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Is a title challenge possible for Man Utd?

Manchester United
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Wigan stay positive but time running out

As Roberto Martinez departed the Upton Park press room, you wouldn't have thought his team were in real danger of finally departing the Premier League.

• Premier League gallery

For one, there was that broad smile and unshakeable confidence to go with it. He radiated positivity. Then, there were the comments. A lot of what Martinez said certainly didn't sound like the words of a manager whose team are three points off safety with just five games to play.

Consider the following:

"We're in a very good moment."

"I was really proud of how the players adjusted in the second half, and we dominated the game."

"We beat West Ham in every other department."

Wigan's situation has been greatly worsened, of course, by results in Saturday's other games. While West Ham beat them in the only department that actually matters - goals scored - Sunderland also beat Everton and Stoke claimed a potentially season-changing victory at QPR.

All of a sudden, after weeks in which they had the security of a game in hand, Wigan must now watch both those sides move more than three points ahead of them. It is out of their hands. Not surprisingly, though, Martinez insisted that his team couldn't afford to think like that. He certainly isn't acting like that.

"The way we are at this moment of the season, it's not about other results. It's about affecting our points tally. We are disappointed we couldn't get the result today," the Wigan boss said.

There was, however, one giveaway moment when, just before Martinez went to do a separate press conference, he took a long, intense look at a sheet of paper featuring the day's other results.

Those results might not have mattered so much had the team not given away two goals so easily. This is the one fundamental problems with Martinez's otherwise impressive approach because, make no mistake, when everything is added up the Spaniard is doing a pretty special job.

Just as his team have consistently defied relegation in the past few seasons, he has continuously defied his thin resources.

After the relatively lavish expenditures of Paul Jewell and Steve Bruce, he has had to cut costs and - particularly - the wage bill to the levels of an upper-table Championship club.

That has seen a lot of big-wage players sold on, and a lot of big talent. Every summer has brought a raft of high-profile departures - most recently Victor Moses - which has interrupted the integration necessary to play such an expansive game.

Wigan attempt to play every match on their terms, regardless of the opposition and regardless of the perceived quality of their side.

But while that means they can claim some big wins when they are at their best, it also results in some awful losses when they are at their worst – and this defeat at Upton Park was somewhere towards the latter.

In that sense, Wigan's confidence also manifested itself in the wrong way here. Rather than giving them the assertiveness to go and win the game, it resulted in a casualness that meant they played with the certainty that they would stay up but none of the urgency to go and make it happen. There was a laxness to them.

What's more, it meant their occasional attacking brilliance was offset by some hugely sloppy defending. Just 12 minutes after Shaun Maloney forced a fine save from Jussi Jaaskelainen at the end of an exquisite exchange, a Matt Jarvis cross was allowed to freely float into the corner of the Wigan net without a touch or a challenge.

It was much the same towards the end of the game. At exactly the point when Wigan looked like getting back into it with their fluid, open approach, West Ham picked them off with a rigid, rehearsed set-piece. However, there was certainly an element of beauty about Kevin Nolan's finish as Andy Carroll flicked on for the midfielder to turn and volley into the corner for his 100th career goal.

While Sam Allardyce praised that, the number he was most concerned with was that needed to prise the influential Carroll from Liverpool. Premier League safety will certainly help.

"Yes, it improves the chances of keeping him," Allardyce admitted, going back on his recent pessimism surrounding the potential purchase. "It proves we want to sign a big player. That is critical to our development programme."

Mathematical safety, meanwhile, will also see the manager sign a new contract, although Alladryce insisted that is "sorted". His team undeniably sorted out Wigan.

For his part, Martinez insisted that any discernible lack of urgency was down to tiredness and the fact they have now played four games in a row, including an emotionally-demanding FA Cup semi-final, away from the DW Stadium.

It would be bittersweet if the final that owner Dave Whelan has waited so long four coincided with - or even condition - the relegation they have admirably avoided for so long.

Typically, though, Martinez claimed the final is a cause for confidence and said: "Internally as a football club, we know how to cope with it. We know what to expect. There is no margin for error. From five games, we need three wins, which is something we can achieve."

It didn't look like it at Upton Park. Then again, Martinez doesn't look like he thinks that is something to be worried about. Past evidence is with him. The present situation, however, is not.

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