Arouna Koné's Goals Are Crucial to Wigan Athletic's EPL Survival
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The Black Cats' defeat cost Martin O'Neil his job, Sunderland are in free-fall, and a new man in charge may not necessarily be what they need to stop the rot.
Latics next face Queens Park Rangers in the league before an away trip to reigning champions Manchester City, knowing that a win at Loftus Road would all but eliminate Harry Redknapp's team from the equation.
Keeping Ivory Coast star Koné fit until the end of the season will be crucial, as his goals provide something that the teams around them do not have at the moment.
Koné scored his sixth goal in as many games and in his last two appearances, he has proven to be the match winner with his late finishes that have turned two points into six.
Manager Roberto Martinez will want to keep his star striker wrapped in cotton wool to make sure that he adds to his 10 EPL goals for the latter stages.
Sunderland have lost talisman Steven Fletcher for the rest of the season and having scored 11 in the EPL before injury, his goals will be sadly missed, leaving just Danny Graham as their main striker.
Stoke, who are currently on 34 points but have played a game more than Latics, are in an even worse situation in front of goal, having scored only three times in their last six fixtures.
The Potters' next five fixtures could make or break their season. They face Aston Villa, Norwich, QPR and Sunderland, all of whom are right in the thick of the relegation dogfight and if that weren't already enough concern for Stoke fans, they also welcome Sir Alex Ferguson's unstoppable force.
This week has seen the table take a massive twist, and what was looking like a two- or three-horse race has now become a battle royale with six or seven teams all jostling for position.
The small club from Wigan could once again repeat the great escape and although they have tough fixtures against the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham, just three wins out of their remaining eight could be enough to stay up.
Wigan are looking the best bet to avoid the drop purely based on the attacking threat they provide. Although they are inconsistent at times, they will always create problems for defenses.
As mentioned, Koné's goals are a huge plus and they now have Jordi Gomez coming into form as well as speed from the wing in Callum McManaman, who fortunately for Wigan avoided a ban after his controversial challenge on Newcastle United's Massadio Haidara.
Martinez highlighted that he was concerned for McManaman straight away after that incident but feels he can handle anything.
"He's had a very good development at the club. He's been out on loan and I think he's had enough experiences to know how to cope with anything the Premier League is going to throw at him," he told BBC Sport.
Showing goal-scoring form in the FA Cup has given his manager no choice but to include him in the EPL run-in. With his attacking ability, combined with Shaun Maloney, who is capable of popping up with a goal, Latics are not wholly relying on Koné.
Out of the bottom eight, only Newcastle (41 goals) have scored more goals than Wigan (36 goals) and this statistic alone could be the most important factor if Latics are to defy the odds yet again.
Another thing going for Latics is that they arguably have their best-ever squad during their time as a top-flight club with strength-in-depth and competition for places driving their players to perform well in every match.
Will Latics beat QPR next week?
Martinez told Wigan Evening Post that “Every position is for grabs."
“That’s why I feel the excitement around the place is so different, because everyone knows they absolutely have to be at their best. And at this stage of the season, the rewards are huge.
“Over the next seven weeks there will be moments that will be unique in a player’s career.”
A trip down to Loftus Road on April 7 is Latics' next stepping stone to survival and this time next week could see them in an even healthier position.
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