Anything could happen in this game. One could be forgiven for thinking that given the way this season has progressed nothing is beyond the realms of possibility. And a week after losing for the first time in over a quarter of a century to WBA, it’s not unreasonable to eye this fixture with a little concern.
Wigan are a strange outfit. Their chairman Dave Whelen has invested millions of pounds of his own money to establish what is essentially a small town club amongst English footballs top division. A laudable effort for an honest working man. However the club have never played particularly attractive football and with consistently poor attendances make for one of lesser supported Premiership clubs. They come to Villa Park needing to win amidst a frantic relegation dogfight.
Wigan’s most recent form makes for interesting reading, especially considering that on the run in many had consigned them to certain relegation. However they won with ease away at Blackpool, before defeat away to Sunderland but then managed to draw with Everton – only not taking all three points due to a bizarre handball in the box from Rodellega to gift the toffees a penalty. Thus, they are no pushovers. They will come to Villa Park level on points with Blackpool and eying a Blackburn side just above them in freefall. 3 points for Wigan could make the relegation battle very interesting indeed.
But what of their threat?
Rodellega is their noteworthy player. Athletic, skillful and with an eye for goal. He is also Wigan’s all time Premiership goalscorer. At 25 the Colombian has probably one big move left in him and would not look out of place amongst some of the top sides in the Premiership or Europe. He will be the man most likely to be asking questions of Villa’s leaky back four.
N’Zogbia is a doubt for the game but his replacement of Victor Moses is an exciting prospect, albeit hampered by injury himself. The rest of their midfield is combative and full of drive in the shape of much trumpeted McCarthy and his accomplice Watson. Beyond that is the consistent Al Habsi in goal and the unpredictable Figueroa marauding from deep. Compare Wigan’s squad to Blackpool and Blackburn’s and their chances of getting out of the bottom three don’t seem so far fetched.
Which is where Villa come in.
Defeat against Albion was not the end of the world. In fact it was a strange match decided ultimately by equally odd tactical moves on our part. One also imagines that Villa have done just enough this season, which is not acceptable by any stretch of the imagination – or indeed matches the alleged ambition of the club and its supporters.
After a recent bout of improved form to just about get us across the line, the latest loss raised similar questions about our determination and graft against sides that are in the business of grinding out results. And Wigan will pose us just that problem. They will come to Villa Park knowing that games are running out for them and I fully expect a scrappy affair, that will likely stagnate until such time Wigan decide to throw the kitchen sink at us.
Our set up for the game and decisions from the bench will obviously play their part. Heskey could feature in this to throw some weight around and provide the kind of support so lacking to Bent at The Hawthorns. Reo-Coker and Petrov one would assume could handle the middle of the park. But so much rests of the defence.
Will Carlos Cueller and Ciaran Clark be shown the green light ahead of Dunne (a doubt) and the erratic Collins? Will anyone be brave enough to make the call? It seems unlikely and the apparent lack of leadership around the immediate problems leaves massive question marks over our future plans. McAllister did little to endear himself with the inane decision to introduce Pires as we pushed for a winner against WBA – perhaps he might seek to rectify that with another gutsy call to shake up the defence. This, of course, is anyone’s guess.
In any event the unthinkable should not be discounted. A defeat against Wigan will pose a serious predicament in that we will not be mathematically safe heading into fixtures against European chasing Liverpool and an Arsenal side resurging having beaten Manchester United. Will any of the bottom three win enough games to catch us now? Unlikely. Does anyone wish to test this theory? Not a chance.
Only a win will do.
Prediction Corner: Aston Villa 2-0 Wigan Athletic (Downing first scorer).
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