Wigan Athletic: The fittest survivors
By Dan Wheeler
Supporting Wigan must be a bit like watching an episode of Batman. The bit where the caped crusader is at the mercy of some barking megalomaniac, often strapped immobile to some piece of cunningly-designed apparatus that supports an implement of certain, excruciating death. All hope seems lost. Carnage is inevitable. Tune in next week to find out if Batman manages to survive.
So tune in we do and, always, Batman finds a way to wriggle out of trouble. Despite the flammable tights, despite the cardboard bat tools, he pulls it off to fight another day. KABLAAAAAM!
It is about this time of the season that tuning in to Wigan’s progress provides a similar viewing experience.
Saturday’s excellent performance in winning their relegation shoot-out with Reading was their first in the Premier League of 2013. Enough to lift them out of the bottom three for the fourth time this season.
Unlike Queen’s Park Rangers and Reading, who have been up to their necks in the relegation mire for much of the campaign, Wigan have been mere top-dippers. But toe-dipping one day can lead to losing your foot the next and, from the outside, Wigan cannot afford to get careless. At the moment their safety is supported only by goal difference but, compared to what they have survived since getting into the Premier League in 2005, they may as well be top of the table.
Roberto Martinez has turned his side into the Red Adair of suffocating the fires of relegation. In the seven seasons they have spent in the top flight, they have finished 10th, 17th, 14th, 11th, 16th, 16th and 15th. Never giving in. Never going down.
They have come close. In 2006/07 they won a winner-survives-all game at Sheffield United on the final day to stay up on goal difference and three years later even an eight-nil thrashing at Chelsea in the final game did not do for them.
Two seasons ago they took 11 points from their last six games to do it and last season was arguably the most impressive of all when they won 7 of their last 9 matches, seeing off Manchester United and winning at The Emirates in the process, to maintain their place in the elite. Wigan really are living proof that it is the fittest who survive. So much so I am sure Darwin would have been a Latics fan.
Nevertheless Martinez is keeping their chances of pulling off another escape tempered.
“It’s not an easy one but we know the challenge we are facing,” he said after beating Reading.
“There are another 33 points to fight for but we are ready for the fight. I do feel it will come down to very little margins and probably this fight is the hardest we’ve had in our time in the Premier League.”
The one area of concern will be the home form. Wigan have traditionally based their escapology acts on winning at the DW Stadium but their last victory on their own patch was back in November 2012 when, funnily enough, Reading were beaten.
They now have three straight games at home to improve on that when Liverpool, Newcastle and Norwich come to town. Crucially they are at home on the final day when Aston Villa are the visitors in what could be a re-run of May 2007 and that decider with the Blades. Wigan won that day and you would back them to do so again. Why? Because just like Batman, Wigan always find a way to get out of trouble.
As long as they do not start playing in tights...