Football

Stoke City Vs Wigan Athletic, Sat 12 Dec 2009

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Wigan goalkeeper Chris Kirkland will be given until the last possible moment to prove his fitness ahead of the Barclays Premier League clash at Stoke.

Kirkland is a strong doubt after sustaining a recurrence of a back spasm in the first half of last week's defeat to Birmingham. Mike Pollitt and Richard Kingson are on standby to deputise.

Manager Roberto Martinez is forced into one definite change as Hendry Thomas serves a one-match ban, with Jordi Gomez the player most likely to step into the breach.

Meanwhile, Martinez is determined to meet head on outspoken chairman Dave Whelan's stated aim for this season.

Whelan seemingly piled the pressure on Martinez earlier this week by expressing his hope the team "can pick up a few points before Christmas and sail into the new year looking for a top-10 finish".

The team's inability to string two wins together all season has so far proved their undoing and a major cause of frustration for Martinez, whose team sit 14th at present.

But he believes Whelan's ambition is achievable, even though Wigan have only once finished in the top 10 in their four seasons in the top flight, and that in their debut campaign in 2005-06.

"There are many aims during a season, and at the moment we are where I expected us to be," remarked Martinez.

"But I see it (Whelan's comment) as a positive. When we play well this season, and when we do the right things, we can beat anyone.

"We're exciting to watch, we create many chances, and so there's a hope if we can get rid of the inconsistency then we will be top 10.

"That's how the Premier League is because if you look at the top seven or eight, you feel that's where they will finish by the end of the season.

"But the other positions are open and up for grabs, so I see it as a positive challenge, and it is achievable."

Striker James Beattie will be included in Stoke's squad if he passes a late fitness test despite his alleged bust-up with manager Tony Pulis last weekend.

Beattie missed training on Wednesday and Thursday after reporting a problem with his knee.

Centre-back Ryan Shawcross is fit again after missing the defeat at Arsenal with a groin injury while midfielder Dean Whitehead returns after suspension.

Pulis admits the unpredictability of Wigan makes his job even more difficult ahead of their visit to the Britannia Stadium.

So far in Martinez's maiden season as a Barclays Premier League manager his team have ended Chelsea's 100% record and been beaten 9-1 by Tottenham.

They have yet to win back-to-back matches in the league and so, after last week's defeat against Birmingham, Pulis is wary of the Latics.

"Wigan are a very unpredictable team who can be very good or be average at times," the Stoke boss told Press Association Sport.

"That is a massive problem for us. You look at them one week and they are absolutely outstanding and the next the glue seems to be missing.

"We don't know how they are going to turn up on Saturday.

"But we've only lost to Manchester United and Chelsea at the Britannia this season and long may that continue."

Despite Wigan's problems with consistency, Pulis has backed Martinez to stabilise the club.

"I think Roberto is a smashing lad, a real gentleman. He did really well at Swansea but this is a different test at a different level," he said.

"It throws up different challenges but I'm sure he is good enough and he is an intelligent lad so is clever enough to get through it."

In the wake of the alleged dressing-room bust-up with striker James Beattie - who will feature in the squad if he passes a fitness test on a knee problem - Pulis has stressed it has been business as usual for him.

"I've done nothing else but watch games. I went to two games this week, trained Monday, Tuesday, Friday so it's been a normal week for me," he said.

Copyright (c) PA Sport 2009, All Rights Reserved.

Topics:
Chris Kirkland
Stoke City
Football
Mike Pollitt
Ryan Shawcross
Hendry Thomas
Premier League
James Beattie
Wigan Athletic
Dean Whitehead
Richard Kingson
Jordi Gomez
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