, it’s probable that they’ll have little to play for, besides the potential hindrance of Europa League qualification. We saw Stoke put in a weak performance against us last season when they had little to play for and that could be the case against the aforementioned teams again this season. We experienced this ourselves in 2009 when Bruce’s team fell from an impressive 7th to a disappointing 11th following a collapse after reaching 40 points in March. This could be used to formulate an argument in favour of a relegation scrap every season as opposed to a mid table bore, but that’s a completely different issue.
Also in our remaining eleven games, we have fixtures against teams around us whose need to win is similar to ours. Like I said previously, the results of these games will be decided by who wants it more and who can keep a cool head in the high pressure scenario. Pavel Pogrebnyak clearly didn’t on Saturday as he was sent off for a dangerous tackle on Figueroa, and such rash decisions can lead to crucial points being lost. The games against QPR and Aston Villa fall into this category. I can’t help but think that six points from those games will almost guarantee safety, presuming we don’t collapse completely in all of the other fixtures. Winning them both is much easier said than done of course though.
Then we have what I call, the bonus games. Anything we get from these fixtures is an unexpected plus and a real confidence boost. They say the pessimist is never disappointed, and in this case, I’d have to agree. If we expect to lose away at Man City but end up scraping a point, then that must be considered a very valuable point (or as Martinez would say a ‘positive result), one which most of those around us probably haven’t taken from the Etihad. After all, the nine points we gained in such games last season against Liverpool, Man Utd and Arsenal proved pivotal in the final standings, don’t be surprised if a similar result crops up this season.
I don’t what this to sound clichéd, but every run in is unique and really special. Although each of our Premier League campaigns might seem the same to the untrained eye, culminating in the same successful outcome, each have been different to us Wigan fans. 2006/07 was a final day winner-takes-all nerve shredding battle; 2007/08 was a turn around derived from the ‘new manager’ factor; whilst 2009/10 was when a returning hero and three giant killings proved crucial as Martinez brought a new style of play to the club.
The following season was the year of N’Zogbia, where two wins from two cup finals in May secured survival; and need I remind you of last season’s heroics? As for the two unmentioned seasons, we even flirted with Europe for periods of the 2005/06 (possibly the most special season?) and 2008/09. Let’s make sure that the remainder of this season is as special as the seven that have preceded it, because when we do eventually go down, we’d do anything to be back here, enjoying the pain of the relegation run in once more.
I’ll end on a quirky occurrence of the last few seasons (coincidence? You decide.) In each of the last three seasons, the Premier League team whose last away game was against Wigan have ended up being relegated. It was Wolves last season, West Ham the year before and Hull City in 2010. Who has the unenviable final away day fright fixture this season? Aston Villa.