Wigan 0 Liverpool 4: Roberto Martinez to put FA Cup hopes to one side amid relegation scrap
Sunday 03 March 2013
Of all the clubs playing in the shadow of relegation, only Wigan are still in the FA Cup and their manager, Roberto Martinez, said he would not allow the chance of silverware to imperil their prospects of survival.
Martinez will radically change his side for Saturday's quarter-final at Everton, although he may have been tempted to make significant alterations anyway after a 4-0 defeat undermined by defensive incompetence. Liverpool were smooth and Luis Suarez inspired but their first win at the DW Stadium in six years was given considerable assistance.
"Yes," Martinez said when asked if cup runs affect league performances. "If you have the same 11 players, it is impossible to maintain the same level of performance. That is proven.
"But if you have a big enough squad you can share demands and that is what we have done this season. Success in the Cup is what we want but not at the price of our league status. I will never allow that to happen."
Four teams since the war have reached FA Cup finals and been relegated and only one – Middlesbrough in 1997 – improved their league position during their Cup run.
The expectation is that Wigan, the arch-escapologists, will survive but this was a savage defeat against opponents whose measure they have had. Given that Aston Villa will face Reading and Queen's Park Rangers before Wigan next play a league match, the expectation at Wigan must now be that they will be back in the relegation zone before they face Newcastle United on 17 March.
"Our situation is a dangerous one and it would be wrong to think we will achieve our aim easily," said Martinez. "We were not anywhere near the level we needed to be against a top side like Liverpool."
Liverpool are only slowly becoming a "top side". For their manager, Brendan Rodgers, it is crucial to finish higher than eighth, the position achieved by his predecessor, Kenny Dalglish, who did so while reaching two cup finals.
"A season of transition" which Rodgers promised is not much of a slogan with which to rush to the barricades and are words Bill Shankly would never have uttered.
However, with Liverpool's January transfers, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, making instant impacts, there are signs that the "work in progress" may be coming to fruition.
In football there are several magic numbers and one of them is 1.71 – the average number of points per game you need to qualify for the Champions League. It says something for the pace of Rodgers' overhaul of Liverpool that only now are they hitting that target.
"If you break the season into quarters, we had a difficult first one, with lots of application," said Rodgers. "In the second we got better and in the third we kicked on again."
Liverpool's first nine matches produced an average of 1.1 points per game, enough to have finished 16th last season. Their next nine brought them 1.6 (seventh place). Only now do the figures match Liverpool's ambition.
Goals: Liverpool Downing 2, Suarez 18, 34, 49. Substitutions: Wigan Alcaraz 5 (Di Santo, 52), Espinoza 5 (Caldwell, 52), McManaman 6(Beausejour, 61). Liverpool Henderson 6 (Coutinho, 71).
Bookings: Wigan Caldwell, McArthur. Liverpool Allen, Lucas.
Man of the match Suarez. Match rating 6/10. Possession: Wigan 52%. Liverpool 48%.
Attempts on target: Wigan 6. Liverpool 6.
Referee M Atkinson (West Yorkshire). Att 20,804.
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