Way Down in the Hole: Wigan Preview
Full disclosure? I’m still reeling a bit from last time out. Being knocked out of any competition is never a pleasant feeling, but crashing out of the Europa League on the Away Goals rule is a massive disappointment, especially after the effort we put in against Zenit St. Petersburg. Now, there’s only eleven matches left — all in the Premier League — and that sinking feeling that comes with the close of a season without silverware is starting to set it.
Even though the possibility of taking home a shiny trophy is off the table, there’s still a massive demand for Liverpool tickets in 2013. You see it week in and week out when the Reds are at Anfield, but a team’s home support is usually vastly different from those that travel week in and week out; while some “big teams” can have a hard time filling their away allocation, there’s little left when the travelling Kop rolls into town. We heard the kind of noise they can generate and with Liverpool out of action last weekend, there’s going to be some pent up frustration to air at the DW Stadium come Saturday afternoon.
The reverse fixture saw us run out comfortable 3-0 winners at Anfield under very similar circumstances as the air of a “much win” match became almost unbearable. As much in November as it is in March, the stifling inconsistency, passed off earlier in the season as growing pains, continues to haunt us week in and week out and we never quite know which Liverpool side is going to show up. Will it be the one that gave Roberto Martinez’s well organized Latics a lesson in what death by football means? Or is it going to be the side we’d sooner forget?
If Daniel Sturridge doesn’t make the starting eleven, it could very well be the latter. Luis Suarez may reap the lion’s share of the praise — and though all of it is well deserved — since Sturridge arrived in January, he’s been able to add another element to our attack and thankfully it was the one we were sorely lacking in; finding the back of the net. With five goals in seven appearances, we’ve already come to rely on that extra bit of oomph he’s able to provide and when news came in that he’s carrying a knock and will be a late decision come match day, there was more than one worried look in the crowd.
To be fair, even without Sturridge, we should be able to come away with the points on Saturday. The Latics found some joy at the Madjeski Stadium against Reading when they scored three goals in four minutes to heap even more pressure on the struggling Royals, but, there’s no surprise to be had when you look at the league table. Despite the best efforts of Roberto Martinez, his side once again sit just above the relegation zone with goal difference the only thing keeping them afloat and Aston Villa languishing way down in the hole.
Arouna Koné returned refreshed from the African Cup of Nations and has immediately made his presence known. As the relegation scrap looms large, his well taken double against Reading gives the Latics faithful hope that the Ivorian will play a central role in securing their Premiership status once again. Wigan have become all too familiar with fighting for survival and while three points against the Reds on Saturday would be a boon to their cause, if Roberto is going to find a scalp on his mantle later in the evening, his side are going to have to turn in a much better performance and rely on their fans to drown out the travelling Kop; that in itself will be a big ask.
With only eleven matches left this year, each and every one of them needs to count and every decision could be the one that makes or breaks your season. Do you continue with Jamie Carragher partnering Daniel Agger in the heart of our defense or is there a recall for Martin Skrtel on the horizon? Will the fatigue plaguing Raheem Sterling keep him out of the side or does Stewart Downing need to be reminded who’s nipping at his heels? Should you be picking up your sports tickets here or are you going to chance it down at the ground? Will new boy Philippe Coutinho give Wigan ‘keeper Ali Al-Habsi nightmares? Or is the Omani shot stopper going to find revenge against a side that put three past him last time out?
Hindsight is 20/20 and more than one armchair pundit or fantasy guru will fall all over themselves to tell you that they had it right; whether they’re blowing smoke or not, it doesn’t make a lick of difference. We’re ten points out of fourth place — our ultimate goal for the season — and our fate is very much out of our hands. With eleven matches left to play, all we can do is get behind the team and hope that results go our way.