Early Doors

Where would Wigan be without Martinez?

Early Doors

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Alex Ferguson and Roberto Martinez

In this day and age it is hard to find a genuine first in the English top flight.

It's especially difficult to do so without the rather significant and arbitrary caveat that is the phrase "in the Premier League era", something which only serves to downgrade anything that happened in the game pre-1992.

Last night, we got one.

Wigan Athletic's 1-0 win over Manchester United was the first time the Latics had ever achieved any kind of positive result over the Red Devils.

Before the shock result at the DW Stadium, United had won all of the previous 14 encounters with the side from just down the road, best known for its rugby league team, Northern Soul nights and the World Pie Eating Championship. In that run they had racked up an aggregate score of 46-4, including a 4-0 in the 2006 Carling Cup final and 5-0 wins both home and away in 2009-10. Wayne Rooney alone has scored 10 goals against the Latics during his United career.

Now the name of Shaun Maloney can be engraved alongside Paul Scharner, Leighton Baines (two) and Hugo Rodallega on the plaque commemorating Wigan players who have scored against United.

With his brilliant, curling winner Maloney added to the strike which helped beat Liverpool at Anfield last month and completed a clean sweep of big Premier League scalps for Wigan. In their eight seasons in the division they had claimed wins against all the other top sides, often at crucial stages of the season. So it proved again last night, as defeat for United and Manchester City's 4-0 win over West Bromwich Albion reduces the gap at the top of the table to just five points.

The win, which leaves Wigan one place and two points above the relegation zone with five games of the season remaining, provided a pleasant end to a sixth-straight day of matches in the Premier League that was gruelling enough for the viewer, never mind the players. With every team playing twice since Good Friday, it has been difficult to adjust to the context on which each new day of games sat.

United certainly played like they were contesting an early round of the Carling Cup rather than a game in the title run-in, such was their jaded performance, but Wigan were fully deserving of the points.

It could be seen as rough justice for the way they were cruelly robbed of at least a share of the points against Chelsea last time out thanks to one of the recent spate of controversial refereeing incidents. Despite having what looked a perfectly good goal disallowed last night, they got the rub of the green with a few decisions en route to beating United.

Alex Ferguson's shock at the loss did not stop him complaining about some of the officiating.

(Maynor Figueroa) did handle it," he said, "and the thing is that if he'd been close to the ball then you can say that you won't get those, but he was at least 15 yards away. It's a clear penalty.

"And their goal was clearly a goal-kick, not a corner."

Still, at least the United boss was magnanimous enough to admit that his team were fortunate in some of the decisions that went their way against QPR at the weekend, and that Wigan deserved to win.

He said: "We got a break on Sunday. You say the big clubs get the decisions, but we didn't get anything.

"Wigan were the better team. They are a very under-rated team and we were completely dominated in the first half. We were second to every ball and only had one shot at goal."

The better team they certainly were. Wigan are now sitting in a position they probably would have taken at the start of the season, and with their final two matches coming against fellow strugglers Blackburn and Wolves it is now not hard to envisage another final-day escape for the Latics.

After doing just that last year, Roberto Martinez chose to stay at the club despite an approach from Aston Villa to fill their vacancy. Villa now sit just four points above Wigan after a season of some of the most grindingly tedious football seen in the Premier League era, while Wigan have at least been full of ambition and guile in the way they have played. It hasn't always worked, but the endeavour to do so have rarely wavered.

Martinez's approach is also apparent at Swansea City, the club he left to take over at Wigan and where he first made his mark as a manager committed to playing to the crowd rather than the percentages.

This landmark result in the Spanish coach's career has come at a time of media speculation that he will be leaving the club at the end of the season, survival or not, something he denied after the match.

"I heard that and was very surprised," he said. "You wonder where that rumour is coming from. At this stage of the season there is a real fight amongst the bottom five, you feel stories can upset clubs internally.

"There is nothing true about it. I signed a new deal in the summer for an extra two years. That was my conversation with the chairman and nothing has changed since."

Whatever the truth of those reports, Martinez has shown his managerial credentials during his three years at Wigan. His most expensive signing for the club has been goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi at £4 million, and he has had to deal with the losses of Antonio Valencia, Charles N'Zogbia and Scharner, arguably the three best players at the club during his time there.

Throughout Wigan's struggles he has remained dignified and upbeat, always remaining positive about his players and their prospects even at the worst of times.

Martinez's measured criticism of the officiating in that defeat to Chelsea even elicited a letter of apology from referees chief Mike Riley. That's how well-liked he is throughout the game.

Of course, one result does not suddenly make any manager suddenly better or worse at their job, but it is not hard to imagine that Wigan's top-flight tenure would already be over were it not for Martinez's management.

It makes you wonder what he would capable of at a club with better players and more resources - a category into which most Premier League teams and several of those in the Championship would fit. Wigan fans will be praying that they won't get to find out the answer any time soon.

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COMING UP: You can watch highlights of all the midweek goals from the Premier League online right now. You'll also be given the chance to vote for the best of them from our five nominations as well as peruse our Team of the Week.

This evening there is a Spanish double-header, featuring live coverage of Villarreal v Malaga (19:00) and Sevilla v Real Zaragoza (21:00).

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