Wembley places up for grabs

On the way to Wembley ...
On the way to Wembley ...

ROBERTO Martinez admits Wembley places are up for grabs as Wigan Athletic aim to drag themselves out of the Premier League relegation zone this weekend.

Latics reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup with a 3-0 victory at Everton last weekend, but saw their league position become even more precarious with QPR and Aston Villa seizing the opportunity to pick up three points.

Latics could be rock-bottom of the pile and six points adrift of safety by the time they entertain Newcastle in front of the Sky cameras on Sunday.

But Martinez has called on everyone connected with the club – the players, the staff, the fans – to take advantage of the feel-good factor generated by the FA Cup run. “The way we played at Everton is the way we should be performing week out, week out in the Premier League,” Martinez told the Evening Post.

“We have 10 games left and, starting with Newcastle, we need the fans with us more than ever to give us that extra percentage.

“Playing at home has to be an advantage to us, and we need to make the DW a very difficult place for opposition teams to come to.

“We need to turn our run of results at home into a far more positive record, and I do feel the players are ready to do that.”

The Toon extended the gap between themselves and the drop zone to nine points with a last-gasp 2-1 victory over Stoke last Sunday, and Martinez acknowledges they’ll provide a stern test for his side.

“Newcastle are a good team, still in Europe, and boosted by a number of new players who arrived in the January transfer window,” the Wigan boss added.

“When you factor in the quality players they already had, it’s clear it will be a very difficult game.

“Their game against Stoke last week showed what a resolute side they are.

“They went a goal down in the second half, and you felt that their season could really be affected in a bad way.

“But the reaction was incredible – from the crowd to the players. Everyone showed a real fighting spirit and a togetherness that made sure they pulled away from the relegation zone.”

Latics produced arguably their best performance of last season in demolished Newcastle 4-0, and Martinez admits a repeat would be welcomed.

“A repeat of that performance would be nice – and it will also be needed to beat Newcastle,” he recognised.

“The good thing is now I feel we have a real competition for places, the FA Cup has created a nice competitive edge in every position which is very healthy.

“I’d say we now have a pool of 17 players where any 11 of them can start – and that puts us in a very good position.”