Wigan Athletic are currently in their seventh season of Premier League football and at this early stage of the 2011-2012 campaign it already looks like manager Roberto Martinez is facing another uphill battle to keep the Latics in amongst the elite.
The Greater Manchester based club have enjoyed quite a climb in the past 16 years, thanks in no small part to the personal fortune of business entrepreneur and former JJB Sports owner, Dave Whelan. The Bradford-born man, 74, put his money where his mouth was and bought the club in February 1995 when Wigan were based in the old Division Three. Whelan promised to bring Premier League football to the people of the town and kept good on his vow by elevating the club through four divisions and taking them to the ‘Promised Land’ of the Premier League. Along the way, Wigan moved from their old, ramshackle stadium Springfield Park (mud-slides on the terraces by all accounts) and into the 25,000 all-seater DW Stadium in 1999.
In a town that is perhaps more renowned for its rugby (Wigan Warriors are the most successful side in British rugby league), it is all the more astounding to think that the Latics are still pitting their wits against teams such as Man Utd, Arsenal and Chelsea. Add to this, the fact that their average attendance rarely peaks over 18,000, and you start to question whether they’re a side big enough to grace the top flight.
But to make statements like that would be classic football ignorance, Wigan have earned their place in the top flight on pure merit and their story is a classic example of how a small-town club can reach the heady heights and keep its head above water.
Is, though, Wigan’s eighth season in this division a bridge too far? Manager Roberto Martinez, now in his third season at the DW Stadium has thus far guided them to 16th place in his first campaign and staved off the Big R in his second with a final day victory at Stoke City. Along the way he has kept to his principles and tried to make his sides play exciting, attractive football. His honesty and infectious nature also enhances the club’s credentials in the public image.
It is now reaching the end of October, though, and Wigan find themselves in a perilous position – 19th place in the league and struggling to find goals. They’ve lost six consecutive games and have only scored three in that process. Hugo Rodallega – the man who kept them up with his header at the Britannia last season – has failed to find the net this term and Franco Di Santo, despite scoring two early season crackers against QPR, has failed to build on his early season promise.
They have talent in midfield with the pacey Victor Moses and the industrious David Jones – signed on a free from Wolves in the summer. Mohamed Diame is also a handy player, proving his worth with a cracking strike against Bolton a couple of weeks ago. The supply line to the forwards is thin at the moment, though, and Wigan need goals quickly to turn their season around.
Martinez, a well-respected man at the club after a six-year stint as a player between 1995 and 2001, will have his work cut out in the January transfer window. It’s clear that he needs to bolster his frontline but without lavish riches at his disposal he may need to be astute and seek raw talent from the Championship.
The Latics’ next three games are against teams in the bottom six – Fulham, Wolves and Blackburn. If they are to harbour any realistic hopes of staving off relegation for another year, then three wins is a must or Wigan could face the dreaded trap door and Roberto Martinez will be off to pastures new before the spring grass has begun to grow.
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