Andrew Leci looks at the relegation battle this week and analyses the state of affairs for the teams facing the misfortune of the drop
By Andrew Leci
Does anyone remember the poorly documented story of the couple on honeymoon whose relationship ended in dramatic circumstances?
Celebrating their recent nuptials with a dream trip to a five-star resort in Hawaii, the bride was discovered in flagrante delicto with a room service waiter as the groom returned from a windsurfing trip. A ‘full American breakfast’ was relocated to all corners of the honeymoon suite, and it’s unlikely the member of the hotel’s staff will ever be able to perform with his acapella group again. All parties checked out shortly thereafter.
It was almost as spectacular an end to a honeymoon as Paolo Di Canio’s at Sunderland on Monday night.
Beaten 6-1 at the hands of fellow relegation battlers Aston Villa, Di Canio’s dose of reality after the euphoria generated by back to back wins, was as alarming as a wake-up call is likely to get.
The seemingly boundless enthusiasm of Di Canio’s passion and commitment to the cause evaporated in a cloud of claret and blue, as Sunderland were slaughtered at Villa Park. It’s probably fortunate that Paolo’s hair is so sparse and cropped; otherwise he’d have pulled it all out by the time he sat down for his quadruple espresso on Tuesday morning.
The honeymoon is over, and the reality of the relationship he has entered into has become apparent. It also puts Sunderland right back into a relegation mix after looking well set to navigate away from it prior to Monday night.
Sunderland may still have done enough, but their game at home to Stoke City next Monday has just become that much tenser, while Wigan’s encounter with West Bromwich Albion on Saturday has become an archetypal ‘must win’ scenario.
At this stage of a Barclays Premier League season, everyone more or less expects Wigan Athletic to turn on the burners and pick up an unlikely set of results that preserves their Premier League status for another season.
They were on their way to three points against Spurs last weekend before conceding a late equaliser, and there is an expanding lobby suggesting that they may just have left themselves too much to do this time round.
End of season heroics have been Wigan’s trademark in recent seasons, but they have been dependent on other results going their way. Other teams have done them favours, and they have managed to claw themselves out of trouble. That may not happen in this edition.
Everyone talks about ‘momentum’ being key at this stage of a campaign, and that is now with Villa, and against Wigan.
Fittingly perhaps, Reading and QPR played out an uninspired (and indeed uninspiring) 0-0 draw last weekend, condemning both sides to the second tier of English football next season, leaving only one club to join them.
With seven points separating the six clubs from Wigan in 18th up to Southampton in 13th, it’s going down to the wire, although with Wigan now five points from safety (with a game in hand), they must be favourites to go down – finally failing like an escapologist who attempts one death-defying routine too many.
Having spoken to Roberto Martinez last week, he remained upbeat and confident about his team’s chances of survival, and insisted that they will continue to play their own brand of football, whatever transpires.
While it’s honourable – commendable even – it may not amount to the pragmatism required, and while Wigan have a game in hand on all the teams above them, at this stage it’s more about points on the board, and Wigan don’t have enough of them.
Of their four remaining fixtures, Arsenal (away) looks the most problematic, while Swansea at home after West Brom at The Hawthorns this weekend both look winnable.
Unfortunately for Wigan though, potential and reality have all too often been strangers this season, and while certain fixtures may seem to have had three points written all over them, that has rarely been the case. If Wigan’s points total was commensurate with the quality of their football (most of the time) they’d be competing for a place in Europe. But it isn’t, and they’re not.
Wigan have four games left to save their Premiership lives, and prior to Monday night, it almost looked as though they would be in a straight scrap with Aston Villa. Six of the best though from Paul Lambert’s men against Sunderland has changed the landscape somewhat, and Wigan will be hoping, nay praying, that come the last day of the season, they are still in with a shout of staying up.
As luck would have it, Wigan host Aston Villa on the 19th of May, the final round of fixtures in this Barclays Premier League season that could provide the ultimate, dramatic denouement.
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