Blackpool v Wigan: a major match for the two minnows

There is a temptation to conclude that, regardless of results elsewhere, the loser between Blackpool and Wigan will be relegated.

Some Blackpool players were guilty of letting their heads drop against a Cesc Fabregas-inspired Arsenal, centre, on Sunday. Defeat to Wigan on Saturday could go some way to sealing their relegation fate.
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Football is a game, and the Premier League a division, where hyperbole can be treated as fact and where seemingly silly statements can meet with the utmost seriousness. Here, however, is an assertion that, were it made a few years ago, would have been greeted with derisive laughter: Blackpool against Wigan Athletic is a huge game.
Indeed, Saturday's meeting of arguably the two smallest clubs in England's top flight could have passed without notice for much of this season.
Not now. There is a temptation to conclude that, regardless of results elsewhere, the loser will be relegated. Should that be Blackpool, they will have come full circle, the Tangerine dream suffering an unwanted reality check.
Blackpool's improbable campaign started with a 4-0 win at Wigan on the opening day. It began what has arguably been the story of the season, one that risks an unfortunate unhappy ending.
Ian Holloway, the manager, has found ever more inventive ways to describe the financial gulf between his club and the others ("We're not even David and Goliath," he said after Sunday's defeat to Arsenal. "I feel like a gladiator who is going into an arena with a toothpick") and a £10,000-per-week (Dh60,5000) wage ceiling and a minimal transfer budget make Blackpool's total of 33 points admirable in the extreme.
It would have been enough to secure survival last season, but Blackpool should banish such thoughts.
Neither self-pity nor a recognition that theirs is an uphill battle helps and, worryingly, Holloway has seen signs of heads dropping during each of their last two defeats. Instead, he needs his charges to suspend their critical faculties for another six games and retain their belief in this implausible project.
The evidence from 2011 is disturbing: with 11 defeats in 15 league games, there is the sense Blackpool have been found out.
Their defensive record is much the division's worst, the consequence of a strangely high line and a distinctly slow back four allowing opponents untold opportunities to run in behind. Too often runners from midfield go unchecked, as Abou Diaby did for Arsenal's opening goal.
A high-energy approach accounts for much of their success, enabling them to rattle their supposed superiors, but it also means they can run out of steam: 13 goals have been conceded in the last five minutes of games. A team who do not know how to defend a lead have lost 17 points from winning positions.
Moreover, while others, DJ Campbell and David Vaughan in particular, have excelled, the feeling is that if Charlie Adam is stopped, so are Blackpool.
Increasingly, opponents are devoting more attention to the captain; it was a considerable compliment that Manchester United practically man-marked him.
The Scot merits his nomination for the PFA Player of the Year award but the first half of his season has been rather better than the second. The same applies to Blackpool.
In one sense, they should stay up. Wigan, Newcastle United, Stoke City and Bolton Wanderers all have to visit Bloomfield Road. Yet Blackpool and logic parted company some time ago: they are the sole side with more points on their travels while their only wins in 2011 have not come against their immediate rivals, but Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.
Moreover, they have the sort of downwards momentum that is especially dangerous at this stage of the season.
They are stationed in 17th, their lowest position of a season that has included spells in the upper reaches. A two-goal win for Wigan on Saturday would enable them to leapfrog Blackpool and send their hosts into the relegation zone.
And once there, it would be hard to see them escaping. Blackpool against Wigan really is that big.
On the subject of the relegation battle, it is developing into a contest of the season's perennial strugglers and those falling fast.
Three teams are enduring extended slumps - Blackpool, with eight defeats in 11 games; Sunderland, with one point in eight; and Blackburn Rovers, without a win in the same time - but the drop zone is occupied by sides whose immediate form offers little encouragement.
Wigan have scored two goals in five games, Wolverhampton Wanderers have conceded seven in two, and West Ham's defence has been breached seven times in 116 minutes. Whoever recovers quickest from slumps, whether brief or prolonged, should have a fine chance of staying up if only because there are so many other sides in poor form.
The final reckoning on Roy Hodgson's time at Liverpool might be that he was the wrong manager in the wrong place at the wrong time. At West Bromwich Albion, however, exactly the opposite applies.
Saturday's 3-2 win at Sunderland extends Albion's unbeaten run since Roberto Di Matteo left the club and effectively ensures a second successive season in the Premier League.
That, as they had done a week earlier against Liverpool, Albion came from behind to seal victory is proof of the spirit imbued at the Hawthorns. It is a telling statistic that in Hodgson's six games in charge, they have taken 12 points, a total no one else can better.
And while parting company with any manager brings knee-jerk criticisms, it suggests the board merit credit for recognising it was time for a change.