With the Premier League relegation battle as close as ever, Vincent Ralph looks at one striker who could make all the difference this afternoon.
With just nine games to go last season, Wigan Athletic’s stay in the Premier League appeared at an end.
That was until an outstanding run of seven wins, including triumphs over Arsenal, Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester United, saved the day.
The Latics showed that a season can be rescued in just a couple of months. And they did so without the apparent Holy Grail for football success – the prolific striker.
This season they have found themselves in a similar position, but they now have a forward who is showing all the signs of being the difference between safety and relegation.
In a year of bargains, Arouna Kone is up there with the best of them. Signed for just £2.7million from Spanish side Levante in the summer, his recent goal-scoring exploits have been key to Wigan’s survival bid.
Crucial goals against Reading, Norwich and Newcastle have helped his side to nine points from a possible 12. And while they remain in the relegation zone, it is by the finest of margins; which makes a win in this afternoon’s match against QPR vital should Roberto Martinez hope to secure top flight football for another year.
With QPR and Reading seemingly doomed, the final relegation place will almost certainly be filled by one of Wigan, Aston Villa, Sunderland or Newcastle.
While the former two clubs are very much on the rise, the latter two are at risk of slipping into a battle their fans couldn’t have seen coming back in August.
There is no question Wigan missed Kone for the six weeks he was at the Africa Cup of Nations with the Ivory Coast. The fact he played so little whilst there would only have increased Martinez’s frustration. But since returning, he has been in excellent form, form his manager will hope continues at Loftus Road today.
It won’t be solely down to him should Wigan survive, but he will have played a huge part.
When the Latics signed Manchester United’s Angelo Henriquez on loan back in January, the talk from Old Trafford was of a player who would excel at the DW Stadium. But he has hardly featured in the face of Kone’s form.
They say form is temporary but class is permanent. In the final weeks of a relegation battle, form is all that matters.
Recent reports suggest Wigan are interested in signing Granada striker Odion Ighalo as a possible strike partner for Kone next season. But for now the Ivorian is excelling on his own.
How good a signing has Kone been for Wigan? And who would be his ideal strike partner next season?
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