Stoke v Wigan

ESPN Soccernet Preview: Stoke v Wigan

December 11, 2009
By Robin Hackett

• Live on ESPN 2 at 0745 ET

Both now established members of the Premier League, Stoke and Wigan will each view this match as a good opportunity to bolster their position and put to bed some of the unhappy newspaper reports that have come their way in recent times.

Wigan
GettyImagesWigan have struggled at times this season

Stoke have been rocked by a series of stories about an apparent physical altercation between boss Tony Pulis and striker James Beattie following the disappointing 2-0 defeat at Arsenal; Wigan, meanwhile, are still reeling from their club-record 9-1 defeat at Tottenham at the end of November - the third league match in which they have lost by at least four goals this season.

Nonetheless, they are both very capable teams on their day, and Stoke sit in mid-table while Wigan are three points and three places behind in 14th, still just about comfortable. Stoke have a formidable record at the Britannia Stadium, having only lost to Chelsea and Manchester United there this season, while Wigan's largely disappointing away form has seen them beat Aston Villa and Burnley but lose all others, including heavy defeats at Blackpool, Arsenal, Portsmouth and, of course, Spurs.

Stoke player in focus: Ricardo Fuller. With Tuncay enjoying little success as he made his long-awaited first start for Stoke in the 2-0 defeat at Arsenal, Fuller may have to provide the attacking spark against Wigan.

Wigan player in focus: Charles N'Zogbia. One of the undoubted success stories from Steve Bruce's reign still at the club, N'Zogbia has provided pace as well as goals this season. He may struggle against Stoke due to their style of play but, if they push up looking for goals, he has the ability to get in behind and cause problems.

Key battle: Mamady Sidibe v Titus Bramble. Bramble is a much improved player since his days at Newcastle, but he and his fellow defenders have shown a worry lack of spirit this season when things have gone against them. In the pressurised atmosphere of the Britannia Stadium, Wigan cannot afford to let their heads drop as Stoke look to go direct towards their 6ft 4in target man Sidibe.

Tactics: Despite the summer signing of Tuncay from Middlesbrough, Stoke still rely heavily on the long ball and set-pieces. They are a very hard-working team and it will be hoped that, as they did last year following the bust-up between Ricardo Fuller and Andy Griffin, they make a swift recovery from the interpersonal issues this week. Wigan, meanwhile, have a large, physically imposing side powerful enough not to be cowed by Stoke, but boss Roberto Martinez puts a strong emphasis on passing football.

Quotes: Tony Pulis on the incident with James Beattie: "We've had a meeting with the group on Monday, where James was involved, and I've had a meeting with James himself. As far as I'm concerned, a line has been drawn under it and we move on. We want to get on with playing the game on Saturday."

Thomas Sorensen answers a question about the mood of the club just days after the reported bust-up: "I have been at quite a few clubs and one of the things that was very positive here was the team spirit and the camaraderie among the players and the coaches as well. That is a big part of the success. It is very important and is very good at the moment."

Wigan goalkeeper Mike Pollitt on bouncing back from the Birmingham defeat: "There no point sitting around moaning about it - we've got to get back in, get a good week's training under our belts and go down to Stoke with all guns firing. We all know how difficult Stoke away is going to be, but it's a winnable game."

In the news: The reports of a bust-up between Tony Pulis and James Beattie have featured in a range of newspapers through the week, and Beattie's future appears - understandably - to be in some doubt. Nonetheless, Pulis says he has no plans to sell the player in January and has even claimed he could be in the starting line-up against Wigan if he proves his fitness.

James Beattie
GettyImages / PhilColeJames Beattie could be involved against Wigan

Stoke team news: Amdy Faye has a back problem, while Ryan Shawcross is battling to return from a groin strain.

Wigan team news: Hendry Thomas is suspended after picking up five yellow cards. Chris Kirkland is doubtful after suffering a back spasm against Birmingham.

Probable Stoke line-up (4-4-2): Sorensen, Wilkinson, Huth, Abdoulaye Faye, Collins, Lawrence, Diao, Delap, Etherington, Fuller, Sidibe.

Probable Wigan line-up (4-5-1): Pollitt, Melchiot, Bramble, Boyce, Figueroa, N'Zogbia, Gomez, Scharner, Diame, Rodallega, Scotland.

Soccernet prediction: Wigan have generally responded well to defeats this season and, with off-field events likely to have caused a distraction for Stoke this week, they will feel that they are very capable of getting a result. Nonetheless, Stoke's home form has been strong throughout their time in the Premier League and they should have enough to win this one.