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Clubs owned by the two sportswear retailers go head-to-head at St James' Park on Saturday, with the Toon Army riding high thanks to a surprising start to the season

EXCLUSIVE
By Rob Stewart

Wigan Athletic owner Dave Whelan believes Newcastle United counterpart Mike Ashley can win over the club’s supporters by ending the Tyneside outfit’s long wait for major domestic honours.

Whelan, whose struggling side face high-flying Newcastle in the Premier League at St James’ Park on Saturday, has seen the Toon Army soften their attitude to Ashley lately but has warned his rival that silverware is the key to widespread approval at a club that last won a major English honour when the FA Cup was lifted in 1955.

“Can he win over the fans? Firstly, he has to get Newcastle winning something and if Newcastle could win some silverware, whatever it is, I think the fans would absolutely flock around him and then start backing him to the hilt,” Whelan told Goal.com.

“Newcastle have been so short on success and they really deserve it. They have not even had it sometimes when they deserved it. So if they can win something while he is there I think the supporters would take to him really well.

“It is the supporters that make that club. That club is fantastic and their atmosphere around that ground is electric. It is always a pleasure to go there because the fans are football through-and-through and they love it.”

Many Newcastle fans were calling for Ashley to quit the club following relegation two years ago and his decision to sack manager Chris Hughton last season and bring in Alan Pardew also proved unpopular but an unbeaten start to the current campaign has had fans warming to the billionaire.

As they prepared to meet in the St James’ Park boardroom this weekend, Whelan insisted that there is no rift between him and the Sports Direct owner despite the sports retail tycoons’ intense business rivalry.

“I have always got on with Mike,” Whelan added. “We have had petty little disputes that have been publicised but generally Mike and myself have got on together very, very well over the years. I have known him a long time and we have got on really, really well.

“I think the appointment of his manager last season has proven to be a great success. Their form this season so far has been outstanding. The team has performed fantastically well under Alan Pardew.

“They are still undefeated but I am sure that our team will be well prepared for the challenge because Roberto Martinez is one of the best managers that you will ever see.”

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