Sunderland AFC v Wigan Athletic
English Premier League – 3pm Saturday 29 September 2012
Wigan Athletic is a football club that defies definition by Premier League standards as the towns main passion is rugby, with Wigan Warriors. Despite this, the Lactics are enjoying their 8th successive season in the world’s most competitive league – a feat that 90% of English professional clubs would envy. However, since their promotion in 2005, Wigan have been perennial relegation battlers and are the Premier Leagues youngest club, having only being founded in 1932.
Another characteristic that is unique within the cutthroat business of the Premier League is Roberto Martinez incredible loyalty to the division’s minnows, having previously turned down managerial jobs at Aston Villa and Liverpool. However, this didn’t stop him contributing to the demise of one of his peers as Wigan effectively ended Steve Bruce’s Sunderland reign – ironically Wigan’s previous manager – when they won in the corresponding fixture at the Stadium of Light last season.
Wigan also seem to have the knack of either developing or discovering footballers that become the seasons must have transfer target. Sunderland’s Lee Cattermole and Titus Bramble are ex-Wigan boys and Chelsea’s investment of £9m in Victor Moses is the most recent example of their player’s moving-on to the Premier League elite clubs.
Wigan are only below Sunderland on goal difference, although they have played one game more, and this will be one of a handful of away fixtures where they will hope to pick up some points given their success last season. I anticipate that Martinez will utilise a 4-4-1-1 formation, keep it tight to avoid conceding an early goal and try to catch Sunderland with their counter attacking football. The main threat comes from their goal-den haired international striker, Arouna Kone (35 Ivory Coast caps) who oddly wears the number 2 shirt and with a nice symmetrical touch, has scored 2 goals. Their keeper, Ali Al Habsi, can also present a formidable barrier when he is at his best and following their midweek 1-4 cup victory at West Ham, the Lactics will be on a high.
I must admit that I’m a little bemused by the reaction in some quarters to Sunderland’s 13-game run without a win. It’s far from ideal but it should be noted that during this time the Black Cats have only suffered 3 defeats and it excludes their two victories in the Capital One Cup. It reminds me a little of Dads Army – for those of us of a certain age. On one side we have Private Fraser wringing his hands in wild-eyed desperation and proclaiming ‘were doomed… doomed’, whilst in contrast Corporal Jones is running around shouting ‘Don’t panic – don’t panic’. Personally, I think the latter is more appropriate considering we are still in September.
It will be interesting to see if Martin O’Neil departs from his customary 4-4-1-1 formation to adopt a more offensive approach given that the Latics are arguably Sunderland’s weakest league opposition to date. Steven Fletcher remains their only league scorer this campaign with an impressive 4 goals in 3 games, but O’Neil will expect others to start contributing. If Adam Johnson is available to start I suspect he will take Cattermole’s place in midfield following his red card and subsequent 3-game ban. However, several players who started in midweek against the MK Dons such as Keiran Westwood, Matt Kilgallon and David Meyler can expect to be warming the bench again.
So which Wigan will turn up? Last season’s conquers of Man Utd, or the team that Sunderland rattled 4 goals past at their last meeting. I predict a HOME WIN for Sunderland.
Tell us what you think? Score predictions?