If the must-win theme in our match previews of late has been getting a bit repetitive, at least its message becomes truer by the week. Latics have already lost two absolutely-must-win home fixtures, the first with a shambolic display against Bolton, the second a luckless affair against bogey team Fulham.
The next three — Wolves away, Blackburn at home, and Sunderland away — are probably as crucial to our survival as any in the season run-in. Not only because they are matches we should expect to emerge from with some points. But because we have to emerge from them with some points. If we don’t, we go into December bottom of the table with fixtures against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man United in four of the five next games.
Assuming we don’t pick up much in that Christmas deathtrap, I think we need no less than 7 out of the next 9 points. Which means beating Blackburn at home, then beating either Wolves or Sunderland away, and drawing with the other. Given Wolves’ poor form, this may be the better chance for that away win.
The good news is that Latics have a strong record at Molineux in recent times. We won 2-1 last year and 2-0 the year before. Their form has been poor, losing 7 of the last 9, although they won 3 of the 4 before that, and the most recent two losses were back-to-back exercises against Man City. They did draw at home to Swansea and lose to Newcastle, though, which should give us hope.
The bad news, of course, is that our form is worse. We are now on a staggering eight-match losing streak, although performances have not been as bad as the statistic suggests. With the exception of Man City away, Latics could have (in several cases should have) emerged with points. We live in hope that this will be the performance that delivers reward.
Not too much in the way of player news other than the excellent report on Mo Diame’s ankle injury not being serious. He may even be in contention for a starting spot on Sunday, and thank goodness given the rest of our midfield’s scoring record this season. Gary Caldwell is out suspended, which I daresay has been greeted with enthusiasm by many sections of Latics support. He appears to have lost a yard of pace — not that he was ever the quickest — and equally importantly, presence. I felt he was a good choice for captain when he first arrived at the club, but the defence is severely lacking the authority he was signed to provide, something has gone wrong. Roberto has a few options to replace him — none that steady — playing Steve Gohouri or Adrian Lopez in the centre with Antolin Alcaraz, or moving the ever reliable Emmerson Boyce into centre, drafting in Ronnie Stam at right-back. Or playing Gohouri or Lopez at right back. The main concern should be containing Matt Jarvis, who usually operates down Wolves’ left wing.
If Diame is fit, I would guess a repeat line-up in midfield, with Dave Jones and Ben Watson. Albert Crusat was dangerous against Fulham and should keep his place on the left, while Victor Moses will continue to provoke panic in goalposts country-wide on the right. Hugo Rodallega has been poor — a lifeless, dejected version of the livewire striker with the neon green boots that joined us under Steve Bruce. He remains the most likely player to score, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Martinez opted for Franco Di Santo, who at least looks like he wants to be on the pitch.
As for Wolves, it will probably be a 4-5-1 similar to ours, with Kevin Doyle the frontman. Matt Jarvis will be the main creative threat, while Jamie O’Hara will be energetic in midfield. Cristophe Berra is a bit of a weak link in their defence, though old Birmingham bruiser Roger Johnson always seemed to enjoy a good tussle with Rodallega, I’m sure it will be the same in different colours.
Not much more to say. We’ve played well in the last two outings but haven’t scored. We know we’ll hit the post at least once, but let’s hope it bounces in this time.
Heart says: We are a bogey team for Wolves. The extra pace in centre of defence will do us well. We need to win. 1-0.
Mind says: If Wolves score first, we’ve had it. If we do, anything is possible. Realistically, 1-1, but let’s hope I’m wrong.
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