Wigan Athletic Power Rankings: 5 Biggest Reasons the Club Will Survive the Drop
This slideshow will reveal the main reasons why Wigan Athletic will defy the odds and survive yet another relegation battle and secure a ninth season in the English Premier League.
It remains a wonder that this small club regularly punches above its weight and year after year pulls off a strong run of form in the latter stages of the season when it really matters.
With a playing style that receives numerous plaudits equalled with a manager in Roberto Martinez, who has no fear to play the way he wants, Latics have every chance to beat the drop.
Ali Al Habsi
The 31-year-old shot-stopper from Oman has pulled off some fine saves this year and potentially could save some much-needed points for Latics. He is one of the most consistent goalkeepers in the league and his towering presence will be relied upon at times to bail the defence out.
The Latics boss has an uncanny way to remain positive after all games, even if his team loses. He doesn't panic and his calm approach and faith in his tactics and players will be key to another escape mission. The vital win against fellow struggling squad Reading last week showed how his team can cut open defences with their passing style and by sticking to his guns; when it all comes together, it can be very effective.
It goes without saying that goals win games, and they are never more precious when a team is perched just above the relegation zone.
For a team that traditionally doesn't score many, Latics have so far managed 33 league goals and are on course to obtain their best return since they joined the EPL and currently have outscored six other teams.
Main striker Arouna Kone, 29, has hit the back of the net eight times in the league and his double against Reading last week showed a touch of class that will be needed in the remaining 11 matches of the season.
Kone's strike partner, Franco Di Santo, is also enjoying arguably his best season in the top flight and has caused problems for defences with his direct runs. However, he does need to finish off more chances. He seems to be able to score more screamers than tap-ins at the moment and adding to his five goals will be crucial.
Home Form Is Key
Most teams would welcome having more home fixtures than away at such a crucial time of the season, but Wigan have only managed a disappointing two wins at the DW Stadium in this season's EPL.
Starting with the arrival of Liverpool later today, Roberto Martinez's men have six important home games and they urgently need to replicate their impressive away form onto home soil.
The team and supporters need to come together and with the re-introduction of "meet n' greets" between fans and players, which proved to be a big success on last season's miracle escape, a feel-good factor could inspire the players to repeat last year's heroics.
Latics boss Martinez told The Wigan Evening Post: "We were already looking forward to Saturday's game (against Liverpool), but even more so now knowing the fans will be doing something so spectacular to help us to improve the outcome of games between now and the end of the season."
Better off Than Last Season
Wigan Athletic are four points better off than they were this time last season. Hovering precariously just above the drop zone in 17th, Latics can take heart knowing they have been in this position before.
The great escape last term in which they beat the super powers of Manchester United (check out Shaun Maloney's crucial winner in the above video), Liverpool and Arsenal in the final few games showed the character of the club, and that spirit will be needed in a similar way this time.
After 27 games in the 2011/12 season, Latics were rock bottom on 20 points compared to 17th and 24 points this term. As eluded to earlier, Wigan have scored more goals and boast 10 more than at this same stage last season.
The perennial survivors continue to defy the odds and having battled it out in five of their previous seven campaigns (twice they have finished mid-table 10th in their first season, 2005/06 and 11th in 2008/09), they are set to do it all over again.
Although Martinez doesn't have that star player who can pull something out of the bag like when they had Victor Moses or Charles N'Zogbia for example, they do seem to have possibly their strongest squad and starting X1 than in any previous EPL season, and this factor may be critical.
Latics have a relatively kind fixture list remaining. They play teams in and around them and have Aston Villa on the final day, which potentially could be a straight shootout to stay up.
Apart from tricky ties against Arsenal (away) and Tottenham Hotspurs at home (who will both be pushing for the Champions League spots), Latics play a host of mid-table sides as well as "six-pointers" against Queens Park Rangers and Aston Villa.
Bottom line—QPR are maybe too far adrift to get out of the mire and Reading, like Villa, also have tough ties against both Manchester clubs as well as Liverpool and Arsenal.
Wigan can also drag others into the relegation scrap by beating the likes of West Ham and Newcastle United, so it appears they may have the edge over their main rivals.
Fit Squad to Choose from
Roberto Martinez will be buoyed by having a near full-strength squad to choose from for the last 11 EPL fixtures, and with Paraguayan defender Antolin Alcaraz now available after a lengthy layoff, the defence may sure up and leak less goals.
They also have defender Adrian Lopez nearing full fitness after he came through 90 minutes for the under-21's recently, and the Spaniard will provide extra cover for Paul Scharner and captain Gary Caldwell.
With players pushing for a starting place in almost every position, Martinez certainly has options to keep the team fresh and keep the current starters on their toes.
Time will tell if Wigan can gain a ninth season in the EPL, which, for a club that just 20 years ago was relegated to the old Division Three, would be a massive achievement.