Sunday, 28 March 2010

Wigan preview

I think I've abused the phrase 'must-win' a bit this season. It certainly feels like it. But Wigan Athletic at home on Monday is the biggest boldest must-win we've had for some time. It makes Hull at home in November look like a pre-season kickabout. If we win we're two points behind Spurs, with them still to come to Eastlands. Lose and we're five points off, as well as behind Liverpool - who today put in their performance of the season against Sunderland.

The whole season, never mind the Mancini era to date has been a frustrating alternation between forward and backward steps. Not since Mancini's first three games have we won two consecutive matches. The flicker of form we showed in recent weeks - two wins in west London and a draw in Sunderland - was put out by that acrimonious mid-week defeat to Everton. So we need to start again tomorrow night, and only a win will do.

Fortunately Wigan at home should be a nice momentum-generator. They have had a bizarre season, beating Chelsea and Liverpool at home and Aston Villa away. But they've certainly had more bad games than good ones, and don't even pose the problems of a well-organised, physical and worldly bottom-half side. This fixture has only produced three goals in the last four seasons - we've won 1-0 twice, drawn 0-0 and lost 1-0 in a very upsetting result under Stuart Pearce. I remember that I was playing football that afternoon and when I heard we'd lost I smashed my mobile and sat under a tree for an hour, convinced we were going down. I ought to have had more faith in Emile Mpenza.

Selection isn't obvious. We have two options: reintroduce Emmanuel Adebayor in a 4-4-2, with Craig Bellamy and Adam Johnson wide and Gareth Barry plus either Nigel de Jong or Patrick Vieira central, or bench Adebayor and stick with Stephen Ireland in that 4-2-3-1. My preference is for the latter, because Ireland is one of my favourite players and Adebayor is not. Wigan aren't particularly effective spoilers and so I like to think that Ireland will find enough space in front of their defence to influence the game. He almost looked good on Wednesday before he went off injured. I'm no good at reading Mancini's selection decisions so I won't make a prediction here.

But we should have enough. And despite the lack of goals in this fixture in recent years I'm predicting an exciting game, and a 3-1 win.

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