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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 January 2007, 08:38 GMT
Wigan reach the crossroads
By Charlie Henderson

Wigan manager Paul Jewell
I'm happy as at least it means we can't get beat!

Wigan manager Paul Jewell on his free FA Cup weekend

Paul Jewell enjoyed his weekend for once. Wigan did not lose.

It is now almost two months since the Latics and their fans feasted on victory and since the second week of December they have suffered a famine of points.

Jewell's side have equalled the club record of seven league defeats in a row and if you throw in the FA Cup loss at Portsmouth - hence the free weekend without defeat - it is eight matches since they last got anything from a match.

Then, on 9 December, after a 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough they were 11th.

Now they are 17th, two points above the trap door that is the relegation zone and have not scored in four-and-a-half hours of league football.

The common denominator is the absence of midfield leader Paul Scharner who had played every match until the losing run, in which he has not figured because of injury.

Defensive lynchpin Arjan de Zeeuw and leading scorer Henri Camara have also been absent for the majority of the recent demise.

When the trio have played Wigan have picked up 1.55 points-a-match. Without all three they have earned just 0.43 points from each of their matches.

There's a unity within the dressing room still and we're certainly not a club in crisis

Matt Jackson, Wigan defender

With the triumvirate still sidelined it is a more than worrying run and the last time Wigan went seven games without a win they were relegated to the bottom tier in 1993.

Form and history suggest they are primed to go down again, but club captain Matt Jackson insists that scenario is far from the team's thoughts and the players remain optimistic.

"We're having a tough time and we need to turn it around pretty quickly," Jackson told BBC Sport.

"When you're on a run of bad luck, suddenly confidence goes, mistakes start being made that don't normally get made and one defeat leads to another.

"But we've got the quality to get out of the hole and there's a great spirit within the club.

"Although there's disappointment at what's been happening on the pitch, there's a unity within the dressing room still and we're certainly not a club in crisis, as other clubs are often portrayed when things are going against them."

And there is hope for them to cling on to.

PREMIERSHIP LOSING RUNS
20 matches:
Sunderland - 18.1.03-10.9.05
Nine matches:
Sunderland - 15.10.05-10.12.05
Eight matches:
Leicester (2000/01), Wimbledon (1999/2000), Charlton (1998-99), Crystal Palace (1997/98), M'boro (1995-96), Man City (1995/96) & Ipswich (1994/95)

Sunderland's run is a record for all top-flight English football
Fulham and Aston Villa stayed up after losing 11 games in 1962 and 1963 respectively

Twice in Premiership history teams have lost eight on the bounce and stayed up.

Leicester did it most recently in April 2001 when they ran out of gas late in the season but had more than enough left in the tank to get over the line in 13th place.

And in the 1995/96 season Middlesbrough suffered a similar mid-season slump to Wigan after losing 4-0 at Everton on Boxing Day.

"The lads didn't put the work in and have come back down to earth with a bump," said Boro boss Bryan Robson after that defeat.

And they kept going down, but like Leicester, and unlike Wigan, they had more leeway before nervy looks over their shoulder were necessary as they went into Christmas fourth and finished the season in mid-table.

Boro's secret formula to arresting the slump? Booze and bonhomie.

"Right the way through our losing run the manager took all the pressure off our shoulders," revealed defender Neil Cox.

"We could just as easily have been a side at the top.

"And when we lost 5-0 at Chelsea, the boss' answer on the bus journey home was to get a few beers out and tell us to have a drink.

"The manager told us we should appreciate all the good things about being a professional footballer, so what's the point of getting down and moody?"

More recently Watford boss Aidy Boothroyd took a similar 'alternative' tack when he sent his squad to the cinema.

"It opened up for the lads to watch Rocky Balboa and I worked with the reserves," Boothroyd revealed.

"They had heard enough of me so it was time for them to hear someone else. We don't win many games so I've got to be as creative as I can."

WIGAN'S RUN OF DEFEATS
21.1.07: Wigan 0-2 Everton
13.1.07: Chelsea 4-0 Wigan
1.1.07: Wigan 0-3 Blackburn
26.12.06: Man Utd 3-1 Wigan
23.12.06: Wigan 2-3 Chelsea
16.12.06: Wigan 0-1 Sheff Utd
13.12.06: Wigan 0-1 Arsenal

And the result was a first Hornets victory in 12 league outings, one of just four that Watford, West Ham and Charlton have compiled between them while Wigan have been slipping down the table.

"I'm not surprised to hear that from Boothroyd, he's a man of the future," sports psychologist James Hamilton told BBC Sport.

"Brian Clough made a great deal of this - keeping the tension away from the players. Don't let them dwell on how things are going and keep them laughing, keep them busy and keep them out of trouble.

"As for that beer on the bus story, Clough did that on the Nottingham Forest coach to the stadium before the European Cup final.

"You can see how the ludicrousness of giving someone beer in that situation takes away from the fact they're about to have the match of their careers."

Beer prior to matches may not meet the specifications of today's teams of nutritionists and physiologists, but Hamilton pinpoints other things going in Wigan's favour.

That their relegation rivals have failed to take advantage is one thing they can hang on to.

I'm confident Paul Jewell can turn it around - it's just injuries and it's not a deeper malaise

James Hamilton, sports psychologist

Another is the transfer window which has seen veteran defender David Unsworth, Chesterfield striker Caleb Folan and Scandinavian loan duo Kristofer Haestad and Andreas Granqvist arrive at the JJB Stadium.

And with the club chasing Julius Agahowa and Papa Bouba Diop it is easy to see that Jewell is looking at like-for-like replacements for Camara and Scharner.

"It will be hard on the new players as they're going to have to adapt astonishingly quickly to an alien situation," Hamilton added.

"If Andriy Shevchenko has had trouble adapting to the Premiership how's it going to be for Folan?

"But they know they have an opportunity, they do not have to fight their way into the team and they're needed, which is very important for footballers.

"That's when they'll give that little bit extra that they wouldn't normally if they had been signed as back-up."

And then there is Jewell.

606: DEBATE
Charlie Henderson

"I'm confident he can turn it around. It's just injuries and it's not a deeper malaise," Hamilton said.

"If you look at British sports psychology and you drew up a top 10, six of them would be football managers, not people with a BSc after their name.

"Paul's one of them and I rate him very, very highly. He has a lot of experience at that end of the table and has come back after a couple of shots at the top level.

"He has taken Wigan from pretty much nowhere and they overtook Reading on the way up."

Now they just need to beat Reading on Tuesday to stop the rot.

If Jewell's boys need inspiration it is 5.95 at the local cinema for the afternoon viewing of Rocky Balboa.

Lose and there is always the option of finding a special offer at a Reading off licence for the journey back home.



SEE ALSO
Reading v Wigan
29 Jan 07 |  Premiership
Striker Folan secures Wigan move
26 Jan 07 |  Wigan Athletic
Wigan chase South Korean star Lee
23 Jan 07 |  Wigan Athletic
Wigan bring in Norwegian Haestad
29 Dec 06 |  Wigan Athletic
Granqvist signs for Wigan on loan
28 Dec 06 |  Wigan Athletic
Wigan's Scharner has knee surgery
29 Dec 06 |  Wigan Athletic
Wigan hit by Camara injury blow
21 Dec 06 |  Wigan Athletic


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