Roberto Martinez plays down significance of Wigan Athletic's clash with Reading


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The Independent Football

Wigan manager Roberto Martinez is well aware of the importance of tomorrow's clash against Reading - but insists it will not determine their Barclays Premier League fate.

Since beating the Royals in a dramatic 3-2 win at the DW Stadium in November, Wigan have won only once in 13 league games and have slipped to second from bottom in the table.

Reading sit one place above the Latics and defeat at the Madejski Stadium tomorrow would leave Martinez's team at least five points from safety with 11 games to play.

Even with their track record of recovering from desperate situations over the past few seasons, things would look bleak.

However, Martinez is wary of hyping up tomorrow's match too much, saying: "We're working towards a points tally.

"I think sometimes you get carried away and you think this is a vital game and if you win you get three points, but that doesn't guarantee you'll achieve your aim.

"In the same manner, if you lose and then go unbeaten until the end of the season, you'll achieve your aim. It is an important game but what's more important is that we can be consistent. It is a vital game because it's one of 12 games left, nothing else."

While Wigan have picked up only seven points since beating Reading, Brian McDermott's side have collected 14 points from their last eight games, with victories over West Ham, West Brom, Newcastle and Sunderland and a draw against Chelsea.

They have made late goals their forte, particularly from striker Adam Le Fondre, and Martinez has been impressed by what he has seen.

The Spaniard said: "They haven't surprised me because they're a team we saw previously this season at the DW Stadium have got a real winning mentality. It's a strength to see that in a team who have found it difficult to win games on a consistent basis.

"They've got a great team spirit, a real understanding of each other, they never give up and the results that they've had in the final 10 or 15 minutes of games is a reflection of that.

"They've got a very good balance and now they're in the best moment of their season in terms of results. We know that they're going to be a tough team to play against, especially at their own ground."

When Wigan beat Tottenham at White Hart Lane in November on the back of a home victory over West Ham, it looked as though they may avoid the relegation battle that has been an all-too familiar occurrence since their promotion to the top flight in 2005.

Injuries, particularly to defenders, have certainly not helped, but there are at least signs things are improving on that score.

Centre-back Antolin Alcaraz has not played for Wigan since August but could finally make his comeback from a groin injury, while fellow defender Emmerson Boyce (hamstring) and winger Ryo Miyaichi (ankle) are also hoping to play some part.

Young striker Callum McManaman, meanwhile, is pushing for a first league start after his impressive performance in last weekend's FA Cup fifth-round victory over Huddersfield.

Despite their predicament, Martinez insists he has no trouble maintaining a positive approach because he can see progress being made.

"I think we're a much better team than we were in the previous seasons," he said. "We've improved tactically, technically and physically and there are reasons why we haven't been able to get results like the one we had at White Hart Lane.

"That was a performance we're capable of repeating consistently and that's the aim. It's something we did at the end of last season.

"The position we're in is not somewhere we want to be but we are who we are, we're not shy of these challenges. We look forward to them.

"It's a great opportunity to go into the final 12 games of the season with the opportunity of achieving our aim and that's the way we see it.

"It's been a difficult season in terms of missing key players but, on the flip side, it's been great for other players and young players to get experience that we're going to be benefit from in the final third of the campaign.

"As long as I can see the team improving and developing, I'm always excited for the next step."