The sun is out, the beer gardens are full and people’s thoughts have started to turn to the summer. So of course, right on cue, Wigan Athletic are putting a run of form together to save their Premier League skin and their match with Swansea City at the DW Stadium looks like it is the key fixture in the battle to avoid the drop – and not just for the Latics.
While for most clubs all eyes would be on Saturday’s trip to Wembley to face Manchester City in the FA Cup final, all that excitement has been put to one side as Roberto Martinez plots a third consecutive late-season act of escapology.
Although it would be perfectly reasonable to ask why his team are perennially in this position come May, we will ignore that for now and concentrate on the fact that somehow, the Spaniard manages to get Wigan out of trouble from the most unlikely of situations, and this, as much as anything else, has the entire bottom half twitching nervously.
Their 3-2 win at West Brom on Saturday has put them within touching distance of the teams above them and a win over Swansea would actually take Wigan out of the relegation zone on goal difference at the expense of woefully under-performing Newcastle United, putting Martinez’s side level on 38 points with the Magpies, Sunderland and Norwich City.
That would leave Southampton and Fulham, on 39 and 40 points respectively, deep in the mire, and this after both teams had thought themselves safe.
Add Aston Villa, who are also on 40 points, into the mix, and this could turn into the most dramatic last-day relegation battle in Premier League history should Wigan do the business tonight.
And you have to fancy them to keep their side of the bargain by picking up three points. Wigan are priced at 39/50, with the draw at 27/10 and Swansea at 16/5, and it has to be said that if Martinez could pick any team to come to the DW right now, it would be his former club.
Simply, Swansea have packed in since they won the Capital One Cup. They might have beaten Newcastle the week after, but they haven’t won in seven games since, losing four and netting just four times.
This type of thing happens every year, when a side that is safe and/or achieved their season’s goal can’t play with the same intensity as previously, and Michael Laudrup has been powerless to stop the slump in performance and results.
And it’s not like Swansea have been great away from home as it is: the Welsh side have won just four of their 17 away games, and have failed to score in ten of those matches – the worst record in the division.
In fact, Swansea have struck just 15 goals in their away games, which is the fourth-worst tally in the league, so Wigan will not get a better chance to pick up a vital win.
But even though the Latics’ form always picks up at this point of the season (as three wins and two draws from the last seven league games attests) they are not a team to be backed at odds-on – they are just too erratic.
So I think the play here is 6/4 that Wigan win a game of under 3.5 goals. Swansea don’t let in too many on the road – they have the seventh-best away defensive record – and Wigan don’t score too many at home (just 22 in 17 games).
There have only been 36 goals in Swansea’s 17 away games – an average of 2.12 – with all but three of them producing three goals or less. So there is a clear trend when the Swans hit the road and that could well continue tonight.
Only 12 goals have been scored in the 17 first halves of Swansea’s away games, so there is even an argument that the 4/1 on draw half-time/Wigan full-time is worth an outside shout, especially when you see that Laudrup’s men have been level at the break 21 times, more than any other side, with 11 of those coming on their travels.
So I wouldn’t put anybody off that. But the 6/4 that Wigan keep their run for safety up with a win that sees under 3.5 goals is the bet – and the result that will set up an incredible finale at the bottom of the table.