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Premier League Preview: Wigan Athletic – Aston Villa

Tuesday, March 16, Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
DW Stadium, Robin Park, Wigan, Lancashire

Wigan Athletic supporters have often been left peering at games through their fingers this season, such has been their side's changeable form.

The Latics managed a shock 1-0 victory through gritted teeth last Monday against Liverpool, then showed why they are the Premier League's most inconsistent performers, suffering a 4-0 trouncing at Bolton Wanderers.

Wigan boss Roberto Martinez admits blowing hot and cold so often is frustrating, but has put it down to his side's transitional period. Such haphazard form has meant they've struggled to build any momentum going forwards and have followed up each of their seven Premier League victories with a defeat.

Last week was a salient example of their tendency to linger at football's polar extremes. Flirting between wonderful and woeful is beginning to set off alarm bells among the DW Stadium's faithful.

The club are finely balanced on the precipice of the drop zone, being just four points and four places ahead of 18th-placed Hull City. While their back line has been anything but impervious this season, conceding 57 league goals, they also have problems at the other end as well.

Hugo Rodallega scored the decisive winner past the Reds but that was the Lancashire club's only goal in their last five outings. In fact, Wigan has not converted more than two chances in a game since mid-January when they saw off Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1.

More ruthless professionalism is required if the club are to save themselves from a costly return to the Championship but time, and more importantly matches, are running out. Wigan have nine games to save their skins and have a cruel run in with Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City still on the agenda.

It means the pressure is on to grind out precious wins at home, but with the victory over the Merseysiders their first in the league since mid-November it could be too little too late for Martinez.

Following such a morale-sapping defeat at the Reebok Stadium, the last opponents Wigan would have wanted to face was high-flying Aston Villa. The only top-flight side not to lose in 2010 are currently enjoying a seven-game unbeaten run.

Martin O'Neill's charges are also explosive away from home. Although Saturday's goalless draw with Stoke City did little to help their quest for earning Champions League football next year, they have a sweeping counter-attacking style that is difficult for defenders to cope with.

With away victories at Anfield and Old Trafford already this term, the West Midland's outfit will have no fear travelling to Wigan, especially with the best in the division – conceding only 21 goals all season.

With battling warhorses like Richard Dunne and James Collins at the heart of their rearguard, it's no surprise they've only lost three excursions all season and have conceded just 11 times in 13 away days.

Having booked a second Wembley return in the FA Cup recently against Reading, Villa are riding the crest of a wave but know they need to turn more draws into wins if they are to claim the much-coveted fourth spot.

FORM GUIDE

Wigan Athletic


13 Mar (Premier League) v Bolton Wanderers (A) LOST 4-0
08 Mar (Premier League) v Liverpool (H) WON 1-0
27 Feb (Premier League) v Birmingham City (A) LOST 1-0
21 Feb (Premier League) v Tottenham Hotspur (H) LOST 3-0
17 Feb (Premier League) v Bolton Wanderers (H) DREW 0-0

Aston Villa

13 Mar (Premier League) v Stoke City (A) DREW 0-0
07 Mar (FA Cup) v Reading (A) WON 4-2
28 Feb (League Cup) v Manchester United (n/a) LOST 2-1
24 Feb (FA Cup) v Crystal Palace (H) WON 3-1
21 Feb (Premier League) v Burnley (H) WON 5-2

TEAM NEWS

Wigan Athletic


Roberto Martinez has no fresh injury concerns after the humiliating reverse at Bolton, but may want to reshuffle his pack in an attempt to keep heads out of hands.

Powerful full-back and captain Mario Melchiot is still a concern with a thigh injury, so Emmerson Boyce could continue at right-back. Steve Gohouri is not expected to make the clash, as the Ivorian defender is still struggling with a back injury.

Sprightly youngster Victor Moses was handed his first start at the weekend, but the 18-year-old could be dropped to the bench as Martinez looks to add more steel in the midfield.

Last starting XI (v Bolton Wanderers): Kirkland; Caldwell, Scharner (Scotland), Boyce, Bramble; Figeroa, Moses (Gomez), N'Zogbia, McCarthy; Diame, Rodallega (Thomas).

Aston Villa

Martin O'Neill chose to keep the same starting XI at Stoke City to the one that staged a dramatic comeback against Reading in the FA Cup.

It meant leading goalscorer Gabby Agbonlahor started on the bench after recovering from a virus, but will be desperate to be involved from the off against Wigan after Villa failed to score at the Britannia Stadium.

Marlon Harewood and Nigel Reo-Coker are Villa's only real injury concerns.

Last starting XI (v Stoke City): Friedel; Dunne, Cuellar, Warnock, Collins; Downing, Young, Milner, Petrov; Carew (Agbonahor), Heskey.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Wigan Athletic – Hugo Rodallega


The powerful target man has shown his pedigree in fits and starts this season, weighing in with priceless strikes against Sunderland, Chelsea and more recently Liverpool, but only finding the target once in his last 14 outings.

A handful for defenders with his quick turn of pace and Velcro-like touch, the strapping Columbian international has been the Latics best source of goals all season.

Contributing eight strikes to top the club's scoring charts, he has fond memories of playing against claret and blue opposition this season, with goals to his credit past Villa, Burnley and West Ham United.

Aston Villa – Brad Friedel

With Wigan anything but prolific when it comes to scoring, the USA international shot-stopper might be expecting a quiet evening at the DW Stadium.

However, the veteran goalkeeper has the experience to know better than to underestimate lesser opposition and will understand one goal could be all Wigan need.

The much-vaunted former Blackburn Rovers glove-man has been one of the Premier League's most consistent shot-stoppers in recent years and has continued to show his calibre with 12 shut-outs this term already.

PREDICTION

With Wigan a model of inconsistency, it's anyone's guess which side will turn up against Villa. The Latics have been perennially plagued by mental fragility and have only scored four times in their last 10 games.

However, Martin O'Neill's men will want to avoid any backlash from Saturday's thumping and will be all too aware of the potential Wigan possess after losing to them in this season's curtain-raiser.

Wigan Athletic 0-2 Aston Villa