|Football League Championship 2013-14|
| Wigan Athletic
||vs|| Queens Park Rangers
ScheduleFriday, 9 May 2014 at 18:45 GMT / 19:45 UK / 00:15 IST
VenueDW Stadium, Wigan
The close of last season’s Premier League saw relegation for both of the sides involved in this playoff first round match. Now fighting for a chance to go back to Wembley and possibly the top flight, the two sides face each other in what would have been a relegation battle last year. Hoping for immediate promotion back up a division, many people installed Harry Redknapp’s QPR as the favourites to go back up. With a huge squad and the highest wage bill in the division, it was easy to see why they were made the top choice. After stumbling, however, the London team will have to settle for a playoff place. Their opponents will be capping off an incredibly busy season. Not only faced with the demands of the Championship calendar, extended cup runs and an involvement in European competition have lead Wigan to play a huge number of matches when compared to their rivals. Their quick, attacking 4-3-3 may begin to tire going into their final matches, with QPR’s more solid 4-2-3-1 likely to crowd the centre of the park and make it difficult for them.
Wigan’s form has been on the wane. Whilst they have done enough to cling to fifth place, three losses in their last seven games demonstrated how the backlog of fixtures had begun to pile up and cause real issues for the team. With a focus on making sure that they did enough to qualify, pints against Reading, Birmingham and Leeds were enough, though losses against Blackpool and Blackburn were perhaps tougher to take. Having lost to QPR in March, the team might now benefit from having a single target and a single competition to focus on, as well as a few days’ rest.
Having been made favourites, everything was looking good for QPR up until Christmas. Following the holidays, the West London side’s defence began to crumble and they slipped further and further down the table. Having brought in reinforcements in the winter window, they managed to arrest this slip, though three wins from their last five shows that they have not completely returned to their best. Draws against Millwall and Blackpool lost the team points which could have placed them further up the table, and despite the presence of many old pros in the team, their focus is not immune to slipping.
Having taken the opportunity to rest several players at the weekend (and losing to Blackburn), Uwe Rosler will likely be welcoming back some familiar faces. Ali Al Habsi will return in goal and a reshuffled defensive line should have been given enough time to recharge their batteries for the last promotion push. Capable of playing with three or four at the back, the team can switch between the two formations in play and key to this is Beausejour, who is capable of dominating a left flank on his day. James McClean will be itching for a start though may have to settle for a position on the bench.
Having the best equipped squad in the league, Redknapp’s ability to rotate has allowed him to cover for the various injuries which have blighted his side at different stages of the campaign. An ever present has been the captain, Onuoha, whose goal line clearance at the weekend allowed them to secure their final points of the season. A return to the midfield for on-loan Spurs youngster Tom Carroll could signify an intent to control possession of the game, whilst the number ten spot will be fought between Morrison and Doyle, depending on the manager’s desire for trickery or goals respectively.
P46 W21 D10 L15
Predicted Line-Up (4-3-3): Al Habsi; Perch, Boyce, Barnett, Beausejour; McArthur, Gomez, Espinoza; McManaman, Waghorn, Maloney.
P46 W23 D12 L12
Predicted Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Green; Simpson, Onuoha, Dunne, Assou-Ekotto; Jenas, Carroll; Benayoun, Morrison, Hoilett; Austin.
After a gruelling season, Wigan will want to keep it tight at home and could snatch a point to set up a fascinating return leg.