The FA Cup run has been a fantastic journey and a great bonus for the club, but it’s a possibility it could act as a disguise -or even an excuse- for league failure. If Wigan go down, the season will be regarded a failure irrespective of any Cup exploits or European qualification.
At the start of every season when Dave and Roberto sit down and discuss the targets for the season, the number one priority must always be survival. Although falling into the Championship wouldn’t be catastrophic, it’s still a brilliant league that’s highly competitive; relegation would represent failure and I don’t want to see my club fail. It could also have significant implications on the future of the club. Due to the size of the club and the unpredictability of the Championship, an immediate, or even a relatively quick, return is far from guaranteed. The future of Mr Martinez and several key players would also be questionable.
Furthermore, the extra European games next season will add to an already heavy Championship schedule, that can only be detrimental. It is therefore paramount that the club stays in the Premier League if we are to progress. Yes, I am very much on the survival side of the stay up vs FA Cup win debate.
The last seven days have summed up the unpredictability of being a Wigan fan. Last week we were revelling in the delights of a deserved Wembley win, this week we’re bemoaning our defence’s performance and drastic league position after a defeat at West Ham.
Martinez has acknowledged the fact that the FA Cup run can’t be used to hide relegation if it occurs, but whether the players agree with this is a different matter. The prospect of the FA Cup Final against Manchester City could work in two ways: It could provide momentum whilst motivating the players to impress and earn a place in the line-up for Wembley; or conversely it could act as a distraction and encouragement not to put 100% in due to fear of injury. Which sequence of events is more likely is open to debate.
The match against West Ham appeared to be inconclusive as to how the final has affected the players.
I remember in 2007 when we faced West Ham at a similar time in the season and they rolled us over, 3-0. Wigan were a team derived of morale and belief, and looked like a relegated team. Encouragingly, that wasn’t the case on Saturday, despite the equally damaging scoreline.
For large periods of the game, Wigan dominated. The fact West Ham held Man Utd to a 2-2 draw in midweek goes to show how much of an achievement that was. Indeed, Allardyce himself acknowledged Wigan’s confident performance and judged the game as harder than the United fixture. Playing better than Man Utd isn’t generally a feature of most relegation candidates.
Unlike the QPR game, Wigan looked confident and actually made use of their possession, creating chances at will. Maloney and McManaman both went close in the first half; whilst Boyce, Maloney and McArthur all had openings in the second. The most alarming feature of our attacking play was the inability to actually finish these chances off, despite carving West Ham open on several occasions.
On the flip side, the ease of which West Ham were presented with two decisive goals was hard to accept. I was slightly bemused by Gary Caldwell’s return to the starting eleven. He looked quite rusty, and this was particularly evident for the second goal when he allowed Nolan to turn and shoot without putting a sufficient challenge in, when survival is on the line that’s really not acceptable.
The only obvious threats from West Ham were from set pieces and crosses, if Wigan had dealt with those two types of attacks then I couldn’t have conceivably seen West Ham scoring. Yet Matt Jarvis was allowed to put a low cross into the box which amazingly dribbled all the way into the net; and Kevin Nolan was allowed to take a second ball from an Andy Carroll flick on. To fail to deal with a team’s most obvious routes to goal is hard to accept, especially after the preparation the team must have made for them.
To compound the misery, results elsewhere weren’t exactly helpful. Stoke won at QPR, Sunderland beat Everton and Norwich beat Reading. Those results leave Wigan still three points adrift whilst Aston Villa have to travel to Old Trafford tomorrow night. For me, little has changed, we are still three points off 17th, and 17th place is all we need to achieve.
With five games to go we are far from doomed, despite what some people may want to persuade you. Of all the teams down there, we have the most experience of getting out of such situations and this gives us an advantage going into the final straight.
Although our run in may look like one of the toughest, as we’ve seen in the past, results often don’t go as expected. We are capable of shocking teams and have done it on regular occasions, especially when the pressure to do so has really been on.
We managed to beat Spurs away this season, which proves that these players are capable of beating them. We beat Arsenal away last season when the heat was really on. The two games in between those are against mid table clubs with little to play for, the ideal opposition in my opinion. The final game against Aston Villa could be a one off play off for survival. That is our real cup final, win that and we’ll be safe and our priority will have been achieved again, I’m sure of that.
If we were coming into these five huge games low on confidence and on the back of heavy defeats, then I would be worried, but we’re not. We look confident in possession and are creating chances, we even pushed the champions all the way in midweek. That must be held as a massive positive, and I think the now-or-never mentality the club has demonstrated will be installed into every player over the next few games. The players need to realise that the pinnacle of our season is not the Wembley final, but the DW final against Villa on 19th May.
For those who are doubting us. Has history taught you nothing?