Have Wigan Athletic started their annual great escape?
If last week’s 2-1 victory over Liverpool at Anfield is anything to go by, then the answer must be an emphatic yes.
Let’s ignore Liverpool’s woes for a second and heap some deserved praise on Roberto Martinez for masterminding a historic win for his club and giving Wigan a fighting chance of avoiding the trap door once again.
Following last year’s late run that secured survival, the Spaniard has come in for some criticism this season as the Latics have languished in the bottom three for much of the campaign.
But in my eyes, the former Swansea boss is managing what is essentially a Championship-level squad now that chairman Dave Whelan has tightened the purse strings and if he can somehow escape relegation it would constitute a minor miracle.
That possibility is more likely than a few weeks ago, and not just because of their first ever win at Anfield.
Wigan have only lost one of their last seven Premier League games to leave themselves just one point adrift of safety, but in truth it should have been so much better: 1-1 draws against Norwich and West Bromwich Albion should by rights have resulted in wins but for their lack of a genuine goalscorer.
And there is the crux. For all their admirably pretty football, if Wigan are relegated it will ultimately be down to their chronic lack of cutting edge.
It has undermined them particularly at home, where a measly 12 goals in 15 games has left Martinez with just one victory at the DW Stadium all season.
So with perennially poor travellers Stoke City as their next opponents, can Wigan give their long-suffering fans something to cheer?
Five of Wigan’s last eight at the DW have been 0-0 at the break, while Stoke have hardly seen a first-half goal anywhere recently – their last four Premier League games have been goalless at half-time.
Bwin make them slight favourites to do just that at 31/20, with the draw at 11/5 and Stoke priced at 7/4 for an away victory.
This one is so difficult to call. With just one win and 12 goals in 15 games you just can’t back Wigan with any conviction, even if performances have picked up considerably and Stoke are, more often than not, obliging visitors – since promotion to the Premier League in 2008, the Potters have won just 13 of their 72 away fixtures to date.
When you factor in the statistic that Wigan have won back-to-back matches under Martinez just once and that five of the last seven meetings between the two sides have finished all square – including a 2-2 draw last time out on New Year’s Eve – all signs point to the draw.
And while I wouldn’t put anyone off that eventuality, instead I’m going to look towards the 8/5 that the first half is a goalless affair.
A quick glance at the goalscoring columns for both sides suggests as much and makes for grim reading for both Martinez and Tony Pulis: Wigan might have only found the net a dozen times at home, but that is still two more than Stoke have mustered on their travels.
What’s more, there has been a recent pattern of goalless opening periods when these teams have played recently.
Five of Wigan’s last eight at the DW have been 0-0 at the break and of those that weren’t, two featured incredible strikes in first-half stoppage time to break the deadlock, one from Sunderland’s Craig Gardner and the other from Swansea’s Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Stoke have hardly seen a first-half goal anywhere recently – their last four Premier League games have been goalless at half-time and unless Peter Crouch pulls something out of the top drawer like his screamer against Manchester City last week, I can see it happening for the fifth game in a row.
Recommended bet: Wigan and Stoke to be drawing 0-0 at half-time @ 8/5
New customers can register here to claim a free £25 bet or click here to see all our Premier League odds.
Follow us on Twitter @bwinbetting