Just a week after one of the finest days in their history at Wembley, Wigan Athletic have now put themselves in real danger of enduring one of their worst days in the Premier League.
It would be particularly bittersweet if an FA Cup final that has been far too long in coming for owner Dave Whelan coincided with a relegation they have admirably avoided for so long. They are now in very real danger. Sam Allardyce, meanwhile, is much more secure as he admitted his contract is not signed but “sorted”. His West Ham team certainly sorted Wigan out yesterday.
Whatever happens, the club famous for defying both the clock and their meagre resources must now defy an awful lot more after yesterday’s trip to Upton Park. Roberto Martinez admitted his team probably now need to win three games from their last five in order to stay up after a dreadful afternoon for them ended with two other results going against them, as well as the general tide of this game. While Stoke City won 2-0 at QPR and Paolo Di Canio continued his Sunderland resurgence with a 1-0 victory over Everton, Wigan were all too easily beaten 2-0 at West Ham.
It means that, having had the security of a game in hand for so long, Martinez now sees both of those sides move more than three points ahead. For his part, the Spaniard said that he is simply not concerned about other teams and radiated the calmness to prove it.
“The way we are at this moment of the season, it’s not about other results,” Martinez said, “it’s about affecting our points tally.”
The worst part of all that, though, is that calmness spread to his team. Wigan played like a team with too much confidence and assurance they would again stay up. While that is often a positive in terms of developing an attacking game in the long term, it isn’t always conducive to picking up points in an increasingly pressing situation in short term.
That was certainly evident when West Ham opened the scoring. As impressive as Wigan had been for the first 21 minutes in attack, it couldn’t offset the defensive openness that has dogged them all season. Matt Jarvis was left free to float in a cross from the left and the ball was left free to drop into the away side’s net without a single challenge.
“We were very soft in terms of keeping that clean sheet,” admitted Martinez, putting that laxness down to tiredness after four demanding games away from home. “The team needs a little bit of TLC.”
They got none of it from West Ham, who proceeded to bully them for most of the remaining 68 minutes. In fact, there was a sense of inevitability when the home side finally made one of their set-pieces count. On 80 minutes, Andy Carroll flicked on for Kevin Nolan to turn and finish beautifully.
It was the midfielder’s 100th career goal. The numbers Allardyce was most concerned with, beyond the statistically safe number of points that will see him sign his new contract, were those involved in buying the influential Carroll. The West Ham manager went back on his recent pessimism about purchasing the forward.
“Yes, [safety] improves the chances of keeping him. It proves we want to sign a big player. That is critical to our development programme.”
It is critical to Wigan’s survival to get a win very quickly. “We know what to expect,” Martinez said. “There is no margin error.” And not for the first season, time is of the essence.
West Ham (4-2-3-1): Jaaskelainen; Demel, Reid, Collins, O’Brien; O’Neil (Noble, 52), Diamé (Collison, 74); Vaz Te (C Cole, 61), Nolan, Jarvis; Carroll.
Wigan (3-4-3): Robles; Scharner, Caldwell, Alcaraz (Beausejour, 16); Boyce, Gomez (Di Santo, 86), McCarthy, Figuerroa; Maloney, Koné, McManaman (McArthur, 45).
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Man of the match: Jaaskelainen (West Ham)
Match rating: 6/10