Third bottom Wigan kick off a sequence of seven critical games in 30 days today at third top Middlesbrough. Latics away form has been very good with four wins in the last four on the road at Reading, Blackpool, Norwich and Rotherham, but promotion-chasing Boro will provide a stiff test to Latics survival credentials.
The Teessiders currently have the meanest defence in the Championship having only conceded 30 goals so far this season, so goals could be at a premium at the Riverside Stadium.
Emotive language has been used by players from both teams in the build up to the game with Boro defender Ben Gibson stating: ‘The next seven games are the biggest games of our lives,’ and Latics full back Gaetan Bong claiming: ‘Every game will be like a war – and only if we look at it this way we can do it.’
Although this may be overstating the situation a little, it is certainly a high stakes game for both teams. Promotion for Boro to the Premier League is likely to be worth around £120m and relegation to League One would cause significant financial damage to Latics’ revenue streams.
Boro are one of the best footballing outfits in the Championship and have improved this season under Jose Mourinho’s protégé Aitor Karanka. Top scorer Patrick Bamford is on loan from Mourinho’s Chelsea and the striker scored a vital equaliser for Boro at the DW Stadium in November.
Their recent form though has been similar to Latics with three wins out of the last six games, but their last result was a disappointing 3-0 defeat at league leaders Bournemouth, which saw them drop out of the automatic promotion places.
The pressure to succeed will certainly be on the hosts as well as Latics and I’m anticipating a tight game.
Boro could be without their first choice centre backs Daniel Ayala and Jonathan Woodgate who didn’t feature at Bournemouth, so loan signings Dwight Tiendalli from Swansea and Fernando Amorebieta from Fulham could be involved.
Latics will hope that all their international stars, Kim Bo-Kyung, Ali Al-Habsi, William Kvist, Emmerson Boyce, Bill Mckay and James McClean all return from international duty fully fit.
Playing away from home seems to suit Wigan’s counter attacking style of play and James McClean likely to return from suspension, could be a major goal threat on the break.
Latics defence has been resolute in recent games with Harry Maguire and Jason Pearce outstanding, and they will have to be at their best again, if they are to keep out a team going for automatic promotion.
Looking positively, Wigan managed to draw with Boro at the DW Stadium earlier in the season. Another point would be a good result at the Riverside, but don’t rule out Latics pulling off another away victory.
This article was first published in the 12th Man column for the Wigan Evening Post on 3rd April 2015