Roberto has high hopes

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ROBERTO Martinez believes Wigan Athletic have proved once again they belong in the Premier League after coming through their ‘month of death’ relatively unscathed.

And the Spaniard called on them to start 2012 as they mean to continue by taking full advantage of the confidence generated by their recent resurgence – kicking off against Sunderland tonight.

The Black Cats arrive at the DW in good spirits after their surprise victory over Manchester City at the weekend, but Latics will fancy their chances after winning at the Stadium of Light just over a month ago.

Since then, Latics have also matched Chelsea and Liverpool as well as winning at West Brom and closing 2011 with a credible draw at Stoke, and Martinez is anxious they don’t let their standards slip now after doing so much of the hard work.

“As we go into January, tonight’s game is a very important one for us after the tough month we’ve had, when we faced Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United,” said Martinez.

“We passed the month with flying colours and showed a real belief in ourselves, playing outstanding phases of football and coupling that with results in the scorelines.

“The results have been good enough, I feel, to take us into 2012 ready to get the ultimate rewards this team deserves.

“We’re not there yet but, as a football club, we need to affect the challenges that lie ahead of us together – united.”

Latics will have to do it tonight without Gary Caldwell, after the skipper’s red card at the Britannia Stadium on New Year’s Eve. But Martinez feels Latics have showed this season that they are no longer reliant on one or two key players having assembled the strongest squad during his time at the DW.

“The way we operate means we’re able to respond to these disappointments and make sure somebody is ready to come in and prove themselves in another player’s absence,” he added. “It’s a blow to lose Gary but it’s a unique opportunity for someone else to come in and do as the substitutes against Stoke did – make an impression on the game with their concentration. The approach will be exactly the same as it was for when we played at the Britannia Stadium – we want to win and we have to win.”

Steve Gohouri and Emmerson Boyce are in contention to replace Caldwell at the heart of the defence, while Ben Watson is another pushing for a recall after his late cameo off the bench earned a point at Stoke.

And the former Crystal Palace man believes a repeat of that team performance would go a long way towards ensuring what would be only a second home victory of the campaign.

“We said before the game that Stoke and Sunderland were massive games for us, and if we could get points out of both then it would stand us in good stead,” Watson said.

“I don’t think too many teams will go to Stoke and get a result so that sends us in to the Sunderland game on a high.”