x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Callum McManaman boosts Wigan Athletic's survival hopes

Roberto Martinez's side come from behind twice to win 3-2 at West Bromwich Albion, writes Richard Jolly.

Callum McManaman celebrates his winning goal for Wigan Athletic.
Callum McManaman celebrates his winning goal for Wigan Athletic.

BIRMINGHAM // A minute or so after the final whistle blew in an incredible game, a chant broke out in a corner of the Smethwick End. "We shall not be moved," chorused the visiting fans.

That is Wigan Athletic, obdurate and obstinate, the club who will not be shifted from the Premier League, no matter how many times others have assumed they are condemned to the Championship.

Twice behind to West Bromwich Albion, they rallied and recovered. Callum McManaman delivered the all-important winner to mean Wigan are now only two points from safety.

Even then, however, the drama on an extraordinary afternoon at The Hawthorns was not over. Wigan were only assured of a vital victory in the 95th minute when James McArthur cleared off his own line to deny Gareth McAuley an equaliser.

It was quite a way to prepare for Saturday's FA Cup final, even if Wigan may prize victory over Swansea City on Tuesday rather more.

"Our performance was full of character," manager Roberto Martinez said. He believes they require 40 points to secure a ninth successive season in the Premier League which, he feels, will be like winning silverware.

"As a football club, we win the title every time we stay in the league," he added.

"Every other club fear to lose something. We don't. We don't fight to avoid relegation. It is not a negative, it is a positive. We have got a big-club mentality in those players. We are ready to win both trophies, the league and the cup."

Wigan never do things the easy way, however, and, with the injured Jean Beausejour ruled out of the FA Cup final, their task has now become harder.

Short of central defenders, Martinez was playing with a two-man backline and the flaw in that rather unusual formation was shown when West Bromwich Albion took the lead.

Wigan who can be caught on the counter-attack and when Paul Scharner lost the ball in the West Brom half, Romelu Lukaku released Marcus Rosenberg and the Swede picked out Shane Long for a tap-in at the far post.

It was, it turned out, only the start of the goals. Shaun Maloney almost scored with a curling free kick that went narrowly wide; after Lukaku spurned a chance to double West Brom's lead, Arouna Kone did with a superb header, the Ivorian jumping highest to meet Beausejour's cross.

Having displayed a prodigious leap then, the striker was rooted to the ground when the man he was detailed to mark, McAuley, headed in Albion's second goal.

Whatever their defensive failings, however, Wigan are rarely lacking in spirit, as they illustrated by equalising for the second time. The jinking Maloney delivered a wonderful cross, the substitute McArthur headed them level. It was his first touch, a minute after his introduction, and a superb change by Martinez.

"His first touch changed the game and for me he typified Wigan Athletic," added the Spaniard.

His side were not satisfied with parity. "It would have been a big mistake to try and sit back for a point," Martinez said.

They did not. The catalytic Maloney reached the byline and crossed and McManaman steered in just his second Premier League goal. Somehow Wigan withstood the home side's desperate attempts to level. "West Brom threw everything at us," Martinez said. But, in their inimitable way, they had an answer to everything.

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