Friday, 1 February 2008

The Road To Wigan Tears

The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun
George Orwell
It is a strange world where the prospect of a football fixture against Wigan Athletic can elicit a response beyond apathy. Yet so hopelessly entwined have our paths become over the last few seasons, so antagonistic have the feelings grown between the clubs, that a trip into darkest Lancashire now enters into the realms of the mildly interesting. Indeed, not only have both parties steadfastly refused to bury the hatchet from last season's Tevezgate fiasco, but 'Honest' Dave Whelan has decided to ratchet the hostility even further by purposely seeking the services of the one Premiership manager designed to irritate West Ham fans above all others. I can think of no other reason for the employment of Steve Bruce. Yet strip away the recent history, the odious manager, the squealing Wigan 'hordes' and the hyperbolic media squall and underneath you're left with the banality of a visit to the JJB. On current form it should be three points, and when West Ham United visit it usually is.

Barclays Premier League
Wigan Athletic v West Ham United

JJB Stadium

Saturday 2 February

Referee: Martin Atkinson

Weather: The forecast is for a chilly afternoon, with the threat of sleet/snow. The temperature is set to peak at around 4C.

Odds: Wigan 11/8. Draw 21/10. West Ham 13/8

Tenth-placed West Ham United will look to follow up Wednesday's 1-0 win against Liverpool - thanks to
Mark Noble's last-gasp penalty winner - with another league success at Wigan Athletic. Orwell's own country is a happy hunting ground for the Irons who have not lost in all five of their previous visits, winning four of those trips north. Consistency has been the watch word for Alan Curbishley's men, who have now lost just three league games (to Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton) since October. Victory could take the Hammers up to eighth - depending on Portsmouth and Blackburn Rovers, who begin the weekend one and two points ahead respectively. The club are eight points ahead of Tottenham Hotspur in eleventh, with a game in hand.

Relegation threatened Wigan had been a somewhat rejuvenated force under new boss Steve Bruce, picking up four wins and three draws in the 11 games since he joined the club, but have slipped back into the bottom following their 1-0 loss at Middlesbrough on Tuesday. The Latics have lost their last three league and cup games but know a win could potentially lift them to 14th in the table. They have not won any of their last 15 meetings with London clubs, although have Marcus Bent in good form with seven top-flight goals.

fter the last-minute victory over Liverpool, Alan Curbishley will be tempted to keep the same side but has
Nolberto Solano and possibly Danny Gabbidon back in contention. Dean Ashton will as usual be pushing for inclusion while Craig Bellamy and Julian Faubert both face late fitness tests. Bobby Zamora again misses out but will participate in a practice game on Monday and Scott Parker is still thought to be a month away from first team action. Of the longer term casualties, Kieron Dyer continues to make good progress, while James Collins' cruciate ligament damage will keep him out for at least six months. Nigel Quashie (knee) and Calum Davenport (neck) are also sidelined. John Pantsil is still on Africa Cup of Nations duty with Ghana, who will play Nigeria in the quarter-finals on Sunday, and although on-loan Henri Camara is due back at the club after Senegal's shock elimination from the tournament, he is ineligible to play against his parent club.

Wigan manager Steve Bruce is set for a tough decision in attack ahead of the game against West Ham United. Bruce played debutant Marlon King alongside Marcus Bent and Emile Heskey in an experimental three-pronged forward line in the defeat at Middlesbrough, but one of them will miss out after Bruce confirmed he will revert to a two-man strike force. King arrived from Championship outfit Watford for £4.5 million but came off on Tuesday with a knock that could make his selection a non issue. Swedish full-back Erik Edman is Bruce’s only other injury doubt having sustained a calf problem, while Erik Hagen could come straight into the side if his international clearance is sorted out. The tough-tackling 32-year-old Norway signed yesterday on loan from Russian club Zenit St Petersburg. Jason Koumas could return to the line up, with fellow regular sub Antoine Siberski likely to stay on the bench until the closing stages. Other January additions include Honduras international pair Wilson Palacios (who has made his loan move permanent) and Maynor Figueroa (who arrives on loan from Deportivo Olimpia) and pacy winger Luis Antonio Valencia who has officially signed on from Villareal.

The teams last met on 25 August at the Boleyn Ground, the second home fixture of the season. After a close-fought encounter, Paul Scharner put Wigan ahead on 78 minutes before
Lee Bowyer equalised two minutes later and it finished 1-1. In the corresponding fixture last season the Hammers brushed aside the Latics 3-0, part of the impressive run of seven wins in ten games that saw them clear of relegation. Two of the scorer's that day, Marlon Harewood and Yossi Benayon, are no longer with the club, while the other, Luis Boa Morte, has hardly been prolific - it remains the Portugal winger's only goal for the east Londoners since his move from Fulham in January last year. Head to head (last six league meetings)

25 August 2007 - West Ham United 1-1 Wigan Athletic
28 April 2007 - Wigan Athletic 0-3 West Ham United
6 December 2006 - West Ham United 0-2 Wigan Athletic
25 March 2006 - Wigan Athletic 1-2 West Ham United
28 December 2005 - West Ham United 0-2 Wigan Athletic
2 April 2005 - Wigan Athletic 1-2 West Ham United

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