Arouna Koné Springs Into Life To Aid Wigan Athletic's Survival Bid

Arouna Koné has cast himself as the leader of Wigan's latest merry dance away from the relegation zone.

 Joy reverberated around the ground when, with nine minutes remaining, the Ivorian forward's 10th goal of the campaign, a thumping drive, lifted the Lancashire club out of the bottom three.

Such is their recent history that supporters anticipate it being a position they hold come six o'clock on 19 May. Of the banners that littered the stands, one read "We're Wigan, we'll do this" and another simply said "We believe".

Nothing seems to rouse Roberto Martínez's men like a whiff of the daffodils; spring in the air is met with a spring in the step. This time last year they were a week into an extraordinary run of seven wins from their final nine matches; two years ago, they claimed 15 points from a possible 27 to clamber out of the drop zone.

"When you're in this sort of situation what you need most is someone who can score crucial goals, and we've got that in Arouna. Getting into double figures in this league is no mean feat," said Wigan's captain, Emmerson Boyce. "He's come into great form at the right time of the season, just when we needed him to. He's on fire at the moment.

"When Arouna scored it felt like the lid came off the DW. We get stick over the number of fans we've got, but they really make a noise and get behind the team. There's a great mood around the place at the moment, and we want to keep that going."

Indeed, the scenes that greeted the decisive moment of a cagey affair were reminiscent of Charles N'Zogbia's last-minute winner over West Ham in the penultimate match of the 2010-11 season. But there was also a sense of inevitability about it. "We've been in this situation so often that we don't tend to panic. We were pressing hard and we deserved this win," said Boyce. "That's not luck – it's down to spirit and determination."

But if this cosmopolitan bunch of Red Adairs can cope with this habitual pressure – this was their fifth win in six in all competitions – why can't they avoid it occurring by winning before Christmas?

"Because once we get in the last third of the season we know that every point counts and is going to have an influence on our future," explained Martínez. "When you are at a big club you are expected to win every game, that's already there automatically, but it is something we need to create internally.

"I want to change the perception of the club. We are not expected to win a game in August, September or October. We want to win it, but we don't have to win it, and that's probably because, as a club, we are still enjoying our journey in the Premier League.. We had an outstanding end of last season, and the pundits in the summer made us favourites to go down. The perception from the outside somehow affected our start."

Wigan displayed the greater energy and endeavour as the game drew towards its conclusion – belying the fact their players had travelled a combined 120,000 miles during the previous week of World Cup qualifiers – to maintain their momentum. "This is the proudest moment of the season for us: the first time we have beaten Norwich in our history, the first time we win a game after an international break and the first time we win back-to-back [top-flight] games at the DW Stadium. Many records we had to overcome and we were a little fatigued," Martínez said. "I know what we've got and the club is incredible in facing adversity."

He signs off his programme notes with the Spanish words sin miedo, which mean "without fear". His team are heeding his command, but for a Norwich side who have mustered only five top-flight goals in 2013, worry lines are becoming discernible.

When they beat Wigan in December, a survival fight was the last thing on their minds, but just one victory in 14 since has led midfielder Robert Snodgrass to admit: "We are only four points away and we need to pick up points fast. We need to believe in ourselves that we are going to win games. Wigan were clinical and that is why they are in the Premier League."

The chances of that being the case for a ninth straight season improve with every passing hour.

Man of the match Arouna Koné (Wigan)

Powered by article was written by Richard Gibson at the DW Stadium, for The Guardian on Sunday 31st March 2013 23.03 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © illarterate

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