Writer: Barry Worthington
Date:Friday September 10 2010
Wigan Athletic boss Roberto Martinez has a dilemma on his hands ahead of tomorrow`s game against Sunderland at the DW Stadium, Al-Habsi or Kirkland?
Chris Kirkland has had some very high profile injuries seemingly all his professional life and this is a real pity because there is no denying that the big shot stopper is a top quality goalkeeper when he is 100% fit.
Kirkland missed the last two games at the end of last season due to undergoing an operation on his hand to cure a long standing problem; he also missed an early preseason week long training camp in Sweden after suffering from a back spasm.
The injury concerns over Latics number 1 saw boss Roberto Martinez act swiftly in the transfer market, bringing in Oman international Ali Al-Habsi on a season long loan from near neighbours and Premier League rivals Bolton Wanderers.
Kirkland though recovered his fitness in time to make the season`s opener against Blackpool at the DW Stadium, not only did he start the game but he was also named captain in the absence of Gary Caldwell.
Big Chris had a game to forget unfortunately, conceding 4 goals, 3 of which you`d normally expect a keeper of his calibre to deal with comfortably, one was an absolute howler and worryingly, he looked `stiff`.
Surprisingly, amongst strong speculation otherwise, Kirkland kept his place for the next game, Chelsea at the DW, this time he let 6 go past him and he was heavily criticised by Dave Whelan for his form at the start of the season who said that Kirkie had had 'a stinker`
The next game was a Carling Cup tie away at Hartlepool, this match gave Martinez the opportunity to change things around and he gave Al-Habsi his first competitive start for the Latics, the Omani didn`t disappoint keeping a clean sheet but more importantly looking agile and confident.
Al-Habsi kept his place for the Premier League game at White Hart Lane against Spurs and performed heroics as Latics ran out 1-0 winners against the Champions League qualifiers. Two saves were simply world class as the 28 year old looked determined to keep his record of never having conceded a goal in his time at the Latics.
For the Spurs game Kirkland didn`t travel, the club citing a slight injury as the problem, a massive dip in form more likely the real reason, but now it appears that he has been impressing the boss in training this past fortnight and pushing for a recall.
So Martinez has a dilemma, does he bring back his number 1 who undoubtedly has been a great keeper or should he stick with the man in form, Martinez says: "In life and in football you earn respect, and Chris has done that over the last few years,"
' Al Habsi gets my vote for another crack. It wasn't just his performance it was the general way in which we defended'
HAVE YOUR SAY
"He has been a massive, massive part of this football club, and he will continue to do that.
"Players have good moments and bad moments in form, and it`s up to them to turn it round.
"I`m just lucky that we have two outstanding goalkeepers fighting to be number one, and a lot of cover in that position as well."
For me this is a no brainer, Al-Habsi has to keep his place, Kirkland has looked dreadful, unfit, no confidence, no agility, no thanks.
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Date:Friday September 10 2010
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