Martinez revs up for late escape

Wigan left the pitch to the sounds of The Great Escape theme after their second win in a week, but their path to freedom is barred by giants in the next three crucial games.

Saturday’s trip to Champions League contenders Chelsea is followed by matches with Manchester United and Arsenal as hopeful Wigan remain second bottom of the Premier League with games running out.

But their spirits, already lifted by a famous victory at Liverpool, were sent soaring once more as Paraguayan centre-half Antolin Alcaraz and blossoming star Victor Moses put lacklustre Stoke to the sword with second-half goals.

Manager Roberto Martinez, who had to steer his side through eight successive league defeats at one stage this winter, spoke later of the belief and confidence that won’t allow his players to “capitulate”.

James McCarthy and his Wigan team-mates might once have regarded April’s fixture list with dread, but the 21-year-old Republic of Ireland midfielder shares Martinez’s conviction that the tide has turned again for the team that escaped relegation on the last day a year ago.

He insisted: “We have done really, really well before and just not come up with the finishing touch. Today, Anto has come up with the first and Victor the second — two great goals and hopefully that can kick us on.

“We just need to concentrate. We have got some massive games now and we cannot get carried away. We are just looking forward to the next seven games.”

The Premier League’s poorest team in front of goal — just 23 all season before Saturday — looked to be heading for another blank when Jean Beausejour bungled an absolute sitter.

But Alcaraz conjured a magnificent header from a pinpoint cross by Beausejour, climbing above Robert Huth to power the ball beyond Asmir Begovic for his first goal in 18 months.

And when Moses caught Andy Wilkinson daydreaming on the halfway line in time added on, he had enough in the tank to race clear and outwit the keeper.

The cup final-style celebration was understandable for Wigan’s first home win since August, and their return of 13 points from the last available 24 is hardly relegation form.

Martinez declared: “All games are opportunities for us to get three points. With the position we are in, we cannot look at games as easy or impossible.

“We are playing Chelsea, United and Arsenal the same way as we are playing Fulham, Newcastle and Blackburn and Wolves. I don’t expect any of those games to be easy.”

Disappointing Stoke were well short of a side with realistic designs on a top-10 finish, which would be their best in the Premier League, as goalkeeper Asmir Begovic admitted.

He said: “We deserved to lose based on our performance overall. We weren’t really clicking on all cylinders and didn’t stick to our game plan as well as we should have.

“I am sure there is some fatigue, and it is difficult having played so many games. But we can’t use it as an excuse, we need to push on for Saturday.”

Stoke barely bothered Begovic’s opposite number Ali Al Habsi, and manager Tony Pulis shrugged: “I just think we had an off day, a poor day at work. Human beings have those days.

“It’s always disappointing when that happens. The players have been told and they know the way that I feel. And that’s that. Give Wigan credit. We’ll move on and they’ll get on with it.”

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