Newcastle travel to Wigan this Sunday to face off with a team that defeated them down the stretch last season to help their survival push. In advance of this weekend's tilt, I sat down with HeapyLatic, the manager of Pie Eaters Footie, to swap some questions and answers about our teams. Below are the questions I had for Heapy. Look for the other half of the interview on PEF.
Well, here we are: Another relegation battle. By my count it's your fifth serious survival fight in the last seven years. Last season you pulled off quite the escape. How do you see it shaking out this year?
Confidence is on the up in the Wigan camp. This amazing FA Cup run has lifted the fans belief and we all hope the player's belief. After the 4-0 drumming by Liverpool in our last League outing I felt we saw a team that was on the brink of breaking apart, yet they dusted themselves down and got on with it to beat Everton in spectacular style.
We now have some very winnable games in our final ten, including matches against QPR and Aston Villa. I believe we can now stay up, but we have to start winning game, and that has to start on Sunday against you lot.
Assuming you do avoid the drop, what will it take to break this cycle of fighting for your lives every year?
We said this last season that we would. At the end of the campaign we were playing some amazing football that we felt that we could really push on this season and finish in the top ten. But we haven't, and you could point it at a couple of reasons.
We have missed Victor Moses too much, having none down the right-hand side to provide some real penetration to get into the box and create chances. The sheer amount of injuries we have had, Antolin Alcaraz has missed more or less the entire season before his return against Everton, while loan signing Ryo Miyaichi has spent more time with our physio than his team mates.
The third, which I think is the big one: teams have worked out how to stop us. We don't have a set of players which can adapt quickly enough in the games. Not saying we don't have talented players, but if our game plan doesn't work, we can't change it quick enough so that we can get on the front foot.
When we last spoke last April, you said that bringing in a striker that can score 15 goals would go a long way to helping Wigan progress. Arouna Kone looks the closest thing you've got. How do you feel about that signing?
A coup of a signing I have to say. It wouldn't surprise me if someone comes in for him in the summer. He is good enough to play at a higher level than Wigan, and would probably score more with a team creating more chances.
According to the player himself he has now finally settled at the club and that explains why we have seen in the past few weeks some fantastic performances from him since his return from the African cup of nations. It wouldn't surprise me if he does managed to notch 15 Premier League goals this season, he is coming into his own right now.
Wigan are headed to Wembley for the FA Cup Semifinal. Are you excited, or does the relegation battle cast a pall over the proceedings?
Excited is one word for it. Personally I can't wait to head to London for the game. It will be a historic moment in the clubs history and we will hope now to go one step further and get to the final, which would then mean Europe next season.
Such success there could be tarnished if we are to go down. Up until the game against Everton you could see Martinez was using the cup games to blood young talent and rest players for the Premier League. Now it looks like he wants to go all the way with cup and try to win it, and so he should.
Yet at the back of my mind I wish that we could perform like we have done in the cup in the league. Meaning we head to our semi-final against Millwall knowing we are going close to being safe in the league.
James McCarthy is the first name that comes to my mind when I think of Wigan. Give me another player I should be excited to watch as a football fan.
You have already mentioned one such player in Arouna Kone, harding working and quick to get into the box and try and score goals a player any team would love to have playing for them. He has been up there with James as one of our best players this season.
However, if you are looking for someone who could break through and be a big hit, Callum McManaman (the nephew of a famous Steve) has made big waves this season for Latics. He has had a couple of successful loan spells at Blackpool and this season Martinez wanted him to stay home and prove himself. Callum has yet to start in the league, but has three goals in the cup and two brilliant performances in his last two starts against Huddersfield and Everton respectively. The young player who has shown promise is starting to bloom. He will defiantly be a regular feature next season, if not towards the end of the current one.
One major criticism I always hear about Wigan is that it's a rugby town, so the football team is an afterthought to the fanbase. Do you think this is fair? What is your view of the Latics support as a whole?
We always get hit with the same stick, and most of us fans are tired of it. If you take the average gate for the club; in 2000 we had an average gate of close to 7,000 fans a season. Fast forward all the way to last season and that figure now stands at an average gate of about 19,000. In 12 years we have gained 12,000 fans.
For a club where football has been the second sport for many years (not anymore I would like to add), while we are surrounding by teams like the Manchester Clubs, the Mersyside Clubs, Blackpool, Bolton, Blackburn, Burnley etc, we are doing exceptionally well, especially when you take into account we have only been a league club since 1978 (35 years), and a club since 1932 (81 years).
Who do you think smells better: Alan Pardew or Roberto Martinez?
If their smell is like their management style, then I would go for Martinez. Mr. Pardew is a very honest, hardworking sergeant like; so a fragrance would not be something you would attach, maybe a scent remover would be in action. But for Martinez the laid back manager, something slightly sweet with a hint of spice.
Gives us a prediction for Sunday's Match.
Wigan win I hope. Have a feeling that we will come out and go for it, the confidence of the lads is high and we have a lot of players starting to reach very good form. I can see us being too strong for you, especially with it likely to be a very big and buoyed up crowd. I could see it being a 2-1 win with Latics winning it in the last ten minutes.