Fairytale’s sad finale

Like every other ‘expert’ I wrongly predicted a Wigan defeat at Wembley last Saturday. Sadly, however, that fairytale was short-lived, with the shock Cup winners’ relegation from the Premier League confirmed by defeat at Arsenal last night. It is a terrible anti-climax for manager Roberto Martinez, chairman Dave Whelan and the fans but, I have to say, there was an inevitability about Wigan’s plight. As I said before the Cup final, Wigan’s Achilles heel is their defence, a weakness that Manchester City’s star-studded forward line should have been able to exploit. While I sympathise with Martinez – a lovely guy, by the way – who has a lot of injury worries, the fact is that, even with all players fit, his defence probably wasn’t sound enough. A statistic of 71 goals conceded in 37 games tells its own story. That is comfortably worse than Reading, who also went down. If you are going to ship that many goals, then you need to be prolific scorers – and Wigan are not. I think they are going to need at least two more centre-backs if they are to bounce back into the top flight next season.

Interestingly, Wigan’s final-day opponents this weekend, Aston Villa, also have serious defensive issues to address this summer, which is going to be a busy one for manager Paul Lambert. Lambert probably won’t have a big budget, but, contrary to popular opinion, his team isn’t as young as reported. And Villa’s goals-against column shows they have conceded just four less than Wigan have. That will have to be addressed if the team  - which doesn’t have as many teenagers in it as is being said – is to avoid another relegation struggle next season. If my former Everton and Manchester City centre-back Richard Dunne can make a comeback from groin trouble after missing the whole season, his presence will be a massive boost. But it tells you something when goalkeeper Brad Guzan is both the players’ player and fans’ player of the year. That in a struggling side and one which sports one of the most exciting talents around, Belgian forward Christian Benteke, who is already being eyed by some of the biggest clubs in the Premier League and Europe. With Darren Bent recently voicing his concerns about not getting into the team, I think Lambert is in for a hectic close-season, one way and another.