As we enter the final days of the Premier League season, five teams are still fighting relegation to the Championship. Over the course of the next few days I’ll be profiling each of Blackpool’s rivals and explore what we can expect on Sunday. First up, it’s Wigan Athletic.
How they will line-up
Roberto Martinez’s side had to come from two goals down at half time to beat West Ham last week, and having successfully done so one would expect Martinez to change his starting line up to include those who helped turn the match around. Conor Sammon and Victor Moses entered the action at the break against the Hammers, so they may work their way into Wigan’s team at Stoke. Sammon scored his first goal in English football to even the scores at the DW Stadium and will no doubt be itching to get his second.
Then again, it was a make-or-break gamble from the Latics boss, and Martinez may not want to go out all guns blazing from the first whistle against Stoke. Many sides change their team to attempt to counter the Potters’ unique style, and Wigan may look to set up in a way that allows them to deal with the high ball – something they looked vulnerable to in their last outing. Steven Caldwell and Steve Gohouri both offer more in an aerial sense than the defensive incumbents and could be drafted in to deal with the infamous Delap throw-ins.
The star man in the Wigan side is undoubtedly Charles N’Zogbia – the Frenchman is top scorer with nine goals, four of those coming in the last three games. N’Zogbia’s future has been uncertain in the last 12 months and he has been linked with a move away from the club on various occasions. He does now appear to have shrugged this off however, and if his recent form is anything to go by he could be the man to fire them to Premier League safety.
Their Opponents – Stoke City
On the face of it a trip to the Britannia does not seem the most straightforward task, but you could easily argue that Wigan would prefer their fixture to those of their rivals involved in the drop. Stoke have nothing of any significance left to play for, and come into this game on the back of two consecutive defeats, both at the hands of Manchester City. The cup final loss was followed by a midweek game at Eastlands on Tuesday – Wigan will be aiming to capitalise on what could be a fatigued Stoke team thinking about their summer break.
Stoke did make five changes for their second clash with Man City though, and it’s possible that Robert Huth, Jermaine Pennant, Matthew Etherington, Rory Delap and Kenwyne Jones could return for the final game of the season. Huth and Etherington passed late fitness tests to feature in the FA Cup final, and ‘Pool fans will be hoping the rest they had in midweek will see them fit enough to take on Wigan. In goal, Asmir Begovic has been first choice between the sticks for most league games of late, but Thomas Sorenson surprisingly retained his place after the cup final for the match on Tuesday in Manchester. Begovic could return for one last appearance of the season in front of the Stoke faithful.
Encouragingly for the other sides involved in the relegation battle, Stoke boast one of the best home records in the league. The Potters have won 10 of their 18 matches at the Britannia Stadium, losing only four. Last time out at home Stoke beat Arsenal 3-1 and have won four of their last six in front of their own supporters. Stoke have not lost at home in 2011 and Tony Pulis is unlikely to allow his players to slack off.
What’s Wigan’s form like?
According to the form book, Wigan stand a good chance of dragging themselves out of the drop zone. Of all the sides involved, they have the best record with eight points from the last six games, including two wins and two draws. However, this must be tempered somewhat by analysing against whom these victories came. As ‘Pool fans will be all too aware, one of their wins came at Bloomfield Road when Blackpool’s season looked like imploding, while the other came last week against West Ham – a victory that relegated their opponents with a last minute goal. The Latics’ away record isn’t spectacular, but by no means is it the worst in the division – they lie 13th in the away table. They have won three games on the road, but have managed a credible seven draws.
Up the ‘Pool verdict
Currently occupying 19th spot, Wigan have the most work to do on Sunday. Martinez has done well to give his side a chance going into the last day when they looked dead certs for the drop a month or so ago. It’s hard to see the Latics getting all three points though, and even a point may be out of their reach against a Stoke team who will be looking to end on a high note after recent disappointment. I expect a narrow Stoke victory.
Tomorrow it’s the turn of Birmingham City to come under the microscope – check back then as the in-depth look at the final day continues. (Now published here)